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First V8 Tesla Swap Proves How Different They Are From Gas Cars

There are two kinds of clean energy fans. One kind has a sense of humor and doesn’t take things too seriously. The other kind goes on the Rich Rebuilds YouTube channel and makes death threats. What brought the second kind to critical mass this time? Rich is putting a V8 gas engine in a Tesla.

By Jennifer Sensiba

There are two kinds of clean energy fans. One kind has a sense of humor and doesn’t take things too seriously. The other kind goes on the Rich Rebuilds YouTube channel and makes death threats. What brought the second kind to critical mass this time? Rich is putting a V8 gas engine in a Tesla.

Of course, it’s heresy. It’s environmentally unfriendly. Mostly, it’s funny, though.

Whether you’re the first kind or the second kind of fan, there’s something we can all appreciate here: Rich’s hard work putting this project together proves just how different Teslas are from most other vehicles.

At first glance, converting an electric car to run on gas sounds like a relatively simple proposition. Teslas look like other cars. They have a hood, a trunk area, four wheels, front and back bumpers, four doors, a windshield, a roof, and rows of seating. If you invited an alien from another planet to look at cars, they might not know that Teslas are that different from other cars on the road.

Watching Rich and his team plan and start the project makes it pretty clear that they don’t have as much in common with gas vehicles as it first appears, though. Because the car was designed from the ground up for electric drive, it’s going to take a LOT of work to make it burn dinosaurs.

Engine Mounting

First, you need to mount the engine where a Tesla has a frunk, and that’s no easy task. There’s a big frame piece that goes from the tops of the suspension for the front wheels that gets in the way, and that needs cut. After putting an engine in, Rich will have to fabricate a custom piece that can bolt on and go over the engine. It can’t just be welded back because it would then be impossible to do maintenance later.

Custom mounts will need to be fabricated to hold the engine in place. The Tesla electric steering rack’s motor gets in the way, so they’ll be putting the gas car’s hydraulic steering system in place, which will require custom tubing from the power steering pump to the rack.

The motor will need a cooling system that an EV doesn’t have. Custom brackets will need to be fabricated to mount a radiator, and then hoses will be needed to go to the engine block and water pump. The front bumper will need to be modified to let air push through the radiator so the V8 engine doesn’t overheat.

Transmission vs Drive Units

The engine’s crank points toward the back of the car in the Chevy Camaro this LS engine came from, and the mechanical energy needs to be transmitted to the rear wheels from under the hood. Because gas engines can’t operate at very low and very high RPMs, and because they work best in a narrow range of RPMs, the Camaro had a complex multi-speed transmission to give different drive ratios for different situations.

A Tesla has electric motors facing to the side, with the motors and gear reducers mounted near the wheels that are being turned. Instead of a multi-speed transmission, most EVs have a single-speed gear reducer, because the electric motors can operate anywhere from zero RPM to the car’s maximum speed without ever shifting to a different gear or needing to slip or disconnect to prevent stalling out.

These major technological differences present a huge challenge for this conversion. Not only does the motor need to be crammed in under the hood, but the transmission needs to go back where a Tesla has its passenger compartment, and it’s a lot bigger than a Tesla drive unit. Because of this, the team will need to cut a big canyon in the car’s floor and build a tunnel for the transmission to go in.

Behind the transmission, the drive shaft connects the drivetrain to the differential, which will go where the Tesla’s rear drive unit once was. Axles will then take the power to the rear wheels. The tunnel will need to go all the way through the passenger compartment, and then custom mounts and custom axles will be needed to connect the rear end up to the wheels.

No Battery Pack Structure

Once everything is all cut up and put back together to accommodate the Camaro’s drive systems, the car will have one major problem: it won’t be rigid enough to not flex itself apart.

A Tesla is built to rely on the battery pack for structural rigidity. With no battery pack under the car, and no room for a reinforced “dummy” pack (the transmission and drive shaft go through the middle of where the Tesla’s battery pack was), something else will need to be done. Rich’s team plans on taking extra structural braces from another Tesla donor car and welding them into place, and even then more custom bracing may be needed to make the vehicle safe to drive.

By the time all of this is said and done, basically the whole floor of the Tesla will be cut apart, redesigned, and put back together. Teslas are just that different from a Camaro.

Electronics

Does all this sound like it’s been impossibly complicated? Sorry, but we aren’t anywhere near done yet, and haven’t come to the hardest part: the electronics.

Just getting the LS V8 engine running will be a big project. The wiring harness (a big bundle of wires) from the Camaro came with the engine, but was made to plug into the Camaro’s electronics, and in that regard the Camaro has next to nothing in common with the Tesla. Nothing is in the same place, and none of the various computers even speak the same languages.

For this part, Rich’s team will have to build a custom harness from scratch and basically pretend the Tesla is a ’57 Chevy. Nothing from the Tesla’s computers will be usable. The basic things like door locks and power windows will need to be fed 12 volts from a normal car battery, but will likely need some modifications to work well.

A custom gauge cluster will need to be made to replace the screen in front of the drive, but it may be possible to take this from the Camaro and adapt it to fit the Tesla dash. It’s possible that a custom dash will need to be built for this.

