Classics Going Electric

Can cars from the past be electric?

by | Jul 2, 2019 | Culture

Photo Credit: Elias Garcia

Classics Going Electric

Can cars from the past be electric?

by | Jul 2, 2019 | Culture

Photo Credit: Elias Garcia

It’s electric! It’s electric? With virtually every brand offering a full electric model or at least a hybrid configuration, it appears that this is where the future is going. 

Can cars from the past be electric? I’m not one to think that things like cars should be sacred. I’m not opposed to engine swaps, drivetrain swaps, and heavy body modifications to rare classic cars that many believe should be kept in an original state. I was at a local car show in Austin, Texas called Revival Gearhead Sunday, hosted by the amazing bike builder at Revival Cycles, that made me question my beliefs. 

The open hood of a 1976 Datsun 280Z will always be one to get your attention. A 2.8L inline fuel injected 6 cylinder engine often fitted with independent throttle bodies fill the space between the strut towers. This specific Z wasn’t a 6 cylinder model, in fact it was a 0 cylinder car. It had been converted to a fully electric powered car. This is one of the projects that had been converted by EV4U in Anderson, California. They documented the entire conversion on their Youtube channel, along with other cars that they’ve converted. One of the biggest things that EV4U offers is knowledge. Education is what will get many people converting their classics to electrics. They offer a three day in-shop training, or at-your-own-pace online tutorials.

After standing there and admiring the extremely clean and factory-like electric components, I started to wonder why this was bothering me so much. I want to reiterate that the work is second to none, and I applaud the challenging of the status quo in the classic car market. 

My first concern with electric powered vehicles is the lack of sound. My father always drove manual cars and trucks, and as a kid, I recalled hearing the engine rpms increase and knew the moment when he would shift. With the lack of tachometers in them, it was the auditory cues that I’ve come to learn that would be gone with this conversion. My friends and I would hang out in our front yard with our eyes closed and call out cars based on their engine and exhaust noise. The most distinct one was the 5.0 engine in the fox body Ford Mustang. I recently drove a VW Jetta GLi that when placed in sport mode offered an artificial engine sound through the speakers. Maybe implementing something like that would please my ears instead of the electric vehicle sound that many describe as similar to a hairdryer. 

The next thing I started thinking about were the smells that emit from a gas powered engine. I recall going to a classic VW show in Miami and experiencing the distinct scent of carburetors running rich from the air-cooled flat 4 engine. I’m sure it’s not the healthiest of smells to be inhaling, but it’s something I’ve nostalgically come to associate with a classic car show. Then, there’s always the scent of coolant, oil, and fuel that, as a DIY mechanic, helped me identify issues with the engine.

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I’ve been in a Tesla and the acceleration is phenomenal. The sense of speed that electric motors offer is surreal. I start thinking of the V8 swaps done to Zs. Others may think this is sacrilege, but I think that an electric conversion can accomplish the need for speed that many are looking to satisfy.

Will we see more classic cars converted to electric? I’m sure the guys over at EV4U will say yes. Will I ever embrace it? I think I will. With everything that’s new and different, there will always be some reservations. I start to think of my son’s automotive future and wonder if his generation will be the one embracing electric conversions similar to how many embrace Chevy LS swaps and Ford Coyote 5.0 swaps. 

We buy these classic cars not because they are comfortable, reliable, or affordable, but rather, we buy them because of the nostalgic feeling these cars evoke. Can an electric conversion still evoke those nostalgic feelings and activate all of your senses? You be the judge and let us know.

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