Classic Chrome Electric Fiat 500

Electric Classics: Evolution or Vandalism?

Should we convert a classic car or vehicle to electric or not?

ERS Insurance commissioned YouGov to conduct a UK survey on this question. Only 19% of respondents agreed it was OK and 43% disagreed (we assume the other 38% were “don’t knows”). So if this survey is anything to go by, most of you reading this will consider the very idea of an electric classic to be a form of iconoclasm akin to ripping the original features out of a period house and leaving it with a soulless interior, devoid of its history.

OK, so we’re not being hugely scientific with our research here but the anecdotal feel we get when we go out and about to car shows and the like is that there is a large majority opposed to the idea of electrifying the powertrain of classic cars.

Electric car charging

Like many other things, we don’t think there’s a binary “yes or no” answer to this question. Others will disagree; some will say that saving the planet is more important than anything else, and soon fossil fuel-driven transport will be banned or become prohibitively expensive anyway. At the other end of the spectrum there’s a constituency that says that any modification of any sort to a classic car should be punishable by life imprisonment, as a bare minimum.

In a way there’s a big irony to the whole Electric Vehicle debate. The first production electric car was invented by Englishman Thomas Parker in 1884. Parker was also responsible for electrifying the London Underground and other British public transport networks. He invented “Coalite”, a smokeless low-temperature coke (coal derivative). He was concerned about air pollution in London. How times sometimes don’t change……….that was towards the end of the 19th century.

Thomas Parker's 1884 Electric Car
Thomas Parker’s 1884 Electric Car

By the 2nd decade of the 20th century there were still more electric vehicles than combustion engine powered vehicles, but that changed rapidly as fuel became cheaply available and the design and cost of combustion-engined cars improved markedly.

Part of the aura of a classic car (and many other cars) is the sound, behaviour, construction and power of its engine. The engine, it is said, is what gives a classic car its personality. There is truth in that.

What do we think? No one can give an answer that will make everyone happy, or even one that won’t at least make some people angry, but here we go…….

We wouldn’t really support the idea of putting an electric motor in a Ferrari F12. On the other hand Rimac of Croatia is developing an electric supercar, the Rimac Concept 2, that can allegedly go from 0-60mph in 1.85 seconds, and we think others should develop that idea as the norm.

Rimac Concept 2
The Rimac Concept 2 Electric Supercar

How about an electric Citroën DS? As Fifth Gear’s Jonny Smith (@CarPervert on Twitter) said during a debate on the matter in February this year: “I would buy a Citroen DS and convert it to EV tomorrow because it would float along like a flying saucer and it would suit that car”. We agree, and it’s not as if the Citroën DS is an especially rare car either. We’d like to think there’ll always be Citroën DS and other classics that have petrol engines. We’re less convinced about diesels though 😉

Another committed EV enthusiast is ex-Wheeler Dealer Edd China (@TheEddChina on Twitter) who’s on record as saying that the environmental benefits of electric motors is “almost secondary to the fact it’s the performance and the fun that we get to keep having.” Edd has invented a number of electric vehicle “firsts”, including the fastest electric ice-cream van (see below). As he says in his new book Grease Junkie: A Book of Moving Parts “In 1900, 38% of the cars sold in America were electric, 40% were steam-powered and only 22% had what they called ‘exploding engines’…..”. We could well be heading back to a majority position for electric motoring, within which classic vehicles will play their part.

Edd China and his electric ice cream van
Edd China & the World’s Fastest Electric Ice Cream Van

We think it’s important to ensure that classic cars are able to outlive the routine availability of the fuels upon which the combustion engine depends. There will always be entirely original classics; there must be. But we can’t assume there’ll always be the fuel they need, at least not in the way it’s available now.

We’re currently busy sourcing classic 1950s and 1960s Fiat chassis for electric conversions. The 500s and 600Ds make brilliant little city cars. Some people are thinking ahead and acting with their heads as well as their hearts when they seriously consider an electric classic purchase or conversion.

