The cars : Electric and hybrid cars – the class of 1980

We love a listicle on AROnline and also have a soft spot for electric and hybrid cars – and, as the technology matures into a viable propulsion system for an increasing number of people, we thought it was a good time to show you just how far they’ve come.

Thanks to our trusty car library, we’ve dusted off our copy of 1981 World Cars to bring you the state of play of the EV and hybrid market four decades ago…

Electric cars and hybrids – how they used to be

Enfield 8000: a car without a heater in more natural surroundings, the Greek Islands
Enfield 8000: a car without a heater in more natural surroundings, the Greek Islands

It’s 1980, and we’re seeing the dying embers of the second Energy Crisis have a profound effect on petrol prices. Across Europe and throughout the Americas and into the Far East, car companies scramble to develop electric cars that are fit for consumers. Since the early 1970s, and in the aftermath of the first Energy Crisis, electric car development accelerated. And now, in 1980, there is a small choice of battery-powered cars you can buy… and many concepts that remain in development.

The Americans are leading the way in electric car development, with the Government throwing hundreds of millions at manufacturers in order to help build up a car industry not dependent on oil. The US Department of Energy wants to wean its population off its V8 addiction – and downsizing continues apace. Will widespread EV adoption follow?

Of course, fans of electric cars will tell you that they’ve been around since the dawn of the motoring age. While this is true, and they have a point, the development of EVs effectively stalled following the invention of the electric starter motor for internal combustion engined cars, and the widespread distribution of petrol. This made driving a petrol car a whole lot easier and, with it, the war was won. The 20th century was definitely the petrol era.

Here, then is a round-up of the leading 20 electric cars of 1980. With the £2 gallon hoving into view, a global downturn and worries about the continuity of petrol supplies, more of us are thinking about going electric. But are the cars up to it?

Bradley GTElectric


Sold as a kit or in fully-built form

Bradley Automotive is going electric in style with three models already in production and a fourth in the prototype stage. The GTElectric gullwing hatchback is already on the market at $11,500 (US) in kit form or $17,500 for a completed turn-key vehicle. The two-seater fibreglass body has removable tinted sunroof panels, pop-up headlamps and safety glass in the hatchback. The electric propulsion system is also used in the Bradley Baron, and the maximum power (18kW or 24bhp at 3400rpm) is the same. Maximum speed is 75mph (120 km/h), cruising speed 47-55mph (76-88km/h) and range at cruising speed 60-90 miles (95-145 km). Overall length is 4.52m.

Briggs & Stratton Hybrid


One-off development prototype

An 18hp Briggs & Stratton internal combustion engine coupled with a Borg Warner duo-cam clutch to a Baldor 8bhp series-wound DC electric motor gives this 2+2 sports coupe prototype designed in collaboration with Brooks Stevens Design Associates a range of 30-300 miles (48-480 km). The separately-suspended battery trailer carrier containing 12x 6V lead-acid batteries reduces rolling resistance for improved fuel economy and performance. There are 9in brakes on the front two wheels. Maximum speed is 70mph (112km/h). The overall length is 4.42m, the wheelbase 2.18m and 2.84m, and the weight 1451kg. The six-wheel design and dual rear axles make this a striking car.

Commuter 111-DW Comuta-Car

COMMUTER 111- DW Comuta-Car

Sold in fully-built form

Commuter’s tiny two-seater features a Borg Warner Cycolac plastic body with high impact energy absorbing bumpers. Access is by two side doors and a rear hatchback door. The series-wound DC 6bhp motor with motor voltage control, develops 5.76kW or 7.7bhp at 4,100rpm and has high current contacters for battery switching. Eight 6 V 106Ah lead-acid batteries are split front and rear. There is a built-in charger for overnight charging from a 110V wall socket. At the top speed of 42mph (67km/h), range is up to 40 miles (64km) at cruising speed. Overall length is 2.97m, wheelbase 1.60m and kerbweight 660kg). A 60V performance is an option. The price is $5770 (US).

Daihatsu Charade Electric

DAIHATSU Charade Electric

One-off development prototype

Daihatsu has built to order for its Australian distributor a pair of two-seater electric cars, one of which was shown at the EV Expo ’80 in Adelaide. This five-door hatchback prototype is derived from the Charade 1000cc hatchback. The eight 12V lead-acid batteries powering the 14 kW DC compound motor are housed in a rear compartment. Recharging takes eight hours from a 240V source. The maximum speed is 47mph (75km/h) and the Charade has a range of 47 miles (75km) at 32mph (51 km/h). It has a three-speed mechanical gearbox and disc brakes at the front and drums at the rear. Overall length is 3.48m, width 1.51m, height 1.30m and the wheelbase is 2.30m.

