Currently reading: James Ruppert: better uses for £25k than Teslafying your classic
Swapping an EV powertrain into a heritage motor? Sacrilege, says our used car expert
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5 mins read
21 July 2020

I recently spoke to one of those specialist firms that convert classic cars into EVs, which is basically sacrilege. It was an interesting chat, and it turns out to be good business, especially as prices start at £25,000.

Seems like a waste of a finite resource to me. And although old cars can break down often, that’s a high price to pay for reliability. Also, classics don’t usually do that many miles. If the idea is to electrify them for everyday usability, which is how it was sold to me, we must all be doing something wrong. Either that or we have less money but more common sense than the EV early adopters.

The thing is, £25,000 will buy you the most interesting modes of personal transportation in the world, none of which need a three-pin plug.

I started with Toyota and was going after something sporty but became very distracted by the wonderful FJ Cruiser. Compared with the average uninteresting SUV, this grey import really is a Tonka toy for grown-ups. A specialist had a 2012 example in super-bright orange for £24,750. It was being marketed as an alt-Defender but without the complication and all the retro appeal. Also, Toyota stopped making the FJ Cruiser a couple of years ago.

Then I found myself deep down the Alpina rabbit hole, which contains some of the most stone-cold rarities around. A modest five-figure sum also buys BMWs from the time when BMWs were still truly handsome and desirable. These were the ultimate driving machines and then some.

So I was tempted, especially as a 2000 B10 Touring was on offer for just £10,995. Apparently there were just 12 of these made in right-hand drive. It had done more than 150,000 miles and had been in storage, but there was a ton of history and it was being sold by a dealer, for whom there are obligations. Pretty, practical and a hoot to drive: that’s perfect, surely?

Jaguar doesn’t have the best reputation for reliability, admittedly, but it seems the time has come for the XJS. It looks so ’70s, was at home in the ’80s and lived into the ’90s, and from there much of it survived into the XK, so you can easily get all of the parts, even for the V12.

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Toyota’s rough-and-ready, old-school, unstoppable 4x4 gets a bit less rough-and-ready. Likeably simple and functional, and worth considering if you need a genuine dual-purpose SUV

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I was therefore excited to discover a 1986 XJS-C with less than 80,000 miles and plenty of random bills for £12,995. It seemed to be on the button, although I inferred from reading between the lines of the advert that it was a part-exchange, so perhaps it would need some fettling. Not £13,000’s worth, though.

So, before leaping into the brave new world of electrifying classics, consider that there’s so much fun to be had enjoying what’s already out there – sometimes with a V8 or V12.

What we almost bought this week

Ariel Atom 245W: We’ve been looking for a novel way to keep ourselves cool this summer, so naturally that led us to lust after an Ariel Atom. Thanks to plenty of holes in the bodywork and a potent 245bhp Honda engine, it should be capable of providing a gale-force blast much more powerful than a commercial air conditioning system.

Tales from Ruppert's garage

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Innocenti Mini, mileage - 4687: I’m highlighting the Italian Job this week on the grounds that you haven’t seen it for a while, despite the fact it’s an important member of the Bangernomics Tax-Free Garage. Everything in there is no longer liable for the old road fund licence, which is a small victory. None of them need MOTs any more, either, but I still had the Baby Shark done, and I will use the pandemic MOT extension to spread out the due dates for the littlest cars to a less busy time of the year – probably August and September, before the Lorry is due in November. I must make a chart…

A-to-Z Bangerpedia

S is for Jaguar S-Type: Some think the design is ugly or just a pastiche of the 1960s Jaguar Mk2, but the S-Type really does stand out from the crowd. There are four powerful engines to choose from, V6 to V8, and there’s a supercharged version as well. Never mind the BMW M5 or Mercedes E-Class AMG: the 395bhp S-Type R is nearly as rapid and much cheaper. In fact, every S-Type costs buttons.

Talking of buttons, the dashboard can be confusing, and while the mechanical sounds are well damped, wind noise is an issue on the motorway. The biggest issue, though, is the shortage of space. Five up is almost impossible and leg room is only okay. Worst of all, anyone above average height brushes the roof. Likewise, the boot is shallow and access is restricted.

