It is sadly the fate of most cars to be scrapped, and within a shockingly short period of time. A study conducted by the RAC in the UK found that by 2036 around 14 million cars will be scrapped here in the UK alone. The majority of those cars will be scrapped when they are less than ten years old.
When you think about it, that’s an astonishing figure. An object into which we pour so much energy first to create, then to look after, is likely to last less than ten years. When I used to accompany my dad to the scrapyard as he kept our then ten year old Ford Escort on the road the local scrapyard (junkyard) was filled with rusting hulks. Rotten cars that had disintegrated rapidly due to the inclement nature of the British weather, mud traps that had caused suspension to collapse, leaking windows that had pooled water in footwells and left cars with gaping holes. Even my own beloved Morris Minor when I bought it lacked one of those essential components for a modern car; a floor.
Thanks to modern technology; hot-dipping car bodies and wax injection, modern cars don’t rust the way they used to. Indeed, manufacturers can use techniques unheard of 30 years ago to produce incredibly strong vehicles out of metal that’s much, much thinner. You’d think then that they would rust rapidly, but when you visit scrap yards now, it’s often not the bodies that have given up the ghost. Looking at them, they might be a little on the tatty side, but structurally they look great. No, the thing that kills modern cars isn’t rust. It’s the very thing that made them go.
In a quest to meet increasingly stringent emissions standards, the modern engine is a thing of astonishing complexity built to tolerances that are incredible. And once those parts wear, and they do wear, they fail the emissions requirements and repairing the car becomes uneconomical. The internal combustion engine is the both the heart and the impending cardiac arrest of a modern petrol cars. And it’s not surprising; the inside of an engine is an incredibly harsh environment for any material, that they last and work as well as they do is a testament to the ingenuity of many generations of engineers.
However, modern cars are built to be disposable. Their spares availability dries up rapidly because it’s assumed that once they have served their purpose and lived out their life expectancy, people will throw them away. But in Britain we’ve always had a bit of a ‘make do and mend‘ attitude and a rather fond appreciation of the underdog. So it is that in Britain, even the much maligned products from 70s and 80’s automotive catalogues have a bevy of followers willing to buttonhole you and inform you of the delights of the Viva, or the perfection that is the Allegro; and in those who refuse to let even the most unloved of classic cars die perhaps we find something of the future of automotive transport.
If we are going to keep having and using cars as a form of transport, they either need to massively reduce their embodied energy, such that recycling them with frequency that we do is not so environmentally damaging, or they instead need to last longer. And perhaps, despite the current generation of car’s complexity, they are a place that we could start. Back when I owned a Vauxhall Viva (which was, incidentally, the least reliable car I ever owned) I needed part of the engine rebuilt. There, in a back corner of Slough was a company that had the engineering prowess to be able to turn that car into something usable. A company that existed only in some chap’s overgrown shed provided engineering of an excellent standard. And if people like that could be inspired, those self same engineers could represent a fleet of adept individuals who could convert the masses of sound but no longer running cars into a viable modern fleet (and something that could provide a renaissance for small engineering firms in Britain).
And that’s where we get to the nub of the matter. To do this, the information to convert common cars should be easily available. There’s no point in each company reinventing the wheel every time we convert a car. Not only is this duplication of work for no real benefit, it also means that each company or person is likely to make the same mistakes over and over and over again. Instead, an open repository for conversion data would be ideal. Which is where my idea for the Electric Minor Project comes in.
As Britain’s most popular classic car, and probably our most popular classic export, the Morris Minor is the ideal conversion candidate. Lightweight and simple, with great spares availability, it provides a demonstration of what could be achieved. By converting the Minor and making those CAD files available to all who want them for free, those of us at the Electric Minor Project are hoping to spur others to this transformative change.
Perhaps the future is closer to the past than we thought.
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