Electric classic cars: iconic models reinvented for the 21st century
We take a look at what it takes to convert a classic car to electric power, as well as some of the best examples produced to date
Electric classic cars have grown in popularity over the past number of years as enthusiasts look to keep on enjoying their beloved older vehicles without having to worry about future taxes, zero-emission zones or other government regulations forcing them off the road.
Some manufacturers have commissioned their own conversions of classic models from their past to electric power, often using drivetrain components from their latest brand-new zero-emissions models. Other companies specialise in bespoke conversions of a wide range of older cars, with electric motor and battery configurations to suit the owner's wants and needs.
How much does it cost to convert my classic car to electric?
According to specialist conversion company Electric Classic Cars (profiled below), the cost of a conversion can vary: it says a small car with a sub-100-mile range might cost as little as £20,000 to convert, whereas a large SUV with a 200-mile range might cost as much as £60,000. That includes all parts and labour needed to complete the job.
Carrying out your own conversion will of course be cheaper, but it's not a task for the amateur DIY mechanic: you need extensive knowledge of electrical and automotive engineering to do the job properly and safely. There's also a mountain of paperwork to wade through to get the converted car certified as road-legal and registered. For these reasons, DrivingElectric recommends using a specialist instead of undertaking the work yourself.
What do I need to convert my car to electric?
It's not just a battery pack and electric motor: several other components are vital if you want to end up with a fully functional electric car. Electric Classic Cars can also supply conversion kits for some of the more popular models that people want to switch over. These include the original Volkswagen Beetle, classic Volkswagen camper vans and the Fiat 500. Components provided include electric motors and batteries, grommets, crimps, an adapter plate, motor mount, coupler and battery boxes.
We'll now take a look at some of the outfits building and converting electric classic cars, which range from the original manufacturers themselves to smaller specialist firms.
Renowned British sports-car maker Aston Martin has developed its own in-house electric conversion programme for its classic models. In late 2018, it converted a DB6 Volante as a showcase for what can be done, based around the concept of a 'cassette' drivetrain.
The electric motor and batteries are designed to be almost the same size and weight as the car's original petrol engine and gearbox, as well as delivering near-identical performance characteristics. Much of the technology used was developed for the (now-cancelled) Aston Martin Rapide E project. The conversion is carried out in such a way that it can be reversed at a later date if this is wanted.
Another long-lived British sports-car manufacturer taking a stab at electrification is AC Cars, which now produces all-electric versions of the iconic AC Cobra alongside its conventional petrol-powered models. Its latest creation, the Cobra Series 4 electric, is available with either 304bhp or 608bhp.
The 304bhp version is capable of 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds, has a maximum range of 190 miles and weighs 1,190kg – less than a MINI Electric. Meanwhile, the 608bhp version can accelerate from 0-62mph in 3.8 seconds, can cover 160 miles on a single charge and is only 50kg heavier than the lesser powered model. Prices for the Cobra Series 4 electric start at £148,000 for the 304bhp version, and £168,000 for the 608bhp model, before any on-the-road charges.
AC has also produced what it calls the Series 1 electric, based on the earlier MK1 Cobras. The modern car appears largely unchanged on the outside, but also hides a 304bhp electric motor and 55kWh battery underneath its svelte composite bodywork. The Cobra Series 1 electric has a range of approximately 150 miles, weighs roughly 1,050kg and also boasts impressive performance, with a 0-62mph time of close to four seconds. Only 58 will be made, priced at £138,000 before on-the-road charges.
In recent years, this company has been converting classic cars to electric power from its Oxford base. Its most recent creation is a zero-emissions version of a 1967 Series 1 Jaguar E-Type Coupe, which it has used to debut its trio of electric conversion packages for the iconic sports car.
The three packages are dubbed ‘Tourer’, ‘Sprint’ and ‘Grand Tourer’ and all leave the bodywork and interior of the E-Type untouched. The first two also use the original gearbox, however, the top-of-the-range Grand Tourer package includes a single-speed unit to cope with the 369bhp and 600Nm of torque Electrogenic packs into the E-Type.
E-Types with the Tourer and Sprint conversion packages have a 150-mile range, but Electrogenic will offer “one or two” range extenders to customers that'll each add around 50 miles to the maximum range. Meanwhile, Grand Tourer E-Types will be capable of up to 250 miles with the range extenders.
In 2021, the British conversion company created two ‘world firsts’ by adding 106bhp electric motors to a 1976 Triumph Stag and a 1957 Morgan 4/4. Electrogenic preserves the original instruments and even uses the cars’ manual gearboxes for what it calls a "guilt-free'' classic motoring experience. Before these projects Electrogenic electrified various other classics, including a Series 2 Land Rover, a Karmann Ghia and a Porsche 356.
Electric Classic Cars
The previously mentioned Electric Classic Cars (www.electricclassiccars.co.uk) is one of the more established UK companies carrying out electric classic-car conversions. It's run by Richard Morgan and features in a Quest channel TV series called 'Vintage Voltage', showcasing some of the conversions carried out. Past projects have included electric conversions of a Porsche 911, a Karmann Ghia (above), a Fiat 500, a Land Rover Defender 110, a Chesil Speedster, a BMW 2002, a Ferrari 308 GTS and a Lancia Fulvia.
Set up by former fintech entrepreneur Justin Lunny, Everrati (www.everrati.com) focuses on "upgrading glamourous vehicles from the past with electric powertrains and a compassionate makeover". Everrati's flagship model is a 500bhp Porsche 964 that features the Oxfordshire-based company's 'Signature' widebody (below). It's capable of 0-62mph in less than four seconds, and starts at £250,000.
