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.


The go kart-like Mini Cooper will soon add zero emissions to its resume

Mini is in the final stages of developing an electric version of the Cooper. The 2020 Cooper SE will receive powertrain components from the BMW i3, including a 181-horsepower electric motor and battery technology.

The 2020 Porsche Cayenne Coupe is an exercise in form-over-function design

Porsche expanded its lineup of SUVs with a swoopier evolution of the Cayenne named Cayenne Coupe. Don't let the name fool you: it still has four doors. It stands out with a fastback-like roofline that's lower than the Cayenne's.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC coupe gets a tech upgrade, keeps quirky styling

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC coupe debuts at the 2019 New York Auto Show with an upgraded infotainment system that incorporates Mercedes' digital assistant. The SUV launches later this year with turbocharged four-cylinder power.

Fisker plans sub-$40,000 electric SUV with 300 miles of range for 2021

Fisker Inc. plans to launch an electric SUV with a base price of under $40,000, and a range of around 300 miles in 2021. The unnamed vehicle could compete with the Tesla Model Y, if it ever gets into production.

This modified Land Rover Discovery is heading to Africa to help fight malaria

A Land Rover Discovery will be used by the Mobile Malaria Project for a 3,900-mile trek across Africa to study malaria. The SUV is equipped with a mobile gene-sequencing laboratory, as well as everything necessary for serious off-roading.

Volvo wants to use speed limiters, in-car cameras, and data to reduce crashes

Volvo believes new tech is the best way to improve car safety. The Swedish automaker will let owners set speed limits when loaning out their cars, install cameras to monitor drivers, and use data to design better safety features.
Product Review

The Ferrari Portofino is the super stallion you’ll want to drive every day

With the introduction of the Portofino, Ferrari addresses the California T’s stylistic shortcomings while improving comfort, convenience, and performance. There’s little “entry-level” about this super stallion.

BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe teased way ahead of its November debut

The BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe is coming to the United States, eventually. The new compact BMW won't be unveiled until the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show in November. The Gran Coupe will be based on a front-wheel drive platform.

Tesla lets you skip the dealership, order a car from the comfort of your couch

Tesla has always bypassed traditional dealerships, and it has now adopted an online-only sales model that lets customers configure and order their car without leaving their couch. Here's what you need to know.

Autonomous shuttle rides coming to New York City via Optimus Ride

Workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in NY City will soon be able to make their way around the 300-acre industrial park in Optimus Ride's self-driving shuttles. The tech startup says it's the first trial of its kind in the state.

Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi group uses Microsoft cloud platform for connected cars

The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance is launching a new cloud platform for its cars. Based on Microsoft Azure, the Alliance Intelligent Cloud will enable features like connected services and over-the-air updates.

The 2019 Toyota C-HR gains a popular tech feature as its price comes down

Toyota has updated the C-HR, its entry-level crossover, by adding an entry-level trim level to the lineup. Every model regardless of price also comes standard with an 8.0-inch touchscreen compatible with Apple CarPlay.
Product Review

2019 Volkswagen Jetta offers German refinement and tech at an affordable price

With enough tech to make villains jealous, the Volkswagen Jetta punches above its class as a forward-thinking sedan. Spacious, comfortable, and efficient, the Jetta is a refined offering. German refinement comes with a serious attitude.
Product Review

Chris is the virtual co-pilot phone-obsessives need in their car

Driving while using your phone is dangerous, and often illegal. Meet Chris, the digital assistant for your car that wants to help keep your hands off your phone, and your eyes on the road.