Back to the Future: Converting Classic Cars to Electric

Classic cars Jan 28, 2021

In 1988, Doc and Marty disrupted the space time continuum and went Back to the Future, when Doc powered his Delorean DMC-12 electrically with a lightning bolt.

Today we are going back to the future again with Richard from Electric Classic Cars, a company that specialises in converting classic cars with conventional petrol and diesel engines into fully electric versions, retaining their beauty and authenticity without the sinister side.

They’ve recently converted Doc and Marty’s Delorean into its fully electric future self. We took the chance to disrupt their own timeline a little and ask Richard a few questions:

Credit: Electric Classic Cars

[Valeria, Hypervolt]: So how and when did this all begin?

[Richard, Electric Classic Cars]: Five years ago. But first, rewinding the clock, I’ve always had classic cars. I’ve never had a week in my life where I haven’t owned a classic car since I was 17. I’ve rallied them, modified and raced them. I finished the British Historic Rally Championship about five years ago.

Most evenings and weekends I’d be working on my car and need to find time in the workshop still. I’d use my free time for interesting new projects, like “let’s put in a super charge and a really powerful engine.” It was researching that project that I came across electric conversion. I started looking at electric and the power it gives you in such a small package.

So, five years ago I converted my first car. It was a hobby at first, but as soon as I drove it for five minutes I knew it was the future. 100% reliable, zero maintenance, just drive and enjoy the car. Previously with driving classic cars you could enjoy it but you always had to tune the engine, fix the oil, do a lot of maintenance - they had reliability issues. So, I saw a lot of positives in electric with all the benefits of having a classic car.

One thing people don’t realise is that I did this to improve classic cars, following my passion around classic cars, but the second benefit is that it’s great for the environment. It’s the future.

Can you walk us through the conversion process at a high level?

First, we remove everything dirty and smelly: engine, fuel box, fuel tank, and so on. Then the first thing to add is the electrical motor, and around it in the available space is where the battery packs will go. These are distributed throughout the rear and front. Smaller items like chargers get installed last.

How difficult is it?

This absolutely depends on the car and specifications. There are conversion kits available for specific makes and models, but we like to push boundaries and take cars that have never been converted before, which adds complexity as you’re likely adding something that you’ve not incorporated into previous builds. In this case the R&D can take a year or more. For example, an electric air conditioning system, which is a new feature. New features always require thorough testing, and the tech is always evolving.

Classic cars can be simpler to convert to electric. There isn’t so much modern complexity involved. A modern car for instance has an entertainment system, a computer system if you like, airbags, ABS, GPS. If you remove an engine in a modern car there’s a lot of sensors flowing to the control unit. Without addressing these you’ll be met with a lot of beeping, error messages and other hassles when you power up! You have to fool the car.

Is there a feature that you’ve never done before that you’d like to?

Autonomous driving is the future and something we’re excited about!

Credit: Electric Classic Cars

What are the issues you have most frequently when converting cars?

The biggest issue we have is that these cars were never designed to be electric, so there’s a big challenge in packaging. How do you fit the batteries into place with little available space and in a way that’s safe? You can’t just bolt a battery pack into a backseat area. You have to ensure you’re putting them in where the weight can be supported and secured, and lots of other challenges like that.

Can all classic cars be converted to electric? For example, could you convert a 60s Mini Cooper or would that have too little space?

We manage to do everything - we always figure it out somehow. It comes down to the complexity of packaging. If someone wants to have a 300-mile range Mini, we’d say no. It has to be done within the practicalities of what can and cannot be converted.

How fast are your converted electric cars compared to other cars?

Some are faster than others, but generally we find that’s not the interesting part. It’s more the love for classic cars. For example, the beauty of a classic Land Rover Defender running on electric.

Now let’s talk about that Delorean DMC conversion. Who requested it?

Our fans and customers who love classic cars!

Which motor did you use for the Delorean?

We used the Tesla small front drive unit from the model S.

Credit: Electric Classic Cars

What’s the battery size and range?

The range is about 150 miles - it depends on how you drive it. The question of range for cars in general, not just electric, is always a difficult one to answer. If you took a petrol car 70 miles per hour you could get 300 miles. If you drove it at 100 miles per hour you would get significantly less than that. It depends on whether it’s full of people and luggage, driving in mountains, driving aggressively, accelerating and decelerating... the range will vary significantly from just cruising. So, it’s exactly the same across all types of cars. Nobody ever discusses the range of a petrol or diesel car, only miles per gallon are looked at - for city and highway. Electric cars should be looked at in terms of city and highway driving.

What’s the price?

It can vary massively and is a range, just like for many car product ranges - from £20,000 to £100,000. For example, what car do your want? What power? Do you want it supercar-fast or just for city driving? What range do you want? Do you want slow charging or fast charging? Optimised for speed or reliable city driving? In short, it’s a question that we get asked so often, but the price depends on the customer.

Do you run into any issues with vintage cars passing safety standards after the modifications?

No, not with the conversions we do. All our conversions have minimal impact to the receiving car, and are all done with safety as a priority. It has to be safe and purposeful. You can’t cut and shut the chassis and do major structural integrity changes to make the electric conversion. If you do that the car would need to go through rigorous testing and probably be classified entirely different. In a points-based system of modifications, like in the UK, 8 points or higher would need to be classified as almost a “new” car.

What do you love the most about converting classic cars to electric?

There are two things. First is the initial reaction: the instant power of putting your foot down with an electric motor and shooting off the mark. It never gets old. It’s fantastic and I love it. The second is that I’m now able to use and enjoy my classic car as a day-to-day driver. I don’t own any modern cars. If I go on a journey I use my 1969 VW Bus, and I use my 1973 VW Beetle to travel to work everyday, to go to shops and go on holiday with. I can have my classic car as my only car.

Credit: Electric Classic Cars

Do you use a home charger?

Yes. It’s an essential part of owning an electric car. Smart home chargers are essential because you can make use of things like excess energy with solar panels, and you can charge your car up when the grid is cheap between midnight and four in the morning. It’s also more environmentally friendly as charging overnight is the lowest carbon electricity.

Which car are you looking forward to converting the most?

Labomrghini Coubtach. It was the car I had on a poster on my wall when I was a child. If I can close that circle in my life I’ll be happy.

I’m sold! Thanks so much for your time.

Thank you.

Here at Hypervolt we've been testing our chargers' compatibility with every EV we can get our hands on, but so far this hasn't stretched to our favourite classics... Bring on more vintage voltage! Check out more of the team at Electric Classic Cars' beautiful creations on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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