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Hagerty Employee

How we’d EV swap this old-school Detroit Electric with new-wave tech

Those of us excited about how electric motors can be used creatively in vintage cars are always curious about potential swaps, but modifying existing EVs is an equally interesting idea. The usual concept of a resto-mod entails updating what’s already under the hood—why not expand that approach to alternative powertrains?


Thanks to robust interest from vehicle manufacturers, the international supply chain has answered the call with a slurry of new technology and production capabilities, driving down the costs of individual components parts. That applies especially to the batteries and motor controller hardware/software. Recently, we’ve even seen mainstream aftermarket companies like Holley and AEM begin to develop tools for these new powerplants that resemble ECU tuning solutions for traditional combustion engines.


For fun, let’s pretend our project car is the 1922 Detroit Electric that just closed at $33,000 in an RM Sotheby’s auction today. It kind of fits the flavor of a typical pre-war foundation for a hot rod, and it represents the starting point for a century of development. With less than 5 hp and a screaming top speed of 25 mph, the Detroit’s performance could best be described as “modest.”


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I think Jay is doing something similar to drive around LA. He is adding all modern things like AC etc. 


an electric chair for people who actually hack up rare cars........just kidding......but it is a fun mental exercise....could start with the manual crank generator from the old hand crank wall phones, surprising amount of juice out of those....


I had a dream about putting E in my Caddy XLR. I am sure the motor in front would fit but if the battery's could fit in the truck I could never put the top down!


My 1918 Chevrolet sedan, insured with Hagerty, is running on 100% electrics with a 120v DC lithium battery bank, and AC motor and controller mated to the original transmission/driveshaft/axle.  Ready to run for the next 100 years.


Something more like 45-50 mph top speed, with a 75 mile or so driving range, and the old Baker would be a great inner city/around town car... until you got in a wreck with a modern car. Still, I'd do it, but would use it more like an oversized, all weather golf cart. Would be perfect for those communities that allow golf carts on the side roads, like a beach car. Being registered for the road would mean you could take it on the main roads, but I wouldn't for any length of time.

New Driver

"Imagine car with the throttle tied to the spark plugs..."


A better analogy might be a diesel where each injector can be either full on or off.


"For fun, let’s pretend our project car is the 1922 Detroit Electric".


OK, in a couple of days the screaming inside my head might die down.  Why would you ever want to hack up such a rare and original automobile?  The Edison system sounds great and ingenious for it's day, and should be preserved.  If you want to do an EV swapout on an EV, how about something a little less sacrilegious, like a Bradley GT Electric?


"There’s a lot of potential here to dream about chopping the roof down or sectioning the body of the Detroit"


Oh, great.  That's gonna be another 2 or 3 weeks.


Funny to know that another 1922 Detroit Electric may be converted to a more modern gear. A few years ago I did it with mine. The original design came with lead acid batteries which I swapped with LiFePO4 cells (32 x 200Ah = 105.6V) which are essentially safer than LiPo cells. Of course a BMS had to be added. In the process I developed my own BMS which was Bluetooth controlled, reducing the number of cables. The weight and size reduction of the battery pack allowed me to increase the voltage to give a bit of a speed boost to the car. I drove the car for a number of years like this but noted some difficulties with the battery setup which had to do with the lower internal resistance of the lithium pack. Therefore, I started to consider changing the throttle system to a modern inverter. Finally, two years ago I took this step and I do not regret it. The car runs much smoother now and there is much less wear and tear. I did it in such a way that I can easily revert back to the original design, by reconnecting two power cables. This preserves the originality of the vehicle.

I own a total of 3 electric old-timers and I did the same change with my 1905 Tribelhorn.