The Electric Corvair You Couldn’t Buy

Fifty years ago, engineers at Chevy were playing around with a Corvair Monza sport sedan they had turned into an all-electric test bed vehicle. Christened the “Electrovair II” it used a 532-volt silver-zinc battery pack array to power a 115 horsepower AC-induction motor, allowing the car  to “accelerate as quickly as a standard Corvair, even with a full load of passengers.”

Lead-acid batteries would have added more than 2,600 lbs. to the car – approximately the entire weight of a gas-powered Corvair. Hence, the use of  silver-zinc batteries, which were exotic and expensive for the era – not to mention, could only be recharged 100 times.

Even so, the Electrovair II could travel at speeds of up to 80 MPH, and go 40 to 80 miles on a charge, depending upon how it was driven. My 2012 Nissan Leaf has approximately the same range, same top end, and takes about as long to recharge when using 240v. While the nuances between my Leaf and the Electrovair II are many (the Electrovair II didn’t have regenerative braking!), the fact that an electric vehicle built in 1966 was capable of delivering similar performance is a telling sign about the slow state of progress 50 years has provided.

That said, now IS the time to begin considering the purchase of an EV.

The Electric Chevy You Will Be Able To Buy: Chevy Bolt

This past January at CES Las Vegas, Chevy showed off a production model of the BOLT – a 200-mile range EV with a net price in the $30k range. While the world waits for the Tesla Model 3 to arrive (at the same net price), Chevy has brought to market an EV that has the potential of catalyzing broad consumer interest. Why? Because Chevy has managed to put a battery capable of 200 miles (“depending upon how it’s driven”) into a vehicle that isn’t priced for the wealthy. A better battery, without breaking the bank.

Flashback to a prescient comment made in the attached  promotional film about the Electrovair II:

“for most driving, a better battery must be found to make a practical car. But Electrovair II has demonstrated for the first time, what electric car performance could be like when that better power source is found.”

It might have taken 50 years, but Chevy seems to have found that power source.

8 thoughts on “The Electric Corvair You Couldn’t Buy

  1. At a $30,000 price tag the Bolt does offer a substantial savings over the Tesla for the same range. However that got me thinking, we have millions of cars on the road today and no way to make these any more efficient or green than they already claim to be. I really hope someone comes up with a way like the electric Corvair or a VW Beetle or something else that will get to the green no-emissions plateau will all want at a fraction of the cost.

    1. It really has taken a coon’s age for the technology to “pull it’s head out”, so to speak.

      Shall we revisit any other propulsion technology that might have been buried by the gasoline avalanche?

      I would love to own a sedan sporting a solar-powered boiler-driven steam-engine with backup sails… or a horse.

  2. I love this post! It’s nice to hear about US automakers “trying” new – greener – fuel sources to lower the burning of dead dinosaurs to run our vehicles. I’ve read a lot about the US auto industry partnering with petroleum companies to SQUASH researching alternative and cleaner fuel sources. Honestly, ignoring cleaner technology for corporate profits disgusts me (and don’t get me started on the US auto industry killing subways and mass public transit in the 30’s!).

    In my opinion, there’s no reason every car on the road can’t be electric, a plugin hybrid or hybrid? The more we expand the technology, the more affordable the technology will become.


  3. Brilliant! Thanx for posting this.

    Given the year, you could hardly accuse GM of only trying to build a “compliance car”. ;>

    Love that GM used an inductive motor. God bless Nikolai Tesla.

  4. GM promised for 2017 30,000 for US and up to 30,000 more for export. Managed to deliver ~23,000. As Bob Lutz tells us, Tesla is no auto manufacturer, GM been building vehicles for over a hundred years. GM first to market with Saturn supplied EV-1. First to crush rather than sell to lease holders. [see “Who killed the electric car?”] First to provide <$40,000 +200 mile EV Bolt. 100 years of experience {development cost?] and they built an "amazing" ~24,000.

    Anyone figured out how much GM has "invested in R&D for battery cars"? There was a battery Corvair 1966. 50 years R&D?
    Google will find more articles. link page as some great EV-1 videos.

  5. The electric cars themselves may be zero emission, but the electricity still has to be generated somewhere. In many parts of the world, that means burning coal or oil.

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