The continual improvement and reduction in cost of electric vehicle technology is making the viability of converting a classic car to electric an increasingly attainable proposition. Whilst purists may regard this act as sacrilege, there are many enthusiasts attracted to the idea of a classic car that requires less maintenance and specialist care, doesn’t leave a puddle of fluid all over their floor and starts on the button when they come to use it.
What Classic Cars are Good For an Electric Conversion?
Besides the given environmental and economic benefits, an electric conversion increases the comfort and useability of a classic car, and makes perfect sense for a particular type of vehicle where driving experience and performance are of little concern; the GTs, full-size 4x4s and luxury sedans of yesteryear. These cars are not going to be upset by the additional weight of battery packs, offer plenty of space to pack them away and welcome quieter electric motors in place of comparably noisy and vibration-producing internal combustion engines. Not to mention the aspect of increasing reliability bonus for some vehicles.
1. Land Rover Defender price from €10,000 before conversion
The Defender is known the world over as a rugged, British-built off-road icon. It owes its origins to the Land Rover Series I, approved in 1947 by the Rover Company board as an “all-purpose vehicle on the lines of the Willys Overland post-war Jeep”. The utilitarian little machine was launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show, featuring an 80” wheelbase, a 50bhp 1595cc petrol engine from the Rover P3 and pick-up body – priced back then at just £450.
A series II and III followed before the arrival the Defender. The three models were named after the length of their wheelbases in inches; Defender 90, 110 and 130. Much like another utilitarian 4×4 on this list the Defender found likely favour in hostile environments from farmlands to warzones, but in recent years has fallen in with an unlikely crowd, and nowadays is as often seen roving city pavements as rugged terrains. The appeal of its now iconic design is everlasting, but sadly those diesel engines are for sure going to fall foul of city congestion zones – and to be honest these cars were also never famed for their reliability.
Thus an electric conversion would truly transform this previously agricultural machine into a quieter, more refined and reliable proposition for urban use. But don’t think it would lose its edge out in the countryside, quite the contrary! Conversions thus far have been offered with monster torque and power (up to 600bhp) meaning these mighty mud crawlers are endowed with even more capability than their combustion counterparts.
2. Bentley Mulsanne priced from €20,000 before conversion
Though the Mulsanne was Bentley’s attempt to reassert its performance heritage lost under the Rolls Royces years, this magnificent brute was certainly not a car one would find themselves flicking through roundabouts and willingly seeking out serpentine stretches of tarmac in. Though a capable machine in the right hands, especially in Turbo R form with its updated chassis, the Mulsanne is most at home munching motorway miles or wafting through urban surroundings in a stately manner.
Occupants settle into sumptuous surrounds, cocooned in fine leather and wood – seats soft, comfortable and high, adding to the sense of superiority one unavoidably adopts from traveling in such a fine machine. In the Mulsanne an electric motor would be right at home, matching the gobs of torque offered by the 6.75-liter V8 so as not to miss out on this, but further refining an already regal proposition with its reduced noise and cabin vibration.
British-based electric conversion artisans Lunaz Design already has a Bentley in their range, showing just what can be possible with a sizable budget. The Top Gear guys were suitably impressed
3. Mercedes W111 250 priced from €25,000 before conversion
If utter beauty is the XJCs epitaph then the W111’s would be seriously sophisticated, a car that exuded elegance in a way few can match. Penned by a Frenchman Paul Bracq, the man responsible for Pagoda and a handful of other cult classics (including the BMW E21), his design composed assertive lines and soft curves into a cohesive form that speaks of intellect and nuance. The philosophy carries over into the cabin, where even the door panels are a work of art.
Two large VDO dials, set in a beautiful walnut veneer which fronts the entire facia and pleasingly continues up the A-pillars, are a dreamy nostalgic design, and a large thin rimmed Mercedes wheel looks like something you’d as happily frame on a wall as use to point this car around the roads, such is its exquisiteness. Replace that 2.5-liter 6cyl with a near silent, smooth, electric motor and you have what could be considered the most elegant of electric transporters on the road.
Check out the Monceau eSE Classic, currently POA but likely to be over €200 000. The Belgian company is planning to bring to market a mouthwatering range of electric Mercedes in 2022, definitely a company to watch.
