VW Commercial Vehicles gives classic 60s icon a new lease of electric life

With the world seemingly going to hell in a hand cart, here's some news that might cheer you up: VW has developed a powertrain to electrify the classic 1966 Type 1 Samba Bus. Keeping the retro looks that are so well known and loved across the world untouched, the e-BULLI, as it has been designated, is a concept that has global appeal.

EV conversions for classic cars aren't uncommon. Everything from Minis to Jaguars, Rolls Royces and even Porsches have had the treatment, and many people view it as a good way of keeping classics both on the road, and usable every day. Now, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles has joined in by creating the e-BULLI – a converted T1 Samba Bus which was produced in 1966 and has been thoroughly restored.

The e-BULLI was actually produced to be unveiled at Techno Classica 2020, but given the postponement of the event, it has instead been released for the world to see. And perhaps the best bit of all is that it will be available to buy, thanks to VW Commercial Vehicles' partner, eClassics, which will provide both complete vehicles, and undertake conversions.

California dreaming

Those wistful images that spring to mind when thinking of VW buses in their heyday of the ’60s and early ’70s are particularly relevant here as the T1 that has been subject to the first e-BULLI conversion has spent over 50 years on the West Coast. In-line with California's new dream of clean air and a low emissions future, the Bus no longer clatters around; instead it glides silently thanks to an 82bhp electric motor – which is almost double the power of the petrol engine it replaces.

Like the original drivetrain, the motor is located in the rear of the e-BULLI and much of the electric drive systems are accessed either from underneath, or via the original engine hatch. A 1-speed gearbox enables the drive to take it up to a top speed that is limited to 80mph, and when slowing down, regenerative braking helps things out as well as recharging the battery.

Converted using production parts

The battery itself is a 45kWh lithium-ion unit taken from VW's production line and converted by eClassics for use with the e-BULLI. The motor is also a standard unit, however eClassics has gone to work with the equipment to handle and convert power from DC to AC.

Charging is undertaken via a CCS socket which means both AC and DC charging are supported, with anything from 2.3 to 22kW being usable in the former, and up to 50kW in the latter. This means that 80 per cent charge can be achieved in 40 minutes, and on a full charge the bus is capable of over 120 miles.

Retro styling, modern components

Throughout the e-BULLI, VW has been careful to ensure that it looks stock, but has some nice modern touches to bring it bang up to date. The paint is from brand new colour palettes, but was chosen to look retro, whilst the headlamps and subtle daytime running lights are all LED.

Inside, the classic interior has been re-imagined in a very sympathetic way, with new seating – also in two-tone colours – and a reworked front area with a modern drive shifter and combined analogue/digital multi-purpose display-come-dial for the driver. Ensuring that the properly modern connectivity side of things is catered for, the e-BULLI has a tablet integrated into the roof console and the car can be hooked up to a smartphone or computer to monitor all manner of settings.

A modern but retro looking stereo enables to occupants to tune into DAB+ or stream music via Bluetooth or USB, and active but out-of-sight components like an in-built subwoofer ensure that the sound quality is up to scratch.

What's the damage?

Conversions of this quality don't come cheap, unfortunately. A zero-emissions T1 conversion built by eClassics starts at 64,900 euros – around £58,500 (at the time of writing). But just look at what that money buys you! Certainly, if we won the lottery we'd be very tempted...

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