Electric Shock at SEMA

SEMA is all about outlandish customisation, and YeeHaw V8s – so why the electric interlopers?

Beginning of the end? Or a lighting up a new future?

Motor Shows are verging on extinction, and there may be several reasons for this. Looking back on the decline over the years, I could at a stretch – and by that I mean of Elastigirl proportions – claim it coincided with manufactures kowtowing to the necessary demands of our environmentally-besieged time, and sidelining sexy beasts in favour of showcasing insipidly worthy green machines, plugged into pretend Totem poles of power – electric power that is.

Yep I’ve just blanket-blamed boring electric cars for the death of motor shows. With two provisos – motor shows aren’t quite dead yet and could be saved with a bit of reimagining I reckon (that’s a discussion for a another time) and electric cars are, well, getting perhaps a little less boring.

Take for example the electric invasion of the SEMA show – a bastion of ballistic brutes sporting superchargers so large no bonnet can contain them, and outlandish customisation that ranges from freaky to fabulous.

Before going any further I will state my reservations about allowing EVs into this thunderdrome of hedonistic automotive excess and potentially planting the seeds of a virus that might dodo the whole event. So SEMA beware; check yourself don’t wreck yourself.

And that’s before I get into the great internal turmoil and auto-emotional conflict raised within this paid-up petrolhead at beholding the two EV stars of this year’s Speciality Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show, both from major players and both, admittedly, annoyingly, beautifully executed.

Ford Mustang ‘Lithium’

Ford teamed up with Webasto (doesn’t that sound like a loft insulation company or something?) to create the Mustang ‘Lithium’. And what a piece of eye-candy it is. A 1-inch lowered stance, 20-inch staggered fitting forged alloy wheels, custom carbon fibre body components including a side splitters, rear diffuser and bonnet with sea-through polycarbonate windows.

It’s got a track handling pack, strut tower brace, Brembo six-piston brakes from the Shelby GT350R and all of that is necessary to harness 900bhp and 1000lb ft of torque which probably endows it with a top speed of ‘are you effing me?!’ and 0-60mph acceleration of ‘what just happened?’.

And best of all – it manages all that torque through a drag-modified Getrag MT82 6-speed manual transmission with billet internals to cope with the forces. How cool is that? Sold? Well hold your horses, or in this case, ponies.

Firstly, this is a one-off show car so you can’t have it, and secondly you don’t put petrol in behind that filler cap on the left rear flank – because there’s no V8 under those bonnet windows. Nah, look closely – and, as you’ve perhaps already surmised from the ‘Lithium’ part of the name – clever you! – you’ll find a Phi-Power dual-core electric motor and dual power inverters – fed by an 800-volt Webasto battery. You have to plug in to what’s behind that filler cap from one of those aforementioned Totem poles.

Eek!! And what’s more eek – how the heck do they get a manual to work with this set-up? Surely the whole thing about electric power is that it doesn’t need ratios? How do you manage the torque delivery from an electric motor to simulate racing up through the gears? Okay, say they have figured it out, then how does a driver know when to change up if there’s no ICE sound – that’s Internal Combustion Engine, not In-Car Entertainment.

Although the later kind of ICE, might be the answer, as it appears to be for this next electrifying show car.

Chevrolet E-10 / C-10 1962 pickup truck

Chevrolet took a 1962 C-10 pickup truck, butchered up a Bolt EV and squeezed the bits into the front, lining the truck bed with batteries, sublimely hot-rodded the heck out of it, and presented a 450bhp EV classic truck capable of 0-60mph in 5 seconds and the quarter mile in 13.

Most interestingly of all, the E-10 has a sound emulator utilising three speakers to simulate an induction sound in the front and a V8 engine in the back – you can choose between LS7 Z28 Camaro track or touring engine noises, a regular V8 accompaniment, a futuristic sound (is that like when KITT used to go into ‘Silent Mode’) or you can just turn the whole thing off. The sounds are programme to react to gearchanges from the conventional torque convertor automatic – gearchanges… but… but… oh never mind.

To be fair I sold the power source a little short, there’s more to it than that, and this Chevy whilst not going into any form or production of course, is a showcase for a potential ‘Connect & Cruise’ system in future dubbed eCrate (electric crate motors essentially just like Chevrolet will currently sell you a V8 ‘crate’ motor). The system previews what might one day be offered as an off-the-shelf solution for an EV drive system to install into restomods and hot rods.

Isn’t electric power awesome then?

I could see myself being tempted by the Mustang, and the plug-n-play power unit in the Chevy could be a saviour for the enthusiast community in future, but I still struggle with the idea of supplanting the sanguine serenity of circuited cells in place of the fearsome earth-juice-sucking, coal-spewing, ear-splitting, old-skool angry V8s in muscle-genre motors that so totally, comprehensively and irrevocably identify with the ravenous internal combustion engine.

It just doesn’t seem right. Of course it might only take a quick drive in that sensational Lithium Stang to change minds, and if you’re baulking at the suggestion of getting aural pleasure from a canned and synthesised V8 orchestra, know that a lot of modern performance cars already enhance the driving experience by piping artificial engine noises through your stereo.

Of course it’s more to it than that, it’s the pulsating tremble of a powerful car at idle, the heat emanating from the business end, and of course the way we humans are able to process all the tactile and aural sensations transmitted by a car and convert them to speed, cornering Gs or just tyre smoke. At this point I can’t fathom how I would judge doing a burnout on that Mustang Lithium without resorting to aid from the line-lock system that’s most probably installed.

I suppose these two cars represent an unlocking of potential possibilities and obviously that’s a tug of the wheel in the right direction as we are inevitably compelled to take the slip road to salvation on Electric Avenue. And I guess we car enthusiasts should rejoice really… er yay then…

So why can’t I shake the sense that the car guy within is holding a razor just above his ulnar artery and staring intently with vain hope into the distant desolation of a virtual vanishing point?

A good car feels like it’s alive when you start it up, like it’s breathing and beating, like its communicating with you and sensing your mood, like its responding to your inputs and you to its. We connect with it in ways unlike any other man-made object. Hence there are cars and coffee get-togethers, not fridges and fizzipops fraternising, or microwave and macs meets.

To connect to an EV without plugging it into my sockets.. oo-er… I need to feel something from an electric car, a shiver, a quiver, a spark of engagement, some frisson of anticipation when the ‘Ready’ light comes on, do that and you might, just might have a convert.

Meanwhile excuse me, I just need to go put a up picture on the wall. It’s of the Ringbrothers 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 ‘UNKL’ edition with a Kaase Boss 520ci V8 putting out 700bhp through a Tremec 6-speed and growling out of a Flowmaster exhaust and also shown at SEMA. The specs alone are speaking to me in such filthy undertones that I can’t dare to commit to keyboard the responses being manifested by my body right now. I think I’d better excuse myself.

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