Racers, mechanics, tinkerers converting classic cars to EVs

Dan Smith

DENVER (AP) — When Kevin Erickson fires up his 1972 Plymouth Satellite, a faint hum replaces the usual sound of pistons pumping, gases passing through the carburetor, and the low thump of the exhaust. .

It's mostly silent, but the classic American muscle car isn't broken. Electricity.

Ericsson is part of a small but growing group of tinkers, racers, engineers and entrepreneurs across the country who are converting vintage cars and trucks into greener and often much faster electric vehicles. One..

Some purists deride modified cars as resembling golf carts or remote control cars, but as battery technology advances and the world turns to clean energy to combat climate change, electric Powertrain modifications are becoming more mainstream.

“RC cars are fast, so that's kind of a compliment,” says Erickson. His Erickson, renamed 'Electrollite', in three seconds he accelerates from 0 to 60 mph (0 to 97 kmph), reaching around 155 mph (249 kmph). It also intrigues public charging stations, which are becoming increasingly common across the country.

In late 2019, Ericsson, a cargo pilot living outside Denver, bought the car for $6,500. He then spent his year and a half converting this car into his 636 horsepower electric car (475 kW) using the battery of a crashed Tesla Model S. His pack, motor and rear his entire subframe. embarked on a project spanning

Ericsson, who has invested about $60,000 in the project, said:

Jonathan Klinger, vice president of car culture at Hagerty, an insurance company and automotive lifestyle brand that specializes in collectible cars, said converting classic cars into electric vehicles is "definitely a trend." , but research on its practice is limited.

In May, the Michigan-based company conducted a web-based survey of approximately 25,000 would-be car enthusiasts in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. About 1% have partially or completely converted their Classic to run with some form of electric drivetrain.

The top three reasons for modifying a vehicle were improved acceleration and performance, fun and challenging projects, and environmental and emissions concerns. About 25% of respondents say they accept that conventional vehicles will be partially or fully converted to EVs.

“Electric cars are pretty amazing just by the nature of how they work,” says Klinger. So it should come as no surprise to him that a small percentage of those converting classic cars to EVs are interested in improving performance, as he sees the current trend as his 1950s hot rod movement. compared to

But Klinger, who owns several vintage cars, said he doesn't think electric motors will replace all internal combustion engines.

“There is satisfaction in a vintage car with a carburetor,” he said. Some enthusiasts want to keep the original engine sound and rumble of their old car.

Other barriers to modifying a car include the knowledge required to dig into such a complex project, safety concerns about tinkering with high voltage components, availability of parts, and positive environmental impact. and the time it takes to realize Klinger says he averages less than 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) a year in classic cars, so offsetting the initial carbon footprint of battery manufacturing will take time.

And then there's the price.

Sean Moudry, co-owner of Inspire EV, a small conversion business outside Denver, recently converted a 1965 Ford Mustang that was destined for landfill. The year-and-a-half project cost him over $100,000 and exposed several other obstacles that underscored why the conversion was not a "plug and play" effort.

Maudley and his partners replaced the underpowered six-cylinder gas engine with the motor from a crashed Tesla Model S in an attempt to pack enough power into the pony car to "suck the tires" on the drag strip. They also installed a 16 Tesla. The total weight of the battery pack is approximately 800 pounds (363 kilograms).

Most classic cars, including the Mustang, weren't designed to handle that much weight, or the increased performance that comes with a powerful electric motor. had to be strengthened.

The result is a Frankenstein-like vehicle that includes a Ford F-150 pickup rear axle and Dodge Durango SUV rotors, disc brakes, and solid front and rear coil-over shocks.

Ford and General Motors are making or planning to make stand-alone electric "crate" motors to sell to owners of conventional cars, but Moudry said casual auto mechanics would It is not yet realistic to have the resources to undertake such complex projects. For this reason, we believe that it will take some time for EVs to become mainstream.

"I think it's been 20 years," he said. "It'll be 20 years before he goes to a car show, but 50 to 60 percent of his cars have some variation of an electric motor."

But that reality could come sooner than expected, said Mike Spagnola, president and CEO of the Specialty Equipment Market Association, an industry association focused on aftermarket auto parts.

He said about 21,000 square feet (1,951 square meters) of convention space was dedicated to electric vehicles and their components at SEMA's annual show in Las Vegas this fall. This is up from just he was 2,500 square feet (232 square meters) at the 2021 exhibition.

Companies are developing universal parts as well as lighter, smaller and more powerful battery packs. We also create easy-to-install wiring components and countless other innovations. Some even assemble the vehicle frame with the electric motor, battery and components already installed. Buyers just need to install a classic car body on top of the platform.

“Early adopters of this took a crashed Tesla and figured out how to pull the motor, harness, battery, etc. out of the vehicle and shove it into the vehicle they wanted to build,” Spagola said. "But today a lot of manufacturers are starting to make parts. ...We're really excited about it."