Classic car modernization

i am currently in the process of a full, off the frame restoration of my 1972 triumph spitfire. when i say “restoration” i am referring to mainly the body/frame/interior. my question is… ready for this…

i so want to find a way to modernize and put an alternative engine in (preferably electric). i realize this is a big and costly challenge but this car is my baby. it used to belong to my father and it is the car i learned to drive on. SO… does anyone out there have any advice on where to look… mechanics that might be able to help… schools that i can contact… anyone that might have some experience with this sort of thing.

thanx all


I really don’t know of anyone who could help you there but I don’t think the Spitfire would have enough space for the batteries. There would have to be a lot of modifications to the chassy for this to be done and here you are entering in big time cost.

I would love to have one of those or an MG Midget, maybe a mid 60's model before all the pollution stuff, but I would like to have it restored as close to original as possible.

I would start by looking at current battery technology.  Batteries have changed a lot over the last few years.  Then look at the high tech motor(s) and what choices you have there along with transmissions.  

You did not fill out your profile or indicate where you are.  It would be good to tell us what city you may be in.  There may be someone close that could help.  If you have any colleges close with an engineering department, check to see if they have anything going on, or maybe might want a great class project.

I applaud your desire to re-create your beloved car into a modern electric. However, most electric cars are built frame-up to make it the most efficient. I once heard a brief synopsis that to ‘make an electric car, you first build the lightest car you can, then fill it with lead’. Of course, there are other energy storage systems out there. Check out the guys at They use lithium-ion, not lead-acid. And these guys at MIT have a super capacitor that could be a better alternative to batteries

I’d buy a kit car and install the electric drive train. The Spitfire should be restored, engine and all.

Two thing sneed to be considered. The first is energy storage. It takes a lot of energy to propel even a small car, and to date the only company with prototypes currently functional has resorted to an array of thousands of litium-ion cells and had to design a special cooling system to dissipate the heat generated. That company is Tesla Engineering.

They also had to have a special frame designed to handle the weight of the lithium-ion battery array and the cooling system. They designed it in partnership with Lotus, the existing car manufacturer.

The challange is bigger than it would appear. And more costly.

i have checked out the tesla and also the lightning gt-- i like the lightning better (goes 250 miles on a charge and recharges in 10 min.!!!)-- i didn’t really look an the wheel base and all the other measurements but neither on seemed too much bigger than the triumph. i’m not going to be able to do something that advanced just something basic for crusin’ around town. i am actually in charlotte nc and the nascar institute is just down the road in mooresville. i don’t know if they have a research dept. for electric motors but i’d think they’d be foolish not to have some kind of program in it’s beginings. i just haven’t checked yet.
obviously i want to keep my costs as low as possible but i don’t drive on a daily basis (haven’t bought gas in over a year!!) so the time is not really a factor. i am expecting this project to take a while. i want to be as green as possible. i originally wanted to convert the engine to be able to run on ethanol once it became readily available, but then after some research i realized ethanol really isn’t all that much cleaner than gasoline. right now i am doing rust removal/body panel replacement, and the frame has to be straightened (damn deer!)

i seem to remember an article in spitfire/gt magazine of someone that converted a spitfire to an electric car a number of years back. just one more thing to search for.

Just my two cents . . . I’d start looking at golf carts and their drivetrain and try to figure out how to attain a higher top end, maybe some type of gear change in the final drive. I’d also see how golf carts store the charge . . . what type and how many batteries are required. While you are doing the bodywork and frame work . . . I’d be looking at each and every piece of body, frame and interior materials . . . and how I could make it lighter, less weight. Also . . . look for a place to place the batteries. BTW . . . I’ve thought of this project often, but not with a Spitfire, but as JT suggests, with a kit-car. Some kits (like a Beck 550 Porsche Spyder) have a tubular frame, fiberglass floor, body and very few extras (only what is required to run the car). Even the seats are lightweight. I have one, powered by a 356 motor with modern engine internals. But very light. Academic, I know . . . as you already have the Spitfire. Keep thinking about it. I have a friend who has a multimillion dollar electrical business, and I’ll run it by him as far as “engine” type just for fun. Rocketman

You want to do what ? And to a Triumph Spitfire ???

