Restoring A Vintage German EV

A yellow, three wheeled vehicle with a canopy that opens upward over the body. It looks a little like the cockpit of a jet figher.

When you think of EVs from the 90s, GM’s EV1 may come to mind, but [bleeptrack] found a more obscure CityEL three wheeler to restore.

This Personal Electric Vehicle (PEV) is no spring chicken, but a new set of LiFePO4 batteries should give its 48 V electrical system a new lease on life. [bleeptrack] shows us through the cockpit of this jet fighter-esque EV and its simple control systems, including a forward and reverse selector and the appreciable kilometers on the odometer.

Modernizing touches for this vehicle include a smart shunt to track the vehicle charge level as an improvement over the wildly unreliable original system and a new DC to DC converter after the original unit failed. These changes really cleaned up the electronics compartment from the original rat’s nest under the seat.

The design of this vehicle has us thinking of the Minimal Motoring Manifesto and how EVs could make cars simpler again.

43 thoughts on “Restoring A Vintage German EV

      1. Another reason is that most such vehicles are limited to 40 kph because they don’t pass the regulations for faster vehicle classes, either because they’re too flimsy, or because of tax and insurance reasons.

        So you’re reduced to trundling along at 40 kph, while all the connecting roads between suburbs and the town center are 60 kph, and you’re not allowed to use bicycle paths, so everybody’s going to hate you and curse you whenever you go to town.

      1. Great fan of the Piaggio Ape 50(Piaggio is the make, Ape the series, 50 the single seater with 50cc). Had one since 2003. The current version of the 50 complies with Euro 4 regulations and still has a carburetted 2 stroke, that alone is a noteworthy performance.

        Also they haul more than their own weight plus driver, are surprisingly economical, and can be mended with a brick and some string most times. Sadly, there will be a lot of those times.

        1. After seeing Apés on the streets of Rome around 20 years ago, I wish I could have one (albeit street legal) to toodle around in back here in the States.

          1. A few years ago, my brother in law’s car dealership (here in the States) had an Apé that was equipped as a coffee kiosk. It was about twice the size of the ones I saw in Rome. Unfortunately all the kiosk equipment was built for Euro electric, that coupled with (IIRC) inability to license the vehicle here in the States. I wanted it, but it was way out of my price reach. I’m not sure what he did with it.

        2. >complies with Euro 4 regulations and still has a carburetted 2 stroke, that alone is a noteworthy performance.

          Or some noteworthy cheating.

          For what I can find, it has some sort of an exhaust re-circulation system with a filter sponge in a metal box, which you’re supposed to wash with soap and water. Any exhaust filter in a two stroke engine gets clogged up very quickly, so I assume most owners just bypass the filter and EGR until it comes time for MOT inspection – which for three-wheelers isn’t even mandatory in most EU countries.

    1. Obviously none of this is universal there are plenty of variations across the EU, but the tendency is for smaller buildings usually without garage (and if there is one it is usually very small to the point even modern EU cars wont’ fit in them) packed quite close together. So there is usually not even enough on the road parking for everyone. That makes having your high efficiency daily commute thing and your still required family car virtually impossible for many.

    2. Because most of it are shit, and only plus is the protection from the weather.
      My wife decided she wanted a small EV. Got some one seater chinese light quadcycle shit from company Zojaz.
      At first looks like genius idea but after a while it comes that only advantages of small EVs over bicycle is that they are closed, so elements are not a problem. Literally the only advantage.
      In the city there is still problems of parking (smaller problems, but still problem), and the higher speed is negated due to – it’s a city full of traffic lights and stops. You can carry some baggage and groceries, but you can easily take big panniers or a bicycle trailer for the same volume.
      And for those who argue you sweat on a bicycle – just get an electric version.

      For the city, Dutch style transport bicycle with electric mid drive is the best family vehicle. Hands down.

      1. >And for those who argue you sweat on a bicycle – just get an electric version.

        Nah. Much too expensive. E-bikes have similar issues as e-vehicles in general: you need a garage to keep them in. With regular bikes, you buy a regular €200-300 seven gear city bike and nobody messes with it – you buy a fancy bike and you have to carry it up to your apartment every night or else it will get stolen or broken. Anything electric on it will also get destroyed by rain and ice, so you can’t just leave them by the curb anyhow.

      1. I stand corrected, I committed the cardinal sin of commenting before watching and assumed this one had pedal assist. And yes, as aptly demonstrated that while most delta trikes have issues with tracking and speed wobble, the Twike is especially bad in both steering and going straight.

    1. I sometimes daydream about what if the C5 was built and marketed today? Still would probably have flopped, but maybe not full on belly flopped. Maybe cause I grew up with the Big Wheel, but bad idea or not, I thought they looked like fun! Only one I’ve ever seen was in Barber’s Vintage Motorcycle Museum here in Alabama.

      1. Sir Clive’s biggest mistake with the C5 was having the press release in the middle of winter in a car park. Even if he’d had it in a covered kart track he’d have done better. Releasing it in the middle of summer would have been the best option.
        Using modern controllers, battery and LED’s (along with functional brakes and better acceleration) the C5 is a nice tool for popping in to town. The local scrotes were always more interested in what it was rather than trying to steal it.
        I sold mine to a museum as the prices kept rising and miss it :'(

  1. “German vintage EV” was the category of vehicles that a certain Porsche designed some 80 years ago. Thise EVs were designed for heavy cross country terrain and extreme wheather challanges (ie heavy rain of things thrown from other similar vehicles of western and eastern competition). Sure, since then the battery technology was limited, based on the heavy lead options, they used a diesel plus a generator to power the proto EV. But in those times copper resources were limited for the germans (as they were thorowing it out for various reasons), therefore the succes of these EVs was practically non existent beyond the failed prototypes. One last detail: the names for those EVs didn’t make sense, the smallest one was called the Elephant, while the biggest was called the Mouse. And people say that the germans have no humor.

