No car lover would laud the end of internal combustion, but no rational soul has any reason to fear it: Classic cars converted to electric maintain many of the foibles that endear them to us. The prospect of the electro-classic is attractive enough for some to commission the conversion of their vehicles, and for others to offer said conversions as a service. One group of Georgia Tech grads banded together to open a shop that does just that and named it Eddy Motorworks.
Ben Horst and his colleagues didn't put together a business building custom EVs overnight, however. Things started back in 2015 when Horst and a roommate conceptualized a hybrid vehicle that would eventually be named PH571; PH being an acronym for Performance Hybrid and 571 for the apartment the two shared as interns at General Motors.
"The idea for PH571 came from my own interest in learning to design a hybrid powertrain system," Horst told The Drive. "I had learned a lot about electric and hybrid systems conceptually, but hadn't had the chance to build one myself."
For the PH571, Horst and his roommate combined a 0.99 liter Briggs and Stratton V-twin with an HPEVS AC35 motor and controller, drawing power from a battery yanked from a Smart ForTwo Electric. Together, they made just over 100 horsepower, and with its minuscule weight of around 1,300 pounds, the PH571 was capable of either 90 MPG as a hybrid, or 50 miles of range on pure electric power.
"After working on PH571 in my own garage for a number of months I approached a GT mechanical engineering professor who oversaw the Georgia Tech Capstone Design Competition, and asked if I could incorporate the car into my project," continued Horst. "He and others in the mechanical engineering department loved the idea, and were very helpful in making it work out."
"For our project, I brought together a team of six—three mechanical engineers, two electrical engineers, and one computer scientist—to develop, build, and test the controls system for the hybrid powertrain. After winning the Expo, we were invited to apply for Create-X," said Horst, in reference to Georgia Tech's selective entrepreneurial support program. "The next semester, we started into the program."
During said semester, Horst and Eddy Motorworks co-founder Josh Preissle laid their own cash on the table to purchase an MGB, as seen above. Out of the MG came its 1.8-liter four-pot, and in went an HPEVS AC50 electric motor (a beefier brother of the AC35 that powered the PH571) and the battery pack from a Tesla Model S. In a matter of weeks the car could move under its own electric power, but its development was stalled shortly thereafter when an opportunity presented itself in May.
"The Electrocet was a collaborative build between us and Exomotive," said Horst, referring to the manufacturer of Mazda Miata-based tube frame chassis. "They supplied the frame and purchased the Tesla donor and we bought and assembled the rest."
"It's a Tesla-based powertrain system," continued Horst. "The motor in the Electrocet is a Tesla large rear drive unit capable of about 400 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. The battery is a lithium-ion system built into the floor and front compartment, with a total capacity of 54 kilowatt-hours. Total vehicle weight is 1,999 pounds, and zero-to-60 is just under three seconds. The Electrocet's range is about 300 miles on the road or about 80 miles at track speeds."
The Electrocet was completed at breakneck pace, but before work on the MGB could resume, June arrived, along with Eddy Motorworks' first customer-commissioned electric vehicle conversion: A 1983 Mercedes 380SL. Planning for the first commissioned build, however, proved a head-scratcher unlike any faced by Horst and company when with its previous three vehicles.
"A huge challenge with the Mercedes was packaging 62 kilowatt-hours of batteries," explained Horst. "We ended up building three separate packs: One in the engine bay, one in the fuel tank area, and one under the trunk. Each has a steel frame, carbon fiber enclosure, and waterproof connectors. When we're all done, it should have a range of about 250 miles, and a zero-to-60 of around 4.5 seconds. Definitely the quickest R107 out there."
The company's workload escalated in autumn with the approach of someone interested in buying the MGB, and Eddy Motorworks' second commission, this time the film-famous DeLorean DMC-12.
"We're pumped for the DMC build. It just makes sense," said Horst. "It'll have a Tesla motor system as well, making it as fast as it looked in the movie."
Before the DeLorean can go the way of the MGB, which left Eddy Motorworks in January after buyer-requested modifications were complete, the $70,000-deep Mercedes project must be finished. Once that project concludes, they will take in at least $112,000 for the DeLorean's conversion—Horst says it will be the standard price for its 'premium' EV conversion, which will use Tesla Model S motors and batteries to tempt electric car enthusiasts away from showrooms and into custom-built, character-oozing classics.
"Our goal with the Mercedes and all our cars in the future is to match or exceed premium modern EV performance and safety," Horst said. "The performance of our cars matches a Tesla Model S, but with much more character and uniqueness, so we priced accordingly."
Eddy Motorworks' business in the near future is secured by the financial anchors that are the Mercedes and DeLorean projects. Though inquiries are frequent, no serious customers have yet lined up, the problem not being a lack of interest, but rather a lack of understanding why the company's vehicles cost upper five- to low six-figure sums.
"A large challenge is simultaneously marketing and educating the public on our product," Horst added. "The hurdle is a combination of the current vehicle market and the lack of understanding of custom vehicles. For the technology they include, cars have become insanely inexpensive."
"The margins that the large OEMs pull off only work at huge scales, so it makes it hard for smaller players to compete. When you can go buy a Model 3 for (theoretically) $35,000, it makes it challenging to explain why a hand-built custom vehicle should cost $110,000. So as I mentioned earlier, the challenge is definitely in marketing and educating potential customers."
"The hard part is finding interested individuals in a car market that's moving more towards gadgets and features and away from passion and soul."
Despite its engineering emphasis that keeps the company grounded, Eddy Motorworks stays aloft in the romanticism of old vehicles; Horst and company have their own vehicular pipe dreams they would one day like to realize.
"My partner Kenny Adcox and I both have our dream cars to build," said Horst. "Mine is a [Porsche] 964 911, and Kenny's is an old [Ford] F-100 pick up, but only the ones with the protruding wheel wells. They just need some sort of funding. If that's from our own pockets, that will likely be a number of years from now."
We're keen to see what else Eddy Motorworks will construct in the coming years, be it the Porsche and pickup dream, or something else entirely. The ever-forward march of EV technology only suggests a bright future for this field of car modification.