Forget Teslas: Turning classic muscle cars into electric cars is now a thing

When Kevin Erickson started up his 1972 Plymouth Satellite, a faint humming replaced the normal sound of pump pistons, gas running through the carburetor, and a low-pitched exhaust.

Although almost dormant, the classic American muscle car did not break down. It’s electricity.

Erickson is part of a small but growing group of tinkerers, racers, engineers and entrepreneurs around the country who are converting vintage cars and trucks into more eco-friendly ones. and usually much faster. tram.

Despite some purists’ derision of golf cart or remote control convertible cars, electric powertrain conversions are becoming more common as the battery technology advances and the world moves towards cleaner energy to combat climate change.

“The RC car is very fast, so that’s really a compliment,” said Erickson, who was renamed “Electrollite” accelerating to 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in three seconds and hitting a top speed. Top speed is about 155 mph (249 km/h). It also drew curious glances at public charging stations, which are becoming increasingly common across the country.

At the end of 2019, Erickson, a cargo pilot living in suburban Denver, bought this car for $6,500. He then embarked on a year-and-a-half project to transform the car into a 636 hp (475 kW) electric vehicle, using a battery pack, engine, and entire rear subframe from a single vehicle. accident. Tesla Model WILL

Erickson, who invested about $60,000 in the project, said: “This is how I take a car that I like – my favorite body – and then take modern technology and performance, mix them with together.

Jonathan Klinger, vice president of car culture for Hagerty, an insurance company and lifestyle car brand specializing in collectibles, says converting vintage cars into electric vehicles “is definitely a trend.” direction”, although research on this practice is limited.

In May, the Michigan-based company conducted a web survey of about 25,000 self-identified auto enthusiasts in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. About 1% have partially or fully converted their classic car to run on some kind of electrified powertrain.

The top three reasons respondents gave to switching their vehicles were for faster acceleration and improved performance, for an exciting and challenging project, as well as environmental concerns and emissions. About 25% of respondents said they approve of the partial or full conversion of classic vehicles to electric vehicles.

“Electric vehicles offer some pretty amazing performance just by the nature of their mechanics,” says Klinger. So it’s no surprise to him that a small percentage of people who convert classic cars to electric cars are interested in improving performance. He compared the current trend to the hot-rod movement of the 1950s.

But Klinger, who owns a number of classic vehicles, said he doesn’t think electric motors will replace all internal combustion engines – especially when considering historically significant vehicles.

“There’s something satisfying about having a vintage car with a carburetor, because it’s like when the car is new,” he said. Some enthusiasts want to retain the original engine sound and rumble of old cars.

Other roadblocks to automotive conversions include the knowledge required to thoroughly research such a complex project, as well as safety concerns when tinkering with high-voltage parts, the availability of parts and the time it takes to realize a positive impact on the environment. Because classic vehicles are driven on average less than 1,500 miles (2,414 km) a year, Klinger said, it will take longer to offset the initial carbon footprint of battery production.

And then there’s the price.

Sean Moudry, co-owner of Inspire EV, a small conversion business in suburban Denver, recently modified a 1965 Ford Mustang destined for a landfill. The year-and-a-half project cost more than $100,000 and reveals several other obstacles that underscore why switching isn’t a “plug and play” endeavor.

Trying to power the carriage to “suck the tires” at a drag strip, Moudry and his partners replaced the inefficient six-cylinder petrol engine with one from a Tesla Model S crashed. They also installed 16 Tesla battery packs weighing a total of about 800 pounds (363 kg).

Most classic cars, including the Mustang, weren’t designed to handle that much weight – or the increased performance that comes with a powerful electric motor. So the team had to beef up the car’s suspension, steering, driveshaft and brakes.

The result is a Frankenstein-like vehicle that includes a rear axle from a Ford F-150 pickup and a rotor from a Dodge Durango SUV, as well as disc brakes and sturdier spring-loaded shock absorbers at the front and rear.

Although Ford and common engine has or is planning to produce stand-alone “barrel” electric motors that are marketed to owners of classic vehicles, says Moudry, that the average auto repairer has the resources to do so. Such a complex project is not yet realistic. Because of this, he thinks it will take some time to transition electric vehicles into the mainstream.

“I think it will last 20 years,” he said. “It’s going to be another 20 years before you go to an auto show and 50 to 60 percent of the cars are running some variant of the electric motor in it.”

But that reality may come sooner than expected, according to Mike Spagnola, president and chief executive officer of the Special Equipment Market Association, a trade group focused on aftermarket vehicle parts.

He said that during SEMA’s annual show in Las Vegas this fall, about 21,000 square feet (1,951 square meters) of conference space was dedicated to electric vehicles and parts thereof. That’s up from just 2,500 square feet (232 square meters) at the 2021 show.

Companies are developing universal parts, as well as lighter, smaller and more powerful battery packs. They are also creating easier-to-install wiring components and countless other improvements. Some even build chassis with electric motors, batteries and pre-assembled components. Buyers just need to mount the body of a classic car on top of the pedestal.

“The early adopters of this will take a broken Tesla and pull the engine, the harness, the battery and all that stuff out of the car and figure out how to fit it into any vehicle they want,” Spagnola said. make. “But today many manufacturers are starting to produce components. … We are really excited about that.”


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