How hybridization could help classic cars

Old cars are exempt from new emissions standards, and their owners have typically made peace with their often terrible fuel economy, but there may be a way for today’s hybrid powertrain technology to help the classics.

The older a car is, the more expensive and difficult it becomes to repair after something breaks. For the oldest and rarest of collector cars – the Pierce Arrows, Duesenbergs, and Bugatti Atlantics of the world – it can lead to a paralyzing fear of actually driving them.

The solution? Install a secondary electric powertrain to take some of the stress off those aged and valuable mechanical components, argues a recent Jalopnik article.

Jalopnik’s “Classic Car Crutch Hybrid Longevity Assist System” was inspired by taxis. Staffers noticed that engine parts and even the brakes of New York City hybrid taxis were remarkably wear-free, even after 500,000 miles of abuse. They theorize that it’s because electric motors and regenerative braking help ease the strain.

With that in mind, the proposed system would resemble the mild-hybrid systems currently available in some production cars. It would use a low-power (around 10 to 20 horsepower) electric motor and a fairly small battery pack, the idea being to keep the package small enough that it can be installed without extensively modifying a car.

The electric motor would mostly be used at low speeds, when internal-combustion engines are at their least efficient. It could also provide some assistance at higher speeds so an older engine doesn’t have to work as hard, or even provide a “limp home” power source in the event of breakdowns – a common occurrence with vintage cars.

Ideally, the hybrid system would be a bolt-on affair that could be easily removed. That means using a friction drive to transfer power from the electric motor to the car’s driveshaft. That’s fine for front-engine, rear-wheel drive cars, but could be a problem for other configurations.

The mild-hybrid classic car is just a notion, but it would be interesting to see someone actually try installing one of these systems in a vintage vehicle.