Classic car enthusiasts are turning to the most modern of automotive technology to ensure their gems from the past still have a place in the future.

As governments push to lower the emissions burden caused by the millions of cars on our roads, more and more owners are opting to convert their classics from petrol engines to electric motors.

When Ian Corlett reverses his silver 1966 Porsche 912 out of the garage of his home near Los Angeles, it makes barely a sound.

More and more classic and vintage cars are having their petrol engines replaced with electric motors
Image: More and more classic and vintage cars are having their petrol engines replaced with electric motors

Because the car’s iconic ‘boxer’ petrol engine has been whipped out and replaced by a small and immaculate electric pack and a stack of batteries.

Ian said: “If you love vintage cars but don’t want to deal with the mechanics, this is bullet-proof. It is kind of like the vintage car for people who like brand new cars. It ticks all the boxes.”

He admits he does miss the classic throaty Porsche roar when he is driving. But the low maintenance and 100-mile range is compensation enough.

There is a growing anxiety in the classic car world about how the vehicles will remain sustainable amid the push to phase out petrol power in the years to come.

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It has helped fuel the boom in conversions, even if the costs currently run into the tens of thousands.

Tesla motors are used to refit classic cars with electric motors
Image: Teslas are used to refit classic cars with electric motors

A few miles north of San Diego, Michael Bream runs EV West, one of the leading exponents of the art of turning petrol classics into electric ones.

The initial aim was not to save the planet but to save the cars and improve their performance. The environmental benefits are a welcome by-product which is increasingly important for many owners.

Most of the electric motors at EV West are pulled from written-off Teslas.

“Being environmentally and socially responsible, we’re putting out a product with a high recyclable content and a very low carbon footprint. We’re essentially taking motors and batteries out of cars that didn’t previously have a purpose. By mating those to the classic cars, we’re fixing two problems in one.”

There is dissent though from the purists.

Have traditional petrol engines had their day?
Image: Have traditional petrol engines had their day?

“When you start tampering with the essence of a gasoline-powered vehicle, essentially its heart beat, its engine, its motive power, then it diminishes the car,” said Leslie Kendall, curator at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

The museum is packed with examples from the long history of the electric car.

“I just personally hope that the people who decide to do that to their vehicles do it with cars that are not of surpassing importance as original authentic vehicles. You’re going to want to leave that originality and authenticity intact,” Mr Kendall added.

But Michael Bream disagrees.

“The museums are full, they don’t want another Volkswagen,” he said. “Let’s take care of the guys that really want to enjoy driving.”

Other big questions lie ahead for classic car owners – how they will cope on roads full of autonomous vehicles for example – in a future of motoring which is fast approaching.