ElectroClassic EV
Classic Cars Reborn into the Electric Future

Classic Dream EVs

P914_driveway_shotA classic car melds beautiful form with smart function, but also folds the driver’s experience into the total gestalt of the design. In other words, visual appeal means less if the driving experience isn’t equally classic. Top auto designers strive to make the feel of a car magical, like alchemists transmuting glass, rubber and steel into gold. With the perfect combination of elements, they produce a transcendent experience greater than the sum of its parts, and a classic is born.

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gt6_kghia_compAfter owning several vintage Beetles, a ’68 Karmann Ghia, a ’67 Triumph GT6, and now a Porsche 914, I’ve gained a deep appreciation for the character and classic vibe of these vehicles. From the feel of the steering wheel, seats and floor pedals, to the look of the dash, and the smell of the upholstery, these cars formed themselves to my psyche and became part of me, like a favorite leather jacket. It’s hard to ignore the role gasoline engines play in this tableau. Certain engines are a wonder of design and are rightly regarded as objects of art. The vibration and note of the engine as it propels you down the highway is a significant part of the driving experience. Many enthusiasts regard it as the defining feature.

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olds_rocket_engineI am attracted to classics because of their design and feel, not particularly because I’m in love with gas engines. Internal combustion engines are complex affairs, with literally hundreds of moving parts, and plenty of opportunities to fail. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say there are many others like myself who see the gasoline engine as a necessary evil – a toxic bundle of noise, odor, heat, grease, and temperament that is in dire need of an update. The electric motor is quiet, clean, simple, and maintenance free, with just one moving part – the spinning armature. The opportunity to eliminate the grease and radically simplify the means of propulsion draws me back to the classic auto once again, only this time reborn as an EV.

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motor_installed_MCUWouldn’t you like to own a classic with an updated, high tech and clean method of propulsion? But which of your favorite classic cars would you choose to electrify? The remainder of this post is my personal answer to that question. I didn’t include many American models, because it’s classic imports that really make me swoon. If you’ve met my wife, you understand my preference for small, stylish, smart and sporty.

As you peruse these vehicles, re-imagine them as cool, quiet, powerful and dependable electric beauties. Rather than spending the rest of their lives as showpiece relics from the petroleum dark ages, they can be given a new lease on life with an updated power plant and drive train, and shamelessly driven for the next 100 years. One day, when electric storage and propulsion is further advanced, today’s first round of manufactured electric cars will themselves become classics.

(** Note: All of the below  images have been lovingly borrowed and sources have been properly cited as a link to each picture.)

triumph_gt6_1966_1_b1967 Triumph GT6 – I bought this model and year Triumph in Santa Ana in 1980 when I left the Marines. I drove it cross-country to Pennsylvania, and then back to Los Angeles 6 years later. It easily took the Grapevine at 80 mph in overdrive without breaking a sweat. My heart is throbbing just looking at it now. So shiny.

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Austin_Healey_3000_BJ_8_1967_6_Zyl1967 Austin Healy 3000 BJ-8 – I’ve always loved the shape of the front end and grill of this car. If you feel the same way, check out this Tears for Fears video. Another look at this car in action is in Jerry Seinfeld’s web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. I’m guessing there’s lots of room for batteries under that hood.

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BMW3.0CS_Coupe_red21972 BMW 3.0 CS Coupe – This body styling is really the taproot of all BMW design that followed – the boiled-down essence that only gets more vital with age. I originally considered the 2002 as my favorite vintage Beemer body style, but this trumps it. All it really needs now is an electric motor.

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opel_gt1970 Opel GT – Not an obvious choice, but this is a cool body style, like a tiny little Corvette. Definitely an example of design that deserves to be celebrated and enjoyed. The EV Album has more than one example of an Opel GT that has been successfully converted to electric.

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volvo_p18001965 Volvo P1800 – Beautiful lines define this classic two-door sport coupe, which Roger Moore drove as Simon Templar in The Saint. How can you argue with good taste? This would be an awesome electric vehicle.

