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Before Tesla… 1960s/70s Electric Cars (EVs Part 1)

Before Tesla… 1960s/70s Electric Cars (EVs Part 1)


(music) You might not think it, but the 60s and 70s were a hot bed of innovation in electric car
design. Environmental and political events collided
that got people questioning our reliance on the internal combustion engine and thinking
about alternatives. So why was so much effort put into electric
cars when so few people bought them, and how close did we come to perfecting hybrid and
EV technology? Let’s find out! (music) There have been electric cars almost as long
as there have been cars. They didn’t need the potentially arm breaking
starter-handle, and they were a quiet and pleasant way to get from A to B. Soon they
were outpacing the internal combustion engine, breaking the land-speed record in 1898 and
becoming the first car to an earth shattering 60mph! But the cheap price of petrol and additional
range consigned the electric car to the scrapheap. First off is the Henney Kilowatt, released
way back in 1959. Although an American car, it used many body
parts from the very French Renault Dauphine. The project was funded by the National Union
Electric Company that also produced Exide batteries, and was keen to find new ways to
use them. With tweaks the 1960 model had a top speed of
around 60mph and a range of over 60 miles. Although 100 cars were built or semi-built,
only 47 were ever sold, many of them to electric utility companies. One of the first electric cars of the modern
age came out of an unlikely place – Detroit in 1966. But the rationale of the Electrovair II wasn’t
saving money on petrol, not when it seemed cheaper than water in the USA in the 60s. This was to help with air pollution, which
was becoming a hot issue, particularly in Los Angeles. Clean Air legislation provided funding to
car companies to invest in electric car technology, and the big car companies were happy to use it. The Electrovair II would use the Corvair as
a starting point. It was GM’s lightest vehicle and the rear-mounted
engine could be removed and easily swapped for a motor to power the rear wheels. Best of all, GM had a ton of them on hand
after Ralph Nader killed sales by exposing the car as essentially a death-trap. The Electrovair II was strictly a concept,
based on, you guessed it, the Electrovair I! It would use silver-zinc batteries, a by-product
of military spending. They were three times lighter than lead-acid
batteries and much smaller. But even with those light batteries, it was
still heavier than the petrol Corvair, and those special silver-zinc batteries were expensive
and would only last 100 charges! Acceleration was similar to its petrol-engined
sibling. It would get to 80mph and had an 80-mile range
if driven carefully and would take 6 hours to recharge. But those batteries still took up a lot of
room – completely taking over the front boot, leaving no space for luggage! But GM wasn’t naive. They realised this wasn’t something that
could be taken into production, and that they had to wait for better battery technology. With a downturn in aircraft orders, the Scottish
Aviation company released its take on the electric car in 1966 as the “Scamp”. With the Government worried that a rapid growth
in car ownership would result in congestion and pollution, and backing from the Electricity
Board, they created a tiny microcar with a fiberglass body and 4x 48V batteries. But its road worthiness test was a disaster
with delicate suspension that would collapse at any moment, and a boot door that opened
during the test and the spare wheel fell out! Barely discouraged, they got none other than
Stirling Moss to demonstrate it, but with a top speed of 36mph and an 18-mile range
and a projected high cost to purchase, it wasn’t going to turn heads. AMC were also thinking of reducing air pollution
with their Amitron in 1967. They also realised that lead acid batteries
were far too heavy, so their concept would use Nickel Cadmium and Lithium batteries,
bringing the weight from 907kg with lead acid batteries to just 91kg. The Ni-Cad batteries would be used for acceleration, with the Lithium batteries used for sustained speeds. And the Amitron was one of the first cars
to have regenerative braking. The combination of innovative batteries and
regenerative braking gave the Amitron a range of 150 miles that’s still impressive today. AMC wanted to put the car into production,
but the expense of the cutting-edge batteries made that impossible. Looking like a tiny Nissan Cube, Ford UK produced
the diminutive Comuta prototype. At half the length of the Ford Cortina it
was still able to shoehorn four people inside. It had a 37 mile range and a speed of 25mph,
but like all lead acid battery cars it suffered from awful acceleration. But there was interest across all car companies
in 1967, with BMC charging Mini creator Alec Issigonis to dream up an electric car of its
own. That same year the UK Electric Vehicle Association
put out a press release. They were proud to announce that the UK had