4. Mercedes G-wagon priced from €15,000 before conversion
A cult design icon up there with cars like the Porsche 911 and Defender, the Mercedes Geländewagen is a true automotive icon. Like the Defender it has transcended its humble workhorse beginnings and military service to become a status symbol prized for timeless design and its rugged road presence. Its uncompromising, utilitarian aesthetic is an unlikely perfect match for urban environments, and its brutal and imposing form can be found moving through capitals the World over.
After 41 years in production, these vehicles have not compromised capability in more hostile settings with three fully locking differentials, one of the few vehicles to have such a feature. Though it seems fundamentally wrong there is something deeply cool about seeing a G-wagon amongst the surrounds of a city, its hard lines, and imposing form-fitting right into an environment that can appear hostile in its aesthetic and atmosphere. But this sight could soon be a seldom one, as with any of the vehicles on this list, with environmental efforts and attempts to improve air quality push diesels beyond the city limits. So an EV conversion Geländewagen would not only improve the usability and refinement of car held back in that regard by an agricultural motor and transmission but enable it to continue to roam an environment it has found an unlikely home in.
Austrian firm Kreisel has been working with none other than the Governator himself to produce an electric G-wagon offering. Although based on a modern platform it certainly shows the potential. Read more here or watch Mr. Schwarzenegger talk through the build with his pal Jay Leno:
5. Range Rover Classic priced from €30,000 before conversion
First-generation Range Rovers are quite the hot thing right now, with restored examples hitting the market weekly and a new crop of companies establishing themselves as specialists in these most regal of off-roaders. Land Rover first toyed with the idea of building a larger version of the Land Rover Series in the ’50s with their ‘Road Rover’ prototypes, but it wasn’t until 1970 that the model actually saw the light of day.
It launched in a 3-door body, which today seems bizarre for an SUV of its size but gives the car a cleaner look and a little more interest in the design. The basic spec saw everything being manual rather than electric, from the gearbox to the seats which gave it a more rugged feel than its modern counterparts. With a rubber-lined floor and vinyl seats that were designed to be hosed down this workhorse feeling carried through the cabin. Like the Geländewagen the Range Rover found favor with the city set, and they look achingly cool against an urban backdrop.
Swapping out that old V8 (and yes it is hard for us to condone such an act) for an electric motor will ensure it can continue to do so, slipping silently through city streets in a more refined manner. That dollop of torque gifted by the old 3.5-liter will still be there in spades, making off-road excursions just as enticing as before, but throw in some electronic traction wizardry and you could find yourself with an even more capable off-roader than you started with.
Electric Classics over in the UK has also completed a build:
6. Jeep Grand Wagoneer priced from €15,000 before conversion
There is something about the sight of a Grand Wagoneer that makes us tingle with nostalgia. Most likely it is induced by that gorgeous wood veneer down the side that makes you want to don a plaid shirt, trapper hat and head out to a cabin in the woods for the weekend. These handsome, rugged and capable 4x4s are becoming increasingly collectable and rightly so. Their cabins are a spacious comfortable cocoon of vinyl and soft textiles, a pleasant place to sit as you cruise along the highways and backroads.
Like the Range Rover and Geländewagen it looks achingly cool amongst the architecture of the city, but there is something a bit more honest and blue collar about the Grand Wagoneer that makes it feel more appropriate to be picking up groceries at a little village market than collecting caviar from a gourmet food store.
7. Porsche 912
Launched in 1964 as a replacement for the 356, the 911 has been an enduring success for the Stuttgart-based sportscar maker, with the millionth unit rolling off the production line back in 2017.
The now iconic lines of the original car were penned by Ferdinand Porsche, who was also famed for designing another rear-engined air-cooled German car; the Beetle. Renowned for being well engineered and reliable, its success is also partly down to its versatility, neatly summed up by Ferdinand; “The 911 is the only car you could drive on an African safari or at Le Mans, to the theatre or through New York city traffic.” The neunelfer is of course as well known for its quirky engine layout as it is for its iconic and seemingly timeless form.
Stuck right out back behind the rear axle, it seems rather oddball and counterintuitive initially, posing some interesting challenges when one is exploring the limit of grip! But an electric conversion poses an interesting possibility – a more balanced weight distribution the 911 has always lacked. And whilst the idea of swapping out that beloved air cooled flat six for a set of batteries and an electric motor will be met with condemnation from legions of Luft lovers, the additional power it could give, especially in something like a 912 which was of course never blessed with the 6cyl engine, is a very enticing prospect.
Zelectric Motors and EV West were convinced enough by this idea that they went ahead and made one!
