Hybrid VW Bus

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David's newest car conversion, a hybrid VW bus.

Nearly a year ago in 1979 we featured an article about a 75-mile-per-gallon hybrid electric car that a gentleman named David Arthurs from Springdale, Arkansas had put together for a total of $1,500. Six months after that we ran a short update on the success of Dave’s design and mentioned that he was working on several other alternative transportation projects that we felt sure MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ readers would want to know about.

Well, Mr. Arthurs recently gave us a call to let us know that one of those vehicles — his hybrid VW transporter bus — is now on the road and in regular use.

The Volkswagen bus uses essentially the same circuit as did Dave’s original hybrid Opel GT. He has, however, made some improvements and design changes which not only simplify construction of the vehicle, but make it a downright practical form of urban transportation.

The new hybrid delivery van still uses a 400 amp starter/generator as its “prime mover,” and that motor is coupled to the existing transmission through a clutch and commercially available adapter plate. Four batteries within the vehicle provide “juice” to make the system operate. The big change is the charging setup: Instead of mounting an internal combustion engine within the body of the bus, the inventor chose to mount it — and its generator “mate” — on a separate trailer fabricated from some pieces of tubular steel. Heavy gauge welding cable ties the mobile power-pack to the VW’s drive motor, and the trailer itself is clamped tightly onto the rear bumper of the tow vehicle.

In addition, Dave has opted, for economy reasons, to go with a 9-HP Lombardini air-cooled diesel engine rather than a more conventional gasoline-powered unit and, with the generator charging at a rate of 200 amps, the soundness of that decision is verified by the 1/2-gallon-per-hour fuel consumption figure that David has calculated. Other changes include a reduction in the number of relays required (he now needs only two … the main power and generator switches).

With his delivery vehicle as it is now, the engineer has the option of either disconnecting the power trailer completely (and taking short local drives on battery-stored energy) or leaving the trailer connected, and — with help from the diesel engine — providing “juice” to his power packs for an extended driving range at in-town speeds.

At this point, Mr. Arthurs is — to say the least — sold on hybrid electric vehicles. He is, in fact, so involved in the concept that he’s started a newsletter to encourage an exchange of information among HEV enthusiasts. So, if you’re building a hybrid car and need a little help, drop Dave a line … and by all means, if you’ve finished your home-built fuel-sipper, be sure to let MOTHER EARTH NEWS know about it!

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