The RBW EV Roadster marries MGB looks with a modern electric drivetrain.
Is this the future of classic motoring?
News about electrified classic cars has gone from a trickle to a flood recently, as brands with strong heritage like Aston Martin and Volkswagen, as well as smaller engineering and restoration companies, jostle to find the right formula for preserving the iconic cars of the past for use in the zero-carbon future.
The latest entrant is British company RBW, founded by security electronics businessman Peter Swain (the letters refer to his three children’s names). A long-time car enthusiast, Swain has owned a string of supercars over the years, but MG’s classic roadsters hold a special place in his heart, with his first car at 17 having been a Midget.
He branched out into running a traditional classic-car sales and restoration business several years ago, but it was a request from his wife for a modern, electrified take on the MGB that planted the seed for what would become the RBW EV Roadster. The long-gestating project has now been officially launched, having been delayed since April by the fallout from Covid-19.
“I’ve owned 17 or 18 MGs down through the years,” Swain says. “They’re fun, beautiful and British. I had one in the workshop, so we took out the back diff, engine and gearbox. We got some building foam and masking tape to see what kind of volume we could get under the bonnet for batteries. We thought we’d like the drivetrain at the rear for weight distribution, so we made a wooden mockup of a frame that would hold the motor and bolts into the vehicle without any structural changes needed.”
Having thrashed out the frame idea, Swain approached Continental Engineering Services’ UK base in Lichfield to see if it could feasibly be put into production. That’s the same Continental that may have supplied your car’s tyres; what you may not know is that the huge German firm also designs numerous interior, electronic and drivetrain components for major car manufacturers.
Continental liked the idea; the next step was building a series of prototypes to prove the concept. This required Swain to put his businessman’s hat on and secure £2million of investment to get the project underway; in the process, it was decided that building brand-new cars, using fresh MGB shells from British Motor Heritage, was the path to take.
Now, three years later, a patent has been secured for the motor frame, a pre-production car has been registered and RBW is planning to build a run of 30 cars in 2021: hard top or soft top, and in pretty much any exterior colour and interior finish you want. The price? Starting at £90,000 plus VAT.
Swain is adamant RBW is not here to be just another electric-car conversion company; instead the frame can be licensed by other specialist firms looking to carry out their own conversions if they wish: applications like the Mini, Jaguar E-Type, Austin Healey 3000 and Triumph TR6 are all mentioned.”We haven’t just developed this car, we’ve developed this system that will fit into other cars,” Swain says.
“It has been homologated and tested and gives a whole new future to classic motoring. We’re not converting cars, we’re providing an environment for classic cars for the future.”
The EV Roadster’s motor is derived from the one Continental supplies to brands like Renault, Kia and Chevrolet for some of their electrified models, while the battery cells come from Sunderland company Hyperdrive and are made to the same design as the ones it produces for the Nissan Leaf. The suspension and brakes, meanwhile, are those of the recently replaced Mk7 Volkswagen Golf.
While this all may sound like a bit of a ‘bodge job’ on paper, the EV Roadster is not some hastily assembled Frankenstein’s Monster – everything has been done to production standards. RBW is recognised as an automotive manufacturer by European regulations and its EV Roadsters will be registered as brand-new cars.
Swain admits he doesn’t yet know whether the Roadster will appeal more to existing classic-car enthusiasts or those who might previously have been put off the idea due to reliability and maintenance hassles. But he’s optimistic about the latter group. “Younger people don’t necessarily want to tinker with cars any more, but they love a classic, so I think we’ve got a whole new client base out there,” he says. “People living in cities who love the look of a classic MG, but just don’t want the hassle and soon won’t be able to drive one in cities anyway.”
While that steep price means we’re unlikely to see the streets of London or the lanes of the Cotswolds flooded with EV Roadsters any time soon, for those who can afford it, the RBW definitely exudes an appealing blend of retro and modern that could become increasingly prevalent in years to come.
Behind the wheel
We haven’t yet driven the RBW EV Roadster on public roads, but a short test around a closed facility gave us an initial impression of the car. It has the same layout as a classic MGB inside, so it’ll be a snug fit for many, but once you’re installed, you get the familiar wheel-in-your-lap driving position.
You release the mechanical handbrake, then select ‘D’ on a rotary dial and lift off the brakes to get going. Initial acceleration is as smooth and swift as any electric car, but RBW hasn’t tried to turn the MGB into a sharp and stiffly sprung sports car; the Roadster retains the soft-edged grand-tourer feel of the original. The electric motor remains near-silent at all times, in contrast to some other electrified classic cars, which can emit a notable whine.
There’s some body roll in corners, however it’s not excessive and this isn’t a car meant for throwing around: its natural calling is a relaxing Sunday drive down country lanes, stopping off for a pub lunch somewhere along the way. The one glaring omission for now is rapid-charging capability, which puts paid to the long-distance touring and road-tripping favoured by many classic-car enthusiasts. The Roadster’s six-figure price tag could also give some pause for thought, but unless there’s a major breakthrough in the cost of battery cells, every small-volume electrified classic-car maker is in the same boat for the time being.
|Power / torque||94bhp / 240Nm|
|0-60mph / top speed||9.0s / 80mph|
|Driving range||160 miles|
|Recharge time||8hrs (10-100% @ 3.5kW)|
|Price with VAT||£108,000|