Classic Car Oil-to-Electric Conversion: Regression or Cultural Persistence in NE Tech?

Italian Totem Automobili: Reviving and Revitalizing Vintage Alfa Romeo Classics at 60 Years Old In contrast to the French startup Transition-One, Totem Automobili is a well-known longstanding Italian customization workshop that specializes exclusively in reviving or modifying classic Alfa Romeo vehicles. Last spring, they embarked on the restoration and transformation of a nearly scrapped 1960s GT Junior using their own innovative “oil-to-electric” method. Their approach appears to be more intricate and costly compared to Transition-One. Interestingly, Totem Automobili does not simply restore these vintage classics to their former glory or merely convert traditional fuel engines and tanks into electric motor units and battery modules; instead, they introduce a plethora of fresh designs, materials, and concepts. The battery pack they equipped the GT Junior with has a capacity of 50.4 kWh, providing an estimated range of around 320 kilometers. Moreover, the newly integrated electric motor is quintessentially Alfa Romeo, reportedly delivering a remarkable 518 horsepower and 940 Nm of torque! Renowned as experts in European customizations, Totem Automobili endeavors to enhance the longevity and speed of these aged vehicles while offsetting the additional weight introduced by the new battery pack. To achieve this, they strive to minimize the extra weight of the vehicle’s adornments. For instance, they replaced the materials of the front and rear fenders, trunk lid, and doors with carbon fiber panels, while employing aluminum extensively throughout the rest of the body. Furthermore, in a bold move to reduce weight further, they opted not to paint the car, leaving it bare to showcase a punk-inspired blend of exposed carbon fiber and raw aluminum. Simultaneously, to bolster the overall rigidity of the vehicle’s structure and enable the near 60-year-old body to adapt to the potent power output of the new electric motor, the customization experts utilized Bilstein shock absorbers with multiple damping settings for the front suspension. It is understood that significant changes were made to the rear suspension to integrate the motor, multi-link independent suspension, and subframe. Additionally, only ten percent of the original model’s chassis was retained, with the entire vehicle undergoing a widebody conversion. Moreover, Totem Automobili rechristened this GT Junior as the Alfa Romeo Totem GT electric, thereby highlighting the vehicle’s brand-new attributes. Many overseas auto enthusiasts believe that while this car may exhibit considerable differences from its original appearance, it still exudes the essence of Alfa Romeo’s spirit from bygone days.

RBW EV Classic Cars from the UK: Replicating a Pure Electric MGB Roadster Directly In fact, there are quite a few similar “oil-to-electric” modification companies in Europe, each with its own unique approach to electric conversions, showcasing distinctive national characteristics. These companies are adept at “transforming” their home country’s car models. One such example is the UK-based RBW EV Classic Cars. Unlike the French Transition-One mentioned earlier, RBW EV Classic Cars doesn’t simply modify existing vintage cars; instead, they introduce completely new electric prototypes based on the original design of those classic cars. This company made headlines in May this year when they transformed a classic budget roadster from the 1960s, the iconic MGB from the MG brand, into a “new replica” after converting it from oil to electric. The exterior design of this car remains largely unchanged, but its core features a brand-new all-electric powertrain. Positioned where the original engine used to be, it accommodates six to eight lithium batteries to power a 70 kW electric motor. To achieve performance similar to the original model, RBW EV Classic Cars first switched the car’s body to lighter aluminum material. To maintain front-to-rear weight balance and retain the traditional rear-wheel-drive feel of the old car, they positioned the electric motor at the rear. Thus, this pure electric MGB achieves a top speed of nearly 130 kilometers per hour and accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 9 seconds, offering performance that closely matches its original petrol counterpart. Importantly, the electric MGB boasts a range of 260 to 322 kilometers, depending on whether it comes with six or eight lithium batteries. While the interior of the pure electric MGB retains a style and material similar to the original, it incorporates noticeable modern elements. For instance, a 7-inch central display screen has been added, and the traditional gear shifter has been replaced with knobs for adjusting the seat position. To be honest, the central display screen of this car, complemented by a few metal knobs below it, gives off a vibe reminiscent of a small TV from the 1980s. The pure electric MGB is not a mass-produced vehicle, with only 30 units available for sale, each priced at a minimum of £90,000. This car is not the first creation of RBW EV Classic Cars. They have a penchant for creatively redesigning classic fuel cars into new energy electric vehicles. They particularly enjoy converting revered British industrial icons like Jaguar, Aston Martin, and MINI (before it became a part of BMW, MINI was the flagship product of the British car company BMC), among others.


