From V8 to electric shock: Range Rover conversion – Part One

The Range Rover is a classic and we’re following the conversion of this 1976 Range Rover from V8 petrol to a full electric off-road icon.

Restoring a Range Rover that’s over 40 years old is hard enough, but converting it to electric drive in the process is a whole new level of difficulty, especially if a design goal is not to lose the capability that makes a Range Rover a Range Rover. But that’s exactly the aim of then team at EVolution Australia, specialists in electric vehicles, or really I should say “electric mobility”.

Don’t worry, this isn’t its first conversion or even its first Land Rover conversion, and EVolution’s electric-tech credentials go beyond than just conversions. For example, it has designed and marketed the only A/C charging unit with a “Made in Australia” registration, are in the process of rolling out a nationwide network of charging systems for Jax Tyres, and consult to customers on all matters electric. EVolution also distributes the Zappi home charger which ensures your EV is charged only from renewables, and sell a huge variety of charging leads, adaptors and units…something Australia still needs as our EV charging infrastructure isn’t as standardised as it could and should be.

The company has been operating since 2015, and plans to offer customer conversions, possibly kits if there’s demand, as well as its existing range of EV consulting and products.

But what you see here is going to be a flagship for the brand. It’s a Classic Range Rover, and the capital C is deliberate as is the choice of vehicle. It’ll be noticed. Get attention. Just like the Range Rover did when it arrived in 1970.

Bonnet-mounted wing mirrors, narrow high-profile tyres, thin pillars, expanses of glass, a live axle at the front and and a square nose…the original Range Rover looks dated but yet also timelessly beautiful and purposeful.

Back then the 4X4 world was a very different place – the off-roaders of the day were basic, rough vehicles with no mod-cons, leaf springs, limited power and no style – think Land Rover Series 2a, Jeep CJ-5 (the Wrangler wouldn’t exist until 1986) and Nissan Patrol G60.

The automotive world changed with the introduction of the Range Rover, one of the few vehicles in history that could truly be called revolutionary. It looked stylish, and backed up the beauty with performance, on-road handling and incredible off-road capability, made possible by its ground-breaking design features such as coil springs, and all-wheel-drive with V8 power.

electric range rover

Even today the ‘Range Rover’ name is the byword for luxury 4×4 capability, and the car is one of the few vehicles to truly merit the cliche beloved of car marketing managers, ‘iconic’. Land Rover has capitalised on the cachet to expand the lineup to Range Rover Evoque, Range Rover Velar, Range Rover Sport and the original, just the Range Rover – colloquially now known as the FFRR, or Full Fat Range Rover.

Is that too much, squeezing the name a bit too hard like BMW has done with Mini and Cooper?  Some would say, yes, and personally I tend to agree as, for me, ‘Range Rover’ means a best-in-class mix of on-road, off-road, luxury and tow ability…and not all vehicles in the current lineup can claim that title. But enough diversions, back to our story.

The reason “Classic” has a capital C is because in 1994, an amazing 24 years after the 1970 reveal, the Range Rover was updated into the P38A model, named because the design team were in Block 38A at Land Rover’s Solihull HQ. So to differentiate the two the original Range Rover became known as the Classic, but it’s old enough, and important enough to also warrant. also a small ‘c’ for a classic car. A classic Classic, if you like.

electric range rover
From 1970 till 2020…just four generations of Range Rover – Classic, P38A, L322 and L405.

And that brings us neatly to the Classic Range Rover being converted by EVolution. It’s more than 40 years old and in need of a lot of attention. The seats are ripped, there’s rust in places, literally rats nests in others, and lots of components are worn well beyond their useful life.

But beneath the torn seats, dirt and stains the car is basically sound, and unmodified except for the installation of an LPG gas system, remember those? And now this lucky Range Rover will be reborn into a new life as a pure electric drive vehicle, and we’re excited to follow the build from start to finish, because as EVolution founder Russ Shepherd says, the Rangie is “cool cubed – classic car, 4×4 and electric drive”.  And there’s another C for this car, Chrissy. That’s its name, which EVolution business development manager Emma Sutcliffe says is after the “iconic Geelong musician Chrissy Amphlett, lead singer of the Divinyls”. But that answers the what not the why, the connection…we’ll find out in due course.

Just about any car can be converted to electric drive, but Russ says you want to “pick a car you’ll add value to, so it’ll be worth something extra after the conversion”. This means choosing a car that’s inherently already cool, like the Classic, or maybe a Jaguar E-Type, original Mini or 40 Series.  EVolution’s first conversion was a 2006 Audi A3, but they’re the first to admit that mid-noughties Audi hatchback isn’t most people’s idea of a super-cool vehicle.

But the heritage, value and coolness of a car like the Range Rover does present a conundrum – should such a vehicle be converted at all, or left pure and original? I asked readers on my Facebook page if converting a classic Range Rover would be sacrilege, and only 27% agreed it would be, with 73% in favour of conversion.

Personally, I’m in the middle (and we’d like to know where you are!) I would hate to see all classics converted, because I enjoy and want to preserve the purity of the original, and electric drive never feels the same as petrol, there’s not the sense of mechanical life. But, electric drive is cool too, and for a classic car which may not be used every day, arguably more practical. Russ says the conversion will be reversible, so in the future maybe there’ll be kits to convert to electric, and kits to convert back to petrol. Cost is also a factor too. Regardless of whether you convert to electric or just restore, it’ll come with a price-tag. But restoring a full ICE drivetrain, from rebuilding the engine to replacing the exhaust isn’t cheap, and maybe it’s better to spend that money on electric power. The debate will continue, and we’re very much interested in reader views.

Regardless of opinion, EVolution has already begun the conversion. Chrissy has new wheels, tyres, axles, and a full suspension kit from Pedders – coils, shocks, dampers and bushes. The brakes have been entirely replaced too – pads, rotors, fluids and lines. The new brake kit will last a very long time because after the electric conversion is done Chrissy will have regenerative braking. That means when the vehicle slows down it’ll turn the motors into generators and recharge its batteries, allowing a one-pedal driving experience where you barely touch the brakes. This means the energy the car dissipates in slowing down is turned into range-extending electricity, not just being lost to heat like a normal car. Regenerative braking is common on production EVs, but not always implemented in aftermarket conversions. EVolution tell us they “don’t want to lose any Range Rover capability” so the vehicle will retain its off-road ability, and yes that includes the ability to deal with water – a topic we’ll come back to.

We had a brief drive of Chrissy for perhaps the last time she’ll run under internal combustion engine (ICE) power, and instantly you remember why the Range Rover is so loved. The driving position sees up you sat up high, with a panoramic view of the road. You don’t get that today because occupants need to be sat lower, cocooned in a safety tub, with thick A, B and C pillars. In fact, the Range Rover driving position of high and visibility was so different in the early days it was named the “command position”.  And then there’s the old Rover V8, a sound that every car lover enjoys, no matter how much they enthuse about EVs. The gearshift is, as you’d expect, vague but it works, and you kind of get a tantalising glimpse of what this Range Rover must have been like in its youth. But unlike us humans, cars can be re-invented.

The team face a lot of challenges with Chrissy’s rebirth as an EV, but none EVolution hasn’t solved before on other vehicles. For example, the number and placement of batteries, engineering approvals and locating the charge points. Even converting the controls and dash for EV use takes work as you no longer need a fuel gauge, but you do need a extras like a battery charge indicator. ICE vehicles have a built-in source of heat, even producing too much which is why they have cooling systems like radiators, but EVs do not…so how do you warm the cabin? And with any vehicle project of this nature, there’s going to be unexpected problems to solve.

Stay tuned as we follow the build of what promises to produce a very interesting, classic Classic.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I owned a classic for many years and it’s still my favourite car ever . Couldn’t justify the fuel bill though in the end . As EVs have increased I wondered if any one would do this sort of conversion so searched and found your article!
    Great reading thanks !
    Tony – Auckland.

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