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Dennis Merritt's VOLTWGN  

We all need to do our part in helping to cleanup the environment and I think that the electric car is going to go a long way in doing that.  We have in our Merritt family one of the "pioneers" in the electric car field.   Here is the story of his "VOLTWGN."

Dennis and his Voltwgn
Dennis Merritt and his electric "VOLTWGN"



Dennis Merritt

     I bought my first electric car.   It was a 1990 Sebring Auto-Cycle, ZZipper.  A uniquely homely 3 wheel 72 volt plastic bodied car.   I was never satisfied with its performance, although it was a definite show piece, and I do show it as a pioneer electric vehicle.   Its a real crowd pleaser.  Unfortunately, it is not a commuter car.
     I needed a car that would deliver day to day reliable service.   After owning the ZZipper and making several minor and several major repairs on it, I realized I could build my own EV.   After purchasing parts from a fellow in Orange, California and getting his parts catalog, an idea jelled in my mind.   Ken Koch, of KTA sent his catalog that included several kits.   I called Ken and discussed my ideas with him, and promptly launched into my conversion program.
     I jumped into it a little early, and purchased the car I really emotionally wanted to convert... A Datsun pickup truck.  One more call to Ken Koch dashed my immediate hopes of that conversion, as Ken did not have the components for the Datsun.  That one all important, critical, missing part was the motor to transmission adapter plate.  After talking to Ken, I found he had on the shelf, complete kits for VW bugs... I bit.
     I bought the first VW I found.  A 1969 standard bug with a 1600 engine, that had been run without the lubricating qualities of any kind of motor oil.   I paid too much for it, as my wife gleefully tells anyone who listens.  She insists she could have gotten it for half what I paid for it... right... Anyway... I bought the bug that had a good body, a fair paint job, all the wheels, and glass, and a working electrical system.
     Ken provides everything except hookup wire, solder, and the batteries.  After reading the "how to book" he provided, I jumped on the conversion effort.
     First, measure the normal ride height of the car, check.  Pull the engine, check.. easy on a VW! Pull the radiator! Gotcha.. no radiator on the old bug.. Pull the gas tank, and with great care and concern for the environment drain the gasoline out of it. ( I used it to pollute the atmosphere with my infernal combustion engine equipped lawn mower, sorry).  Pull the exhaust system, Gotcha again, it comes off with the engine... there are lots of reasons to convert a VW bug.. (and lots not too as you will see).
     So, there the car is, no engine, gas tank, radiator, or exhaust system.  What's next.  Decide where the batteries are going to go... and how many are to be used.  I decided that 96 volts was the propulsion choice based on several factors... how many batteries could I get in the front, zero. How many could I get in the back engine compartment, zero.  How many could I get where the back seat USED  to be, all of them, 16. Now I have a 2 seater VW.. great.. the wife LOVES that.
     My brother and I had to design a battery box framework that would withstand all manner of abuse.  I'm not sure still that it can, but it is functional and pretty, and it is installed and works very well.. Basically we used the mounting brackets etc, that were used to bolt the seat in place.
     Next, decide on placement of the major controlling components.   After removing the engine, I stripped all the insulation out of the compartment, degreased and painted the entire surface area.  The fire wall became the ideal mounting point for the chopper, (motor controller), the main contactor, and the high voltage/current shunt resistor.
     The throttle control box, the "potbox" mounted neatly on the side wall of the engine compartment in-line with the cable coming from the front of the car, and works very well.
     The battery charger, DC-TO-DC converter, low voltage shunt, and interlock relay had to be mounted somewhere else.  The front hood compartment was the only place left.  All that was left there was a hole where the gas tank had been.  Again, being very environmentally conscious, and VERY VERY safe, I cut the gas tank in half along the existing seam with an acetylene torch after the tank was washed with soap and water, and filled for cutting.   I mounted the bottom half of the tank back in the cavity, painted it to match the car (wife's color of paint of course), and mounted all the components in it.  A very neat arrangement.