Electricar Leopard 960

ELECTRICAR Leopard 960

Sold in fully-built form

The US Electricar Corporation has more than ten years’ experience of producing electric cars and offers a 12-month/12,000 mile warranty on all its models. At present it produces four models — two of which are featured on this page — all with a top speed of 50mph (80km/h) and a range in excess of 50miles (80km). The propulsion unit is a 48V or 96V DC traction motor wired in series and in parallel, with 16x 6V 220Ah lead-acid batteries housed partly at the front and partly at the rear. The Leopard 960 is a four-seater sports coupe derived from a special design with monocoque body. Length is 4.63m, height 1.32m, and weight with batteries 1035kg. Price $11,995 (US).

Electricar Leopard 964A

ELECTRICAR Lectric Leopard 964A

Sold in fully-built form

The 964A is the largest of the Electricar Leopards. Their wheelbase is in fact indicated by the model number — the 876, 953, 960 and 964A. The 964A is the only model wired only in series. It is a based on a production hatchback (the Fiat Strada) and, like all the Leopards, is a four seater with two front bucket seats and a rear bench. It features a quartz crystal clock, a trip odometer, vanity mirror, full carpeting and rear hatchback. It is available for Department of Energy demonstration projects. Braking is by disc at the front and drum at the rear with power assisted electric braking. 145 SR13 radial tyres are fitted. SCR chopper control is used as on all the models. Weight with batteries is 1251kg and price $11,995.

Enfield 8000


Sold in fully-built form (1973-1976 – secondhand in 1980)

In 1975 the Electricity Council began long-term tests on 66 8000s. Some 75 are still in regular use with a fleet mileage of over 500,000 miles. The four-pole 6kW series-wound motor and transmission have been problem-free. The car is fitted with a solenoid contacter control system substantially modified by the Council to reduce the number of components and greatly increase reliability. Much experimentation has been done on both flat type and tubular plate type lead-acid batteries. 6V monoblocs have been tested in various arrangements and voltages, showing that battery lives are from 3000 to more than 20,000 miles. Top speed is 40mph (64 km/h) and range 24-56 miles (39-90km).

Fiat X1/23

FIAT X1/23

One-off development prototype

The Fiat X1/23 is a little two-seater experimental car for town use. It was presented some years ago at the Turin Motor Show minus power unit and in 1976 it was fitted with a 14kW electric motor with separate exciting field and lead-acid batteries. The traditional brakes are supplemented by a regenerating brake. Cooling is by a fan driven by an auxiliary electric motor. An electronic impulse traction regulator adjusts the speed of the vehicle continuously from zero to top speed, ensures that it functions in a regular manner at all speeds and provides for energy-recovery braking. The X1/23 has front-wheel drive while the batteries are housed at the rear. Top speed is 45mph (75 km/h) and the range about 50 miles (80km).

Ford Fiesta EV Test Bed

FORD Fiesta EV Test Bed

One-off development prototype

The range goal set for Ford’s EV prototype is 70 miles (112km) over the EPA urban driving cycle. Derived from the 1979 Ford Fiesta, this three-door hatchback carries driver and one passenger. The series-wound motor with SCR chop-per speed control gives a maximum power of 57.4kW at 3,150rpm. The 96V 225Ah nickel-zinc batteries supplied by Gould Inc. are housed behind the rear seats and ahead of the rear axle. There is no onboard charger. Top speed is 65mph (105km/h) and cruising speed 55mph (88km/h). There are disc brakes at the front and drum at the rear with electric braking using motor regeneration. The length is 3.73m, wheelbase 2.29m and weight 1176kg.

FRUA Four-seater Coupe

FRUA 4-seater Coupe

One-off development prototype

Frua has built a prototype electric coupe for the United States firm, American of Texas, in which a 27hp GE electric motor is coupled with a mechanical four-speed gearbox. The servo brake and servo steering are actioned by a hydraulic pump and a pressure amplifier. The 14in light alloy wheels are fitted with 205/70/R14 tyres. Twenty-four 6V 240Ah lead batteries housed under the bonnet and in front of the boot allow a top speed of 65-72mph (105-115km/h) to be attained, according to the axle ratio. Length is 4.82m, width 1.83m, height 1.33m and weight about 2000kg. The coupe is finished in metallic blue with ivory Connolly leather upholstery.

