HomeFeatured VehiclesSEMA Show provides varied visions for electrifying vintage vehicles

SEMA Show provides varied visions for electrifying vintage vehicles

We expect to see and learn more at the upcoming 2021 event in Las Vegas


(During the month of October, were publishing a series of stories on the futureproofing” of collector cars through the use of electric powertrains, which also are coming to seemingly every automakers vehicle lineup. As always, your comments are welcome, and if you have converted a vintage vehicle to electric power, wed love to share your story with others. Contact us at [email protected].)

That’s not a V8 engine. It’s a Tesla electric powerplant in disguise in the Icon Mercury

Jonathan Ward is well-known and respected in the collector car world for the way he reimagines vintage 4×4 vehicles as he restores them with modern modifications under his Icon brand. 

As he explains on the Icon website, his approach combines “a strong commitment to tradition, obsession with modern design, and unrelenting need to achieve performance excellence.” Icon vehicles, he adds, are built “for a journey without boundaries.”

Perhaps it was with breaking boundaries in mind that a client approached Ward about putting an electric powertrain into one of his classic remakes. The result was the Derelict, a well-patinaed 1949 Mercury coupe that drew constant visitors when it debuted in 2018 at the annual SEMA Show. 

The car looked like a typical resto-mod and when you looked beneath the hood, there even appeared to be a V8 engine. 

But it wasn’t a V8; it was an electric motor disguised as a V8. The car’s conversion to electrical rather than liquid-fueled propulsion was confirmed when you looked in the trunk and saw the electronic control gear mounted there.  Icon worked with another California specialist shop, Stealth EV, on the electric powertrain conversion, which used Tesla components and resulted in 470 pound-feet of instant-on torque and 400 horsepower, good for a top speed of 120 mph and range in excess of 150 miles.

While the Icon shop was at it, it added coil-over suspension, electric rack & pinion steering, Brembo brakes, and air conditioning, and the fuel filler was converted to accept electricity instead of gasoline.

It was at that same SEMA Show that Chevrolet unveiled the eCOPO concept, a made-for-drag racing Camaro with an 800-volt, 700-horsepower, 600-pound-feet of torque electric powertrain. 

1962 Chevrolet E-10 with electric powertrain | Larry Edsall photo

A year later, Chevrolet was back at SEMA with another electric-powered vehicle, a 1962 Chevrolet E-10. Yes, you read that correctly. Instead of a C-10, this was an E-as-in-electric pickup truck powered by a pair of the electric motors from the Chevrolet Bolt.

By using a pair of motors, the truck got 450 horsepower, could sprint to 60 mph in 5 seconds, and provide 250 miles of range. 

There was an expectation that a year later, Chevy would be back with an aftermarket plug-and-play production version of this prototype setup. Of course, Covid intervened, but that didn’t stop Chevrolet from doing a vintage 1977 K5 Blazer with what it called a “connect and cruise” electric power system with 200 horsepower, 25 more than the truck’s original V8 engine provided back in the day.

We expect to hear more about the availability of this e-Crate system the first week in November at the 2021 SEMA Show. 

And especially so after Ford revealed a few weeks ago that it has a crate-version electric powertrain called the Eluminator being offered this fall. Based on the powerplant in the 2021 Mustang Mach-E GT, the Eluminator power plant will provide 281 horsepower, 317 pound-feet of torque and will weigh only 205 pounds.

If you don’t want to wait for the Chevy or Ford plug-in crate setups, EV West has several kits available, and at prices starting at around $7,600 (sans batteries) for Volkswagens, Toyota MR2s, Porsche 914s and 356s, and for the Factory Five 818 roadster.

EV West and Revolt Systems also have an aftermarket electric conversion kit — more than 500 horsepower and 800 pound-feet of torque — that uses Tesla components and the Chevy small-block V8 engine mounts and fits into many standard production vehicles and custom/hot rod projects. 

Another California-based company, ElectricGT, also has eCrate systems (batteries included) designed to replace 4-, 6- and 8-cylinder petroleum-fueled engines, and another designed for Porsche 911 conversions.  

A vintage Ford Bronco is about to be married to a new electric-powered chassis. System soon will be available for a variety of pre-1975 vehicles, including muscle cars and pickup trucks | Zero Labs Automotive photos

Yet another approach is being taken by Zero-Labs, which has developed a “classic electric platform,” basically an electric-powered chassis designed to accept the body and interior of pre-1975 muscle cars, coupes, SUVs and pickup trucks. The company says its system provides 600 horsepower, independent suspension, 50/50 weight distribution, 235 miles of range and the option of all-wheel drive.

Everrati and Superformance will even do an electrified GT40 for you. 

We expect to see all of the above and even more at the 2021 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, where will host a panel presentation on the electrification of vintage vehicles.

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, 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. SO, I just bought a 1986 Toyota Cressida.. What is your best guess for the future? Will i need to convert it to electric? Will I need to convert it to electric in order to sell it? Part of having a vintage car is to enjoy the original design as it was produced! An electric modification seems extreme? It will take a long time for the vintage car industry to accept this change. Perhaps the new younger breed of buyers will handle it better? Best regards Warren

    • No, you don’t have to convert your car to an EV, at least not yet. But there may be localities or states that restrict when and where you will be able to drive gasoline-fueled vehicles in the future. And while part of the enjoyment of having a vintage vehicle is driving it as it was produced, a lot of resto-mod owners might tell you that updating the powertrain and other unseen components enhances the enjoyment they get from their vehicles.

  2. Larry,
    There are states that have limited supply of electricity now so what happens when we have more EV’s than power to charge them? Coal is cheap and plentiful but is being driven out! Gas is cheap so far but again Environmentalists! Solar great when sunny! Wind supper! When it’s windy! Nuclear (BEST) but again Environmentalists!
    Don’t forget our infrastructure is obsolete! Many home only have 100 amp service! Not great for charging an EV!

    The true power supply is all above working together and working on our infrastructure but that’s time and money!

    Hydrogen is truly the answer! It’s perfect in many ways!
    EV’s are great for the cities and most surrounding areas but remember we have some long stretches in some states.

    I’m excited about what can be done but worried that too fast will hurt the EV’s in the long run.
    Because we don’t have the power reserves.


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