Watts new? Revving up for electra-mods

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Electra-mod
What looks like a nicely restored Jaguar E-Type is actually an electric concept car | Jaguar

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.

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Electric
Royals head for their wedding reception in electric-powered vintage Jaguar | Twitter @KensingtonRoyal

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.”

Chevrolet displayed this 1962 C-10 pickup truck, but noted it was an E-10 because it has a new prototype electric ‘crate’ powertrain | Larry Edsall photo

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? 

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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.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Sounds like a good idea, but how much does a conversion cost. Will we be in the position that only very expensive cars will be converted and saved, or will I be able to keep and drive my ’47 resto-moded Studebaker pickup?

    • As I understand it, GM’s goal is to have its plug-and-play electric powertrain ready in a year to 18 months and priced at the same level as its current lineup of crate V8s.

  2. Still amounts to blasphemy – putting it politely.
    While I freely admit to being a purist, I have no issues with modernization of classic/collector automobile, provided the modifications can be reversed to preserve these icons of history.
    I’ve done more than a few, electronic engine management, modern electrics, updated braking, even modern drivetrains and so on have been done, while all reversible, no permanent modifications to the original car – and maintaining the "character" of the original car.
    Electric conversations are different, while the power unit (motor) itself can be adapted without permanent mod,s, there’s battery location and fitment, high amperage/voltage wiring, control modules etc. that seldom can.
    Granted, these cars belong to their owners who are entitled as such to do to them whatever they choose, and it’s NOT my business to tell them they must do differently, these cars are a part of the history of the automobile and as such also deserve a level of reverence.
    The E-type Jag shown here is an example of the fine history of the EUs contribution to the history of Sports Cars.
    In my less than humble opinion, if the goal is the appearance of an historic vehicle without particular regard for its historical value, there are numerous "Kit Cars" available to be crafted as seen fit.

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