Re­vamp­ing the VIN­TAGE ROAD­STER as an elec­tric car


The Nation - - FRONT PAGE - DAN NEIL

THE HOTTEST ticket of Mon­terey’s clas­sic-car week­end in Au­gust is an event called, in all se­ri­ous­ness, “The Quail, A Mo­tor­sports Gath­er­ing.” Hun­dreds of rare his­toric cars on emer­ald-green fair­ways, gourmet-food tents, cor­po­rate spon­sors, he­li­copter rides. In Carmel Val­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, they call it Fri­day.

It’s also the an­nual roost­ing of the species ob­nox­ious mil­lionarus. So there I was, hav­ing a chat with Jaguar Land Rover Clas­sic Works di­rec­tor Tim Han­nig, when he was ac­costed by this old blowhard in avi­a­tor sun­glasses. This dude be­gan by list­ing – no, orat­ing – his C-Types and D-Types and E-Types, start­ing back in high school.

“What’s this?” the stranger de­manded, point­ing to a car on the stand. This, Han­nig en­gaged po­litely, is a Jaguar EType Zero: a 1968 E-Type Se­ries 1.5 road­ster sym­pa­thet­i­cally con­verted by the fac­tory to an elec­tric car. Un­der that fa­mous lou­vred hood is a 40-kWh bat­tery pack sized to fit the space va­cated by the 4.2-litre in­line six. In the space where the four-speed Moss gear­box used to live is a com­pact 295-hp, 332lb-ft AC elec­tric mo­tor (the volt­age in­verter is in the back, in the pre­vi­ous spare-tire well). A sin­gle re­duc­tion gear drives a prop shaft to the E-Type’s orig­i­nal dif­fer­en­tial.

Han­nig noted that clients can ei­ther buy a Zero fresh from the fac­tory – the new JLR Clas­sic Works fa­cil­ity in Coven­try, War­wick­shire – for about $375,000 (Bt12.3 mil­lion); or own­ers can retro­fit their own pristine ex­am­ples, start­ing at a mere $75,000.

“Why the f – would you want to do that?” the man scoffed. Han­nig smiled. He had pre­pared for blow­back. Of course, he too loves petrol power and the roar of clas­sic Jags, he said, but times are chang­ing, es­pe­cially in Eu­rope. He asked his loutish in­ter­locu­tor to con­sider that within a gen­er­a­tion it may be il­le­gal to drive any in­ter­nal-com­bus­tion ve­hi­cle in Eu­ro­pean city cen­tres – bans ap­ply­ing first to older ve­hi­cles, ir­re­spec­tive of their col­lectible sta­tus.

The Zero is the first step in a pro­gramme to fu­ture-proof clas­sic Jags and Jag col­lec­tors against such tailpipe bans. In the­ory, this tech could be used to retro­fit any vin­tage Jaguar pow­ered by an in­line-six en­gine, in­clud­ing ’50sera stun­ners like Mark II sa­loons and XK120’s.

Holy hell. El­derly Tom Cruise was not lis­ten­ing, but I def­i­nitely was.

The Zero is vi­sion­ary, and that vi­sion is about keep­ing beau­ti­ful cars on the road in a post-pe­tro­leum world. Set­ting aside tailpipe bans, the prob­lem is that au­to­mo­biles were never de­signed to last the cen­turies. They are made of ma­te­ri­als – glass, rub­ber, steel, pa­per gas­kets, IC cir­cuits – which de­cay, erode, cor­rode, and die from dis­use. Es­pe­cially the en­gine. Re­mem­ber the Alfa Romeo Club’s motto: “If you start them oc­ca­sion­ally, they oc­ca­sion­ally start.”

And who’s go­ing to re­place that head gas­ket or bal­ance those triple carbs a cen­tury hence? Go ahead, Google “black­smiths in my area”.

The Zero resto-mod process re­tains the orig­i­nal dou­ble-wish­bone front sus­pen­sion, unas­sisted rack-and-pin­ion steer­ing, and hy­draulic disc brakes, in­clud­ing the rear in­board brakes. Sur­pris­ingly, the car’s tubu­lar front sub­frame re­quired lit­tle ex­tra brac­ing. The Zero weighs the same as the donor EType (about 2,900 pounds) and re­tains the 50/50 weight dis­tri­bu­tion.