GE/Chrysler ETV-1


One-off development prototype

This experimental four-seat two-door hatchback was developed for the US Department of Energy by the General Electric Research and Development Center and Chrysler Corporation. It is powered by 18x 6V high-density lead-acid batteries feeding a front-mounted separately excited DC motor with a peak rating of 31kW or 41.5bhp. The batteries are mounted in a separate tunnel and removable as a unit. There is a transistorised armature chopper. The ETV-1 features low aerodynamic drag, computerised electronic controls, onboard charger and regenerative braking. Its range under certain driving conditions can be more than 100 miles (160km) and top speed is 60mph (96 km/h). Length is 4.30m.

Gemini Fiat Panda 30 hybrid

GEMINI Fiat Panda 30

One-off development prototype

But for the air exhaust on the bonnet, this hybrid prototype is externally identical to the Panda 30. The electric motor drives the front wheels via the standard Fiat transmission and an internal combustion engine drives a 1kW alternator to recharge the eight light-traction 6V 240Ah batteries. It features electronic speed control and transformer and rectifier to recharge the batteries from the mains. The novel internal combustion generator engine, which runs on a mixture of alcohol and other compounds, is started and stopped by a voltage sensitive circuitry. Top speed is 37mph (60km/h) and range 37 miles (60km) with the electric motor. It weighs 900kg. The Panda has been modified only in the rear suspension.

GM Electrovette

GM Electrovette

One-off development prototype

The first testbed in GM’s continuing series of experimental vehicles is a two-seater coupe with a removable sunroof based on the Chevrolet Chevette. In the space once occupied by the engine is mounted an onboard computer that is a control signal processor and brain of the system; a chopper which is a motor-power controller; a – choke – or motor current smoothing reactor; a DC motor generator; a 110/220V AC transformerless charger, a gearbox and an auxiliary battery. A 240V battery system (150 zinc-nickel oxide cells) is located in the rear seat area. Top speed is 60mph (96 km/h) and range 112 miles (180km) at 30mph. Development work is also proceeding on a small two-passenger urban vehicle.

Lucas Royal Limousine

LUCAS Royal Limousine

Development prototype

We are stretching a point to include the seven-seater limousine based on a Bedford CF van, loaned by Lucas to Prince Philip. Its 50mph (80km/h) top speed, good acceleration and 70-mile (112km) range allow commuting between Windsor and Buckingham Palace, The 216V lightweight traction battery is housed in a detachable tray beneath the chassis. A rear-mounted 40 kW Lucas CAV low-loss traction motor drives the rear wheels directly through a fixed ratio transmission. The thyristor control system incorporates regenerative braking. Battery pack exchange is effected by means of a specially developed hover platform. The Limousine electric system is identical to that on 65 prototype vans.

McKee Sundancer

McKEE Sundancer

One of three development prototypes

McKee’s two-seater commuter car has an upward-opening top for easy access. The 12x 6V lead-acid batteries plus an auxiliary battery fit into a battery tray which can be rolled out and replaced in five minutes. The tray is housed in the backbone frame pioneered by McKee, because this battery location ensures a low centre of gravity and isolation from the car’s occupants. The 8hp motor allows a top speed of 60mph (96km/h) and a range of 120 miles (193km) at 30mph (48km/h), or 75-85 miles (120-136km) of city driving. Kerb weight, complete with batteries, is 725kg, and the car has a wheelbase of 1.83m. It is only 1.02m high.



Offered on a car-sharing scheme

For both of its two new electric vehicles, PGE (Progetti Gestioni Ecologiche) has used boxed rectangular members for the chassis and sheet metal for the body. Fully-independent suspension all round is combined with disc brakes at the front and drums at the rear. Transmission is by PGE reduction gear. The thyristor chopper also allows regenerative electric braking. In the 3P, the smaller of the two models, the separately excited 7.8kW motor has a maximum power of 15kW and is powered by 72V 185Ah Fiamm Nova batteries, which ensure the same performance as a taxi attains, but carrying three persons plus 50kg luggage. Overall length is 2.71m, height 1.51m, and kerbweight 1100 kg.

