Blog : What classic would you bring back as an EV?

An interesting conversation about retro design and potential new electric cars has been prompted by Renault’s recent announcement that it would be reintroducing the wonderful R5 supermini as an all-electric city car (above). It follows the launch of the Honda e, which has been styled to evoke memories of the Honda Civic Mk1, and the new, third-generation Fiat 500, which will only be available in EV form.

Given the new 5 will be developed from the technology used in the Zoe, and all the positives that come from that (range, reliability and nice dynamics), the signs for this one are good. So, could it be that the way to winning buyers’ hearts and converting desire into actual sales will be achieved by making EVs link directly with classics that tug the heartstrings? Some would say the new Renault 5 is retro – but, really, it feels post-retro to me, in a similar way to how the wonderful Alpine A110 recalls the 1960s original, while still looking modern.

With that in mind, my colleagues at Parkers.co.uk devised a video podcast (vidcast?) to discuss that very matter, and came up with some very interesting selections, all of which I can see working very well. You can watch that YouTube video below, and comment on whether they’ve called it correctly. But the idea of an electric Matra Rancho seems like a wonderful one to me. Certainly, the ingredients are all there to do another one.

The AROnline back catalogue is not short of potential cars to reinvent and electrify for the 21st century, though. And I have to say that, after some thought, I came up with a few I’d love to see getting the post-retro treatment as well as being electrified.

First would definitely be the Austin Metro. I wouldn’t call it an Austin, though, and instead it would be the MINI Metro (BMW, you can have that one for free). Unlike the current MINI Electric three-door hatch, which is a simple electrification of the current model, this would be a city car featuring strong styling cues linking it with the original Metro. Lots of people have great memories of the Metro (especially here in Blighty), while the spectre of the rusty, crusty and downright ugly ones has now long since been eradicated, so something fresh from MINI is what we all want right now.

Second would be a reinvention of the Land Rover Discovery. My idea would be to hark back to the chunky styling of the original 1989 model complete with utilitarian Terence Conran-inspired interior. Price it below the new Defender (a stretch, I know) and watch the money roll in. Why the Disco? The current model is being cannibalised by the Defender, and is heading upmarket as a consequence. To me, that feels like Range Rover’s patch. Time to do something new and interesting with the Discovery – a nameplate that’s still held in really high regard – and condemn the current model’s gawky styling to the file marked ‘failed experiment’.

Finally, I’d remix the MGF and shove some volts in it. Electric sports cars are currently a toy for the rich, and the idea of an affordable battery-powered rag top really appeals to me. Okay, the battery pack is heavy, and it won’t deliver scorching feedback but, if we’re honest, did the MGF? However, that battery pack can be mounted in a Tesla-style skateboard platform, giving the driver the benefit of a low centre of gravity combined with the instant-on power delivery only an EV gives you. You know it makes sense.

Anyway, those are my thoughts – I’d love to hear yours. Comment, as always, below!

Frazer-Tickford Metro design sketch
Imagine this electrified and reintroduced for the 2020s? Wonderful!
Keith Adams

49 Comments

  1. I’d love a modern electric take on the SD1, although it would need a simple, analogue, tactile dashboard. I sometimes let my mind wander what a business would look like that takes rolling shells, restores them and fits electric powertrains. There’s certainly plenty of space in them. There will come a day when a decision will need to made what to do with internal combustion engined cars if there’s nothing left to fuel them.

  2. Just about any Renault makes sense electrified. From the original 4CV through the gorgeous little Dauphine and including the utilitarian 4L, right up to the endearing R8/1100.
    Electronic trickery should of course be banned from some classics. I do try hard to be reasonable but anyone replacing an Alfa V6 should be taken out in the yard, tarred and feathered, subject to 50 lashes with a birch branch and then subject to two years in the village stocks. Especially as many (as mine did) recorded hideously low emissions – zero in some categories. The last time it was MOT’d the guy said it was recording lower emissions than his £20 a year super-mini!

