Earth Day is April 22, and its usual message – take care of our planet – has been given added urgency by the challenges highlighted in the latest IPCC report. This year, Ars takes a look at the technologies we typically cover, from cars to chip manufacturing, and finds out how we can increase their sustainability and minimize their climate impact.
The term “restomod” first gained prominence in the 1990s. As muscle car enthusiasts looked for ways to improve the performance and reliability of their classic cars, a cottage industry of people customizing drivetrain and chassis components of new models soon sprang up. Today you would be hard pressed to find a restored late ’60s Mustang or Camaro on the road that hasn’t been modified with some sort of modern technology – be it a computer controlled fuel injection system, an updated brake and suspension system, or even a modern V8 engine .
For some, that may be sacrilegious. For others, it’s simply about moving with the times.
A similar trend in restomodding around EV technology has developed over the past decade, although from the start the focus has been less on melting tires and more on pragmatism and technical curiosity.
“I got into restomodding in 2009, and it was a weird time because it was just after the recession,” said Michael Bream of EV West, an electric vehicle conversion shop in San Marcos, California. “I had read an article about the roadster that Tesla was developing, and as a computer engineer and hot-rodder, I was intrigued by the technology involved. I wanted to see what is possible with electric power.”
“But while I was doing my research, I got a bit put off,” Bream told Ars. “I called these shops that were working with the tech to talk about horsepower, continuous duty and things like that, but all they wanted to talk about was, how much money would I save if I stick it to OPEC At the end of the day, no one in the performance industry really cares about gasoline that costs five or six dollars a gallon.
Because EV development at the time still represented a rounding error in most major automakers’ budgets, Bream also had significant difficulty finding components on the aftermarket, but he says the situation has changed significantly in the years since.
“Not only in terms of powertrain and batteries, but also many other things that builders simply had to accept in the early days. Back then there weren’t mature systems to add power brakes, for example,” Bream said. “The solution was to put a vacuum pump in it to mimic how an internal combustion engine works, and we used belt-driven hydraulic pumps for power steering in a similar way. But now , purpose-built solutions because of cars like the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt, and the electric vehicles that Tesla makes [like electrically driven hydraulic pumps] were developed at the OE [original equipment] even. That went a long way towards refining the EV experience. It has also introduced higher quality parts at a lower cost, which in turn has led to greater affordability in the EV restomod market.”
And the OEMs notice it. At last year’s Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show — a major trade show for aftermarket service providers held annually in Las Vegas — Ford showcased the F-100 Eluminator concept, a one-off custom build utilizing the automaker’s powertrain components Mustang Mach- E GT production EV in a vintage F-Series pickup. It’s the latest entry in a line of performance-oriented EV builds from the automaker that include the all-electric Mustang Cobra Jet 1400 dragster and Mach-E 1400 drift car prototypes.
“I think this is just the beginning,” said Mark Wilson, business operations manager for vehicle personalization at Ford. “If you look at the life cycle of ICE [internal combustion engine] In the longer term, there seems to be an end date on the horizon – a point at which they will be phased out. And when that happens, it’s only a matter of time before existing ICE products become obsolete, so to speak.”
“And for products where the engine isn’t really the focus of the vehicle, that’s going to become more important,” Wilson said. “This 1978 F-100 is a great example of that – the truck itself is cool, but the straight-six engine that originally powered it is less so. In such a case, replacing the powertrain may do less harm to the vehicle’s value, nostalgia, and overall desirability.
And the Eluminator concept isn’t just lip service – the dual electric traction motors powering the F-100’s front and rear wheels (giving a total system output of 480 hp and 634 lb.-ft. of torque) are now available for purchase by the general public through Ford Performance.