Volkswagen in Germany: Another Resurrection of the Beetle and T1 Bus

In fact, many automakers have discovered this unique “profit-making method” as well. For example, the German Volkswagen Group released an “oil-to-electric” e-Kafer at the beginning of this year, which bears a striking resemblance to the classic Beetle.

Reportedly, the e-Kafer is based on the 1972 classic soft-top convertible Beetle, and its name is derived from the German version of the Beetle. Unlike the traditional rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive setup of the fuel-powered Beetle, the e-Kafer directly incorporates the electric powertrain from Volkswagen’s first small electric car, the E-Up!, introduced in 2009. The E-Up! featured a front-wheel-drive layout and a 82-horsepower electric motor with a peak torque of 210 Nm, along with a battery pack providing a range of only about 150 kilometers.

Yes, the performance of the E-Up! is similar to that of the e-Kafer. Worse still, the e-Kafer’s driving range after a full charge is even shorter than that of the fuel-powered Beetle after refueling.

Volkswagen has clear reasons for this approach. Firstly, despite the significant performance gap compared to modern electric cars, the e-Kafer still outperforms the 1972 classic fuel-powered version—and Beetle enthusiasts who cherish the classic model are unlikely to be concerned about its performance.

Secondly, although the E-Up! may be unfamiliar to many, in Germany, the model’s technology is quite mature. Directly integrating the E-Up! components into the e-Kafer significantly reduces research and development costs, making mass production of these “oil-to-electric” vintage cars more feasible. Of course, the key issue is that, due to the Beetle’s inherent limitations, the small body size restricts the installation of larger battery packs.

It is reported that to comply with current European regulations, the e-Kafer has also been improved in terms of chassis, brake systems, and front headlights. Furthermore, the classic exterior and interior features of the Beetle have not been significantly altered.

It is unclear whether Volkswagen is being lazy or simply preserving the original essence to the fullest extent.

Of course, the e-Kafer is not Volkswagen’s first modified classic car. Last summer, they applied for an e-Samba trademark at the European Union Intellectual Property Office—a name that should be familiar to Volkswagen enthusiasts, as it is the original name of the iconic T1 model. By adding the prefix “e” to it, Volkswagen is undoubtedly aiming to replicate the T1.

Based on the current situation, the e-Samba trademark is likely to be used on the Volkswagen ID.BUZZ, which is expected to enter limited production in 2022. According to previous concept car images, the ID.BUZZ is a Volkswagen tribute to their classic T1 model with an “oil-to-electric” product.

It is highly probable that the ID.BUZZ will have a completely different style from the e-Kafer’s “restored old” approach. It may only have a retro exterior, potentially be equipped with a Level 3 autonomous driving system, built on Volkswagen’s new MEB electric vehicle platform, with battery capacity and range closer to current standards, possibly reaching 600 kilometers.

LEC: Bringing Electric Transformation to Classic MINI Cars in the UK

Also dedicated to mass-producing “oil-to-electric” conversions for classic cars is the London Electric Cars company (LEC), founded in 2017. They have designed and started offering a complete electric conversion package for the iconic MINI, aiming to help these classic cars embrace electrification on a larger scale, with each conversion taking about a month and a half.

Similar to the approach taken by the French company Transition-One, LEC uses recycled electric motors and batteries. However, they have taken into consideration the actual weight and size of the MINI, opting for more suitable Nissan Leaf components, which shows a more mature approach compared to the previous French company.

Due to the size of the MINI being similar to that of the e-Kafer, the standard battery capacity that LEC can install in the converted MINI is only 20 kWh, providing a range of 100-112 kilometers. However, it is understood that users have the option to choose a larger battery pack if desired.

Currently, excluding taxes, shipping, and the cost of the car itself, the price for this conversion package is £25,000. Moreover, if you wish, LEC can provide a full-service experience, helping you to procure a classic MINI before converting it to electric power.

The mission of LEC is similar to Transition-One’s, focusing on revitalizing end-of-life classic cars and contributing to environmental sustainability. When comparing the costs of electric conversions for classic cars in Europe, LEC’s costs, although not as low as Transition-One, are still considerably lower than other companies.

Currently, orders for the electric conversion of classic MINIs by LEC are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year or early next year.

In addition to the classic MINI, this company also offers a complete set of conversion parts for other iconic classic cars such as the Morris Minor, Morris Traveller, and the Land Rover Defender, among others.

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