Going back to the 1930's and 40's, a quintessential part of hot rodding and car modification has been swapping an engine with a more powerful one. Now that we're a ways into the 21st century, some shops and manufacturers have taken to replacing the engine altogether, converting it to a fully electric drivetrain. Such modifications can increase performance and breath new life into old platforms. Now, let's talk about a few of our favorite examples of electric hot rods in recent years.
Jaguar E-Type Zero
This relatively simple EV conversion was conducted in-house by Jaguar in 2017, using a 1968 E-Type roadster as the base. At a glance, this car look like any other meticulously restored Jag, but you may notice the modern LED headlights up front. Pop the hood, and you'll see a sleek-looking battery installation in place of the old 4.2-liter inline six. A compact electric motor has been mounted behind that, where the transmission used to be, and directly connects to the original driveshaft.
This battery/motor combo was borrowed from modern Land Rover hybrids, and sends 295 horsepower out to the rear wheels. This is enough power to send it to 60 miles per hour in a quick 5.5 seconds, but not enough to overwhelm the old school chassis. It'll also do about 160 miles on one charge. The manufacturer's intent was to keep the car feeling very original, despite all the modification. Battery weight is often a concern with EVs, but the E-Type manages to shed 100 pounds dropping its old iron block, and the center of gravity remains the same. Other changes include some processors in the trunk, a charge port under the fuel cap, and neatly integrated touch screens in the posh leather-and-wood interior.
The E-Type Zero debuted in a publicity stunt with the British royal family, carrying newly-wed Prince Harry and Meghan to their honeymoon before they left England for greener pastures. Jaguar originally intended for this car to be a launch pad for more EV conversions, allowing customers to order their own electrified XKEs. As of 2019, though, it appears complications or lack of interest have put the project on indefinite hiatus. For now, the E-Type Zero remains an impressive one-off.
Speaking of one-offs, things don't get much more unique than this 1981 Honda Accord dubbed "Teslonda." Carried by the Jimmy Built custom garage, this is not a subtle or tidy conversion. Pretty much every Honda component save for the body has been thrown out, and the quaint front wheel drive sedan has become a flamboyant rear wheel drive dragster on custom, jacked up suspension. Between the rear wheels is a single Tesla Model S motor putting out nearly 500 horsepower.
Juice is supplied by a small Chevy Volt battery in the original engine, which quickly begins draining after ten or so full-power launches. Power delivery and diagnostics are controlled by a custom-programmed Raspberry Pi computer built into the dash.
Acceleration is as quiet as it is quick. The Accord looks and sounds like an oversized Power Wheels as it squats and rockets to 60 miles per hour in under 2.5 seconds. We don't think the EV experience gets more fun that!
Opel Manta Elektromod
If you grew up in the 70's or 80's, you probably remember a little car called the Chevy Chevette, which history has regarded a cheap, boring clunker destined for the scrap heap, and that's where most have ended up. Over in Europe, however, the Chevette had a sporty, well-loved cousin called the Opel Manta. About a week ago, modern Opel showed off an electric Manta concept, featuring a beautiful clash of classic body lines and modern accoutrements under a flashy neon yellow and black paint job.
The Elektromod is built on a 1974 Manta GT-E, which saw widespread success in rally racing in the decade before that sport was dominated by all wheel drive competitors. Up front, the fascia has been replaced with LED stripe lights and a glowing Opel badge. The rear lights are LED, too, but their circular shape remains original. The engine bay features an electric motor with a fairly reserved 150 horsepower output, which connects to the original four-speed manual gearbox. Of course, electric torque delivery means that the driver can simply start the Manta in top gear without worry of stalling.
At all corners the original fender flares wrap around really sleek 17-inch Ronal wheels, significantly wider and larger than the old school ones. Underneath the wheels are upgraded brakes, which also provide battery regeneration on deceleration. This battery, that we assume must be in the trunk, provides a range up to 120 miles. The interior, meanwhile, has been re-worked with a alcantara racing seats, a three-spoke sport steering wheel, and modern LCD displays.
While we would love to get a chance with this Manta on a twisty road, it too remains a one-off concept. Now some shop in the US just needs to come up with a ChEVette.
Chevy E-COPO Camaro
While not a classic car, we feel like this E-COPO Camaro may be the current zenith of electric hot rodding. The COPO package from Chevrolet has been delivering drag-strip ready Camaros for decades, and the E-COPO simply takes that formula and throws electrification into the mix. In fact, the chassis, transmission, differential, and slick tires are all identical to what you would get on the gas-powered dragster. All that's changed is the power delivery method.
Two conjoined Borg-Warner motors bolt into the original Chevy small block engine mounts and transmission bellhousing, making for a very simple installation. 780 horsepower is then shoved into a much more old school three-speed auto gearbox and solid rear axle, resulting in nine second quarter-mile times.
Four 175-pound battery packs have also been installed, with two in the trunk and two in the rear seatwell. These batteries make for 56% rearward weight distribution. Perfect for wheel-standing launches. The Camaro can only do about three of those launches, though, before system voltage and power decline.
The most interesting thing we find about the E-COPO is the fact that its motor uses small block V8 mounting hardware. That means that GM or Borg-Warner could potentially release swap kits to easily electrify and classic or modern car which will already take a Chevy LS engine. In case you didn't know, there are A LOT of cars that will accept an LS.
Electric hot rodding is still in its infancy, but is bound to become more popular through the 2020's and beyond. We hate to waste a good performance engine, but this electrification business makes a ton of sense for old cars whose powerplants are broken, missing, or maybe weren't that exciting to begin with. We'd love to get a try at some EV classics, and maybe even add one to The Starting Line's inventory some day.
We're excitedly awaiting delivery on a new Rivian R1T electric pickup, which will begin to be built next month. Stay tuned for a featured article and additional info on that vehicle later in the year!