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Classic cars: should the past look to the future?

At a glance

  • The latest statistics from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that in January this year, sales of battery-powered electric vehicles increased by 204 per cent year on year
  • In October last year, the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens (FIVA), the worldwide association of historic automobile clubs, declared that it considered vehicles that had been converted in this way had “ceased to be historic”
  • More and more electric conversion companies are being established across the globe and the fact that manufacturers are getting in on the act, is a clear indication that this is a meaningful trend.

With the United Kingdom’s (UK) Government ban on the manufacture of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars set to come into force in 2035, the race to electrify the nation’s cars is on.

While Tesla acts as the poster child for the electric car market, almost every major manufacturer, including the likes of Jaguar, Nissan, BMW, Renault, Mercedes, Audi, Kia, Hyundai and Volkswagen, is getting in on that act.-

And it seems that we are willing to embrace this electricity-powered future. The latest statistics from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that in January this year, sales of battery-powered electric vehicles increased by 204 per cent year on year. In comparison, diesel sales fell by 36 per cent and petrol by 9.5 per cent.

Whilst this should be good news, where does this leave classic car enthusiasts who own more than a million historic vehicles, half of which are on the road? Under the current plans, these vehicles will be exempt from the ban but there are fears that as pressure mounts to move towards an entirely emission-free transport network, an outright ban on petrol and diesel will be introduced.

The good news is that even if this scenario comes to pass, there is hope for lovers of classic cars. There is a growing trend to convert classic cars to electric, providing all of the benefits of a modern electric vehicle while retaining the classic look. But it comes at a cost.

For example, in the Netherlands, Voitures Extravert will happily convert a vintage Porsche 911 for you, but you can expect to pay up to €300,000 for pleasure. The same car with the original engine would cost about a third of that.

Meanwhile in the UK, Sliverstone-based firm Lunaz, was reported to be converting Rolls Phantom V and Jaguar XK120 cars to the tune of $430,000. But that price tag doesn’t seem to be holding them back – they recently announced that they will be doubling their workforce to 70 to cope with demand.

It’s not all ultra-high end, specialist companies though. Manufacturers are getting in on the act too.

Aston Martin is pushing ahead with plans to electrify its DB6 and last year, Jaguar announced that an electric version of its E-type, described by Enzo Ferrari as “the most beautiful car ever made”, would be available in 2020 for around £350,000.

However, late last year this project was put on hold as it was deemed “not a priority in the current global commercial climate”.

Regardless, other manufacturers seem more convinced with Volkswagen announcing last year that it was introducing a conversion kit for its classic Beetle car. But this trend towards electrifying classic cars is not without its controversy and detractors.

In October last year, the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens (FIVA), the worldwide association of historic automobile clubs, declared that it considered vehicles that had been converted in this way had “ceased to be historic”.

While acknowledging the benefits of electrification in regard to enhanced performance and compliance with emission legislation, the body recommended that any modifications be reversible and original parts and engines stored, to ensure the vehicle could be returned to its original specification.

The organisation claimed that the removal of a historic vehicle’s combustion-fuelled powertrain did not “comply with FIVA definition of a historic vehicle, nor does it support the goal of preserving historic vehicles and their related culture”.

Other commentators have expressed concern over ‘range anxiety’, questioning whether the charging infrastructure is in place to allow for the full enjoyment of an electric classic car.

While some motor journalists and other enthusiasts share these concerns, they are not universal in the community. There appear to be as many enthusiasts for electrification as detractors with the CEO of US-based Zerolabs, Adam Roe, making a particularly impassioned defence for conversion.

“[Classic cars] are endangered,” he said in a recent interview. “Surviving classic vehicles are either sold off at higher than ever prices to private collections or die waiting for a future that won’t come. A clean energy future does not have to come at the expense of our love of the past.”

When it comes to a person’s passion, it is often difficult to find a middle ground or any element of compromise, but it seems that a combination of environmental and health concerns and a desire for better and more reliable performance, is leading many classic car enthusiasts down the electrification road.

More and more electric conversion companies are being established across the globe and the fact that manufacturers are getting in on the act, is a clear indication that this is a meaningful trend. And with the cost of conversion predicted to come down, it is likely that more and more classic car owners will find the temptation of guilt-free, enhanced performance too difficult to resist.

For more information, please speak to your local Zurich contact.

Image © Getty

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