HomeCar CultureCommentaryWhat should be defined as ‘historic vehicle’?

What should be defined as ‘historic vehicle’?


Some call it “future proofing,” the conversion of classic and collector vehicles from petroleum-fueled engines to propulsion by electric motors, but the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens has issued a statement saying such conversions violate its definition of “historic vehicle.”

“An increasing number of commercial outfits are offering to convert historic vehicles to run on electric power, replacing the entire drivetrain with an electric unit and batteries,” FIVA said in its statement. “In this way, they claim, it’s possible to retain the classic appearance of the vehicle while meeting modern environmental standards. 

“As an additional benefit, the conversion might also increase power and performance. Some conversion companies have even obtained permission from the type approval/certification authorities to retain the original Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the donor vehicle, despite more or less replacing the entire drivetrain.

“FIVA… understands the motivation of some owners to electrify their vehicles – and acknowledges that, subject to legislation and regulation, all modifications are a matter of personal choice.

“However, FIVA – as an organization dedicated to the preservation, protection and promotion of historic vehicles – cannot promote, to owners or regulators, the use of modern EV components (motors and batteries) to replace a historic vehicle’s powertrain.

FIVA would strongly recommend that any changes are reversible, with all the original components marked and safely stored. In this way, the vehicle may – if so desired in the future – be returned to its original state and may once again become a historic vehicle.”

“Conversion of historic vehicles from their original internal combustion engines to electric power doesn’t comply with the FIVA definition of a historic vehicle, nor does it support the goal of preserving historic vehicles and their related culture. In FIVA’s view, vehicles so converted cease to be historic vehicles, unless they are subject only to ‘in period’ changes.”

FIVA then reiterates its definition of history vehicle as “a mechanically propelled road vehicle” that is at least 30 years old, is preserved and maintained in a historically correct condition, is not used for daily transport and is “part of our technical and cultural heritage.”

“It is not, in our opinion, the shape or body style of a vehicle that makes it ‘historic,’ but the way in which the entire vehicle has been constructed and manufactured in its original form,” Tiddo Bresters, FIVA’s vice president for legislative matters, explains in the announcement.

“Hence if any owner, motor engineer or manufacturer chooses to make such conversions to a historic vehicle, FIVA would strongly recommend that any changes are reversible, with all the original components marked and safely stored. In this way, the vehicle may – if so desired in the future – be returned to its original state and may once again become a historic vehicle.”

Historic vehicle, What should be defined as ‘historic vehicle’?, ClassicCars.com Journal
This 1949 Mercury by Icon certainly appears to be historic, but it carries an electric powertrain | Icon photos
Historic vehicle, What should be defined as ‘historic vehicle’?, ClassicCars.com Journal
And those electric motors have been disguised to look like a V8

So, what do you think? (And you can use the “Comments” section below to express your opinion on FIVA’s opinion.)

While you consider your response, I’ll share mine: 

First of all, FIVA’s own definition of historic vehicle seems flawed in its statement that to be “historic,” a vehicle cannot be used as a daily driver. I understand why insurance companies have such a requirement, but does using, say, a 1969 Ford Mustang or 1955 Chevrolet Nomad or even a 1937 Packard to commute to and from work make that vehicle any less historic?

Secondly, FIVA states that its purpose is “preservation, protection and promotion of historic vehicles and related culture, as well as their safe use.”

I would emphasize the term “use,” and argue that if installing an electric power source keeps those vehicles in use — now and in a future in which petroleum fuel could be banned in some locations — than why not accept electricity as the new fuel? At the same time, however, I also support the idea of retaining the original components for potential historic authenticity.

I also would point to the “resto-mod” movement that replaces old and inefficient petroleum engines and other mechanical components, with newer, cleaner and safer technologies, for example, replacing drum brakes with discs and bias tires with radials. Again, while the exterior appearance is retained, the vehicle’s useful life has been extended.

Finally, it also seems to me that FIVA should consider any vehicle that has undergone restoration as no longer being historical because the very act of restoration violates a vehicle’s originality.

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. Leave it alone & consider upgrading the electric grid. Can you amagin plugging in a million or two cars to an already failing grid. I was born at night but it wasn’t last night. I say instead of patting yourself on the back for stupid new ideas put your heads together & fix what we already have. Justify your paycheck.

  2. Except for the absurd requirement of the vehicle not to be used for daily transport (much to the contrary, many a vehicle from the thirties onward, if properly maintained, can be used frequently, and one is at a loss to figure out why it shouldn’t, if the owner enjoys it) I completely agree. I simply fail to understand why would anyone want to drive a fake car, completely devoid of authenticity, when everyone is free to drive a modern car, if one so wishes. Why not ride a stuffed horse, by the way? A car is, or can be, a testimony to times bygone and the ingenuity of our grand-fathers. Tampering with classics is tantamount to a lack of respect and taste. Respect because if they were enjoyed then, there is no reason why they can’t be enjoyed now; taste because appreciating looks for the sake of it with disregard for contents is one definition of bad taste, if not worse. Why not have the Milan Duomo interiorly demolished to install apartments, or dress a modern train with old outfit?

  3. I feel it is worthwhile looking ahead maybe 20 years and more, to a time when: 1) non-fossil-fuel cars are common or the norm, if not the majority of ‘current’ individual transportation; 2) gasoline could well become hard to find , or 3) non-petroleum substitutes, which would not necessarily work well with original carburetted or fuel injection systems, become the major offering; and 4) if traditional gasoline is available, because it would not be needed for contemporary autos at that time, could be priced so high that many owners of vintage collectible autos wouldn’t be able to afford it. Such fuels could become so hard to find that they might only be available in large metropolitan areas, and not reliably found in rural locations where people might want to take their cars on longer trips or special tours. Today, aviation gas is nice to have, but very costly but not all that readily available to people who might want to buy it. I can envision a time where only the very wealthy could afford ‘traditional gasoline’ (if it is still available). Would it not be better to keep vintage cars as original as possible, outside of electric drive systems, and be able to drive them so people could see the history of our transportation out on the streets, than have them cloistered in museums? I am ALSO totally of a mindset that all original drive train components should be preserved for potential re-installation, and the conversion engineered in such a way that the cars can easily be returned to total originality. I do NOT support carving up bodies and chassis to fit new bits — it should be able to design conversions that included added sub-frames, etc. that mount using existing holes.

  4. I’m not sure where I stand on this issue. Yes, I can see a time coming when some localities, such as France and California; will possibly ban the sale and use of gasoline altogether because of the emissions. Those places that haven’t banned gasoline at that time will at the very least raise the taxes on it so high that no one will want to buy it. Pennsylvania and New Jersey the spotlight’s on you now. So for those who want to enjoy a vintage automobile, will be forced to adapt to some kind of zero-emissions energy source.
    However I can aslo see it from the perspective of the purist and traditionalist who says that it takes away from the clssic feel of the vehicle when you strip it of its internal-combustion powertrain. As in the case of the Jaguar above, half the fun of owning any vintage British sports-car, such as an E-Type is listening to the lively and charming exhaust note in your ears as you shift through the gears up and down the torque curve. I can see this issue from both perspectives and not sure where I stand.


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