FIVA’s rejection of electric-swapped classics may be a buzzkill, but it isn’t surprising

FIVA’s recent announcement decrying the rise of electric powertrain swaps is striking some as a bit curt, even snobbish. The statement has certainly ruffled plenty of feathers, but this action falls neatly in line with the organization’s mission to—strictly speaking—preserve historic vehicles.

The Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens (International Federation of Historic Vehicles) has been fighting for the preservation of vintage automobiles since 1966. The Italy-based group abides by the Charter of Turin Handbook, which defines a historic vehicle as “any car or truck that is at least 30 years old, has been preserved and maintained in correct historical condition, and is not used as daily transportation.” 

FIVA was staying the course it has been following for five decades—not trying to quash the EV movement—when it stated: “Conversion of historic vehicles from their original internal-combustion engines to electric power doesn’t comply with the FIVA definition of a historic vehicle, nor does it support the goal of preserving historic vehicles and their related culture. In FIVA’s view, vehicles so converted cease to be historic vehicles, unless they are subject only to ‘in period’ changes.”

The media response was swift and mostly negative, which is, to be fair, understandable. People don’t want to be told what they do with their beloved cars diminishes the cars’ historic value. Whether or not you lean towards leaving a car as original as possible or are OK with modifying it as you please, your car is your car. Modifying it doesn’t erase its heritage, does it? That depends on who you ask, and what kind of modifications you have in mind.

Malcolm Welford, FIVA North American Ambassador, suggests that culture has something to do with which side of it you’re on. “FIVA represents more than 60 countries with over two million members,” Welford told us. “It is important to recognize that many countries have differing agendas on this issue.”

Tiddo Bresters, FIVA Vice President–Legislation, further explained FIVA’s reasoning in a press release on its website. “It is not, in our opinion, the shape or body style of a vehicle that makes it ‘historic,’ but the way in which the entire vehicle has been constructed and manufactured in its original form.”

Bresters suggested that “if any owner, motor engineer, or manufacturer chooses to make such [electric] conversions to a historic vehicle, FIVA would strongly recommend that any changes [be] reversible, with all the original components marked and safely stored. In this way, the vehicle may—if so desired in the future—be returned to its original state and may once again become a historic vehicle.”

Nevertheless, it is the phrase “once again become a historic vehicle” that is most off-putting to American owners and journalists—the idea that a car’s history can be removed and then reinstated depending on its components. Exacerbating the problem in many collectors’ minds is that this practice invalidates vintage hot rods, modified race cars, and the like, which FIVA doesn’t consider “historic vehicles” but that are clearly historic and emblematic of car culture.

Jaguar E-type Zero

America’s Historic Vehicle Association (of which Hagerty is a major sponsor) has a broader view of the situation. Although the HVA works with FIVA to certify automobiles for participation in FIVA events overseas, it also celebrates vehicles that fall outside FIVA’s definition of “historic.” In a recent story outlining the HVA’s mission and its support for a bipartisan bill to create a register for the preservation of American automotive innovation and history, HVA vice president Diane Parker said, “Each [car] has a human-interest story—a great human-interest story—that goes beyond the horsepower.”

The HVA understands the significance of modification and hot-rodding as part of American automotive practice, and Parker obviously agrees with Welford that cultural differences play a role in determining what falls within the bounds of “historic” designation. “In the U.S., our automotive heritage includes a long tradition of modifying vehicles, which is an important aspect of our motoring heritage that we support,” she says.

So, like FIVA’s stance, the HVA’s opinion on the matter coincides with what it has been saying all along. “The HVA has an appreciation for all vehicles and their respective owner stories,” Parker explains.

Beyond the obvious preservation vs. restoration/modification argument, Parker points out that FIVA’s stance on electric conversions is essentially moot in the United States anyway. “We have to adhere to FIVA’s regulations when we’re asked to issue FIVA ID cards, but those are for cars looking to participate in events like the Mille Miglia or at Villa d’Este,” she says. “Cars being converted to electric power, like the Jaguar E-Type, wouldn’t be eligible anyway.”

Swapping a modern electric drivetrain into a vintage car might disqualify it from certain events, but does that really mean it’s no longer of historic value? Isn’t the emerging trend of battery-electric conversion a form of modern engineering culture and a way to enjoy vintage cars from a fresh perspective? These are all legitimate questions, but when it comes to pure historic certification we know what the FIVA has to say about it.

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