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datsun_1967_2000_front1967 Datsun 2000 – During my cross-country journey in the Triumph GT6, a fellow U.S. veteran pulled his ride into the spot next to mine at a small motel. It was a Datsun 2000, in about the same condition as my Triumph. After chatting for a short while, we actually considered doing a straight title swap. I always wonder how different my life would be if we had followed through. This is a sweet ride. Imagine how much sweeter it would be as an electric.

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1958 MGA right1958 MG A – Stunning. This is not generally seen as a top-shelf roadster, but there is something captivating about the slope of the front grill and hood, as well as the classic sexy curves of those rear fenders. It has only gotten better with age. Just imagine slipping silently along Mulholland on a bright Saturday morning, sun in your face, wind in your hair, and without the hydrocarbons.

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1974 Alfa Romeo GTV. - 11974 Alpha Romeo GTV – I don’t know much about this beefy little coupe, except that it probably looks fabulous tearing up the Italian Riviera. I’ve always liked the looks of this model, and I think it would be an absolute blast to drive. Especially as a juiced-up EV.

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Corvair_19641964 Chevrolet Corvair - This was the only air-cooled rear-engine car produced in the US. My best friend’s father had one when I was in elementary school. Parked in the carport, we used to practice shifting with the clutch and gas pedals. I remember on the road, it felt just like a big rollerskate. Ralph Nader became a household name taking shots at the safety record of the Corvair in his book Unsafe at Any Speed, although it was subsequently exonerated by Texas A&M as no less safe than similar model cars of the time. This is the perfect color for this car, and the perfect car for a conversion.

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66_corvair_coupe_blue_11966 Corvair Monza Corsa - Here is the later model that also deserves a second chance. Sportier and beefier than the earlier Corvair, this would have ample room in both the rear engine bay and front trunk for plenty of batteries. It has a nice, muscly look to it.

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1968-Triumph-TR250-Green1968 Triumph TR250 – This was also known in the UK and Europe as the TR5. It’s basically a TR4 with a racing stripe and a bump in the hood to accommodate the bigger straight 6-cylinder engine. I almost bought a TR4 as I was ending my tour in the Marines, but the dude sold it to somebody else, so I bought his GT6 instead. This is nearly the same car that Penny’s dad Ralph was going to convert, inspiring me to turn my Porsche 914 into an EV.

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triumph_TR6_1972_flip1972 Triumph TR6 – The successor to the TR5, I lusted after this car while in junior high. It had a straight six engine and could do 0-60 in a bit over 8 seconds, with a top speed of 120 mph. As you can see, it has a very clean and purposeful body style, deserving every bit of lust it provoked. There are few other cars that carry this color so well, in my opinion. They are rare on the road these days, and it would be a pleasure to give one a new life as an EV.

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Citroën-DS1969 Citroën DS – This unique French luxury sedan already looks like an electric car. Well-known for its innovative hydraulic suspension and transmission, 1.5 million of these were sold in a 20 year production run starting in 1955. It was also sold in the U.S., but never took off due to differing expectations in luxury cars. These are rarely seen anymore, except at auto shows.

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Merc230SL_Silver1967 Mercedes 230SL – Another German car company with a reputation for quality engineering and design. This is a good candidate because it has lots of room for batteries under the hood, originally packing a straight-six engine. It’s also relatively light for the first large roadster with a safety body, weighing in at approximately 2800 lbs. Understated and classy. It would be even more understated as an EV.

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1958 Jaguar XK1501958 Jaguar XK150 – Mad gorgeous. It would be difficult tearing the guts from a car that is so beautifully restored, unless the engine has already given up the ghost. A quick search on EV Album turns up zero results for a Jaguar EV conversion, but a Google search returns a YouTube posting of a beautiful 1937 Jaguar conversion. Not sure I’d want to commit such sacrilege, but for a moment, imagine it as a quiet, clean, powerful, high-tech electric. Awesome, right?

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1958_studebaker_golden_hawk1958 Studebaker Golden HawkMy uncle drove one of these up and down the east coast as a professional liquidator of department stores. When he visited, the Hawk would sit in the driveway, locked and idling. He would not turn the engine off because the battery was dead, and it would not start again without a jump. Every several hours, day or night, he would drive to a gas station to fill the tank. Gas was cheap back then. What a sweet ride if the battery was lithium.

