Journal: Would You Drive a Classic Car Converted to an Electric?

Would You Drive a Classic Car Converted to an Electric?

By Yoav Gilad
June 17, 2014
28 comments

Photography by Josh Clason for Petrolicious

Electric cars seem to be the future, if you believe Mr. Elon Musk and Tesla anyway. But if you prefer driving classic cars would substituting an electric drivetrain be sacrilege? Obviously this ruins a car’s originality, but what if you have a body and chassis lacking a drive train? Should this relegate a car to sculpture or, worse yet, the crusher? Why not give it a second life? There are a number of companies thinking along similar lines and building electric cars based on classics such as Zelectric Bug and Kriss Motors.

The advantages are obvious–first of all, you get the amazing style and heritage that comes with owning and driving a gorgeous classic and second, instant and full torque. Additionally, maintenance is nearly a non-factor. For some range might be an issue, but sporting a range around 100 miles, this shouldn’t be a problem for most people. When we asked Mr. David Benardo (CEO at Zelectric Bug) why he chose a Beetle to showcase his technology he explained that was a combination of the aforementioned factors as well as the fact that classics appreciate, are lighter than their modern counterparts, that the power train swap doubled the horsepower, and he was attracted to the Beetle’s iconic status.

Clearly, there are benefits to these cars and the style is just the proverbial tip of the cliché. there something missing. But what we want to know if you think the benefits outweigh the obvious compromise–that of originality.

Would You Drive a Classic Car Converted to an Electric?

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david@zelectric.com
david@zelectric.com
3 years ago

Going electric is bringing a whole new group of people back to classic cars. It’s not so much driving an eco classic as it is driving a classic with modern dependable powertrain. https://petrolicious.com/articles/its-zelectric-why-this-volkswagen-beetle-could-be-the-perfect-ev-classic

Jamil Jafri
Jamil Jafri
3 years ago

I think there’s a strong case for electric classics which I’ve written about here

https://twitter.com/TheMechanists/status/1098642516277104642?s=19

Kevin Reynolds
Kevin Reynolds
3 years ago

Absolutely not! There’s a reason they are called classics.

Adam Holter
Adam Holter
8 years ago

Sure! White Zombie, anybody?

Fred Owens
Fred Owens
8 years ago

Absolutely! Drive is the key word. Wouldn’t be right to convert a museum piece. Our ’53 Kaiser Dragon has nothing to fear. But given the time and a light weight beauty with decent handling, I’d drive it every day. My pipe dream involves a rust-free gen1 Scirocco powered by 9″ AC regen motor & Li-ion batteries mounted low. Whooosh! I urge any nonbelievers to try a Tesla S — utterly awesome!

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson
8 years ago

I would certainly [i]drive[/i] an electrified classic out of sheer curiosity, but I would never own one or do the swap myself. To me, the engine is the heart of the car and I was hesitant even to regular engine swaps for the longest time. However, I could consider swapping a combustion engine, given it’s “the right one”. No go for an electric though. Efficient and exciting as they can be, I will always favour mechanical over electrical.

Alex Hemmer
Alex Hemmer
8 years ago

Definitely. I have VW type 2 a/b 1.8L and that engine gives me nothing but grief. In a car like a Kombi van the engine is irrelevant, in stock form you can barely hear it and it’s only there the move the thing. Rebuilding such an engine (in Australia at least) costs upwards of $4000. Doing it yourself is easy enough but will still costa couple of grand in genuine parts and you still only end up with 60-70hp. Once electric technology gets cheap enough I will be first in line to do the conversion. I will gladly drop the fussy, fiddly, not particularly economical ship’s anchor that motivates my VW bus.

Ryan Hoyle
Ryan Hoyle
8 years ago

Wow, crazy, I was talking about one day getting a Porsche, but that it’d have to be quite a ways into the future, when gas will likely be very expensive. She said oh just convert it to electric power, and I said ya I could probably do that maaaybe. It would probably be quite a bit different from the way they drive now though.

All that depends on if gas actually does skyrocket or become hard to find when we move to an alternative energy.

Michał Leśniowski
Michał Leśniowski
8 years ago

Would love to! I guess this solves the problem of old engines with mediocre power and high gasoline consumption. But for sure I wouldn’t switch old Mercedes–Benz V engine for an electric one 😉

Joe Griffin
Joe Griffin
8 years ago

Why not, in the mid 1960’s, general motors played with the corvair as an electric, while I think the lack of engine noise would be a take away, this is something that would be neat as a commuter, not as a weekend cruiser.

Kerry
8 years ago

I already do. 1969 bug convertible that is my short range cruiser and a 1984 e30 with 240kw.

Jake Williams
Jake Williams
8 years ago

No

Jimmy
Jimmy
8 years ago
Reply to  Jake Williams

Agreed.

Chris Newport
Chris Newport
8 years ago

As both a daily EV rider and owner of several classics I would say yes absolutely, but not yet. I’m not worried about the change in sound and certainly not the fun factor; my Zero FX is as fun as it gets on and off-road. But matching the performance of my ~550HP ’70 Corvette would be quite the expensive hotrodding endeavor with current technology, and add a lot of weight. Low performance cars like the Bug are a good choice, and a land yacht would be fine with buckets of cells in the trunk. To keep a sportscar a sportscar, it needs to stay nimble, and doing that today means not enough range. It won’t be long though until a full EV powertrain will be lighter, smaller, longer range, and cost competitive with an ICE powertrain of the same power. I may still keep my gas and electrics separate but it could be the next LS swap for those so inclined!

