Why Are Classic Cars Shifting Gears to Electric?

In recent years, a captivating trend has emerged in the automotive world: the conversion of classic cars to electric power. This movement blends the nostalgic allure of vintage automobiles with cutting-edge electric vehicle (EV) technology and is gaining remarkable momentum. At its heart, this trend is more than just an innovative fusion of old and new – it represents a shift in how we perceive and interact with classic vehicles. It seems like the future is electric.

Traditionally, classic cars have been cherished for their mechanical purity, aesthetic design, and historical significance. They are symbols of a bygone era, representing the technology of their times.

But as the world becomes more environmentally conscious, these classic cars face new challenges. Stricter emissions regulations, increasing environmental awareness, and the rapid advancement of electric vehicle technology have all played a part in steering the classic car scene into uncharted territory.

This is where EV conversion saves the day – they give old cars a new, eco-friendly lease on life. Think of it as a smart, green move that fits right into the idea of a circular economy – where we use things to their fullest before recycling them.

While flashy vehicles like hot rods and muscle cars are often the stars of the EV conversion world, there’s more to it. Bikes, motorcycles, regular cars, trucks, and even commercial vehicles are all joining the electric revolution. And it’s about more than just going fully electric. Some of these old-timers are becoming plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) or hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), mixing a bit of the old with the new.

The Traditional Appeal of Classic Cars

vintage retro car

To fully appreciate the significance of classic cars transitioning to electric power, it is essential to understand what constitutes a classic car and why they hold such a special place in the hearts of enthusiasts and the general public alike. What makes classic cars appealing are:

  • Design: One of the most compelling aspects of classic cars is their design. Unlike modern vehicles, which often prioritize functionality and efficiency over form, classic cars were designed during a time when artistic expression in automotive design was highly valued. These cars feature distinctive lines, curves, and styles that reflect the artistic sensibilities and cultural trends of their respective eras. From the elegant simplicity of early automobiles to the flamboyant fins and chrome of the 1950s, each classic car is a moving piece of art.
  • Engineering: The engineering of classic cars also holds a unique appeal. These vehicles were built in an era when car manufacturing was less automated and more hands-on. The mechanical workings of classic cars are often straightforward yet ingenious, allowing owners and enthusiasts to engage directly with the machinery in a way that modern, computerized vehicles rarely permit. The roar of a carburetor engine, the tactile feedback from a manual transmission, and the simplicity of analog controls provide an authentic driving experience that is hard to replicate with modern technology.
  • Nostalgia: Nostalgia plays a significant role in the allure of classic cars. For many, these vehicles are reminiscent of a different era, evoking memories and feelings of a time gone by. Classic cars often represent the personal histories of individuals and families, acting as tangible links to the past. They can be symbols of personal milestones, cultural icons, or simply reminders of the automotive industry’s rich and varied heritage.

Rise of Electric Vehicles (EVs)

Now, their electric vehicles are on the rise, marking a change in how vehicles are powered. The EV revolution began as a response to the growing awareness of environmental issues, particularly climate change and air pollution. Traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles significantly contribute to carbon emissions and environmental degradation. In contrast, EVs offer a cleaner alternative, producing zero tailpipe emissions and significantly reducing the overall environmental impact of transportation.

This revolution started as governments around the world started implementing policies to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles. These include incentives like tax rebates, grants, and investments in charging infrastructure. Additionally, some countries have set ambitious targets for phasing out ICE vehicles, making electric cars mandatory.

Electric Car Conversions – From Garage to Mainstream

a man cleaning his classic car in the garage

Since it’s worse for the environment to simply discard their gas-powered cars in favor of buying an electric car – more and more people are converting their gas-guzzlers to electric-powered machines. Plus, there aren’t enough new electric cars to go around, and they’re pretty pricey compared to regular cars. Converting a car to electric is becoming more affordable.

What is a conversion? It’s pretty much what it sounds like – it’s about transforming your regular gas or diesel car into a fully electric one. How? By swapping out the old gas engine for an electric motor or adding electric power systems to a car that wasn’t originally designed to run on electricity. You can do this with many kinds of cars, though some are more conversion-friendly than others.

Right now, classic cars are popular choices for going electric because the design and engineering of these cars are something people very much like to keep.