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Readers' questions

Question: What are the merits of 97 Ron petrol over 95 Ron? Am I right in paying extra to fill my new Ford Fiesta ST with 97? Ian, via email

Answer: All modern engines are designed to run well on 95 Ron petrol, so the differences are usually more perceivable than measurable. However, your Fiesta ST would benefit from 97 Ron more than most, because it has cylinder deactivation. This means that under light loads, it can advance its ignition timing a bit further in two-cylinder mode to take advantage of the greater anti-knock capabilities of higher-octane fuel, thus becoming more efficient. MA

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Question: I’m enjoying the low cost of petrol at the moment, but the fuel stations are always out of disposable gloves. How can I protect myself? Danny Morris, via email

Answer: Bringing your own gloves is a good idea, but don’t reuse them. Use one hand for operating the pump and paying, keeping the other clean for touching your car keys and door. Always carry hand sanitiser of at least 60% alcohol to use when you get in the car. Don’t leave it inside, because condensation from the interior heating and cooling will reduce its effectiveness. Don’t touch your face when driving and wash your hands for 20 seconds when you can. MA

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Will86 21 July 2020

Electrification spoils the fun

I've nothing against electric cars but I don't really see the point of electrifying most classics. Part of the pleasure of driving an old car is the feel of the engine, and the clutch and gearbox. Take that away and you're fundamentally changing the character of the car. Some may like it, but to me its diluting the pleasure of a classic. I get resto-moding a car, you're enhancing it but not fundamentally changing it. Electrifying is like ripping the soul of the car out. There will be exceptions - the example above of the original DS is a good one - but I'd rather see replicas of older cars with new electric drivetrains than rip out the engines of originals.

stavers 21 July 2020

Completely Agree

Stuffing an EV system in to a classic car is exactly for those with more money than sense.  People who want to be seen posing in an old car but don't really want to own one - just the image.

 

The better thing would be to put a replica body over a modern EV - keeps the posers happy and keeps the classic cars for those who actually want them.

si73 21 July 2020

stavers wrote:

stavers wrote:

Stuffing an EV system in to a classic car is exactly for those with more money than sense.  People who want to be seen posing in an old car but don't really want to own one - just the image.

 

The better thing would be to put a replica body over a modern EV - keeps the posers happy and keeps the classic cars for those who actually want them.

si73 21 July 2020

But what happens IF or when

But what happens IF or when these classic are legislated off the road and can only be trailered to special events? May never happen but I wouldn't be surprised if it did. Electrifying classics and keeping more old and interesting cars on the road is also surely more environmentally responsible than buying a newly built car? And I am sure if done properly my eunos would be as much if not more fun even if it's in a different quieter way. Though I am sure to hear even more squeaks and clunks than normally.
stavers 22 July 2020

si73 wrote:

si73 wrote:

But what happens IF or when these classic are legislated off the road and can only be trailered to special events? May never happen but I wouldn't be surprised if it did. Electrifying classics and keeping more old and interesting cars on the road is also surely more environmentally responsible than buying a newly built car? And I am sure if done properly my eunos would be as much if not more fun even if it's in a different quieter way. Though I am sure to hear even more squeaks and clunks than normally.

I don't think that will happen - not for several decades at least if it ever does.  We haven't gotten rid of steam trains, traction engines, horses (bit different I know!) etc. yet so with any luck there's plenty of life left.

But this isn't keeping old cars on the road - it's keeping an old shell on the road.  The powertrain is a fundamental part of the car.  Plus the embedded CO2 in the battery pack alone is probably more than the car would spit out in decades of normal (classic car) use.  Keeping an old car on the road is generally more environmentally friendly than a new one but that's because it's already taken the embedded CO2 of production in to account - shoving a whole load more in suddenly make the equation less appealing.

A MX-5 isn't an E-Type or a DB5 or a Hispano Suiza.  It's a modern tin box (albeit a good fun one no doubt) so a slightly different arguement I think.  Maybe in 20 years time when there are virtually no standard, un-restored NA MX-5s then that arguement changes.  Plus I'm sure you'd notice the few hundred kgs of batteries that would be peverting the fun of a light, nimble little car.

si73 22 July 2020

It's a fair point well made,

It's a fair point well made, there are massive degrees of classics from mk1-3 escorts and fiestas to my 26yr old Mx, my previous 30+ yr old 924 etc and no these aren't as cherished as an e type etc but all could be electrified in my opinion, same with mgbs and midgets etc. But I do understand your point and agree with a lot of it.
Sporky McGuffin 21 July 2020

That tired old "more money

That tired old "more money than sense" thing is a clear indicator of someone who's bitter at those who've made more of the former than he has.

£25k is, of course, not to be sniffed at for the huge majority of people, but when the time comes, if I've still got my A110, it'll be getting electrified. Or run on booze, or possibly the blood of my enemies. Whatever seems sensible at the time.

Bob Cat Brian 21 July 2020

Sporky McGuffin wrote:

Sporky McGuffin wrote:

That tired old "more money than sense" thing is a clear indicator of someone who's bitter at those who've made more of the former than he has.

£25k is, of course, not to be sniffed at for the huge majority of people, but when the time comes, if I've still got my A110, it'll be getting electrified. Or run on booze, or possibly the blood of my enemies. Whatever seems sensible at the time.

 

it strikes me much more of railing against the modern tech/modern world ranting of a man for whom the world has left behind rather than a money bitterness. I'm sure he'd be thoroughly approving of £25k being spent on restoring a classic in the more traditional sense.  

I should just stop reading his pieces, theres no value in reading them