The Microlino: reminds us all of the BMW Isetta

Change is always difficult. It helps when you can influence or manage change, even if you’d rather it didn’t happen. Ferrari and others are doing exciting things with both hybrid and electric cars. Microlino is the electric reincarnation of the BMW Isetta microcar. Love it or loathe it or anything in between, we need to take it seriously.

We guess that the winds of change are upon us when Harry and Meghan, the newly-married Duke and Duchess of Sussex, headed off in an electric E-Type Jaguar in front of several gazillion TV viewers.

The Duke & Duchess od Sussex and their electric Jaguar
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and their Electric E-Type Jaguar

Featured Fiat 500 EV by Classic Chrome of London.

Microcars at Goodwood

Micro Cars

It’s one of those ironies in life: in the 2 decades after WW2 Europe was in a mess. People had very little money but there was an urgent need to revive the European economies. many of the cars that were produced at this time were put together on a shoestring and were basic at best. A brand new BMW Isetta cost less than £240 on the road in 1960. In 2019, a concours condition BMW Isetta would cost you more like £24000. How times change.

One of the major problems was workforce mobility: people couldn’t afford cars. However, otherwise unemployed aircraft manufacturers such as Dornier, Heinkel & Messerschmitt began to produce small (micro) cars in Germany. Italy’s ISO produced and licensed the Isetta for manufacture across the World, BMW acquired a licence to produce these bubble cars in places such as Brighton, England (see below)

BMW Isetta 1959
A 1959 Brighton built BMW Isetta

BMW also produced the BMW 600 & 700 models, both economy cars. The BMW 600 looks like an enlarged version of the Isetta, and is often accordingly misnamed as an Isetta. The 700, produced from 1959-65, looks more like a conventional car, albeit a small one. It’s a fact that the BMW 700 saved its iconic manufacturer from bankruptcy. Yes, that’s right; the funny-looking car below is the saviour of BMW and of all it subsequently has produced.

BMW 700
BMW 700: the car that saved BMW from bankruptcy

There’s more about the BMW 700 story here.

Over in the UK the story was much the same. The UK was economically ruined by WW2 & the UK didn’t benefit from reconstruction funds in the way that Europe did. As a consequence this period of car manufacturing in the UK (primarily in England) spawned a legion of quirky, whacky & downright bonkers microcars some of which can be seen in the header picture above.

The car at the head of this Goodwood Revival meeting (back in 2006) is the Meadows Frisky Sport Convertible. Meadows Frisky produced a number of other microcars, including the slightly dodgy-sounding “Frisky Family Three” (see below) which, despite its Michelotti styling, didn’t really sell.

1959 Meadows Frisky Family Three
The Michelotti-styled “Frisky Family Three” from 1959

Behind the Frisky Sport in this Goodwood Revival lineup is the hugely collectable Messerschmitt KR175/200. Manufactured, obviously, by the German aircraft manufacturer responsible for the ME109 fighter (amongst others). Indeed, the cockpit cover of the Messerschmitt KR series is from the ME109 fighter, as you can see from the picture below.

These days Messerschmitt KR Series cars are like gold dust. They’re worth a fortune: strange outcome for a car made from leftover war materials that emphasised the need for cheap, economical and functional transport.

Messerschmitt KR200
Messerschmitt KR200

Back to that Goodwood Revival header photo and we can see what look like a couple of BMW 600s followed by a Peel P50, which still holds the Guinness World Record of “World’s smallest production car”.

The Peel P50 was manufactured during the early 1960s on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea to the west of northern England, south of Scotland and east of the island of Ireland. Peel Engineering built 50 of them, over half of which still survive, “to seat 1 adult and a shopping bag”. The P50 is so light it can be moved by hand, which is just as well as it doesn’t reverse. It has a 49cc DKW 2-stroke engine, a headlight and a windscreen wiper.

One of the 27 or so remaining P50s, which cost £199 new, was sold at auction in 2016 for US $176,000. These cars were revived in 2010 on the BBC “Dragon’s Den” programme and production restarted in Nottinghamshire, England of both the Peel P50 and the Peel Trident, its bubble-canopied stable mate, pictured below and bringing up the distant reat in the Goodwood Revival photograph. These are available as petrol and electric vehicles.

