Five Cool Eco-Conversions We’d Like To See

We’ve seen some really cool eco-friendlier conversions in the past week or so, what with the guy who built an electric El Camino, that cool diesel swap Mercedes-Benz did on an old 190D and, of course, the incredibly awesome DIY electric motorcycle Tom Miceli built. It got us thinking — always a dangerous proposition — about what we’d build if we had a garage, a few sacks of cash and maybe a plasma cutter.

More than that, we started wonder what you, our dear readers, would like to see, so we thought we’d ask. Given the time and money, what other cool rides out there are begging for an eco-friendly conversion? Before we turn it over to you guys though, we’ll run down the conversions we’d do if we weren’t, you know, busy with these damn jobs.


Checker Marathon

Checkers have all the cache of a bench vise. They’re straightforward, dependable and impossible to kill. They’re also cooler than hell. Unfortunately, they weigh just slightly less than a Navy destroyer, which makes getting them going, and doing so economically, a challenge. The solution? Drop a Ford Power Stroke 7.3-liter crate motor into the engine bay — lord knows there’s room. Fill’er up with biodiesel and off you go.


Photo: Flickr / GmanViz

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

So a Checker ain’t your thing. No problem. Here’s a sweet classic every true gearhead loves — the classic ‘57 Chevy. Big, beautiful and a reminder that General Motors once ruled the land. We’d update this baby with a GM Duramax diesel V8, and just for kicks convert it to run on veggie oil. There’s just something so right about a classic ‘57 that smells of French fries while you’re laying down two thick stripes of molten rubber.

Photo: Flickr / 900hp

Volkswagen MK1 Scirocco

Volkswagen makes a sweet diesel version of the new ‘rocco, but of course doesn’t sell it here in the states. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we figured we’d convert a first-gen Scirocco to electric power. Why a ‘rocco? Because they’re so much cooler than electric Rabbits (which are, we admit, still pretty freakin’ cool) and sportier than a DIY electric Passat. Besides –we love those classic lines by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Don’t just go for the eco-cred, get some style in your EV conversion.


Photo: Flickr / Wouter Duijndam

Dino 246

We know we’re gonna take a lot of heat for this one, but before you pile on, let us say this: We would do this conversion only on a Dino with a blown engine, because one of us here at Autopia once bought a Dino with a blown engine then discovered what it costs to rebuild a Dino with a blown engine. So what would we do with it? Wait for someone to total their Tesla Roadster, then shoehorn the drivetrain into a Dino. Yes, someone in Maranello would put out a contract on us, but we’d be driving a cool car until we slept with the fish.


Photo: Flickr / chuckbiscuito

Buick Riviera

Pretty much all Rivieras through the mid-70s are cool, but to our mind the boat-tails of the early 70s are the best of the bunch. But, like the Checker Marathon, the Riviera is a heavy beast. We were split here at Autopia on what we’d do, with some of us going the Duratec diesel route while others wondered how many freakin’ batteries and how big a motor you’d need to get the damn thing moving if you made it an EV. The way we see if, if Neil Young can electrify a 1959 Lincoln Continental, anything is possible.


Photo: Flickr / Pascal \o/

OK, it’s your turn. Let us know what kind of cool eco-friendlier conversion you’d build if you had the time, the money and, if you don’t know a spark plug from a glowplug, the know-how to do the job. Use the Reddit widget below to submit your project and vote for your favorite.


Main photo of Mercedes engineers installing a 2009 C-Class diesel engine in a 1992 190 D: Mercedes-Benz.

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A Scirocco is what Top Gear wanted to convert in the first place, but they couldn't find one. They wanted the longer, lower stance for better aerodynamics, but Sciroccos were never terribly popular in NA and the years haven't been kind.

That MB 190, now...that looks factory. I guess that's what you get when the factory does the swap. Super clean work.

Top five econversions, hmm...

1) Diesel-electric hybrid for mid-late 80's Toyota pickups. I say this because if you can spare a bit of space in the bed for batteries, you can bolt in quite a bit of electric range. That, and I have a chassis we could apply to the cause. If it's feasible, there's a lot of compact pickups still doing their thing, an efficiency-minded repower would make keeping them alive even more ecologically viable.

2) The Checker. I'll jump on that bandwagon. Imagine that barge floating through downtown with only the hum of its all-electric drivetrain. Then tromp the loud pedal and the Powerstroke lights up. Booyah!

3) An electric fullsize van. The roof lends itself to a big solar panel for trickle charging. It can't add up to a heck of a lot of range, but some is better than none, right? There's a lot of height under that thing, plenty of space to hang a big battery rack, and more up front where the engine used to live. Skip the driveshaft and bolt the motor directly to the rearend.

The fullsize Ford I drive at work averages less than fifty miles a week. It's conceivable that the solar panels could provide all of that! Imagine, a sort of perpetual motion work machine.

4) Diesel-electric-solar delivery bodies. Again, the solar can't add a lot. But every mile you get for free is mileage for FREE. And fuel costs are a big slice of what things cost anymore. Upfront costs will be tough, but operating costs will drop. Make it a series hybrid and the truck becomes smoother and easier to operate. The diesel engine doesn't need to be nearly as big, and can be operated at its best output for power generation. If it's only going to be run in a narrow speed range, you can tune the exhaust system to really cut the noise. The delivery truck just gets better and better.

5) Electric bike. Add a stonkin' Etek motor to a fully suspended mountain bike frame, and bolt on enough batteries for about 20 miles of hair-raising fun. An Etek will fling you over the horizon pretty damned fast, faster than feels safe on any ol' bike chassis. If you want to flick boogers at Death, electrify a bike with a powerful compact motor and crack the throttle - er - motor controller wide open.