Electrifying Transformation of a 1968 Chevrolet El Camino

Breathing Life into an Iconic ELectric Camino

 I have spent my life teaching students about materials, processes, and engineering and design. I have also tried to learn about fabrication methods and remain open to gaining knowledge from as many sources as I can find when the interest strikes me. 

As a technology teacher, my appreciation for innovation and the opportunity to electrify a classic muscle car intersected at the right moment after a one-year deployment with my National Guard unit left me with the occasional “free time,” when I happened to fall down the rabbit hole of EV conversions. The White Zombie and John, “Plasmaboy” Wayland, NEDRA and John Metric, Zombie 222 and Mitch Medford, and EV West and Michael Bream were initially my idols, then mentors, and finally friends during my journey to converting a 1968 Chevrolet El Camino into a classic electric muscle car.

Prior to my deployment, I was the county coordinator for Electrathon America events in Harford County, Maryland, so I was already somewhat familiar with electric power systems and their application to transportation. What I had not considered, however, was their performance potential, nor how to go about removing the gasoline-burning bits and replacing them with electric-powered parts (and doing it safely).

Custom Digital Fab Systems motor mounts provided the foundation for Baby’s electric transformation and integration of the brushed DC Netgain Warp9 motor.

EV West’s project left a profound impact on me, and I was determined to embrace this fusion of tradition and innovation. Upon returning home, I delved into the world of EV conversions, eager to make my mark on the automotive landscape.

I scoured forums, absorbing every piece of information about electric motors, controllers, batteries, and everything in between. The allure of electrifying a classic muscle car was undeniable, and my eyes settled on a 1968 Chevy El Camino. Its bold and muscular design, coupled with ample underhood space, made it the perfect canvas for my electrification vision.

The journey from concept to completion was a roller coaster of challenges and triumphs. Three years went into getting Baby on the road, and the work didn’t stop there. It has been a continuous journey of upgrades and modifications, refining my creation over time.

… the vast majority seem to approve, using the words, ‘cool’ and ‘the future of hot-rodding…

Throughout the project, I encountered numerous challenges that demanded innovative solutions. The conversion wasn’t without its hiccups, from addressing vibration issues to perfecting steering dynamics. My access to a 3D printer and CAD skills proved invaluable, enabling me to design and craft custom parts that seamlessly merge classic aesthetics with modern functionality.

Reinventing Performance

The heart of Baby is a Brushed DC Netgain Warp9 motor coupled to a TransWarp9 motor drive unit. These components, working in harmony, deliver a remarkable 700 kW/800 hp in “Boost” mode and an awe-inspiring torque exceeding 800 ft-lb. The transformation from a V-8 powerhouse to an electric marvel has been both exhilarating and humbling.

The 45-kWh lithium polymer battery pack, nestled beneath the bed of the truck, gives Baby a highway range of 100 miles and a city range of 90 miles. The marriage of classic style and modern technology is not just an engineering feat; it’s a testament to the potential of electric propulsion.

Baby has already made waves in the automotive world, competing in events like the Farmtruck & AZN’s Daily Driver Competition and smashing records. Looking forward, I have plans to upgrade the chargers for faster charging, ensuring Baby remains at the forefront of performance and innovation. The upgraded chargers will utilize the full 10kW capacity of Level 2 chargers.

I will continue to drive it every day and show it at car meets. This winter, I will probably pull it into the garage and try to correct some paint issues (outside storage is rough on paint). Maybe I’ll get the seats reupholstered and redo the carpeting. Longer term, I intend to keep driving the car daily and will compete in a Drive-and-Drag event within the next two years. The goal will be the first EV conversion to do so, but even if Baby is not, I will have the personal satisfaction of having participated in a drag event.

There is a huge network of EV conversion experts along with EV racing enthusiasts. Everyone has ideas and experiences, and you can learn a lot from them all. In the end, I am the one who chose to turn a “classic” car into an EV.

I have gained the respect of my hardcore racer and hot-rodding friends because time-slips speak much louder than the noise from exhaust pipes. The folks who see Baby for the first time aren’t sure what to make of it. Even though there will always be those who think I “ruined” it, the vast majority seem to approve, using the words, “cool” and “the future of hot-rodding.”

My conversion is an ongoing experiment. It is a fusion of new and old technologies into a practical toy that puts the “fun” into functionality. I hope to inspire folks who might not have considered their own EV conversion. I had a goal of creating an electric muscle car with enough range to drive to work and back all week while providing the same (or better) performance and reliability. With the help of many people, we have surpassed that goal. And the journey is not over yet. One last thing, the more you learn about EV conversions, the more you realize there is a LOT more to learn. Enjoy the adventure!

SPECS

Owner Name: Jamieson G. DuRette
Location: Bel Air, MD
Year, Make, Model: 1968 Chevy el Camino
Vehicle Name: Baby
Amount of Time to Build: Three years to get it on the road, but it has been upgraded, modified, and repaired in the time since.
Cost to Build: $40,000
Occupation: Technology teacher in Harford County public schools

