Home » Which Classic Cars Do You Think Are Best And Worst Suited For Electric Conversions?

Which Classic Cars Do You Think Are Best And Worst Suited For Electric Conversions?

Renault 4 Ev Topshot

If you want an old French car but also want something electric, you’re in luck. Renault is teaming up with French EV retrofitters R-FIT to crank out authorized electric powertrain retrofit kits for several of its classic models. Although they certainly the most high-tech retrofit options on the market, these kits are a pretty neat concept for opening up the expensive world of EV conversions.

These kits include everything a Renault 4L, 5, or Twingo owner needs to switch to electric power from a 10.7 kWh lithium iron phosphate battery pack to a motor controller to professionals doing the installation. There’s even a two-year warranty, and R-FIT will sort out registering the vehicle as an EV. Oddly enough, Renault claims that the kit uses the 4L’s original gearbox, in case you want to row gears in an electric car. At €11,900 for the Renault 4L kit, it’s expensive. Offering just 50 miles (80 km) of range and no DC fast charging, it’s not an option for those who road trip classic cars either. However, Renault seems to have the right idea when it comes to an electrified Renault 4L because the car’s powertrain isn’t a huge part of its character.

Renault 4 Ev 1
Photo credit: R-FIT

I believe that the ideal cars for OEM EV conversions either aren’t massively engaging to drive or aren’t feasible for anyone short of a magician to keep on the road. After all, the thrum of a good engine and the tactility of a sporting chassis make so many classic cars iconic. We wouldn’t want to ruin all that with heavy batteries, would we? [Ed Note: I agree that the best EV conversion candidates are the cars for whom driving excitement isn’t the main selling point — namely, most vehicles with automatic transmissions. The Renault 4 above, though? Have you seen the weird stick shift?! Plus, I hear they’re fairly reliable (relatively). I’d love a stock one, but yeah — they’re not exactly meant to be sportscars. -DT]. What’s more, their makers still need to exist in some form, so things like Bristols are out of the question entirely. Ideally, those makers would even have experience building EVs, so kits can be fitted by local dealerships. So what sort of cars am I thinking of? Well, here are four.

1961-69 Lincoln Continental

1963 Lincoln Continental Sedan
Photo credit: Sicnag – 1963 Lincoln Continental Sedan, CC BY 2.0

Let’s start off with an obvious choice. The clap-door Conti is an effortlessly cool cruiser, a car designed for the stylish ‘60s to travel arrow-straight interstates for as long as a full tank would last. However, those full tanks are getting expensive, so wouldn’t it be great if you could fill one up with electrons?

Not only does the Lincoln’s huge size help provide space for batteries, its body-on-frame constructions means they can be slung underneath, allowing for a truly gargantuan frunk. Sure, it might weigh as much as a moon when the EV conversion is done, but with a zero-to-sixty time that can’t be described as quick, it won’t take an egregious number of kilowatts to improve on the factory acceleration. Plus, imagine the smoothness once powertrain vibrations are virtually nil. Electric power could really take this luxurious land yacht to the next level.

Rover P5B Coupe

Rover 3.5 Coupe P5b Ca 1967 Profile Shot Showing Lowered Roofline
Photo credit: Charles01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

If you want to blame a marque for the rash of four-door cars being called coupes, blame Rover. The P5 Coupe is a misuse of language, but also a style icon, and the P5B was the last and most popular of the bunch. While the sedan version with its traditional roofline was favored by Prime Ministers and royalty, the coupe had a more rakish image.

While the 3.5-liter Rover V8 is fairly reliable, these weren’t exactly quick cars. Combine that with the luxury bent, and EV conversions make a degree of sense. [Editor’s Note: Just gonna pop in with another opinion: If V8 or manual (and especially if that’s an “and”), then not ideal EV conversion. Unless the V8 sucks, like the one in the Jeep Grand Wagoneer (which is an ideal EV candidate). -DT].  The remnants of Rover Group are now owned largely by Chinese carmaker SAIC, and it’s no stranger to EVs. In fact, it has several EVs for sale in the UK right now under the MG brand, so it already has a network of dealers used to servicing electric vehicles. It seems like a lot of the groundwork is there for OEM (sort-of) EV conversions, and who wouldn’t want to waft along in a trouble-free silent Rover?

