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Among all of various automotive segments that are destined to make the leap to fully electric motivation in the coming years, luxury-focused vehicles are perhaps the most ideal scenario for the technology. It’s an application where engineers are already seeking to make the power train as quiet and unobtrusive as possible, and since most luxury vehicles are designed to be spacious, a substantial physical footprint also provides plenty of real estate for generously-sized battery packs.
It's also a segment where, from a performance standpoint, straight-line acceleration is a far greater priority than cornering prowess, so keeping curb weights down tends to be less of concern. Given these attributes, the notion of putting an EV power train into a car like this 1966 Cadillac Deville starts to make a lot of sense. And given what’s under the hood of this particular example, it looks like we’re not the only ones who feel that way.
As the founder and CEO of Legacy EV, Rob Ward has been at the forefront of a rapidly growing cottage industry that sees formerly gas-powered vehicles converted over to EV tech, and this Caddy serves as a showcase of what the company can do. It's perhaps more accurate to think of Legacy EV as a consulting agency rather than a high-tech restoration shop, though. Rather than turning wrenches in-house, the company typically works with customers to determine what their goals are for a given conversion project and then Legacy EV works with various suppliers and shops to make the swap as seamless as possible for the end user.
“I consider Legacy EV to be a parts distributor and an educator,” Ward tells us. “We’re a one-stop-shop for a fully integrated power plant, and we’re product agnostic. We’re not tied to one specific motor or one specific battery pack – we work with over 60 manufacturers. And our position in the market is to offer customers a complete solution and one point of contact to make it all happen.”
Legacy EV has overseen conversions on everything from vintage Ford Broncos to Porsche 911s over the years, but Ward’s own ’66 Deville might have all of them beat when it comes to sheer cool-factor. When we spotted the Caddy at the 2022 Holley High Voltage event at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California, we just had to get the low-down on this hugely charismatic cruiser.
“I’ve been a Cadillac enthusiast for most of my life,” Ward explains. “My grandfather was into Cadillacs, and I’ve owned a bunch of them over the years. I bought this one in 2016, and at that point it was basically a just a decent driver. It wasn’t in great shape, but I had always planned on making it nice, and it was a good foundation to start off of.”
After driving it more or less as it was for a few years, Ward had the car stripped down for a full restoration in 2020, and the down time presented a perfect opportunity to make the switch from internal combustion over to EV power.
“We had just started Legacy EV the year prior,” he recalls. “At that point we had built two proof-of-concept cars and sold them at Barrett Jackson, so this was kind of like ‘Phase 2’ for that. I wanted to do something like this to show another side of these swaps, and to also demonstrate that we can take this big, heavy car and convert it without disrupting the integrity of the interior and the truck. Even just a few years ago, a lot of the stuff you’d see would have the back seat of the car ripped out in order to make room for batteries or something like that. We wanted to illustrate that you could now get a well-performing car without those compromises.”
While Ward admits that these conversions aren’t effortless affairs, the end result is far less complicated than the original setup from a mechanical standpoint. “We’re taking out about 2000 parts when we do these conversions, and we’re installing 60 to 80 parts.”
The Caddy’s new powertrain consists of three NetGain Hyper 9 synchronous reluctance internal permanent magnet (SRIPM) motors that are linked in tandem and mounted along the existing transmission tunnel. In its current setup, the motors provide a combined output of 400 horsepower and 1000 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels, though Ward says that a forthcoming gear reduction system from Torque Trends could raise to the latter figure to as much as 1500 lb-ft. NetGain also supplied the inverter for the project.
“As far as the battery goes, we used NMC prismatic cells and made two custom packs,” says Ward. “One is installed where the gas tank used to sit, and the other is in the engine compartment.” The packs offer 55 kWh in total, which gives the droptop enough juice to go about 150 miles on a full charge.
The team installed an Air Lift adjustable air suspension and new shocks in order to give the Caddy its sinister stance, while the custom 20-inch billet aluminum wheels from Evod Industries – which feature a floating center cap design that’s similar to what you’d find on a modern Rolls Royce – help to complete the modernized classic look. To bolster the Caddy’s luxury credentials, heat functionality has been retrofitted into the reupholstered original front seats while a custom steering wheel from PearlCraft adds to the unique aesthetic. Dakota Digital gauges have also been integrated into the instrument panel in order to provide real-time monitoring of the battery’s state of charge and other information.
“It’s a car that everybody loves whether they’re young or old,” Ward notes. “I have some buddies with built-up K5 Blazers and stuff like that, and we kind of have this running bet on which car people will take pictures of if we’re out cruising or getting lunch somewhere. Nobody wants to bet against the Caddy anymore.”