Is this 1963 VW Beetle electric conversion in 'better-than-original condition'?

'We've removed the engine, of course, but we can simply put that on one side and store it'

ELECTRIFICATION is the buzzword of the car industry right now, with more and more companies fleshing out their ranges with hybrid and pure-electric models. It’s not just new cars that are going zero emission, though, as there’s also a trend of replacing engines in classic cars with pure-electric powertrains.

As highlighted in the film Revenge of the Electric Car, which first introduced many people to the names Tesla and Elon Musk, conversions of classic cars to electric are nothing new. But it’s certainly been a contentious issue in some circles — at the 2019 London Classic Car Show, the former Fifth Gear host Tiff Needell made it abundantly clear he isn’t wholly on board with the idea.

However, while the debate over the pros and cons is fun to have, perhaps the more important question is: what is a classic car actually like to drive when it no longer has a combustion engine under the bonnet?

To find out, journalist and broadcaster Nicki Shields got behind the wheel of a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle that’s been given the EV treatment by Oxfordshire-based company Electrogenic.

Considering the massive mechanical change that’s been made, it’s no surprise a fully-electric Beetle is noticeably different to drive than one powered by petrol. Gone is the thrum of the original four-cylinder air-cooled engine; in its place comes the distant hum from the electric motor mounted in the engine bay.

The VW is much faster with an electric motor in the back, it seems. Electrogenic claims the powertrain in this particular car produces 107bhp — not a huge amount by modern car standards, admittedly, but a big upgrade on the original engine’s 36bhp.

While the extra power is nice to have, Shields’s favourite aspect of the Electrogenic Beetle is that you’d need to take a really close look at the car to realise it no longer has an engine. “I think the beautiful thing about this is you look at this car, and no one would know it was an electric car,” she said.

Electrogenic’s co-founder Steve Drummond reckons this particular Volkswagen is in “better-than-original condition”, as the car was given a top-to-bottom restoration as part of the conversion work. Much of the original fabric was retained, too.

“We haven’t cut the car in any way,” he explains. “We drilled a couple of holes to let some cables through; that’s it. We’ve removed the engine, of course, but we can simply put that on one side and store it and, if you ever felt the need to put it back in, then it’s a very easy operation just to reverse what we’ve done.”

While electric conversions of classic cars are still on the expensive side (Electrogenic says a job along the lines of the Beetle project would set you back around £35,000), they could be the best way to future-proof older vehicles should measures such as zero emission driving zones in towns and cities become more widespread.

As Shields points out: “I’ve always had an affection for the history and heritage of classic cars; the roar of engine noise and the sense of nostalgia. But times are changing and we, unfortunately, have to act like responsible adults, and think about things like emissions and carbon footprints.”

To find out what Shields made of her drive in the pure-electric Volkswagen Beetle, watch the video above. And you’ll also be able to look around the converted VW for yourself by paying a visit to the Electrogenic stand at the 2020 London Classic Car Show.

Classic car electric conversions: is it sacrilege or future-proofing?