Wealthy collectors turn classic cars into EVs

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WSo high-end car enthusiasts and collectors gathered for the fastest car show in the US in Monterey, California, Last week, an unusual addition to the usual line of coupes and classic trucks. On the outside, the vehicle, an early 1990s Porsche 911 sports car, would not stand out in these environments – it was far from the rarest or most expensive vehicle to go down 17 Mile Drive that week. But look under the engine cover at the back of the 911 and you’ll find something quite incongruous: batteries, power electronics, and electric motors of an electric car where a gasoline motor should be.

The idea of ​​converting gasoline-powered cars to electric vehicles (EVs) is nothing new. Today’s EV movement was born, in large part, in the garages and workshops of tinkerers in the early 2000s obsessed with hacking batteries and electric drive systems into old cars. JB Straubel, Tesla’s co-founder and original chief technology officer, started in that electric hobbyist scene, getting his hands on a Porsche in 1984, packing it with big, heavy lead-acid batteries, and racing it. in competitions. Even Tesla’s original offering, the Tesla Roadster, was in part just a more advanced version of one of these projects: a chassis from the Lotus Elise sports car, redesigned to accommodate lithium-ion batteries and electric motors.

Most car collectors at the time probably wouldn’t be thrilled with the sight of JB Straubel’s electric Porsche. But these changes are starting to catch on in the high-end car collection scene. Actor Robert Downey Jr. show about converting his car collection to electric, which premiered on HBO in July (a biodiesel conversion was also in the mix). And a new generation of companies is hoping to make a business out of converting classic cars into luxury EVs appealing to the wealthy.

Removing a gearbox and gasoline motor from a sports car and replacing them with an electric drive train is difficult, but it’s not rocket science. Making that car feel close to the original when you drive it is another story. EVs usually deliver a lot more power than gasoline vehicles, but the batteries also make them heavier, which gives them a different feel on the road. At Everrati, the company behind the electric Porsche in Monterey, its engineers aim to lighten the load, replacing much of the vehicle’s steel panel with carbon-fibre, meaning that the vehicle is lighter than the original. They also distribute that weight to mimic the way the original vehicle grips the road. “What we do is help people who love these cars drive them with a conscience,” said Justin Lunny, the company’s founder and CEO. “It allows them to extend the legacy of these vehicles, but in a cleaner world.”

The service does not come free. A typical Everrati order runs about $350,000, Lunny says, though there seems to be no shortage of interested buyers. Lunny says the company is currently rebuilding 12 vehicles in its shop, with many more on order. They also got hundreds of interest from showing their cars in Monterey. And there is plenty of competition, with companies such as California-based Kindred Motorworks and UK-based Lunez also offering high-end EV conversions of vintage Ford Bronco SUVs, Aston Martin coupes and Jaguar roadsters. (For now, though, each of these companies specializes in restoring specific makes and models—Everrati, for example, focuses primarily on 1990s-era Porsches and classic Land Rovers.)

Steve Rimmer, chief executive of aircraft leasing company Altavair and an avid motorsport fan, is one of the customers waiting for his EV Porsche 911 from Everrati. He says he wanted to drive a classic car​​​​​​​with less impact on the environment. “We love that Porsche era,” he says of his family. “We [wanted] to go down a path where you keep as much originality as you can.”

In general, it is much better for the environment to drive an electric vehicle rather than gasoline. But it’s not as if it’s necessarily a good thing for car collectors to spontaneously turn in all their V8 toys for conversion into electric muscle cars. The lithium-ion batteries that go into making a new EV or converted gasoline vehicle have a significant upfront emissions cost. These manufacturing emissions are usually more than paid off over the vehicle’s driving life – with every mile you drive an electric vehicle instead of gasoline, you pay back the emissions that came to make the vehicle’s battery. There is a problem, however, with converting a classic gasoline car to an EV, then leaving it and its new resource-intensive battery pack in a garage – it would be like building a bunch of solar panels , just to stack them in a basement. . To realize the emissions benefits of EVs, you have to drive them.

For Lunny’s part, he says that Emerrati’s EV-converted Porsches are much more than showpieces – they are well suited for everyday driving. If creature comforts are your desire, the company will happily add heated seats and Apple Airplay to your electric upgrade. That’s why Rimmer plans to ship his car to him when it’s delivered. He has about 50 cars in his collection, but it’s not like he plans to do electrical modifications on cars that he only takes out of the garage once in a while. The all-electric Porsche, on the other hand, is going to be a daily workhorse for him and his kids. “We talked a lot about this as a family,” he said. “It’s something we see as a bridge to how we may have to look at our enjoyment in the future, but still our passion for motorsports to maintain.”

The whole idea of ​​these electric changes raises a fundamental question for car lovers in the current mass EV movement. Such change, along with increased investment in public transportation, is undoubtedly necessary—we must eliminate the nearly one-third of US greenhouse gas emissions that come from the transportation sector. One might ask, however, whether we’re missing something—if we shouldn’t perhaps take a moment to appreciate the engineering and emotional legacy of the internal combustion vehicles we’re leaving behind. after

It may be a premature discussion. As of last year, less than 1% of cars in the US were EVs, and the trend is likely to be slower than what is needed to meet our climate goals, in part due to conservative political opposition to EVs and the slow progress in roll-out. national cost system. Looking forward, for those who love the excitement of movement, there will be new experiences and new vehicle riches in the electric age. And for the more nostalgic gearheads it’s not that bad, environmentally, to keep old gasoline vehicles around, as long as you don’t drive them too much.

But if, in your heart of hearts, you’re really dead set on driving a thirty-year-old Porsche 911 to work and back every day, an electric convertible is the soup way to go – assuming you have some scrap lying around to pay for it.

Among his friends in the car collecting world, Rimmer says news of his new EV variant has received mixed responses. Some car enthusiasts listened with interest as he told them about his latest purchase. Others – the petrol purists – called it sacrilege.

“My answer to that is that I want my children to be able to enjoy things in the future,” he said. “I want us all to have a conscience about what we’re doing to the environment.”

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Write to Alejandro de la Garza at alejandro.delagarza@time.com.

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