Pre-1987 Maserati BiTurbo

biturbo ev conversion
Photo credit: Mr.choppers – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Remember the last time you saw a running early Maserati BiTurbo? Me neither. These plushly-appointed performance cars were unfortunately saddled with serious unreliability. Not only was the cam belt interval just 24,000 miles, oil leaks were routine, the cooling systems just weren’t built for hot climates, and high under-hood temperatures would just cook rubber bits. Small wonder that a running BiTurbo is a rare sight indeed.

As Porsche and the “turbo” buttons on old PCs will tell you, the word “turbo” has almost lost its meaning. Couple that with a reputation for unreliability, and you have the perfect base for an electric conversion. A Maserati BiTurbo Folgore, if you will. Once all the really fiddly bits are swapped over to EV power, you’re left with leather that smells like an expensive purse, lively handling, and some of the finest browns Italy had to offer in the ‘80s. Sounds wicked, yeah? Derelict BiTurbos litter America and it’s about time we did something with them.

Chevrolet Corvair Rampside Pickup

Corvair Pickup
Photo credit: Bring A Trailer

While General Motors doesn’t seem massively proud of the Corvair, downplaying this incredibly innovative vehicle feels like a crime. When Chevrolet set out to build an economy car, it didn’t scale down a traditional American car, it changed everything it new about carmaking. The shift to EVs is essentially doing the same thing, so it only feels right to give this landmark car its due with a factory EV conversion using GM’s Ultium batteries.

My model of choice is the Corvair Rampside Pickup because come on, it’s just the perfect candidate for an electric drivetrain swap. It already comes with a bunch of space behind the rear wheels for battery modules, which means that you shouldn’t lose any cab or bed volume. Even better, the motor will still be in the back and most of the weight will hang out over the ass end, ensuring some of that Corvair spirit stays intact.

So there we are, four awesome candidates for OEM EV conversions. Sure, converting these cars to electric won’t be cheap, but I have a feeling it also won’t detract too much from what makes them lovely. I could go on and on about possible EV conversion candidates, but I’ll end it here with a question. What classic car do you reckon would be great with an electric powertrain?

(Lead photo credit: Renault)

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119 Responses

    1. In the Netherlands there are already some converted DS’ses driving. I used to write for the dutch DS club magazine and as such have driven and written about the first DS Electric, that was way back in 2013 (!). That DS at that time had a practical range of 100~120 km. The owner, who did the conversion himself, later upgraded the batterypack and now has a range of 200+ km, which for him is plenty.

      The good thing of a DS is that is has boxed floor sections. The gasoline tank is located under the back seat, after removal already lots of space. Then there is roughly the same amount of space under the front seats. And you can pack batteries as well above the electric engine, as it is much lower than the original inline 4.

      Hydraulic pump is powered by an ebike motor.

      Pictures and driving of the ds: https://youtu.be/mDJDLLqZEqo

    2. – But you would have to find a way to run the hydraulic pump electrically, which will take some of the range. So for a fun sunday car yes, but not for longer trips.

      I agree the old inline 4 in the TA/ID/DS is not very exciting, unless it’s a late big one from after 1970 with over 100 hp. But the powerful and great sounding Maserati engine in the SM would be a shame to park on a shelf in the workshop.

    1. The Probe and xB would be great. The CRZ and Del Sol have less space for the battery, but are amazing cars, and good used ones are rather pricey. When the improved battery weight, size and range become easily available, which shouldn’t be long, they will be very good EVs.

      The Continental would be not so great, because it is so friggin’ heavy. On the other side of the coin, there is plenty of room to set up the batteries, lots of elbow room under the hood and if you have enough solar panels, you can fill up the tank for free.

  1. Triumph Spitfire (it’s waiting in my driveway, sans engine and transmission, for the EV conversion to begin). Triumph built a lot of them and as cool as they look they were kind of underpowered when new. Plus the whole front end flips up for easy access to where all (well, half) the batteries can go.

    Having a Corvair Rampside would be awesome, EV or not.

  2. I’ve long thought a Biturbo would be an excellent candidate for an EV swap. In the same vein, a Lancia Gamma could be a great option. Imagine being able to start your car with the wheels turned slightly and not lunching the engine!

  3. A VW Type 2 1948-1979: Has a ridiculously tall ground clearance, so some inches of flat Tesla pack batteries could easily be tucked down there between the rails. Drivetrain is quite simple and sturdy, lost of space for fitting an electric motor instead of the flat 4.
    On the old T1s, I would remove the stupid noisy and energy wasting portal axles in the rear somehow. But many has done that earlier with a “straight axle kit”, so that should be doable.
    Look up Rich from UK Electric Classic Cars on YouTube, he built one out of a seventies crew cab some years ago. Seems to be easy to maintain and drive.

