Tucked away in a small industrial park in the Melbourne suburb of Clayton South is EVolution. A five-person team is working away at several top-secret automotive projects, unbeknownst to most of the country.
The company was born of a random passion project in 2015, which saw director Russell Shepherd convert his own Audi A3 to electric drive in the absence of other appealing options on the local market.
"At the time, there just wasn't really anything on the market that I wanted to drive, so I figured I'd convert that," Shepherd explains to CarAdvice.
"That was the first model I personally did with some help from a friend. We soon figured out it was a pretty expensive thing to do, so decided to spin a company to fund that called EVolution, and we quickly worked out there was a demand for charging equipment and advice too."
When the charging side of the business took off, the conversions fell to the wayside, until an ageing blog post on the A3 conversion caught the eye of someone wanting to convert a couple of classic Land Rovers to electric cars.
"They approached us, we said 'sure' and we completed those vehicles, which then kicked off increased interest in conversion," Shepherd recalls.
Since then, enquiries have been steadily increasing, with the team completing six electric vehicle conversions so far, with seven more currently in progress – and plans to expand even further.
What kinds of cars does EVolution convert?
"Generally speaking, we'll convert anything that's cool, because then you're not over-capitalising on the vehicle. But if it's modern and soulless, then possibly not, because at the end the vehicle won't be worth what's been spent on it," Shepherd says.
'Cool' is, of course, in the eye of the beholder – but if EVolution's list of previous and current projects is anything to go by, it's anything classic, anything with an intriguing backstory or anything that's got a bit of Aussie charm.
The line-up of current and incoming projects includes a couple of classic Range Rover Vogues, a Toyota LandCruiser HJ45, a Holden EJ wagon, a Subaru Brumby, and a 1974 MG B GT.
When CarAdvice visits the EVolution workshop, the biggest star is a 1982 DMC DeLorean that's likely to receive the drive unit from a Tesla Model S written off in a crash in Queensland.
Its owner, Dan Yun, purchased the car from an importer in Geelong. It's in near-perfect condition, with 35,000km on the clock, only one previous owner, and still bearing its original California registration stickers.
"Originally, I looked at a crew in Sydney to convert it to electric, without realising EVolution was right around the corner from where I live," Yun recalls to CarAdvice.
"I’ve never owned an EV, but I have a friend who owns a Tesla, and when I got into his car the technology in it is amazing. The moment he drove off, I realised how quick and quiet they are."
Not only is Yun planning to convert the car to an electric drivetrain, he's also hoping to convert it to right-hand drive, and use it as his daily driver.
"A mad person like myself will 100 per cent use it as a daily driver. If the vehicle brings you joy, it’s the nicest thing to see at the end of the day – aside from your wife," he laughs.
He's even invested in a replica hoverboard to put in the boot for any members of the public who want a photo, and plans to register it with the numberplate 'FLYDMC'.
"I can't wait to hit the road and get people's reactions," he says.
Also hidden away in the EVolution workshop is a top-secret project for the Department of Defence that's been months in the making.
It's an electric all-terrain vehicle (e-ATV) prototype that's designed to prove it's possible to create a low-noise and low-heat ATV with independent wheel motion – offering maximum torque from a standstill and mitigating the risk of discovery while in the field.
"For me, the ATV is the standout [project]," says Emma Sutcliffe, director of the Electric Car Cafe, EVolution's workshop. "It's been completely experimental, it's involved lots of coffee and lots of swearing, and it gets presented to the Department of Defence in April and that's massive for a small company like ours."
"It's a proper skunkworks project," Shepherd adds. "I'm not sure how much we can even talk about it. Obviously, the classics are great and we love doing those, but this is a project for a real-world application for the military, so we had a set of requirements to meet and some of the requirements were pretty tall, and it's taken a lot of effort from our side to pull it off."
Where does EVolution source its parts from?
The components the company uses in its conversions come from both local and overseas sources.
"We use a mixture of used and new parts, and we try and up-cycle and recycle as muc h as we can," Shepherd explains.
"So the DeLorean and the LandCruiser will end up with Tesla components, which will offer a certain amount of performance. But we also source new components from overseas – mainly from California and Canada.
