Someday — and for some I’ll add “and sadly in the not-that-distant future” – automotive historians will look back at the spring of 2018 as the time when the sea change began, and they will see an event that took place in England as the seminal moment.
The date was Saturday, May 19, and the event that occurred was a bride and groom, though not just any bride and groom, prepared to leave for the drive to their wedding reception.
The bride was an American actress who was marrying into a royal family. Except this time, it wasn’t Grace Kelly and Monaco’s Prince Ranier but Meghan Markle and England’s Prince Harry. The seminal event from an automotive standpoint came when they left for the reception in a gorgeous — even Enzo Ferrari called it the most beautiful car of all time — E-type Jaguar roadster.
But this 1968 E-type might best be referred to as an e-type, because instead of the usual 4.2-liter inline six-cylinder petroleum-fueled engine, Jaguar Land Rover Classic had installed a 220kW electric motor fed by a 40kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
Jaguar Land Rover Classic, the British automaker’s official restoration shop, calls the car the E-type Zero, as in zero pollution.
This new “engine” reduces the car’s weight by around 100 pounds, propels the car from a standing start to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds — a second quicker than with petrol in its tank — and offers a driving range reported to be 170 miles.
Purists might still object, but resto-mods have brought newcomers into the hobby. The same thing will happen with what I’m calling the ‘electra-mods.’
“Our aim with the E-type Zero is to future-proof classic car ownership,” Tim Hannig, director of Jaguar Land Rover Classic, said in a news release reported here several months ago by Bob Golfen.
“We have integrated the new electric powertrain into the existing E-type structure, which means a conventional engine could be reinstalled at any point,” Hannig added. “We think this is essential as it ensures a period Jaguar remains authentic to its DNA. We could use this technology to transform any classic XK-engine Jaguar.
“We’re looking forward to the reaction of our clients as we investigate bringing this concept to market.”
Ah, the reaction indeed.
My recollection is that when classic car enthusiasts started putting modern powertrains into vintage vehicles some — or maybe many — traditionalists saw such an act as blasphemy. Well, they did until they went for a drive in a car that still looked the way it did when it emerged from an automaker’s assembly line, but that now could cruise comfortably at interstate speeds, and could also turn and stop, and didn’t leak oil all over your driveway or garage.
Those vehicles came to be known as “resto-mods,” resto as in restoration and mod as in modified. They also came to be well-accepted by the collector car community, well, with the exception of that part of the community that runs the major concours d’elegance events. But that’s OK. Concours have their place, too, and it’s nice to see cars we might otherwise view only in a museum or a very private collection getting taken outdoors, and even driven under their own power for a few hundred yards.
Yes, I know that some concours encourage car owners to do a pre-show driving tour, and that such events have become more fun to watch than the concours themselves, because you get to see the cars in motion, and on the regular roads rather than a golf-course fairway. Plus, while it might cost hundreds of dollars to attend the concours, the tours are free to view from the comfort of your roadside canvas chair.
Purists might still object, but resto-mods have brought newcomers into the hobby. The same thing will happen with what I’m calling the “electra-mods.”
I’m both surprised and delighted that in our recent poll, only slightly more than 63 percent of those responding to a question about the acceptance of electra-mods responded negatively. That means that nearly 37 percent are as willing to accept them alongside the resto-mods.
Now, I’m no fan of electric-vehicle range anxiety, but a couple hundred miles usually is about what a vintage road rally covers in a day anyway. And if you can enjoy that drive in a cool-looking but clean vehicle, why not?
What about the noise, or lack thereof, purists might ask? What fun is driving without the rumble of a V8 or the wail of a V12? I agree, sound can be part of the fun, and some cars shouldn’t be electrified. But quiet can open new roads — such as those where petroleum-powered vehicles are not allowed — and major auto racing series are moving toward hybrid-electric powertrains. Who knows, Formula E might just be the new Formula 1.
I keep hearing that the millennial lifestyle loves vintage nearly as much as it loves the latest in digital connectivity. If preservation is the point of car collecting, what’s wrong with preserving the vehicle by cleaning up its propulsion system?
And if it ever comes time to retire those vehicles from being used for transportation, they can be put back the way they were, petroleum engines and all, and displayed in museums, or in concours.