Converting cars to electric used to be a hobby for the dedicated few, but now it’s booming into a major industry. Back in the 1970s, U.S. Electricar kick-started the trend. They were all about turning regular cars electric for the American market, using lead-acid batteries. Then came Solectria, who introduced the Force, their own electric ride equipped with similar batteries and even fancier versions with nickel-metal-hydride batteries for more mileage. These early players set the stage for the electric car conversion wave we see today.

The process of converting classic cars to electric involves replacing the traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) of a classic car with an electric motor and battery pack, effectively transforming the vehicle into a modern electric car while retaining its vintage charm.

Now, this hobby is catching on among high-end car collectors. Celebrities like Robert Downey Jr. are even making shows about converting their fancy cars to electric.

Companies like Everrati are leading the charge, specializing in turning classics like 1990s Porsches and Land Rovers into electric cars. They don’t just swap out the engine; they also work on making the car lighter and balance the weight for a great driving feel.

While the U.S. is still mostly driving gas cars, there’s a growing interest in electric vehicles, both new and converted. For those who can afford it, converting a classic car to electric is becoming a stylish way to enjoy old favorites without guilt. The trend has mixed reactions in the car world, but for many, it’s about enjoying cars responsibly, thinking about the environment, and passing on this passion to the next generation.

How are Classic Cars Converted to Electric

The conversion process begins with the removal of the car’s original ICE, along with associated components like the fuel tank, exhaust system, and gearbox. In their place, an electric motor, a battery pack, and an electronic controller are installed.

These new components are often custom-fitted to ensure they do not compromise the car’s original structure and aesthetics. The challenge lies in integrating modern technology into a vehicle designed for something other than it, requiring skilled engineering and a deep understanding of old and new automotive technologies.

Benefits of Converting Your Classic Car to Electric Cars

vector illustration of an electric car recharging point

The electric conversion of classic cars is not just a novel trend – it offers a range of tangible benefits, such as:

  1. Reduced carbon footprint: Many classic car enthusiasts are increasingly conscious of their environmental impact. Converting their cherished vehicles to electric power allows them to enjoy classic motoring while reducing their carbon footprint. EVs are seen as a key solution in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as they can operate virtually carbon-free, contributing significantly to the reduction of global carbon emissions.
  2. Improved air quality: By eliminating tailpipe emissions, electric vehicles help improve air quality, particularly in cities and urban areas. This has positive effects on public health, as air pollution from ICE vehicles is linked to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
  3. Sustainability: The push for EVs is also part of a broader move towards sustainability. Electric vehicles, when combined with advances in battery recycling and greener battery production methods, present a more sustainable option in the long term. By repurposing existing vehicles and reducing the need to produce new cars, these conversions help lessen waste and reduce the environmental impact of car production.
  4. Reduced noise: Electric motors operate much more quietly than combustion engines, which means converting classic cars to electric can also help reduce noise pollution.
  5. Increased range and performance: Early electric vehicles were hampered by limited range and were perceived as underperforming compared to those with internal combustion engines. However, recent advancements have seen EVs achieving ranges comparable to, and in some cases exceeding ICE vehicles. Plus, the inherent characteristics of electric motors, like instant torque, have allowed EVs to offer superior performance.
  6. Practicality: One of the most significant technological advancements driving the EV revolution is developing more efficient and affordable battery technology. Modern lithium-ion batteries offer greater energy density, longer life spans, and faster charging times, making EVs more practical for everyday use.
  7. Enhanced driving experience: Electric motors deliver instant torque, so they offer a smoother and more responsive driving experience. This can rejuvenate the feel of a classic car, offering acceleration and handling that may surpass the original specifications.
  8. Integrated modern features: Electric conversions often involve adding modern features, such as regenerative braking, which can enhance the driving experience. Additionally, these conversions provide an opportunity to integrate other modern technologies like updated infotainment systems, improved lighting, and advanced safety features.
  9. Easier maintenance and greater reliability: Electric vehicles have significantly fewer moving parts than traditional combustion engines. This simplicity means there are fewer components that can wear out or require repair, leading to potentially lower maintenance costs and greater long-term reliability.
  10. Lower running costs: The costs of running an electric vehicle are typically lower than those of a combustion engine car. Electricity, especially if sourced from renewable energy, can be cheaper than gasoline or diesel, and electric vehicles are often exempt from certain taxes and can benefit from reduced tolls and parking fees in some areas.
  11. Simplified servicing: With the absence of oil changes, spark plug replacements, and other engine-specific maintenance tasks, electric cars generally require simpler and less frequent servicing. This can make owning a classic car more accessible and less daunting, especially for those not experienced with the intricacies of older combustion engines.
  12. Regulatory compliance: In some regions, strict emissions regulations and bans on ICE vehicles are making it more difficult to drive classic cars. Electric conversions can make these vehicles compliant with modern regulations.

