Classic car electric conversions: sacrilege or saviour?

Admission: I’m only a little bit on board with electric cars. Basic hatchbacks? Make them electric. SUVs? Make them electric. Luxury class barges? Electric. Buses and trucks? Make them Hydrogen. Sports cars? Well…

If outright speed is your only goal, then electric does seem to win the majority of the time despite the charging time elephant in the room. But given the rate of technology advancement, that will only come down in the next decade. The biggest issue is an ISO-like standard charging network that isn’t owned, funded, or maintained by any one company. 

The motoring press however seem to have acknowledged the limitations of absolute power for the road which electric cars seem to be chasing and marketing. Even in combustion engined cars the celebration of faster has resulted in big, heavy, and complicated cars which have outgrown the roads which they are mostly designed to be driven on. Now they are celebrating the less is more philosophy of which only a few vehicles on the market express. 

Where electric sports cars miss out is the sensory and physical (talking arms, hands, and legs here not just g-forces) involvement. It may sound simplistic and some may even say antiquated, but manual transmissions and sound do play a huge part in the experience and personality of cars and why we choose one over another. 

Like it or not though, there is very little consumers can do about political and business agendas, social movements, or sub-par research for the sake of fuelling social agendas. The internal combustion engine, unless it can be miraculously made carbon neutral somehow over the next decade, is on borrowed time. 

There’s no doubt that we would all benefit from cleaner air and the automotive sector can play a part in that while the hypocrisy of mass consumption of electronic goods, land clearing, and overpopulation is seemingly ignored. Can you imagine throwing away a vehicle that simply won’t work anymore after 6 years because the software is out of date and the hardware is no longer supported?

If the world really is moving towards electric, hydrogen, or both then naturally there will be a drastic reduction of combustion engined vehicles on the road. The amount of road users who enjoy manual transmission internal combustion engined cars would be marginal in comparison, and their usage probably reserved to weekends, greatly reducing any kind of environmental impact.

Saviour

With that in mind, is there really any need to convert yesterday’s classic cars into electric vehicles, and in the process losing the very attributes which make them so special in the first place? Or are those making these changes preserving at least some part of history by making them adapt to modern technology, ensuring they can be driven into the future without restriction?

The argument for making driveline changes to support battery power seems to step from a few standpoints. Environmentally, at least at the user end of the energy gathering and consumption process, there is little to feel bad about. Gone are the smokey hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide gases resulting in a relatively guilt free experience. The added benefit are opportunities for huge torque and power gains over the original combustion engine resulting in comparatively significant performance gain figures. 

At the same time the battery converted car is able to enter those ever stringent city zones without penalty and drive wherever it pleases. It’s ready for the future, today. 

This way, the classic is preserved, free from judgement, free from policy, and at least able to be appreciated by future generations if only for its design.

Sacrilege

What’s been lost in the process though? Naturally the sound and manual transmission but also the art of driving and involvement. 

Some might suggest manual transmissions is a trivial exercise in preserving the past. But I’d argue those who like to change gears themselves are of the very same mindset as those who prefer to ride bicycles by pushing with their legs and changing gears themselves rather than using an electric bicycle. Or those who prefer to navigate waters by sail rather than an engine. Effort equals reward and we need to be useful as human beings. 

What would these cars be like converted to EV?

Sound greatly adds to the experience and gives a car its character. There’s something deeply satisfying about being in control of sound through your right foot, as though you’re playing an instrument or directing an orchestra (hello Ferrari), that sings in tune with the road you’re driving on, which effectively means every road “plays” a different song. 

If that is lost, so is a huge part of the essence of the original car. 

The answer isn’t black and white

Are we really preserving classics by making them battery powered? Or are we eradicating the very things which make them so special in the first place?

Even if government policies dictate no new internal combustion engined cars are to be produced, leaving existing internal combustion engined cars as they are, their numbers and usage will naturally fall away over time. This way they can be preserved and enjoyed by future generations and have minimal impact on resources and the environment. 

If some want to convert classics into EV vehicles, then they should absolutely go ahead and do so. But I don’t believe it’s the only answer, nor would I think it should be made mandatory for all internal combustion engined cars to be made to convert. 

Let’s have a mix of electric, hydrogen, and internal combustion with the first two satisfying the majority of the market and usage. Perhaps in the meantime, we can find a way to sustainably source fuels and create a way for internal combustion engines to reduce or eliminate emissions. Anything is possible. 

Would you convert your car?

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