Zelectric turns classic Volkswagens into electric cars (w/Video)

Modern electric cars make for sensible, efficient transportation, but every car fan knows that classic cars have a certain personality that newer models just can’t match. So what do you if you want the style and fun of an old car, but with a modern electric powertrain?

There are actually a few companies that will install electric powertrains in vintage cars. One of them is San Diego-based Zelectric, which specializes in 1950s and 1960s Volkswagens, as detailed in a recent profile by The Verge. The converted cars still look like the originals, but they run a bit quieter.

With its California location, Zelectric seems to have hit a sweet spot between Californians’ interest in environmentalism, and their love of VW Beetles and Microbuses. The company converts about 10 vehicles a year, at prices that reflect the demand for classic Volkswagens in the Golden State. Beetle conversions range from $68,000 for a sedan to $88,000 for a convertible, while buses run as much as $130,000.

When it comes to Beetles, Zelectric prefers to work on models built between 1958 and 1966. A typical conversion includes an electric motor making 85 horsepower and 120 pound-feet of torque, meaning an electric Beetle should have substantially better performance than a stock model with the air-cooled flat-four gasoline engine. The company says its electric Beetles average 80 to 100 miles of range, with a top speed of 100 mph.

Unlike most modern electric cars, these Beetles also have multi-speed transmissions. Zelectric retains the factory-stock manual transmission, with the stock gearing. The electric motor’s instant torque means relatively little shifting is actually required; the car can move away from a stop in second or third gear, and reach 50 mph in third. The clutch is only used for shifting, not stopping and starting, making negotiating city traffic a lot easier.

With classic styling and the efficiency of modern electric powertrains, Zelectric’s electrified Volkswagens seem to be the best of both worlds. If you can afford one, that is.