BMW brings electric power to classic Minis

Electric ‘restomods’ will be factory-approved and individually numbered

If Alec Issigonis was creating the 1959 Mini today, he'd probably be designing it around an electric powertrain. That, at least, is the contention of the current Mini brand, itself an offshoot of BMW of course.

Mini has just launched a factory-approved-and-fitted electric conversion for classic Minis, built from 1959 to 2001. The move has been inspired by the 2018 New York motor show Classic Mini Electric. That car was built as a publicity-mongering one-off, to publicise the fact that Mini was working on an electric version of the current three-door hatchback model.

That Mini Cooper S E has been a big success - taking up to one fifth of Mini sales - but the reaction to the electrified original was, if anything, even stronger. Sensing a potential market for a battery-powered original, Mini has launched this, the Mini Recharged.

“What the project team are developing preserves the character of the classic Mini and enables its fans to enjoy all-electric performance. With Mini Recharged, we are connecting the past with the future of the brand,” says Bernd Körber, head of the Mini brand.


Needless to say, Mini is playing up the allusions to how Issigonis - a contrary and mercurial car engineer if ever there was one - would make an electric Mini if he had his work to do again today.

Issigonis leap of faith

Perhaps, it is something of a leap - Issigonis was obsessed with weight and packaging, not areas in which electric cars with their bulky batteries are very strong. Perhaps Issigonis would actually have gone for an ultra-compact hydrogen fuel cell?

We’ll never know, of course, but with the likes of the London congestion charge eating into the pockets and lifestyles of potential owners, and with cities around the world looking to ban combustion engines, Mini clearly feels that the time is ripe for the original city car to go electric.

The process starts with the removal of the original four-cylinder A-Series engine, which varied in capacity from 850cc in 1959 to 1.3-litres by the time production of the original Mini came to an end two decades ago. In a move that may surprise some former owners of originals, that engine won’t be simply thrown away.

Mini intends to preserve the history of each car by keeping the engine, gearbox and so on saved and logged, so that the process of electrification can be easily reversed if a future owner wants to restore their Mini Recharged to its original specification.

That said, we’d be surprised if anyone takes up that side of the offer. Even at its most powerful, with fuel injection, an original Mini’s A-Series engine develops a mere 65hp on a good day. The electric motor that Mini is fitting to Recharged models will develop a far more robust 122hp (90kW) and will propel the cutesy classic to 100km/h in as little as nine seconds (a petrol Mini Cooper takes about 12.5 seconds).

Battery size

Mini hasn’t given us a figure for battery capacity, but says that the Mini Recharged should be able to cover around 160km on a full charge, which suggests a capacity of around 24kWh. The battery can’t be fast-charged, though. It’s limited to 6.6kW charging, which means you’ll have to charge it up at home overnight. Clearly, this is not a car for long journeys.

Then again, Mini is again leaning on its history, reviving visions of sixties swinging London, and encouraging potential owners to zip around Oxford Street or Piccadilly Circus while not paying the dread congestion charge.

How much will owners actually have to pay for such a privilege? That is still up in the air. Officially, a Mini spokesperson told The Irish Times that: “We don’t have the charges for Mini Recharged. The Mini Recharged project is still in its development phase so pricing and further technical information will be announced when launched later this year.”


We can take a stab at the potential costs, though. Racing engine builder Swindon Powertrain currently offers a home electric conversion kit for original Minis, featuring a small 12kWh battery. The whole thing weighs a mere 70kg (around half the weight of the A-Series engine and gearbox) and costs £8,850 (€10,600) before VAT.

Doubtless, a fully-built up Mini Recharged will cost a good bit more than that. Hopefully less than classic electric company Lunaz charges for one of its converted 1950s Rolls-Royces - £350,000. We'd take an educated guess at the official Mini conversion costing in the region of £15,000-20,000, not including the price of the car itself.

How much for Irish buyers, though? That is another question. As with so many other things, classic car ownership has bee scuppered by Brexit, and classic cars are now subject to 23 per cent VAT when imported into Ireland from Great Britain. On top of that, the substantial changes to the Mini Recharged may also mean that it's liable for customs duty too - according to the Revenue Commissioners, a classic car is exempt from customs duty "if they are in their original state, without substantial changes outside of essential repairs and restoration, and are at least 30 years old, or no longer in production."

There may be ways around such things, though. Buying a classic Mini already registered in Ireland and taking it over to have it converted should sidestep the VAT charge on the car, but you may still be liable for VAT on the conversion. Or, potentially, you could buy your Mini Recharged through Northern Ireland, and skip both customs duty and VAT.

Should we be cutting-up classics to convert them to electric power, though? Such a thing can horrify true-blue classic enthusiasts, but others see it as an ideal way to extend both the life and enjoyment of such cars.

Others follow

Both Aston Martin and Jaguar have shown off updated, electric versions of their classic DB6 and E-Type models. Both have powerful electric motors and big batteries, but the installation of these systems has been done in a way that uses the original engine and gearbox mounts and hard points. So, goes the theory, you can reverse the process at any time, and put the original engine back in.

"We had to look at this very carefully" Paul Spires, chairman of Aston Martin Works, the classic and restoration side of Aston's business, told The Irish Times. "We had to work out, very carefully, if doing the electric DB6 project would in any way harm the heritage or the image of Aston Martin.

“People who own Aston Martins take the heritage of the firm very seriously, but obviously understand that in the not-too-distant future, there will be a generation of people who have never driven an internal combustion car. And we want to make sure that these beautiful pieces of art - because that’s what they are - don’t just become museum pieces. It would be a terrible shame if they end up in the back of a barn or a storage shed and are never seen.”


Aston’s electric DB6 is, for the moment, a one-off, and in fact has been re-converted back to petrol power since it was first shown to the press and the world. Spires says that the original car was a toe-in-the water project to test customer and owner reaction, but that the response was overwhelmingly positive.

When asked how many customers had sent a cheque, or actually had a car converted, the shutters of “commercial sensibilities” came rattling down. Nonetheless, Spires sees electric conversions as a serious business strand for Aston Martin Works in the future.

“It’s actually the most bizarre - when you drive it, it’s actually a slightly different, almost more involving experience because you’re able to enjoy the look of the car, and the quietness and you certainly get a sense of well being, driving in that kind of vehicle. It’s an amazing experience.”

Swapping the engine out for electric, or back in again, takes around two weeks, but you’ll need a well-padded cheque book every time.

Expect to hear more from Aston Martin on that, and you’ll definitely here more from Mini on the Recharged programme. Each car that’s converted will be individually numbered and Mini says that it’s planning to ask “well-known artists to express their creativity with specially designed classic Mini models.”

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring