Stop Turning Classic Cars Into EVs

October 18, 2021

By Chris Bright

I don’t know if this is a contrarian position or not, but it’s been on my mind for some time: I am not a fan of converting classic cars to electric vehicles, or EVs for short. I understand the internal dialog that some of us may have between owning classic cars and being environmentally friendly. I have them too. However, I’m convinced that this is a superficial gesture that doesn’t accomplish what one would hope.

Giulia GTA electric concept car.

EV conversions of classic cars have been gaining in popularity, with numerous articles being published. There's even a “build show” called Vintage Voltage, where “Moggy” and his team make conversions out of their shop in Wales. As an Alfa fan, the EV conversion craze visited my house in July when Totem Automobili touted a new Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA conversion. Hey, it looks great, but that’s just because it looks like an original GTA. Brah-vo... 

Before going any further let’s take a pause so I can make a few declarations: I am a steadfast environmentalist (I live in Oregon for crying out loud), believe climate change is real and caused by human activity, and that EVs are the best path forward for transportation. Also, the engineering that goes into these conversions is truly impressive, performed for the right reasons, and by dedicated professionals --  and I mean them no harm. 

Now allow me to make my case as to why I think EV conversions of classic cars are a misguided idea:

Reason 1 – It removes the essence of a classic car. A friend of mine once said to me, “I don’t understand why people keep birds as pets. The one thing that makes them special istaken it away when you put them in a cage.” Whatever your stance on birds, that’s not the point I’m making. It’s the concept that a classic car is atotal experience that is not just the shell, but alsowhat is underneath. Take out the engine and gear shift and it loses its entire essence. The smells, vibrations, down shifts, and mechanical experiences are as much a part of it as the appearance. Actually, I’d argue that they are most of the experience – and you take it away

Reason 2 -- Classic cars are rare and deserve to be preserved as they are. They are art, history, and innovation all rolled into one, that can inspire and inform humanity. I want future generations to be able to experience and get exhilarated by them, and that becomes less possible whether it was left to rot in a field or has its internal combustion engine (ICE) torn out. 

Admittedly, hot rods do alter the original state, but the raw materials were built in such massive quantities in the U.S. that there are plenty to go around to support this important subculture. 

On that point, I could concede that vehicles that were made in the hundreds of thousands could spare a few examples being electrified. I’m willing to sacrifice a few VWs on the EV altar, but do that to an E-Type and we’re going to have words!

Reason 3 -- EV conversions of classic cars are actually worse for the environment. Ever heard of performative environmentalism? That’s when a billionaire or celebrity drives a Prius but then takes their private jet everywhere. You. Are. Not. Helping.

The contribution of classic cars to fossil fuel-generated carbon emissions is a miniscule fraction of one percent when compared to all road cars. Hagerty says that the average classic car that they insure averages 2,212 miles per year. As their values go up, they actually get used less and less, yet it is true that they do pollute more per mile due to lack of catalytic converters and other more efficient technologies. 

Tearing out an engine is a waste of natural and manufacturing resources that will never be offset by converting it. In addition, classic cars are poor candidates because they are constructed of heavier materials which will not go as far on a charge. 

So how do you square up wanting to minimize emissions and still enjoy your classic car? Here are a few options:

I am serious about ensuring that I am doing my part to minimize my environmental footprint, albeit imperfectly. I don’t want to be a hypocrite, but I am able to have a lifestyle that I feel is environmentally responsible. My classic cars may undermine that, but I think it is offset by the community, beauty, inspiration, and education that having them in the world brings.

I just won’t be converting any of my classic cars into an EV since it is a terrible idea for the car, and for the environment.

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