A 1940s Gangster-Mobile Gets an Electric Makeover

When referring to classic cars, there’s a good reason that “they don’t make ’em like that anymore.” Old cars represented the limits of what could be done in terms of materials and manufacturing methods coupled with the styles of the time and cheap fuel. The result was big, heavy cars that would cost a fortune in gas to keep on the road today.

Some people just don’t want to let those styles go, however, and send their beast off for some special modifications. This 1949 Mercury coupe with an electric drivetrain conversion is one way of keeping that retro look alive. Granted, the body of the car is not exactly showroom quality anymore, from the light patina of rust on its heavy steel body panels to the pimples cropping up under its abundant chrome. But that’s all part of the charm; this comes from conversion company Icon’s “Derelict” line, which takes old vehicles and guts them while leaving the outside largely untouched. This Mercury was given a fully electric, 298 kW drivetrain. The engine bay and trunk, together roomier than some Silicon Valley studio apartments, provided ample room for the 85 kWh Tesla battery pack and the dual electric motors, with room left over to craft enclosures for the battery controllers that look like a V8 engine. Custom electronic gauges and controls that look like originals adorn the chrome-bedazzled dash. The beast tops out at 120 mph (193 km/h) and has a 200 mile (322 km) range before it has to find a Tesla supercharger. Or a lemonade stand.

Say what you want about the old cars, but they had plenty of style. We appreciate the work that went into this conversion, which no doubt cost more than all the gas this thing has ever guzzled.

Thanks to [Qes] for the tip.

72 thoughts on “A 1940s Gangster-Mobile Gets an Electric Makeover

    1. icon is pretty good at selling the unused parts and not throwing them away if they are serviceable. I dont know if they will go for spares, but there is a chance. either that or those parts will go to into a hotrod to make another unique creation.

  1. If I wasn’t walking around a movie studio graveyard yesterday and looking at old 1940’s Chevys and Mercedeses thinking “it would be so brutal to convert one of these to electric drivechain”
    They are huge, with great aesthetics and spacious trunk. It was so sad to just watch them rot on an open air, protected only by small roof and covered in trash.

  2. That built looks good, but is strangely lacking any video content. It would be nice to see how it sounded on the move. Obviously all the photographs of the outside just look like the petrol version, so not really that useful.

      1. This is my opinion, if author of that thing wouldn’t like to hear it he shouldn’t share it online.

        I did buy and restore a car, BMW e30. It was extremely hard to find young-timer like that in good shape. There where a lot of offers from ppl who didn’t care about car but also there where a lot of offers from people who bought car in good shape and destroy it with modifications.

    1. not a downgrade – this is a rescue from the “brown death” for the carriage. ICE’s are so neanderthal but neanderthals invented fire which is no small achievement. We DO need to keep a few around to preserve that part of our technological culture just like we do with steam locomotive engines. Now most of this machine can live again which is so much better than rotting away into a pile of rusty powder. Thes old cars are dying left and right headed towards oblivion at a frightening rate. There’s no need fo ICE fans and EV fans to fight. There’s more than enough rotting hulks out there to resurect and the two groups need each other to exchange parts. Taking a dying classic, getting its ICE running and restoring the rest of it is a good thing, but so is doing an EV conversion on a different one. ICE fans who complain about EV conversions are just whining when they should be encouraging. Doing such a conversion is no small matter and the results can be quite spectacular, especially when they bring a Tesla drive train back to life at the same time. …great big classic “boat” gliding along silently but still with power with the windows down feeling the breeze, actually hearing the birds…sweet man…sweet. :-)

    2. Where I live, the American Southwest, there are so many of these cars sitting behind houses or under the dubious shelter of an old leaky barn, because they have drivetrain problems and body problems, and the combination means they’re not worth saving so they just rust away.
      Getting a drivetrain in them at least gets someone keeping the body in reasonably good shape.

    1. I came to say exactly this. There is a common myth that since old cars are heavier they are safer. But engineering has done marvels with safety. Exhibit A: This 1959 Chevy is heavier than this 2009 Chevy. They rammed them together. The dummy in the 2009 Chevy suffered a leg injury. The dummy in the 1959 did not fare so well. Choose old cars for nostalgia or looks, but for safety/reliability/comfort/features/efficiency, go with a new car.

