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.
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
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
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
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
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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