    • I’m sure there’s space in a Tesla’s frunk for a kettle to replicate the effect for old-time’s sake

  3. The Morris Minor going electric? Considering Minor back seats were where many ‘boys’ became ‘men’, the thought of failing to move off because of no charge left in the batteries from that spot in Shady Lane, after an hour of soft music from the stereo and perhaps the need for a bit of warmth from the modern equivalent of a Smith’s heater, might be enough to cool the ardour of any likely lad

    In the 1950s a family friend had a Renault Dauphine, also a Corgi mini motorcycle. I suppose the most powerful of today’s electric scooters are just about the current equivalent of the Corgi.

  4. Some comments do not answer the question, not retro-fitting but making a neo-retro in the Mini/500/R5 sense – + ill-fated New Beetle. I don’t think the Metro would be the right one because quite unknown out ot the UK. BTW the next one will be the 4L (renault 4). if It were a British world-car, it would have to be either a TR4/5 or an MG B or a Spridget, the SD1 was brite but so badly manufactured, not a good one. The Moggy Traveller would also be a good candidate, we had some on the Continent, but not the saloon.

  5. All I can remember is Top Gears attempt at Electric cars – Chris’s Triumph Spitfire! Although I think a properly sorted TR7 convertible sounds a good idea. That or a Skoda Rapide – with a Tesla setup underneath – a perfect Q-car.

    • An electrified Tatra 603 as the electric Rapide’s big brother? It’d be a rather more interesting prospect than another Phaeton!

  6. A Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, or Silver Shadow. A Rover P6. A Hillman Imp. A Jensen Interceptor.
    There are so many.

  7. Keith – what a great idea .
    I hate electric cars – but if at least we can put a decent looking body around it then it would make a desirable car . So here we go with all the cars as I dreamed about when I was young:
    Midget
    Gt6
    TR6
    Spitfire
    Lotus Elan
    Escort Mexico

    Well thats my dream list apologies for the Lotus and the Dagenham dustbin

    • All those RWD cars as an electric car, na, I don’t see it. The Escort brigade would lynch you for such blasphemy, where is the sound of the DCOEs on full chat!?!?!??!?!
      Emotional cars as EVs, I can’t see it, maybe shopping cars like the R5 but not cars that had a significant motorsport history.

  8. Definitely the original Land Rover Discovery complete with the Sonar Blue interior and even the removable carry bag and the ‘Alpine’ exterior side graphics for good measure. It certainly looks more attractive than the current one with its bloated looks and rather disjointed styling behind the rear doors.

    The Rover SD1 is also appealing (and it still looks slightly futuristic), as well as the DeLorean DM!C12, despite the unsavoury character profiling of its founder. An updated R3 Rover 200 Series would also be appealing at the ‘more affordable’ end of the market as, in my eyes at least, time has been rather kind to its styling.

  9. John D did of course save Pontiac from certain death and shook up GM so helping to make them what they are today. Not all bad then.

  10. Allegro. There’s already a ready-made ‘retro-futuristic’ style for it in the shape of Harris Mann’s early sketches for the car.

  11. I would propose a Citroen CX with fully active suspension, the natural evolution of hydraulic suspension. The result would be truly sublime and everything the CX promised to be but was not able to deliver being fast, silent, smooth and perfectly poised.

  12. The Renault 4 WILL be following the R5, and if these turn out to be something the world has been waiting for, then expect many more historic Renaults to make a comeback, personally, I would love to see a R16 EV, now that would tempt into a EV, nothing else does, anything with a Rover badge, Maybe some of those beautiful designs that came out of the 2005 crash, now that would be awesome, but I would love to see an ALL AGGRO EV, now that would be fun.

  13. With electric cars tending to be taller to incorporate the batteries in the floor, such a retro car would work better with more upright vehicles, especially with smaller vehicles, rather than swoopy low cars.

    From a BL angle, electric vehicles inspired by the Morris Minor, and Rover P5

    An electric Citroen Visa would be my choice though!

