Buy all the spares and repairs classics before it is too late!
For some reason, probably due to my fixation of watching re-runs of Top Gear on Dave, I feared and hated the electric car with an absolute passion. I was terrified that by the time I turned 17 and could start driving, that it would already be too late and all of the cars I dreamed of owning would have already gone the way of the dinosaur. Thankfully, my fear was unfounded, but now I have seen what the electric motor can do. When the day finally does come, I don’t think I will be as heartbroken as I would have been as a moody teenager.
Progress is a weird thing, fifteen or so years ago when I was starting high school the top selling electric vehicle would have been the pint sized Riva G-wiz, which was more of a punchline than a car and only really sold to celebrities and politicians who needed a quick green image boost.
As a means of getting around, the Riva was absolutely abysmal; it could barely waddle any quicker than 40mph, it could definitely go no further than 45 miles on a charge, it could also randomly catch fire while charging and it offered less than nothing in the form of crash protection. Overall, the G-wiz was an absolute mess of a machine and probably hindered the evolution of the electric car for quite a few years.
Go back another 10 years or so to my childhood, and the top seller in the UK would probably have been a trusty old milk float: good for early morning dairy runs but not so good for commuting!
No, it wasn’t until the Tesla Roadster of 2008 that electric cars finally started to creep onto the petrolheads’ radar. Here was an electric sports car that tried to convince us going ‘green’ could also be quite fun. The Tesla looked cool and was undeniably swift, but despite being a billion times more compelling an argument for electric power than the G-wiz, this Elise based roadster was still massively compromised compared to its ICE competitors. Also, most importantly, I still didn’t really like it.
Skip forward ten years though, and we are almost spoilt for choice when it comes to EV’s that people actually want. With Jaguar unveiling their much acclaimed I-pace, Tesla now cannot build their model 3 fast enough. The Nissan Leaf is no longer an oddity and I know someone who drives a BMW I3. Electric cars are entering the driveways of more and more ‘ordinary motorists’ by the day, and we all need to take note.
Electric cars are also no longer laughable. In fact, a lot of them are extremely impressive to the point where I’m tired of videos showing Tesla Model X SUVs absolutely tearing apart Lamborghinis and Ferraris on the drag strip. In the last three years, the automotive physics book has been completely rewritten by the electric motor. So where do classics fit in?
Well, they already are fitting in. You only have to see the videos coming from Robert LLewellyn’s brilliant fully charged series on YouTube to see what is possible with a Porsche 911 and a series 1 Range Rover when you have some Tesla parts lying around.
These cars are, without doubt, very impressive (if a little bit on the sacrilegious side). It’s also clear that they are both still out of reach for the ordinary hobbyist motorist, but that is where progress comes in.
Look at touch screens. I can remember a time not so long ago when you could either use those awful squidgy machines at the bank, or the terrible early PDAs that required a stylus and the push force of Mike Tyson to register any input. But, now, everything has a touch screen thanks to the advent of smart phones and I cannot think of any more intuitive way of interacting with electronic media, Progress!
Smart phones years ago were only for wealthy early adopters, but over time they became cheaper to the point where I haven’t seen a flip phone in years! Today there are kids using iPhones and Samsungs in the playground to catch Pokemon and kill each other on Fortnite (it’s up to you whether that is a good thing or not).
With demand, progress, competition and a little help from Chinese manufacturing, technology can become very very cheap. Programmable touch screens that would have been at the absolute cutting edge 2 years ago, can easily be bought by Raspberry Pi enthusiasts for as little as forty English pounds.
I have no doubt electric motors, batteries and control units will go through this same process as more and more people switch from pump to plug. Once spare parts manufacturing shifts over to an electric bias, I can see restomodding a car becoming almost as simple as speccing upgrades for a gaming PC if, as a community, we ask for it.
As soon as good conversion kits do eventually become available, I’m heading straight for the sorn search on eBay. Now, don’t get me wrong. I would never want to convert anything with a charismatic or interesting internal combustion engine, but a car with a powerplant thats dull. Or, better yet, one with a propensity for eating pistons, then yes I see no issue with adding some electronic speed and usability.
Remember the striking William Towns Aston-Martin Lagonda? A beautiful futuristic four seater so complicated, it arrived 2 years late and bankrupted the whole company due to its horrendously flakey electrics. Thats a car I’d love to own, but just the thought of running a rough or even concourse Lagonda gives me parts bill anxiety. And then there’s still the single digit mpg figures!
Now, imagine that car rebuilt as a reliable and useable electric 600hp four wheel drive, silent wafty supercar with m5 killing capabilities. Who cares if it no longer has quite the range of the original now that the RAC could be taken off speed dial? Batteries are still getting better by the second, but when you think about it how many hobby cars actually need a range greater than 200 miles?
Plus, think of the savings compared to the 9mpg average of the original. As a means of powering a weekend toy, the electric motor does have its advantages, even if it isn’t the most mesmerising way of smoking tyres.
All we need is more ‘bright sparks’ (pun intended) hacking into what Tesla and the rest are doing and we can get cracking on saving the thousands of unusable classics that litter eBay every day.
It shouldn’t be too hard either, thanks to the simplicity of the electric motor and the fact that I know of so many classic car fanatics who work and lead in the tech industry. It really isn’t going to be too long before we see more and more conversions on the road, and with the whole history of automobiles to work with too I think there is going to be some spectacular possibilities.
How about, for instance, a Metro 0R4 which could be specced to be even more potent than the original fire breathing 6r4? The spoiler kits are out there and a Metro, in even the finest of conditions, is never going to set you back too much. It wouldn’t even be inconceivable to actually program the motors to behave exactly how the original would have on the back roads of Monte Carlo, only this time it would stand a much better chance of finishing a course.
Or, better yet, you could turn this magnificent specimen of unloved and unusable MPV into a replica of perhaps the maddest car ever to grace the PlayStation 1 (and my holy grail of unattainable motor cars), the absolutely insane Espace F1!
It could make sense too, with all that space for batteries. Just make sure you modify the structure and brakes first!
3 wheel drive Reliant? Why not (well, perhaps lots of reasons)? The opportunities are endless.
Converting the cars of the past would not only be an exercise in keeping fun and variety on the road, there’s also a surprisingly serious case for converting ICE cars to electric power.
If the World’s governments do intend to consign the petrol engine to the history books in 2035-2040 by banning sales in the coming years and restricting cities for the sake of the environment, then what do they want to do with the billion cars we all already own worldwide?
Surely up-cycling what we already have is much more friendly to Mr and Mrs Polar Bear than expending so much energy in building everyone a brand new car. And then more, still crushing everything we already own into dust.
You only need to pop into any WHSmiths to see the area devoted to all the sub-genres of classic cars, to understand popular they are. When all the petrol stations are closed, people are not going to give up on their pride and joy that easily. Don’t get me wrong, I want to enjoy the petrol engine for as long as there is petrol to put into it, I’m just hopeful that when those days are gone I will still be able to see and drive the shapes I love for years to come.
It will be a noble fight to save the classic car for future generations, but it will not necessarily be an easy one!
Now, where can I store a knackered Espace for cheap?