"It really depends on what kinds of batteries and motors we need and the vehicle itself. The DeLorean was always going to be Tesla because of the way it's set up. It's usually either a Tesla or a Nissan Leaf driveline or a new one. We can source these vehicles locally or overseas if they've been involved in an accident and we can recover those parts."
How long does the conversion process take and how much does it cost?
For those looking to engage EVolution for their own personal passion project, the team is committed to providing transparency on pricing and process from the very first phone call.
"We've worked up a really good process where, when people first come to us, the first point of contact is me and I lay out for them exactly how we work and I lay out some indicative prices," Sutcliffe says.
"We then sit down with the clients and we work through the engineering plan – that can be a five- or six-meeting process."
From there, the conversion can take anywhere from three to four months depending on how much range and performance customers want from their converted car – two factors that also heavily dictate pricing.
"We currently have projects in hand ranging from $65,000 up to about $120,000 – the capacity of the battery we're putting in really dictates the cost," Sutcliffe explains.
What's the electric range on the vehicles?
The range question is one of the first things clients ask when commencing the EVolution journey – and Sutcliffe and Shepherd say it's best to tailor the range to the driver and to the car itself.
"People always come in wanting 1000km of range," Sutcliffe laughs, "then you ask them how much they actually drive in a week and it's more like 34km a day."
As such, EVolution's converted vehicles typically offer anywhere from 150–200km of range on a full charge at a minimum, up to about 500km.
"We can then augment this with DC fast charging, so even if the cars don't have a huge battery, the charging time is a lot faster."
What else is included in the conversion process?
Along with a new electric drivetrain, EVolution's conversion fee includes a suite of charging technology.
"Every vehicle we convert is supplied with a pubic charging pack – so [that includes] a type 2 to type 2 cable, a type 2 to type 1 cable and a MyEnergi Zappi wall unit, which is a product that allows you to charge your car from excess solar from your home," Shepherd says.
"We also supply a portable charger to allow you to plug into any power outlet, so the cars have the full package to charge at home and on the go."
On top of that, clients have the choice of adding modern safety and driver assistance features to their classic cars.
"We're at pains to make these cars usable on a daily basis – some of them are from the 1960s and ’70s, and some of the creature comforts and safety components leave a lot to be desired," Shepherd says.
"We typically slipstream such things as proximity locks into the vehicles, as well as upgrading the suspension and brakes, and we can introduce an antilock braking system (ABS) and things like side-impact protection bars.
"Once you add an electric motor, these vehicles can be a lot quicker than they were coming out of the factory, so it's incredibly important they're safe as well as reliable."
What if you want to do it yourself at home?
For those who can't afford to splurge on a $60,000-plus conversion, the team at EVolution caution that do-it-yourself isn't always the best idea.
"Top tip – don't die," Shepherd says, only half-joking. "The voltages can be incredibly high. Engage an engineer, do a heap of research, and convert the car you want to be seen in and want to drive.
"We see customers buy a modern car that's the cheapest thing they can find on Facebook Marketplace, and that's very difficult to convert because there's a whole lot of electronics – as soon as you remove the engine, the car will have a hissy-fit.
"From a compliance perspective, if a car was fitted with stability control, it has to be demonstrated to work after conversion as well. It's highly unlikely a DIYer will be able to get that to work."
Sutcliffe says EVolution already has a range of resources to help people looking to start the process in their own garages – with more workshops and tutorials to come.
"We've formed the EV Alliance with seven other conversion workshops and experts around Australia to present free monthly webinars, where we discuss topics of the month like 'how much does it cost?' or 'should I keep the gearbox?'."
The plan is to expand this support program even further, but also to streamline the conversion process, hire more people and offer more clients the opportunity to make their electric dreams a reality.
"We want to concentrate on more repeatable builds, make it easier for customers to create their build online and speed up the process," Shepherd says.
"We're hiring at the moment and have been constantly hiring for the last six months. The intent is to expand further, but also make efficiencies around the builds, so we're not reinventing builds every time."
Under a year ago, the EVolution team wasn't even sure if this business was viable, and now they're looking to expand.
"This particular section of the business, last year, we drew a red line through," Sutcliffe says. "But it's ramped up so much, because people want to follow the journey."