     All the major components were in place.   A new throw out bearing and clutch plate, a quick inspection of the rest of the clutch parts and I slapped the motor and clutch assembly onto the VW transaxel.  It went together without a hitch.
     All that remained was to install the batteries, all 16 of them.   Ken provides the 00 welding cable that is used to interconnect the batteries.  You have to cut and construct the interconnecting cables from the stock he provides.   I arranged all the batteries on my driveway, and drew the logical paths I needed to use the 22 feet of 00 cable provided.   It worked out well, and I even had excess cable.
     One hot summer evening, wifey and I loaded the batteries into the bug.   Each battery dropped the bug lower to the ground... Each battery into the box got interconnected as they went in.... an important safety lesson was learned here...... cover all the batteries  you are not directly working on with rubber matting  and cover the ends of your tools with insulating materials... I didn't, for the first 8 or so batteries.. I was lucky, I only melted one battery terminal and part of my right pointing finger, and I'm still looking for the unprotected open ended wrench.... I was lucky.   I still see lead BBs on top of those 8 batteries.... anyway, the batteries went in, after some minor first aid and a replacement wrench.
     All the connections made, I was ready to try it out... well, almost all the connections.. I didn't install the charger until after I had the main battery pack installed.  So, afraid to apply 96 raw volts to the motor, I found a sacrificial 60 watt light bulb, and connected it to the motor leads.... turned on the ignition, and heard a big beautiful THUMP as the main contactors came on.... Pamela  gingerly stepped on the throttle, and the light bulb dimly begin to glimmer.  I was ecstatic!  Harder, press harder.... in proportion to her pressing the throttle, the light bulb grew brighter.  Pumping the throttle yielded a light almost as bright as a 110 VAC house current supplied bulb.  It looked like it would work.
     I connected the leads to the 10HP Advanced motor, grabbed a 5 gallon plastic bucket to use as a seat (the seat has to come out of a Volkswagen to do almost anything inside it.. especially put in a battery rack....
     Anyway, my, ahem, bucket seat, installed, the motor connected, my trembling fingers inserted the key into the ignition again.   Turning it to on I was greeted by that THUMP that told me I was either going to fry, be flung into the street totally out of control, or hopefully, the motor would behave as the light bulb did and nothing would happen.   The motor stayed asleep.   I touched the throttle.. nothing... a little more, THE CAR MOVED! I had built an electric car!  I moved it into the street, the car was mere inches off the ground, the 16 batteries had dropped the car way way down.  I accelerated and shifted into second gear with minor scraping of the gears... then to 3d and to 4th.. each worked well, the car was moving well... my bucket seat was beginning to conform to my bottom too well, and with no backrest and nothing between me and 16, 62 pound batteries I figured I should get it back to the yard.
     Another several weeks of tuning and what not, got my VW on the road and over to DMV for its first inspection.   It passed with some minor amusement on the part of the DMV personnel.   Another trip to the CSAA office to determine if they would insure my beauty.  Imagine my disappointment when they told me they would not provide comprehensive on it, because it looked so terrible.. I wonder if my wife was right, she could have gotten the bug for half of what I paid.. anyway, CSAA insured for all the legal requirements just as a stock VW.
     A year of driving the VOLTWGN has pointed the need for several modifications.  A 12V battery in parallel with the DC-TO-DC converter, to provide more current for the onboard hair dryer I use in the winters to keep the window clear, and to make sure that the contactor will always work, even when the batteries become to low to work the DC-TO-DC converter.   A squirrel cage blower and heavy heat sink have been added to keep the motor controller cool.   Normal maintenance such as a new clutch cable, new brakes all the way around, a new tire, and a new emergency brake are all that have been required so far.  Driving the VOLTWGN is a real pleasure...
     Our next conversion, will still not be the Datsun.. We have a VW Rabbit, and there is no way that she could have gotten a better deal than me......

 Happy Eving.. Dennis

I wish to personally thank Dennis Merritt for letting us use this story. - Robert Gibson

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