Quincy-Lynn Hybrid Electric

QUINCY-LYNN Hybrid Electric

Sold as a kit in electric form

Hybrid for Quincy-Lynn means an 8hp at 3200rpm series-wound electric motor plus an on-board internal combustion generator to supply current to the system while driving or to charge the packs of 6V 244Ah lead-acid batteries. There are five between the rear seats and four at the rear. Top speed is 55mph (88km/h) and range about 65 miles (105km), rising to 125 miles (201km) if the generator is used. Fuel consumption at a cruising speed of 35 mph (56 km/h) with generator online is about 80mpg. The fibreglass/urethane foam body with foam-filled bumpers is mounted on a Volkswagen Beetle chassis. Length is 4.40m, height 1.27m and estimated weight with batteries 1089kg. Still in the prototype stage, it seats 2+2.

Sbarro Carville

SBARRO Carville

Sold in fully-built form

Sbarro’s elegant little three-door 2+2 seater features a polyester body. Derived from the Vessa Pilcar electric car and the fruit of seven years of research, it is already in production. The 84V 22hp DC motor has a maximum power of 8/16kW. The rear-mounted 12V batteries are easily accessible and rechargeable from a 220V electric point. The Carville has four-speed automatic transmission and hydraulic drum brakes all round. Top speed is 50mph (80km/h) and range 62 miles (100km). The overall length is 3.21m, width 1.45m and height 1.50m. The kerbweight is 1150 kg and it has a useful payload of 300kg. It is available in red, blue, white, black and silver.

Suzuki Alto EV


One-off development prototype

This is an electric prototype version of the Suzuki Alto 550cc. The three-door hatchback layout has been retained with two seats in the front. A DC electric motor with a maximum power of 11kW and a thyristor chopper are combined with eight 12V lead-acid 120Ah batteries mounted at the rear. Recharging takes eight hours from a 200-240V point, but a rapid charge is possible in one hour. A four-speed mechanical gearbox, drum brakes and 5,00-10 tyres are featured. The top speed is 47mph (75km/h) and range at a cruising speed of 25mph (40km/h) is 56 miles (90km). Overall length is 3.19m, width 1,39m, height 1.33m, wheelbase 2.15m, weight 923kg.

Volvo Elbil prototype

VOLVO Prototype

One of three development prototypes

To gain knowhow about electric cars while waiting for developments in batteries, Volvo has built two prototypes which are narrower and higher than the smallest Volvo production model but weigh 1000kg. Rear-wheel drive, button selection of forward or reverse and an electronically actuated transmission make for easy driving. Thyristors aid starting and slow running, making them jerk-free. The four-seater passenger car has a 8kW (11bhp) motor and the two-seater van with sliding door mounts a 9.5kW (13bhp) motor. The 12 traction batteries of the four-seater provide 72V and the ten of the van 60V. The battery containers allow swift replacement. Top speed is 43mph (70 km/h), cruising speed 31mph (50km/h) and range 31 miles (50km).

Keith Adams


  1. I’ve never heard of any of these, apart from the Enfield. I realise that many are one-offs, but who on earth was buying the likes of the Comuta-Car?

  2. Those based on existing recognisable models are ok to look at, but all the ‘one-offs’ are spectacularly ugly.

  3. The six-wheeled Briggs & Stratton reminds me of the way trolley buses often had two rear axles. Why was that? I take it the extra axle in the B & S electric car was to take the weight of the rear-mounted battery pack. To me B & S meant a reliable portable single cylinder powered water pump or electricity generator – before Honda et al swamped the market.

  4. Reminded me of the Chloride Sherpa 2-250’s which I had a passing involvement in, although they came out a little later in 1985. Prior to then was Crompton Leyland Electricars which British Leyland had a shareholding in until 1972. A useful reference is Electric Trucks: A History of Delivery Vehicles, Semis, Forklifts and Others By Kevin Desmond, part of which is directly readable via Google and which shows that when it comes to electric vehicles much of the technology was first tried many years ago.

  5. Some of these are weird beard designs and even in 1980, who would seriously buy a car that could only reach 43 mph. Yet for all these one off cars never entered production, they were 30 years ahead of their time and the Quincy Lynn hybrid predated the Toyota Prius by 25 years, offering the best of both worlds.

  6. I also seem to remember seeing a NISSAN Group promo brochure in 1984 that had a picture of a Sunny B11 saloon described as experimental Hybrid. I later owned a Sunny Coupe for 4 years (1.5 petrol)

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