Classic Car conversionsFeaturesThe EV Powered Interview

Peter Swain, the founder of RBW Electric Classic Cars explains: The new ‘classic’

Since its inception, RBW has evolved from a classic car restoration company into a manufacturer of electric vehicles with designs inspired by iconic cars of the past.

Earlier this year, RBW opened its new multi-million-pound factory in Lichfield, and so we spoke to Peter Swain, the founder of RBW Electric Classic Cars, about the growth of the company, his plans for the future and his thoughts on the wider EV space.

What’s the story behind RBW?

RBW, family business, the clue’s in the name: R for Rose, B for Becky and W for Wesley, for my three children. I was in the electronics business before and I left the industry in 2015. I was fortunate that industry allowed me to buy lots of nice cars in the past. So I started dealing in classic cars with a workshop, improving them just as a hobby. I went on a trip to Bath with my wife and she said: “Everyone loves your cars, but I can’t drive it, can you not do me an electric one?” That got me thinking and here we are now, six or seven years later, but we’ve done it in a different way to the conversion market.

What sets your vehicles apart from your competitors?

So just to be very clear at the start of this, our vehicles are brand new vehicles into brand new body shells. We have a classic looking vehicle which has Apple CarPlay, electric windows, power steering, aircon, you name it, it’s a classic looking vehicle on a modern platform. We’ve married the beauty with modern technology and that’s not the work of a moment. That’s taken us many, many years, not just to hone in on the quality but also in the safety case. What troubles me with some of the classic EVs I see is there’s lots of “experts” out there, but we can see corners have been cut and we don’t want to do that. We weren’t going to put more power than the original vehicles into a conversion unless we could do it in a very specific way.

What was your perspective on the electric vehicle industry before you went down this route?

Well, don’t forget, seven years ago, I was the biggest idiot in the country because me and Moggy (from Electric Classic Cars), were the only ones doing this. Let’s just differentiate what we’re doing here. What car was I driving as my daily drive when I started this business? A Maserati Gran Turismo S. You couldn’t get further than an eco-warrior than that vehicle. Why did I have that? Because I love the sound. What did I have in the garage? A V8, MGB GT and some other V8s. Love it. Absolutely love it. Car mad.

My perspective on electric then? A bit quirky, a bit niche. Back then, Tesla was in its infancy. Well, now it’s worth more than Mercedes, Volkswagen and BMW put together. So we came in at the right time, but it was a bit of a niche market. I liked it because I could see a future. The world’s changing and it’s evolving. The one thing I will tell you: once you go EV, you never go back. You just can’t go back, it’s impossible. Plug, play, quiet, it just works.

I suppose the work you’re doing now opens the door to more classic designs, which makes the whole EV market much more engaging, doesn’t it?

Yes, but there’s a huge trap that no one talks about anymore and it’s a big failure in the industry. It’s not just about being EV, it’s about driver engagement. We have a rear-wheel-drive electric vehicle with instant torque. We put the batteries where the engine and gearbox were and we’ve created a 50-50 weight distribution. We do not build the fastest EV in the world, and we don’t want to, but we definitely build the best EV driving cars in the world. It’s not about 0 to 60 in three seconds. I turn it off on my Tesla because after a bit, you just don’t want it. But you want to still have rear-wheel-drive and go into a corner and enjoy it without killing anyone. People have forgotten about driver engagement. Anyone can build an EV and you can see it in some of the conversions. “We’ll just put this down there.” No one talks about weight distribution, power to weight, no one talks about how it handles. We’ve created that in an EV, no one else has done it in a new car. So I’d say we’ve got a niche market, but our market is for people that like driving cars. Other EVs are for people that like being driven by the car, if that makes sense?

Can you give us an overview of the business and how much it has grown?

We have the RBW Roadster and the RBW GT. We started with our Roadster and we thought if we can sell a few we’ll go to something else. We can’t go to something else at the moment because we sold so many which is a really nice problem to have. We’ve got other vehicles coming, but our business is very much going forward about not just building vehicles for clients, but giving our system out for the people. We build everything in-house and everything is hand built.

We got to a certain stage, and I don’t know if you’ve heard of it but a little thing called COVID came along and that really didn’t help us at all. We had a mature product then so we dumbed down and protected the business, and then on the back of selling more cars, we ended up going out to market and attracted investment which has allowed us to scale now. It’s taken me a lot longer than other companies, but I think I’ve tried to explain that we wanted to be in a position where we were coming from a position of strength with an order book, with a proven product, with all our safety standards. We achieved that and that’s allowed us to open this facility.

What’s the end goal for RBW?

I want to create some very talented jobs. I want people to start believing that the British are the best in this industry, because we are We’re not the best at productionizing it and we’re going to change that, but the goal isn’t money. Yes, we want to be profitable and successful, but it’s about time we started saying we are very good at what we do. We’re going into the States next year and opening a facility there. The amount of help to get into the States, oh my gosh! You can tell why they’ve got the growth and we haven’t. To try and get any help to get off the ground from the government here is ridiculous. We’re a small economy, but we think small, we’re not joined up. I want to try and change on a very, very small scale the vision of engineering. If you come to work in my business, or my investors businesses, I want people to enjoy it. I’ve just done a deal with our local college to bring apprentices in. That’s the exciting bit. Engineering has been so unfashionable and a low-skilled job. I’ve got an apprentice, Tom, that I put him through Walsall College and he got all these qualifications. He’s now quite well paid his age at 22, and when I see him do things that he can do now, that gives me equally as much satisfaction as the actual cars, because that’s life-changing for him, isn’t it?

What’s the goal? Great business, creating great jobs, making money and great driving cars. That’s enough, isn’t it?

Click here to listen to The Everything EV Podcast episode with Peter Swain and be sure to like and subscribe!

Want the latest Electric vehicle news in your inbox? Sign up to the free EV Powered email newsletter...