    • I like the idea of a Visa, but would like it to be an EV interpretation of what both the Axel / Visa could and should have been had Citroen instead not gone down the Simca 1100 route with its under pinning’s (PSA were right to kill the Axel if favour of the 104 based Visa as Citroen needed another unique platform like a hole in the head), an Axel reskin of the Ami, Dyane, 2CV underpinnings, with their mechanical linked suspension.

      Would love to see a modern interpretation of interlinked suspension allied to the low CofG of a battery car, we could even use fluid and gas in the design, may be call it Hydragas!

  14. A modern electric Renault 4l, Citroën 2cv or Dyane. I’d love a small, back to basics utility car with a very adaptable, easy to clean interior, long travel suspension, plain steel wheels (no alloys to worry about damaging) and ideally a manual fabric roof.

  15. A few years ago a design came up with a concept of a modern Fiat 127, that would make a great, slightly larger, electric car to sit above the 500.

  16. The Visa was a kind of duckling, quite a lemon. Terrible design and awkward dashboard – fine Peugeot 104 drivetrain. It would never sell !

  17. As an ex-owner, the Visa was a brilliant little car that did everything it said on the label. The interior was a bit off the wall and like all proper Citroens the whole thing was a bit quirky – so yes, Philippe your probably right – anything that puts it head above the parapet today will be scoffed at. I like the comments earlier about going back to basics with an electric 2CV or Dyane – two more cars I have done thousands of miles in and have great respect for. Unfortunately they won’t sell today either – even in electric form – because no one actually wants basic motoring. Society has too much money to spend and we all expect too much. Try telling your neighbour your new little BMW has wind up windows – watch their face!

  18. An updated Allegro. The Honda E is already a bit Allegro-ey from the front. Give it some chunky pillars and quirky dark-metallic paint colours, Quartic steering wheel even.

    • Ah yes, Philippe, I suppose that is why there are just 115 Fiat 127 cars licensed in the UK, and yet no fewer than 639 XJ Saloons ???

  19. A bit controversial, but I would like to convert a princess to full EV, a combination of smooth ride and quiet EV would be good. Watch this space……

  20. Christioher a Fiat 127 and an XJ6 do not have the same appeal for collectors. I’m a French XJC owner and would not change for a Fiat 127 but I know what rust means anyway.

  21. There’s a tv show on one of the documentary channels(Discovery Turbo?) called Vintage Voltage I think. The premise is converting old cars to electric power. I’ve only seen part of one episode where the victim was a Lancia Fulvia. I know internal combustion’s days are necessarily numbered but replacing the Fulvia’s jewel-like V4 with an electric motor and a heavy battery pack didn’t sit well with me.

  22. Neither does it sit well with me. Some internal combustion engines are an art form; they are a cut above and excel. Replacing ordinary units in ordinary cars I can appreciate but like everything else in life, we have draw a line somewhere. Don’t we?

    • I agree. I’d like to see an electric Delorian or Citroen DS. And I quite like the idea of building EVs within new heritage bodyshells. But the engineering prowess behind the best ICEs deserves to be recognised, just as the engineering of the Mallard and Concord are timelessly brilliant. There’s some very clever and creative thinking behind some engines. I find it frustrating that some people push back against all EVs, failing to recognise (or thinking they’re being clever by ‘fossil-fuel-baiting’ greenies) that the longer they do that the harder the response will be and the more toxic the label ‘petrolhead’ will become – and the more polarised the arguments become the less likely people will make the effort to distinguish between genuinely brilliant engines and the grey porridge that powers 99.9% of cars. I personally have little interest in having an ICE over an EV but I know people who are petrolheads who don’t seem to realise that if they supported EVs for most motoring needs they’d stand a better chance of carving out a niche for ICEs where the numbers in use are low enough for the pollution to be negligible and therefore no longer really an environmental target (certainly not in the significant way they are at the moment).

  23. Without a shadow of doubt, the DMC DeLorean would be a fantastic EV: electric propulsion would ‘suit’ its still-futuristic shape and would be a vast improvement on the Renault engine which was its Achilles Heel.