      1. The test is misleading because of the different designs. The Malibu doesn’t deform as much, so most of the energy is absorbed by the Bel Air, whereas crashing two equally “soft” cars together would see less damage in both because the impact energy is shared by both. Equally, if you crash two Malibus together, worse things will happen.

        In reality these cars were reasonably safe in a crash with other period cars, and nowadays they’re not because modern cars are designed to transfer impact energy to the other vehicle to get good scores in crash tests.

        1. I’ll need to see a reference on your claim that older cars were reasonably safe crashing into each other. Rigid structures mean that the cars and passengers come to a more sudden stop and therefore the passengers are more likely to die.

        2. Uh, modern cars are designed to crumple and *absorb* energy, not transfer it to the other object.

          The older cars were heavier and “stronger”, the car itself is more likely to survive a crash but the occupants are going to have to be scooped out with a ladle. Those old things were unsafe in so very many ways, but plenty of us would still choose a beautiful death over driving a Kia.

      2. There are a few things wrong in that test. Why did they remove the Bel Air’s motor and transmission but leave the Malibu intact?

        The cloud of rust particles that sprays up from the impact presumably does not come from the Malibu and may go some way to explain why the Bel Air’s frame just folds up in the middle like that. I wouldn’t want to be either driver in that kind of crash, but I bet in a real world situation the Malibu would not be nearly such a great place to be.

    2. “KIA” = “Killed In Action” Of course, I’m not doing much better in my Nissan LEAF. :-) One false turn by a distracted sales rep behind the wheel of her Suburban talking on her phone and either of us could be toast. :-) That is why it is wise to always tell your loved ones that you love them as they or you depart. It could be the last thing you ever say/hear to/from them.

      1. “it is wise to always tell your loved ones that you love them as they or you depart. It could be the last thing you ever say/hear to/from them.”

        There it is, folks. The most intelligent and wise thing you will read on this blog this week. Happy Thanksgiving to those in the United States and for the rest of you turkeys, be sure to take foxpup’s advice :-)

  3. Nice conversion, it make me want to sing..
    Had my money
    I tell you what I’d do
    I would go downtown
    Buy a Mercury or two
    ‘Cause I’m crazy ’bout a Mercury
    Cruise up and down this road
    Up and down this road…
    (Mercury Blues, a great Steve Miller track)

  4. the shame to me is leaving it like that outside. ok I get the appeal for certain makes and models (would love to see a beaten up Landrover converted this way) but this baby was meant to be clean shiny loved and showroom….

    1. Icon will do a full restoration if you want them to, their derelict line specifically leaves the patina and refreshes the running gear and interiors to modern day standards. The thing is that anything from them is going to cost some serious coin as they are incredibly meticulous and through in their attention to detail.

  5. Not a sustainable business model.
    Ever hear the expression ‘bucket of rust’? These people obviously think that they can leave the externals a ‘bucket of rust’, and replace the out-of sight internals with the latest prime-mover fad.
    These people obviously don’t realize that a major part of all the work, and value, of old-car restoration lies in the restoration of the body, and all the ‘soft trim’ (we won’t go into the trashing of the car’s value by replacing the original drive-train ).
    These people might have ensured their long-term survival, and made more money, by
    really restoring old cars. They did NOT do it by replacing the original engine, et al with the electric-motor solution.
    Can’t say I blame them, though. Restoring old cars is hard work. Doing this is easy. All they need is customers who will pay for a ‘bucket of rust’ which will get them to the nearest lemonade stand and back before requiring a recharge.
    Not a sustainable business model.

    1. On the contrary, this is a very clever and long term thinking business model. A car this old will already require significant changes to be able to run on ethanoled fuels (or pay a 2x markup) and even after that work will likely not meet air quality emissions test without a lot of reengineering. So driving it in the form you suggest is already a big compromise and likely to be expensive. Secondly, new cars in the next decade are going to be mostly electric as the TCO benefits and steady move to electric drive and battery storage make ICEs uncompetitive over larger and larger markets.

