Electric power transforms this VW cruiser into a green speed machine

Slowly but surely, the electric revolution is reaching the classic car market. A collector has asked California-based builder Icon to take an all-original, unrestored Volkswagen Thing and turn it into a one-of-a-kind battery-powered beach cruiser.

In 1973, the Thing rolled off the assembly line with Beetle power. It was equipped with a 1.6-liter air-cooled flat-four engine rated at 46 horsepower and 72 pound-feet of torque. After a stint in Icon’s Los Angeles workshop, it boasts an electric motor that zaps the rear wheels with 180 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of twist and a 40-kWh battery pack. The motor is neatly mounted in the space formerly occupied by the flat-four, while the battery pack is divided between the front trunk and the area directly behind the rear seats. Icon founder Jonathan Ward told Digital Trends the Thing has about 100 miles of range.

Icon explained its first EV — which has been nicknamed Wild Thing — now uses disc brakes that significantly reduce its stopping distance, and an adjustable suspension. The modifications were necessary because Volkswagen never intended the Thing to weigh as much as this one does. It’s a real blast to drive — and even drift — in spite of the added mass, according to Ward.

The undesirable byproduct of making the Thing completely silent was a cacophony of squeaks and rattles previously muted by the sound of the flat-four. Consequently, Icon’s team spent no less than 3,000 hours chasing down every last one of them to ensure the only noise heard in the cabin comes from the wind, the tires, or the improved sound system.

Ward said the most difficult part of the project was building a transaxle strong enough to handle the higher torque output, and packaging the batteries, which are in two different locations. His team pulled it off admirably; there is no doubt the folks who designed the Thing would be impressed.

Icon is known for obsessing over every minute detail and the Wild Thing is no exception. The modifications included installing more comfortable front seats and replacing the analog gauge behind the steering wheel with a custom-built digital screen that looks period-correct. It provides key information related to the new powertrain such as how much juice is left in the battery

Ward mentioned Icon is working on a second electric project that will be revealed soon and he is open to performing similar conversions in the future. He believes embracing new technology is important, especially when it makes a classic car more interesting. However, he has his limits.

“I’m pretty much down with any of it short of autonomous. Personally, I could give a rat’s butt about autonomous cars. I think that’s great for whatever soul-less car you want to commute in and not really engage with, but I’m all about — we’re all about — building vehicles that enhance that man-machine, that mechanical, tactile… thing. That’s what we’re all about,” he explained.