In the 1960s, termite-rotted, oil-spewing, 20-miles-to-a-gallon (of oil) Woodies, or rust-and-duct tape Ford panel trucks were the surfer’s vehicle of choice. By the 1970s, the Volkswagen van had taken the top spot. I have owned four VW vans that have taken me on surf safaris deep in Baja, up into Northern California, and, once into Canada. While getting to my destination was slow, once I arrived my van became a home equal or superior to the six-to-a-room roach motel I occupied at the time.
The only problem is that Volkswagen vans, especially the air-cooled models, tended to blow up. All four of mine suffered that fate, with one of them rebuilt in Mexico where the wrong pistons were installed and the engine blew again near home, just north of Tijuana. Turns out those German-engineered masterpieces were not constructed for four adults, eight surfboards, camping gear, and 10 days’ worth of food and water in the scorching Baja desert. Four cars and six engines later, I settled on vehicles that lacked foldout beds, but didn’t die of heat exhaustion.
Whenever I would consider buying another Volkswagen van, I would be snapped back to reality as one might when considering calling an ex-girlfriend, only to be reminded by a friend of that one painful betrayal. Thus warned, I kept my distance for decades.
Then I ran into Michael Bream, a longtime friend who had owned and operated Gravity Skateboards for over two decades. He had a ’65 VW double cab pickup he wanted me to check out. Expecting zero to 60 in just under 15 minutes, I slumped in the passenger seat, cinched up an original belly hugging seatbelt and waited for the old familiar put put rhythm from the little engine that couldn’t. Unable to detect any sound, I was soon pinned to the seat in a way I hadn’t been since riding shotgun in a friend’s 427 Corvette Stingray years earlier. This old VW — which in racing circles would be known as a “sleeper” since it is far more powerful than it appears — is driven by an electric motor, just like all of Bream’s 20-some cars, and the ones he converts in his San Marcos EV West factory.
The modest-sized car conversion facility is occupied with classic Vans, Bugs, BMWs, and even a DeLorean, all of which are in the process of achieving a second life by going electric.
“Each of the cars we convert are faster and better when we finish with them, and it’s all free energy,” says Bream before walking me over to the charging station in the corner of the shop. It is here that sun freely powers cars once thirst for gasoline.
When asked about the practicality of a Baja surf trip in an electronic car, Bream replies, “Being able to drive six or seven hundred miles on a single charge is just around the corner.”
Bream, who has by his own admission has always been a car guy, had long been conflicted between his love of the open road, and his deep environmental principles. He finally made peace in this matter by marrying passion to responsibility. “I like to go out driving, and now I can drive all I want, guilt free in something that’s 100 percent solar powered, is carbon neutral and emission free.”
Anyone want to book a trip to Scorpion Bay with me in 2025 in my 1965 Volkswagen Van? I promise the car won’t overheat, and it won’t cost you a penny in gas.
At this writing, EV West has about a three-and-a-half year waiting list to convert cars. If you want to learn more about Michael Bream and EV West, visit evwest.com.