Scratch-Built Electric Buggy Tears Up The Dunes

It’s a fair bet to say that the future of personal transportation will probably be electric. In support of that, every major car manufacturer either has an electric drivetrain option available now, or they’re working furiously on developing one. And while it’s good that your suburban grocery grabber will someday be powered by the sun, what about the pressing need for EVs that are just plain fun to drive?

To fill the fun gap, at least for now, [James Biggar] built what you can’t buy: an all-electric dune buggy. And lest you think this was a kit build, be assured that the summary video below shows this little sand rail was 100% scratch-built. The chassis is fabricated from bent tubing, and welded up using a clever plywood template to get the angles just right. The buggy has four-wheel independent suspension and a wide, aggressive stance to handle rough terrain. The body panels are sheet aluminum bent on a custom-built brake, which was also used to form the Plexiglas windshield with a little help from a heat gun.

While the bodywork makes the buggy pretty sick looking, the drivetrain is just as impressive. [James] used an ME1616, a liquid-cooled 55-kW beast. A chain drive couples the motor to a differential from a Honda CR-V which has a limited-slip modification installed. The batteries are impressive, too — 32 custom-made lithium-iron-phosphate batteries made from 32650 cells in vacuum-formed ABS plastic shells that nest together compactly. It all adds up to a lot of fun in the dirt; skip to 23:37 in the video to see what this thing can do.

Honestly, the level of craftsmanship here is top-notch, and is all the more impressive in that it’s not fancy — just good, solid methods and lots of hard work. We’d love to have the time and resources to put into something like this — although a drop-in crate motor EV might be a satisfying build too.

Thanks to [Zane Atkins] for the tip!

14 thoughts on “Scratch-Built Electric Buggy Tears Up The Dunes

  1. ‘Tears up’ not so sure.

    I’m very sure it is capable of said tearing, possibly needs a lower gear, which is easy to obtain with his chain drive.

    He hit 75 (mph or kph) way too easily, with a lower gear he could maybe pop a wheelie? Dunno. But a very cool build, wish I was building one (I say eyeing my 24s 20Ah LiFePo4 pack.

    1. Electric motors excel in high-torque applications without need of a gearbox. Given the motor that is installed in the buggy, it is capable of providing enough torque. The bottleneck is likely to be the drive controller which probably tops out at 150A of continuous current.

      1. Sure, but if it’s geared down further he’d trade off a bit of top end for more torque. This reality applies to any rotary motion. The tradeoff they’re talking about is exactly the same as putting a larger rear sprocket on a motorcycle, or a higher ratio diff on a car. If you increase that ratio, you get more torque applied at the wheel in exchange for the motor running faster at any given wheel speed, which means you’ll hit your motor’s RPM limit or power rolloff sooner.

        Modern EVs usually don’t have multi-speed gearbox, but the vast majority have a reduction stage (both the chain drive and the differential in this case). I’m sure that there’s a true direct-drive exception that proves the rule, but I’m not aware of it.

    2. I think he’s hitting the current limit for the battery system. The BMS can handle up to 300 Amps, which puts the nominal maximum power output of the system at 29 kW or just under 40 HP. With all the batteries on-board, he’s not popping wheelies.

      1. It’s true that he’ll likely never be popping wheelies with the current layout, but he could still trade some top-end for more torque at the wheels if he wanted to.

        1. Popping wheelies is more dependent on center of gravity than horsepower. Almost all the famous wheelie standers are rear engine. I know i’m talking about ICE but just move the battery pack back over the rear axle and let the wheelies begin!

          1. Yeah I sigh deeply any time people regard wheelies or burning tires as a demonstration of power… it’s more a demonstration of poor location of cg or inadequate tire choice.

  2. Wow, that electric buggy is like half of my HUGE fantasy. Of course, the way bigger fantasy would be if climate change was no issue and I could then retire to NM, AZ or NV and buggy with buddies over the desert plains.

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