When I had a Beetle, before I stumbled across the genius of inserting a replaceable filter in the rubber fuel line on the carb, I used to suffer from a constantly clogging pilot (idle) jet. Of course, when idle started to require throttle to keep the engine alive, pulling over and confidently unscrewing the idle jet and blowing it clear made me feel like a fully-fledged mechanic – but it didn’t always solve the problem.
Yet that’s part of the joy of owning an old car many will say, and the ease of being able to fix on the fly (sometimes) with an easily accessible engine. But then 4-star fuel became harder to find and with fuel price rises getting 20 miles an hour on average became a chore.
Fast-forward 15 years and we are now in an era where electric vehicles are beginning to become a very viable and attractive option for many. So imagine if all those old Beetle reliability issues (of course, the Beetle is very reliable if the engine is in good shape – that’s why they sold so many) could be eradicated along with the need to answer well-meaning questions about polluting the atmosphere and wondering if you are going to face a penalty charge for driving into certain cities…
Well, that solution is here right now in the shape of Electric Classic Cars based in Wales. Classic cool with a 21st century twist is their strapline. ECC is the brainchild of Richard ‘Moggy’ Morgan and Graham Swann and Motor Vision was keen to find out more.
The idea is simple; take away the flat-4 engine and everything petrol about your classic car and make it 100% electric. Each car can potentially now have a 250 mile range and – now this is the exciting bit – a potential increase of around twice the original power. Still want to keep your 46hp 1300?
Of course, the benefits don’t just end here; zero road tax and no congestion charges, plus the self-satisfaction of running a truly eco-friendly classic car. The guys tell us too that all those screwdriver based engine tune-ups will become a thing of the past.
Moggy and Graham don’t just stop at engine upgrades though. If you wish, they will put their not inconsiderable skills into creating your dream classic from scratch – a full restoration with an electric power supply if you will.
Purists will argue that the sound of a clattering classic Porsche or VW flat-4, like a helicopter hovering overhead, is part of the charm as is the unique smell of petrol and oil. I can’t argue with that, and like the smell of grass whilst being freshly cut, it’s one of those sounds and smells that invoke certain feelings – it oozes nostalgia…
That’s all well and good in summer. Then as the colder weather creeps up on you, you recall the fear of coming to a standstill and cutting out in winter if you don’t get a long enough run to bypass the inevitable inlet manifold icing before hitting standing traffic. At this point the sound of the engine starts to become irrelevant.
If you need any further convincing, Moggy has a fully restored Porsche 911 Targa. The classic car has LED headlights, a spotless silver paint job and an electric motor that allows you to hear your stereo without going deaf.
Another curious thing I hadn’t thought about is the weight reduction at the rear. The Beetle and the classic Porsche are rear wheel drive, rear engined delights, so the introduction of an electric motor and the removal of the heavy petrol engine will surely upset the handling? Yet this is not the case. A more 50/50 weight split gives more predicable handling and in the case of a Beetle, I would imagine less danger of spinning out on a wet roundabout – something I’ve experienced at pretty low speeds before.
Richard Morgan and Graham Swann have impeccable credentials. Morgan used to race rally cars and has owned and tinkered with all sorts of cars since the age of 17. He has also assisted major companies with the problems of energy efficiency for the past 20 years or so. Meanwhile, Swann is a graduate Electrical Electronic Engineer and looks after the reliability and performance aspects.
The process is pretty simple in reality. Electric Classic Cars don’t over complicate by building an electric drivetrain from the bottom up; they simply replace the existing flat-4 engine. Simple.
“You want to improve reliability, usability, torque and power,” says Morgan, who realised quite logically that electric was the way to go. Changing only what is required also keeps the DVLA happy.
The Porsche 911 Targa has two 3-phase electric motors supplied by a company called HPEV (Hi Performance Electric Vehicle Systems) based in California with the batteries stored under the bonnet – and it’s this which balances the weight so perfectly. The Porsche has effectively had about 300kg of petrol related gubbins removed and 350kg of electrics added, the weight being split between sitting under the rear deck lid and the front bonnet. The battery capacity is a very decent 54kWh giving around 200 miles before the Targa needs recharging.
The electric motor is connected to the original gearbox and clutch. Morgan says that while a gearbox is not strictly necessary, the idea of a classic car without a manual gearbox would be taking things too far. A classic car needs the hands-on feel of a gear change, though reverse is button operated.
Morgan says that the cars appeal to both the older classic car enthusiasts, who have maybe got a bit tired of sitting under the car in winter, and the younger city dweller with one eye for a retro classic (the word hipster isn’t mentioned) and the other for avoiding congestion charges and keeping the car small – like a Beetle of Fiat 500.
Ok, by this point you must be wondering what astronomical costs all this amounts to. So here’s the surprise; a small car conversion is around £18,000 going up to around £40,000 for a full sports model. It’s not cheap but not astronomically expensive either. Costs can vary, depending on the level of restoration required – just sticking a pristine electric motor into a rusting hulk with a limited lifespan might seem like an opportunity missed to improve other areas too.
Electric Classic Cars may be a small Welsh business, but the global orders are coming in thick and fast. There certainly seems to be a growing demand for owning something a bit different and more reliable and eco friendly than the usual classic.