  2. It might be a cheap vehicle, but there are serious flaws with the design.

    First of all, the wheelbase should be reversed. This design is highly unstable and going around corners can be very dangerous. Especially with the complete lack of a roll cage.

    There’s no cargo space, so doing grocery shopping, going to the hardware store etc, still requires a second vehicle.

    When the battery is new and fully charged, it’s still incredibly slow. It can’t go on highways and even outside towns on provincial roads, it’s way too slow to be safe. I live in the Netherlands and you will be driven off the road if you drive this.

    The range is very limited. It’s 70km on a full charge with good batteries. I can’t even go to work and back with that.

    It looks very uncomfortable. Maybe that’s on purpose as it’s both slow and has a short range. It’s unlikely you even want to do trips in a vehicle like this, if it’s even possible

    This is pretty similar to the brommobiel vehicles we have here. Those are “cars” that can go 45kmh, or 28mph and are allowed to use the cycling paths. Those are a much better option compared to this three wheeler, because it uses a small diesel engine so you can actually go somewhere with it. It’s not that much slower than this and you can actually fit two people in one.

    This might be fun to drive once, but other than that, I really don’t see the point. It’s not practical, it’s unsafe, it doesn’t allow you to take stuff with you, you can’t go anywhere. If you want something like that but something you can actually drive places, just get a Reliant Robin. Ticks all the boxes but you can actually reach your destination, if you don’t crash.

    1. >brommobiel … are allowed to use the cycling paths

      How? Those microcars fill up the entire path both ways, unless you’re talking about the very smallest mobility scooter style cars that can’t even reach 45 kph.

      1. There are 16 year olds here that convert actual cars so they can go only 45 and they have to use the cycling paths in my area.

        Tractors here use cycling paths. They can pass other tractors on most cycling paths near my house.

    2. While I agree with you that it has quite some design flaws, I’d like to correct a few things:
      It doesn’t have a full roll cage but the backrest is a roll bar.
      It is indeed allowed onto german highways, though I’d better not do that :D. 65km/h is plenty for the city and also still fine for over land drive. Sure, you’re slower than some, but here in rural Germany it’s also quite common to have 45km/h limited vehicles you also mentioned. So it’s by far not the only vehicle that goes slower.
      It has quite some cargo space: one drink crate and some additional stuff fit with no issues :)
      I’m more hoping to get 100km range than 70, but can’t say yet. I’d say that’s actually quite much. Older Zoe cars barely double that with a way bigger size.

      And sure, it’s not for everyone and rather for close-range drives. I’m really looking forward to drive it around :3 Especially on own solar energy!

      1. It’s allowed on the highway? Really? Sounds incredibly dangerous.

        I know driving in Germany is a lot more social than here in the Netherlands. It would be a death trap here. If you drive 75 on an 80 road here, people already want (or even try) to drive you off the road. Driving 45 there will cause a collision. Even driving 80 on an 80 road is a bit on the slow side, where in Germany people drive 78 on a 80 road and think it’s normal.

        I don’t know anything about the Zoe. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one or not. We call these things “shopping carts” as they are mostly driven by older women and people who either can’t afford or aren’t interested in cars. The type of cars Jeremy Clarkson said of that if you buy one they should revoke your license lol.

        I know there’s a Renault Twizy. That has a top speed of 80. I saw one on the highway once. It was going about 70 uphill and trucks were passing it blasting their horns. Wouldn’t reccomend that. Very dangerous cars. You don’t see them anymore here for a reason, it’s too dangerous.

        Netherlands and Germany are so different in many aspects. There are cars in Germany which are effectively 3 wheelers because the rear wheels are very close together, under otherwise normal looking cars. In Germany, electric cars are rare and charging stations even rarer. There is hardly any road rage in Germany where here in the Netherlands it’s common (probably because it’s so crowded here). Police in Germany are nice and friendly and don’t bother people.

        But speaking of dangerous. I have carrier mopeds. It’s like a pickup truck bed with a motorcycle attached to the back of it. We use engines designed for quads and other similar engines in there. Those are allowed on provincial roads but they look a lot bigger than this. Even then, I try to avoid it as it’s just too dangerous but at least it demands a bit more respect from other drivers. The bigger ones are about 1.5 by 4 meters. Most were made between the 50’s and 70’s. They were used for all sorts of things. Municipal workers used it to clean garbage bins, they were used to sell bread, milk, greens etc out of. They were used a lot by icecream sellers (some still use them). Look up ‘Huisman Bakbrommer’ and ‘gazelle apollo’ for examples. Only motorcycle like vehicle here you can drive without a helmet.

  3. Pretty cool. Never figured I’d see an “Ellert” featured here!
    I had one of the originals as a kid. Granddad bought it for pennies as it had shell damage after being rolled.
    With the rear axle off of an Opel Kadett, and a 5hp gas engine, it was quite capable in the fields with not much rolling potential:

    I showed it to the host of what was basically the Danish version of Mythbusters, and the next season they converted other Ellert’s to be aircraft and such:

  4. This is the kind of EV I want. No computer arguing back and trying to track your every move. Just a simple, easy
    to maintain, dry, quick way to get from home to work and back again.

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