Motor & Drivetrain

Motor Swap Performed By: Jamieson G. DuRette
Motor Drive Unit Year, Make, Model: Brushed DC Netgain Warp9 tandem coupled to Netgain TransWarp9
Power: kW/hp In low power mode, (1000 A/288 V) 288 kW/221 hp (measured); in “Boost” mode (2000 A/350 V) 700 kW/800 hp (estimated)
Torque: Nm/lb-ft: In low power mode, 473 lb-ft; in “Boost” mode, over 800 lb-ft (it exceeded the hub dyno capacity)
Voltage: Pack Voltage: 396 V
Max RPM: 5,500 rpm
Peak Power RPM: 2,500 rpm
Max Continuous Power: 173kW/207hp
Peak Current: 2000 A
Max Continuous Current: 600 A
Motor/Transmission Mounts: Custom fabricated by Digital Fabrication Systems (DFS) and Jamieson DuRette
Control System and Software: Zilla Z2k EHV by Manzanita Micro
0 to 60 Time: 3.4 seconds
60-ft Time: 1.7 seconds (no box)
Quarter Mile Time: 11.44 seconds @ 112 mph
Vehicle Weight: 4,200 pounds

Battery System & Charger

Pack Design: 96s3p
Cell Type: Lithium polymer flat pack
Module Manufacturer and Configuration: LG Chem (16s modules from 2015-16 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid); 6 modules in series, three parallel strings
Battery Capacity (in kilowatt-hour): 45 kWh
Battery Locations: Beneath bed of truck, one string in smuggler’s trunk, two strings where gas tank used to be
Highway Range: 100 miles
City range: 90 miles
BMS: Orion (three separate 96-cell units, one for each string)
Charger kW Charge Rate: 5+ kW/hr (currently); presently upgrading to 10 kW/hr
Charger Location: In rear behind wheels (where the fuel filler port used to be)

Chassis/Suspension

Installation Shop: Home (Jamieson’s “Garage Mahal”)
Chassis: Stock
Lift/Lowering Kit: (Custom front suspension modification)
Rear Suspension Setup: Quick Performance 31-spline Ford 9-inch with billet yoke
Control Arms: Front: CPP tubular control arms with 1-inch drop modified for coilover shocks. Rear: Lower control arms are modified by boxing them in; upper control arms are UMI Performance adjustable
Spindles: Stock
Springs: Front: 150# / Rear: 350#
Air-Management System:  Klein 200 Air Compressor w/ 150# shutoff switch (for shifter)
Shocks: Viking Double-adjustable coilovers (all four corners)
Track Bar: Front: 1-inch anti-sway bar (stock) / Rear: 1-inch CPP anti-sway bar
Other: Integrated front suspension brace with motor mounts, and body/chassis stiffening subframe and cross-member (custom fabricated); steering is via short-ratio manual box connected to a 2004 Saturn Vue steering column w/ Electronic Power Assist (EPAS)

Wheels, Tires & Brakes

Rims: Centerline 15×8
Tires: Cooper Cobra Radial G/T
Front Brakes: Dual piston Wilwood disc brakes
Rear Brakes: Single piston ’85 Chevy disc brakes
Gears/Ratio: .300 w/Detroit locker
Axles: 31-spline
Driveshaft(s): 3.5-inch Strange Engineering Chromoly w/1350 joints.
Other: Lenco CS2 transmission w/ reverser (two speed, air shifted, .43:1 low, 1:1 high)

Body/Paint

Paint Shop: Home (Jamieson’s “Garage Mahal”)
Color: John Deere Blitz Black
Grille: Custom aluminum design
Wheelwells: Stock
Bumpers: Stock
Body Mods: All emblems and badging closed up except the front header badge for El Camino, 2010 Camaro mirrors modified to fit doors, side bezels and mirror adapters 3D printed from ABS
Headlights: Aftermarket LED w/ blue halo
Taillights: Aftermarket LED
Glass: Ecklers (side and rear), and Safelight (front)
Rubber Moldings: Original Parts Group
Other: Front subframe and controller housing powdercoated Illusion Blueberry by Wild Child Customs in January 2020; rear battery box powdercoated satin black by Wild Child Customs in September 2021

Interior

Install Shop: Home (Jamieson’s “Garage Mahal”)
Seats: 1985 Porsche 944 w/ electric adjustment and aftermarket heat
Gauges: Speedhut custom designs; left is Speedo w/ integrated tach, right is motor amps, controller temp, battery pack state of charge, and motor temp
Steering Wheel: 2004 Saturn Vue steering column w/ custom center cover
HVAC System: Two vent windows for cool, heated seats for heat
Radio Head Unit: Kenwood KDC-BT385U
Speakers: Blaupunkt
Sponsors and Special Thanks
Sponsors: Digital Fabrication Systems, Wild Child Customs
Thanks: John Metric at Lone Star EV Performance (Houston); Michael Bream at EV West in San Marcos, CA; Mick Snyder at Snyder Motorsports in Cresson, TX; Arthur Webster at Digital Fabrication Systems in Bel Air, MD; my amazing (and tolerant) wife, Dawn. Thank you for indulging my passion and enthusiasm for designing, building, and racing.

 

You May Also Like

Artur Kustusch's Remarkable 1998 Jaguar XJR Electric Conversion Journey

Artur Kustusch’s 1998 Jaguar XJR  I  have owned my 1998 Jaguar XJR for more than 20 years. I got it in 2002, a couple of […]

LIVING LA VIDA VOLTA

EV builders and enthusiasts from thirteen US states gathered in Colorado last August for State of Charge ’22 A wealth of hard-earned EV knowledge was on display as nine […]

Icon's Remarkable All-Electric 1949 Mercury Restoration

Icon’s All-Electric 1949 Jonathan Ward and his Los Angeles-based company Icon need no introduction. Appreciated by design masters and fanatics as well as Hollywood stars […]

Exploring the EV Revolution: Launching EV Builder’s Guide for Electric Vehicle Enthusiasts

We’ve seen it, we’ve talked about it, and now we’ve decided to dive deep into the world of electric motor swapped restomods for you to […]