Vintage Cars With Electric-Heart Transplants

Vintage Cars With Electric-Heart Transplants

While Jaguar is moving ahead with restored and converted E-types, Mr. Spires says, his firm will offer conversions — and reversals — of the rarer Aston models at its Newport Pagnell facilities in Buckinghamshire. As at Jaguar, prospective clients “have already raised their hands,” he says.

Would a converted — or rather a reconverted — classic really be welcome at ultra-choosy events like the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Carmel, Calif.? “It depends on how seamless it is,” says Martin Button, a member of the show’s selection committee and owner of Cosdel International, which transports and stores vintage cars.

“If the reversion process really removes all evidence of the changes, it would probably be judged like any other car,” Mr. Button said. “But if it’s still got some little screen on the dash, that’s another matter — that would be a real takeaway.”

Chances are those glowing controls won’t pose an insurmountable problem, at least for the Jags, said Bruce Trenery, an E-type owner. “The original instrument panels come out with a few thumb screws,” he says, “so swapping out a digital screen shouldn’t be that big a deal.”

On the other hand, the economics of vintage cars could present a higher hurdle. Even a perfectly restored Series 1 roadster, with covered headlights and dashboard toggle switches, “is a $250,000 car,” says Mr. Trenery, whose company, Fantasy Junction in Emeryville, Calif., has bought and sold collector vehicles for over four decades. “A nearly $80,000 conversion fee would represent almost a third of its value.” For less valuable American sports cars like most Corvettes and Mustangs, such conversions would seem even more impractical, at least for now.

Mr. Button also frets about the usable range of electrified sports cars. “Spirited driving can really gobble juice,” he says, remembering an experience in a Tesla Roadster. With a reputed range of well over 100 miles, the Tesla ran dry at less than 50, he says.

Despite such reservations, Mr. Trenery and Mr. Button see a path to the future in the British automakers’ announcements. The Jaguar XKE “isn’t just a beautiful car, it’s a milestone design that’s going to live on,” Mr. Trenery said. “If you want to enjoy it in congested areas — and you have the financial means — electrification could make sense.”

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