Long before the Tesla Model S, Nissan LEAF or even GM EV1, automakers worried by the various oil crises of late 1960s and 1970s begun working on electric vehicles. Most were small, with unusual, futuristic designs and limited range, powered by banks of heavy lead acid batteries.
Ford and GM both produced their own versions of electric vehicles, as did BMW and Volkswagen. But alongside these automotive giants were small, independent firms like Vanguard-Sebring, Zagato and Enfield Automotive. Firms which hoped to one day change the world with their revolutionary plug-in vehicles. When automakers turned their attentions back to gasoline vehicles, these firms continued on their quest, producing limited numbers of early electric cars that you could actually buy.
These days, most of those early electric cars have been long forgotten, showing up from time to time on auction sites like ebay in various states of disrepair. But thanks to one TV presenter and automotive journalist from the UK, one such car from 1975 — an Enfield E8000 ECC — has been given a new lease of life as a tire-smoking hot rod.
Last weekend at the Santa Pod raceway in Northamptonshire, resplendent in a brand-new bright-yellow paint job reminiscent of the 1970s, it took to the drag strip for the first time, recording a quarter mile time that matches that of Tesla’s iconic 2010 Roadster Sport.
All in a car whose wheelbase is just 68 inches.
Enter Jonny Smith and the “Flux Capacitor,” one of only 120 Enfield E8000 ECC electric cars ever built and what must be the only classic electric car that’s been given the electric equivalent of replacing a Model T Ford’s original 20 horsepower inline 4 with a roaring small block V8.
Before we get into the Flux Capacitor’s transformation however, we feel a history lesson is in order.
A trip down memory lane
Built by British-based Enfield automotive — a small automaker owned by greek millionaire Giannis Goulandris — the two-seat Enfield E8000 ECC (Electric City Car) was Enfield Automotive’s first production car. Built on a tubular steel chassis with aluminum body panels and a massive one-piece, heated, wraparound windshield, the Enfield was based upon a prototype car called the Enfield 465, which the company had produced in 1969 as a proof of concept for an electric city car.
Made by hand on the Isle of Wight — a small island just 4 miles off the south coast of England in the English Channel — the Enfield Electric not only resembled some of the other small cars of its time, but used many of the same parts, too.
This ensured Enfield kept build costs down, but also ensured spare parts were readily available should they be required.
The wheels and brakes come from the Morris Mini Minor of the time, while the headlights come from a Mk 1 Ford Capri and Austin Allegro. Suspension parts and steering at the front come from a contemporary Hillman Imp, while the rear axle comes straight from a Reliant three-wheeler. Sit a British car geek in an original one for any time, and they’ll notice other parts from various British cars from the 1970s.
Driving the rear wheels directly was a small 6 kilowatt electric motor, powered by eight 12-volt deep discharge batteries and wired to a rudimentary controller that added batteries in series or parallel to the circuit to control vehicle speed.
Top speed was limited to around 40 mph in stock form, with range somewhere between 35 and 55 miles depending on the weather, the age of the battery pack, and the road conditions.
And if this author seems a little over-enthusiastic about this strange classic car from the 1970s, it’s because I am. Back in 1984 as a precocious five-year old, my two older sisters let me read their copy of The Tree of Knowledge — a weekly mail-order encyclopedia published by Marshall Cavendish — in order to get some peace. And there, staring back at me from the glossy pages of the kid-friendly Google of its time, was a bright red Enfield Electric, complete with cutaway drawing showing the battery pack.
It was, if you like, my root.
In its original form however — as this video from BBC Top Gear in 1998 shows — the Enfield Electric was more eccentric than cool.
Despite only 120 examples being made and a handful of unusual ‘special-order’ vehicles, a surprising number of Enfield E8000s still survive today, with most owned and operated by enthusiasts as fun weekend cars or runabout vehicles.
Which is how this author, and Transport Evolved regular Kate Walton-Elliott first met HPN 912N in the corner of a workshop in the middle of Wales in late June, 2007.
Despite having spent its early days as a bright white press car for Enfield Automotive, appearing in various publicity shoots and even putting in an appearance on BBC Tomorrow’s World television program in the 1970s, the tiny Enfield had found its way to Wales via various owners and custodians. By the time it arrived in Wales, it was in a sorry state.
The previous owner had put a fake grill on it from a Rover Metro, it had been partially restored, and someone had painted it a shade of blue by hand.
Despite this, it still worked, albeit with the kind of problems you’d expect of a 35-year old car.
And so, a price was agreed upon, and the tiny electric car went on the back of a trailer to its new home in Berkshire, where it was destined to be transport to and from the local village for Kate’s mother.