But with the 30-some­thing bump in horse­power and ex­tra 50 lb-ft of torque, the Zero is quicker off the line: 0 to 62 mph in 5.5 sec­onds, best­ing a stock EType by about a sec­ond. The orig­i­nal EType was, fa­mously, the fastest pro­duc­tion car of its time, with a top speed of 150 mph; but in the in­ter­ests of in­creased range, the Zero is lim­ited to 125 mph.

The most as­ton­ish­ing part of the EType Zero pro­gramme? The process is re­versible. Clas­sic Works will pull the donor car’s en­gine and trans­mis­sion, ig­ni­tion, ex­haust and fuel sys­tem, crate it all up and store it, thereby ef­fec­tively pre­serv­ing even the ex­haust note. When it comes time for the owner to sell it, he or she can ei­ther re­store the car to orig­i­nal or sim­ply sell it along with the crate of spares.

Jaguar took me to a hangar in Mon­terey to meet the E-Type Zero, painted a swim­ming metal­lic bronze and fet­tled to a straight­ness that is it­self wildly anachro­nis­tic. This par­tic­u­lar car, then in opales­cent blue, had its star turn at the wed­ding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, to bring at­ten­tion to the Palace’s com­mit­ment to fight ur­ban air pol­lu­tion.

From a dis­tance the Zero is in­dis­tin­guish­able from any other con­cours-qual­ity, drop-dead gor­geous Se­ries 1.5 road­ster (with the cov­ered head­lamps), ex­cept for the ab­sence of the low-slung dual ex­haust pipes. With­out this metal un­der­brush, the road­sters’ fuse­lage is even ta­pered and tor­pedo-like.

This first Zero had been fit­ted with a dial-mim­ick­ing LCD screen in­stru­ment panel, as well as a cen­tre touch screen. Han­nig said his peo­ple could, with some ef­fort, re-use a car’s orig­i­nal Smith tach and speedo, as well as the ma­chine-turned dash of the Se­ries I mod­els.

The Zero’s ma­hogany-rim steer­ing wheel is also a bit smaller than orig­i­nal, a fact that came through when I tried to crank the steer­ing at low speed. Oof.

Other vin­tage feed­back in­cluded the rangy brake pedal, the stiff­legged wob­ble over rough pave­ment at slow speed, the out­ra­geous view be­hind that out­ra­geous hood. All that’s the same.

Be­hold, the world’s most beau­ti­ful elec­tric ve­hi­cle, as if that weren’t a low bar to clear.

Jaguar E-Type Zero

Price $375,000 (est)

Pow­er­train all-elec­tric, rear-drive; front-mounted air-cooled 40 kWh lithium bat­tery pack; mid-mounted AC syn­chro­nous trac­tion mo­tor; sin­gle­speed re­duc­tion gear; open rear dif­fer­en­tial Power/Torque 282 hp/332 lb-ft Length/Width/Height/Wheel­base 175.3/65.3/46.5/96.0 inches

Weight 2,900 pounds

0-62 mph 5.5 sec­onds All-Elec­tric Range 170 miles (est) Recharge Time 6-7 hours at 240V

The 1968 E-Type Zero rep­re­sents a new prod­uct line from the freshly formed Jaguar Land Rover Clas­sic Works: the elec­tri­fied vin­tage au­to­mo­bile. Weigh­ing in al­most ex­actly the same as the done Se­ries 1.5 (2,900 pounds), the E-Type Zero also pre­serves the car's 50/50 front/rear weight ra­tio. The car's 40-kWh bat­tery pack, de­rived from the hy­brid bat­tery pack in the Range Rover P400E, fits un­der the hood in the space once oc­cu­pied by a 4.2-litre in­line six. The E-Type Zero con­ver­sion re­tains the car's dou­ble-wish­bone front sus­pen­sion, tubu­lar front sub­frame, hy­draulic brakes (in­clud­ing the rear in­board-mounted brakes) and unas­sisted rack-and-pin­ion steer­ing. RETROFITTED ROAD­STER: The Zero runs 0-62 mph in 5.5 sec­onds, 18 per cent quicker than its petrol­burn­ing an­ces­tor. The 295-hp, 332 lb-ft trac­tion mo­tor fits in the space once oc­cu­pied by the four-speed Moss gear­box. The gearshifter is gone and re­placed by a ro­tary dial, like ones found in con­tem­po­rary Jaguars. With 30-some­thing more horse­power and an ad­di­tional 50 lb-ft of elec­tric torque, the Zero ac­cel­er­ates from 0-62 mph in 5.5 sec­onds, at least a sec­ond quicker than a vin­tage 4.2-litre E-Type.

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