Once upon a time, instead of simply restoring a classic car, someone decided to update it with a modern powertrain, suspension and brakes, wheels and tires. While they were at it, they may have added some digital gauges and replaced an old AM/FM with contemporary audio equipment.
However, other than perhaps lowering the stance a smidge, they left the vehicle’s exterior alone. The result was a classic appearance but with contemporary componentry. And instead of a restoration, the process became known as a “resto-mod.”
Traditionalists were critical of Craig Jackson when he started accepting such cars for his Barrett-Jackson auction dockets, but in the past 15 or so years, resto-mods have become a mainstay of the collector car hobby.
We have been looking for some time to find a way of protecting our customers’ long-term enjoyment of their cars.”
After all, if you want a vintage vehicle that you can enjoy driving in modern traffic, why not equip it with an engine that not only provides more efficient power but doesn’t leak oil all over the garage and driveway? And with disc brakes that will actually stop it quickly and safely? And with steering and suspension components so it handles more like a sports car than those heavy-handed road-going barges that your parents and grandparents used to try to maneuver?
However, just like those golden oldies, even resto-mods need petroleum to keep them going, and there are plenty of folks who worry about the impact of burning so much fossil fuel, enough that there are places, especially in foreign jurisdictions, that either have set a date to ban the use of such fuels or are applying political pressure to do so.
While it’s educational to see vintage vehicles on display in car museums, cars were built to be driven and that’s how they were meant to be employed and enjoyed, moving on down the highways.
Beginning to build momentum during 2019 was one way to make sure they continue to be driven. We’ve dubbed it the “electra-mod.” Much like the creation of a resto-mod, electra-mod involves replacing the petroleum-fueled engine with an electric motor and battery system.
Just as with a “restoration modification,” other components can be updated, but the key is to maintain the vehicle’s appearance while eliminating its dependence on petroleum to power its propulsion.
In Europe, where anti-petroleum legislation is rampant, electra-modification is seen as a way of “future-proofing” the classic car hobby. Such major automakers as Jaguar, Aston Martin and Volkswagen have taken leading roles in the effort over there.
At some point in the future, automotive historians will look back at the spring of 2018, specifically May 19, 2018, as the seminal moment in classic car electrification. That was the day that Britain’s Prince Harry and his bride, American actress Meghan Markel, drove to their wedding reception in a stunning light-blue 1968 Jaguar E-type roadster.
While the car looked no different than others of its generation, Jaguar Land Rover Classic had replaced the 4.2-liter inline 6-cylinder engine with an electric motor and battery pack. The result, it said, was a car that weighed 100 pounds less, could spring to 60 miles an hour a full second faster than with a tank of gas, and could be driven 170 miles before needing to be recharged.
Later that year, Aston Martin introduced what it called the world’s first “reversible EV powertrain conversion” for classic vehicles when it placed its “cassette” electric powertrain in the same engine bay as the car’s original engine and transmission.
“We have been looking for some time to find a way of protecting our customers’ long-term enjoyment of their cars,” said Aston Martin Works president Paul Spires.
“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 added. “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.”
Volkswagen also has been active in electrifying vintage vehicles, especially Beetles and vans. Meanwhile, Chevrolet unveiled an electrified drag racing Camaro at the 2018 SEMA Show and at SEMA 2019 displayed a prototype plug-and-play electric “crate” powertrain in a 1962 C-10 pickup truck.
At the other end of the Central Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Ford and automotive supplier Webasto showcased an electrified 2019 Mustang with 900 horsepower and 1,000 pound-feet of torque.
Not long thereafter, Maryland-based EV conversion specialist Genovation Cars claimed a world speed record for a street-legal car after its electric-powered Chevrolet Corvette GXE hit 211.8 mph. And Genovation is one of a growing number of companies doing electric conversions of vintage vehicles.
Which begs the question: How soon will an electra-mod roll across the auction block at Barrett-Jackson and other collector car sales?