Electric-Powered VW Bus Photobooth

Portland, OR-based photographer Soren Coughlin-Glaser runs a mobile photobooth out of his bright orange VW-EV bus. Cool stuff, but even cooler is that he re-built the e-bus mostly himself using 24 6V golf cart batteries. Soren's blog doesn't provide full-on step-by-steps, but there are schematics, as well as lessons learned with regard to blown connections and brake woes. Sadly, all those set backs pale in comparison to this full-on meltdown:
vw bus.jpg
After the jump, find out what happened and check out some close-up pics...Says Soren:
I am sad and embarrassed to admit it but my shoddy wiring job on the bus led to a fire in the rear battery box. I was playing with the cables connecting two batteries and left one cable too long and forgot I had done that, it must have gotten pressed against another battery terminal under my box lid and the vibrations of driving caused the cable insulation to break causing a short... I had some foam in the back that was a spacer and when I shorted [the wire] it caught the foam on fire. Not a great place for foam...
...Yes I replaced the batteries and got rid of the foam and it runs again. Actually I just stripped a coupling between the motor and transmission so I am having another built so it is out of action for a week or so. You can't just bring these to a shop, you pretty much have to maintain them yourself. Some things can be bought online and are east to replace, but something are better off custom built by a machine shop, which is where I'm at this week. Just another VW bus adventure.
battery rebuild.jpg
battery rebuild2.jpg
On the road again All photos by Soren Coughlin-Glaser
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12 Responses to Electric-Powered VW Bus Photobooth

  1. Mitch says:

    Oh, yeah, I forgot about the lack of the catalytic convertor.

  2. nemik says:

    lol, hippies

  3. styrofoam says:

    24 burnt batteries equates to how many gallons of uncatalyzed gas emissions?

  4. fred says:

    Amazing…. Air cooled vw’s were always seen burning by the side of the road when they were still popular (loose gas line over distributor and old rubber meeting california unleaded ethanol blends)… the tradition seems to continue under electric power as well!

  5. Anonymous says:

    The VW bus is a very light vehicle built for a very light very efficient (and reasonably clean, even by modern standards) engine, and an extremely poor candidate for electric conversion. Great, iconic vehicle for the price and amount of resources used to make it, but limited in many ways, such as carrying capacity and maneuverability.

    So, if the guy’s got a VW electric bus that’s even driveable at all for any decent range, much less with passengers in it, that’s a GREAT achievement! I like it!

    But, realistically, you’d be better off with an older Chevy S-10 (or a step-van, even) for your donor vehicle. VW suspension and framing is just really poorly suited for carrying heavy batteries.

    I saw an electric bus once that was literally sagging in the middle from the weight of a battery pack that gave it far less than a 100 mile range. Looked like a broke-back mule.

  6. mdh says:

    Normally a smoke filled microbus is an objectively good thing.

  7. Paulie Walnuts says:

    At last anonymous post:

    “But, realistically, you’d be better off with an older Chevy S-10 (or a step-van, even) for your donor vehicle. VW suspension and framing is just really poorly suited for carrying heavy batteries.”

    wow – a chevy S-10 is not even in the same league as a VW Bus, Beetle, Squareback, etc… VW’s are still on the road because people are passionate about old VW’s. Who gives 2 shits about a Chevy S-10? Sure it’d make a better donor vehicle, and you’re 100% right about hte suspension, carrying capacity, handling, etc, but an S-10 would have ZERO cool factor beyond the electric conversion.

    just my 2 cents. VW bus kicks ass!

  8. dculberson says:

    Definite kudos to him for the DIY and for recovering from a disaster. At first glance I thought the smoky cabin was a photobooth thing where people wanted to look like they were smoking up in a VW van. Too bad that wasn’t the explanation.

    High capacity batteries are certainly nothing to take lightly, especially an array of them. But I’m glad nobody was hurt and that the van wasn’t destroyed. Good luck with the rebuild!

  9. AirPillo says:

    I hope that they used 6V batteries because it’s a 6V van, and not because they’re one of the folks who somehow got it in their head that 6V are better for large banks of batteries.

    Working at a store that sells batteries I saw my manager countless times having to explain to people that no, they would be a lot better off using the same amount of mass in larger 12V batteries and not having to worry about having so many danged wires crossing to and fro.

    Of course then again there was the RV owner who had gutted the storage compartments along one side of the RV and had filled it with 14 12V car batteries of various sizes and models.

    … and connected it all to tiny little knife switch as a cutoff. I can imagine the horror should there ever have been a short. Especially if that short happened to be across the body of a poor so working on one of the 20-30something sloppily arranged wires down there.

  10. rhinobumpy says:

    you should get a motor swap kit and put a TDI diesel in that puppy! 50mpg and you can use waste veggie oil from number one chinese restaraunt down the street! or find a gramma who wrecked her prius and use those batteries, theyre hella cheap cuz nobody knows what to do with them.

  11. Mitch says:

    I like that. It looks pretty cool on fire.

    I wonder about the quality of the photos, since
    they’re ink jet prints.

    I watched a couple of friends replace the blown engine on a VW bus in a parking lot with some basic hand tools and a bong. The engine is small enough for a person to lift, so I imagine it’s a pretty green vehicle in gasoline mode, too.

  12. dculberson says:

    Mitch, they’re definitely not very green as far as emissions, and they only get about 19 – 20mpg on the highway. A lot of efficiency gains have been made over the years!

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