These intrepid gearheads built a Tesla worth driving.
We Built the World’s First V-8 Tesla
The Rich Rebuilds team had a dead Model S. They fixed it with a Camaro engine.
The Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show in Las Vegas is extravagant, it is inspiring, it is perhaps the greatest automotive pissing contest you’ll ever witness. It’s an annual gathering for every somebody in the car world to show off the fanciest thing they can create on four(ish) wheels.
My business partner, Rich Benoit, and I thought we finally had something radical and bold enough for the event. We didn’t just want to exist there. We wanted to steal the show. That also meant we needed a car that could actually move under its own power. Most of the cars at SEMA get pushed onto the expo floor, but nobody’s happy about it. The shame of an unfinished ride is something to avoid at all costs. And yet with 30 hours until our transport truck arrived, we were approaching the city limits of Shamesville.
After two years of patiently converting a Tesla to an internal-combustion-engine muscle car—we’ll get to why on earth anyone would do this—we were down to just hooking up the fuel lines but were caught waiting for fitments to arrive in the mail. And they weren’t going to make it in time.
Rich and I have been revitalizing Teslas for about six years now. It started when Rich, an intrepid tinkerer, wanted a Tesla Model S but didn’t think it was reasonable to pay $100,000 for one. His solution: Take a couple of salvaged Teslas and put them together. Simple, right? Start with a flooded electric vehicle—good for its shell, not its corroded batteries—and wait for a second Tesla with a battered shell and a good set of Duracells. After a year and a half of wrenching, our first fully functional electric car emerged for a total of $6,500. It also launched our YouTube channel (Rich Rebuilds) featuring odd and eclectic EV projects in 2017, and eventually the Electrified Garage, our sister company that performs EV maintenance, repair, and conversions for the public.
After a couple of years, we were running out of Tesla projects and started building up cars that we simply wanted to enjoy. We resurrected a BMW i8. We gave a 1932 Ford Model A an electric powertrain from a crashed LAPD motorcycle. And we restored a neglected twin-turbo Audi RS7—too beautiful not to save. Not every project had a battery, which upset the die-hard EV hive, but we love all things automotive.
It’s an amazing project, which yielded a beautiful result. I especially dig the S1 Sequential short-throw shifter they used—all billet and leather, just a loverly piece of old-school craftsmanship. This next bit will sound all too familiar too anyone who’s ever worked in a custom car or motorcycle shop and has turned a wrench on a totally wild, outlaw project like this—which, y’know, I have.
Normally we’re a chipper group of people, but two weeks out, our garage felt like a funeral home. We were eating meals in there, napping on-site in a Mercedes Sprinter van conversion, and showers? Meh, no one was coming near us anyway. The lack of sleep started to make us feel numb inside, but we could see the finish line again. Then we got a call that the fitments were delayed. There was no way our Tesla could drive onto the trailer under its own power for the trip to Vegas.
Yup, shoprat cred: ESTABLISHED, firmly and fully. Ahh, but did the boys make it to the show on time? You better believe they did, amigos; ain’t no stopping a gearhead who’s motivated and dedicated enough to not bother about piffling trivialities like sleeping, eating, or bathing in his quest to put another custom-build notch on the proverbial bed-post.
After 2,733 mind-bending miles (seriously, check out how weird it gets on our YouTube), we pulled into Geddy’s driveway on Monday morning at 8 a.m. We had until 5 p.m. to deliver the car 20 minutes down the road to the SEMA floor. Taking our box of fitments, Geddy tuned the motor so that it didn’t run too lean and sound like a clangorous mess of sputters and backfires, or too rich that it bogged itself down and smelled like a BP tanker spill. Either option would be as embarrassing as pushing the car to its booth. We had precious few hours to find the balance, and then…the cylinders started to align like the planets to an astrologer. The sound was snappy, throaty, and downright mean.
We drove into SEMA with two hours to spare. It was time to scare and confuse people with something they’d never seen or heard before. Our work isn’t conventional, but you have to respect it—we received praise and admiration from a lot of our industry heroes that week.
It’s funny, we’ve been looking at the Tesla T on hoods of ever-so-quiet cars for the better part of a decade. But when our eyes drift to the side exhaust on our Model S, they begin to moisten from the inky smoke of 376 cubic inches ready to lay down now-444 ponies. We’re brought back to the thing that made us love automobiles in the first place: the thunderous sound of power.
Amen, brother. And that right there is the real payoff: finally firing that bad boy up, cracking a beer, leaning back on your Snap-On mechanic’s creeper seat to just catch your breath and listen to a high-output mill you’ve built with your own greasy, aching, scarred-up hands as it purrs like a contented big cat who just caught the daily impala. Such blissful moments usually come along well after regular business hours, and trust me, folks, there’s no feeling in the world quite like it.
And just think: not one stop did they have to make on the road to Vegas so as to charge the gott-damned battery overnight, either.
Update! Think I was kidding about those totally wild, outlaw projects, do ya? Well then, try Goose’s legendary Model-A bodied, overbored big-block Chevy crate motor-powered barbecue smoker on for size.
Slick, no? Can’t see it in these pics, but the radiator overflow-catcher is a standard-issue, Mark 1-Mod 0 Jack Daniel’s Black Label bottle, in the handy dandy fifth size. Somewhere around here I also have pics of the outrageous Pro-Street Bar Stool we built, a no-shit drag-racing barstool powered by a hopped-up Evo Sportster engine out of one of my old bikes. It’s a beaut, too. Have to see if I can’t dig those snaps up and add a cpl of ‘em to this post later on, maybe.
Updated update! Almost forgot to tell ya, the big round thing on the back is a 500-gallon propane tank Goose liberated from a local junkyard, the actual smoker part of the whole dealio: slice two big oven-style doors in the side, mount two levels of huge, gnarly steel racks inside for the pork, stoke up the firebox on the back, and away we go. He told me the idea for this thing came to him in a dream one night, which is how Goose usually gets his best ones. Porky’s Purgatory, he ended up naming the beast, which apt moniker is now splashed in big, bold yellow letters across the top rear of the cab.
The vintage, beat-to-hell Model A body was too narrow to be squeezed onto the early-70s Chevy pickup frame rails, so we had to cut it into two sections, then weld in a widening strip to make it fit. All pinstriping was done by hand by the justly-renowned Eddie Brown up near the CMS, and a fine job of it he did too. Eddie’s fee? The aforementioned JD Black bottle, which he returned to us after it had been duly emptied.
The wooden booster steps on each side are actually garden-variety indoor house-stair sections from Lowes, stained in the usual fashion. To make them look more rugged and antique, we burned shallow holes into ‘em all over with a soldering iron, then applied clear varnish for the finishing touch. The zoomie-style exhaust stacks were handcrafted from tube stock by Goose, rattlecanned with Krylon Hi Heat exhaust paint. Carburetion is via a matched set of dual-quad Holly 750s, topped by an old turbo-ram intake, all of which we had lying around the shop for years before Goose finally came up with a fitting Forever Home for ‘em.
Some dream Goose had, eh?
Update to the updated update! OH OH OH—found a pic wherein the JD radiator-overflow receptacle is visible, at mid-top left:
Heh. How can you not love it, I ask you?
Updates, forsooth! Upon reflection, I realized I simply must dedicate this post to my friend Phil, who will surely understand.