Before Tesla… 1960s/70s EVs & Hybrids


(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. 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. 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. 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 more 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. 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 would
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. 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
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in the credits, please consider supporting me using the Patreon link below from just
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71 thoughts on “Before Tesla… 1960s/70s EVs & Hybrids

  • Definitely enjoy vid👍it be interesting to what USA car companies do next with more stringent emissions laws coming in, I bet will see more hybrid cars n truck instead of electric as Tesla don’t have range when towing n in Australia we don’t have enough electricity supply for houses let alone electric vehicles.

  • I remember seeing the AMC electric car at a nuclear power display in 1974. The idea of super cheap electricity from nuclear plants (Okay, that didn't work out), plus a car that didn't need gas (this was right after the OPEC embargo) seemed to go together.

  • This channel is getting better and better, great video as always! Somehow, I think old Isetta should made a EV version, that would be cute.

  • Love the little commuter van, imo its such a shame its taken so long for the tech to evolve considering its always been there, and alot of it is down to pricing as they are too expensive for the normal working man/woman , although i do wonder how things would have looked if it all had really taken off back then and how not just different cars would be today but how healthy we and our planet would be

  • Well I can also recall soviet electric minibuses/cars from 1970's still the technology wasn't that advanced to build a good and (main thing) cheap car. Nowadays we need this kind of cars to reduce air pollution.

  • The delivery van at 5:20 isn't diesel or petrol powered, it's an electric Nissan NV200. 😉 But great video, as always!

  • Another beauty Andy, very Interesting viewing all the concepts which would probably have been more viable using today's computer control systems and better batteries.

    One car you might include in a post 1970s video is the 6 wheeled 1980 concept from, of all people, Briggs and Stratton.

    This was closer to a real car but once again probably 30 years too early for the technology which would (probably) have made it viable. People laughed at the Prius but Toyota had the balls to get it right, and more importantly market it, whatever it may/may not be, it's a step in the right direction and 10/10 for that.

  • 9.48 looks just like the Alfetta GTV. Electric vehicles need to run on renewable energy (solar/wind) only or it defeats the object.

  • Very interesting and well presented. It’s funny that the electric starter motor killed the electric car. My daily driver is a Prius. Thanks from Orlando Florida

  • Love that 60's intro background music! BTW, I thought this was going to be an exclusively Brit-brand focussed, (which would be great, it's not a complaint) but I DO enjoy this generalist approach greatly. Just as an example, that Citroen SM video was just too delicious for words, and this one is really fascinating too! Thanks!

  • Oil companies, thats why. Control the oil flow for maximum profit. I want to convert my 2006 Ford Fusion from a 1.6 Petrol to electric. I have solar power, so it would be perfect

  • Hey Big Car you should due a video on the demise of the worse engine design made from 1977-1985 Oldsmobile Diesel 350 5.7L V-8 these almost bankrupted GM in the early 1980's will recall after recall. The GM notouries X car platform Chevrolet Citation Citation II Oldsmobile Omega Buick Skylark and Pontiac Phoenix all of these cars suffered brake recalls were the brakes would fall off the car. These also had a crap load of safety recalls  bad seat belt retractors etc. These two GM ideas put GM near bankruptcy by 1981. By 1984 X cars were decent but the public was not forgiving and died off a year later in 1985. This would make a good video

  • Back in the early twentieth century there were as many electric and steam powered cars as there were petrol. For quite a few years petrol wasn’t the front runner in popularity. The demand for greater range was what tipped the scales. From that point on electric cars were doomed to the curiosity bin. Personally I don’t believe electric cars are the environmentally friendly gift people think. All they do is shift the location of the pollution. If you think electricity is green just remember that the ‘biomass’ used in our ex coal power stations is actually wood pellets from millions of trees cut down in Virginia USA.

  • This was a brilliant video The Jaguar I-Pace is now the best premium electric car. It's nice that the UK is back on top with this technology.