Behind the Peel P50 at Goodwood is a Bond 3-wheeler Minicar. It’s hard to say for sure but it looks like a Minicar Mark E, F or G. This would have been powered by a 197cc Villiers 2-stroke engine in the Minicar Mark E and a 250cc Villiers in the F and G Marks.

These 1950s and 1960s English microcars are not so well-known and collectible as some of their European counterparts, but we think they will be and they’re growing in value. Bond was also responsible for the much better-known 1970s icon known as the Bond Bug (see below).

Bond Mark F microcar
A 1959 Bond Mark F
1970s Bond Bug
The iconic Bond Bug screams the arrival of the 1970s

There’s a saying that “necessity is the mother of invention”; this is certainly the case in the history of the microcar. Many of these vehicles were scratched together from what little was available by way or raw materials in order to get people moving so that post war economies could start to gain momentum and recover, which they did.

The microcars are products of their time and circumstance. We’re pretty sure that it would never have occurred to people in the 1950s and 1960s that this cheap, functional transport would be worth a lot of money 50 years later.

Citroën H van teardrop camper

Quirky Rides?

We have a preoccupation with quirky cars and other vehicles. They all have a story behind them.

We acquire rare, unusual and quirky cars for private clients and for film, TV, media, advertising and promotional projects. If you need something odd with wheels, you’ve come to right place whether you’re Joe or Josephine Bloggs looking for an inexpensive future classic or corporate client needing any number of vehicles for a movie.

If you’re looking for something we don’t have on our Cars page then just email info@quirkyrides and tell us what you’re looking for.

We first became known as a consequence of our involvement in the Man From UNCLE movie for which we supplied more than a dozen vehicles, including some of the main players as you can see from the movie trailer.

Quirky Rides supplied a number of cars for the Man From UNCLE movie

We collaborate with people you may have heard of on projects related to quirky rides of all descriptions, so watch this space for future developments.

There are many reasons to be interested in the cars that people have forgotten, laugh at or that “made it” but still look odd.

Some of the oddball cars we’re interested in had a major impact on car design, whether it’s the transition from electric cars (which were the norm before the internal combustion engine ever sat in a car) to petrol/diesel and back again, or the preoccupation with aerodynamic form and the need to reduce drag coefficient, the expression of national pride and preoccupation shown in the US “Space Race” cars of the 1950s and 1960s, or the fantastic curios that emerged from the Eastern side of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.

This initial blog post is just by way of saying “hi” to you all and to thank you for your interest in what we do. Stay tuned for regular blog posts on all kinds of quirky rides, events and happenings for those who find themselves diagonally parked in a parallel universe.


Toyota Will Vi

Toyota Will Vi
A rare Japanese “retro” car from 2000.

The WiLL Vi is a subcompact car, produced from 2000 to 2001, with distinctive styling combining elements of many cars. The WiLL Vi was designed by the then newly formed Virtual Venture Company, headed by Jim Shimizu. The unique-appearing reverse-raked rear window had earlier appeared on the Mazda Carol, the Ford Anglia (1959–1968), and the Citroen Ami. The “neo-retro” look represented a period in Japan where vehicles took on the styling of historic vehicles from the 1950s and 1960s, such as the Nissan Be-1Nissan FigaroNissan Pao, the Toyota Origin, the Subaru Vivio Bistro, and the Mitsubishi Minica.

The car was equipped with MacPherson struts for the front wheels and a torsion beam axle for the rear wheels. The car was painted in a number of pastel colors, and the plastic wheel covers resemble sand dollars. One of the few options was a canvas roof, and the vehicle was installed with bench seats for both front and rear passengers, with the gearshift installed on the dashboard.

Quirky Rides has 2 of these rare gems, one of which has the “ragtop” canvas roof. They’re based on the mechanicals and running gear of the Toyota Yaris Mk1 so it’s very easy to source parts and maintain this very reliable car.

The interior is unlike anything you’ll have previously seen with its bench seats, column-mounted gear lever (it’s an automatic) and quirky but useful and functional

Toyota Will Vi interior
The quirky interior of the Toyota Will Vi

Have a look on our Cars page to see more about the Toyota Will Vi and other quirky cars we have for sale.