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[NEWS] Matt Prior: restomods work best with their original styling

Matt Prior: restomods work best with their original styling

99 opel manta electromod drive 2021 lead

Our man thinks that updated looks don't always suit classic cars

News of more electric restomods. One very sensible, one sort of not. 

A few weeks ago, we drove the unsensible one, the Opel Manta GSe Elektromod, Opel’s own battery-electric take on its 1970s coupé. How unsensible is it? Well, Opel has made the batteries small enough to leave enough boot space “for a fortnight’s holiday in Italy for four”, yet in doing so has made the batteries small enough that the Manta has a range of just 124 miles. Which isn’t ideal for a fortnight’s holiday in Italy for four, unless you start not too far away from Italy.

Anyway, that aside, it’s a very cool thing, and I love its steering wheel and seats, but there’s something about its looks – and I don’t think this is unusual for restomods – that jars. Somehow the juxtaposition of the modern bits of design and the old bits don’t quite meld together in my eyes. And I’m never sure quite why. 

Take the Manta’s funky new flat strip LED-ish headlights and the translucent composite panel that houses them. Is it that I’ve never seen them alongside the narrow but pretty shape of the rest of the Manta before, or are they genuinely stylistically worse than round lamps within a lightly chromed grille? 

Was this car’s shape fundamentally meant to have strips of chrome framing the glass and body areas, with the result that there’s less coloured body area overall, and where it is painted, the lines are broken up with brightwork slashes? 

And what of the wheels? These new ones are so large and wear such low-profile tyres that it looks odd to my eyes, either because it’s unexpected or because it will never look right. Fundamentally, it affects the Manta’s stance. If the Opel designers of 1970 were planning those wheels, would they have designed the body shape differently in the first place?

Anyway, I really like restomods. Even electric ones. It’s just that this one looks odd to me. I feel a similar way about Cyan Racing’s Volvo P1800. The wide stance, the big wheels: it’s not quite right.

To my eyes, the best restomods are ones like the Alfaholics GTA-R, which get all the new mechanical bits and performance parts but make them look like they were meant to have been there all along.

And so to the sensible electromod. Last week, I visited a company called Electrogenic to the north of Oxford to drive a Porsche 356 you will be able to read about in January. It still just looks like a 356, so that’s something.

Also in the workshop, though, were a couple of Land Rover Defenders, for which Electrogenic got an Innovate UK grant to develop conversion tech. It puts a motor where the bottom of the diesel engine was and connects it to the standard gearbox, so the car retains low-ratio and behaves like a cross between a manual and an EV. Two 25kWh battery packs are fitted around the rest of the engine bay.

The conversion costs £25,000 or so, but farmers and landowners who generate solar or wind energy on site can save thousands a year in diesel costs, won’t generally trouble the car’s range and can charge it overnight on high-voltage power.

I’m not sure how sustainable it is to throw away an engine that exists and buy a brand-new motor, battery and electronics, but the sensibleness comes from the fact that the costs will eventually offset themselves.

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