Even in 2014 Australia, the electric vehicle has a long way to go before it can be considered part of the automotive mainstream. So imagine where it stood in the 1970s, when petrol-guzzling street machines by Holden and Ford were king.
It was back then, however, that five 1974 Enfield 8000 electric vehicles were imported to Australia for evaluation and trials.
Manufactured in the UK’s Isle of Wight, the prototype two-seater battery-electric city cars came into being as a result of a competition run by the UK Electricity Council in 1966. Enfield Automotive – a company owned by wealthy Greek shipping heir John Goulandris – beat rival bidders, including Ford, for the contract.
With a top speed limited to 77km/h and a range of up to 90km, the car was aimed at low mileage urban users, and was expected to supply a much needed boost to Britain’s export push – according to reports, it performed well and was favourably reviewed by the motoring press at the time.
As a BBC Radio 4 program recently noted: “Its acceleration was considered impressive (0-30 mph in 12.5 seconds), it passed the Department of Transport’s crash tests with flying colours and when placed in a wind tunnel showed it had a better drag coefficient than a Porsche.”
The Enfield 8000’s power (and part of its name) came from eight rather large 6V battery monoblocks, which could be connected to domestic electricity supplies via an onboard charger socket in the back.
“The principle was much the same as a modern electric car,” said Radio 4 presenter Peter Curran, in an interview last November about the Enfield 8000 he has bought and restored. “It was small, square and squat, but somehow futuristic with a beautiful curving windscreen. It had a cheekiness and came in a variety of colours – red, orange and blue.”
Back in 2014 Australia, some 40 years later, one of these original export Enfield 8000 EVs is still being driven on the roads of Adelaide by its current owner, Randal Love, who bought it for $3,000 in 1993 and fixed it up.
Twenty years and around 160,000 km later, Love says the car, pictured above, is doing well. “(It) is still fairly well preserved and certainly in much better condition now than when I bought it,” he said, in a media release celebrating the car’s 40th birthday.
Love says he still drives it to and from work every day, where his bosses at local company Off-Grid Energy Australia have installed a power point out the front of the office, so he can charge the car while he’s at work.
“It gets plenty of attention from customers and couriers when they visit the office,” Love says.
These days, the car’s top speed is more or less the same, at about 80km/h, but its range is limited to about 50kms per charge, mainly due to the limitations of the EVs original old equipment, says Love. A full recharge of the car costs around $2.40.
Love’s manager at Off-Grid Energy Sean LePoidevin, is also a fan of the old EV, and hopes soon to install a “proper” charging station at the office so any employees can charge their electric vehicles at work.
“It’s fantastic that this little car is still running, and proves that the technology is reliable,” LePoidevin said. “We’re pretty sure this is the oldest electric car in SA that’s still being used day-to-day, perhaps even Australia-wide!”
And it would be one of a dying breed, as the Enfield 8000 experiment ended in 1976 after only 108 cars were made; its failure to take off put down to its small range and comparatively large price tag of £2,500, which, at the time, could have bought two Minis.
Apparently, most of the cars (aside from those exported to Australia, of course) ended up being returned to their place of conception – the UK Electricity Council.
Rumour has it that Enfield Automotive owner Goulandris was less than keen to extend the project – despite interest from the likes of then-US President Ronald Reagan – due to pressure from the oil industry, with whom his family’s shipping empire had significant business.