Phil Davie has been building hot rods for two decades in southeast Michigan, but last summer he turned his business on its head.
He started a new type of hot-rod business, one that removes a classic car's internal combustion engine — and nearly all of the innards — and replaces it with an electric motor and batteries to make it all-electric. He calls this new hot-rod shop EV Detroit.
"EV Detroit is the modern speed shop," said Davie, who also owns American Speed Company, a traditional "speed shop" that converts standard cars into souped-up hot rods.
"I started it partly because of the interest in EVs," Davie said. "Plus, I was so fascinated with the technology and what it can be: I can build something and give people the electric vehicle experience.”
These types of conversion shops have been popping up all over the nation in recent years as interest in electric vehicles proliferates even in the collector car world. Most established conversion shops have extensive waiting lists, with customers from as far away as Morocco shipping internal combustion engine vintage cars to them to be converted to electric.
The trend also has sparked an aftermarket for wrecked modern EVs with still-good batteries and parts inside that can be used by the conversion companies. A wrecked Tesla, for example, can easily sell for $30,000 and a wrecked Chevrolet Bolt can command $20,000.
So naturally, the cost to turn a classic car into an EV isn't cheap. In some cases, it can top $100,000, depending on the car and how much driving range a customer wants and other amenities. The motivation to spend that amount of money isn't to save the environment as much as it is to get better performance and reliability out of an old car.
"Any time you own a classic car there’s that anxiety of, 'What’s that smell? Am I going to end up on the side of the road?' It takes away the joy of driving," said Marc Davis, owner of conversion shop Moment Motor Company in Austin, Texas. "You’re either a mechanic who loves to work on your car or it sits in the garage for a year waiting for you to take it to a mechanic. By electrifying things, we’re removing the source of 80% to 90% of the problem and we do it in a way that doesn’t rob the car of performance."
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Classic car expert Harry Clark owns about a dozen collector cars. He envisions converting at least one of them to electric at some point, he said.