Some time ago, I was searching through car auctions and I came across a Ferrari … well, most of what was left of one. The Ferrari’s engine bay had caught on fire — and the intact, albeit scorched, chassis was up for sale. With an asking price of $15,000, it looked like a fool’s bargain. Sure, I thought, the Ferrari is $15k, but what about every piece of bespoke hardware needed to restore it back to specification? This was a few years ago — and while I saved the image for entertainment purposes, there’s a real solution now for classic cars with non-running or salvage titles: convert it to an electric car.
We’re at a time where converting a classic car into an electric car is a viable and stylish way to practice environmental responsibility. There are an increasing number of electric cars on the road today, thanks to mass-market models such as the Chevrolet Bolt and the Nissan Leaf — as well as slightly more upmarket models like BMW’s i3 and Tesla’s Model 3, which have begun to sway those away from conventional internal-combustion vehicles. There’s also an expansive network of public charging stations and electric range has grown, with many commuters only requiring a charge at home or place of work.
Last summer, Jaguar unveiled the E-Type Zero, a classic 1960s E-Type, easily one of the most beautiful cars ever produced, now updated with an electric powertrain from the I-PACE. The Zero is not just a one-off concept car, as anyone with an extra $400,000 can put one in their own garage. While it’s more expensive than a typical Jaguar E-Type that would fetch $75,000 to $100,000 at auction, the bespoke conversion is a nice mesh of current Jaguar tech with vintage styling. Starting in 2020, Jaguar will only produce hybrid powertrains with a goal of going fully electric by 2026, setting a benchmark for others to follow — with the E-Type Zero as a first of its kind from a major automaker.
While Jaguar’s E-Type Zero is an expensive solution, it is far from the only solution. Last year during a Mini event in New York City, I met Moritz Burmester, a young German engineer who was showing off his home-built classic Mini Cooper electric conversion. Burmester took his classic Mini Cooper, removed the engine and added a 10-kWh motor that he mated to the original manual transmission with a belt. With a range of 65 miles and a top speed of 75 mph, his Mini is just as capable as its gas-powered counterpart, and it even boasts more torque than the original 1.3-liter motor. The Mini’s transformation took six months to complete — and while Burmester wouldn’t share the exact cost of his electric conversion, he did say that the parts were inexpensive and the job was not difficult to complete himself.
With the Jaguar and the Mini as excellent proofs of concept, I am expecting to see more cars like these on the horizon. While not every classic car should be converted to run on electricity, as some models are far too rare and are more valuable kept as-is, there are many common classics out there that would be excellent candidates for conversion. It’s a well-known fact that classic cars are not environmentally friendly — and for the next generation of progressively eco-conscious gear heads, an electric conversion could be a stylish solution to keep classic cars on the road for years to come.