Updated: Jul 9, 2019
With the move to lower vehicle emissions, it is becoming increasingly harder to buy or justify running a classic car from an environmental point of view. Again, with the UK government following many European countries in pledging to ban internal combustion engines by 2040 it would seem moving away from petrol or diesel vehicles is the only solution.
But what does this mean for classic cars and classic car owners? Should owners get rid of their cherished classic and opt for a new electric vehicle (EV)? The paradox is that one of the most environmentally sustainable approaches is to stop making new cars. Avoiding the manufacturing, materials extraction and carbon footprint burden associated with a new vehicle.
Don’t get me wrong, new electric vehicles are very good – they have great technology, in the UK at least are powered from an increasing proportion of renewable generation and prices are reducing. However the process of making a new car emits vast amounts of carbon dioxide (approximately the same amount as a car emits during its lifetime). This could be avoided if existing cars could be reengineered to run on electric power.
Enter the Electric Classic Car
The truth is that by re-engineering a classic car, the environmental cost of producing a new vehicle is almost entirely removed. By converting a classic car to electric it would seem that you can have the best of both worlds. A great, characterful automobile that runs on clean energy without the production costs of manufacturing. Before we get too carried away though, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of converting a classic car.
What are the advantages?
Cheaper to run
Let’s start with a big one. Running an classic electric car is cheaper than an internal combustion car all things being equal. Given we are discussing classic car ownership this will likely be a lot cheaper. Not only that, you will never have to visit a petrol station forecourt again. With lower cost UK tariffs at around 12p per kWh that should make a ‘tankful’ cost between £4 - £12. Of course this all depends on battery capacity, car weight and usage, but costs should be £60 - £100 cheaper than any petrol or diesel alternative.
It’s worth noting that with new smart tariffs that automatically charge your EV at off-peak times this could be even less. Also on some tariffs you can even get paid by the energy supplier for charging your EV if the wholesale energy price drops below £0 (which does happen)!
ULEZ, Congestion Charge and other incentives
Not only are running costs less but there are many other benefits of having a car run on electricity. You will have £0 road tax (okay you may have this anyway with classic car status) and you can drive throughout cities without incurring congestion or emission charges. Although it will not remove traffic jams it will make driving through UK cities a lot more palatable.
Electric cars can have fantastic performance. This will of course depend on what motor configuration is used, but as Tesla has clearly demonstrated – Electric Cars can be very fast indeed. Coupled with instant torque, it makes driving an EV incredibly fun and engaging in a way many more modestly powered classics cannot hope to match. If regenerative braking systems are also employed it can even compensate for some older cars less than stellar braking performance.
Do you know what removing the need for hundreds of moving parts does for reliability? It makes it a whole lot better! Swapping out a complex drivetrain means oil slicks in the garage and frustrating side of the road breakdowns are a thing of the past. Not to mention removing the chore of routine maintenance. There are no tappets or carburettors to adjust, and no head gaskets to replace. That means more free time to just go out and drive. What's not to like.
What about the disadvantages?
An often cited disadvantage of EV’s is their supposed lack of range. This of course depends what you are comparing them against (most classics aren’t none for returning a high MPG). It also depends on what battery capacity is used in a conversion. This is a delicate balancing act, factored by the weight of the batteries and the intended use of the vehicle. But for converted classic cars, getting a 100 + mile range is becoming normal. This makes it a perfect vehicle for city driving where 100 miles could last as much as 2 weeks.
Yet even if you don’t live in a city, consider the fact that for 99% of its life your car is sat in a garage. If you top up the charge every day or so, this range anxiety issue isn’t really an issue at all. Lastly, there are many EV’s (including converted EVs) that have 250+ mile ranges.
Modifying the original car into electric requires some modifications to the vehicle. This can be minor or quite major depending on the nature of the build. Keeping the car original could be very important if you are considering it's re-sale value. Therefore bear in mind the cost and time required should you want to return the car back to its original condition. However, the bottom line is that typically all the modifications are reversible should you want to return a car to it's pre-EV state.
How do you go about an electric car conversion?
You could do this yourself, by purchasing a kit and taking the plunge with a DIY conversion. If you go down this route make sure you do your research and familiarise yourself with the safety risks and EV equipment compatibility issues involved.
Otherwise, there are a number of UK companies that can convert a donor car, i.e. one you bring to them. The actual cost of conversions will completely depend on what specification you have in mind, but figure from around £30,000 for a reputable provider.
Alternatively if you want an electric classic car that is ready to go you can contact us at www.retroelectrics.co.uk, we offer electric classic VW beetles powered by clean, green technology.
Iconic Style, Electric Performance