  • This’s by far one of the favorite episodes. Photos of GM electric vehicles is like scene from Wacky Races.

  • Yeah. so we know what was going in West Europe and in the US. Even the completely non-realistic prototypes are mentioned.

    Meanwhile in Russia a short series of elecric Zhiguli was produced and a couple of them are still to be seen on the road in Ukraine – yet there is no word on that in the movie 🙁

  • IIRC there was a plan that instead of charging the battery you'd swap it for a fully charged one at a filling station, like camping gas cylinders. Of course there wasn't the infrastructure and the manufacturers couldn't agree on a standard battery.

  • OK, there were many electric milk delivery vehicles but no mention of the most prolific ( global) electric vehicle technology…. Forklift trucks, most are capable of working through a full 8 hour work period, trundling about & lifting heavy loads.

  • Errata: The "petrol" milk float at 5:20 is actually an electric Nissan e-NV200.
    Missing cars: The electric "Witkar" or white car project in Amsterdam in the 70s and beyond: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witkar
    The US 1959 Henney Kilowatt based on the Renault Dauphine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henney_Kilowatt
    The 1967 Scottish "Scamp": https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle-2-15039/scotland-s-forgotten-car-the-scamp-1-3942043

  • 6:18 Whoa, hang on – isn't that thing based on a Vauxhall Chevette? I know the basic shell existed in other forms, but that thing is new to me.

    Edit: Ah, should have waited to 11:48…

  • Now I really want an Amatron! The later one with li-ion batteries please… but I'd also accept one of the older ones with the lead-acid!

  • Bottom line, it's all about the batteries. Whoever comes up with the cheapest solution will dominate the EV market…

  • Enjoyable video man, I knew you were going to say that the British boast of the most electric vehicles on the road was due to the electric milk and bread delivery vans, because I used to be a milkman and we had over a hundred of them in only one of our depot's. We probably had over 1k of them in Belfast alone. That must have taken a lot of effort and research to put together. I liked it a lot.

  • As we can see, the cars have been there, but have never really been as flexible in use as their ICEV counterparts…or as affordable.

    But seriously…a WHOLE soccer field? Steady there, chief! That would be a QUARTER of the field!😎

  • Before Oslo was awash with Teslas costing half a million Norwegian crowns the Buddy was the El-car pioneer. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddy_(electric_car)
    You still see them around in the city, but most owners have replaced them with Leafs and the like.
    They're an important part of the story as they established a market for electric cars long before Norway became the largest el-car consumer, with currently 47% of all new cars sold as electric.

  • It's funny how all those 60s and 70s designers failed to look back at automotive history and design something that would be desirable and functional.
    Early Porsche cars has small VW engines but got mileage and speed from being lightweight and aerodynamic. While battery weight would still be an issue for EVs of the 70s, the cars featured in the video don't appear very aerodynamic either. And the looks don't appeal to buyers.
    Imagine if they had made a Karmann style car electric, bu tin the 70s.

  • I was hoping to hear what you thought of the General Motors EV-1 (and controversy) and where would it be if allowed to evolve? 😉

  • Somehow I don't believe GM wanted to go at least 10%EV in the late 70s. When there were ideas in gas engines that could get 100mpg or more. Heck there still is

  • It amazing how far back electric vehicles go & how they've never really caught on until recently, but even now it's still going to take alot of publicity & a huge amount of new infrastructure to make them the norm rather than the exception.
    By the way, on alot of your videos, when you edit from one section to the next, you often cut off the first couple of words at the start.

  • Great video!
    Can you please make a video on 80/90s EVs and hybrids ?
    I'm especially interested in the electric 190e and the hybrid Mercedes c class that used ZEBRA batteries, as there isn't enough information on the internet about them.

  • You got me to subb. Damn I like that gm classic. In that blue. Yes I was paying attention to what you was saying also. Keep up the informative content. Oh my days (edit) that 2002 bimmer, I just learnt something new on its history. Who would have guessed the put electric into that. Deffo a good channel.

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