by Bob Blake
Our world is captivated by the electric vehicle. Major manufacturers and startup companies are vying to populate our world with battery powered automobiles. Road and Track magazine named the Lucid Air their 2021 Car of the Year… despite the fact this new company has only delivered only a few hundred so far!
Regardless of the hype, the electric automobile is not a new concept. In 1899, ninety percent of New York City’s taxi fleet used batteries. Early gasoline cars were cantankerous and unreliable. Owners frequently had chauffeurs who drove and maintained them. This was the era before electric starters, smooth, muffled engines, and solid reliability. The quietness and smooth, exhaust free electrics appealed to the ladies in long dresses who could easily operate them!
In 1900, America had 33,842 registered electric cars or 38% of the cars sold. Steam power accounted for 40% while only 22% burned gasoline.
These early electric manufacturers quickly discovered the electric motor gives high, smooth torque and plenty of raw power. The 1902 Baker Torpedo electric became the first car to have an aerodynamic body that enclosed the driver. It achieved speeds over 100 mph but lacked adequate braking, safety devices and precise steering. (No seat belts, padded dash, or airbags either!)
The electrics gradually fell out of favor with the invention of the electric starter, improved and reliable engines, and the price reductions from Henry Ford’s mass production. The resurgence of battery power stems from the advent of the Lithium battery, skyrocketing gasoline prices, and an emphasis on clean energy.
This electric craze has also spawned a new industry! Over twenty conversion shops have sprung up across America to convert classic automobiles to battery power.
This conversion trend has fueled a hot market for salvaged electric cars (EVs) with useable batteries and parts. A low-hour wrecked electric Tesla easily brings $20,000!
Be prepared, however, to shell out the big bucks for the change as it involves much more than stuffing an electric motor under the hood.
The work usually includes regenerative brakes that charge the battery when applied, a rebuilt transmission, a drive-by-wire throttle, and digital-dash gauges. More bucks get items such as Bluetooth, heated seats, power steering/ windows, adjustable suspension, and a Tesla type charging port.
Zelectric Motors in California specializes in conversion of air-cooled vintage Volkswagens and Porsche models. Prices vary, depending on the vehicle and number of add-ons but expect to shell out $68,000 to retrofit a Karmann Ghia, or $74,000 for a Volkswagen Microbus. An electrified Porsche can cost upwards of $88,000!
The old car hobby has come a long way from pulling out grimy engines with ropes slung over an oak tree by a “mechanic” well lubricated with a six pack of Budweiser!