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volvo_120_series_amazon 1967 Volvo 123 GT Amazon – The 120 series was well known as a robust and reliable family car, and was a serious competitor in races and rallies. I once saw a Volvo like this at the San Francisco Art Institute covered in spatter Zolatone from head-to-toe. I thought that was pretty cool. Electric… think about it.

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karmann_ghia_671967 VW Karmann Ghia - After flying home to Pennsylvania from Camp Butler in Japan, I bought a Karmann Ghia to drive cross-country to my last duty station – El Toro MCAS in Orange County, CA. I remember how she took 2 feet of fresh powder early one morning on the interstate in Amarillo like a motor boat, and never once lost footing. I listened to Jack DeJohnette and Patti Smith the whole way across, because those were the only two cassette tapes I had. It was the first time I had driven across the continent, and it was a great trip. It was a fun little car, but I wouldn’t own another unless it was electric.

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Porsche 356 1948-1965 (1961-1963 356B Coupe 60) (01) [AA1]1963 Porsche 356B Coupe -  Dr. Ferdinand Porsche originally started creating sports cars before being tapped by the German government to build a little company called Volkswagen. Once VW was self-sustaining, his efforts returned to his first love, finally resulting in the classic design you see here. Many iterations of this basic shape can be traced through the evolution of the Porsche line through the years. An electric motor would make it no less classic.

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Porsche 901_red 1967 Porsche 911 - Of course, the highly esteemed archetype of sports cars, which nailed down a classic design and stuck with it through the years. This is the basic, sturdy, classic 911 that is a very good candidate for EV conversion.

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1971-Datsun-240Z-1971 Datsun 240Z – Funny how this car doesn’t look that old, but was actually built 3 years earlier than my Porsche 914. The reason could be that many of these basic design elements have been incorporated into today’s models, or that so many of these were sold and driven in the U.S. that we take this look for granted. Nonetheless, it has ample room under the hood for a new power plant, and I’m guessing replacement parts are easily gettable. It’s also roomy and is plenty of fun to drive.

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austin_mini1967 Austin Mini Cooper – What a cool little car. It’s all about the fender flairs, racing lights and and custom rims – otherwise, the Mini looks very boxy and plain. This would be a blast as an EV, once the battery placement was puzzled out. My guess is the rear seat and trunk would be sacrificed.

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1958_alpha_guilietta 1958 Alpha Romeo Guilietta – Another beautiful car from Alpha, designed by Bertone. I stumbled on this looking for the Alpha GTV, and didn’t know it existed till then. It might be difficult finding parts, but it would be one gorgeous EV.

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sunbeam_tiger_1965_maroon1965 Sunbeam Tiger – This was originally the Sunbeam Alpine, but with a Ford V8 engine dropped in by Jensen, originally proposed by Carroll Shelby. Apparently, the V8 had to be shoe-horned into the engine compartment, which means there would likely be enough room for a traction pack and electric motor. Just sayin.’

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Porsche_356_speedster_EV 1957 Porsche 356 Speedster – Before y’all get up in arms about desecrating the Holy Speedster, be advised that this is a Beck replica, and it’s already been converted to an EV by Jack Rickard of EVTV. This was one of a series of shots that was posted when the car was up for sale on eBay.

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SACRILEGE

As much as I believe in the inevitability of the EV revolution, below are a few cars I would not touch, simply because they are perfect as-is. I’m not sure I would be proud to disfigure them in any way, and I don’t know if electrifying them would really add any value. These cars are meant to burn explosive flammable liquids, and perhaps there will be a clean alternative for those who wish to drive them long after gasoline is outlawed.

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1962-Corvette-Black1962 Corvette -  Remember the old TV show Route 66? Remember Nelson Riddle’s Theme from Route 66? It doesn’t get any cooler than this early model Corvette, which was literally a co-star of that show. This would actually be a bitchin’ electric vehicle, but my palms sweat just thinking about the cascade of hate email that might drown me.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA1967 Jaguar XKE - Gorgeous, classy, sleek, elegant…   My stomach goes to knots just thinking about dismantling such an unrivaled masterpiece. The gas engine, chassis, body, and cockpit are a synthesis of perfect design, and changing out any of those elements can only equal something less than perfection. Yet, how crazy would this be as an EV? In my experience with the Porsche, most people are impressed to see a specimen in such good condition, but a bright light bulb always appears over their heads when they learn it’s electric. I never get tired of that “aha” moment, but would they feel the same about an XK-EV? Not sure I want to be known as the “Destroyer of Legends.”