8. Ferrari 365 GTC/4 priced from €250,000 before conversion
It’s hard to fathom how anything wearing a Ferrari badge could be underappreciated but sadly some of these machines have to exist in the shadows of giants. The 365 GTC/4 is one such car. Launched in 1971 and similar in appearance to its better-known relation, the Daytona, it packed the same 4.4-liter V8 and a number of neat design and engineering features under those beautiful, swoopy lines. Independent suspension at both ends, adjustable rear ride height and of course the requisite 70’s signature pop-up headlights are just a few of the highlights.
Only 500 of these underrated machines were made but given their status prices remain significantly lower than their brethren. It is an almost unforgivable act to consider removing an engine some Ferrari fans believe to be the best sounding of any to leave Maranello, but hear us out. The 365 GTC/4 is a mile-munching, continent-touring GT in the truest sense. Comfortable, relatively spacious, low key and elegant in its styling, this is a car that can waft through cities with class, and these ingredients make it perfect for an electric transplant where its roomy form and emphasis on comfort over performance gift room for batteries and no fear of compromising a sporting chassis.
We haven’t come across a Ferrari 365 GTC/4 electric conversion in our searches, if you need some inspiration to be first check out this amazing Ferrari 308 GTS electric conversion by UK-based Electric Classic Cars.
9. Porsche 928 priced from €10,000 before conversion
Following on nicely is another 2+2 GT proudly wearing a prancing horse on its nose and with a large capacity V-layout engine upfront. Like Ferrari’s 365 GTC/4 it is also a less obvious choice overshadowed again by a sibling, in this case the mighty 911. Porsche launched the sharky-looking 928 in 1978, and today it looks more striking on the road than ever with that sleek shape looking both oddly futuristic yet totally dated in the days of oversized grilles, rims and HID lights.
Build quality is as you’d expect for a Porsche, as is practicality with a big boot and the aforementioned rear seats. While it will be a challenge to get anywhere near the range of the 86L tank and keep its true GT abilities, an electric conversion would result in a strikingly beautiful EV unlike anything else on offer, perfect for short trips in and around the city in comfort and with no fear of compromising a chassis that was never intended to be a pure sports car.
Mechanical Engineer Jeff McCabe has already seen the potential in this Porsche platform and is zipping around the streets in his 928 electric conversions.
10. Lincoln Continental 4th generation priced from €25,000 before conversion
If you get American cars and the appeal of floating down a road at a level of comfort and style matched by few other vehicles, then you will recognize the Continental as the epitome of 60’s American elegance. Wide, low and square, they have a powerful, assertive form and incredible presence on the road. Big heavy doors open in a style befitting of such a machine; the rears are ‘suicide’, an interesting design feature appreciated by the true petrologists. Under that low bonnet line sits a big block Ford V8, which somehow managed to propel this 2-tonner to 60mph in less than 10 seconds!
Speed was never the aim of the game in such a vehicle of course, but by swapping an electric motor in it is highly possible this time would come down into hot-hatch territory, which would certainly make for some fun at the traffic lights.
Check out Blood Shed Motors awesome1964 build here:
11. Fiat Topolino priced from €5,000 before conversion
So not all cars on this list are large – we had to get a city car in there and it’s clear these little things can make for a great electric conversion albeit with one major compromise; range. Whilst the other cars that made our list offer an abundance of space to pack away batteries, the diminutive footprint of cars like the 500 and Mini make it difficult to achieve the range required to make these cars usable. However for city use, and of course taking into account the continual increase in chargers and improvements in battery technology, there is certainly a future for these mighty machines and companies are already offering ‘off the shelf’ conversions.
The Nuovo 500 is already a proven platform for an electric conversion so just to be different our choice would be the first model, known affectionately as the Topolino, or ‘Little mouse’. Manufactured between 1936 and 1955 this car could once claim to be one of the smallest in the world and was powered by an equally minuscule 569cc motor. These chic little cars look right at home amongst sophisticated urban surrounds and would upstage many larger, more expensive machines, especially in one of the stylish two-tone finishes they were offered in.
In electric form the range would clearly be compromised, confining it to city limits. But few people would want to venture further anyway in such a car, enjoying shorter jaunts with that smooth, clean electric motor, newfound reliability and arguably more enjoyable drive with the loss of that cumbersome, near 90 year old manual gearbox!
Check out this beautiful little Topolino electric version on the streets of Switzerland: