A growing group of enthusiasts are turning their classic hot rods into EVs.
Some extract parts from crashed Teslas to do this.
Conversions aren’t new, but some are getting easier as EV technology advances.
There’s a growing group of enthusiasts turning their classic hot rods and vintage muscle cars into fast electric vehicles.
“It used to be just a backyard hobby and guys would take crashed Teslas and pull out their guts and put them in some kind of hot rod conversion, whether it’s a ’69 Camaro or whatever,” Mike Spagnola, CEO of Specialty Equipment Market Association, told Insider. “We’re seeing it more and more as the next generation of hot rodders come along that they want to do an EV conversion. That’s a huge booming market.”
Approves? Spagnola’s organization needed 20,000 square feet at its annual conference last year to accommodate companies showing batteries, electric motors, wiring harnesses and other components needed to retrofit vehicles. (See things like Volkswagen’s conversion kit.) Auction platform Bring a Trailer has started selling classic EV-converted cars, like a 1975 Porsche and a 1974 BMW. And two well-known hot rodders who work on these projects told Insider that business is booming.
Converting gasoline-powered vehicles to electric vehicles is not a new concept, but it has been gaining traction, especially with the advancement of EV technology.
“The real change was really, Tesla,” Greg Abbott, who goes by the name Reverend Gadget and is CEO of the Left Coast EV conversion shop, told Insider.
So how do you convert a gas car into an EV?
An EV conversion requires removing a car’s engine and adding a battery, electric motors, high-voltage cables and instrumentation, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center – all while ensuring there’s enough space to accommodate these parts and ensuring the original chassis can support the additional weight.
Gadget, who appeared in the documentary “Revenge of the Electric Car”, starts by taking batteries out of crashed Teslas. He started with two or three conversions a year; since then he has worked to convert a dozen.
“If it’s a freshwater car, no big deal. Saltwater car, probably junk,” explained Gadget. “If it was a front or rear crash, that’s fine. If it was a side crash, you could have some damage to the battery, so you might be taking a chance. But the cars are built well, I’d say 95% of the time, the batteries have nothing wrong with that.”
So there are a lot of structural, electronic, electrical and engineering tasks on top of that.
“We can’t just take parts out of a Tesla and use them,” said Gadget. “It’s not just cut and paste, there’s a lot of work. Part of that is taking systems down.”
Converters don’t just rework any car
Gadget jokes that his cut is if the vehicle has plastic parts, like bumpers – seriously, he prefers classics from the 1960s and 1970s.
Certain vehicles make more sense to convert than others, such as those with a cult following whose values are appreciative, or those who have no alternative to staying on the road, said Michael Bream, CEO of EV West.
He started in 2008, built electric hot rods, project cars and race cars, took them to events and shows and uses that experience to develop products for conversions. Bream has worked with collectors like Jay Leno and Tony Hawk.
“No amount of money could make a modern equivalent of a 1965 Porsche. So if you want to continue that experience, one of the only alternatives available is electrification,” said Bream. “In other cases, I think financially it makes sense. If you try to keep a vintage Porsche, it’s going to be a lot more expensive than putting a Tesla drivetrain in it.”
A conversion can be an enthusiast’s second vehicle. Despite misconceptions about EVs, speed and weight, they have substantial horsepower and enormous amounts of torque.
Either way, it’s going to cost: the two experts estimate the cost to be between $20,000 and $30,000 in parts and a similar amount in time and labor, for up to $50,000 or more. It depends on vehicle performance, speed, how sophisticated and up-to-date customers want their vehicles to be.
They are car guys
Not all enthusiasts are on board with all-electric conversions. Rick Drewry, who restores classic cars and oversees the American Modern Insurance Group’s car and motorcycle claims division, says he expects more uptake for hybrid conversions.
“You’ll see that electric cars really outperform gasoline cars at the same power from the start, but when they’re absolutely silent, you’ll lose some people,” Drewry said. “That’s really the basics: people love the sound and roar of the engine, and it’s hard for them to get away from it.”
For Bream, it’s really about extending the legacy.
“I think what people miss is that we’re car guys. We’re not trying to get gas out of anybody,” Bream said. “Suddenly I can enjoy hot rodding with my son the same way my father enjoyed hot rodding with me when I was young.
“We’re here because we’re hot rodders and we like to make slow things happen quickly,” added Bream. “In this quest to make cars super fast and super fun to drive,” he said, “we inadvertently create cars that are seen as being more environmentally responsible.”
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