DAMARISCOTTA, Maine — Keith Warren knows exactly where he’s headed when he finally finishes converting his classic 1976 BMW model 2002 coupe into a fully electric-powered vehicle in about a month.
Warren will roll the gleaming, cream-colored beauty out of his garage and cruise down around Biscay Pond, a few miles away. If there are no glitches with the NetGain HyPer9 alternating current power plant, he’ll loop up around Damariscotta Lake.
He reckons it’s going to feel amazing.
“It’s all I can think about,” he said. “It’s the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about every night.”
Warren, an engineer by training, has been working on the car for three years. It’s set to be the initial showpiece of his new business converting classic sports, muscle and SUV vehicles from fossil fuel-burning throwbacks to cars of the future. He thinks turning old cars electric is not only good for the planet, it’s the best way to keep the classic vehicles he loves on the road, doing what they do best — eating up miles and putting on smiles.
Besides the BMW, he’s converting a red 1967 convertible Chevy Camaro and a big-wheeled 1969 Land Rover 4×4. When finished, his small fleet will hit the regional car show circuit to drum up business. Warren has already secured a bigger workshop space at Brunswick Landing, a business park at a former Navy base
Warren said he already has a handful of interested customers. He hopes to be up and running in earnest by summer.
Before opening his own business, he spent years doing structural engineering on high-end houses. Warren also designed internal systems for yachts, but he’s always been a car guy.
“Absolutely, ever since I was five, when I bought Matchbox cars,” Warren said. “I bought my ’67 Camaro in 1989 when I was 17.”
He and his wife, Shannon Parker, have owned and adored their BMW coupe for decades. Parker, who drives a 1960s pickup truck during the summer months, is set to run the sales and marketing side of the new business they’re calling Nomad Motors.
“People want to see classic cars on the road,” Parker said. “This is a good way to make that happen. It’s about looking to yesterday to inform the future.”
The process of converting classic gasoline cars to electric is an established industry on the West Coast, as well as in the United Kingdom. However, it’s relatively unknown on the East Coast. Nomad Motors will be the only operation devoted solely to converting classic cars to electric vehicles in Maine.
In terms of performance, the electric motor is an upgrade for the couple’s BMW, even though it will technically provide less horsepower.
“When we talk about EVs, we focus more on the torque rather than the horsepower because the torque is delivered instantaneously,” Warren said, donning his virtual engineer’s hat.
Essentially, an electric motor can provide the same power, or torque, from start to finish. There’s no need for a transmission or gears, as with a gas engine. All of an electric motor’s high end power is available from the first moment you step on the accelerator.
The original BMW gas engine topped out at just over 100 foot pounds of torque at its peak.
“This vehicle has 162 foot pounds of torque — so this car is going to be really fast,” Warren said.
The BMW’s NetGain HyPer9 motor is powered by six liquid-cooled Tesla batteries located in the trunk.
On the outside, the car will be indistinguishable from its old self. The plug-in power receptacle is located where the gas cap used to be. Warren has even wired the battery life indicator into the car’s old gas gauge. Only a few extra buttons on the dashboard and its silent running will give it away as an electric vehicle.
“And there’s no tailpipe,” Warren said.
In Maine classic cars with EV retrofits can maintain their current registrations. Those are based on vehicle identification numbers, which come from a car’s frame. The motor doesn’t come into play.
As for the cost, like classic cars themselves, the conversion is a luxury service. Warren said prices, depending on the car and conversion complexities, will range somewhere between $60,000 and $100,000. That appears to be similar to companies in California such as Zelectric, which does conversions of mid-century Volkswagen and Porsche cars starting at $68,000, according to Marketplace.
“The biggest piece of that is the batteries,” Warren said. “As new manufacturers start coming into the market, and we’re no longer dependent on just Tesla batteries, those prices are going to start to drop significantly.”
While Warren is designing the electrical retrofits himself, he’s partnered with Warren “Bub” Santerre at Bub’s Body Shop in Augusta to take care of the painting and rust repairs.
Santerre opened his shop more than 40 years ago in 1981, and wasn’t quite sold on the electric conversions when Warren first approached him.
“Old die-hards don’t like to see change,” Santerre said.
But the more he thought about it, the more he came around to the idea.
“Otherwise, it’s going to be difficult to keep these old cars on the road for future generations,” he said.
Santerre expects to deliver Warren’s freshly painted Camaro any day now and is eager to see how it goes with a new, electric motor this summer — and maybe even take it for a spin.
“I hope I get to go for a ride in it, at least,” he said.