WORDS: DAVID LILLYWHITE | PHOTOGRAPHY: OLGUN KORDAL
I think I’ve driven every variety of Frontline conversion since I first met founder Tim Fenna 30 years ago. From mildly tweaked Frogeyes to monster V8 MGBs, they’ve all been well built and fun. It was probably inevitable that sooner or later the company would try the EV conversion route, but Frontline doesn’t always go down the expected path – and this MGB GT, amusingly renamed the MG BEE GT, isn’t what I expected.
“You can sit at the lights and rev it!” Tim exclaims on our first drive, as we pull up to traffic lights outside the Oxfordshire, UK trading estate where Frontline is based. Sure enough, you can. It sounds amusingly whizzy, if a little bemusing.
There’s no shortage of classic car EV conversions out there – ranging from the most basic ones that mate to the original transmissions, to all-out, super-high-performance full conversions (at super-high money). Frontline’s BEE Roadster and BEE GT conversions haven’t set out to be the cheapest or the fastest, but Tim always wanted them to be fun and intuitive, so he has engineered them to behave more like one of the company’s upgraded internal-combustion-engined MGBs.
The Hyper9 100V electric motor drives through a five-speed Mazda MX-5 gearbox, and is set up to mimic the torque characteristics of the petrol engine; it doesn’t all come in with a bang from low down, and it tails off at around 7500rpm, with a red line of 9000rpm. And, of course, you drive it through the gears, using the clutch except when pulling away and coming to a standstill. You can even give the throttle a blip as you change down.
You can actually get away with very few gearchanges, leaving the BEE in second or third most of the time, especially around town. It will pull away in first, second or third, and even fourth at a push. A bit of impromptu 0-60mph testing, two-up on a wet road, gave a time of under ten seconds. A later attempt by Tim on dry roads gave 8.8sec.
So it’s not hugely quick compared with Frontline’s usual Mazda-engine conversions; but it’s much faster and smoother than a standard B thanks to its 120bhp and 162lb ft output.
Predictably the EV car is heavier, but the extra weight is all low down and distribution is 50:50, front to rear. A stock MGB GT weighs around 1080kg, while the BEE is 1186kg – yet all Frontline cars carry much-improved sound insulation and a few lighter-weight components, too, so it’s not a like-for-like comparison. The MGB’s cast-iron B-series engine and four-speed gearbox is quite a lump, though, which leaves wriggle room for the heavy 40kW battery pack. Frontline says it’s good for a 140-mile range, and that a basic 7kWh charger will fully refresh the battery in just over five hours through a Type 2 connector.
Frontline will be selling fully restored and converted BEEs, built on brand-new British Motor Heritage bodyshells, for around £144,000. That includes the usual high-quality Frontline retrim, which is worlds away from the original car’s, plus suspension and brake upgrades. Owners of existing Frontline MGBs will be able to convert their cars to EV power for less than half that amount.
Is it worth it? If you’re in a city that restricts the use of ICE cars, it may well be. But there’s more to it than that, because despite all the obvious reservations, this is one EV conversion that’s actually a lot of fun to drive. Dare I say it’s as much fun, or more, than a standard original MGB… But in stark but satisfying contrast, Frontline has also released its new V8-powered LE60 model, pictured here with the BEE. We’ll be driving that one soon…
Find out more here.