more electric vehicles running on UK roads than any other country. What they didn’t make clear was most of
them were this. The humble electric milk float has been around
since at least the 1930s, and by the 1950s had completely replaced horse-drawn milk floats. Electric vehicles suited milk delivery. Most routes were fairly short which allowed
cheap lead acid batteries to be used, and they could be recharged every day back at
the base. They were quiet, useful at a time when people
didn’t expect engine noise early in the morning. A high top speed isn’t important when you’re
carrying delicate milk bottles around, but that didn’t stop a souped up Weetabix-sponsored
milk float setting a world speed record of 84mph! Milk floats are getting rarer as more people
get their milk from supermarkets. Ironically in a day when more electric cars
are taking to the road, those remaining milk floats are switching to petrol or diesel power
to speed up deliveries. General Motors released their new electric
vision in 1969. They were keen to show off their research
team’s abilities to create cars that ran on electricity, steam or even nuclear power. But it was these four prototypes, created
a few years earlier, that got the headlines. The yellow car used a small petrol engine,
as did the Sinclair C5-like low-slung silver three-wheeler, somehow pitched as a commuter
car! But the red and blue cars were more interesting. The red car was all electric, with a 58-mile
range. The blue car was a hybrid, using both petrol
engine and electric power. It would power the car to 10 mph on electricity,
shifting to use the petrol engine at higher speeds. But like a latter-day hybrid it would charge
the batteries while the petrol engine was running or idling. GM would recycle it as the larger XP-883 concept
car around the same time. These cars weren’t intended to be driven
on regular roads. At a time when most American cars were the
size and shape of a football pitch, these tiny cars would have been a death trap. GM envisioned that they would be driven on
their own specially created highways. As an idea, that’s sort of a non-starter. GM was testing the waters with new markets
and was watching the increase in popularity of electric golf carts that wouldn’t just
be used on the golf range, but in neighbourhoods built near them. Golf carts had been around since the 1930s
for disabled golfers but had been gaining popularity for lazy golfers since the 1950s. They’ve been modified to become general
purpose Neighbourhood Electric Vehicles and today are used in locations like airports
to transport people with difficulties walking, or by the police to move around in urban areas. Also thinking about North American air pollution,
BMW created the 1602 E concept. It had a range of 38 miles, a top speed of 62mph and it used an early form of regenerative braking. With Munich holding the Olympic Games in 1972,
BMW publicly displayed the car and used it to support the long-distance races such as
the marathon. Probably the most famous electric car of the
70’s is not what you would think of when you thought of an electric car. In 1971 NASA blasted a Saturn V to the moon,
and neatly folded on the Lunar Lander was the all-electric LRV or Lunar Roving Vehicle. Two more were sent to the moon where they
covered an impressive 56 miles. Power came from 2x 36V silver-zinc potassium
hydroxide batteries. Needless to say, they weren’t rechargeable! Each rover had a theoretical range of 57 miles
in the low lunar gravity. The focus in the 60s had been around using
electricity to reduce air pollution, but with the 1973 oil crisis electric cars were pitched
as a way to cut our reliance on petrol. Middle East oil nations stopped exporting
to many western countries for their perceived support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Over a few months this quadrupled the price of petrol, and there were times you couldn’t even get it at all. Enfield Automotive had tested the waters in
1969 with the Enfield 465 prototype, but they must have thought their timing was perfect
when they released the Enfield 8000 in 1973. The tiny car had a 55-mile range (if you were going downhill!) and a top speed of a whopping 48mph! But it was tiny! With a wheelbase 8” shorter than a Mini,
it looked like a Reliant Kitten that had been left too long in the dryer. But that tiny size would make it a perfect city car. It was built on the Greek island of Syros,
as its backer was a Greek millionaire. There were high hopes that this would be the
start of something big, and a Jeep-style was produced for the car rental market on the
Greek islands. They expected charging subsidies from the
Electric Board would make running it cheaper, but with it costing the same price as a 3L
Ford Capri, and being double the price of a Mini, only 120 were ever made between 1973
and 1976. But one of those 120 was transformed into
something truly special. Jonny Smith threw out the old lead acid batteries
and replaced it with modern technology to make it the fastest electric car on four wheels. With an estimated top speed of 140mph it could
get to 60mph in under 3 seconds! The Italian coachbuilders Zagato had their
