Shock and awe: Even muscle vehicles going electric

Imagine a future when old American muscle cars return to the roads – not with big block or flathead engines, but with electric motors.

Sure, an old Pontiac GTO, Ford Thunderbird or Chevrolet Chevelle might not feel the same without the roar of that powerful V8 engine, but it’s sure to help those classic vehicles get a second life on the road.

And there’s an independent shop on the island, likely the only one in the country, that can make that happen.

Classic car conversions is just one of several services offered by the automotive shop at EV Works, which also serves as home of the PacWesty van rental company.

The company was founded in 2017 along with the automotive shop, but the electric shop was added late last year as part of a vision to lease a fleet of electric vehicles to companies interested. PacWesty’s original goal was to set up adventurers and families for trips out to the Olympic Peninsula, Mount Rainier or any of Washington’s beautiful landmarks, in its fleet of Volkswagen vans.

Even at that time, before EV Works was established, Greg Dronkert, the founder and president of the overall company that includes PacWesty and EV Works, Pacific Mobility Group, had always had his eye on going electric.

“The progression to get to electrification has always been there,” Dronkert said.

During the course of establishing that side of the business, they began dabbling in electric conversions, including Joule, their 1969 neon green Volkswagen van, to help make them more accessible and available to the public.

And what better place to do it than the environmentally conscious Puget Sound region and Bainbridge Island?

“We’re in the right place to be doing this,” Dronkert said.

Over time, the shop has been working on conversions of other vehicles, such as the larger RAM ProMaster, and they also have several Ford Connect vans that have been converted to electric. Engineering and designing the vehicles for conversion is the biggest part of the job, which can take weeks to months, depending on how quickly you wish to move on it, but the physical conversion can be done fairly quickly. A Vanagon takes about a week, while the ProMaster takes about two weeks.

Electric conversions are also unique because they must be engineered to fit the needs of the owner, such as how far and how fast you want the car to go. It sounds like a lot of work, but the folks at EV Works are passionate about getting more electric cars on the road.

“It’s exciting because it breathes new life into old machines,” Dronkert said.

If you think you’ve seen a few more vehicles with the PacWesty logo locally lately, you’re not crazy.

Like most businesses, the PacWesty and EV Works shops were wondering what to do when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Dronkert and the employees initially stayed open — their business was considered essential — by catching up on maintenance work for its fleet, since the business services its own rentals. At the same time, the Town & Country Market in Winslow found that folks were less willing to leave home and were looking to see if groceries could be delivered.

Soon after, a partnership was formed and the fleet of electric vehicles began hitting the roads of Bainbridge to run grocery deliveries for island residents. Operations soon expanded to Town & Country’s other stores in Ballard, Shoreline and Central Market in Poulsbo, making it the most active electric delivery fleet in Puget Sound.

It was somewhat new territory for the company; Dronkert himself has a long background in transportation and logistics. He attended the California Maritime Academy and the University of Washington and was an executive in a maritime business before cashing out a few years ago during a merger.

But using electric vehicles creates some new wrinkles on the logistics side of the business.

“It’s twice as much work because you have to think about the distance, charging them and rotating them,” Dronkert said. “But we’re committed to becoming experts in electric logistics mobility.”

The EV Works shop has also taken on other projects, such as a version of the RAM ProMaster with a refrigerator box for the University District Food Bank in Seattle. It’s the first electric vehicle with a cargo refrigerator in the country, and it is cooled with the same system used to cool batteries.

“It’s such a unique attribute,” Dronkert said.

Although the cost of converting a car to electric is still mostly prohibitive for the general public, by providing this type of service, Dronkert hopes that more people will simply take notice and make the switch themselves by purchasing their own electric vehicle.

After all, who can take their eyes off a beautiful old 1970 Plymouth GTX cruising down the street, no matter what’s under the hood?

“We feel good about the mission, which really is normalizing the adoption of electric vehicles,” Dronkert said.

EV Works technicians take a look at Joule, the shop's electric Volkswagen bus. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)
EV Works currently has a Vanagon up on the rack, which will be converted to electric. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)

EV Works currently has a Vanagon up on the rack, which will be converted to electric. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)