David Heacock's 1985 Avanti EV Conversion (In Process)

Body and Frame Separation
Updated 9/13/09.

After the gas components had been removed I started to take a closer look at the fiberglass body and frame of the Avanti. I knew the torque boxes, which run along the underside of each side of the body, would need to be replaced because of rust. These metal "boxes" run from just behind the front wheels to just in front of the rear wheels and provide support for the heavy fiberglass body and are used as part of the mounting support system to the frame. The following pictures show the general condition of these boxes.

The photo below shows one of the original torque boxes out of the car next to a new stainless steel box.

Upon crawling around under the car for a few days I also discovered damage to the frame from rust and what could best be described as Baja road rash. The rust on the frame near the rear wheels is common with older Avantis. The following picture shows one rusted section of the frame.

The following picture shows a body mounting bracket on the frame that somehow had been bent back and almost flattened. Note also that the bolt mounting the body to the frame for this bracket was missing.

The following picture shows one of the odd tears in the frame which looks like someone used a big can opener on it.

Here is where I had to decide on changing the course from the normal conversion of a gas car to an electric or consider doing a restoration in the process. At the time I did not realize what the word restoration meant but decided removing and replacing the torque boxes and repairing the frame would be much easier if the body and the frame were separated. There only seemed to be a hand full of bolts attaching the body to the frame and at least a few of them were either missing or rusted. Besides, how hard could it be? Here is where the choice of a vehicle for conversion should include a hard look at the body, frame and running gear before purchasing.

After making the decision to remove the body from the frame I started to remove the bolts holding them together. I was still unsure as to how I was going to lift the body off the frame because I had no overhead hoist and was not sure that lifting the body from the top was something I wanted to do, even though I knew it had been done by others. I finally decided to try to jack up the body on each corner a little at a time and then place the body on inexpensive sawhorses which could hold up to 1000 pounds each. I had measured the height from the ground to the bottom of each wheel well prior to removal of any parts so I could place the car back at the correct height after it had been converted to an electric vehicle. What I discovered was the height was basically the same for all the corners except at the front right wheel well where the height was about one inch less. As I started to unbolt the body I discovered why. The pictures below show the right side fiberglass front body support piece was cracked almost all the way through. In addition the radiator support frame, which basically holds up the very front of the body, had the metal support piece on the right side completely broken off.

In the above picture you can see the radiator support frame out of the car with the broken off support piece on the side of the frame. At this point I decided I needed to learn about fiberglass repair and try my hand at mig welding. I guess this is one way to develop new and interesting skills.

As I slowly started to jack up each corner of the body I decided I needed to support the body across the sawhorses outside the body itself so I could actually roll the frame out from under the body when it was high enough. I did this by using two large, and very heavy, metal beams I purchased from a local metal recycling company. I discovered this facility by talking to members of the local Experimental Aircraft Association and figured if the materials were good enough for an airplane, it must be good enough for an electric vehicle. I discovered I could purchase the metal for the battery boxes if needed from the same company.

The pictures below show the body resting on the metal beams and sawhorses.

After the body had been raised I basically just rolled the frame out from under the body. I should point out that just removing the bolts holding the frame and body together was only one part of disconnecting the two. I also had to disconnect things like brake lines, steering linkage, the power steering unit and lines, and several other items before I was able to start raising the body. I discovered why it was not a simple job to raise the body and was starting to get to know a lot about the car I was going to convert to an electric vehicle.

The picture below shows the frame after it had been rolled out from under the body. I started thinking there was going to be a lot of cleaning and repairing of the frame along with removing any unnecessary weight where I could.

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