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Shelby_cobra_1968 1967 Shelby Cobra – It’s ridiculous to even think about converting this car to electric. It was obviously designed around the massive gas engine, with barely a thought for the driver. The Cobra reeks of power, looking like it sucks the oil straight out of the ground and burns it raw as needed. Maybe ridiculous as an EV, but I’ll include this link to Carroll Shelby himself driving an electric Cobra. Enjoy.

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10 Responses to “Classic Dream EVs”

  1. Mark,

    How are you?

    Lets meet at my office when you get the free time.

    Ed

    Ed Jaeger Founder/New Business Development Ironclad Performance Wear 2201 Park Place #101 El Segundo, California 90245 310 643-7800 ext 106

  2. We have similar tastes in vehicles. I would love to use any of the cars on your list. My short list before going with the ’83 911 was a BMW 2002 and briefly a Saab 900. I guess I’m not as sentimental as you, as I would not hesitate to convert any car, even on your sacred list, if done properly. However it would be a failure in my estimate to end up with less power and more mass than the stock configuration. The roar and vibration are not as impressive to me as responsiveness and agility.

    • Well said. Until energy density in battery storage comes up higher than LiFePO4 provides, there will be compromises. You’ll always have the instant bottom-end torque in a DC system, but your top speed is limited by the pack voltage. Adding cells to boost the voltage adds weight and takes up more space. I stuck with an AC system for the 914 because I wanted to limit my pack size in order to keep most of my trunk space. My top speed is not limited by the maximum pack voltage, and built-in regenerative braking reclaims a small amount of energy on the road. My 914 won’t burn rubber, but it has lots of muscle in the mid and top range, is very agile, and uses the pack energy very efficiently, giving me better range with a smaller pack than with a DC system of the same size.

      Thanks for your comment.

      MB

      • I think you have one of the best conversions around. Your design goals were well planned and achieved. I’ve really enjoyed following along through your blog. My car ended up a couple hundred pounds too heavy, but I am still very pleased with it. We have a few generations of battery development to go before your “sacred” list is in any danger.

  3. Did you know that the Opel GT was designed by the same fellow who later designed the Corvette Stingray? If people ask if my 1970 GT is a Corvette, I just say I washed it with hot water, and it shrank.

  4. Mark.
    The Ventura Electric Vehicle Assoc would like to invite you and your 914 to their meeting this Thursday 5 Dec. 6pm at the Murphy Auto Museum in Oxnard.
    Hope you can make it?

    Frank

  5. I so like your 914. I was interested to find out the 0-60 times with the AC-50. I have my 73 914 pretty much ready to convert. I have done a 64 Ghia, 77 Midget and a 66 Bug so far. I have owned a Mini. I agree that the Volvo would be an excellent choice. I was planning on the AC-75 with my 914 but I’m not sure about the room as the length is a bit much. I’d be more than willing to do the AC-50 if it provides the poop I want for my classic. Gotta love the 914. Loves the way it drives and handles. Can’t wait till its all electric.

    Pete :)

    http://onegreenev.blogspot.com

  6. Hey Pete,

    I just had the software updated on my Curtis 1238-7601 600amp controller, and the performance is very noticeably enhanced. My acceleration parameter was reduced from 1 sec to 1/10th sec, and my regenerative braking was stiffened up from 15% to 35%. My throttle range was also recalibrated by the new controller software, so it drives much more like stock. On the freeway, 3rd gear is now my favorite, if that tells you anything. The previous 0-60 wasn’t worth remembering, but the new software settings have given me reason to do a serious test.

    The guys at HPEVS talked me out of the AC-75, saying that the AC-50 was more suited to the size and weight of the Porsche 914, since most of the power in the AC-75 is in the low end, making it suited to a heavier car.

    Hope that helps,
    Mark


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