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1968 Ford Mustang EV conversion
Arno Frugier, co-founder of Fuel2Electric (left), and Pete Storey, president of Southern Street Machines, in shop with ’66 Ford Mustang conversion.

Electric-Vehicle Conversions Sparking Appeal Among Car Enthusiasts

Electric-vehicle conversions are gaining appeal with car enthusiasts, fleet transportation and recreation industries, providing the ability to readily convert internal-combustion power to electric.

When John Wilson and brothers Arno and Laurent Frugier tried converting a ’66 Ford Mustang to electric power, they recognized the need to bring vehicle owners, electrified-vehicle parts vendors and shops together.

“It’s a different ball game with electric conversions,” says Wilson, who worked with his partners to develop the Fuel2Electric website as a platform for those seeking internal-combustion-to-EV conversion assistance. “It's technically involved and there's a lot to learn.”

The dream of being able to double or triple power output is the reason many enthusiasts modify their vehicles. The ability to do that in a clean, modern way with electric power is gaining appeal, with many systems designed as bolt-in or “crate” motor options.

Some systems replace the internal-combustion engine and use the factory transmission, while others can drive a rear-axle assembly directly or power individual wheels (see Mustang conversion, below left). This flexibility allows for creative configurations that may change what is available as a vehicle platform for ICE vehicles.

For those interested in doing EV conversions, the Fuel2Electric team learns the project owner’s goals and aspirations.

“Not only are we providing that connection between the project owners, vendors and shops, but we’re also building a database of converted vehicles,” says Wilson.

He says most EV conversions are currently done on classic cars, particularly vehicles without electronic systems such as anti-lock brakes, airbag systems and other components.

“This will allow people with older cars and trucks to modernize and continue using them,” he says. “Many of the parts incorporated are used, allowing for the repurposing of those materials.”

When dealing with the high-voltage systems required, Wilson says there are many aspects to consider ensuring they can be handled properly and safely.

Computerized components of later model vehicles make converting vehicles to electric a little more complicated and expensive, whereas older cars like a ’66 Mustang don’t have all those systems and are a lot easier to convert,” Wilson explains.

Electric GT, based in California, designs and manufactures turnkey crate EV systems for customers.

Eric Hutchison, Electric GT’s managing director, says the team has noticed an increased interest in electric conversions, especially for older vehicles with underpowered motors.

The company offers two flagship systems: the universal plug-and-play eGT-913 (for Porsche) and the “V-8 equivalent” eGT-413. The systems include the components needed for a complete and functional EV, including the motor, inverter, battery, battery management system, cooling system, charger and a vehicle control unit at a minimum.

“People want to swap over their old engines for more power, but things can get tricky,” says Hutchison. “With new regulations, it’s getting harder to register these vehicles and smog (test) them, especially in states like California.”

Hutchison says environmental trends are well aligned with increased performance desires as many older ICE vehicles likely will not be legal to drive in the future. In addition, BEV swaps are likely to become less expensive, more mainstream and offer more range and power with continuing technological progress.

Hutchison estimates that turnkey EV systems can range from $35,000-$105,000, plus the cost of installation, which can run $5,000-$25,000.

“Anybody who owns a classic vehicle knows how much maintenance and upkeep they are,” says Hutchison. “The best solution they’re going to have to keep driving and enjoying them is an electric conversion, which will keep automotive traditions alive and on the road for years to come.”

British EV technology company Electrogenic assists car enthusiasts worldwide in converting classic ICE vehicles to electric power. The company, led by director Steve Drummond and mechanic Ian Newstead, offers in-house conversions, as well as plug-and-play drop-in kits for certain vehicles.

“They are engineered to be installed by a competent mechanic or electrician and are helping with the adoption of EVs,” Drummond says.

Drummond finds that Land Rover Defenders, Porsche 911s and Jaguar E-types are their most frequently converted vehicles. In May, the company introduced a drop-in kit for the Mini and plans to design kits for additional brands in the future.

Drummond estimates the cost ranges from $35,000 for the Mini kit up to $135,000 for the top-spec Porsche 911 kit, fully installed.

Electrogenic is building a network of specialist installers who will be trained to operate an Electrogenic Tech Centre.

Another option for electric conversions is adapting an original equipment manufacturer electric motor into an existing chassis by using a motor-specific adapter plate and attaching a gear-reduction device. 

An example is the device developed by Torque Trends Inc. The Arizona company specializes in reduction-gearbox design and prototype development for the aftermarket EV conversion industry. 

The “gear reducer” replaces the transmission in any vehicle that is converted from ICE to EV power. 

“OEMs are going electric and the aftermarket industry is following close behind,” says Mitchell Yow, who founded Torque Trends with his wife, Grace Yow, in 2013. “The TorqueBox (pictured, below left) is a single-speed, simple but strong gearbox built to meet the gearing demands of an EV-powered vehicle.”

Early adopters were customers with hot rods and classic cars; however, the company is now selling to the marine marketplace and has commercial accounts converting light trucks and vans. In addition, universities and research laboratories worldwide are engaged in prototype EV development using the TorqueBox.

Yow says the product can be ordered with the company’s patented ParkLock system, making the application street-legal nationwide, according to U.S. Department of Transportation regulations. 

Tim Ronak contributed to this report.

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