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Vintage VW Vans Are Getting an All-Electric Upgrade

By Maggie Fuller

Feb 29, 2020

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Peace Vans is taking charming vintage VW vans and making them electric.

Courtesy of Peace Vans

Peace Vans is taking charming vintage VW vans and making them electric.

Seattle-based van repair and rental shop Peace Vans is electrifying classic  VWs, while maintaining their retro souls.

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It’s the dawn of a new era for road trips. Thanks to Peace Vans, a Seattle-based repair shop and vanlife vacation outfitter, you can now have your oh-so-nostalgic vintage van and make it electric too. We’re not talking about a fancy new-fangled electric recreational vehicle that tries too hard to look vintage (ahem, Volkswagen’s new all-electric vehicle). The van conversion experts at Peace Vans are taking classic, pre-1979 Volkswagen (VW) vans and converting them into electric vehicles complete with Tesla batteries with a 120-mile range and top speeds of around 80 miles per hour.

And starting in late April, you can rent one next time you’re in Seattle. 

“It’s a pretty exciting project,” says Peace Vans Rentals owner Harley Sitner, “turning a vintage bus electric and then having it accessible for people to use. And it’s so much fun. Electric vehicles are quiet, they’re responsive, they’re fast. It’s just a great experience.”

For van owners, this is huge news. You might think that having a vintage VW van is all about cruising along open roads with the windows rolled down and the perfect playlist blasting, but the reality usually involves clouds of exhaust and a lot more rattling, breaking down, and waiting for a tow truck. And something is always leaking. But according to Sitner, “The things that always go wrong in the old Volkswagens are all eliminated in the electric version—like the motor blowing up, like the fuel lines leaking, vacuum leaks in the air intake system.”

Travelers will be able to book the all-electric Frieda for adventures around Seattle, such as taking the ferry over to Bainbridge Island and driving around.

And it’s pretty exciting for casual renters, too. Peace Vans’s first electric vintage van, a 1977-era vehicle named Frieda, will be bookable for day trips or short weekends starting in late April. Sitner says that Frieda is not really designed for camping right now, but suggests that travelers drive around Seattle, go to the Pike Place Market or some breweries. Intrepid road-trippers might even want to take it out to Mount Whitney or Bainbridge Island. His trick for get more distance out of the 120-mile charge? Head somewhere with a ferry “because on a ferry you’re just sitting there, not driving.”

The electric van project, which started in 2018 when Sitner set out to build an Art Car for Burning Man in the shape of a lemon (a little car humor for you there), will kick into high gear when Frieda becomes available for rent. Peace Vans is also already taking reservations for conversions. Currently, the team is only working on air-cooled older generation (pre-1979) VWs, but it anticipates being able to convert water-cooled Vanagons in mid-2021.

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“It’s an expensive project, no question about it,” says Sitner. Peace Vans estimates an average of $40,000 and up for a conversion. (Still need to buy the vehicle? You’ll find vintage VWs for anywhere between $20,000 and $60,000 or more, depending on the shape they’re in.) “But there’s people out there who have the old VW buses that are in really good shape and they want to be greener, they want to be cleaner, they want to eliminate a lot of those old maintenance risks. And they just want something that’s really fun to drive.”

Currently Peace Vans Rentals has a fleet of 18 vans: All the campers get an average of $250,000 in restoration before they’re available to the public, and Peace Vans is also the only vanlife vacation outfitter in the United States offering the exciting new Mercedes Metris Weekender pop-top campervan. But Sitner promises that the team is planning on adding more Friedas to the fleet in the future. “It’s amazing how easy it is once you know how to do it.”

>>Next: The Future of the Great American Road Trip Is Electric

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