  4. That’s it, hand over your car enthusiast card now, this is heresy!

    Okay, I kid, but seriously none of these should be EV-converted except maybe the Maserati.

    Old V8 luxury cars are fun BECAUSE of the V8! Take the V8 away and you take away the car’s entire character outside of aesthetics! If you convert one of those to an EV, you’ll have something that handles poorly and can’t go very far, and that’s it. Without the soothing rumbly burble of the engine, you’ll miss out on half of what makes them enjoyable in the first place.

    Also, little economy cars like the Renault 4 are fun because of the engine. Haven’t you heard of slow-car-fast? Those engines make enough noise when driven spiritedly that you feel like a racing driver without even breaking the speed limit! Make it electric and you lose both the noises and the slowness, leaving you with suspension that was never meant to be used this way and will feel deeply unsettling. If you go a step further and re-engineer the suspension, you’ll be left with an entirely different car wearing the skin of a classic, at which point you might as well save yourself the trouble and buy a Fiat 500 E.

    Also, Corvair, really? Shame on you, if ever there was a vehicle famous first and foremost for its unusual and innovative drivetrain, it’s the Corvair. Electrifying a Corvair is deeply wrong for all the same reasons electrifying a 911 is. The air cooled flat six out back is what makes a Corvair a Corvair. Remove that and you remove everything special about the Corvair.

    If you want to EV-swap a classic, go for something with a famously terrible engine, something that can’t possibly be made worse. Stop ruining good classic cars with unnecessary and crappy EV conversions.

    1. I daily drive a Renault 4 and while it’s undeniably fun to drive “fast”, the engine often feels like it’s about to break off the mounts and shoot out the bonnet when I do. Engine vibration makes it go from hella fun to pants-shitting terrifying in a blink of an eye somewhere between the 110 and 120km/h mark.

      I adore that little ICE, the Clone-Fonte engine is a glorious little powerhouse that proved its merits for 4 decades, and the one in my car still feels like it’s got lots of life in it (it’s approaching 260.000km now). Truly a wonderful engine.

      That being said… I would convert my Renault 4 to electric in a heartbeat if it was affordable, especially if future retrofitting kits also retain the shifting setup as the press release for this new kit implies (this was one of my biggest surprises in this story, and it’s great, it shows they know what prospective customers want). This is still too expensive especially considering the specs, but a couple of years ago this would’ve been a €50.000 gimmick, and now it’s comparable to a brand new entry-level car. I think it’s easy to imagine prices dropping to much more sensible territories as EV tech becomes the norm and more companies start competing for market share. And the C1E 688 D7/12 engine would be a wonderful display piece after getting it out, taking it apart, cleaning and reassembling it.

      So yeah, I don’t really see this as “ruining” good classic cars, but rather the way to go to keep old daily drivers on the road. You’ll always have people who will be able to afford keeping classics stock, but in a few years you’ll have people like me who daily drive an older car and will need affordable options to keep them on the road. For lots of everyday classics, conversion kits will be a new lease on life.

    2. Ooh, Chevrolet Citation and the rest of the X cars… wait a minute, the engine wasn’t the only crappy part. All the rest of the parts were crappy, too. Never mind.

  5. It wouldn’t take much to convince me to electrify my Avantime.

    It has an 80 liter gas tank, so that’s a good amount of space for batteries. When the load cover for the rear hatch is placed in it’s lower position, serving as a the load floor (and in line with the rear seats when folded flat) there’s still a roughly 9 inch deep well below it that could accept some batteries, too.

    It would need to keep decent range, as it’s a superb road trip car. But it doesn’t need to have the 600+ km of tank range it currently has, either.

    Mine’s the 3 liter V6, and yeah it was a lot of fun when an exhaust leak meant it basically had open headers. But I don’t see myself trying to upgrade it to match that engine’s performance in a Clio V6. And my GR Yaris gets better gas mileage even when I drive it like an absolute miscreant.

  6. I mentioned my own desire to one day convert my Renault 4 to electric propulsion in replies to a couple of comments so I don’t want to repeat myself, but I just noticed I forgot to mention a huge positive aspect of an EV conversion for this car specifically: literally ANYTHING that reduces vibrations is a plus. Seriously, I love the Quatrelle like no other car, but I don’t think I can properly convey how noisy it is inside, because pretty much everything vibrates inside a stock Renault 4, and the engine vibrations often cause several different noises across the rev range. The sheetmetal is so thin that once you reach highway speeds it feels like it’s flapping as if it were made of paper. The floorpan resonates with the engine too. Windows, steering wheel, dashboard, windshield wipers, central console, everything has a resonance frequency it vibrates to at a certain engine rev. Even the door lock mechanisms start vibrating and that creates insanely annoying noises.

