PH Service History: Are Friends Electric

So, electric-powered classics, then. I've been thinking about these quite a bit lately, and the appearance of an electric Range Rover on PH earlier this week only spurred those musings further. I've even wondered about converting the BMW to electric power, ready for when the inevitable happens and petrol stations start closing down, making fuel harder to come by. Certainly, I wouldn't be surprised if, in the coming years, companies offering to convert your classic to electric power start to become more widespread - reducing the cost and fuelling, if you'll pardon the pun, a rise in popularity for the practice.

I don't think we're there yet. And frankly, with regard to the BMW, I'd miss the golden woofle of the six-pot, even if I were to gain the instant torque and smooth, silent running an electric motor would bring. However, I don't think the idea of an electric-powered classic is a bad one - in fact, I think in some cases it's exemplary.

I'm aware this may be an unpopular view. But to my mind, there are instances when it makes perfect sense. The ideal candidate is a classic which is desirable for many reasons, but endowed with a bit of a stinker of an engine. Something that looks beautiful or handles tidily, but suffers with a wheezing old lump of pig iron under the bonnet. So, what fits the bill?

The first option that springs to mind is a Citroen DS. This one would do the trick - as a Pallas, it was the plushest DS available from new, and it's finished in very fetching two-tone paint. The 2.3-litre four-pot under the bonnet was the most powerful engine option, but even with fuel injection it was somewhat underpowered and couldn't provide the smoothness you'd expect from a car as comfortable and sleek as the big Citroen.

In other words, switching it out is no great loss. In fact, adding electric power is a gain, as it'll bring the sort of smooth, hushed progress the DS is crying out for, not to mention performance the petrol-powered version could only dream of.

But perhaps desecrating such a great is a step too far for some of you. I get it. The DS is hallowed by most, if not all enthusiasts. So what about something that isn't? I give you the Porsche 924. Now, between you and me, I think the 924's a great used buy, but I know there are plenty of people who don't, and mainly because of what's under the bonnet: a slightly coarse 2.0-litre from an Audi saloon, or in later iterations, a 2.5 that still lacked the sort of power you'd really want in a Porsche.

This one falls into that latter category. But just look at the neat, teardrop styling, unfettered by big skirts; imagine the sweet, tidy handling borne out of that perfect weight distribution - something you could replicate with sensitive battery positioning. Now imagine the same car with an electric motor that gave it a proper kick; a car that looked breathtakingly modern in the 1980s, with a powertrain that feels breathtakingly modern today. I don't know about you, but I'd be sorely tempted.

I reckon a classic electric conversion could also be used to make a desirable car out of a low-end model most people would normally gloss over. This 728i is a prime example. It gets all the cracking looks of an E38 M Sport, but has to make do with the 2.8-litre straight-six engine - lovely elsewhere, but a smidge underpowered here. But just imagine this car powered by a thumping electric motor and a welter of batteries - smooth, quiet, and every bit as quick as one of its V8-powered - and pricier to buy - contemporaries.

The beauty of using a big saloon like the 7 is that there's plenty of space to squeeze everything in, so packaging is less of an issue. However, my final proposition presents more of a challenge. But that'll be half the fun of it for some classic electric converters. So, imagine trying to squeeze all those electric gubbins into this Series One Lotus Elise.

I know, I know. Light weight, and all that. But with modern batteries coming down in size, that's less of an issue these days. After all, the first Tesla Roadster was basically an Elise under the skin. What's more, it's not as though this little Lotus is original - it's a Cat N write-off in need of a repair, so you're not exactly ruining a prime example. So, get that done, ditch the high-mileage K Series, and enjoy. I'll see you at the nearest charging point. Maybe.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (21) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Nerdherder 03 Jun 2018

    Makes perfect sense to me.
    Great looking classic, great drivetrain = leave well alone / Great looking and meh or dead+not fixable engine = considering electrification is fine.

    Now where are those controller/electrification kits so us diy types can start pulling batteries and motors from (not burned out ghehehe) crashed Tesla's?

    Some example candidates for me:
    Most 4 pot Bimmers
    Most diesel luxo barges
    Audi TT (4 pots)
    Pug RCZ (non R)

    Someone needs to come up with the vanilla option (lots of cars of the type available+appealing to many) option so someone can develop an electrification kit for the 'masses'.

    Edited by Nerdherder on Sunday 3rd June 08:11

  • ukaskew 03 Jun 2018

    Seems inevitable that this will become common during the transition period to full electric (and I think that's a case of when, not if)

    I know purists will hate it but if it keeps these classic bodies on the road it's a good thing, in my opinion.

  • MalcolmSmith 03 Jun 2018

    I think the DS is a poor candidate as it needs the engine driven pump for the brakes and suspension, you dont want then going on the bum just because youre running out of juice or you’ve blown a fuse (assuming you can fit an electric pump of course)

    But I’m all for 4 pot classics with humdrum engines having electric conversions, especially if they’re just toys as you dont need the boot space. The wheeler dealers Maserati seemed to go well on electric.

    I still kind of want a road going dodgem though, but only if it can still go backwards at full lock, none of this mobility scooter nonsense.

  • Finchingtons 03 Jun 2018

    Delorean dmc-12? Its got the looks to match a futuristic power plant and the PRV 2.8 is no great loss

  • tr3a 03 Jun 2018

    MalcolmSmith said:
    I think the DS is a poor candidate as it needs the engine driven pump for the brakes and suspension...
    Most cars have accessory belts. My hybrid Lexus doesn't have one. Yet is has pumps for power steering, A/C and coolant and is extremely reliable.

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