Classic Cars Go Electric
Some of us love cars, especially the classics — that would include me! We love driving them and taking care of them more than just using them as a way to get around. However, all modes of transportation are going clean. City centers are progressively allowing only zero-emission vehicles enter, all for obvious reasons. By essence, classic vehicles lack the latest emission control devices and are not optimized for fuel economy, thus for CO2 emissions. This begs the question as to our ability to continue driving them in the future. Can electrification be part of the solution?
Revving up a well-tuned engine, changing gears, listening to the music of a flat 6, V8 or V12 engine and caring for it definitely brings joy — at least to some of us. I previously owned a 1971 Corvette with a 5.7-liter V8! While I really enjoyed it, it was quite a gas guzzler consuming 15-20 l/100 km (~12-16 mi/gal), i.e., 350 to 460 grams CO2 per km. By comparison, the current target is 95 g/km in Europe (see trend below) and 140 g/km in the USA. And we should not forget the CO, NOx and HC which pollute our air.
While it seems reasonable to keep driving classic vehicles every now and then for pleasure, many aficionados would agree that it is best not to use them intensively for daily travel or for getting into urban centers. These car owners now have at least one option: converting their classic vehicles to battery EVs while preserving the authenticity of their look and feel.
Conversions essentially consist in removing the engine, transmission and fuel system and installing a battery pack, a motor and single-speed transmission, power electronics (inverter, DCDC converter and on-board charger) as well as replacing some gages, much of the wire harness and installing a charging connector in lieu of the fuel inlet.
Carmakers themselves got into the business of converting their classic models. In 2018, Aston Martin created the Heritage EV program to initially convert the DB6 (above) whereas Jaguar Land Rover’s Classic Works started a similar program for the Type-E. It is unclear whether these conversion programs are still active.
In parallel, several companies have emerged that engineer, manufacture and install full conversion kits for classic vehicles, such as the Porsche 911, Jaguar Type-E, Mini, Land Rover Defenders, Citröen DS and more. Services range from “simply” converting a donor vehicle provided by the client to performing a full-on restoration on top of the electric conversion.
Some companies have engineered compact cassettes that bolt on in place of the engine and transmission, which allows for simpler thus cheaper conversions. This is the case for UK-based Electrogenic’s Classic Mini kit with its 45 kW motor and 20 kWh battery pack (above). The conversion costs £15k ($19k) to which clients must add the cost of their donor Mini. The company also offers a 240 kw / 62 kWh kit for the Porsche 911 — 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds — and has converted other models such as a Karman Ghia. In the USA, EV West also offers a series of conversion kits, including a $19k solution for the classic VW Beetle/Bug.
There are a few players that undertake both restoration and conversion. In the USA, Moment Motors works on cars like classic 911s (above) and has solutions for the Mercedes 300 SL “Pagoda”, BMW 2002 and more. The company focuses on performance, using mainly off-the-shelf components such as reclaimed Tesla drive units and battery packs.
Based in the UK, Lunaz converts and restores luxury British classics from Rolls Royce, Bentley, Jaguar or Aston Martin (DB6 below). Conversion cost reportedly ranges from $250,000 up to over $1 million, including a restoration potentially down to the bare metal.
An electric conversion certainly means owners forgo the sound of their engines, the revving and gear changing. However, in the process they gain high low-end torque, lower operating cost, a near tripling of their vehicle’s energy efficiency … and the absence of oil leaks!
In the end, conversions allow aficionados to continue enjoying their classic cars on a daily basis, without restriction and extend a vehicle’s useful life by decades.
While we focused here on classic cars, we should not forget that there is a market for the conversion of much more recent (and cheaper) vehicles. For instance, France-based Transition-One is developing kits for Renault Twingo, Peugeot 107, Fiat 500 and other small cars. Kits cost from 5,000€ and up and can be installed in 4 hours. Likewise, cargo vans (which often operate in urban centers) can be converted by companies like Ecotuned in Montreal.
Managing Director, Orsay Consulting
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