The Rivals : Enfield Automotive 8000
The fuel crisis of 1973 led many into believing the end of the petrol engined car was a near certainty – including Greek millionaire Giannis Goulandris, who oversaw fledgling UK carmaker Enfield Automotive’s entry into the EV market with the 8000.
With 8bhp and a top speed of 40mph it probably wouldn’t cut the mustard now – and neither could it back then, judging from its less than electric sales performance between 1974 and 1977.
The electric dream unrealised
Electric Vehicle development has been a rather sporadic affair. At the dawn of motoring, it was on an absolute par with the internal combustion engine – so much so, that in 1898, Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat broke the land speed record in his electric powered Jeantaud Duc at Achères, Yvelines, France, and became the first driver to break the 60mph barrier. But as petrol supplies and distribution improved, the internal combustion engine took the lead and never looked back – also helped by the arrival of the electric starter motor. But that didn’t stop a number of companies trying their hand at selling EV cars over the years.
In the 1970s, the UK’s best crack at making it came from an unusual source. Enfield’s path into EV manufacture came via firearms and speed boats, and in 1969 the company’ first effort, the 465 was introduced to an underwhelmed public. The problem with battery powered cars in the automobile’s middle-age was simple – from an position of developmental parity in the early 1900s, petrol car development had accelerated away by such a degree that there was no reason at all to own an EV. The Enfield 465 was a great case in point – it had 4bhp and and a maximum speed of 28mph…
But that didn’t stop the company from trying again, spurred on by the prospect of subsidies from the Central Electric Generating Board’s predecessor, the Electricity Council. The prevailing economic climate moved in Enfield’s favour in October 1973 with the onset of the oil crisis. And that was caused when the members of Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries or the OAPEC (consisting of the Arab members of OPEC, plus Egypt, Syria and Tunisia) proclaimed an oil embargo as a response to the USA’s decision to re-supply the Israeli military during the Yom Kippur war.
In short – petrol supplies dried up, and pump prices went through the roof. That triggered a damaging global downturn that killed demand for larger cars, and had customers clamouring for as economical chariot as they could. And all of a sudden, things looked good for Enfield.
Like the 465, the new 8000 was designed purely as an electric car, and Sir John Samuel was responsible for its overall engineering package. In terms of parts bin componentry, its suspension was donated by the Hillman Imp, and the doors were modified Mini units. The aluminium body as styled by Konstantine Adraktas, the Chairman and Managing Technical Director of Enfield, was bespoke and aerodynamic (a Cd of 0.29 was reportedly achieved). The chassis lightweight and the underpinnings were a bespoke tubular steel affair. As a city car, it looked ideal – length was 2.7m (a Mini was 3.05m), and the turning circle was deliberately tiny.
But the kerb weight for this tiddler was still the best part of a ton (965kg) thank to those batteries. The motor was rated at 10kW (DC), and transmission was a conventional four-speed plus reverse. Powering it were six lead acid batteries rated at 165Ah (three in the front and three in the back). That power pack came in at 308kg, the main reason for its less than sparkling performance – top speed was 40mph.
When it went into production in 1973, the 8000 looked modern and smart. It was initially built at a rate of one a week on the Isle of Wight, and the city runabout lacked even the most basic equipment such as a heater (but you could specify leather seats), and was limited to a range of four (very ’70s) colours – orange, red, white and yellow.
The combination of its unimpressive performance and lack of range (35 miles on a good day, but as low as 15 in sub-zero temperatures) proved something of a barrier to mass sales. A high price didn’t help either, and private customers would have to fork out £2808 to get one on their drive in 1975 – at a time when a Ford Capri 3000 came in at around the same price. Needless to say, the Isle of Wight-built car struggled to sell to the general public – the electricity companies took the majority (65) of the production run of 120 – and the Greek funded operation soon began to hit the rocks.
Soon, production of the 8000 was moved to the Greek island of Syros after Enfield Automotive was incorporated into Neorion (also owned by Giannis Goulandris) and to become Enfield-Neorion. But the dream didn’t last long at all – and the Enfield slipped into obscurity after three short years in production.
Actually, the Enfield 8000′s legacy lived on for years, because it joined the ranks of battery powered cars of the ’70s that did their best to convince the general public that electric cars were slow and limited in range, looked like Noddy cars, and couldn’t have a future. When the second oil shock of 1979 hit the West, it wasn’t sustained enough to re-ignite the electric dreams, and the during the boom years of the ’80s and ’90s saw battery powered cars marginalised.
It was only as environmental concerns were pushed up the political agenda going into the 21st century that battery car research has accelerated at a phenomenal rate. Shame the plucky Brit Enfield was rather too soon to benefit…
- Motor: 72 volt DC series wound
- Control system: Dual high frequency pulse width modulation straight traction
- Batteries: Flooded lead acid 220Ah
- Transmission: Rear wheel drive
- Running gear: Reliant back axle
- Suspension: Independent Coil over shocks all round with Macpherson strut front
- Chassis: Tubular steel galvanised construction peripheral type
- Construction: Non-stressed aluminium panels
- 0-30mph: around 9 seconds
- Top speed: 40mph
- Range: up to 35 miles