I think you can group the history of EVs into three distinct eras: First came the Archaic Period, which goes from the late 1800s to around 1935 or so. Our current era, which we may as well call the Tesla Era, I’d actually start with GM’s EV1 from 1997 and continue to today.
Between those I’d say we have my favourite period, the Crap Era, a time of strange experimentation and comical failures that went from, oh, post-WWII until the mid-1990s. Currently for sale on Craigslist is an incredible Crap Era gem that I really think you should see.
This forgotten gem is a 1982 ElecTrek. This is a difficult car to research online because the name is shared with an electric car enthusiasts’ site, but a bit of digging reveals the car was built by a company called Unique Mobility, based out of Englewood, Colorado.
The one for sale with the “firm” $US500 ($699) price is around Boulder, so it doesn’t seem to have strayed too far from the mothership in its life.
The most striking thing about the ElecTrek is just how unabashedly bonkers the damn thing looks. It’s genuinely weird, even by 1980s EV standards, which is saying a lot.
The body is all fibreglass, and it’s full of strange decisions, like the oddly upswept fenders at front and rear; the passenger cabin seems to live in a funny little valley between them. The doors are strangely short, with oversize windows that dip down low; behind the doors, the glass is a strangely undersized trapezoidal porthole.
I’m not certain if this was based on any sort of production car chassis, but you can see a number of off-the-shelf parts on this thing: Buick Skyhawk taillights, a Ford Pinto glass hatch and what I think are Ford door handles. I’m sure that the other glass all comes from other whatevers.
This is a determinedly and dramatically weird-looking car, like some unholy mashup of a Vauxhall Chevette, AMC Pacer and Gremlin, and a ’70s sci-fi movie prop, all blended together with a bunch of macrame bikinis and a bag of old weed.
I do admire the stripe kit on there, though.
There are a few of these left around (the Western Development Museum in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, has the orange one there), and they appear to have different rear-end designs than the one for sale. I think I prefer the glass Pinto hatch and Buick taillights to the fixed rear window and what look like inset box taillamps.
This thing gets weirder when you look at the velourtabulous interior and see that huge gated four-speed shifter nearly vertically mounted on the dash there. What the hell? The shift gate seems to incorporate the radio bezel, which may be an automotive first, too.
This is really odd; EVs normally don’t have conventional transmissions, but perhaps this one was built with some donor four-speed to help enhance the range and performance? In this early era, changeable gear ratios could offer some improvements, I’d think.
If you look at the car’s specs, at least according to the plaque at the Moose Jaw museum, they’re really not bad at all: It could drive faster than 97 km/h and had a maximum range of 160km (well, at a steady 48 km/h). For EVs of the Crap Era, this is surprisingly good.
It had a 24kW electric motor, a 96-volt pack of 16 six-volt lead-acid batteries and weighed 1,520 kg. Again, this is all on the high end of Crap Era cars.
So, is this non-running electo-freak worth $US500 ($699)? I mean, maybe? It would make a kind of fascinating project, maybe upgraded with a Leaf battery pack and drivetrain, in case you really wanted to be green and good to the planet while also being a little bad to everyone by driving around something so delightfully hideous.
That sounds like a pretty good time to me.