Infotainment? They’re either going to need to build something custom or rebuild the dash to not have one at all. Either way, the infotainment will not be able to do all of the things that the Tesla’s one does. With a custom computer or tablet mounted, they can connect it to the OBD port wiring to make the display give engine information. From what I’ve seen on Rich’s channel, they’ll probably do lots of funny things here.

If it was my project, I’d be sure the display shows “Warning: Danger to Manifold” when you hit a secret button or spot on the screen. But that’s just me.

Suspension

By now, we’ve completely changed the vehicle’s weight distribution. Instead of a heavy battery pack sitting down low and in the center of the vehicle, now there’s an engine sitting mostly on the front wheels. A Tesla is actually closer to the ideal 50/50 weight distribution that supercars aim for by putting the engine behind the driver, but comes in a lot heavier than gas cars.

The end result is that the rear of the car will sit very high and the front will squat, so custom springs that level things back out and help make up for the lack of balance will be needed. The Tesla’s light aluminum body will also mean there isn’t a lot of weight to pin the rear wheels down, so wider tires and possibly some added weight will be desirable. This may be a good place to put the gas tank (more on this in a minute).

Other aspects of the suspension will need retuned to make the car handle well, assuming that’s going to be realistically possible. Either way, you won’t want to drive the converted car like a Tesla because the center of gravity will be a lot higher.

Fuel and Air

Now that the car is going to be powered by combustion, you’ll need to feed it fuel and air.

For fuel, you’ll need to find a place to put the gas tank. The right place will probably be at the bottom of the trunk or near there to help balance the vehicle out, plus that’s where there’s likely to be room. The tank will need a 12v wire to power the fuel pump, and this will likely be tied into the engine computer up front. Wiring will also need to go from the fuel level sensing unit so the car can have a gas gauge. This will also likely be integrated into the engine computer.

A fuel line and possibly a return line will need to be custom built to go under the car to feed the fuel rail on the engine up front, and rubber will connect everything up at both ends. All of this needs to be placed in such a way to be safe from the spinning driveshaft, impacts on stupidly big speed bumps you’ll occasionally encounter, and the vehicle’s exhaust.

Exhaust

When the engine is done combusting the fuel and air, it will need some place to put the hot carbon dioxide, water vapor, and the various pollutants that come out of the engine. The tight quarters the engine is already in where the frunk once was will probably require custom headers to collect the exhaust gases from the 8 exhaust ports. There are four of these on the left and four of these on the right.

The 4 pipes come together on each side, and two custom exhaust pipes will need to be routed back under the car. These custom pipes need threaded holes for oxygen sensors and possibly other sensors that the Camaro had. Next (assuming you do this all legally), there will be catalytic converters to help process the exhaust gases and make them a bit less harmful to the environment.

Behind that, the pipes can come together and the exhaust goes all together to the rear of the car in a bigger pipe. Or, they can meet and split apart again, in an X configuration. Other builders prefer an “H pipe” that links the two exhaust pipes together to equalize the pressure a bit before going back.

If you end things there, your neighbors will hate you and cops will pull you over, because the exhaust will be super loud. Right before the end of the car, you’ll need mufflers of some kind to quiet things down before the gas exits the car. Making it completely silent would make the whole project completely pointless, so you’ll want something that brings the sound down within legal limits but still lets it be heard.

I’d personally use Flowmaster 40 series mufflers for a more mild sound, but there are a lot of options depending on what kind of a sound you’re looking for. I’m thinking Rich’s team will want to have this car make a lot of noise.

Turbo?

In the video, Rich says he wants to turbocharge the engine. This will complicate the exhaust, intake, and other factors under the hood. An intercooler will need to be mounted somewhere up front with good air flow for better adiabatic efficiency (and thus, more power). Oil and possible engine coolant will need to be routed to the turbo(s).

Perhaps most importantly, there needs to be room for all this stuff, which might mean more cutting. Kits are available for the Camaro, but I can guarantee that nobody sells a turbocharging kit for a Tesla with a Chevrolet/GM LS V8 engine.

What We Learn From All This

While I know some people aren’t excited about the idea of a Tesla being converted to run on gas, do keep in mind that the vehicle was in a junkyard and an operational Tesla was not harmed in the creation of this project. The damaged Tesla body was reused, as was the engine from the crashed Camaro. All in all, this is far more environmentally friendly than buying a new V8 car and may (depending on the miles driven) be net cleaner than buying a new Tesla.

More importantly, this insane project shows us just how different a Tesla is from gas-powered cars. So many things needed to be changed to make it work that it’s almost a completely different car when all is said and done.

Like the V8 Tesla project or hate it, it does prove just how much work went into designing Tesla’s vehicles. They aren’t cars that happen to run on electricity; they’re a completely different machine in most respects.

 
Written By

Jennifer Sensiba Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things: https://twitter.com/JenniferSensiba Do you think I've been helpful in your understanding of Tesla, clean energy, etc? Feel free to use my Tesla referral code to get yourself (and me) some small perks and discounts on their cars and solar products. https://www.tesla.com/referral/jennifer90562

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