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Electric car could hit nearly 22 mph, go almost 50 miles on a charge

Today EVs and mild electrics are very much in vogue, but few are aware that before the dominance of gasoline engines most of the earliest automobiles were actually EVs as well.  Of course, they didn't have fancy lithium ion batteries back then.  These EVs used the classic rechargeable battery chemistry -- lead acid -- invented by French physicist Gaston Plant in 1859.

The 1890s and 1900s were a golden age for electric vehicles.  By then lead acid batteries had become moderately affordable, allowing actual commercial deployments of electric vehicles in New York City and London, mostly for taxicab use.

This Friday a lost relic of that era will go on display at Porsche Automobil Holding SE's (ETR:PAH3) Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.

Built in 1898, the vehicle was dubbled the "Egger-Lohner electric vehicle, C.2 Phaeton model" and was the first design produced by Ferdinand Porsche.  Just 22 at the time, the automotive pioneer was employed by Jakob Lohner & Comp., an early luxury carmaker who made vehicles for European royalty.

Porsche P1 drawing

Porsche's first design mixed metal and wood in an artisan carriage frame.  Porsche showed his pride in the design, engraving a "P1" mark onto its parts, a trademark that gave the early EV its nickname.  Gauges were hooked up to the battery, giving readouts of the voltage and amperage.  These readouts gave a crude indication of the miles remaining on the charge.

Porsche P1 gauges

Over a third of the 1350 kg vehicle's (2,977 lb) weight came from the 500 kg (1103 lb) lead-acid battery, which gave the vehicle a 80 km (49.7 mi) range -- not bad by today's standards, even.  The downside was that the 3 hp (horsepower) electric motor could only drive the vehicle at speeds 25 km/h (15.5 mph), but it had a bit of an extra trick under the hood.  It could drive for limited bursts in an "overdrive" mode, which shot the net horsepower up to 5 hp and the speed up to 35 km/h (21.75 mph).

Porsche P1

In 1899 the P1 proved its mettle devastating the competition in a motorsports event at an exhibition in Berlin.  In a 40 km (24.9 mi) race, Porsche finished a full 18 minutes ahead of the competition.

Porsche P1 wheel

Porsche would spend the next few decades working at various early European automakers, before going to work for the Nazis in World War II and joining the SS as a mid-ranking official.  Porsche died in 1951, after a brief imprisonment for his role as an officer in the SS.  Before his death he founded the modern Porsche under his name and produced the "inverted tub" that was the Porsche 356.  While his eager support of the Nazis was shameful, his early electric vehicles were groundbreaking.

Porsche P1

The P1 on display was found in a shed in Porsche's home nation of Austria.  After eleven and a half decades and two wars, it was in near-pristine shape.

Porsche P1

Today Porsche is returning to its electric roots.  In addition to the eye-catching 918 Spyder hybrid electric "hypercar" (which is set for production later this year as a limited edition halo car), the Cayenne crossover utility vehicle and the Panamera sports sedan/hatchback have received hybrid editions.  And this year's Porsche 911 will reportedly have a limited hybrid edition, as well.  Porsche says it wants to have a hybrid variant of every one of its models.

Sources: Porsche [1], [2]





"Well, there may be a reason why they call them 'Mac' trucks! Windows machines will not be trucks." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer






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