      That puts this company in a great position for people who want to keep the look and feel of their old car, but want the advantages of modern technology. If people want the old sound I imagine there’s an interesting audiophile market for really good recreations of the sound, with the added advantage that you can turn it off. If they want modern safety, road handling, ride quality, comfort, climate control… they will probably buy a modern car. But in fact it’s likely that they simply won’t buy a car at all. 5 years ago I thought the car oriented world would be around for the rest of my life, but demographics show that car ownership has been falling continuously and I can easily imagine a mostly corporate owned public transport in a decade.

      P.S. the article claims 200 miles per charge, which is about all we’ve ever used in our city bound gas car.

      1. Stop being dishonest. Those old cars are exempt from smog tests ever here in CA and their engines(if rebuilt) will use 87 octane just fine. If they need a boost there are few additives for that.

        As for cars needing to be electric. Nope. That’s a hipster notion. I drive a 20 year old Buick Riviera that works just fine and I bought it for $1000.00. You can’t get a modern electric car for that price or even at 10x it. Worse most electric cars of them are small, no real trunk, the back seat is a joke and you’re paying $30k for that. Fine for childless couples who own a cat.

        For people of moderate means who do a commute a electric car is a no go and too far out of their price range. Even if they don’t commute it’s still too expensive. A nice used ICE car will always be cheaper and easier to maintain. And if you drive a lot, that car battery will die a lot faster and they aren’t cheap. A battery for the Leaf costs around $5500.00 Which is about the cost of a low end GM performance engine.

        Not having a POV? No way, that’s fine for urban hipsters who can afford to pay $20 for a round trip to the market. Most folks don’t have that sort of money to burn and it adds up real fast.

        1. A 5-year old Nissan Leaf can be had for $6000; granted that is more than $1000 but not 10x more. Such a car would still have ~50K miles left on the 100K mile battery warranty. Owner is not *required* to replace the pack with a new one if it comes to that… there are several thousands of Leafs are no longer on the road due to accidents but which have perfectly serviceable battery packs.

          Interior space (front, back, trunk) in a Leaf is comparable to the Buick plus it has 2 extra doors. Maintenance is much less; basically only tires & wipers. Most places near where I live, recharging is “included as part of the shopping experience,” so a partial or full fillup can often be ‘free’. YMMV.

          The Buick will cost about $170/month in fuel alone (depending, of course, on the length of commute) compared to about $40/month for a similar commute if the Leaf was entirely charged at home. Keep the Leaf 3 or more years and the difference in cost is covered (plus there is no oil change, spark plug change, auto transmission fluid change, etc. required on the Leaf during that time period) while still remaining within the battery warranty period.

          Of course EVs are not for everyone, especially if there’s a frequent need to drive long distances. But calling it “far out of their price range” or “too expensive” for someone that does commute is not correct.

          1. The battery mileage warranty isn’t your first problem; the clock is ticking for the battery the moment it is wheeled out of the factory – even with very little use they start to die around year 9. That’s why electric cars lose value fast.

            And that’s also why this conversion is a waste of money – they went through a lot of trouble to engineer a Tesla battery in it, but it will break down in a few short years. When it does, you have to hope that Tesla is still making the same battery pack, because all the second hand batteries from broken vehicles are equally old and done for.

          2. You basically have 4 good years left on the battery of a 5-year-old Leaf, and then you’ll have to buy a replacement because the final breakdown is self-accelerating. That battery replacement basically costs as much as simply buying another used Leaf, while the Buick just drives on.

        2. “Stop being dishonest…”

          Anyone who thinks that moving the environmental pollution which an EV demands out into the countryside is being bring irreconcilably and pathologically dishonest. They not only lie to themselves, but lie to you with a straight face.

          And they believe the lie.

          1. It’s a lot easier to increase efficiency and reduce pollution for a single, large power station, than for millions of small engines. Some electricity comes from renewable sources. Some is nuclear, which is horrifying but at least doesn’t produce waste gases.

            If you wanted to, you could cover your roof in solar panels, maybe get one of those power wall things Tesla are so keen on. Or just batteries like normal people, whichever. You could buy a share in a wind generator, or switch to an electricity company that buys only renewable energy.

            There are lots of options in where electricity comes from. Basically none in petroleum. Much of which is produced in countries with horribly abusive governments, or by horribly abusive Western corporations who get involved in local wars to make deals to get to the oil they want. Politically, petroleum empowers some horrible people to do nasty shit to the people around them, and fucks up stability for the world in general.

