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Saturday, Sep 25, 2021

Meet the British mechanic adapting classic cars for an electric future

Meet the British mechanic adapting classic cars for an electric future

Cheaper to run and more environmentally friendly, these converted electric vintage cars have been given a new lease of life.

Classic motoring enthusiasts will still be able to keep their cars on the road thanks to a company in the UK that’s giving them a 21st-century makeover.

According to the UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, there are 40 million vehicles on UK roads.

Many of these are now in conflict with the UK government’s green thinking plans. UK Government advisors said that 46 per cent of cars in the UK need to be electric by 2030 to meet the UK’s climate goals. And motorists are already being given up to £2,000 (€2,345) to scrap their older polluting cars.

However, a start-up in the UK has launched to stop classic motors from going to the landfill.

At its headquarters in central London, London Electric Cars has been switching petrol-guzzling engines in Rover Minis, Land Rovers and Morris Minors to clean power.

Launched by founder Matthew Quitter, 44, the innovative start-up is converting vintage cars to zero-emission vehicles with the help of upcycled Nissan Leaf and Tesla batteries.

"I saw that companies in California were converting cars and at the time there was no one in the UK doing this," said Quitter.

3D printers and lithium ion cells


Quitter started in 2017 by converting his own 1953 Morris Minor with the help of nine prismatic lithium-ion cells. He now has a team of 10 who work on the conversions.

As each makeover is bespoke, it can take up to six months to convert a car and the price of a conversion starts at £25,000 (€29,326). However, as electric cars are exempt from congestion fees or road tax in the UK, owners only need to pay for electricity, which means they can drive around the city of London from £1 (€1.17) a week.

While Quitter’s engineers work with 3D printers and lithium-ion cells, they try to keep the majority of the fixtures and fittings of the classic cars intact.

"One of the things we try to do is maintain the cars as much as possible for historical integrity," said Quitter. "Things like the indicators are a little less consistent than say a modern car. But for most classic car owners that’s the quirkiness that they enjoy".

The fact that vintage cars don’t come with modern trappings such as power steering or sat navs made the conversion more affordable because there is less labour involved.

Minis and Land Rovers feature largely in the team’s makeovers, although more unique cars have also passed through its garage in Lambeth. The engineers have given a new lease of life to a Lancia B2, Bentley T2 and a converted London Taxi formerly owned by business magnate Nubar Gulbenkian for the Peninsula Hotel Group.

Electronics entrepreneur and classic car enthusiast Roy Campbell, 69, was delighted when he realised he could combine his two passions. He bought a 1970s Bond Bug, which London Electric Cars fitted with a Tesla battery in February 2021.

The wedge-shaped micro-car has a fibreglass shell, which encloses the driver with the engine. Campbell said the combination of fumes, noise and heat wasn’t a pleasant experience.

"Now I could just sit there and read the paper. It’s completely silent. The advantages of converting to electric are really exaggerated with this car," he said.

Bringing conversions to a mass market


While conversions don’t come cheap, Campbell said that it still makes financial sense for classic car owners.

"The value is still there afterwards. It’s not like you’re throwing money away," he added.

Campbell plans to take the car on the first London to Brighton Electric Vehicle Rally on September 18, which is a journey of 95 km. The converted Bond Bug can cover 80 km before it needs to recharge.

Since London Electric Cars launched, it has been joined in the market by other electric conversion companies in the UK, including the David Beckham-backed Lunaz Design which specialises in converting Rolls-Royce cars from £350,000 (€410,487) at its headquarters in Silverstone, the home of the British F1 Grand Prix.

"There’s a big difference between us and the other companies," said Quitter. "We are trying to figure out a way of bringing this to the mass market".

Quitter’s plans to make conversions more accessible include sending conversion kits by mail.

"We can send them the conversion kits to convert their cars and that gives us a much greater reach," he said.

The company’s goal now is to do the conversions in a faster time.

"We are focusing on getting cars in and out as quickly as possible, reducing [the time it takes to convert the cars] from six months to three months," said Quitter.

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