The First Energy Crisis in 1973 led many to believe that 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 Enfield 8000 Electric.
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.
Enfield 8000: The electric dream unrealised
When the Enfield 8000 was launched in 1973, it was cutting-edge. Electric vehicle development has been a rather sporadic affair – but it had come a long way. 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.
However, 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’s first effort, the 465, was introduced to an underwhelmed public.
Enfield’s earlier electric effort…
The problem with battery-powered cars in the automobile’s middle-age was simple – from a 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 a maximum speed of 28mph…
However, spurred on by the prospect of subsidies from the Central Electric Generating Board’s predecessor, the Electricity Council, the company tried again. The prevailing economic climate moved in Enfield’s favour in October 1973 with the onset of the oil crisis.
That was caused when the members of Organisation 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 which killed demand for larger cars, and had customers clamouring for as economical chariot as they could – suddenly, things looked good for Enfield.
In response to a crisis: Enfield 8000 Electric
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 lightweight chassis 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.
However, 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.
Launched promisingly, if a little too costly
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, but the city runabout lacked even the most basic equipment such as a heater (though you could specify leather seats), and was limited to a range of four (very 1970s) 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 public – the electricity companies took the greatest (65) of the production run of 120 – and the Greek-funded operation soon began to hit the rocks.
Enfield moved to the Greek Islands
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 became Enfield-Neorion. 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 1970s that did their best to convince the public that electric cars were slow and limited in range, looked like Noddy cars and couldn’t have a future. When the Second Energy Crisis of 1979 hit the West, it wasn’t sustained enough to re-ignite the electric dreams and the boom years of the 1980s and ’90s saw battery-powered cars marginalised.
It was only when environmental concerns were pushed up the political agenda going into the 21st century that battery car research accelerated at a phenomenal rate. It’s a shame the plucky Brit Enfield was rather too soon to feel the benefit…
Enfield 8000 Electric: Specifications
- 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