April 30, 2021

Linkage Mag

Geared for the Automotive Life

Will Your Next Classic Be Electric?

Image: Chevrolet

As the old car world continues to shift focus on what’s cool, cars from the dark ages of performance are starting to gain more of a following. 

But what do you do about that 1973-and-later chuggy, low-compression powerplant that makes about half the power it should? GM has an answer for you in its Connect and Cruise systems.

Connect and Cruise isn’t new. These kits traditionally include an LS or LT crate engine, an ECU, a wiring harness and a computer, and even a throttle pedal, all designed for retrofit applications. The system provides everything you need to make your old GM car perform like something modern — while also burning cleaner than the original carbureted setup that GM installed from new. The best part is how modular these systems have become — you don’t need to perform heavy modifications to your original car to make one of these systems work. They’re reversible should you ever choose to go back to stock.

Image: Chevrolet

But with GM’s push toward an electric future, a new option is now available. What’s new here is the Electric Connect and Cruise system — eCrate — which is planned to be available starting later this year. That’s right — GM is building conversion systems to make your classic GM product into an electric car — complete with the instant power and torque that EVs provide. 

Now, you might not want to do this to your midyear Corvette — yet — but for cars that suffered from choking emissions systems from new, this is something to consider.

Wait, that’s not a small block Chevy… Image: Chevrolet

Proof of concept is a 1977 K5 Blazer that GM built for SEMA 360, which is powered by the Chevy Bolt’s EV motor in place of the factory small block, a electronic 4-speed auto, and the rest of the Blazer’s original drivetrain. The conversion includes a 400-volt EV battery pack with 60 kWh — which pushes 200 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque out of the Bolt motor. 

That may not seem like a lot, but it’s on-par with the 400-ci small-block this Blazer had new, and remember, this power is instant.

Gone is the 400-ci SBC, replaced with the heart of a Bolt. Image: Chevrolet

Production controllers and harnesses preserve some of the Bolt’s features, including regenerative braking. Custom touches include an electric vacuum pump for the factory brakes and special electronic controllers to drive the Blazer’s factory gauges — and to display the battery’s state of charge using the original fuel gauge.

A show car is one thing, but GM is thinking bigger than that. Chevrolet Performance is currently working on certifying a number of Electric Connect and Cruise installers, all of which will have support and training from GM on how to make these systems work. Lingenfelter Performance Engineering in Brighton, MI is spearheading this effort with GM, which will inform the process for future installers.

The EV battery pack will evolve, too, making this conversion easier to apply to smaller cars in the future. Image: Chevrolet

“Minutes after Chevrolet showed the E-10 concept, customers started calling to ask how soon they could build their EV project,” said Russ O’Blenes, Chevrolet director of engineering, Performance and Racing. “The K5 Blazer-E demonstrates what is possible for customers who want to convert their vintage truck to a daily driver with the instant torque and unique driving experience of an EV. For customers who want more extreme performance, the modular eCrate system will have virtually limitless applications.” 

Higher-performance options and different battery configurations are next, including GM’s Ultium modular batteries.

There’s obviously a lot to work out here, but GM is on it, and I suspect others will follow. It doesn’t take much to consider the ultimate possible destination here: imagine a 1979 Corvette, minus the wheezy original 350 and instead sporting a silent, gasoline and emission-free 500-plus lb-ft of torque.

Sound like fun? Yeah, I thought so too.

We’re on our way there, and I think it’s going to change everything.