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Jaunt Motors is the Melbourne workshop converting vintage Land Rovers into electric vehicles

Photography By JAUNT MOTORS
Published 21.06.21

“Captive nuts?” I picture a handful of activated almonds, ready to grind into a kale smoothie. 

“They’re for the radiator mounts,” replies Dave Budge, bringing me back to reality. We’re surrounded by four-wheel drives on hoists, axels, drivetrains, chassis, wheels, and yes, captive nuts. But this is no ordinary vehicle workshop.

“We convert Land Rovers to electric vehicles,” says Marteen Burger, who alongside Budge, is the co-founder of Jaunt Motors, one of the largest electric vehicle conversion workshops in Australia. “Often we have to rebuild these classic cars from the ground up.”

It’s a huge undertaking, especially considering Burger and Budge, who previously worked together in the film and digital industry, had scant knowledge of cars, let alone how to convert the classic Land Rover over to electric. What possessed them to take on such a daunting venture?

“Frustration,” Budge says. “In Australia, we’ve had the potential to embrace sustainable energy for so long, and yet we are still one of the top carbon emitters for transportation in the world. I also love the outdoors and wanted to swap my diesel for an electric four-wheel drive, but couldn’t find one.”

With no plans from the federal government to accelerate the distribution of electric vehicles in Australia, Burger and Budge saw an opportunity.

Enter the Land Rover. Tough, reliable, and easy to work on, this model became the first and only choice for the pair when launching an EV conversion service in Australia.

Budge pops the bonnet of a light blue classic Land Rover. I’m shocked. Gone is the oily and noisy “tractor” engine, replaced by something the size and shape of a Dyson Ball vacuum cleaner. “We’re not just replacing these vehicles with a 50-kilo electric engine. We upgrade all the systems in the vehicle, the braking and handling, 12v system, heating, safety systems, and we add power steering and regenerative braking,” he says.

And then there are the lithium polymer batteries. The modules are reclaimed from crashed Teslas through West Australian company, Lithium Power. “In the end the car weight is pretty much the same as it was before.”

“Range anxiety” inevitably comes up. How far will a fully charged converted Land Rover actually get you? “Depending on the driving range the customer wants – from 200 to 400 kilometres – determines how many batteries are needed, which can add weight and affect the range,” Burger replies. “And what kind of activity they’re doing, like using the four-wheel drive feature or cruising flat roads.”

Despite the six months it takes to convert a single Land Rover and, ahem, the eye-watering $170,000 average cost for a fully restored Classic series vehicle (converting a Defender will cost less, while a Range Rover will cost more), there is a growing waitlist. For an order made today, work on the conversion is due to begin in mid 2022. To mitigate the cost, Jaunt Motors will be selling electric conversion kits in early 2022 to DIY enthusiasts and professional build partners around the world.

Their conversions have already garnered significant interest, not only here in Australia (they have an EV Land Rover at Mountain Ridge Wines in New South Wales), but as far away as Grenada in the Caribbean. “In those kinds of places, being able to use renewable energy rather than importing fuel is a fantastic option,” Budge says.

I ask Burger and Budge what’s next for Jaunt Motors. “This year we’re focusing on fulfilling orders and we’ll most likely move to a bigger workshop to scale up production,” Burger says. “Next year, we’ll incorporate other models of Land Rovers like Range Rovers and then eventually non-Land Rover off-road vehicles.”

Budge and Burger’s determination and ingenuity – repurposing old machinery and blending it with new innovation, despite many setbacks and challenges – is admirable and I share their hope that one day this will become a thriving national industry, edging us closer to a zero-carbon future.

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