Things to Consider Before Converting Your Classic Car to an Electric Car

While electric vehicle conversion offers many benefits, it also prevents several considerations and challenges. These are the key things to consider before converting your classic car to an electric one:

  1. Cost: Converting your car to electric is a bit pricey, but it’s worth it in the long run – think no more fuel costs or vehicle tax! The price varies depending on what you want. A simple conversion for a 100-mile range is cheaper than a fancy 300-mile range Tesla motor setup.
  2. Performance: Electric conversions often pack more punch than the original engine. This might mean you’ll need to upgrade other parts, like suspension and brakes, to handle the extra power. Remember, your car will zoom from 0 to 60 way faster now!
  3. Range: How far you’ll go on a charge depends on your battery size and driving style. While modern EVs are designed with range and efficient charging in mind, converting a classic car poses limitations in these areas. If you’re only making short trips, a smaller battery might do the trick. But electric conversions can be flexible – you can always add more batteries later to go further.
  4. Parts availability: When converting classic cars, some parts may also need tweaking or changing. Brake systems and heating may also be modified. Classic cars weren’t made for electric life, so some parts need changing or tweaking. Things like brake systems and heating might need an update. Luckily, finding electric car parts is getting easier.
  5. Workload: Converting a classic car to electric is a big task. It’s not just about the mechanics; you’re dealing with high-voltage electrical systems, too. Make sure you’re up for it – it takes time, skill, and the right tools. If you’re not confident, better to leave it to the pros than mess up your car.
  6. Compatibility: Each classic car is unique, and converting it to electric requires a huge customization to ensure that it is compatible with modern electric components and the vehicle’s original design. This involves intricate work, such as custom-fitting battery packs in limited spaces and integrating electric motors with existing drive systems, all while maintaining the structural integrity and balance of the car.
  7. Weight distribution and handling: The weight and placement of the battery pack can alter a vehicle’s weight distribution and handling completely. Finding the right balance to maintain or improve the vehicle’s original driving dynamics can be a challenge.
  8. Thermal management: Electric systems generate heat, and classic cars often lack the sophisticated thermal management systems found in modern EVs. You will need to retrofit an effective cooling system to protect the battery and electrical components without compromising the car’s aesthetics or structure. This can be quite a challenge.
  9. Maintaining originality: For many classic car enthusiasts, the value of their vehicle lies in its originality. Electric conversions, which significantly alter the car’s fundamental mechanics, can diminish its originality and its historical value. Be sure you’re willing to give up the originality of your classic car before proceeding.
  10. Reversibility: Now, to address concerns about authenticity, there are conversions that are designed to be reversible. This way, the original ICE components can potentially be reinstalled in the future, should you want.

Legal and Safety Considerations

Besides the factors mentioned above, there are also legal and safety issues to consider. The world of electric vehicle (EV) conversions is getting serious about safety and standards. Teams in the EV conversion industry are working with regulators worldwide to make sure electric conversions pass the same strict tests as any new electric car.

In the U.S., any car that gets converted, including EV conversions, has to meet tough rules set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and others like the California Air Resources Board (CARB). These groups have set up detailed standards to make sure converted cars are safe for the environment and for people on the road. If these standards aren’t met, it could mean legal trouble and safety risks.

While modern EVs are built with stringent safety standards, retrofitting older vehicles with high-voltage electric systems presents inherent risks. Ensuring the safe installation and operation of these systems, including battery safety in case of accidents, is crucial.

Also, insuring a converted classic car can be challenging, as insurers may be unfamiliar with the risks and values associated with these modified vehicles. Establishing an accurate valuation for insurance purposes can also be problematic, given the unique nature of each conversion.

Conclusion

The trend of electric conversion of classic cars is more than a niche trend – it symbolizes our ability to adapt and evolve while still honoring the past. These conversions are a creative solution to the challenges posed by a world shifting towards sustainability, which helps create a cleaner, more sustainable future.