Vianney Lalain
Vianney Lalain
8 years ago

Well, that’s an interesting idea but to my mind that is not the point of a classic car. A classic car is a classic car for its noise, its smells and everything linked to its old engine. I like being in the street and turning my head after hearing the sound of a classic. To my mind, that would be sad that some history on wheels had the same sound as a regular car.
However, i like the idea that Mathew brought up. An electric classic Rolls would kind of make sense, an electric engine could indeed fit right with some brands but please do not make a e911.

Doug Churchill
Doug Churchill
8 years ago

Funny you should ask. I have a 76 BMW ’02 I have been considering going electric for use around town and local highways. Looking at kits using lithium batteries. Not cheap proposition and I’m sure there are DIY ways of reducing cost but if I’m going to do this it would have to be plug and play as much as possible.

Any wrecked Tesla’s around?

Alexandru
Alexandru
8 years ago

A VW Golf MK2. 2 doors. red. roof opening. and make it my daily driver.

Antony Ingram
Antony Ingram
8 years ago

Having driven David’s Zelectric bug last year, I have to say yes – absolutely. I was worried it would affect the character of such an iconic car like the Beetle, but while you don’t get the noise, you do get everything else that makes a Beetle a Beetle. And a much quicker, less leaky one at that!

I wouldn’t like to see every classic turned electric, but to me it’s no more heretical to make an old car electric than it is to perform any other engine swap. Or even fit a car with non-period features. At the end of the day, the electric modifications can be reversed, so why not enjoy a different experience in the meantime?

Shawn Baden
8 years ago

Short answer: absolutely.

I’ve thought about converting older vehicles over to electric and making some improvements in the process. No small feat. But I’d stick with classic cars where the engine wasn’t the draw. So 1969 Camaro Z28 – hell no. But plain old ’68 Camaro convertible with an inline 6? – yes.

I had a K5 Blazer that I toyed with the idea – go as far as remove the hump for the driveshaft down the middle of the floor and have a flat floor for more room. Another cool candidate would be a 60 series Land Cruiser.

But the skill required to pull off these types of retrofits is not insignificant. Trailblazers are leading the charge now. I don’t know of any “kits” that make this easy. I imagine in 10 years time things will be much more interesting.

TJ Martin
TJ Martin
8 years ago

No ! Absolutely not ! A Classic who’s motor has been converted to Hydrogen ? Absolutely [ conversions will be made available once the Hydrogen economy is in full swing which is but one of the many advantages of hydrogen . Any ICE can be converted for a minimal outlay of cash ] But to an EV ? With all the inherit problems with EV’s I wouldn’t even consider buying a new one . Never mind ruining a classic in the name of pretentious ‘ Green ‘ . And err …. Hate to rain on Mr Musk’s parade but everyone from Mercedes to BMW to Toyota to VW-Audi to Nissan/Renault has already said EV’s have no long term future what so ever . All only making EV’s at present to satisfy ridiculous Government mandates [ especially EU mandates ] till Hydrogen has been made completely viable

Ronnie M
Ronnie M
8 years ago
Reply to  TJ Martin

Those same manufacturers that you listed have also abandon hydrogen in an ICE application. Hydrogen doesn’t return the same kind of horsepower and torque numbers. CNG is actually a better alternative in that application.

Most viable hydrogen applications are using it in a fuel cell to power an electric motor. EV’s Achilles’s heel is the battery not the motor. The biggest advantage of EV is 100\% of torque from zero rpm. Check out the Wrightspeed X1 on YouTube. There’s also a Chevrolet Spark EV with 400 lb-ft of torque. The future is bright.

Dustin Rittle
Dustin Rittle
8 years ago

Yes i would drive one out of sheer sheer curiosity just to see what it feels like. With that being said i think i will stick with the good ole gasoline engines. Driving a car is a multi sensory experience and hearing that wonderful exhaust is part of driving a car.

Ronnie M
Ronnie M
8 years ago

When these electric engine swaps first started, the 911 was actually a popular candidate. I’m not sure if it still is.

I think electric has the possibility to usher in a new era of hotrods. Imagine just swapping out an engine, power supply or battery or downloading an upgrade for more torque and/or horsepower. The battery range/temperature problem is the big hurdle that needs to be overcome.

Taylor Nelson
Taylor Nelson
8 years ago

My gut reaction says no. I mean, I love the rattle and clatter and everything that makes my ’67 bus what it is.

But the more I think about it, yeah, maybe I would. Hell, I’d probably have more power and torque to get over hills (without having to shift down to 3rd) and I might even have a higher top speed on the freeway!

I know of someone who has built a deluxe microbus out of a panel bus and made it completely electric. It’s pretty impressive!

You can read all 37 pages here: http://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?t=539140

But really, for me it would come down to range and charging. Work and home are 30 miles apart. It’s a camper, so I may want to do 100 miles or more in a day to get to a campground. If the technology is there, I could be sold on it.

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange
8 years ago

It depends if the engine used to power it is not integral to the character of the car then why not? I wouldn’t want to convert a Ferrari 250 or early 911 to electric power, but say a sixties Rolls Royce that was known for it’s near silent running would make an ideal candidate.

Afshin Behnia
Afshin Behnia
8 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Lange

Agreed! I could see myself driving a 1st gen Fiat Panda or Fiat 126 that was converted to electric.

Afshin Behnia
Afshin Behnia
8 years ago
Reply to  Afshin Behnia

Adding to my previous comment, in many major European cities where it’s almost impossible to drive legally in city centers with a high-emissions car, a stylish electric daily-driver vintage car would be perfect alternative to modern-day generic econoboxes.

Tommy Plouffe
Tommy Plouffe
8 years ago

YES! I would take a classic Fiat 500, convert it and add some flexible solar panels! 😀