Everatti’s latest creation is a zero-emissions version of the iconic Ford GT40, developed with the help of continuation specialist Superperformance. The electric GT40 continuation will be the first product of the two companies’ strategic partnership, with development already underway. However, performance and range figures have yet to be announced.
As well as electric 964s and the GT40, the company has also created electrified versions of the Land Rover Series IIA, Mercedes Pagoda convertible and Porsche 964 in Targa and narrow-body form. According to Lunny: “Our main focus is on converting these (once) thirsty gas-guzzlers to zero-emission vehicles, to ensure their charm and allure can continue to be enjoyed for years to come. It's vitally important to us that our cars retain their original appeal. Our aim is to articulate and enhance the underlying beauty of an iconic motor, offering a truly unique and eco-friendly drive for the car enthusiast of the future."
London Electric Cars
The latest conversion specialist to try its hand at electrifying the original Mini is London Electric Cars (LEC), which set out to prove that "conversions don’t have to cost the earth". For £25,000 before taxes and the cost of the donor car, the 20kWh-battery LEC-converted classic Mini is capable of 60-70 miles on a charge. However, customers can request more power, upgraded batteries for increased range and rapid-charging capability.
LEC founder Matthew Quitter said of its Mini: "With this EV conversion, we wanted the classic Mini to be an affordable yet useful option for city dwellers – not just in our home town of London, but also all over the world to tackle traffic and help put a stop to pollution."
LEC is offering its conversion package for all classic Minis. Under the retro bodywork, instead of using a brand-new powertrain, the company fits the electric motor and battery cells from a pre-owned Nissan Leaf. It says this is a more sustainable approach, reducing the need for additional mining of raw materials to build a fresh powertrain.
Founded in 2017 and based in Vauxhall, London Electric Cars has also developed zero-emissions versions of other iconic British models, including the Land Rover Defender and Morris Minor. It's also currently working on converting a Bentley T2, a Lincoln Continental Convertible and a Ford Anglia, among others, to electric power.
Founded by David Lorenz and based close to the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit in Northamptonshire, Lunaz Design (www.lunaz.design) employs former Aston Martin, Ferrari, Jaguar, Volkswagen and McLaren staff, working on high-end conversions of exclusive classic cars such as the Jaguar XK120, Rolls-Royce Phantom V, Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud and Bentley Continental. The XK120 gets an 80kWh battery pack and the Rolls-Royces a 120kWh unit.
In February 2020, the company announced that it would be doubling its workforce in response to increased demand for its products, and in June 2020 it reported a further surge in demand as countries around the world emerged from coronavirus lockdown measures. In August 2020, Lunaz announced a production run of 30 of its Rolls-Royce Phantom and Silver Cloud conversions, with prices starting at £350,000, while March 2021 saw confirmation of a similar production run of classic Bentley Continentals, for a similar price.
In December 2020, Lunaz announced that it'll produce an initial run of 50 electric classic-era Range Rovers (pictured above), with deliveries set for summer 2021. Each of Lunaz's electrified Range Rovers benefits from a ground-up restoration and boasts four-wheel drive, uprated suspension and improved brakes. Two specifications are offered – Town and Country – along with a choice of two wheelbase lengths and a host of bespoke options; prices start at £245,000 before taxes.
In June 2021, David Beckham took a 10% stake in the classic car conversion company, saying: "I was drawn to the company through their work restoring some of the most beautiful classic cars through upcycling and electrification. David Lorenz and his team of world-class engineers are building something very special and I look forward to being part of their growth.”
All Lunaz cars are engineered with fast-charging capability, regenerative braking systems and integrated modern technology such as traction control and cruise control. Customers can also specify bespoke, handcrafted interior finishes and upholstery.
RBW EV Roadster
British company RBW got off the ground in 2020, and plans to build brand-new electric sports cars using fresh MGB body shells and manufacturer-standard electric drivetrains and bodies. It was founded by businessman David Swain and draws on the engineering expertise of automotive component manufacturer Continental.
The EV Roadster's 34.5kWh battery back is the same as that used in the Nissan Leaf, and sits under the bonnet in the space occupied by the engine in a regular MGB. The electric drivetrain, meanwhile, is mounted in a frame that fits within the rear bodywork without the need to cut any metal. RBW hopes to sell up to 30 EV Roadsters in 2021, and you can read our full feature and first drive of the car here.
A few years back, Renault experimented with an open-top electric concept car based on its classic Renault 4 family hatchback. Called the 'e-Plein Air' (above), it's a nod to the Renault 4 Plein Air beach car of the 1960s. The powertrain and battery are from a Renault Twizy, giving the car 17bhp and a range of about 60 miles. Inside, the seats have been reupholstered with an eye-catching blue material, while a picnic hamper features in the rear.
Swind E Classic
The Swind E Classic is an original Mini that has been converted to electric power by British outfit Swindon Powertrain. The company developed its own electric motor (which it will sell you in 'crate' form for £6,400 plus VAT) for the project. Priced from £79,000, the E Classic comes with a 24kWh battery, a driving range of around 120 miles and a charge time of four hours from a 7kW home wallbox charger.
Volkswagen has created several electric versions of some of its most popular models by adapting the drivetrains of its modern electric-car models. The e-Bulli (above) is a classic VW camper van with the internals of the Volkswagen e-Golf electric hatchback, built to showcase the company's 'eClassics' division in Germany, which has been set up to convert classic VWs of all types to zero-emissions power. The division has also produced a convertible e-Beetle with the drivetrain of a Volkswagen e-up! to further demonstrate what it can do.
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