Newbird: Electric Nissan Bluebird is a birthday present to Sunderland plant

Published: 16 December 2021

► 35 years of making cars in Sunderland
► Bluebird reborn as electric Newbird
► Sympathetic, contemporary approach is no restomod

No, this isn’t yet another restomod. Instead Nissan has removed the engine from the first car produced at its Sunderland factory – a Bluebird from 1986 – and replaced it with the all-electric drivetrain of a Nissan Leaf.

Naturally, Nissan is calling its creation the Newbird. It has a 40kWh battery pack and the single-motor drivetrain from a Leaf. Because the Bluebird was never built to accommodate a massive EV battery, the cell modules are split between the engine bay and boot, for optimal weight distribution.

Nissan Newbird's Leaf powerplant

What else has changed?

Understandably, you can’t just drop an EV motor into a car built in the mid-eighties. To overcome this, Nissan has updated and modified the power steering, braking and heating systems to make them electrically powered. Custom suspension has also been fitted to support the extra weight of the battery packs.

Nissan Newbird driving

Neatly, the charging port has been fitted behind the original fuel flap, and the driver instrument panel has been modified so the fuel gauge now shows battery change instead. As a nod to the car’s electric conversion, the Nissan bonnet badge now has LED backlighting when the car is parked. And there’s a natty blue, pink and green paint job too, of course, which is inspired by 1980s consumer technology.

So it must be pretty quick now, right?

Erm, no. A restomodded Tesla-baiter this is not. Although not homologated for road use, Nissan has run some numbers with the Newbird and performance is somewhat stately to say the least. Range from the 40kWh battery is a respectable 130 miles, but the 0-62mph time is just under 15 seconds.

Nissan Newbird driving with sustainable power

Charge rate is limited to just 6.6kW, so filling the battery is likely to take a while too.
The EV conversion was handled by Kinghorn Electric Vehicles, a family-run firm in Durham, 15 miles from Nissan’s Sunderland factory. The company specialises in converting cars to EV using old Nissan Leaf drivetrains.

So it’s to celebrate a factory birthday?

Yes, that’s right. The Bluebird was electrified to celebrate 35 years of Nissan manufacturing at the Sunderland plant, which has produced more than 10.5 million cars and currently employs 6,000 people. Nissan says 19 of those workers have been there since day one, when the factory opened with just 430 staff.

Nissan Newbird

The plant built 187,178 Bluebirds between 1986 and 1990. Nissan says how production time has gone down from up to 22 hours per Bluebird to 10 hours for each Leaf built today. Over 200,000 Leaf EVs have been built in Sunderland to date. The factory is also used today to assemble the Qashqai and Juke.

By Alistair Charlton

CAR contributor and fan of EVs, V12s, and everything in-between