For me it’s never been about the destination but rather the journey. Whether it’s driving down to the south of France camping in my roof-chopped Porsche engine 1968 Beetle at the age of 21, or just permanently innovating throughout my professional career, I’ve always found that once I’ve reached somewhere I find myself forever looking for the next mountain to climb. I guess that’s why I’ve always had a love for classic cars. If you’re going to be continuously restless, only relaxed when moving forward, you may as well do it in style. 27 years after I first started driving I still own the first car I ever owned and have still yet to own a car that is younger than me. Yes, I’ve had my fair share of leased company cars over the years, including a number of hybrids, but I always found them sterile, bland and soulless compared to the enjoyment and emotional engagement I get when driving a classic car. Believe me, you’ll have a permanent smile on your face driving within the speed limit in an old car and feel like you’re braking the sound barrier if you dared venture up to 70 mph on the motorways. Do the same in a modern car and it hardly feels like you’re moving at all.
Looking back now, it seems I was destined to end up electrifying classics. In my professional career (yes, I once wore a suit, flying the world and was fluent in many dialects of corporate guff) I was responsible for helping some of the largest organisations like WalMart, BT and Coca Cola reduce their carbon footprint, monitoring their kWh consumption down to the lightbulb, in real-time and to the nearest 0.1%. Driving around in a Toyota Prius to help promote our green credentials. The 2 Prius (Priuses, Priuss, Priuii…. or whatever the plural is) were my first experience of this weird source of automotive go-juice – electrickery!!
Now, before we go on, there’s one thing you need to really understand (and my friends know all too well) I was the biggest petrol-head you could ever have the (dis)pleasure of meeting. Whether, overtaking 6 cars at a time on a Welsh A-road, or discovering that the cruise control on a Renault Laguna only went up to 99mph on the M40, or kicking most peoples a** when go-karting, it’s fair to say I liked my cars, and I liked to drive them to the limit, everywhere…….ALWAYS. So imagine my shock and horror when I got driving a Prius and actually liked it. OK, let’s be specific here…. I liked the instant kick of the electric motor when I was overtaking (which was about 50% of the time). It reminded me of the old turbo lag of the late ‘80s or the instant hit of torque I was getting from my 2.4 litre supercharged lump I’d managed to cram into the back of my Beetle at the time. It was my first introduction to the instant torque of an electric motor.
At the same time I was competing in the British Historic Championship in an old Porsche 914, so what CO2 I was saving with the day job it’s fair to say I was trying my very best to put it back up there on the weekends. Now, anyone that’s done motorsport or rallying knows it’s a good idea to have some sort of pit bike; not every burger van is within a stone’s throw of the pits. So we often took my son’s Oset. For those not in the know, or unfamiliar with how to use Google, the Oset is a fabulous little off-road trials bike built for kids and youths, or 40 year old blokes who still think they are the BMX king of their local park. The ‘rub’ is that it is 100% electric. We loved it, not only for being clean and non-smelly (try lying a motorbike on its side in a van for 6 hours’ travelling without it smelling like an oil refinery when you open the van doors) but we loved it mainly for the fact that it could throw you off the back of it with ease, just with a little twist. It amazed me how something the size of a tin of paint (i.e. the motor) had enough power in it to go from zero to flat on your back in the blink of an eye if you didn’t respect the power. Now at the time I was building my own race engines, so I knew how many 1000s of man-hours can go into building something with power and how many more hours then had to go into maintaining it and molly-coddling it to keep it alive. Week in week out we’d have issues with the race engine, forever tinkering it or ripping it apart for rebuilds between race events. But at each race event we’d throw this little electric motorbike in the back of the van, usually unwashed from the last event and each time, you’d switch it on, no drama, it’d work and sure enough every time you’d be surprised by the instant power delivery.
So it was no surprise that when I finally knocked the rallying on the head (and all the other motorsport…) and found myself with more garage time I looked at the little Oset, looked at my Beetle and… well you can guess the rest.
What a lot of people misunderstand about me and what the die-hard petrol heads are only now waking up to is that I didn’t start electrifying classics to save the planet, I did it because I wanted to go faster than the car next to me. It’s simple, electric is faster than petrol, it’s just a matter of time until the rest of the gas-burners wake up to that fact. I guess I’m part of the first wave of 21st century electro-rodders, like the original hot-rodders of the ‘50s, they started doing those modifications to those old cars for one reason and one reason only; to make ‘em go faster. I remember the epiphany moment came for me when we first went out on a test drive in that first converted Beetle. I slowly, drove it out of the garage, down the lane, so by this time I knew it worked so went straight from let’s just take it around the block and back to the garage to full-on test pilot mode and let’s see what she can do, much to the horror of my mate sitting in the passenger seat with programming laptop in hand. So, I pulled out on to the main road, floored the throttle and WHAM, the instant acceleration you’d struggle to get in a modern sports car. The laptop went flying, the expletives flowed and I uttered the immortal words “Well that’s petrol dead to me then”. In that instant I knew that going back to petrol was like going back to riding a donkey. I had seen and experienced the future and there was no going back from here, the genie was out of the bottle and it wasn’t going back in.
As you can imagine, I get asked a lot, don’t you miss the noise? In truth, I thought I would, but it turns out I don’t. Not in the slightest. In fact it’s been replaced by a new addictive sound: the sound of an electric motor at full song. And, as for those who suggest to put the noise of an engine through the stereo, this is as daft to me as it would have been 100 years ago suggesting they make their new fandangled petrol engine sound more like a horse. It’s different, but it’s less obtrusive than a raucous exhaust, and who said that a V8 roar is a nice sound anyway? I feel like one of those non-smokers that used to smoke 20 a day and is now the biggest advocate for non-smoking you’d meet. But it’s true, driving a near silent classic car in the hills of Wales is one of the most relaxing experiences you could wish for. No stress of changing gear to go up hill or when slowing to a stop to admire the view, so silent you can hear the birds sing and sheep call out my name (insert Welsh joke here..) as you drive by and the best thing – there’s no smoke coming out of the back end.
In short, electrifying my classic cars has renewed my passion for classic cars. I’ve fallen in love with them all over again. Electrifying them has not taken one iota of enjoyment out of driving a classic car in fact all it’s done is taken all the negative out for me and added a few positives I didn’t expect. It’s true the amount of times my classics were off the road for maintenance or in desperate need of a tune up, usually on the few sunny days of the year so even if you did dare to take it out to enjoy it you were paranoid it was going to break down any minute. What’s that noise? That sounds serious. What’s that smell, that’s not right. Always alert, never relaxed. Whereas now, I find driving an electric classic car is the most stress-free thing you could do, you can almost feel the stress wash off you as you waft along the road. It goes back to what I said at the start, I find I enjoy the journey a lot more and as life is a journey anything that helps you enjoy it more along the way is no bad thing.