What Do Electric Vehicles Mean for the Future of Hot Rodding?(Hopefully nothing!)
Steven Rupp-writer| Dec. 12,2021. Photos by Street Machine Central
Well, I'm honored to be tasked with penning this column after David Freiburger stepped down from doing it. In a weird coincidence, it turns out that Freiburger and I both touched on the same topic in our latest columns: electric vehicles. His column [READ HERE] delves into the question of whether EVs are really that great for the environment (spoiler alert: it's more complicated than you think). For my take on electric vehicles, I want to talk about how EVs will or won't change the face of hot rodding.
To be honest, even a few months ago I hardly gave EVs a second thought—I saw them as a wealthy person's second or third car. But then I was tasked with covering the EV conversion of our 1957 Chevy called Project X, and I learned a ton about EV-swapping a hot rod and about EVs in general. Love or hate the electric motor swap, the truth is that it was right in line with the job of Project X; namely, to try out new hot rodding technologies, and EV stuff certainly qualifies. For now, it's expensive and requires a certain skill set to accomplish. In time companies like Chevrolet Performance will drop the costs and make packages like the eCrate even more accessible to the average hot rodder. To some, EVs spell the death of internal combustion engines (ICE) and, by extension, of hot rodding as we know it. I would have to disagree with this prognosis, for our lifetimes at least, if ever.
The biggest problem with EVs in the general automotive world would be the recharging infrastructure needed (which would include increasing grid capacity) if any sizable percentage of our cars dropped ICE in favor of electricity. Sure, corporations and the well-off can have a 220V charger at their business or in their garage, but where would lower-middle class and poorer people plug in? If your parking spot is a random location on the street, what's the solution? It will take decades to solve this charging dilemma, so don't expect ICE vehicles to disappear anytime soon—most likely not even during our kids' lifetimes. EV has a place in our overall transportation picture but it's certainly not going to replace ICE vehicles in many segments.
But what about hot rodding? Well, the 2021 SEMA Show showed me that there are more than a few companies out there, including the big players like Chevrolet Performance and Ford, offering EV conversion systems, so EV will certainly be a part of the hot rodding picture, and it does offer some pretty impressive performance potential. But for many of us, hot rodding is a sensory experience. One of sight, sound, smell, and feel. With EV you can still have a stupid-fast, killer-looking hot rod, but it will be missing some of what I consider to be the soul of hot rodding: the feel of a lumpy cam, the whiff of hydrocarbons, and most of all, the sound. Call me an outdated boomer, but the one aspect of EV hot rods I can't adjust to is the lack of sound. It's just odd. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate what electrification brings to the party. But I drive a stick even though a 10-speed automatic in my ZL1/1LE Camaro would be faster. Why? Because the stick makes for a more immersive driving experience, just like driving a shaky, loud hot rod that smells of burnt fossil fuels is a more immersive hot rodding experience. Would Harley riders be as excited over a silent Harley motorcycle even if it was faster and smoother? Nope, that distinct Harley sound is part of the experience. You may like quiet civilized performance and comfort in your daily driver, but most of us like our hot rods a bit rougher around the edges.
So, while I do see EV conversions gaining popularity in the hot rodding hobby, I only see it becoming a small part of the overall mix. EFI didn't remove carbs from our hot rods, and even LS swaps are vastly outnumbered by Gen-I Chevy small-blocks. EV is just another option for hot rodders who want to go that route. But if you think EVs will take over our hobby and displace internal combustion hot rods I wouldn't advise holding your breath while you wait for it to happen.
Great article by Steven Rupp! Although I understand his point of view with Project X, I still have a hard time seeing that conversion done to such an iconic car! I do agree with his points that Hot Rodding is a very sensory experience and cannot see those things going away any time soon! In addition, one of my favorite parts is seeing the way people customize their engines and engine bays. How do we do that if there's nothing but a battery in there? Long live Internal Combustion!