Our favourite classic cars are making an electrifying comeback

Tom Ford

12.3.2020

You want an electric car, but you have love for the character of the old. New stuff feels… too plastic, too sanitised, too uniform. But old things have a habit of doing things like breaking down and weeping tears of inconvenient oil on your driveway, and electricity seems like a much cleaner - both figuratively and literally - solution. Well, good news - there’s a burgeoning and endlessly creative bunch of engineers out there that might be able to bridge your new-old-school experience gap, because they convert and upgrade older cars with electric components.

The current crop ranges from simple small-motor conversions of older cars, while retaining the gearboxes and motor-back drivetrains, to full-on swaps of amped-up Tesla running gear into cars with frankly terrifying non-period performance. So the theory expands from a classic Fiat 500 with 70bhp to a 450bhp VW Bus that smokes tyres all the way to 90mph and can beat a Lamborghini to 62mph. Or a vintage Porsche with enough battery power to be a silent assassin at every single traffic light Grand Prix.

In terms of what’s good to swap, the most logical argument is that if it’s a car you didn’t buy for the engine - as in, the engine isn’t the heart and soul of the experience - then it’s good to go. A VW Beetle owner rarely buys the car for the rubbish four-cylinder boat anchor in the back, for instance, but more for the car’s general aesthetic and character. Similarly, a Citroen DS, a car all about the waft, would suit an EV conversion, while a V12 supercar would lose some of the sense of what it was about in the first place. Even so, you could remove the ICE (internal combustion engine) from something with sympathy and make the whole process reversible in the future. 

But there’s another string to this upcycling bow - dropping electric drivetrains into relatively new cars with damaged mechanicals instead of scrapping them, or dismembering them for parts. Buy an old Nissan Leaf, re-plumb the electrics and battery pack, stick it into something else. Obviously it’s not quite as simple as that, but there are some very clever people out there who are more than capable of working out the maths.

Even the big players are at it. Both Aston Martin and Jaguar have toyed with the idea of ev-converting old cars - the Jaguar E-Type Concept Zero that Harry drove Meghan away from the Royal Wedding in being one example - but there are various companies that operate on the cutting edge where the character of the old meets the convenience of the new. EV West (evwest.com) and Zerolabs Premium Classic Electric Vehicles (zerolabs.com) in the USA, Electric Classic Cars (electricclassiccars.co.uk) and Lunaz Design (https://lunaz.design) in the UK. Think you can’t have the best of both worlds? It’s possible…

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