Building for the Future

For many of us, working on cars is much more than a hobby. It’s a pastime. We toil in the garage working towards future goals, but the work is also a deep connection to our pasts. Understanding how to disassemble, repair, and reassemble a combustion engine is a sacred skill set, one that is passed down from generation to generation. Growing up handing wrenches to our mentors, we learned countless valuable lessons, but we also had fun.

There will always be a place for these grease-stained memories. The most nostalgic among us will never let the combustion engine entirely go out of style. However, the world of cars is changing. Every unit that comes off the line today seems to be equal parts supercomputer and vehicle. And if the constant loop of glossy gametime commercials hasn’t convinced you yet, the automotive industry is embracing the electric motor with a full charge. 

It begs the question: what does this mean for our beloved pastime? 

And what does it look like to build for the future?

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“We’re not here to save the world.”

Cars aren’t the first industry to be shaken up by technological change, and they won’t be the last. Daunting as they may feel, these moments in history always come with some unexpected silver linings — if you’re just willing to look for them.

We spoke with two builders determined to do just that. 

Edison Motors is a trucking startup founded by a group of drivers who got sick of waiting around for Tesla to finally drop their semi — so they started building electric semis on their own. Through some pioneering experimentation, Chace Barber, co-founder, and his team have pushed the category and shared their knowledge and discoveries with the world online. 

EV West is a shop and supplier specializing in making electric conversions a fun and accessible option for car enthusiasts. Michael Bream, CEO, is on a mission to get people excited about the electric revolution for the sake of car culture, not just for the environment. 

“There are bigger, more capable forces at play working to save the environment. We’re not here to save the world. We're a bunch of car enthusiasts who are here to save cars.” – Michael Bream, EV West

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Getting Started  

The EV takeover is inevitable. The question remains: as builders, how do we make it ours? Step one is to close knowledge gaps. Now’s the time to get familiar with how electric engines work so that when your buddy’s electric leaf blower starts acting up, you’re still the person they call to help fix it. Starting small by tinkering with engines in power tools, scooters, and go-karts is a great way to get into the electric groove without committing to an entire project. 

“I know people that bought an electric forklift for a couple hundred bucks took out the 2000-Watt motor and installed it in a go-kart. They just rip. It’s a very scalable skillset — and a whole lot of fun.” – Chace Barber, Edison Motors

When you’re ready to take things up a notch, EV engine swap kits are becoming more accessible every day. But they don’t make sense in every project yet. Kit manufacturers are still playing it safe when it comes to size and weight, so the ideal projects are sports cars, vintage cars, and convertibles.

“You get the most bang for the buck by going electric on a vintage car restoration project. You don't have to invest a lot of money, and it's easy to double, triple, or even quadruple your vehicle’s horsepower.” – Michael Bream, EV West

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Electrifying the Past

Nothing makes people smile like seeing a vintage car cruise through the neighborhood on a sunny day. But if you know someone with an older car, you know: those rides are relegated to side streets only. Many older cars aren’t fast or reliable enough to be much more than a short jaunt on a good day — or an expensive driveway sculpture on a bad one. But that could change with EV motors.

“We live in an era where, if you're in a Volkswagen Beetle, you can't go on the freeway because you can't get up to speed. It’s unsafe. A lot of vintage cars are in the same situation. A simple EV swap can bring these vehicles up to modern standards.” – Michael Bream, EV West 

It’s an exciting proposition for the builder who needs to justify a purchase: your next restoration project could become the coolest daily driver you’ve ever had. And possibly, the most reliable vehicle in your garage. This is especially exciting for those of us with a beloved car up on blocks somewhere, waiting for its next chapter. 

“If you've got an old pickup truck where the motor’s getting a little tired, or you don't want to constantly tinker with it anymore or find parts, don't go out and buy a brand new truck. Buy an EV driveline, and build a new truck for a fraction of the cost.” – Chace Barber, Edison Motors

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It’s Still a Mechanic’s Game

Both Chace and Michael stressed that electric motors are simpler than many car enthusiasts assume. It’s not a different world; it’s just a different platform. Some of the apprehension can stem from the new terminology that comes with electric cars. But get a handle on what’s “watt,” and the rest, well, you’re probably already an expert in.

“80-90% of the problem-solving with these projects is mechanical. It's a lot of welding and fabricating, fitting in motors, swapping axles, and crafting new mounting equipment. The one major difference is the wires. And if you take it slow and follow the instructions, that part can be simple.” – Chace Barber, Edison Motors

 

Chace Walks through an EV Swap in 5 Simple Steps

Step One: Find a project vehicle. Keep it on the light side: sports cars, hotrods, and most vintage makes work great.

Step Two: Determine your budget, and find a kit that aligns with what you want to spend. Some makes and models are more common to swap than others, making for a less expensive project.

Step Three: Remove the current motor, and install your new one. If you're performing an axle swap, you drop the whole driveline. If you're running something more simple off the transmission, you leave your transmission.

Step Four: Find a place to store your batteries. Most people with classics put them under the hood. There's plenty of room. Other builds might place them under a body pan, in the back seat, or the rear trunk. 

Step Five: Connect your batteries to your motor, and replace your throttle with an electronic one. Most kits have an informative dash component to install at the end as well. 

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Instigators of Change

While popular options for vintage car enthusiasts right now, electric motors are worth the attention of the entire car world. And track-by-track, sport-by-sport, club-by-club, EV West is determined to show us exactly why.

A self-proclaimed “glutton for punishment,” Michael pushes himself and his team to tackle challenging projects, bringing the massive potential of electric conversion to new spaces within car culture. Recently, they set their sights on the land speed space. In a 60-day turn, they built a car from the ground up, got it licensed at the Bonneville Salt Flats, set a record, and earned themselves a place in the “200 MPH club.” (The “242 MPH club,” to be exact.) 

The community at Bonneville took note. One year later, two other teams showed up with electric builds to compete. And more are planning electric builds next year. 

Mission accomplished. 

“Change is coming, and we want to catalyze it and arm passionate communities with the tools and data they need to drive things forward. It’s exciting. You're going to see people tinkering with these new drivetrains the same way they were tinkering with flathead engines back in the day.” – Michael Bream, EV West

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A New Tradition

The future holds a lot of buzz-worthy advancements in motorized fun: highway-adjacent backyards with no traffic noise, Zambonis that don’t fill the ice arena with carbon monoxide, racetracks in more convenient areas — maybe even a Baja 1000 win, performed on a single charge. (Michael swears it’s possible!) But, what’s most exciting are the new traditions that car enthusiasts will create in the next generation of garages. 

“Growing up, I helped my dad perform an engine swap before I even had a driver's license. Many of my fondest memories are of us in the garage. And now, I have a son who deserves to have all those experiences, too. I want everyone to be able to keep these traditions alive, regardless of emissions.” – Michael Bream, EV West 

To help car enthusiast parents always know how to answer car questions — even as engines begin to change — EV West has partnered with the Electric Vehicle Learning Center. This 501c3 school teaches students young and old how to build a battery pack or diagnose issues in electric engines. They start small with electric scooters and motorcycles, keeping the class environment safe and the lessons scalable. 

“You don’t build a car just to make it to work. You build a car to make it between the days of work. We do this because we love it. And because it’s fun.” – Michael Bream, EV West 

In the future, that fun isn’t going anywhere.

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