Panel proposes electrifying classic cars

Panel proposes electrifying classic cars

(Editor’s note: To conclude our month-long series in October, 2021 on electrifying classic cars as a way to keep them viable in the face of any future legislation, ClassicCars.com hosted a panel presentation at the 2021 SEMA Show. Titled “Futureproofing Classic and Collector Cars: What you need to know.”

As SEMA explained to its members, the program offered “A look inside the conversion of classic and collector cars to electric power. Will the electro-mod become as common as the resto-mod and provide a new way to keep classics on the road in a petroleum-free world? This panel will feature some of the top pioneers of this growing segment.

The 57-minute video can be viewed on SEMA’s website. You don’t have to be a SEMA member to view, but you will be asked to fill out a registration form. In the meantime, we share some of what was shared by the panelists.)

electric, Futureproofing the fleet: Panel proposes electrifying classic cars, ClassicCars.com Journal
Open the hood of the electro-mod F-100 and not only is there room for the Eluminator e-crate motor, but for storage as well

Electrification is coming. Encouraged by legislation around the world, automakers are moving from internal-combustion engines to vehicles propelled by electric motors and batteries. But where does that leave our older and cherished vehicles? Will they still be allowed on the electrified roads in the future? 

One futureproofing solution is electrifications, converting classic and collector cars to electric power. Some already are doing so, including some automakers themselves, Mini being the latest to set up a system under which owners of vintage Minis can have them converted right at the factory in England. 

In many ways, electrification is the next step in a process that began with what we now recognize — and enjoy — as the resto-mod. 

One of our SEMA panelists was Craig Jackson, chairman of Barrett-Jackson auctions and an early champion of resto-mods.

Jackson told the audience that he’s had people buy vintage vehicles at his company’s auctions, only to contact him later and complain about how those vehicles perform. At owner’s request, Jackson said he has driven several such vehicles and has reported to their owners that the car performs just like it did in 1970. 

“It doesn’t stop. It doesn’t turn. It’s hard to start. It’s perfect!” he tells them.

That’s not the case with resto-mods, which are vintage vehicles but now equipped with modern powertrains and suspensions, seats and air conditioning, and Bluetooth. Such cars retain their vintage look, but underpin it with modern dynamic performance.

And there’s another benefit, panelists noted.

Oh, but first, let’s meet the panelists. In addition to Jackson, they were:

  • David Pericak, Ford engineer who guided Ford racing, the development of the 2015 Mustang, and then the electric-powered Mustang Mach-E, was involved with the new Bronco and is platform director for future Ford EVs.
  • Adam Roe, founder of Zero Labs Automotive, a conversion specialist, after an earlier career in software.
  • Michael Bream, chief executive of EV West and a long-time racer, first in the low-budget 24 Hours of Lemons,and then doing electric race cars and setting a class record in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
  • Marc Davis, chief executive of Moment Motor company, which lets him combine his passions for hot rods and classics with his work since engineering school on electrics and hybrid.
  • Kirk Miller, who grew up in a racing family and is vice president of AEM Performance Electronics, which is developing control systems for EVs.

“People don’t realize how critical this movement is,” Miller pointed out, explaining that electrification offers tremendous dynamic performance — amazing and instantaneous torque — without any interference by the EPA and its concern over automotive emissions. 

But there are benefits beyond rocket-like acceleration, the panelists noted. Although they can be fun to drive, aging cars leak at best and break down frequently at worst. They also are not very safe, but through the electro-mod process can be updated just like a resto-mod. 

Miller mentioned trying to pull into freeway traffic in a vintage 35-horsepower Volkswagen bus. But it’s not merely a matter of the powertrain, panelists reminded. Roe said simply electrifying, say, an early Ford Bronco, is like putting “a rocket on a tricycle,” what with ball-bearing steering, unassisted brakes, etc.

That’s one reason why Zero Labs had created new chassis that can accept the coachwork and interiors from vintage vehicles, much as is happening in the resto-mod industry.

Panelists compared what’s happening now to the early days of hot rodding. Then was finding salvage parts; now the same thing is happening with electric motors from Teslas that have wrecked. 

But that’s changing with companies such as Ford, which at the SEMA Show unveiled its Eluminator e-crate motor, the 634 pound-feet of torque powerplant from the Mustang Mach-E GT. And Pericak said Ford is working on full EV conversion kit, and it’s not the only automaker working on such a solution.

There also were discussions about electric-vehicle range, about the lack of loud exhaust sounds, and the complications involved in doing a conversion — “it’s not building a remote-control car kit,” Miller suggested. 

But, Pericak noted, it is performance that is responsible.

For the full presentation, watch the video.