own take on an electric car in 1974. They were famous for the Alfa Romeo Guilietta
TZ and Junior Z. So, with their design knowledge of sleek Italian
cars, they designed this boxy thing. It’s a shape so simple, it looked like someone
designed it using Lego! The Zele ran on good old lead acid batteries,
giving it a range of 50 miles. The Zele had a spartan interior with a complicated
4-position speed selector and a 2-position foot pedal that could be used to select six
forward speeds and two reverse speeds. The Zele 2000 was fitted with a larger 2000W
motor that featured a boost switch which, once at top speed, weakens the motor’s magnetic
fields in the field coils to produce less torque but a greater top speed of… 30mph. Despite selling it in the USA as the Zagato
Elcar, only 500 were made and production ended in 1976. The same year, something of a car sharing
revolution was happening in the Netherlands. Some Amsterdam residents wanted to reduce
traffic, so hit upon the idea of a car sharing scheme, years before ZipCar. They named their scheme “Witcar” or “Whitecar”
in English, and used a fleet of 35 white and orange cars. The whole system was controlled by a PDP-11
minicomputer. The scheme failed because of the car’s long
recharging times, meaning few were available when needed, and the cars were rarely where
you wanted them as traffic tended to all flow in the same direction, a problem London’s
Boris bikes have, requiring large vans to move bikes around during the day. Back in the USA and hoping to cash in on the
oil crisis was CitiCar. Released in 1974, it featured a simple triangular
shape that was generously referred to as a coupe (or coupé if you like). With a top speed of 38mph and a range of 40
miles, the CitiCar was certainly confined to city use. The company was sold in 1977 and the car renamed
as the Comuta-Car until 1982. It was produced in Sebring, Florida and sold
4,444 cars. Later in its life comically large bumpers
were added to comply with US safety laws, although it’s unlikely the CitiCar could
do enough damage to other cars or pedestrians to warrant their inclusion. The Comuta-Van was also introduced for the
US Postal Service as a delivery van. American Motors take on the electric vehicle
was the 1974 Electruck, based on the Jeep DJ. It used 2x 27V lead-acid batteries and had
a 33mph top speed with a 29-mile range. 352 were also sold to the US Postal Service
as delivery vans as a way to help reduce city pollution. With oil crisis fever gripping the world,
a desire for independence from the wills of Middle East countries, and oil prices expected
to go higher and higher, the large American car companies produced new concepts to test
the water with customers. First out the gates was GM with their third
electric vehicle concept in 10 years, the Electrovette. GM removed the engine from a Chevrolet Chevette
and fitted good old lead acid batteries. The top speed was 55 mph with a range of 50
miles. GM had hopes of putting it into production
in the 80’s, with 10% of cars being electric by the 1990’s. AMC tried again with the 1977 Electron. If you thought it was the same as the Amitron
from 1967, you’d be right, although AMC hadn’t spent the past 10 years just sitting
on their hands. The updated Electron had side mirrors and
a new exterior colour! Because nothing says 1970s more than orange
paint! But Ni-Cad and lithium batteries hadn’t
got any cheaper and it faired about as well as the original Amitron concept. At the end of the 70’s, Garrett, the turbocharger
company, were sponsored by the newly created Department of Energy to produce an experimental
car. It used a regular array of lead acid batteries,
but used a novel concept of a flywheel to store energy when braking, a concept later
championed and productised by the Williams Formula 1 team for applications like London
buses. But those lead acid batteries would still
need replacing after only a few years. Over at Chrysler, again with the Department
of Energy’s help, they were pitching the remarkably similar looking ETV-1, with the
help of General Electric. It would feature regenerative braking, a top
speed of 65mph and a 100 mile range. It would also use a novel T-shaped battery
pack that was easily replaceable, the same concept tried by Tesla over 30 years later. With the heavy weight of lead acid batteries,
electric car acceleration was severely hampered, and with the space they took up, the cars
just weren’t practical. The 80’s and 90’s brought more EV developments,
but the key ingredients to make a successful hybrid and EV were there by the late 70s. Regenerative braking, hybrid engines, and
lithium batteries. Toyota would put them into a winning hybrid
package in the late 90s, but it would take cheaper, lighter, smaller lithium ion batteries
in the next century to make fully electric vehicles a practical alternative. It takes a lot of time and effort to make
these videos. To get early access to new videos, or appear
in the credits, please consider supporting me using the Patreon link below from just
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100 thoughts on “Before Tesla… 1960s/70s Electric Cars (EVs Part 1)

