Rich Rebuilds’ Chevy-V-8-Powered Tesla Lives, Is Fully Functional
Rich Rebuilds, whose off-YouTube name is Rich Benoit, is known for his glorious resurrections of assumed-to-be too-far-gone Tesla wrecks. But one Model S sedan he found in Texas, which had suffered massive flood damage, was far enough gone that it inspired him to try a new tack: Rather than reassemble the soggy Tesla using parts from other written-off Teslas, he and his merry band of wrenchers set out to rip the EV’s heart out and replace it with … a Chevy V-8 engine.
Now, as Rich points out in his latest update on the project—dubbed Ice T, for, well, internal combustion engine (ICE) and T, for, um, Tesla—he’s not the only one to try installing a gas engine in a Tesla. Where Ice T sets itself apart is the level of finish and completion it achieves. The car has a full interior, working electronics, and a level of gas-engine integration that’s nearly factory.
Rich’s Ice T Tesla first appeared in finished form at the 2021 SEMA show in Las Vegas, but he and his team hadn’t really shaken the car down until recently, when the former EV was delivered back to his shop in Massachusetts. The Rich Rebuilds YouTube channel has at long last posted a video update that delves deeper into the build itself, and includes delicious footage—okay, the audio is more impressive—of the gas-fed Tesla burbling around the wintry Northeast.
The video is a bit long, so here’s the short of the project. Rich started with a flood-damaged Tesla Model S (a pre-2017 refresh model, from the looks of the front bumper). Its battery and electric motors were toast, so they were removed and cut out of the body shell, which was otherwise clean in the sense that it lacked impact damage or similar. A second, more obviously physically damaged Model S was acquired as a donor car, lending its wiring harness and some other assorted bits—including a smashed-up touchscreen, which was repaired by Electrified Garage. And finally, Rich’s team sourced a salvaged Chevrolet LS3 V-8 engine from a Camaro.
Combining these elements required a fair amount of cutting and splicing, both of the Tesla’s bodywork and its electronics. (However, the V-8 fit neatly in the Model S’s nose, after the team cut away the upper crossmember, which it replaced with a strut-tower brace offering the necessary clearance.) Given the difficulty in cracking Tesla’s software, Ice T was given a standalone Haltech engine computer that operates essentially independently from the rest of the onboard factory electronics.
That said, everything onboard works, albeit with some amusing side effects Rich promises will be worked out later. For example, a few error messages in the cluster reference faults with the electric motors and battery—since, well, they’re no longer there—but interior lights, the gauge cluster, and everything you’d expect to work in a normal, daily driven vehicle works.
The interior is completely finished, too. Close observers might notice the central transmission tunnel that normal Model S sedans lack. Rich and team slathered this in faux suede to match the stock headliner, and even reinstalled the sliding front center armrests on top. The only other obvious giveaways inside are the circular, rainbow-lit aftermarket air suspension controls and the Haltech interface under the central touchscreen.
Clever details abound, from the dual rear charge ports left as stock externally that, when opened, reveal a capless fuel filler opening on the left side and a fuel cutoff switch on the right. Everything added on is integrated beautifully, from the fuel cell that sits flush with the trunk floor next to a clear panel under which a 12-volt battery nacelle lives to the air suspension lines tucked up into the rocker panels. The team even sorted out an auto-starting feature like that in Teslas, in which you simply get into the car and it starts via a signal from a little fob or the driver’s phone.
Of course the showstopper is that V-8, which has yet to be dyno’d but is probably making north of 400 hp thanks to some fun accessory drive pulleys and a switch to an electronic water pump. Shifting duties are handled by a sequential transmission, while the V-8 breathes by way of, essentially, 4.0-inch straight pipes. So, the not-Tesla is loud, and therefore hard to miss. Cue funny head-scratching by confused onlookers, etc. Rich Rebuilds even brought Ice T to the local Chevy dealer’s service bay for a chuckle—and he plans to service the car there over the long run. In the meantime, some final tuning work is going into the suspension and ECU programming, before Ice T is put into service like Rich’s other builds, as a daily driver.
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