Classic SUVs That Deserve an Electric Conversion

With the development of electric crate motors, and classic trucks being converted to electric drive, it’s now easier than ever to turn an iconic oldie into an EV. But it isn’t only classic cars and pickups that can now run on electrons. SUVs, in fossil-fuel form, are often criticized (not entirely undeservedly) for their emissions issues. Classic SUVs, with carburetors and older tech, are in some ways even worse than modern ones in this regard. But replacing the gasoline or diesel engine with an electric motor solves many of these issues. And there are a number of classic SUVs that especially deserve an electric conversion.

Ford Bronco

First-Gen Ford Bronco
First-Gen Ford Bronco | Ford

The original Ford Bronco helped bring affordable four-wheel drive to the American masses. It was more refined than either the CJ Jeep or International Scout—smaller than the Scout, too. The SUV is so iconic, Ford is bringing it back, and even making a ‘baby’ version. But while there may be a new Bronco hybrid, there won’t be a full-electric version. And though high-power V8 swaps, as with Jay Leno’s ’68 Bronco, are popular, an electric conversion would offer several advantages.

Jay Leno 1968 Ford Bronco SEMA | Ford-00
Jay Leno 1968 Ford Bronco SEMA | Ford

For one, a large amount of torque from 0 rpm—good for towing and off-roading. For another, better energy-efficiency and lower emissions. Considering fuel-efficiency is what killed off the original Bronco, an EV conversion would go a long way to keeping one on the road.

Chevrolet Blazer

First Gen Chevy Blazer
First Gen Chevy Blazer | GM

The new Blazer hasn’t been exactly warmly welcomed. But perhaps that’s because its predecessors are held to such high regard. Especially the K5 Blazer, a worthy rival to the Bronco. A relatively luxurious early SUV, it also sported heavy-duty suspension and was built tough enough to be used by the US Army before the Humvee arrived. But while very capable off-road, it wasn’t particularly powerful or fuel-efficient.

First Gen Chevy Blazer
First Gen Chevy Blazer | GM

Even with fuel injection, its 5.7-liter V8 could only give 210 hp. And the big 6.2-liter ‘Detroit Diesel’ V8 made even less. Putting two of Electric GT’s crate engines into a K5 Blazer would definitely make its performance electrifying.

Chevrolet Suburban

Although still technically a full-size, the Blazer was actually Chevrolet’s smallest SUV. Originally a station wagon, the Suburban morphed into Chevrolet’s largest SUV over its 80-plus years of production. But it wasn’t until the fifth-gen, in 1960, that the Suburban offered four-wheel drive. Both the fifth- and sixth-gen (1967-1972) models were popular in their day, and their old-school styling is popular today, too.

Although more of a handful off-road than the Blazer, due to its length, the Suburban is an excellent classic SUV electric conversion candidate. And it might also be more reliable than some of the latest Suburban models.

Land Rover Defender

America had the Willys Jeep, but Great Britain had the Land Rover Defender. Although the Defender name didn’t show up until 1990, the SUV is a truly iconic 4×4 off-roader. If the F-150 hasn’t convinced you aluminum can be tough, the aluminum-bodied Defender will. The new Defender will mark the first time Americans can legally buy one since 1997, and the US-legal 1993-1997 models are incredibly valuable. Doug DeMuro has one and absolutely loves it.

Bollinger B1 Front
Bollinger B1 | Bollinger

However, though valuable and off-road tough, the US-spec Defenders’ engines aren’t exactly powerful. Doug’s Defender 90 has a 4.0-liter V8 that makes 185 hp. And it’s not necessarily reliable. But an electric conversion can fix some of these issues. And an electric Land Rover Discovery would definitely make a good trail companion (and rival) to the Bollinger B1.

Range Rover

While the Range Rover is still in production, the original is now a classic, and an icon in its own right. While it isn’t quite as rugged as the Defender, the 1970 Range Rover deftly balanced off-road utility and upscale luxury. And like the Toyota FJ40, a healthy restomod market has grown up around it.

Part of such restoration involves a complete tear-down and rebuild of the engine and electronics, according to Jalopnik. But parts-sourcing rather difficult, converting the Range Rover to electric drive makes a lot of sense. And silent speed fits quite well with the Range Rover’s refined image.

Jeep Grand Wagoneer

But the Range Rover wasn’t the first luxury SUV. That would arguably be the Jeep Grand Wagoneer. A classic SUV that can still conquer winter in comfort, it enjoyed an almost 30-year-long production run relatively unchanged. But while Jeep is bringing the Grand Wagoneer back, it’ll be priced to compete with the Lincoln Navigator and GMC Yukon. Investing in a classic Grand Wagoneer may be kinder to the wallet.

Even early Grand Wagoneers come with 4WD. But as The Smoking Tire discovered, even the big 5.9-liter V8 in the 1990 Jeep is low on power, especially with emissions equipment. A Grand Wagoneer electric conversion should leave you with a luxury, durable classic SUV that can actually keep up with traffic.