Years before Nissan made hippies happy with the Leaf, Warwick University stuck 24 lead acid batteries and an electric motor in a K-registered Rover 400. Later on it ended up in the car collection of an unusual car enthusiast based in rural Staffordshire called Duncan – when he sold it in 2008, he invited me to blog about this unique motor.
Duncan bought the car in 2005 for £700, but did not know much about the car other than that the previous owner was Warwick University and that there were no batteries or paperwork with the car. Duncan acquired some batteries and fitted them to the frame already located in the boot. This frame slides fore and aft which allows access to the spare wheel (if fitted) and for some of the boot space to be utilised. There was no spare wheel in the car and Duncan has used this space to house more batteries taking the power to 72v from six lead acid batteries.
What changes were there?
The real surprise lay under the bonnet a – instead of a dirty K-Series engine, there was a much smaller electric motor unit, possibly originating from a fork lift truck or some such vehicle. The electric motor had been professionally and methodically mounted into the engine compartment, the original manual gearbox was retained and this fits beautifully onto the electric motor.
‘The real surprise lay under the bonnet – instead of a dirty K-Series engine, there was a much smaller electric motor unit.’
The fuel tank and exhaust system were conspicuous by their absence although, in all probability, the vehicle was made with them and they were subsequently removed. The original charging point was (surprise, surprise) inside the fuel filler cap but this proved impractical and dangerous in use so Duncan added a new charging point from inside the boot.
The cabin was almost pure R8 with the only additions being the master key for the electric motor, the battery level light and the emergency stop button were are all housed in a mini console where the cassette holders normally were. The vehicle could demist its windows, but had no heater fitted.
What was it like to drive?
Like many electric vehicles this car made almost no noise upon start-up with the only noise intrusion into the cabin being when the brakes, which work off a vacuum servo, were applied.
The car drove just like any other R8 although it was disconcerting to drive around with the fuel gauge permanently on empty! The batteries were not at their best and an overnight charge costing around £1 in electricity provided enough power for a short journey, although hills did challenge the car. Duncan felt that the car would have had significantly better batteries fitted when new and even now Nickel Cadmium-type batteries would probably increase the range and performance significantly.
The clock showed a mileage of less than 5000 and both the interior and exterior suggest the vehicle had barely been used in its lifetime. Duncan had no other information about the car’s history but surmised that it could have been a R&D car from the early 1990s when there was some initial hype for electrically-powered vehicles which was prompted by the introduction of American legislation relating to the production of EVs.
So, the big question that needs answering now is: where is it now? And if it’s still around, did it get those NiCad batteries it do desperately needed? Let us know, by dropping us an email.