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Jay Leno with Zelectric's green 'Tesla Porsche' 1968 Porsche 912

Jay Leno Burns Rubber, Not Gas, in Zelectric’s Tesla-Swapped Porsche 912

Zelectric converts air-cooled Volkswagens and Porsches, including the 912, into electric cars with Tesla motors. But while the Model S-powered Porsche 912 Jay Leno recently drove doesn't have a stick-shift anymore, it's got Taycan-level speed and build quality. And he says it's one of the best EVs he's ever driven.

Once upon a time, LS swaps were the go-to for giving vintage vehicles some extra vigor. But would-be hot rodders have other, non-gasoline-powered options today: EV swaps. Over the past few years, the classic car electric conversion scene has grown from niche to mainstream as more and more shops have gotten involved. One of those shops is California-based Zelectric Motors. And recently, Jay Leno got to chirp the tires on one of its latest builds: a Porsche 912 with Tesla power.

Zelectric Motors gives classic VWs and Porsches—912s included—new life with electric hearts

A red 1965 Porsche 912
1965 Porsche 912 | Porsche

While some EV-swap shops work on a variety of brands’ cars and even offer electric crate motors, Zelectric is more selective. The San Diego-based shop only works on air-cooled Volkswagens and Porsches. But it’s not all Beetles and 911s. Zelectric has converted Microbuses (aka ‘Volkswagen vans’), original and replica 356s, Karmann Ghias, Things, and yes, Porsche 912s with its companion shop, EV West.

Although sticking solely to air-cooled VWs and Porsches might seem odd, Zelectric and EV West have their reasons. And it essentially boils down to ease of conversion, Autoweek explains. For one, rear-engine cars like vintage Beetles and 912s don’t have driveshafts to remove, so the replacement Tesla motor just slots right in. There’s also no cooling system to remove, again, making things easier. Plus, because the conversion doesn’t require any sheetmetal cutting, it’s fully reversible.  

But the Zelectric conversion process doesn’t stop there. To improve the Porsche 912’s weight distribution, the shop mounts half of the batteries up front. It also replaces the original gauges with EV-specific ones, including an ‘e-Fuel’ charge gauge. Zelectric’s cars offer adjustable regenerative braking, Level 1 and 2 charging compatibility, and LED lighting, too. And the shop replaces the carpeting and adds extra sound deadening.

Speaking of add-ons, a Zelectric Porsche 912 comes standard with a USB charger. The shop also offers suspension upgrades, stiffer sway bars, and front disc brakes. Also, customers can add a Bluetooth-equipped audio system, ceramic heater, A/C, roof racks, and even white-wall tires.

The standard Zelectric Porsche 912 can smoke its tires while you row your own gears

The rear 3/4 view of Zelectric's green 'Tesla Porsche' 1968 Porsche 912
Zelectric’s ‘Tesla Porsche’ 1968 Porsche 912 rear 3/4 view | Zelectric Motors

However, the arguably bigger news is what the conversion retains: a manual transmission. Yup, Zelectric’s EVs keep their manuals, and they work the same as before, Hagerty says. Plus, the shop installs a lighter flywheel, heavy-duty clutch, and short-throw-shifter.

Although a Zelectric Porsche 912 has a Tesla motor, it doesn’t have a Tesla battery pack. Instead, it has an LG Chem pack with a 27-kWh usable capacity (32 kWh gross). But that’s still enough juice for well over 100 miles of range. It helps that, even with the pack, the electric 912 weighs about the same as a contemporary 911S, Hagerty says. That’s about 2330 lbs, Car and Driver notes.

However, the EV-swapped Porsche 912 is significantly more powerful than the 911S. As standard, a 912’s 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine makes about 90 hp. But a Zelectric 912 makes about 200 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque, Road & Track says. So, while the shop hasn’t officially timed it, the electric coupe likely goes 0-60 mph in noticeably less than 11.4 seconds.

Note, though, these are the ‘standard’ electric 912’s figures. In his recent video, Jay Leno didn’t drive a ‘standard’ Zelectric Porsche 912. Instead, he drove the so-called ‘Tesla Porsche,’ which is another beast entirely.

Thanks to a Tesla powertrain swap, Jay Leno says the Zelectric Porsche 912 is Taycan fast

Zelectric’s ‘Tesla Porsche’ has the standard LG Chem pack, but not the standard Tesla motor or a manual. Instead, it has a 536-hp motor and one-speed transmission from a Tesla Model S P85, with a dual charger system to match. The shop hasn’t officially tested this converted 1968 912. But when the founders put a similar powertrain in a wide-body 912, they clocked a 2.6-second 0-60 mph time.

In the video, Jay Leno says this car “has to be one of the fastest Porsches ever.” And he’s not far off. If this electric 1968 Porsche 912 matches the earlier car’s acceleration, that would make it as fast as a Taycan Turbo S. “You can chirp the tires easy on this,” Leno quips as he takes to the road. So easily, Zelectric engineer Trent Wonsley says, that the shop had to fit grippier tires and better wheels. Plus, like all electric motors, max torque comes at 0 RPM, so pulling away is almost effortless.

Jesus, this takes off!

jay leno

The ‘Tesla Porsche’ doesn’t just have an upgraded powertrain, though. Zelectric also installed a TRE Motorsports roll bar, JL Bluetooth audio system with Alpine speakers, GTS Classics heated leather sport seats, and a touchscreen display. It has polycarbonate rear windows, a GRP fiberglass hood and decklid, and custom, matte-coated ceramic trim. Plus, Wayne Baker Racing upgraded the suspension with contemporary 911S parts.

The black-leather-upholstered front seats and black dashboard of Zelectric's green 'Tesla Porsche' 1968 Porsche 912 seen through the driver's side window
Zelectric’s ‘Tesla Porsche’ 1968 Porsche 912 interior | Zelectric Motors

Although his garage is full of gasoline-powered classics, Jay Leno is an electric car proponent. But if “I have to choose between performance and then equal performance but environmentally friendly, I’m going with the environmentally-friendly one,” he says. And this EV-swapped 912 has both. That might be why Leno says it “might be one of the best electric cars [he’s] ever driven.”

How much does an EV-swapped classic like this cost?

If you want to EV-swap your Porsche 912, you’re in for a wait. Zelectric says it has an 18-month waiting list; plus, builds take at least 3-4 months. They don’t come cheap, either: the average build costs $68K-$88K including a $5000 refundable deposit. And that’s before the cost of the donor 912, though if you don’t have one, the shop can source one for you.

Still, while the conversion isn’t exactly cheap, it leaves you with a classic car that’s easier to live with and enjoy on a regular basis. There are no valves or carburetors to adjust, no timing belts or chains to replace, or oil leaks to worry about. And the only smoke you’ll see when you pull away from a stop is from the tires.

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