Check out this week's Life on Cars

Check out this week's Life on Cars

by Tom Martin (March 2021)

I'm not sure how many Champion readers live in thatched cottages or old railway stations – but if you do, I’m willing to bet you’ve got wifi and gas central heating rigged up.  

That’s exactly the argument James May made a couple of years ago while making the case for driving a modernised Jaguar XJ-S, pointing out that its sharper suspension and bigger brakes didn’t denigrate its innate Jaguar-ism in any way. It’s also what I’ve pondering after a succession of petrolheads asked me what I make of electric classic cars, and having finally reached a conclusion that doesn’t begin with ‘Erm…’, I can’t say I’d be rigging up an MG or Triumph to a Tesla supercharging station any time soon.

Not that I’ve got anything against electric cars. Renault’s Twizy, I’ve mentioned in this column before, is a giggle all the way up to its 45mph max speed and counted the late Sir Stirling Moss among its many fans.

Tesla’s Model X has shown that a people carrier can have upwards-opening doors and be able to outgun a BMW M3 from the lights. Porsche’s Taycan is a masterpiece of meticulous sports car engineering – and yet ironically, it’s Porsche that’s swayed me against the idea of converting classics to electric power.

Cars like RBW’s EV Roadster, which is basically an MGB with zero emissions gubbins, are absolutely up my street as it has all the benefits of an electric car and Sixties sports car looks, but as it based on a brand new heritage bodyshell, the crucial bit is that no classic cars have actually sacrificed their innards to create it. 

Plucking out an MG’s B-series engine and replacing it with an electric motor, to me at least, is no better than dropping in a VW turbodiesel. It’ll work brilliantly, no doubt, but its soul is somehow lost in the process. While Porsche was busy distracting everyone with the Taycan it’s managed to come up with a synthetic petrol that doesn’t rely on dead dinosaurs, and it’s so confident that it’s said it’d run its own collection of old cars on it if it had to.

Combine this with moves by the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs to try and carbon-offset cars more than 30 years old – essentially, undoing the damage done by their emissions by planting trees – and I reckon that in the long run the tide is slowly turning in the favour of keeping classic cars as they are, rather than replacing Jaguar XK engines with Tesla batteries.

I know there’s an argument that converting classics to electric power is essentially future-proofing them, and all of the ones I’ve tried so far have been brilliantly done. But I’d rather keep Britain’s heritage on the road, ideally looking, sounding and yes, smelling like it would have done, and carbon-offset it than change it entirely to keep Boris happy. And anyway – classic cars are behind less than 0.1 per cent of Britain’s vehicle emissions. 

Would you ruin an E-type Jag to make things 0.1 per cent better? Exactly.

David Simister is the editor of Classic Car Weekly

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