Peter Brazier owns the first ever Ferrari 308 to have a Tesla motor put into it. The ground-breaking electric conversion, which was performed by Electric Classic Cars over the course of nine months, has divided opinion – but not as much as you might think.
We met up with Peter at Fully Charged Live, the show born from Robert Llewellyn’s YouTube channel of the same name. The show is full of electric vehicle and renewable energy enthusiasts and the converted Ferrari is on display on the Electric Classic Cars stand, attracting its fair share of attention.
It’s not the first classic Ferrari to be electrified – a team in California converted a 1978 308 GTE a few years ago – but it’s the first to be Tesla-powered. The 1982 308 GTE now boasts 500+ bhp, a top speed of 165mph, and – most impressively – its 0-60 speed has been halved, from 7.8 to 3.8 seconds. The few naysayers Peter has encountered have had to agree, on paper, the car is better.
Away from the garages full of display vehicles and the main exhibition hall, we sat down with Peter for a coffee and asked him what had made him take the plunge and electrify his classic.
‘My interest in electric cars started because of this exhibition we’re at, Fully Charged Live. I’d been a fan of Robert Llewellyn and his YouTube show Carpool where he drove people around London in a hybrid and interviewed them. Then the Fully Charged show was established with a focus on fully electric vehicles, renewable energy and the issues surrounding that. It got me interested and one day I just bit the bullet, walked into the Tesla store in London, and bought one.’
The Tesla, he says, got him sold on the ‘ownership experience’ with electric cars; buying direct from Tesla is reportedly a very different experience to going through a dealer. His wife drives a Nissan Leaf, which he pre-ordered as soon as the book was opened for the new model. It seems both purchases were something of an impulse, but he had a hunch. ‘When you drive an electric car for the first time, you either get it or you don’t,’ he explains.
The Ferrari project is less of a surprise in this context, but how exactly did it come about?
‘I’ve had the Ferrari for 27 years; I bought it in 1992 and I’ve done pretty much everything I could do with it. The engine was getting old; every summer I had to replace parts of the fuel system; the garage always smelled of oil. It was getting to that point where I had to do something with it: either sell it, or rebuild the engine, one thing or the other. I saw what Richard Morgan [the director of Electric Classic Cars] was doing, sent a photo and he said “we can make that better” – and that was it.’
That wasn’t quite it – there was some scoping out to do for the electric conversion. For a new project on a car they haven’t converted before, the Electric Classic Cars team first have to establish what motor and battery format is going to work best.
Tesla was a no-brainer for the Ferrari – ‘we wanted to give it the best,’ says Peter. With a new project there are no templates to follow; the team have to go about building a bespoke casing for the parts. It took from September 2018 to May 2019 to complete the conversion, and Peter took many trips up to Richard’s mid-Wales headquarters (dubbed ‘the electric man cave’ by Vintage Voltage) to see the car as it progressed.
While the development of electric vehicle technology can be seen as an evolutionary process, when it comes to electrifying classics, both Peter and Richard agree it’s about conserving them for the future.
‘It’s preservation,’ says Peter. ‘[the car] is better in every way because of what we’ve done to it. The weight distribution is better; it handles better; it’s obviously become more reliable because you just get in it, switch it on, and it runs.
‘And the old parts we’ve taken out have gone on to be re-used to keep other Ferraris going. But my car has a whole new lease of life now – it’s effectively brand new.’
If it’s effectively brand new, how does it shape up compared with his modern Tesla?
‘It’s a different car. The Tesla has modern electrics; this is old: there’s no physical traction control, no ABS or power steering. But it’s got more power, more torque: it’s much faster.
‘I don’t have to keep a big bumbly V8 engine under control anymore – that was the first thing that struck me. It’s an electric car; it does what it’s told.’
While the people Peter has met at exhibitions where the Ferrari has been on display have been largely positive, electric conversion for classics has caused a lot of heated discussion online, with purists arguing that the engine is the soul of the vehicle and it’s effectively sacrilege to remove it. We asked Peter where he stands on this – does he miss the V8?
‘The only thing that’s gone is the noise. I’m quite clear in my head now about how I regard the noise; it’s an aesthetic. It can sound nice – there’s nothing nicer than a screaming V8 or a rumbling V8. And yes, it’s missing, but that’s the only thing we’ve taken away. It makes this fantastic whining jet engine noise now, it’s just a different noise.’
Peter is planning to use the Ferrari as a home energy storage device for the six months a year that it’s sat in the garage – the batteries in it could power a house for three days. Between that and the reduction in maintenance costs since the conversion, he’s getting a lot of value out of the investment.
‘Battery costs are coming down all the time; the battery is still the big cost [of conversion]. In three- or four-years’ time it will be a really cheap thing to do – and it’ll cost less than rebuilding some engines.’
While Peter is clear that this was the right choice for his Ferrari, he feels there are some cars you wouldn’t convert: there’s merit in leaving the rarer, unique models in their natural state. But as he points out, the 308 was mass-produced, and the engine wasn’t exactly popular. On that basis he feels it was a ripe candidate, and that there are other classics that could benefit from following suit.
At heart this project seems to have been about keeping a much-loved car running, making it reliable again (and ‘again’ may be a stretch for some Ferraris). But more than that, the changes made as part of the conversion have transformed and improved the car’s performance far beyond its original spec. Whatever your thoughts on electrifying classics, it can’t be denied that that’s impressive. This 308 could take most of its contemporaries easily – and you’d never hear it coming. Well, apart from the tire squeal.