    Quick personal anecdote: a few days ago I disabled my hatch lock altogether while I look for a new one because mine had so much play and the handle was so loose, it felt like it could break at any moment, so disabling it and shutting the hatch felt like the sensible thing to do rather than wait for it to break at the worst possible moment and not being able to close it… no, wait, that’s exactly what happened, it did break at the worst possible moment and disabling it was very much an emergency repair mid-trip; as an unexpected side effect, it did away with the most impossibly annoying noise ever, which I can only describe as travelling with a trunkful of crickets, but they’re each in their own tiny tin can. Suddenly a broken hatch lock felt like a fix, somehow. A quiet EV powertrain would make a HUGE difference in this aspect.

  7. Pretty much every Jaguar with a lump of a six in front and independent rear suspension. you can directly couple the Electric motor to the real differential since it does not move, then fill the trans tunnel with battery’s as low as possible, as well as take them up into the the bottom of the engine area. the early XKE’s have a rather large proboscis making room for controllers, cooling systems and keeping weight on the front end to avoid upsetting handling too much.

    These cars rarely if ever had working Heat or AC, not to mention the funny aspect of an all electric Lucas electrics car makes them a ripe candidate. Honestly though, pretty much every 70’s “Super” Car would also fit this mold.

  8. Because I have never seen a Bricklin that does not overheat, I guess an EV Bricklin might be a good idea as well. Replace the door struts with electric actuators and maybe we will see one rolling down the road with the wings down for change as well, but considering how much those seemed to weigh, that might rob 10 or more miles of range per use.

  9. I almost daily drive my old VW T2 (Kombi) and would simply love if it could be cheaply converted to electricity. It would be the perfect combination (kombination?): all the room for 9 souls, the old-school style, the fun with a reliable and fast-enough engine. Who knows it will be possible in some years.

  10. 60s Lincolns are unibody. As an owner of a 65, I’d love to shove a Model S drivetrain in there but time and money always seem to end up going to other things.

    1. strangely enough, of all the vehicles shown above, that style Lincoln and the Maserati are actually cars I have seen with electric conversions. I did see a Delorean at Sema in 2019 that seemed appropriate for that car. the lincoln FoMoCo engines were not as bespoke or unreliable as the DMC and Maserati so while a very cool ride, I would be less inclined to muck with that.

    1. All good. How about a Japanese station wagon, such as a Wagovan or an Accord wagon? Plenty of room for loads of batteries, good visibility and comfort, and it would be comfortable, practical, almost invisible and faster than almost everything else on the road.

    1. Pablo Escobar raced a Renault 4 in local racing leagues (and apparently also started his, ahem, enterprise doing cross-border night races in a Quatrelle filled with, hum, export goods). The Renault 4 also made de podium in the two first editions of Paris-Dakar; a Sinpar 4×4 driven by the legendary Marreau brothers, who would come to win it in 1982 at the wheel of another Sinpar-prepared car, the Renault 20 4×4. They would also tackle the race in an 18 break, also prepared by the good people from Sinpar.

      You can race any car, is what I’m saying. All cars are indeed sportscars if you try hard enough 🙂

    1. In a few years this will be a necessity more than a novelty for many examples of the models you mentioned: the ones which are still getting daily driven and will become increasingly more expensive to drive/maintain as gas prices go up and the market shifts towards EVs. It’s not hard to anticipate a not-so-distant future in which these kits will be affordable and the tech/specs will get better, with more range, better batteries, modular arrangements to make installing/servicing/replacing battery packs easier. It will probably be easier and cheaper than an LPG conversion currently is (there’s no reason a direct swap isn’t simpler than integrating a whole LPG system into the existing architecture, and that’s a fairly common thing in various European countries).

      I’m very excited with this piece of news, because I daily drive a 4L and I’m all for automakers making an effort to make bespoke kits for their own classics a reality (be it in-house or by teaming up with existing companies like in this case). I would be satisfied with universal kits, but when automakers get involved you get stuff like retaining the shifting system, or achieving the perfect weight distribution (either matching or improving on the original). I really hope other automaker follow the trend and help kickstart a strong retrofit industry.

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