- A growing group of enthusiasts are turning their classic hot rods into electric vehicles.
- Some fire parts from crushed Teslas to do so.
- Conversions aren’t new, but some are getting easier as EV technology advances.
There’s a growing group of enthusiasts who are turning their classic hot rods and vintage muscle cars into fast electric vehicles.
“It used to be really just a backyard hobby and guys would take crushed Teslas and strip the guts out and put them in some kind of hot rod conversion, whether it was a ’69 Camaro or whatever. ,” Mike Spagnola, CEO of the Specialty Equipment Market Association, told Insider. “We’re finding that more and more, as the next generation of hot rodders come out, they want to do an EV conversion. It’s a huge growing market.”
The proof? Spagnola’s organization needed a whopping 20,000 square feet at its annual conference last year to accommodate companies showcasing batteries, electric motors, harnesses and other components needed to retrofit vehicles. (See things like Volkswagen’s conversion kit.) Auction platform Bring a Trailer has started selling EV-converted classic rides, like a 1975 Porsche and a 1974 BMW. And two well-known hot rodders that working on these projects told Insider that business is booming.
Converting gasoline-powered vehicles to electric vehicles is not a new concept, but it is gaining ground, especially as electric vehicle technology has advanced.
“The real change was really, Tesla,” Greg Abbott, who goes by the name Reverend Gadget and CEO of conversion shop Left Coast EV, told Insider.
So how do you convert a gasoline car to an EV?
An EV conversion requires removing a car’s engine and adding a battery, electric motors, high-voltage cables and instruments, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center – while ensuring there are has enough space to accommodate these parts and guaranteeing the original chassis can support the extra weight.
Gadget, which was featured in the “Revenge of the Electric Car” documentary, begins by removing the batteries from crashed Teslas. He started with two or three conversions a year; he has since worked to convert a dozen.
“If it’s a freshwater flood car, that’s okay. A saltwater flood car, probably junk,” Gadget explained. “If it’s been in a crash like a front impact or a rear end, it’s fine. If it’s been in a side crash, you might have battery damage, so you have to take a risk. But cars are built from Well, I’d say 95% of the time the batteries have nothing wrong with that.”
Then there are a lot of structural, electronic, electrical and engineering tasks beyond that.
“We can’t just take the parts out of a Tesla and use them,” Gadget said. “It’s not just copy and paste, it’s a lot of work. Part of it is taking systems out of service.”
Converters will not rework any car
Gadget jokes that his cutoff is if a vehicle has plastic parts, like bumpers – seriously, he prefers classics from the 1960s and 1970s.
Some vehicles make more sense to convert than others, such as those that have followers and whose values are appreciated, or those that have no other alternative to stay on the road, said Michael Bream, CEO of ‘EV West.
He started it 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 with that experiment, one of the only alternatives you have is electrification,” Bream said. . “In other cases, I think financially it makes sense. If you’re trying to service a vintage Porsche, it’s going to cost a lot more than putting a Tesla transmission on it.”
A conversion could be an enthusiast’s second vehicle. Despite the misconceptions about electric vehicles, speed and weight, these have substantial power and huge amounts of torque.
Either way, it will cost you: the two experts estimate the cost to be between $20,000 and $30,000 for parts, and a similar amount in time and labor, up to $50,000 or more. It depends on vehicle performance, speed, sophistication and how up-to-date customers want their vehicles to be.
They are car guys
Not all enthusiasts agree with all-electric conversions. Rick Drewry, who restores classic cars and oversees the classic car and motorcycle claims division at American Modern Insurance Group, says he expects more uptake for hybrid conversions.
“You’ll see electric cars beating gasoline cars with the same power, but when they’re absolutely quiet, you’ll lose people,” Drewry said. “It’s really kind of the cogs and bolts: people love the sound and the roar of the engine, and it’s hard for them to get away from it.”
For Bream, it’s really about continuing the legacy.
“I think what people miss is that we’re car guys. We’re not trying to take gas from anybody,” Bream said. “All of a sudden I can enjoy hot rodding with my son like my dad enjoyed hot rodding with me when I was young.
“We’re here because we’re hot rodders and we like things slow to go fast,” Bream added. “In this quest to make cars that are super fast and super fun to drive,” he said, “we have inadvertently created cars that are considered more environmentally friendly.”