  1. I think things would have gone very much differently if the lithium battery had been invented around the same time as the lead acid battery. Lead acid just was not made for EVs.

  2. These days i believe they could use high power capacitors to deliver an extra punch in acceleration, but it's probably not worth both the cost and the advantage.

  3. My grandmother owned one of those 4444 City Cars. It was red. She also had solar heating and a incinerator toilet and sauna in her house.

  4. Thank you for showing the gorgeous 1974 Imperial LeBaron, a car that used a more powerful motor to simply lift a window than most of those electric vehicles used for propulsion!

  5. 10:13 – This has to be the most WTF moment in automotive history where someone took a Greek-British team to design a tiny electric car and produce it in a naval shipyard not on the mainland of Greece but in one of its smaller islands in the Cyclades, Syros. LOL! What completes this WTF moment is of course that the Greek state by 1975 changed the automotive legislation precisely to make these vehicles outlawed. Oh yes. As one minister of industry said in 1977, Greece must not have an automotive industry ( = Greece must not have an industry at all – oh yes…).

  6. Do you have any information on the Canadian Marathon C-300 electric vehicle? The Marathon electric car company in Montreal built them from 1977 to 1980 and I believe there was only 300 built. There was also an electric van built by them. I can't find much information on the vehicles. Thanks,

  7. With out Telsa.Wrong Telsa was around before the 70s and 80s.His building is in new york.you know the ac current to dc current.

  8. Now I wish I could get an electric car that is just a car. I don't need a fancy infotainment display, or other such features that only raise the cost and deplete the batteries faster.

  9. Ever notice when you design a "bare bones" type car, it pretty much turns out with the same basic dimensions as a Gremlin?

  10. I seem to remember that actor Lloyd Bridges bought a production-version of an electrified Chevelle sedan in the 1973-1977 design generation.

  11. Too bad that you did not mention the EMA1: https://www.auto.cz/ema-1-toto-je-prvni-ceskoslovensky-elektromobil-jak-vznikl-jezdil-a-kde-je-dnes-k-videni-104521

  12. I like the AMC electric car. If only it had more of a boot. Then there's that point when they made the electric cars ugly and weird looking. They looked so unappealing that it seems to have been done on purpose to keep combustible engines popular.

  13. This is a nice way to show that, thruout the history, when ICE car companies set out to build an all electric, they made a 101% mockery. And I bet my balls they all did it on purpose.
    Untile Elon tought different, basically all manufacturers mocked the idea and did their best to showcase that electric cars are sad jokes.
    Just to keep the cash flowing from petrol

  14. I worked at AMC motors at the very end of the 1970's we where making zero power train car bodies for electric companies they would put electric motors and batteries I never saw the end product

  15. Love this video.😁! I want to convert my Toyota hilux Australian version of Tacoma with electric and i found a 450 ft/lb motor. Problem is that the batteries would cost more than the electric motor setup (complete conversion )!