Probably the unlikeliest candidate for electric conversion I could think of. The parts are available…sort of…try, the parts look like they’ll hit you for somewhere between $15 - 20,000 plus the work to install them. I suspect a fair amount of metal bending and fabrication will be required.

But providing you can fit the gear and the chassis can carry the battery weight the only problem you’ll be left with is the suspension and brake upgrades since the car was never designed to either carry or stop that type of weight. The rear suspension system will give you some special problems since this is a single transverse-leaf swing axle arrangement…much fun can be had with that setup in standard configuration, it’s anyone’s guess how it will handle when loaded up with a few hundred pounds of batteries.

Why not just leave it alone and buy a golf cart.

STOP! when i was 12 this would be cool,now just plain ignorant find a new hobby.and sell the car to someone who wants it for what it is,then by a metro and 899 aaa batts,and a R/C mtr,and call it a day.

thanks managment.

^^ ha! yes, I may not be “management”, but I have to agree.

There are better candidates for green conversions than your Spitfire. And better alt fuels than electric.

Personally, I recently picked up a rusty old '65 Chevy pickup truck that I’m planning on converting to propane. It’s a relatively cheap conversion (at least compared to ethanol or electric), and not very invasive, and very clean.

Another idea would be to find an old diesel (mercedes perhaps?) and go w/ biodiesel.

Either one of those choices would probably be easier and cheaper in the long run (even with the purchase of the actual vehicle) than an electric conversion. And evidently it would be less offensive to the classic/british car crowd as well.

I agree completely, installing an electric drivetrain would totally ruin the car. You’d be adding alot of extra weight which would degrade the handling of the car. The character of the car would also be taken away. The only thing that could come of this would be the irony of driving a British car that relies on electricity to move.

One of our community colleges here in NH (NHTI in Concord) has a solar car ongoing project. Perhaps one of your local colleges or universities would be interested in your project.

First, I’d suggest you find something less special to butcher.

But, if you really want to do this, find an electric motor that you can adapt to the stock transmission. Mount batteries here, there, and everywhere you can find room. Then when you get tired of having a 10 mile range you can remove all of the electrics and put the original motor back in.

It’s your car, so you can do what you like, but do you really think it will be the same car after such a major conversion?

check out the lightning gt!! it uses the carbon nano-tube capacitor/battery you are talking about. a vvvveeeerrryyy sweeeeeet sports car. wish i could afford it. at least tesla will tell you how much their car cost. you have to really want the lightning, cause they will only tell you you need a 15,000 pound(or euro or whatever) deposit.

the problem with propane, though it is cleaner than gasoline, is that it is still a petroleum derived fuel. the petroleum industry has rape our society long enough and i am trying my best to get away from that. granted just about everything is dependant on petroleum (even the batteries in an electric car) but the less the better. ok i’ll get off my soapbox now.

as for the bio-diesel my boss actually has an old mercedes and has set up a filtration system for old fryer oil at our shop (we are sculptors) so that is a real possibility but the smell of the fryer oil makes the car kind of funky.

and i have never been one to worry about offending anyone esp. snooty car snobs.

do you have a link to this project?

no it won’t be the same car. and i a won"t be butchering my car. if i can’t realisticly do this then i will rebuild the engine, tranny, and electrical system (which is what i am looking at other than the body/frame work) i fully intend on this project taking a couple of years mainly due to my own lack of knowledge on the subject and limited funds. like i said this is a full off the frame restoration/customization. there is an auto show at the speedway this weekend tesla motors and a couple of other electric car companys will be there, i plan to go an talk to some of the reps and anyone else i can find that can educate me on the project i’ll let u all know what i find out next week.

peas all


Try a search on, sub NHTI.

Good luck. You seem intent on this project, and I’d like to know what you find out.