The Classic Car EV Conversion Conundrum

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Sitting around the infinity pool on the roof of CleanTechnica’s carbon fiber and cross laminated timber world headquarters the other night, the team got to talking about converting classic cars to electric power. That topic came up because some were mesmerized by the recent announcement by Lunaz that it will soon offer electric conversions of the iconic Aston Martin DB 4, DB 5, and DB 6. (The DB designation denotes models that were introduced while David Brown was in charge of the company, which traces its roots back to 1913.)

There are a few automobiles that are considered timeless classics, expressions of the automotive art so perfectly attuned to their times they have come to represent the era in which they appeared. (Our list will be different than yours. There’s a reason why car museums are found all around the world.)

The Auburn Boattail Speedster, the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, the Jaguar XK-E, and the Mercedes Benz 300 SL Gull Wing coupe come to mind. (Everyone has their own list of classic cars. I would add the MGA to mine.) But one car that seems to ignite passion in the soul of automobile enthusiasts the world over is the silver Aston Martin DB 5 driven by James Bond in the movie Goldfinger and featured in the new (and possibly last) 007 movie No Time To Die. (Note: the DB 5 was styled by Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera, one of many Italian design firms that have contributed amazing, timeless designs to the automotive world over the decades.)

Original, driveable DB 5s are made of 100% pure unobtainium, but Lunaz will sell you a DB 6 with an electric powertrain for somewhere around $1 million. Actually, by the time the first conversions are ready in 2023 or so, that will probably be more like the place where price negotiations will begin. Lunaz also offer electrified versions of other historic British cars from Bentley, Rolls Royce, Jaguar, and Range Rover.

Adding Modern Features

Lunaz is very proud of the fact that its modified Aston Martins will offer all the modern conveniences. The company says the conversion process will include “uprating of brakes, suspension, and steering, while interior comfort and convenience is brought up to modern standards through the provision of air conditioning and the sensitive integration of latest infotainment, navigation systems, and full Wi-Fi connectivity.”

This raises, at least in my mind, an important question. Do I want a DB6 — or any other classic car — with infotainment, navigation, A/C, and full wi-fi connectivity? Frankly, my answer is no. I owned MGs for over 40 years. None of them had a touchscreen. I also had a Miata for 20 years. It also made do without a touchscreen. The purpose of those cars was to go out and get lost! They were made for discovering new roads, hopefully those with only two lanes that meander through the woods and across streams to places you have never seen before.

Originally, a sportscar had 4 wheels (unless it was a Morgan), an engine, a transmission, a rear axle, and brakes. By definition, anything that did not make a car faster was omitted on models with sporting pretensions. If you wanted a heater in your British sports car in the ’40s and ’50s, you had to add it as an extra cost option when  you ordered it. That’s why I have to laugh when I see a hulking SUV or pickup truck with “SPORT” emblazoned on its flanks.

My favorite sportscars are roadsters. I like to remind people about the difference between a convertible and a roadster. A convertible has a top you sometimes put down under ideal conditions. A roadster has a top you occasionally put up when the weather turns dreadful. It’s a subtle difference, but one that is hugely important, at least in my opinion.

I know many readers will argue that any electric car is precious because it moves the EV revolution forward. People say that about the gargantuan Hummer that weighs almost 10,000 pounds and is half again as big as a regular SUV. The best comment I have seen about the Hummer so far was on the reddit EV forum recently: “It’s huge, it’s nice, it’s overkill and pointless. Very American.”

At CleanTechnica, we are bombarded daily with stories about $1 million+ super duper cars with 2000 horsepower and a top speed of 200 mph. I ignore them — every one of them. To me those cars are a distraction, baubles for people with more money than brains to hang on their charm bracelets for their friends to ogle.

Personally, I prefer a car that requires some old fashioned skills like how to read a map, how to adjust the rear brakes, and how to adjust the carburetor. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from knowing all the quirks and foibles of a car and how to manage them. There is pride in knowing how to replace a throwout bearing, bleed your brakes, shift gears without a clutch, or countersteer to control a skid.

Stuffing the powertrain from a wrecked Tesla into a an old car may be appealing to some, but it misses the point. It takes away all the nuance and history that makes an old car worth driving. I don’t want a 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk with an electric drivetrain. I want one with the original engine so I can listen to the whine of the supercharger when I mash the throttle.

So, I’m sorry, Lunaz. Your electric Aston Martins are stunning, but they are not for me. I would prefer to have an original car, one that I can take out now and again and use to find roads I have never driven before, roads that challenge me to create a syncopated symphony of sounds from a collection of pistons, valves, crankshafts, and camshafts dancing to the tune dictated by my right foot.

Some will disagree, and that is your right. But for me, the words of Robert Frost sum it up best. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I? I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.”

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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