  16. Први електрични ауто је направио Србин Никола Тесла, правиш се блесав ил намјерно прескачеш ту чињеницу, а као доказ постоје вјеродостојне фотографије и нацрти…

  17. I thought I knew the history of the electric car pretty well. I was wrong. I have never heard of many of these attempts. Thank you for a brilliant video.

  18. It would be really interesting to retrofit such a vintage EV with a Lithium Ion battery and a modern electric motor with a inverter.
    Lithium Ion batteries are exactly what was missing in the 70s, lightweight batteries with a lot of cycles and now they are increasingly getting cheaper.

  19. 60s 70s? Major of my town in central europe buid his own hybrid in 1918… He had many electrical pattens and inventions, but germans stole them in WW2

  20. very good informative video indeed!

    all that said about the limitations associated with the design and execution of full-electric 'engines' however, if it weren't for oil cartels hating the entire idea at its very roots for obvious reasons, given enough R&D is done on the development of smaller lighter yet more powerful batteries, fully electric vehicles (even at the airplane sizes!) is quite achievable …

  21. I believe that try'na sell an EV in the 60's – early 70's is the reason why they're still not truly mainstream. I mean if you get the choice between a Dodge Charger R/T or some obscure and questionably styled EV you tell me what you'd get

  22. In the last 150 years no one has thought how to improve the Electruic Motor. Still the same Iron case and roter. Still the same coil design burning up the Amps onto heat. Lets just keep looking at the Batteries which need to be recharged from the Power Station and compleatly Ignore the Motor.

  23. We are still waiting for the ideal electric car. Until they can cover two hundred miles at motorway speed with the heater and lights on, they will not replace the conventional ice, Further, though mechanically they should last much longer , they will become worthless when say six years old due to the high cost of replacement batteries. I wish I could be more positive but this is reality as I see it.

  24. The frequency at which this guy says, "test the waters" is irritating. Just when you have forgotten about the last one, he says it again!

  25. If petrol wasn't cheap way back in the beginning so that it paid to have electric cars, engineers and chemists would have developed electirc cars with 1000 mile battery range decades ago. A big missed opportunity because most of us alive today would have grown up in unpolluted cities.

  26. As always a fantastic video with a brilliant informative story in great detail , loved it.
    Very interesting to see how electric cars were the rage at one point and now we seem to be going back to a new rage age of electric, with tesla leading the way, making attractive and sexy electric cars, with a price tag to go with it.
    Thank you big car keep the videos coming love it

  27. Just here to chime in about the Corvair. Naider was a moron and a liar. A stunt driver took his original (worn out to shit) Corvair recently, 2017 i think? And forced it to roll. It didn’t and it wouldn’t. He was just a pathetic worm looking for fame

  28. Electric cars date back to 1906 but who's counting years? They worked really well except for the batteries which continue to be a major issue especially if you are a humanitarian.

  29. Ralph Nader was full of crap on the Corvair.It was just as safe as any other car in it's class at the time. The US government finally got around to testing the car after he killed it off with his book Unsafe at any speed. A big fat lie.

  30. what what what they can't upgrade the milk floats with lithium ion battery tech and make them faster to compete with modern ev tech

  31. There were also a lot of DIY electric cars in the 70's, some of which were very innovative such as the Urba-Electric which used a continuously variable transmission to adjust the speed of the vehicle. The accelerator would operate a stepper motor which adjusted the gear ratio of the transmission, this effectively allowed regenerative braking without any additional electronics.

    It should be noted that the Toyota Prius was first introduced with Nickle Metal Hydride batteries, this is because Lithium Ion batteries come in a variety of formulations with the more energy dense formulations also being more dangerous and if you select the safest formulation just in case of car accidents, Lithium Ion batteries would have no more energy density than Nickle Metal Hydride batteries which were available commercially in standard sizes hence the early Prius used D-cell or rather sub-D-cell batteries ( sub indicates no hump on the positive end as they would be soldered in rather than held in a contact battery holder with springs ).

  32. Not gonna lie, I would much rather drive one of those derpy little things that have far more personality than any of the current EVs.

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