A Morris Minor, Bertie the Beetle, a Triumph Stag and a Marmite Bus. They can all be seen on the streets of the British county of Oxfordshire after being lovingly restored and converted to all-electric, clean and fully functioning classic vehicles.
The UK company behind these conversions is Electrogenic. It’s run by co-founders Steve Drummond and Ian Newstead. Auto Futures has been talking to them both about what they call a ‘renaissance’ in the British car industry.
The two have known each other for many years, but decided to launch Electrogenic just over three years ago. Most of that time has been spent on R&D.
“It was starting to be possible to build an electric car that was worth having, worth owning,” says Drummond.
He says the conversion business throws up some unique challenges that don’t exist with production Electric Vehicles (EVs). “We’ve been trading for just over a year. We got our first orders at the beginning of last year. We’ve been growing organically since about day minus one of the global pandemic.”
Drummond says Electrogenic combines environmental concerns with a love of old cars.
“Keeping these beautiful pieces of art on the roads is becoming increasingly difficult. And they increasingly stick out because the fact they are dirty and smelly is obvious.”
“A lot of our customers say, ‘I’ve got my cherished classic car but no-one else on the planet will drive it’, because it’s difficult to start, you don’t know whether you can complete your journey. So it’s about accessibility,” he adds.
Electrogenic has recently announced two ‘world first’ conversions of classic vehicles to electric power – a 1976 Triumph Stag and a 1957 Morgan 4/4. These Retro Electric Vehicles (REVs) now both run on silent, zero-emission electric power.
Newstead comments: “We love the challenge of converting beautiful classic cars with technology that means they will be able to continue to be used guilt-free, even in our cities, for years to come. Working on first-time conversions such as the Stag and the Morgan 4/4 helps us to continue honing both our technology offering and our knowledge of the integration process in different body types, and means we maintain our position as a leader in classic car electrification.”
“One of the things we’ve learned about making electric cars is that, just sticking a load of new components in a car isn’t good enough. It doesn’t work. You put all the bits in and it sort of goes but not really. Not in a dreamy, effortless way,” says Drummond.
“Cars are for using. What we find when we convert them is they’re better. We try to make them a better version of what they are,” he explains.
It’s about the technology all coming together in a perfect symposium.
Newstead talks us through the conversion process. “It’s important to be able to make a lovely, rounded product, to really understand the tech. We have standardisation in our own design. We have bespoke battery boxes which are flexible and can go into any car, for example.”
“There are common design approaches. We have a design unit and, when a car comes in, we go through the design process. We adopt and improve on our existing systems to do the appropriate thing with the vehicle.”
“One of the issues that you discover when you’re putting electronics into old cars is that it’s a very electronically dirty environment. You don’t control that because it’s someone else’s car, unless you rewire the whole thing, which we’re not doing,” he explains.
For the Morgan 4/4 conversion, Electrogenic removed the original four-cylinder combustion engine and replaced it with a ‘Hyper9’ high-voltage brushless motor, delivering 80kW of power and 235Nm of torque to the rear wheels through the Morgan’s manual gearbox. The team then installed a 37kWh battery pack, offering a driving range of up to 150 miles on a single charge.
“What we’ve discovered is that we’re getting really good at making beautiful old cars drive really beautifully, and giving them a new lease of life. It’s about cars, it’s about loving the cars, it’s about the beauty of what we’re doing. And it’s about the technology all coming together in a perfect symposium,” says Drummond.
“For Apple, the software and the hardware are all designed to be an integrated whole…and that’s how we think about our vehicles. So the electronics are designed like that, as part of the overall vehicle. The battery management system and charging system are integrated into literally one board,” he adds.
Making Brilliant Ideas Work
The company’s two friends and founders strongly believe that electrification may lead to a new ‘golden age’ of car manufacturing in the UK.
“In a way, the whole electric thing frees you from the constraints of what’s become the big OEMs’ standard offering. All of a sudden you’ve got a flexible platform that you can do all sorts of stuff with, and it doesn’t even constrain you because of it physical shape,” says Drummond
“We feel, rightly or wrongly, that this is almost a renaissance. The EV has the potential to be a renaissance of the golden days of British car development and competitiveness, when there we lots of smaller, bespoke, interesting offerings and little companies out there doing all sorts of stuff.”
“We want to stay in the heart of that renaissance and really be the go-to place that people want to come to when they want to say. ‘OK, so I’ve got this brilliant idea, how can I make it work,” concludes Drummond.