Going electric is breathing new life into old motors, says Chris Carter.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were the picture of happy newlyweds when they sped off in their 1968 E-Type Jaguar following their wedding last May. But a quick look beneath the bonnet would have revealed an ugly secret – closer inspection of their vintage ride would have revealed not a 4.2-litre petrol engine, but – oh the horror! – an electric motor. That is, however, becoming a growing trend in the market.
Jaguar installed a 220kW powertrain in the E-Type as part of its “Concept Zero” project. The lithium-ion battery pack has the same dimensions and a similar weight to the original XK six-cylinder engine, and has the advantage of being more environmentally friendly (and quiet if you’re worried about waking up the neighbours). The “most beautiful car in the world”, as Enzo Ferrari called the E-Type, still looks the same from the outside. It even handles and brakes the same, say the Warwickshire-based engineers, who carried out the work. It just has zero emissions. And more to the point, it “gives a second life to existing vehicles that may be beyond repair”, says Jaguar.
Richard Morgan agrees. He is the owner of Electric Classic Cars in Newtown, Wales, and he has been customising cars his whole life, he tells Bloomberg Businessweek. But the older they got, the more problems they had. Replacing their hard-to-source, complex engines with electric motors (which have fewer moving parts) made them easier to maintain – and often faster. “These aren’t slow milk floats,” says Morgan. “These things kick ass.” Customers are lining up outside his garage doors to have their hulks converted. “Every time we have one car leaving the shop we’ve got another three coming in,” he says.
The changeover op can even be reversible. Last month, Aston Martin unveiled its “cassette” system, using a 1970 DB6 Mk2 Volante. If the owner wants to enter classic car shows, the components must be original. However, the electric powertrain can be popped out and replaced with the original version within about a week’s workshop time, Paul Spires, president of Aston Martin Works in Buckinghamshire, tells The New York Times. “We want to give our heritage cars greater longevity,” he says. “We’d hate for them all to just wind up gathering dust in museums, where no one can actually enjoy a classic Aston on the road.” That means adhering to stricter environmental rules, so going electric makes it easier to comply.
Still, “might not the Jaguar-Aston offerings rankle some purists as, well, heretical?”, asks the paper. “On the contrary,” says McKeel Hagerty, whose company sells classic-car insurance in America. “It bodes well for the collector hobby”, in that the changes will help to attract a younger generation of eco-conscious collectors. There does, however, remain the not inconsiderable matter of cost. Jaguar puts the price of a fully restored E-Type Zero at around £300,000, and £60,000 for a conversion – so a considerable chunk of the purchase price of the car. But then again, if that means being able to liberate your pride and joy from the confines of the garage, it may just be a price worth paying.
A tough Jag for the Iron Lady
A classic Jag has come up for sale – one that’s geared to protecting its passengers rather than the environment (see left). But that’s reasonable given that it was formerly used to ferry around Margaret Thatcher. The former prime minister’s Jaguar XJ8L saloon, her last state car, has a titanium-lined roof, ballistic steel armour in the body, underfloor Kevlar protection and bullet-resistant borosilicate glass. Experts QinetiQ put it through its paces, even blasting it with high explosives from just three metres away. And it still has the blue police siren and flashing lights behind the radiator grille.
But while the car was built to withstand a fair amount of pain, inside the feel is pure luxury, with its ivory leather interior and charcoal trim, multimedia system and a DVD player with display screens in the back of each front headrest. The car cost a little over £500,000 to build, its present owner, collector Adrian Hamilton, tells MoneyWeek. There was no budget – the onus was on getting it to the late baroness fast. In 2016, the Department for Transport sold it for just £37,500 through Christie’s – proof that bargains can be picked up at auction. The car went under the hammer again last year at Bonhams, with the present owner, attracted by the car’s history, paying £27,083. Such an unusual vehicle “would make a good museum piece”, he says. The car is for sale for £45,000 and comes with a certificate of authenticity. Interested? Then email email@example.com for further details.
The first Mercedes-Benz 540 K Cabriolet A rolled off the production line in 1936. Two years later, a 540 K broke the speed record for a road car, when the speedo hit 105 mph at Brooklands racing circuit in Surrey. “One’s foot goes hard down, and an almost demonical howl comes in,” test driver HS Linfield reported. But with the outbreak of war, production all but stopped (three more were produced until 1942). One late version, owned by the late King Hussein of Jordan, is expected to fetch up to €2.3m at the Grand Palais in Paris with Bonhams on 7 February.
A dark-blue 1951 Maserati A6G/2000 Spider sold for $2,755,000 at The Scottsdale Auction in Arizona last Thursday, also with Bonhams. Among the car’s previous owners was a waitress named Dee Dee Yorba. One day, in 1997, a group of collectors were chatting in the California diner where she worked. Overhearing their conversation, Yorba told them she had a rare Italian car. The collectors were amused and sceptical but asked to see it anyway. They “found themselves standing in the door of a one-car garage staring at the rear end of a Maserati A6G/2000 Frua Spider”, according to the auction catalogue. Yorba had inherited the car from her father.