Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a week-long series that looks to the future of the collector car hobby.
Old cars can be wonderful things to collect but, let’s face it, they leak and smell and sometimes leave you stranded beside the road, and it’s difficult to steer or even stop without power assist, and you need to at least install seat belts to feel minimally safe out on the road.
Increasingly, to make such vehicles as much fun to drive as they are to appreciate parked in the garage, collectors are installing modern, more efficient and more powerful engines, plus power-assisted disc brakes and steering gear, radial tires, oh, and don’t forget air conditioning, and while you’re at it, a Bluetooth audio system hidden beneath the original radio faceplate.
The process has been dubbed “resto-mod,” a vehicle restoration but with modern automotive technology. While the car looks the same on the outside, under the sheetmetal or fiberglass it is basically a modern if modified vehicle, and a pleasure to drive.
Resto-mods have helped popularize the collector car hobby. And now it’s time for the next phase of the phenomenon, the “electra-mod.”
The what? The “electra-mod,” a process by which classic cars get electric power, and it’s a process that some automakers call future proofing.
“We have been looking for some time to find a way of protecting our customers’ long-term enjoyment of their (vintage) cars,” Aston Martin’s Paul Spires said in December when that company unveiled its new “cassette” electric powertrain in a 1970 DB6 MkII Volante.
What the company did was devise a way to remove the original petroleum-fueled engine and replace it with electric motors and batteries.
“Given the historical significance of these collectors cars, it’s vital any EV conversion is sympathetic to the integrity of the original car,” the company said. “The cassette system offers the perfect solution, offering owners the reassurance of knowing their car is future-proofed and socially responsible, yet still an authentic Aston Martin with the ability to reinstate its original powertrain if desired.”
“We are very aware of the environmental and social pressures that threaten to restrict the use of classic cars in the years to come,” added Andy Palmer, Aston Martin Lagonda president.
Indeed, around the world city and national governments are pushing for the electrification of the automobile, and even establishing dates when petroleum-fueled vehicles will be banned from certain areas.
One way to keep classic cars on the roads instead of restricted to museum displays or perhaps to be driven on certain days and streets where they are allowed to be paraded is to electra-mod them. Consider:
• When Britain’s Prince Harry and his bride, Meghan Markle, departed for their wedding reception last year, they drove a 1968 E-type Jaguar roadster that Jaguar Land Rover Classic had converted to electric power.
• Later last year, at the SEMA showcase of the automotive aftermarket industry, one of the cars that attracted the most attention was Jonathan Ward’s 1949 Mercury coupe, a favorite of hot rodders and in this case one of the Derelict projects of his ICON resto-mod business. Under the car’s hood was what appeared to be a V8 engine. But what it was really was a Tesla electric powertrain wearing a V8-like disguise. Ward reported that the car could hit 120 mph and had more than a 150-mile driving range.
• At the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed, spectators cast their votes and awarded the Showstopper of the Festival trophy to an electric-powered Ford Mustang that beat out the Ferrari 488 Pista and the Apollo Intesa Emozione for that honor.
The Mustang was built up by a British company, Charge Automotive, that specializes electric conversions. “We redefine great classic cars with advanced electric technology while preserving their iconic design,” it says on the company website. “We believe in an emissions-free future while giving ultimate performance to epic auto legends.”
At the moment, such electra-mod efforts are very expensive, but these are early days in this aspect of such vehicle restoration, and as the market grows, as more companies specializing in such conversions launch, and new battery technologies are developed, costs figure to become more reasonable, perhaps someday even comparable to the current resto-mod process.
And consider what Jay Leno, perhaps the country’s best-known car collector, told CNBC this week about driving his Tesla:
“There’s no maintenance. They’re faster than the gas car. So there’s almost no reason to have a gas car unless you’re doing long-haul duty.”
“Steam ran everything from 1800 to about 1911,” he added. “Then internal combustion took over from 1911 to right about now. And I predict that a child born today probably has as much chance of driving in a gas car as people today have of driving a car with a stick shift.”