Ancient electric cars meet modern EVs at Amelia Island show
that Milburn interior… —
Where else can you see a 1.5 hp 1895 Electrobat next to a 1,000 hp Hummer EV?
Jonathan M. Gitlin
AMELIA ISLAND, FLORIDA—It’s rare to see an electric vehicle among the polished and restored vintage cars of a concours d’elegance. (That’s French for a very fancy car show.) And that’s despite the fact that electric power was a credible alternative to the internal combustion engine for the first few decades of the automobile. But this year’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance went some way to rectifying that. Under the oppressive humidity, nestled between the usual concours fare of interwar phaetons and a wonderful assortment of Porsche 935s, there was an entire class of ancient EVs on display.
And what a varied class it was. A marvelously named Electrobat IV 1895 was the oldest EV to take to the well-manicured golf course. They were still in the earliest stages of figuring out this whole automobile thing 126 years ago, and the Electrobat IV, running on skinny buggy tires, still looks like it’s missing its horse. But the real innovation that Pedro Salem and Henry Morris came up with for the Electrobat was its electric powertrain, consisting of a 1.5 hp (1.1 kW) motor and a 350 lb (159 kg) battery. They went on to build a fleet of Electrobat taxis that operated in New York at the beginning of the last century.
The Waverley Electric from 1901 was nearly as primitive, and again there’s the impression that it’s incomplete without an accompanying equine. But the 1901 Waverley rides on pneumatic treaded tires, has headlights, and is powered by a 2.5 hp (1.8 kW) motor. A Waverley Four-Passenger Coupe from 1910 shows how far the Indianapolis-based company developed over a decade; while obviously an antique, the red two-door fits most definitions of a car.
The best in class award went to another Edwardian EV, the Colombia XXXV Open Drive Brougham of 1905. If the early Electrobat looks like a racing buggy missing its racehorse, the stout Columbia might need a pair of Clydesdales. Those substantial artillery wheels are fitted with solid rubber tires, and each rear wheel is driven by its own electric motor (via ring gears). It even has a steering wheel rather than a tiller, although it doesn’t appear to have a handbrake, something that trapped its driver and passenger up on their perch until a suitable chock could be found.
By the 1920s, EVs were becoming rather refined. The 1921 Milburn Light Electric looked particularly elegant, with a fully upholstered interior that included a pair of rear-facing jump seats that fold away into the front bulkhead when not in use. This may even be an early forerunner of the concepts we’ve seen with flexible interiors, although I don’t think anyone in 1921 was suggesting that you could fall asleep and let the car drive for you.
What a difference 100 years make
The vintage EVs were joined with a more current crop of volt-driven vehicles. You have probably already read about our ride in the Lucid Air, and the elegantly styled (and highly aerodynamic) sedan looked perfectly at home among the assorted exotica at Amelia Island. Bollinger’s display was almost as busy, and its boxy high-end EVs appeared to generate almost as much interest among the crowd as Lucid.
General Motors brought along its next two EVs, the bombastic Hummer EV (in both truck and SUV shapes) as well as the more restrained (and much cheaper) Cadillac Lyriq. We weren’t able to persuade GM to give us a ride or even sit in the Hummer or the Lyriq, so all I can comment on is how they look. In that regard, the Cadillac made a great first impression.
But the one that really pushed all my buttons was the Electric GT, an electric restomod of an Alfa Romeo Giulia GT. There is allegedly some original Alfa Romeo Giulia GT chassis in there somewhere, but it has been strengthened with a roll cage and then clad in a beautiful carbon-fiber body that, if anything, improves the looks of the original. There’s a 64 kWh battery pack, a single electric motor providing 580 hp (433 kW), and a hand-crafted interior that takes quite a few of the alleged 6,000 hours of work that go into the finished car. Predictably, I have yet again fallen in love with a car well beyond my means, for an Electric GT will cost you at least $523,000 (€430,000), and they’ll only build a total of 20.
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin