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ELECTRIC HEART

by Digital Mayne Media

Under its classic skin this 1965 Ford Cortina Mk1 hides an electric heartbeat. Is it sacrilegious or smart to fit an electric motor and Tesla batteries? Either way, it can’t be ignored.

Engine swaps have long been a contentious issue in enthusiast circles, and no doubt to readers of this magazine. Purists shake their heads, while realists insist it’s either the only affordable option, the more reliable, or the more powerful. We see old Holden motors end up in Jaguars, Isuzu lumps in Land Rover Defenders, modern GM LS V8 crate motors in old muscle cars and Nissan’s RB26DETT from the Skyline GT-R into anything you want to go insanely fast. Somebody, somewhere, will always take offence. But now there’s a new phenomenon. Electromodding. Here you do away with all those oily bits and replace with an electric motor (or motors) and battery pack. Should we see this phenomenon as taking work away from traditional mechanics, or opening up new opportunities? Either way, it adds a whole new level to the engine transplant debate. Which bring us to this 1965 Ford Cortina Mk1. A true classic in every sense, but now without its traditional 1500cc Kent four-cylinder. In its place is a US-sourced Netgain HyPer9 AC electric motor, good for 100kW and 235Nm of torque. A wrecked Tesla Model X provided battery modules totalling 31kWh to power this old Ford, with a CHAdeMo charging port fitted (where the exhaust pipe used to be) for DC fast charging. As it silently cruises Brisbane’s streets, owner Tim Harrison couldn’t be happier with his decision to go electric. “There’s always traditionalists and purists who don’t believe any old car should be touched, and I agree with them to a degree,” he said. “Valuable and rare collectible cars should be maintained for their historical value, but there are a raft load of classics waiting to be resurrected which otherwise wouldn’t be on the road. These are the ones I want to bring back and be enjoyed.”

Tim said one of his goals was to make this conversion totally reversible. There are no modifications to the Cortina’s original body and no welding or cutting. The only compromise needed was to remove the original fuel tank from under the boot floor (won’t be needing that anyway) to house the high voltage components. It’s a flush job and it means the boot still has its as-standard capacity. “I didn’t want it to be compromised as a car,” said Tim. “I needed it to fit luggage, and be safe enough for our two kids. We’ve fitted modern seatbelts and two child seat anchor points.”
Imperative for a Queensland summer, a high voltage compressor runs off the main battery pack to work the electric air conditioning. The old fuel filler position now has a Type 1 AC socket for home charging, giving zeroto- 100 percent charge in around 10 hours. A public DC fast charger does the job in around 60 minutes, and Tim can bank on a range of around 180-kilometres with a full battery. With a 0-100km/h time of around 7.5-seconds and top speed over 130km/h,
this electromod Ford would outrun even the iconic Lotus Cortina of the era, and thoroughly trounce the Ford-powered family sedan. Tim’s electric Cortina is practically silent and offers the same impressive off-theline shove experienced in modern EVs. All that torque arrives from first squeeze of the throttle, and its finished weight of just 1007kg – only 100kg over an original Cortina Mk1 – makes it dramatically lighter than most EVs on the market.

