Electric classics – the smog cloud’s silver lining?

Electric classics are on the march, if the developments of the last week or two are anything to go by. Not only have we seen retro-themed EVs from two major manufacturers, but demand for conversions on existing classics continues to rise. The biggest news comes from Jaguar Land Rover Classic, which has confirmed that it intends to sell a production version of its all-electric E-Type. The battery-powered sports car made its debut in concept form in September 2017, but was famously propelled into the limelight during the Royal Wedding in May.

The first customer cars are likely to be delivered in summer 2020 and though pricing and technical specifications are yet to be confirmed, we reckon it’ll cost around the £300k mark. Unlike other manufacturer ‘restomod’ projects, the Zero will be based on the iconic Series 1 model. Unlike other manufacturer ‘restomod’ projects this one will be road-legal, and there will be a conversion service for existing E-Type owners offered too, which will be fully reversible.

Jaguar Land Rover just unveiled its E-type Zero electric car and it's breathtaking

Jaguar Classic’s E-Type Zero is set to go into full production. Jaguar Land Rover just unveiled its E-type Zero electric car and it’s breathtaking

An electric powertrain with single-speed reduction gear has been specially designed for the E-Type EV, borrowing technology used for the Jaguar I-Pace SUV. The lithium-ion battery pack has the same dimensions and a similar weight to the standard E-Type’s six-cylinder engine, and is in the same location. The electric motor lies just behind the battery pack, in place of the E-Type’s gearbox, while a new propshaft sends power to a carry-over differential and final drive.

The powertrain and dash instrumentation many be different, but the car’s structure, including its suspension and brakes, has not changed. JLRC says this means it drives, handles, rides and brakes like an original E-Type. The front-rear weight distribution is also unchanged, but the Zero should accelerate faster – its 0-62 sprint time of around 5.5 seconds shaves about a second off that of the original. A range in excess of 170 miles is being targeted, with the 40kWh battery taking six to seven hours to recharge, depending on power source.

Keeping with the retro-mod theme but with an entirely different realisation is a company you may associate with making guns rather than cars. Russian firm Kalashnikov, better known for the AK-47, has also unveiled a retro-inspired electric car based on the 1970s IZh 2125 ‘Kombi’.

The choice of an old Soviet hatchback as the template might seem unusual, and to be honest, we’re not entirely sure if it’s serious. Nevertheless, it’s proved to be a great talking point, prompting both delight and a fair degree of derision regarding its styling. The IZh 2125 the new CV-1 is based on was produced between 1973 and 1997 and was itself based on the Moskvitch 412. Kalashnikov has dreams of challenging the likes of Tesla, calling the CV-1 an ‘electric supercar’ and saying it has developed a revolutionary inverter that gives a range of 271 miles on a single charge. It’s still very much a concept though, with no launch date or price announced.

But these are not the only firms looking back to go forward. Earlier this year, MINI showcased a one-off classic Mini that had been converted to electric in order to raise awareness of its forthcoming electric production model. While only capable of a mere 65 miles on one charge, it all went in without any chopping of the bodyshell and, like the Jaguar, shows the potential for retro-fitting classics with electric power units.

Indeed, Electric Classic Cars, a Wales-based firm which specialises in converting cars from the ’50s to the early ’80s into EVs, is reporting a waiting list of two years. “The future is bright,” said founder Richard Morgan. “We’ve been converting classic cars for over three years now, not just in the UK but globally. We’ve converted E-Types already, and we’ve done everything from Range Rovers down to Minis and Fiat 500s. It’s something that I think more and more people will start considering – the amount of emails we get per day has gone up tenfold in the last year.”

Options include a complete drivetrain replacement from something like a Tesla, or swapping the original motor for an electric one and retaining the existing gearbox. “You’re taking out the engine and replacing with another, it just so happens that this one is electric, and you’re taking out the petrol tank and replacing it with a 21st century one, which it just so happens is batteries. It’s all very reversible,” added Richard.

Not everyone agrees that silence is golden of course; for many an internal combustion engine and the associated exhaust note is a crucial part of the experience, and by removing it, you no longer have the essence of a proper classic car. That’s a view we empathise with, and we certainly hope that traditionally-powered classics can still be driven and enjoyed to the maximum in future.

That said, new EV sales are on the increase, with more than a million examples now in Europe and even more in China, which is the world’s front-runner in electric-car adoption. And, according to figures from Auto Trader, the electric Renault Zoe is now the UK’s fastest-selling used car. With ever tighter emission regulations, especially in urban areas, it’s fair to say the electric vehicle is here to stay. Bearing that in mind, any moves to keep the classic experience alive for future generations should surely be commended. Whether the technology will improve enough to convince everyone, only time will tell.


BMW unveils an all-electric version of the classic Mini
BMW unveils an all-electric version of the classic Mini MINI showcased this one-off electric classic Mini earlier this year.

Kalashnikov’s EV concept
Kalashnikov’s EV Concept car based on 1970s IZh 2125 ‘Kombi’ / Kalashnikov’s EV concept is based on a popular Soviet hatchback.

Jaguar E-type Zero electric engine

Jaguar E-type Zero electric engine Aside from the electric drivetrain, the rest of the car is largely unaltered.

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