You can even turn a clapped-out old banger into an electric eco warrior (But you may want to wait for prices to fall)
Millions of drivers face chucking their old cars on the scrap heap in the next few years as the UK marches towards a carbon net-zero future. New diesel and petrol cars will be outlawed within the decade and the taxes and charges for driving existing ones will get ever-more prohibitive.
But what can drivers do if they like their old car? A growing number of drivers have found a left-field answer: convert their petrol or diesel car to electric.
Electric Classic Cars in Wales has seen demand go through the roof in recent months. Founder Richard Morgan says: ‘When we started five years ago, we were one of the first companies to convert cars to electric. We are still the largest in the world, but now one new competitor pops up almost every month, which is great. We are inundated with enquiries, everyone from school teachers to millionaires.’
Converted: Rachel Rickard Straus with London Electric Cars’ Matthew Quitter and a Mini with an electric motor
Morgan and his team converted a Volkswagen Campervan for singer Ellie Goulding and her new husband Caspar Jopling to drive off in on their wedding day in 2019. They are currently converting a Fiat 500 for actor Dev Patel.
Electric Classic Cars has converted around 100 vehicles to date and have a further 18 in the workshop. One is a much-loved old Mini, which is being given a new lease of life. ‘The owner remembers being taken to the seaside in it by his parents when he was a kid,’ says Morgan. ‘Now he wants to convert it to electric for his kids so that another generation can enjoy it.’
The company also sells conversion kits around the UK – and to buyers in the US, Canada, Australia and South Africa.
‘We ship lots of kits to South Africa to convert big Land Rovers designed for safaris,’ says Morgan. ‘Diesel is not ideal because it scares the wildlife away and they’re noisy so you can’t hear the birds tweeting. Converting to electric solves this.’
Peter Brazier, 62, was one of Morgan’s first customers. The retired electronics engineer from Buckinghamshire has owned a Ferrari since 1992, but it had barely left the garage for the past decade.
‘Every time I got it out, it had something wrong with it, as is often the case with classic cars,’ he says. ‘And when I drove home, I would have to let it cool down on the driveway before I parked it in the garage because the exhaust was so hot and smelly it would stink out the house.
‘Now it’s completely reliable. I switch it on and it goes. I don’t miss the roaring sound of the engine because it drives so much faster and handles better.’
Matthew Quitter has an eclectic bunch of cars at his workshop in Vauxhall, South London, currently being electrified. ‘We’re doing a three-wheeled Bond Bug, a yellow Fiat Multipla and a Bentley at the moment,’ says Quitter, who founded London Electric Cars in 2017.
‘The Bentley owner has had the car for years and wants to drive his daughter to her wedding in it,’ he says. ‘But she refuses to get in a petrol car, so the owner is converting it to electric.’
London Electric Cars charges anything from £25,000 for a conversion, but is determined to get the price down. ‘I want to get to the point where it’s as financially viable to convert a car as to buy a new electric one,’ says Quitter. ‘It’s so much more sustainable than buying new. In the next few years, around 22million working cars will have to be scrapped and the Government is incentivising people to get rid of old ones and buy new. We need an anti-scrappage scheme to encourage people to adapt their existing cars.’
London Electric Cars uses old electric motors from Nissan Leaf and Tesla cars that have been written off. That helps keep costs down and promotes recycling.
Guy Willner knew when London Electric Cars converted his 1969 Land Rover Series II that he would save money on petrol and car tax. Car tax is free on electric cars, and charging costs him less than £3 a go. But there was a side effect he did not foresee. ‘I now actually enjoy sitting in London traffic,’ he says. ‘With the roof down, the radio on, it’s always an adventure.’
When Quitter takes me for a spin in a converted Mini Mayfair, I understand the mood-lifting effect he describes. As we nip along London’s Embankment with the power of a modern car but the fun of a classic, it is hard not to grin.
Electrogenic co-founder Steve Drummond says he too has seen an ‘explosion’ in enquiries about converting cars to electric.
While most people are looking to convert an existing diesel or petrol car that they can’t bear to part ways with, a growing number are simply looking to own something more interesting than a standard modern car. ‘There are lots of people in their 30s and 40s who want to own a classic car, but can’t contemplate the complexities and maintenance involved in keeping it on the road,’ he says.
‘Converting a classic car gives people classic beauty, but more accessibly. Converting to electric also makes cars easier to drive.’
THE COST – AND SOME SAVINGS
Converting a car to electric can cost anything from £25,000 to more than £100,000 depending on the model. But the industry is still in its infancy and costs should come down in time.
Electric cars do not incur road tax or congestion charges. Diesel and petrol cars incur tax of anything up to £2,245 for the most polluting vehicles.
From October 25, the existing Central London Ultra Low Emission Zone will be expanded to include everything inside the North and South Circular. Drivers of vehicles that do not meet the emission standards will have to pay a £12.50 daily charge to drive within the zone.
Birmingham introduced charging to drive in a Clean Air Zone last week for vehicles that don’t meet the emission standards.
Other cities introducing Clean Air Zones include Bath, Portsmouth, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh.