Classic pickup trucks’ simplicity is both their biggest selling point and biggest weakness. And we’re not talking only about thinner A-pillars and lack of airbags. Classic trucks have fewer, if any, complicated electronics and fuel injection systems. But while that makes them simpler to fix, it also means they emit significantly more emissions and use more fuel. Carburetors also require the truck owner spend more time messing around under the hood. However, there is one solution: a classic pickup truck electric conversion.
Can you convert a classic pickup truck to electric drive?
The idea isn’t as crazy as it might seem. Companies like Zelectric, as Hagerty reported, have already demonstrated how converting classic vehicles to EV power improves not just emissions, but desirability, too. Switching to electric power also lets a classic car or truck make much more power and torque than its old engine could.
Chevrolet proved that with the E-10 SEMA build, a 1962 C-10 pickup converted to electric drive. The biggest C-10 V8 option in ’62 developed 185 hp. The E-10? 450 hp. And from what we’ve heard, performance wasn’t the only thing about the E-10 that was well-received.
Before, a classic pickup truck electric conversion would have meant completely replacing all the drivetrain elements. All that would be left of the original truck would be the interior and bodywork. Now though, as Road & Track has reported, it’s possible to link an electric motor to a car’s original manual transmission. The Chevy E-10, for instance, uses a conventional GM 4-speed automatic.
Classic truck owners can now have their old-school transmission and four-wheel drive systems but with fewer emissions and less hassle. There are even electric crate motors—the E-10 uses two Chevrolet Performance ones—that mimic the look of vintage V8s. And several companies even offer turn-key, close to slot-in builds and kits. In an interview with R&T, EV conversion company EV West claimed turning a converted classic back to gasoline could take as little as half a day.
Wouldn’t an electric conversion ruin a classic pickup truck?
Some classic pickup fans may argue that losing the old engines means their trucks won’t sound the same. And to be fair, it is true that electric motors don’t make much noise. That’s actually been a point of contention where safety is concerned. But that E-10? The build team installed speakers that mimic a revving Chevy V8.
In any case, classic pickup trucks weren’t really designed with piercing engine noises in mind. They were, and are, purchased and judged are for utility and looks. That’s what led to the Zombie electrified Ford Mustang. And the trucks listed below have both in equal measure.
Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler
The original Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler pickup was so popular, one Michigan Jeep dealer offers a customized Gladiator resembling it. With locking front hubs, four-wheel drive, and transfer case, this was a properly utilitarian off-roader. But those rad side-stripes were what really drew people in. But it wasn’t exactly quick: its biggest engine option, a 5.0-liter V8, only made 125 hp and 218 lb-ft.
Fitting an electric drivetrain to a CJ-8 Scrambler wouldn’t just add more performance. It would be a great way to be the first to own an off-roading pickup truck. And while a plug-in hybrid Gladiator may be in the works, an electric CJ-8 Scrambler might be the only pure-EV Jeep we’ll see for some time.
International Harvester Scout and Travelall
The International Scout sometimes gets forgotten about, compared to the Ford Bronco or Chevy Blazer. But the Scout, in pickup and SUV form, was a direct competitor to the CJ Jeep when it came to affordable off-roading. And the Scout offered better weather protection and refinement.
Converting a Scout or Travelall wouldn’t just improve off-road performance, it would solve the parts-availability problems that first-gen Scouts sometimes suffer from. Scout prices are on the rise, but a Travelall offers the same capability and design for a fraction of the price.
Dodge Power Wagon
While the International Scout and CJ Jeep may have helped popularize 4WD, the original Dodge Power Wagon was the first pickup offered from the factory with it. Derived from military vehicles, it was sold from 1946 until 1968. And it’s iconic enough for several companies to offer updated restorations.
However, no one’s made an electric Power Wagon yet. That’s strange, considering the hype Bollinger’s square-edged off-roading electric B2 pickup is enjoying. Trading a 70-year-old engine for an electric motor would be an excellent way to keep a Power Wagon going. And like we’ve said before, you could even keep the original 4WD system and transfer case.
Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser
An amazingly capable and utilitarian vehicle, the Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser is arguably the poster-child for overlanding’s Instagram popularity. It’s also perhaps the best example of how popular retsomodding old pickups and SUVs has become. Icon made its name with its FJ builds. But neither Icon nor The FJ Company has offered an electric FJ40.
However, someone already has. The company developing the electric V8-look-alike crate engines, Electric GT, is currently finishing up an electric FJ. In fact, according to Green Car Reports, the 1970 FJ40 is actually the testbed for the crate engine’s design. At the moment, the system lets a single crate engine (which actually houses two motors) make 140 hp and 240 lb-ft. Which doesn’t sound like much, but that’s better than any engine Toyota offered for the J40 Land Cruiser.
If any classic pickup truck could benefit from an electric conversion that would retain its off-road features, it would be the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. With 4WD and three locking differentials, the G-Wagon is almost ridiculously competent when it comes to off-roading. While the original versions weren’t sold officially in the US, they are old enough to legally import. And considering it wasn’t until the 463 second-gen that a V8 engine was offered, fitting an electric powertrain is sure to liven-up performance.
Volkswagen Rabbit pickup
Although Volkswagen offers a mid-size pickup elsewhere, the last time a VW pickup was sold in the US was 1984. With the help of Smyth Performance, you can turn a fairly modern Golf or Jetta into a ute pickup. But there’s no way of turning an electric e-Golf into a pickup. All the more reason to convert an old VW Rabbit pickup into electric drive. Owners have already performed engine and transmission swaps with them—an electric conversion is just a logical next step. The end result is a compact pickup that you can easily haul and park in the city, and that recharges overnight.