    Better still, the new DeLorean Motor Company is considering just such a move although plans like these have a sad habit of remaining as pipe-dreams: http://www.newdelorean.com – read their blog from 20 Jan ’21.

    As for anything else – nah, leave ’em be.

  24. Maybe the debate should be the other way around, given that many of these EVs are really actually ‘quite inappropriate’, i.e. to increase the range of a 4WD (SUV), the manufacturer builds massive batteries (extracting minerals and poisioning whole regions where the lithium is extracted) or where BMW builds a ‘hybrid’ Mini with a 50% increase in kerbside weight for a electric-only range of 30 miles (immoral in my opinion). Shouldn’t the question be, which ‘nonsense EVs’ would you put a weight saving, fuel efficient ICE engine into and ‘re-fossilise’?

    • In most people’s hands an SUV is a nonsense vehicle no matter what’s under the bonnet – Chelsea Tractors and pratpanzers are the devil spawn of this site’s beloved Range Rover, a brilliant car that’s evolved into a modern curse. Putting that aside, though. I don’t disagree that lithium’s a problem but at worst we’re just swapping one problem for another, not adding to our problems. The extraction and refining of fuel is enormously polluting (and getting worse as harder-to-reach sources are having to be targetted such as deep sea and tar sands). As are transporting it and of course using it. And don’t forget that when we’re comparing the performance of ICEs and EVs we’re comparing a late-generation technology with an early-generation. ICE pollution has dropped considerably but that’s mainly been over the last 25~30 years – older cars produced pollutants at quantities that are multiple times what modern cars put out (plus lead pollution, of course). EVs have come on enormously over the last 10 years, helped I imagine by the concurrent drive to develop batteries for mobile devices. There will be a lot of effort going on at the moment to address shortcomings, including battery technologies, so although current battery tech is damaging, vehicle range only now beginning to touch ICEs and charging still slower than refilling I’d be very surprised if it stays that way for long. The same goes for electricity generation and use elsewhere in the grid – the drive to reduce the energy consumption of our appliances and buildings will help free capacity for transport. There’s inevitably going to be a period as technology and infrastructure catches up with potential but then that’s the same for anything new. The infrastructure that is necessary for ICEs didn’t exactly spring up overnight either, nor were cars a practical proposition compared to horses overnight. The nascent adoption of alternative fuels will seem just as inevitable in the future as the past replacement of horses with ICE-powered vehicles do to us now, though.

  25. A very good point well made Jamie. But, as the latest UN ‘Making Peace with Nature’ report indicates we have and continue to wage war on nature. The world is not meeting its agreed targets for sustaining a future at all. The problem is that society (this is me talking not the UN) won’t naturally buy into any fundamental changes as to how we live. For decades we have accumulated waste from nuclear power generation, our battery manufacture and disposal is fundamentally flawed and despite all the publicity and knowledge, almost everything we buy is still wrapped in plastic.
    The reality is most of us don’t like being inconvenienced and most manufacturers and retailers don’t give a dam! I’m all for recycling and joining environmental initiatives – but when I’m eventually told I mustn’t drive my vintage and classic cars any more – I’m going to be really upset! I’m human just like everyone else! Manufacturers, suppliers and customers of all the environmentally unfriendly stuff we use will/are feeling the same way. Until that attitude changes (including mine) the UN report will be a brilliant but ineffective report.
    The bottom line is then that it’s not which classic car should get an e engine. That’s just another short term panic response.
    Perhaps the real answer is to ban all motive transport and go back to walking or perhaps just good old fashioned cycles! With a promise of a 3 degree temperature increase by 2100 a huge number of people living in lowland counties in the UK will be wishing the previous generations had done something a bit more radical than making Mc Donald’s straws out of paper.
    Good stuff goes on of course – but enough?

    • What gets my goat is if you look at the plastics being used in the food industry there are even more non recycled plastic than there was 10 years ago! The government are talking about falsing companies to cut sugar or charge more tax, but what about the industries that could change quickly and easily?

Add to the debate: leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.