Electric dream: Lunaz Design is sparking bright new interest in the longevity of classic cars by plugging in to futuristic tech
We explore how electric conversion could give your classic vehicles a new lease of life
As the car industry becomes ever more conscious of its impact on the environment, the question of how future generations can enjoy the unique driving experiences of classic cars is more important than ever before for collectors. It’s this that inspired David Lorenz in his mission to convert some of the world’s most iconic classics to fully electric with his company, Lunaz Design.
But unlike others in the same business, Lunaz Design is steering clear of converting classics to electric by using used Tesla parts. Instead, its team of engineers, technicians and battery specialists, located at Lunaz’s 10,000 sq ft workshop at Silverstone Technology Park, have designed a powertrain solution to pioneer the movement.
“Lunaz Design is capturing a moment in what will be the future of classic cars,” Lorenz says. “I grew up loving cars and began collecting classics thanks to my now-wife Gia, who picked me up on a date in her Mercedes-Benz 190SL. We now have a one-year-old daughter, Luna, and I don’t want her missing out on classic cars. Whether you like it or not, within her lifetime combustion engines will be completely replaced as we begin to go fully electric.”
Lorenz founded Lunaz and took on Jon Hilton, a pioneering mechanical engineer who previously worked with Rolls-Royce aircraft engines before becoming chief engineer for Cosworth’s Formula 1 programme and later Renault F1’s technical director, winning both drivers’ and constructors’ Formula 1 World Championships in 2005 and 2006. In 2007, he started his own mechanical hybrid company, Flybrid, which built the first ever hybrid car to race at Le Mans. He ran the company for eight years before selling up, but it was meeting Lorenz that inspired him to return to the workplace. >>
“I own classic cars and was doing a bit of classic car restoration myself while not working – and then I met David,” says Hilton. “It’s my view that we’re going to swap over to electric cars really quickly and that by the mid-2020s sales of electric car will be passing 50%. That’s really not very far away, so we’re taking this very seriously, building a company where we expect to scale up quickly.”
Lunaz Design offers conversions for any make and model of classic car, beginning with two very different cars – the 1961 Rolls-Royce Phantom V and the 1953 Jaguar XK120.
“For me, this old eight-seater limousine is the ultimate Phantom. It’s an enormous, six-metre vehicle and weighs nearly three tonnes. We’re pushing the limits to give it a range to match a Tesla and the highest performance, and I know that if we can get this one right, every other car is going to be so easy,” says Lorenz. “Then we’re going for ultimate performance with the XK120, so it’s got completely different challenges, but we’re being incredibly respectful of the original car. You won’t know it’s been converted until you switch on the motor. It will be able to compete with modern sports cars, yet you’re driving a 1953 Jaguar with the look and styling.”
Hilton says of these challenges: “The production process when these cars were first built was very different to today’s, and the Phantom is quite a feat of hand-building. Some of our biggest challenges are undoing bodge-jobs from the past. We take our classic cars to bits and restore them to the highest possible standard before adding our upgrades. We improve the safety, performance and handling.”
This balance between loyal restoration and modern performance lies in the quality of Lunaz Design.
“The change from petrol to electric isn’t straightforward, but all of our components are new. We’ve designed everything in-house to make sure it all fits properly,” says Hilton. “Most conversions use batteries from older or damaged Teslas as standard, but we’re not comfortable not knowing the history of our parts. We fit new motors, controllers, batteries; new everything.” >>
Both Hilton and Lorenz admit that, as self-confessed petrolheads, part of the appeal of certain classic car has always been the roar and power of the engine. But both are convinced that even the most sceptical of classic car owner would not be disappointed with these conversions.
“I spent 17 years of my life building Formula 1 engines – you can’t find anybody who’s more of a petrolhead than me,” says Hilton. “But these cars are brilliant. While we’ve had to take away some features, like the noise and smell, we’re giving them extra performance, traction and cruise control, electric power steering, and other features that makes the cars not just nicer to drive but more usable. The real shame of some of these beautiful old classic cars is that you can’t actually drive them – but now they can have another life.”
“To strip these cars back and give them another 60 years of life – that’s what we’re doing,” agrees Lorenz. “Our batteries will do 250,000 miles before they need to be changed, therefore we’re upgrading just about everything on the vehicle to coincide with this, including restoring the body and paintwork, of course.
“Classic cars are an obsession. We don’t want to take the absolute joy of owning these vehicles away from the owner, we want to make sure they can continue to be enjoyed. The conversion also opens up classic cars to a new market of individuals who love the look of a classic but don’t want the headache that goes alongside owning one. Imagine your 1961 Rolls-Royce Phantom could be as reliable as a 2019 model? It’s the absolute dream,” he says. “The world is moving into a more environmentally conscious state, and we have to act on it and reduce our emissions, especially in the cities. I’m so glad that our business is in line with that, and we can keep the beauty of owning classic cars.”