            But anyway… it’s not a lie, is it? Do you sincerely believe it is? Or were you being disingenuous to support whatever contrarian position you’ve decided to take today?

        3. The global electric car market has grown 60% per annum steadily for the last decade. At some point you suddenly realise everyone is using a smart phone (or digital camera, or…).

          1. Only because many countries give money to people to buy these cars…

            And how many people bought electric cars just to use them as status symbols or penis-enlargement devices?

          2. Whether it’s a status symbol or penis compensator doesn’t really make any difference to the pollution issue. Or the growth of the EV market. Or anything, really. You might want to laugh at people getting high on their own farts, but from a practical point of view it doesn’t matter.

        4. Few more points against the electric car:

          1. Energy density. Storing energy in form of liquid fuel for ICE is very efficient, compared to even the best rechargeable battery. And you don’t have to replace your tank for half the price of the new car every few years…

          2. Energy for electric cars must be manufactured and transferred somehow. In my country almost all the energy comes from coal. And most of the power plants are not eco-friendly. And for wider adoption of electric cars (I mean 0.01% of the market) would mean a need for at least few new power plants, and these don’t come cheap.

          3. One can make fuel from algae, plant oils, organic waste or just carbon. It’ll be cheaper than trying to switch to electric cars. Even standard synthetic petrol with some modifications for eco-friendliness would cost less than 70USD per barrel. And with algae we could get cheaper crude oil and process it into other petrol products using standard equipment. Someone calculated that with algae farms covering one of those almost empty states USA would become self-sufficient, with no need for liquid dinosaur fuel…

          1. I think the whole biofuel idea isn’t proven to be viable but If I’m wrong, the proof in the pudding is in the eating. Go invest in stuch operations and get rich. I’ll be smiling at you while being wrong. Its good to have other options. Regular, (not carbon fiber-elitist) EVs are extremely recyclable, batteries and all, just like old style ICE’s are, mostly steel and aluminum. Once the car gets built, the negative impact is over for EVs and then its all clean power as our energy sources shift from depleating fossil fuels to renewable sources. BTW, energy density for EVs is more than big enough to be very useful and unlike gas tanks, EV batteries don’t explode on impact like Ford Pintos used to do and all that battery down low makes for some wicked fun cornering. :-)

          2. 1. True, liquid fuel is very energy dense. But then you got into the cost thing without considering that over the same time period, you’ll have to fill your tank repeatedly with one-time-use fuel, which will generally cost you more than half the price of the new car. Points for the electric car.

            2. In my state, around 50% of the energy produced is from renewables. The same exact EV that ‘runs off coal’ in your country will be significantly cleaner in my state… no change needed to the EV itself. And if your country gets smart and builds cleaner power plants, the EV in your country will automatically reduce its emissions. Even if they only build more coal plants, the better efficiency of an EV puts its emissions lower than the most efficient ICEs (per a Forbes article from March of this year). Another point for the electric car.

            3. Yes, it’d be awesome if we could get off the dino juice altogether by creating a synthetic bio-based replacement. I’m not confident it is near term feasible though. Adding ethanol to gasoline, for instance, sounded like a good idea but it turns out it generates more greenhouse gases to make the stuff than it saves by adding it to gasoline. Then there’s the damage it can cause to ICE engines due to the more corrosive nature of the ethanol. Fuel from algae sounds great, but no company has been able to scale this up to where it could be considered as even a partial replacement for dino-fuels, despite $billions in Gov’t subsidies. Like ethanol, it is energy intensive to go through the whole process of growing and drying the algae then extracting the oil from it and converting it to usable fuels. May need to build another set of expensive coal power plants to support this. If that’s going to be the end result anyway, why not just build the power plants (preferably something more eco-friendly than coal plants) and provide power to the EVs directly? It’s much more efficient that way, and EVs don’t care about the source; the delivery, storage, and use of electricity is agnostic to how it is generated. No need to change the fuel lines because the fuel is more corrosive, or the fuel trucks or the fuel tanks at the filling stations … or change the fuel mappings on the ICE cars to accommodate the lower/higher energy density of different fuels. Seems like another point for the electric car.

          1. Electrify a 1978 Chrysler Cordoba with it’s “Rich Corinthian Leather”. ;) (Nevermind Ricardo Montalban said soft, not, rich, in the advertisements.)