The strawberries and cream interior is a retro treat of bench seats, painted metal dash and huge original Cortina steering wheel. An Android head-unit screen is a required modern compromise – mounted just above the long-throw manual gearshifter – and it runs Torque Pro, giving a suite of digital gauges to show the likes of power, rpm, regeneration kW, amps, motor temp, battery temp and inverter temp. A lovely touch is repurposing the Cortina’s original analogue fuel gauge.
This has been converted to display battery capacity instead, ideal if the digital headunit is being used in audio display mode.around 60 minutes, and Tim can bank on a range of around 180-kilometres with a full battery. With a 0-100km/h time of around 7.5-seconds and top speed over 130km/h, this electromod Ford would outrun even the iconic Lotus Cortina of the era, and thoroughly trounce the Ford-powered family sedan. Tim’s electric Cortina is practically silent and offers the same impressive off-theline shove experienced in modern EVs. All that torque arrives from first squeeze of the throttle, and its finished weight of just 1007kg – only 100kg over an original Cortina Mk1 – makes it dramatically lighter than most EVs on the market. The strawberries and cream interior is a retro treat of bench seats, painted metal dash and huge original Cortina steering wheel. An Android head-unit screen is a required modern compromise – mounted just above the long-throw manual gearshifter – and it runs Torque Pro, giving a suite of digital gauges to show the likes of power, rpm, regeneration kW, amps, motor temp, battery temp and inverter temp. A lovely touch is repurposing the Cortina’s original analogue fuel gauge. This has been converted to display battery capacity instead, ideal if the digital headunit is being used in audio display mode.The rise of electromodding convinced Tim to get back into the old car scene. While he had seen a few converted VW Beetles and Morris Minors, the Ford Cortina Mk1 “was a good challenge as nobody had done one before,” he said. “It’s a lightweight car with a cult following, can be hotted up and taken on the track, and the Lotus history is really interesting.” He found an unfinished project which had a good body but poor motor. “It wasn’t running well at all, and when I test drove it around the block the clutch died,” Tim said. He first bought a wrecked 2011 Mitsubishi iMiEV electric car in the hope he could do a direct transplant, but was thwarted by “software limitations and modern OEM controls on the ECU and drive unit.” Instead he used Netgain in the USA for its off-the-shelf HyPer9 motor, an on-board charging system and battery management system.

“I then upped the ante and found a written-off 2018 Tesla Model X 100D,” Tim said. “I salvaged the battery pack to use in the Cortina, but only about one-third of it. Using the full pack would have meant it’d be way too heavy, deteriorating performance and I’d need to upgrade the suspension, but it still gives 180-kilometre range.” Brisbane electric car conversion specialist Traction EV did all the battery work, motor integration and installation, while Tim “hovered over the top, doing the interface between the displays and the driver interaction pieces.” Interestingly – and unlike modern electric cars – the Cortina’s four-speed manual gearbox has been retained, although this a Mk2 version upgraded with a high performance clutch. “You can drive it like a manual or an automatic,” Tim explained. “The electric motor, when it idles, is not spinning, so you can shift to any gear when stationary without using the clutch. When you’re on the go and the motor’s spinning and accelerating, you can shift through the gears just like a normal manual.” During my test drive it was lovely to be able to dip a clutch and stir through the gears for a more involving experience, but if you’re stuck in city traffic and feeling lazy, you can just stick it in third gear and drive it totally clutchless. “It’ll do zero to 100km/h in third gear without touching the clutch, and it’ll never stall as it’s an electric motor,” Tim said. Having only driven the Cortina in internal combustion guise for a few hundred metres, Tim’s first drive once the EV work was complete was a memorable event. “It was complete satisfaction after the long road of converting; it was so quiet, fast and fun,” he explained. And he’s far from finished. Tim’s 1973 VW Kombi is at Traction EV undergoing a conversion with a 225kW Tesla rear motor and full Tesla battery pack, hopefully offering around 350-kilometres electric range. He’s also just picked up a 1949 Pontiac Fastback – it’s been sat in the California desert for decades and hasn’t run since 1985. It needs a full restoration, but will be a “patina’d lead sled electric low rider cruiser,” he promised.
Tim’s in the process of setting up a classic electric car sharing concept called Charged Garage, aimed at seeing more people experience these vehicles. “Electrification takes away the reliability issues and maintenance as servicing is much simpler and easier,” he said. They’re easier to drive and you can focus on just enjoying them.”
It’s a compelling point. If an electric conversion can be done for close to the price of a classic car’s engine and drivetrain rebuild it looks a very wise investment indeed. So reliable is the technology we could even see more classics being used as daily drivers, giving even the most hard-nosed purist some cause for celebration. ACM

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