Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Strange Electric Car Machiney
When we think of the peak of electric car development, we think of recent years with cars such as the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 and the... G-Wiz (not exactly peak, I know, but it still sold fairly well). If I were to tell you that the 1970's was probably the last big part of history when many a wannabe 70's Elon Musk roamed the motoring industry, trying to develop an electric car that could work in an age of bell-bottom trousers, moustaches and mass polluting cars like the Vauxhall Chevette and Ford Granada, you might not believe me if you didn't know better.
It was only right of them to do so. The world was starting to come to know of global warming and in an age of strikes and discontent with workers, it made money sense. So far the best effort of making money sense in the car market was the Mini. The Mini was great. It was cheap, economical, small, parked well, fitted four passengers in comfort and it could be serviced well. Even though, BMC, originally never made a penny on a single one, they sold tonnes, many to famous faces such as Mick Jagger and John Lennon. So when British Leyland came to develop their own prototype electric car, what else would they choose for a basis for their new little buggy? The Mini was perfect for it, being small and light.
An instant classic. The Mini captured the hearts of millions.
BL used one of their own companies Crompton Leyland Electricars Ltd (Morrison-Electricar) to help develop their own prototype. Morrison-Electricar was mainly a producer of low power electric vehicles like milk floats as shown below:
So what did BL come up with in 1972? What did they develop with all that know how from meandering milk around to many a customers front door? Well let me start off by saying the bad bits. When you hear that it had 24 lead acid batteries, you could be inclined to get on the floor and cry in sympathy for why BL went wrong. Then again, they were doing the best with they technology of the time. The batteries would drive two 3.9 horsepower (2.0 kW) motors which slowly wind the car up to a sprightly 33mph. It may not have been the fastest car of the age, far from it, but it was probably the best they could do without draining the batteries and hampering the range of up to 40 miles or shedding any more weight.
This brings me on to the body and styling. First thing that hits you is the proportions. Its small but it looks taller than it seems, mainly because of its short wheelbase. All of this was made possibly by... Michelotti of all people! The Electricar isn't a bad looking thing, but nor is it good. It's strange. To me the Electricar sits in the uncanny valley of car design. It's the Mike Wazowski of car design. Not pretty but maybe not ugly either. Even though it has a light body, it did end up being more than 1/3 as heavy again as a Mini due to the batteries.
The interior brings a sort of two tone 70's spaceship flavour to the vehicle. Kind of like a Nestlé Caramac & Mars bar on wheels. It's not a bad looking interior to be honest. With the slow speed and small size, sitting in this cockpit could probably be quite fun, especially when you're buzzing around small back roads with Stairway to Heaven coming out of the portable stereo you would have to acquire due to the lack of one in the car.
Quite fancy a Caramac now, or a Snickers.
There is only one gripe I actually have with the interior. If you haven't noticed it yet, the Crompton-Leyland Electricar has some sort of early prototype of the Austin Allegro Quartic steering wheel which everyone hated. I'm not afraid to say that it looks no better in this car *shudder*.
The Electricar debuted at the Geneva International Motorshow in 1972 and although it was never intended for mass production for commercial sale, mainly on the weight, speed and range grounds, it did show how BL was looking at other sources of energy to help bring a new light to the motor industry at the tine.
It would take another 47 years before a marque from British Leyland (MG) would actually release an electric car. Gladly the MG ZS EV has been a success as one of the best value electric cars on the market today. Thank god that it doesn't have an abysmal steering wheel.
What are your thoughts on the Leyland-Crompton Electricar or electric cars from the 70's in general?