If Electric Cars Are the Future, What About Our Classics?

Is there a future for our beloved classic cars on a potential post-petroleum planet?

Mercury

Crude oil is a commodity valuable enough to warrant bloodshed, a fact we Americans are all too familiar with by now. As the world's most easily-accessed oil reserves disappear, we reach ever higher for our fruit, extracting oil from tar sands and the sea floor. Our thirst for petroleum products will strain this natural resource to the breaking point, and we may one day find ourselves parched.

Now, I'm not saying the globe's oil reserves are on the brink of drying; I am no petroleum industry expert. Because of our global climate condition, however, I believe we must be prepared for a future independent of oil, regardless of the ramifications it has for our love of old cars. Try as we might to save the Otto cycle, policymakers may push planned bans on the sale of new internal combustion cars down a slippery slope, at the bottom of which we might not find our classic gassers grandfathered in. I am just as disinterested as any car enthusiast in turning my MR2 into a garage ornament, so I welcome any salvation I am offered for my love of driving.

One hope of mine is the option of EV conversion. While my goal is to maintain the Toyota turbo-four heart of my car, the contingency plan is that of battery power, a possibility inspired by Evie, an electric Ford Fairlane, which I spotlighted not long ago. Evie was commissioned by a renewable energy producer, Mercury, based in New Zealand, and is used for promotional purposes. I spoke to Mercury for more information on Evie, such as the car's construction and driving experience, to reassure myself that my worst nightmare—a transplant of an electric motor into my MR2—is maybe not so bad after all.

Between today and the day I may be forced to charge up rather than fill up, battery and EV tech is sure to leap further than I can fathom, but Evie is already not wanting for acceleration. Maximum possible output of the motor is said to be 228 horsepower (170 kilowatts), but output is limited to 148 horsepower (110 kilowatts), to prevent the motor's 391 pound-feet (530 Newton-meters) of torque from lunching the drivetrain—all factory from the torque converter back.

It's not much power for a car that weighs 2.2 tons, but according to acceleration figures given to The Drive by Shannon Goldstone, spokesperson for Mercury, Evie is faster than one may expect from numbers alone—and could go faster with upgraded components.

"Because we’ve kept the integrity of the car intact through the entire conversion, everything is very similar," said Goldstone, "although she’s a bit faster off the mark!"

"We haven’t undertaken any official testing yet, but we’ve done some practice runs, and it tends to land between nine and 11 seconds, depending on human response," Goldstone said. "The current Scott Drive [controller] we’re using gives us about 50 kWh. If we increased this to the latest version in the works—150 kWh—Evie would theoretically be three times as fast, but with the original gear still in the car, this could cause some issues so we wouldn’t do this."

Fast enough to keep up with traffic, but not enough to get you into trouble, just like the car's original engine. But with classic carbureted engine rumble gone, how is the driving experience impacted by the lack of an internal combustion engine? Is it better, or is Evie less refined than when she left the Ford factory?

"The biggest change is that there’s no exhaust fumes now; she’s driving on 85 percent renewable home-grown electricity rather than imported fossil fuel," Goldstone said.

"Distribution of weight was a big factor in getting her road worthy. She might be a 1957 classic, but she needs to comply with today’s braking and steering standards. We ramped up the vacuum pump and regenerative braking to get her there, and she’s now about double what is normally required for New Zealand cars, which makes her a safe drive," Goldstone said. "One of the team, who’s well-versed in driving classics, has said she actually handles better now, especially in terms of braking, which is often considered a weakness in classic cars."

Mercury

We don't just love classic cars for how they sound, smell, and feel, though. Foibles develop as a vehicle ages, giving every old car a distinct personality. How much of that has Evie lost after her surgery?

"We think that most the things that make her endearing we’ve kept, from the original upholstery to the tailpipe, although no dirty fumes come spilling out of that anymore. The bench seating, including the challenge of a larger-framed person sliding in behind the wheel, remains a quirk this car shares with many of her vintage," Goldstone said. "Back seat passengers also don’t have the leg room those with modern cars are used to and expect, but the character comes from the wind in your hair with the roof down, and that remains an endearing feature. The mechanics of the roof retracting have been retained and can be seen as a quirk, but also an impressive design feature that still inspires awe as the top lifts and folds back into the trunk—or boot, as we call it in NZ!"

"Personally, I find the new tablet screen that shows all the engine data an endearing trait, such a great coming-together of old school nostalgia and cutting edge technology," Goldstone said.

Mercury

Even from across the Earth, Evie has me enamored, but what of hardliners? Enthusiasts a generation or two older than I, resistant to seeing a '57 Ford Fairlane converted to run on the devil's power source: Renewable energy?

"We’ve tested Evie at a few classic car shows already… Into the lion’s den, to face her toughest critics! It has been wonderful to see how well-received she’s been by classic car enthusiasts. Sure, there are some grumblings about her plugging in rather than filling up, but when people see the car’s integrity is intact, this often changes everything," Goldstone said.

Mercury

"We like to say that all we’ve really done is given her a longer life by taking out the heart of the car—her engine—which was old, and not original anyway, and given her a new, cleaner heart. We’ve set this classic up for another 60 years. Most aficionados understand that classics like this face change to keep them on the road and roadworthy, with original parts increasingly hard to come by. Over time, many engines have been pulled out, and newer, more powerful petrol engines added in. This is the next generation of that, it just happens to be electric. In fact, Evie actually has a lot more original parts than a lot of other classics out there!" Goldstone said.

Mercury employees accompanied Evie to one of New Zealand's most prominent classic car meets, Beach Hop, where she electrified (in a good way) onlookers young and old—her previous owner included. Evie made exclamations of "it's the car of the future" more common than whitewall tires at the Hop.

I believe I speak for many when I say that I will resist ridding myself of the oily internal combustion engine that calls my car home, despite Evie's charms. In equal measure, I now have faith in a future for the cars precious to us, even if they will swap a sloshing tank of gasoline for rows of electrolyte-filled batteries. The flame in my heart that burns for petroleum power will never flicker... But my anxieties—which stem from a fear of losing the liberty to drive the car I intend to keep for the rest of my years—are extinguished.

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