This Tesla-Swapped 1972 Plymouth Satellite Bridges The Gap Between EV And Muscle Cars

02/09/2022
10 min read

This Tesla-Swapped 1972 Plymouth Satellite Bridges The Gap Between EV And Muscle Cars

02/09/2022
10 min read

EVs and muscle cars generally exist on opposite ends of the automotive spectrum for a variety of reasons. Where one type of enthusiast tends to champion sound, emotion, and aesthetic, the other focuses on emerging technologies, maximum efficiency, and sustainability. And while both have well-established niches in the performance landscape, the divergent philosophies make crossover builds very uncommon occurrences.


But Kevin Erickson of Denver, Colorado is a rare breed of enthusiast. A Mopar fanatic before he could even drive, Erickson’s 1969 Dodge Dart has been an ongoing project ever since his high school days. “It’s been through a number of iterations over the years,” he explains. “It currently has a turbocharged and fuel-injected 340 small-block in it. While some people like to keep their classics original for nostalgia and history, I have always strived to make them more usable and enjoyable by adding some modernization.”

Erickson says that he’s always had an affinity for Mopar B-bodies – particularly the ’71 and ’72 Plymouths. “Everybody loves the ’69 Charger in The Dukes of Hazzard, but I always had a thing for the ’72 Satellite that Daisy Duke drove at the beginning of the series. So when I found this car on Craigslist, it was just calling to me.”


It was a half-finished restoration project that was freshly painted but mostly disassembled, offering Erickson a more or less blank slate to work from. “I had originally planned to put a twin-turbo Gen III Hemi in it,” he says. “I’d actually already bought a wrecked truck, stripped it down, and I had the Hemi on an engine stand. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened or what triggered it, but one day back in 2019 I just sort of off-handedly asked my wife what she thought about doing a Tesla swap instead. She just said, ‘Can you do that?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know!’”


Erickson Satellite front quarter


With her full support Erickson decided to pursue the idea as something of an engineering challenge, but he also wisely sought out some help from performance outfits with EV expertise. “I started doing a lot of research on electric cars and EV powertrains,” he says. “And I came across Stealth EV in Oceanside, California. They had done a ’49 Mercury EV build that had received a lot of attention, so I decided to give them a call and explain what I wanted to do. Over the course of that call, I realized I didn’t want to do this part-way – if I was going to do this, I was going to make it as burly as I could. I don’t like slow cars.”


Early in the project it became clear that a “Ludicrous” Tesla powertrain would provide the most bang for the buck, but Erickson wanted to keep the car rear-wheel drive. “I wanted to maintain some of that old-school muscle car vibe. I probably could have made it even faster with an all-wheel drive setup, but. I also didn’t want anyone to be able to walk up to the car and immediately realize something was up just by looking at it.”


Erickson Satellite rear suspension


The team snagged the rear drive motor and the entire subframe assembly from a wrecked Model S to keep things relatively simple and ensure that the core systems would play nice together. “At that point I wasn’t really sure what the next step was,” he recalls. “I didn’t know how the charger, the battery management, and the controllers would all work together, so I leaned on Stealth EV to put together a parts list for everything else, all the way down to the wires and fuses.”


A few months later Erickson had palettes of parts ready for assembly, but he was still missing a critical component. “I had everything but the battery,” he says. “I knew it was going to take me a while to get everything else put together, and the battery is the most expensive part of the project. So I figured I would hold off on that expense until everything else was ready.”


Although the motor he’d scored from that Tesla has a maximum output of 636 horsepower, Erickson says that he quickly learned that EV combinations require a balance between power output and range. “It’s sort of a trade-off – the batteries with more powerful output don’t have the same amount of range in a given size. And it was another case where I started looking around to see who had the best tech in that realm, and again it was Tesla.”


After consulting the folks at Stealth EV, Erickson decided he wanted a 100 kWh unit – the biggest battery Tesla offered at the time. But it wasn’t as simple as calling Tesla’s performance parts department and placing an order. “You typically have to salvage one from a wrecked car,” he says. “But the guys at Stealth EV eventually found one. The price was more than I was really ready to spend, but it’s one of those things where you have jump on it as soon as it’s available.”


Erickson Satellite Tesla motor


He then set to work “de-ICEing” the Plymouth. After mating the Model S rear subframe to the Satellite body and installing a custom push-rod coilover rear suspension system due to clearance issues with the factory Tesla struts, he then had to figure out where all of the batteries would actually go. “The motor was the easy part – designing battery boxes that would bolt into the car and contain the batteries in a way that was strong and water-tight was tough,” he says. “It’s a steep learning curve, and you don’t know what you don’t know.”


He also sourced a controller from EV Controls that would allow the Tesla hardware to function in a non-factory application and selected a Racepak Smartwire system to handle the electronic needs of various systems like the battery pumps, controllers, and electric air conditioning.


“There are all of these different components that I need to be able to switch on and off that need some kind of logic determining when they work,” he says. “For instance, when you turn the car on you want a certain set of things to work, but when you’re charging, you want a whole different set of things to work. Being able to program that logic into the Smartwire system was just fantastic.”


Erickson tells us that throughout the development of the project there was always a lingering thought that this idea might not turn out as planned, so he decided early on that this would be a “no cut” build. “Everything bolts into the car just in case I had to go back and build that turbo Hemi after all!” he says with a laugh.


Erickson Satellite battery underhood


Instead of motor mounts, the engine bay houses a flat tray where ten of the sixteen battery modules are mounted. QA1 coilovers with custom spring rates are outfitted up front and dialed in for the difference in weight between the batteries and a traditional V8. The other six battery modules are mounted in the trunk, giving the 4350-pound car a 45/55 weight distribution front to rear. “The car doesn’t have traction control and I was really concerned that it would be tough to put the power down, but it hooks surprisingly well,” he notes. “The pedal is so predictable and controllable at lower speeds, yet when you get on it, it’s so violent. It’s just the best of both worlds.”


After about a year and half of work, Erickson had the Plymouth up and running under EV power in June of 2021. Dubbed Project Electrollite, the current combination is good for about 300 miles of range on a charge and laid down consistent low 12-second ETs at the drag strip at Holley High Voltage this past fall, where Erickson took home the win in his bracket on the last day of competition. “That event was everything I hoped it would be,” he says. “It’s all like-minded people – you had Tesla clubs, builders like me, and also just people who wanted to learn more about the technology. It was a really forward-thinking move by Holley to introduce this event. Being able to see and speak to the variety of people who’re pushing this tech forward was very cool.”


Erickson Satellite interior


Erickson says the current plan is to drive the Plymouth as much as possible to both enjoy this unconventional hot rod and learn more about how to extract even more performance out of it. And if he picks up a few converts along the way, so be it.


“I recently took it to a Cars and Coffee event and this old-school Mopar guy came over to check out the car. At first he wouldn’t talk to me, he just walked around the car looking it over. Finally he came over to me and asked me why I would do this. I said that the idea just sort of struck me – I wanted to learn something new and understand how to work with this new type of horsepower."


"He was quiet for a moment, and then he just said, ‘I really hate that I love this.’”


Erickson Satellite rear quarter


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