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Classic cars experiencing royal rebirths as electric vehicles

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Car makers relaunching classics as electric vehicles

Royal couple rode in electric Jaguar at wedding

CNN  — 

Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, are a trend-setting couple on many levels – but there is one movement they’ve championed that has gone relatively unnoticed.

With the world’s cameras set upon them last month, the royal couple rode in style from their wedding ceremony to the evening reception in a 1968 baby blue Jaguar E-type.

What global viewers may not have realized, however, is that the roadster had been refitted with a full battery-powered engine – an apt ride for the environment-conscious couple.

The prototype Jaguar E-type Concept Zero is so far a one-off, but E-type owners with a spare $400,000 can also get the electric conversion. Jaguar hopes it will “future-proof” classic car ownership and lead to a high-end electric fleet of what Enzo Ferrari called “the most beautiful car in the world.”

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Royal wedding. The newly married Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, leaving Windsor Castle after their wedding to attend an evening reception at Frogmore House, hosted by the Prince of Wales. Picture date: Saturday May 19, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Wedding. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire URN:36595597
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The E-type is one of several classics experiencing rebirths as zero-emission vehicles for a new generation of drivers.

But while Jaguar is striving to convert original models, other companies are basing all-new electric vehicles on retro-styled classics.

The Volkswagen Camper, the Mini Cooper and Fiat 500 – the originals of which had been confined mostly to collectors, or enthusiasts who didn’t mind getting their hands dirty after breakdowns – are being reimagined for the electric age.

The wave is inevitable, given laws designed to phase out fuel-based cars around the world. Jaguar Land Rover announced it would focus entirely on fully electric or hybrid designs by 2020, while Volvo vowed to do the same by next year.

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Divided opinions

Months before Harry and Meghan’s famous drive, Jaguar unveiled plans for its E-type Zero in London. To the naked eye, its makeover is undetectable, with all its 1960s design perfection intact.

It will boast a 0-62 mph time of 5.5 seconds – certainly speedy, but intentionally limited for authenticity’s sake.

The prototype driven by Prince Harry was a 1968 Series 1.5 Jaguar E-type Roadster that had its six-cylinder engine removed and refitted with a battery pack of similar weight, with an electric motor stashed in place of the original gearbox.

“That’s got to be the best bit of product placement in a long time,” says Jaguar Enthusiast Club general manager Graham Searle, who applauds the efforts of car makers to relaunch their gas guzzling classics as environmentally friendly clones.

“I was quite staggered really, I thought, ‘Wow what an incredible thing to do.’”

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Searle, who founded the club 35 years ago and owns four Jaguars of his own, admits that tinkering with collectors’ ideas of perfection can be a dangerous prospect for manufacturers.

“The traditional theory of a new Jaguar is always under threat,” he says. “An E-type being battery powered has certainly divided opinion.”

Tim Hanning, the director of Jaguar Land Rover Classic, counters that their attention to detail in the E-Type Zero “ensures a period Jaguar remains authentic to its DNA.”

“Our aim with E-type Zero is to future-proof classic car ownership,” he says.

‘Affordable for millions, not just to millionaires’

Royals are not the only ones riding the electric car wave. Surfers, hippies, and outdoor adventurers who have been nurturing their Volkswagen Campers since the 1950s will soon have their own electric versions to nest in.

Set for release in 2022, the Volkswagen I.D. BUZZ will pack all the convenience of its camper van predecessors without the hassle – or emissions.

Boasting a collapsible eight-seat interior with enough space for “bikes and boards,” the van will feature all-wheel drive and a battery range of 372 miles (600 kilometers).

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess estimates that by 2025 his company will be selling 1 million electric cars each year that are “affordable for millions, not just to millionaires.”

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JUNE 10: Mitch Evans (NZL), Panasonic Jaguar Racing, Jaguar I-Type II. Mitch Evans (NZL), Panasonic Jaguar Racing, Jaguar I-Type II.  on June 10, 2018 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Sam Bloxham/Jaguar Panasonic Racing via Getty Images)
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Not to be left out, compact classics are also enjoying electric rejuvenation.

The tiny Mini Cooper, the modern version of the car made famous by the 1969 Michael Caine film “The Italian Job,” will be relaunched as a fully electric vehicle in time for its 60th anniversary next year. (The film, incidentally, went through its own remake in 2003.)

The Mini Electric will be produced at the company’s plant in Oxford, England, based on the smallest three-door hatchback model. The BMW Group, which owns the Mini brand, is a leader in electric cars, with two BMW electric models on the market and more planned.

Meanwhile, the Fiat 500 has been an electric vehicle pioneer since 2017. Though Fiat successfully launched a suite based on its much-loved “Cinquecento” in 2007, a fully electric 500e hit the market a decade later.

Currently, the 500e is available exclusively for the U.S. market. Though the car boasts 111 horsepower, its 84-mile driving range limits the 500e to mostly city driving.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Fiat Chrysler’s Maserati is reportedly set to debut a fully electric two-seater in 2020.

Though it may take some getting used to, going electric has its advantages for classic car lovers, says Jaguar enthusiast Searle.

“Personally, I think everything has to work towards the future at some stage,” he says.

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“The ability to drive a car that looks like your car, and has a lot of the characteristics of your car, and is run on battery can’t be ignored.”