From Zero Knowledge To Electric MG: Diving In Headfirst

Illustration for article titled From Zero Knowledge To Electric MG: Diving In Headfirst
Photo: Mark

Today’s featured electric car owner isn’t the first one to convert his previously unreliable British car to a dependable EV, but he is the first in our series to perform a home conversion with absolutely no prior experience.

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We all learned how to wrench somewhere — for me it was tie rods and brakes on my ’88 Supra Turbo, for my friends I’ve helped it’s usually oil changes or coilovers. Taking an MG F, pulling out the motor, and turning it into a home-brew electric vehicle is a very ambitious first project. Certainly it will teach you a lot and make you some fun new friends, as this week’s EV owner/builder Mark is here to show.

Welcome to EV Ownership Stories! Every week, we’ll be posting an interview with an owner of an electric vehicle. We’re here to show that people have been living with EVs for longer than you’d think, in stranger places than you’d imagine. If you’d like to be featured, instructions are at the bottom of the article.

Mark has owned his ’99 MG F since it rolled out of the factory. He loved the car, but in his words, “[it] was always plagued with mechanical problems, which made it quite an expensive car to keep.” When the motor finally overheated due to the unreliable nature of the mid-engined Rover K series, he was faced with two choices: scrap the car, or swap the motor. He picked the latter.

The spritely little British roadster would be a good candidate for electrification, Mark decided. He set a budget, reached out to a local EV enthusiast group to get support, and two and a half years later he had the first MG F electric conversion in Australia.

The budget was tighter than most electrification projects I have seen in my inbox so far: $15,000 AUD. That’s about $11,000 USD. Batteries tend to be the most expensive part of any swap project, so Mark imported a used Nissan Leaf battery pack from Japan and used 42 (of 48 total) modules for power storage. The gas-powered four cylinder was swapped for a Siemens Azure AC induction three phase motor, with an Azure Dynamics DMOC 645 water cooled power inverter. This setup propels the car onward with 200 horsepower and 221 lb-ft pounds of torque, extremely respectable statistics for a car that barely tipped the scales at 2,200 pounds when new.

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The power is transmitted to the wheels with the original subframe holding the Siemens motor to the original gearbox via a custom-made adapter plate. The 20 kWh worth of Leaf batteries are stored in the original location for the gas tank, and a fluid heater is even installed and connected to the original heater core system, allowing the car to retain as much of an OEM appearance and finish as humanly possible. The car still has a 60-mile range, allowing Mark to keep using it as his daily driver.

Illustration for article titled From Zero Knowledge To Electric MG: Diving In Headfirst
Photo: Mark
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Clearly, the functionality desired — a sporty, reliable daily with a charmingly adorable appearance — was successfully obtained with the conversion. So how did Mark convert it with no prior knowledge? As he explained to me, reaching out a local enthusiast group did the trick:

I did not have any electrical engineering or mechanical experience. I come from a creative & marketing background working as a creative director and concept artist for theme parks in Australia and the USA. Also, there was no available “kit” I could just drop into [the] MG F, so it would [need to] be a full custom [setup...] I was keen to convert my little MG to 100% electric but had no clue where to start. Luckily I found a local group of EV enthusiasts in Geelong (AEVA Geelong Branch) who were willing to help with advice and assistance when required.

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He started “small” - removing the ICE components, dropping the subframe, and taking measurements, and members of AEVA then got involved with 3D printing components, machining engine mounts, and adapting the transmission to the Siemens powerplant. This certainly wasn’t their first time with an untested, new swap — a brief look at the member list shows an all-electric Suzuki Mighty Boy among them — and so they were able to help significantly in the process.

Relatively strict laws regarding car modification in Australia made the swap even more complicated. Registration and the associated engineering inspection (or “rego” as everyone seems to call it there) dictates how cars can be upgraded and still remain legal for public road use. Mark had to work with a certified engineer at every step of the conversion process to ensure his car would still be allowed to drive places other than racetracks. The only real constraint he ran into was the maximum weight Australia allowed for the MG, which is why he only used part of the Leaf battery pack instead of the entire system. Luckily, the range was still enough for him, but he said as technology improves he intends to upgrade the batteries with higher density versions to get even more range from the same overall weight of energy storage.

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Jumping straight into a powertrain swap with no previous knowledge — and pulling it off — is one of the most Jalop things I could possibly imagine. Doing it with no prior documentation and an electric drivetrain that increases your power and torque over factory, all while getting to meet new people in the hobby, is definitely the core of what many of us love about modification, and it was a joy to be contacted with this car. Thank you so much for sharing, Mark, and I hope your MG F EV gives you many more years of reliable driving fun! We’d love to hear from more readers about their EVs, modern or classic, factory or otherwise.


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If you want to be interviewed, please let us know an email with an re: EV Ownership Stories to tscott at jalopnik dot com!

Collectrix of Vintage Hondas and High Priestess of the Church of Slam It On Wats. Freelancer at Jalopnik. she/her

DISCUSSION

z2221344
TheWalrus

This also represents the first time in recorded history that a British car has been made more reliable by increasing its reliance on electricity.