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Opinion: Converting a classic into an electric car isn't cheap

By David Morley, 16 Mar 2019 Features

Cheaper to buy electric car than converting one feature

Morley's electric dreams gets a cold shock of reality

Awww. Looks like the universe has spoiled my fun again. For a while now, I’ve been harbouring the idea of building an electric car. As in, taking something like a two-grand hatchback, tearing out the engine and stuffing what’s left of it full of electric motor and Lithium-ion batteries.

It just appeals to me as an interesting project. It’s not that I’ve gone all green or anything but I do have solar panels on the roof at 13 Struggle Street and I genuinely love the idea of (a) hitting the fast lane for free, and (b) jamming it up the people who think they can jack up the per-litre price at the start of a long weekend and not have me notice.

Having driven a dual-motor Tesla, I’m also kind of keen on the notion of giving the end product some serious blurt. But also, I think it’d be an interesting thing with which to be involved even if there would be the inevitable skun knuckles, thrown spanners and wicked language.

I even had the car picked out: a late ’70s RA40 Toyota Celica Liftback. Stay with me here. For a start, the Celica is a size bigger than a Hyundai Getz or Suzuki Swift (two of the cars on the radar of the home-garage EV builder). But thanks to all that ’70s tech (ie, nuthin’) the Celica with its one-size-up footprint still weighs just about a tonne which is, obviously, a big factor in any EV when it comes to ultimate acceleration and overall range.

I also happen to like these elderly Tojos, but that’s beside the point, because the relatively large, flat floor of the RA40’s luggage area would seem a natch spot to stash a bunch of batteries.

You could even remove the rear seat if necessary and then there’s still scope to build a false floor over the whole lot and have the space to fit enough soft luggage for a weekend at Comic-Con (or wherever it is EV nerds like to holiday and hang out).

If you’ve ever seen Neal Bates hammering his RA40 historic rally car through the mulga at unlikely velocities, you’ll also appreciate that these Toyotas are tough old buggers, so the extra weight of a bank of Li-ions shouldn’t unduly tax the structure.

On top of that, the RA40 was one of the last rear-drive Celicas, so its layout is simpler than the operator’s manual for a hammer. The driveline is spaced out along the whole length of the car, meaning that finding space for all the gizmos, gadgets and the flux capacitor shouldn’t present too much of a head-scratch.

Picture: ICON Mercury electric coupe chassis

Finally, the styled-in-America (and let’s not forget who taught the Japanese to make coffee) Celica can be picked up for chump change and, if it goes wrong and blams through the back wall of the garage and into the swimming pool because you crossed the wrong wires, nobody much – apart from anybody enjoying a dip at the time – is going to care.

Apply the same attitude to an Aussie Holden Torana A9X Hatch and see how far you get before a horde of well-meaning, extensively tattooed middle-aged males descend, chain you to your welder and throw you in the same pool.

Street Machine: Electric Torana E-A9X

But here’s where the world has given my genius its latest concept-wedgie... the budget for this sort of messing about is not going to give me any change out of, say, $20K or $30K at an absolute minimum.

And right now – and you can check this for yourself – I can go out and buy a Nissan Leaf for less than that same 20-gorilla low-ball number. Suddenly, my one-off, can’t-buy-parts-for, insurance-company-scaring, zero-air-bags, god-knows-what-VicRoads-will-make-of-it Toyota is dead on the water. Bugger.