    2. Look at their website, they don’t list prices of their projects. This means they cater to very, very well off people who can drop $100-200k in cash for one of their conversions.

      It’s actually a good business model. There is a market for the rusted out, rattle trap look. It also means they don’t have to hire talented restoration experts and pay them good money. Just hire your average paint by the numbers auto mechanics to gut the car’s power plant and drive train and then palm it off on some rich dude.

      1. If you check the undercarriage photo (last in the series), you’ll see they fabricated an entire frame for this vehicle. This required CAD, certified welding, and lots of experience. This was an immensely expensive project as all of this work was a one-off. Perhaps a more lucrative business model would be to focus on a certain model of car that is readily available on the used market in large numbers and develop the frame, suspension, and drivetrain to be implemented at scale.

    3. It’s a buyer choice; some cars, like this, they do as “derelicts”; leave the paintwork etc. patina’d, but solid, and update/rebuild the underpinnings, drivetrain, interior etc, and some they do as “reformers”, where they do the paint etc, make it shiny too. From what I can gather, if anything, it’s harder to do the “derelicts”, as you can’t hide things under paint; anything new, any repair work, has to be done carefully, so it blends in with the existing patina.

  6. ” But that’s all part of the charm; this comes from conversion company Icon’s “Derelict” line, which takes old vehicles and guts them while leaving the outside largely untouched. ”

    Kind of what we do with old electronics. ;-)

  7. My only comment has to do with the term “Gangster Car.” I think the author missed the era by some 20 years, maybe more.

    Since when is a ’49 Merc a “Ganster Car”? The Merc was a favorite of the hot-rod and custom car cultures. A chopped, channeled ’49 was among the most popular custom cars. But gansters?No way.

    The real Gangster Cars were cars of the Prohibition era: 1920’s cars by Cadillac, Buick,Packard, and Lincoln.They were big, fast, and most importantly, had running boards and tall rooflines so gunmen could hang out of the doors and windows, firing their “Tommy Guns.”

    1. They loved the Ford V8’s, and thus began the mods that became stock car racing and hiring a “wheel man” who could race the back roads in moonlight with the lights off :-)

    1. Haha. 298 kW (400hp) is more than triple the original engine’s power. 100 hp was a lot of power then, and 100 mph (“a century”) was awfully fast. Google points to sources saying the ’49’s flat-8 could make 110 hp (~82 kW), which now looks a bit strange because >200 hp motors were common by the end of the 50s, though even my big ’73 Fury’s 400 cu in V8 still made only 190 hp.

      I wonder if they kept the original radio? Tube audio! Should sell well to the right audience.

  8. This is really more of a advertisement for a bespoke automotive shop, it’s not something hackers can do unless you have access to a shop and have good auto mechanics at your disposal. First off it is not cheap, it’s very expensive just for the parts. You can generally buy a couple top of the line Lexus for what these people charge for some rusted out junker stuffed with a new engine and drive train.

    But if you have a $100k or more to blow, by all means give them a call. But you’re better off going to a classic car auction if you got that kind of cash. You can get some very nice restored classics for that money. Say like Barrett’s Classic Car auction.

  9. Oh man!

    Every time I visit my parents I drive past a junk yard that has a couple cars of similar vintage out front. Every time I think about how I would love to buy one and make it electric. I didn’t think it would be so practical though. I’m surprised they get so many miles out of a charge. I thought it would be too heavy for that. Now I really wish I had a garage and time to work on such a project!

  10. I guess the additional HALF TON of Tesla battery pack doesn’t matter so much in that kind of body.

    But it can’t be good, overall, to haul that amount of extra weight around everywhere.

    You have to wonder: if the Tesla Model S could somehow ditch that 1300 lb of dead weight battery, it could reduce the requisite chassis & suspension mass by another few hundred lb too. You would end up with a nice car with a reasonable weight.

    A nice light engine to replace that 350 lb electric motor/inverter, and a modest size fuel tank would actually make it a practical vehicle for most of us: long range, easy and fast to refuel anywhere, very aerodynamic. Without all that battery weight, it could actually carry more than just people and carry-ons, and even tow something.

    (using lbs instead of kg here, because it trolls better :)

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