I don’t care what people do with their cars. I used to, but not anymore. If you want to put 30-inch wheels on your Camaro, go right ahead. Want to slam your car to the ground and drag frame all over town? Knock yourself out. Want a yellow exterior with a turquoise interior and zebra floor mats? Whatever makes you happy. A car, particularly in my city, Los Angeles, is transportation, but it is also expression, so it’s all good. Express away.
This story originally appeared in Volume 20 of Road & Track.
But a recent trend is bugging me. It’s not because of what people are choosing to do with their own cars, but because a slew of new companies are selling a very expensive modification to the wrong type of car. Of course, I’m talking about EV conversions of classic sports cars.
First, let’s acknowledge that the occasional use of your classic car is not contributing in any significant way to our current climate crisis—and further, that converting your old car to electric (or some other sort of alternative fuel, Robert Downey Jr.) is purely performative environmentalism compared with just, you know, getting it serviced and properly tuned up.
Also, a large part of the enjoyment of a classic sports car is derived from actively engaging with machinery—from operating it in a way that we simply don’t do in our everyday cars anymore. While I can’t speak for all classic-car enthusiasts, my social circle seeks the classic sports-car experience not only for the style but also for the sounds, the vibrations, and the work required to get the most out of these machines. That type of driving is active. I have driven electric-converted Porsches, Cobras, and muscle cars, and in each case, the car accelerated quicker than the original could but was significantly less fun. Frankly, every one I tried was a less engaging sports car than the original while simultaneously being a worse EV than what the OEMs are currently selling. When you consider the all-in price of these electric restomods, you are getting less for more—sometimes a lot more.
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Why not take the thing an EV does well, which is smooth, silent power, and apply that trait to a car that would be improved by it? A car whose powerplant is a liability rather than an asset. Think about the smoothness that luxury carmakers were trying to achieve in the Fifties, but could not, because of the limitations of the period’s technology or the manufacturing budget. Why not update stylish but underperforming statement pieces? Wouldn’t a tail-fin Eldorado, a Silver Cloud, or a VW Microbus be made better with electric propulsion in all the ways a 911 or a Shelby Cobra is made worse? Or, say, put a big battery in an early Grand Wagoneer.
EV conversions of classic cars won’t save the planet. And they won’t improve the old-sports-car experience. But by using this tech to build on what’s lacking in other types of cars, we just might be motivated to keep a few gorgeous cruisers on the road—cars that might otherwise end up on the scrap heap. But leave the old sports cars alone already.
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