Rebuilding a Tesla Model S with a Chevy Camaro engine

Tesla Model S

  • YouTuber Rich Benoit is known for fixing and rebuilding Teslas.
  • For his latest creation, he built a Model S with the engine from a Chevy Camaro.
  • Besides installing a V-8 engine, he built an exhaust system, a manual transmission, and more.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Rich Benoit: My name’s Rich, and I run a YouTube channel called Rich Rebuilds. And on that YouTube channel, we just make a lot of really weird, fun stuff. So we started out with mostly doing EVs. We switched to gas, and now we do both gas and EVs and just have a really funny time.

It’s funny, because once you build and repair a Tesla, you kind of fix it, and you go from there. There’s no real upgrades for it. So many things are electronically controlled, it doesn’t make it as fun for the hot-rodders out there. So I said to myself, “You know what, how do we mix the two things? How do we have, you know, a really good-looking car and combining it with the tunability of a classic V8 engine?” So we decided just to combine the two.

A lot of people think that, “Oh, you took a brand new Tesla and tore it apart.” It’s like, no, no, it was in a flood. And Tesla won’t sell you batteries and motors to repair it. So I said, “You know what, if Tesla won’t, then General Motors will.” There was a Camaro SS that was completely destroyed, and the engine was available, and decided to put it in the Tesla. For me, it’s one of those things where it has to do with recycling. So they were both just like, wrecked cars sitting in a field, and I said, “Why have them both just sitting there? Why not combine the two and make something that actually runs and functions?”

So I spent the first few months actually stripping it down, taking out all of the interior components, pressure-washing everything, and getting all of like, the stench and like, the sewage out of the car. So I took both motors out, both motors were toast. The battery pack was pretty much toast because it was underwater for so long. You know, anything short of aluminum was stripped out of the car.

So I think a lot of measuring and prep was the hardest part, making sure the engine sits straight and true in the car. Because don’t forget, not only do you have to make sure the engine sits well in the car, but there’s also a transmission that adds another few feet, and there’s also a really long driveshaft that spins thousands upon thousands of RPM that are literally sitting right between your legs that has to be straight as well. Like, a lot of different angles and things have to be straight in order for the car to even roll down the road.

Believe it or not, it almost makes sense that the V8 fits so well. Once you take out the front motor, there’s so much room in there. And the LS3 is actually so narrow, it actually fit in there pretty well. So what we noticed was that when we brought the car to SEMA, we had the hood open, everyone would just walk by it because the install was so clean. It was only until they saw the Tesla logo that everyone just kind of rubbernecked, stopped, and went towards the car.

The exhaust fabrication process was interesting, because the battery pack for Tesla Model S weighs about, I would say, between 1,100 and 1,200 pounds. So because the old battery was, you know, about 4 inches thick and so heavy, and it tucked in so well underneath the car, once we removed it and we made the exhaust system, we decided to go with oval tubing. Because when you go with oval tubing, kind of like NASCARs use, you actually save a lot of space going oval versus completely circular. So if you notice, we have a side-exit exhaust system. Most cars have a rear-exit exhaust, where it actually comes right under the rear bumper. We couldn’t do that because the independent rear suspension was so large, the exhaust actually couldn’t go past it. So we just terminated the exhaust system right to the sides, right before the rear wheels.

One of the biggest challenges was the fabrication of the transmission tunnel. You know, in the Teslas, one of the few cars that are made, it has a completely flat floor. You know, most cars nowadays that are rear-wheel drive, there’s a tunnel going from the front all the way to the back. This one didn’t have that, so we had to make our own, and it was definitely challenging. So we have a great fabricator, Joshua, that actually was able to cut the car in half down the middle and actually build a transmission tunnel.

One of the other difficult issues we went through with this car was the wiring. So we completely stripped the car down to the bare frame. It was literally just a shell. And we had to rewire the entire car all over again. And we actually removed about 50% to 60% of the car’s entire wiring harness. So if the battery pack’s not there, that’s one set of wiring high-voltage cables. There was wiring to the rear motors, the front motors, those are both gone. You know, we saved a significant amount of weight going from the older lithium-powered battery pack to the internal combustion engine. The car still has the touch screen. It still has the instrument cluster. And all the functions work. The navigation works, the Bluetooth works. So when you sit in the car, you could, you know, push buttons and play with different functions of the vehicle, and it does work.

I am very satisfied with how it runs, yeah. We still need to do some fine-tuning to it. But at the end of the day, when you sit in it and you drive it, you almost forget that it’s a Tesla. Like, you’re just thinking that you’re driving a regular, you know, powerful V8-engine car. And it’s really weird, because if you don’t think about it, you’re like, “OK, this is pretty cool. It has a manual. I’m doing my thing.” But you really have to take a step back and say to yourself, “This car never had any of this.”

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