Oregon Man Will Meld Tesla Model S and VW Stretch Vanagon

By · December 06, 2013

Otmar Ebenhoech, an Oregon-based designer of electronic devices for electric cars, has two passions: camping and EVs. So it was only a matter of time before he combined those two pursuits to create the world’s first Tesla-powered Supercharge-capable Stretch Vanagon.

Ebenhoech told PluginCars.com that he will maintain all the characteristics and functioning of the Model S—so that it remains compatible with Tesla’s high technical standards—but add a camper body on top.

Two Parts of the Stretchla, Model S and Stretch Vanagon

The Tesla Model S, shown below, will take on features of the stretch camper above.

The Right Man for the Job

As he chronicles in the first post of his blog launched last week, Ebenhoech has been traveling in camper vans his entire life. In fact, he was brought home from the hospital as a newborn in his family’s 1965 Transporter. Ebenhoech, who for about a year in 2005 consulted with Tesla Motors, has also been converting cars to run on electricity since childhood. That pursuit began at age 12 when he constructed a wooden go-cart—steered with a broomstick handle and powered by a Delco generator wired as a shunt motor.

So, if anybody can make the so-called Stretchla a reality, it’s Mr. Ebenhoech.

He took his first EV camping trip last spring with his battery-powered Porsche 914. The only problem, as he writes, is the limitation of about 100 miles of range—not a good solution for reaching his favorite winter camping location in Death Valley.

Then, when driving on Interstate 5, returning to Oregon from California, the TDI engine in his Stretch threw a connecting rod through the block, and the idea hit him like a ton of bricks:

“I’ll buy a Tesla Model S and graft it onto the bottom of the Stretch. Sure the Vanagon brick-like aerodynamics will give less range and efficiency than the slick Model S, but I’ll get a powerful electric drive system with a huge battery, free Supercharging and an amazing dashboard to boot. No, it won’t be easy. So far it looks like the most difficult modification I’ve attempted.”

This could mean more than 200 miles of range in an 85 kWh battery pack, with the capability of fast charging to about 50 percent of the pack’s capacity in about 20 minutes. And, of course, nicely appointed sleeping quarters. “I don’t see a bus in the Tesla roadmap,” he writes.

So, since the demise of his Stretch’s engine, Ebenhoech has been looking for a wrecked Model S at auctions. Bingo! He found exactly the kind of post-crash Tesla he was looking for, as he describes it: “2013, 85 kWh, Active Air, Tech, Pano, 19″, Obeche, Black Leather and Jump Seats.” The only thing missing is the dual-charger option that can double the rate of charging.

As of last week, the Model S that will become the heart of the world’s most bad-ass all-electric camper is on its way from New York. Ebenhoech expects to be driving (and camping) by Spring 2014.


· · 4 years ago


· · 4 years ago

Sounds like a triumph of function over form. Stylistically it makes me cringe!

· · 4 years ago

I like that there are folks in the world that take on crazy projects like this. Bonus points for the first person to post a photo of him at a Tesla SuperCharger in this rig.

· · 4 years ago

Sir! SIR!!! Put the chainsaw down and step away form the Tesla!


· · 4 years ago

It is like winning the beauty pageant, then waking up next morning in the body of Frankenstein.

Don't get me wrong, I fully support these kind of DIY stuff, but as the one above me says, stylistically it makes me cringe.

· · 4 years ago

Thank you Brad for a well written article and I do appreciate the encouraging comments!
I hear you Weapon, I realize that it will be an order of magnitude less pretty than a new Tesla. Then again it's slightly closer when you consider the smashed up Model S that I'm using as a base.
Don't worry Collin, I won't be starting up my electric chainsaw. I prefer the sawzall with a pine pitch bimetallic 11" blade. :-)

· · 4 years ago

Any way to make use of the active air suspension?? I'd hate to see that go to waste. Double extra credit for using the enormous sunroof.

· · 4 years ago

I've gone to great length to insure my car came with the Adaptive Air Suspension. I have long been sold on that, especially on washboard dirt roads that I frequent in Death Valley. I will have a real challenge making the body light enough to avoid overloading it, I don't know if will tolerate much over the GAWR and the Stretch is certainly much heavier than the Model S aluminum body.
I also made sure to get the Pano Roof. It may happen later than the first stage but I think the roof can be adjusted to fit.

· · 4 years ago

Woot! Great to hear. Yes, weight will be a significant issue (I mean along with the 100 other "significant issues" you'll face). I wish you the best, sir. And can't wait to see it done! Isn't it handy that so many owners are wrapping them around trees these days? :-)

· · 4 years ago

Interesting and colorful project. I get the romance of the bus but one could wish for something less blocky and dated for a model S drivetrain :)
A scratch-built light and aerodynamic bus would be ideal but that's a lot of work. Although fitting the Model S drivetrain can't be entirely easy either.
I would be a little concerned with how hackable the electronics is. How much you have to spoof in case the car is not willing to go if all signals aren't as they used to be. If it's stubborn is can be nigh impossible.
I would be most interested in seeing a blog post about the insides of the inverter. Maybe even a reverse engineering like you did with Curtis. I'm sure you remember :)
How they do current sensing, thermal layout, power electronics bus wiring and which IGBTs they use. What microcontrollers, what drivers, what relays, what redundancy and safety.
Maybe even make it a video segment for EVTV. I can only imagine Jack would find it very interesting as well.
Indeed everyone will find it interesting, some just wont admit it.

· · 4 years ago

Buses were routinely streamlined in the 1930s and 40's (think Ray Loewy and Buckminster Fuller) and many were still on the road when I was a kid in the 1960s. A quick google search under "streamlined bus" brought up a lot of cool stuff. This one's my favorite . . .


. . . and certainly deserving of a Tesla powertrain.

· · 4 years ago

But still... the first step is probably to lower the pop-up tent. ;-)

· · 4 years ago

Otmar is ahead of his time or at least in it. I brought him one of dozens of electric scooters donated by a friend. It was a non working Zappy. He happened to have the right part to fix it and named it the Vodka Runner which was changed later. We also talked about 18650 batteries. This was about the time of the Tzero's use of those batteries. He was marveling at the ability of these batteries to put out 8 amps. We mostly know where that went. Otmar good luck with your project. I have smaller ambitions which are to put a Nissan Leaf battery pack into my Aspire. http://www.evalbum.com/418 If I was like Otmar I'd also put the drive train in too.....maybe it's time to Otmar up. Hey a new saying too and verb to Otmar something or Macgiver it.

· · 4 years ago

Fantastic project!!! Looking forward to the results.

· · 4 years ago

I want to take the Tesla running gear and battery from my RAV4EV and put it in an old FJ40, but my wife frowns on the idea, especially as it is her car. Good luck with this nutty idea.

· · 2 years ago

OK! So a couple of years hence... how's this project looking??

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