Shortly after arriving and gaining its first MOT in years, the river next to where the car was parked flooded terribly, filling the car with dirty water, destroying its electronics, and killing any chance of living again.
With the insurance company unwilling to repair it outright, its fate looked sealed. Knowing it was a rare car, Kate purchased the car back at scrap value and held on to it, hoping that she would one day be able to restore it.
Which is where Jonny Smith — aka Carpervert— comes in. A fan of everything from the 70s, Jonny had been on the lookout for something unique to add to his collection for a while. And having spent some time with electric cars in his day job as one of the Presenters for Fifth Gear, he knew he wanted an Enfield.
His dream? To do what no-one else had done before. Turn a classic electric car into a hot rod. Luckily for Jonny, we happened to know where just a car was, and so the introductions were made and the sale agreed.
Reborn as the Flux Capacitor
And so it began. Inspired by the drag-racing legends of the White Zombie in Portland, Oregon and BlackCurrent III in the UK, Jonny set out to build the fastest electric drag racer he could. With the right team behind him, Jonny aspired to building a hot-rod that was powerful enough to beat a Tesla.
With the engineering skills of Webster Race Engineering carrying out all of the necessary bodily and mechanical modifications and drivetrain help from Current Racing, Jonny knew he could make the Enfield — christened the Flux Capacitor — as fast as California’s finest. Add in a custom-built battery pack made up of 144 Kokam lithium-ion cells and assembled by British firm Hyperdrive, and Jonny knew he had the British ‘A-Team’ of EV drag racing.
“Immense effort was taken to build batteries capable of delivering 370 volts, 600kW, 2000+ amps, 1003hp, 1200lbft+ that weigh less than 150kg. I still can’t compute the stats when I stare at this strange unassuming electrical package,” Jonny Jokes, noting that in their usual military-grade application the cells “run the starters and mini-guns in a Bell AH1 SuperCobra attack helicopter!”
With twin 9″ Current Racing motors — modified Netgain Warp 9″ series wound direct current motors — replacing the stock Enfield motor the Flux Capacitor has plenty of power. But to transfer that torque to the rear wheels, the team had to build a special 6″ propshaft to connect it to a heavily-modified Ford 9″ rear axle, complete with massive 14×7 Wolfrace slot mag alloy wheels off a 1970s Trans-Am.
“As the Enfield’s name suggests (8000 ECC – Electric City Car) it was never designed to go more than 45-50mph. It is 1.725 metres in wheelbase, making it particularly risky as a high speed race car,” said Jonny in an email to us earlier today. “For drag racing you want massive torque, grip and stability at high speed. Brakes at the end bit also help. The latter were custom built lightweight AP Racing calipers and carriers adapted from a Caterham.”
But while Jonny originally intended to race the Flux Capacitor more than a year ago, building such a powerful drag racer in such a short frame — something which necessitated the team design removable wheelie bars for the dragster — the project took longer than anyone anticipated.
“It’s taken at least a year longer than originally intended to get this far with the Flux Cap project, but I need to say a massive thanks to Adrian Flux Insurance, npower energy supplier, Red Maple IT consultants and Hyperdrive Innovations for believing in this project and helping me get this far,” he said. “I don’t have time to MoT it before this weekend [a UK road-worthiness test that all cars over 3-years of age made after 1960 must pass before being used on the road] but all she needs is a screen wash bag, a rear numberplate light and the horn bolting up.”
“Everything else is [road legal],” he continued. “The tyres I race on are road legal drag-friendly radials. Not slicks.”
Even the windshield — which got cracked in the process of building the street-legal racer — has a road-legal, super-lightweight polycarbonate replacement thanks to Bolton-based Plastic4Performance.
Once he has the car sent for its MoT, Jonny says he hopes to be able to drive it for local errands, just like many of the other road-legal drag cars out there. Too short to be officially recognised as a drag-racer under NDRA or NEDRA laws, the Enfield fits perfectly into the modified street legal class.
Loose on the strip
“Originally, the Enfield was 6 horsepower, 48 Volts and 80 amps,” Jonny explains. “Now it’s over 120 times more powerful, with 600 kilowatts, 370 volts, 1003 horsepower and 2,000 amps available.”
In addition to the power upgrade, Jonny’s Flux Capacitor team has even managed to lighten the car. When it first rolled off the production line nearly 40 years ago, the Enfield weighed 2,150 pounds . Today, it tips the scales at 1945 pounds.
The first run for the Flux Capacitor was carried out at half of the theoretical maximum the car’s on-board electronics could supply, both to let Jonny get the feel for the car but also check everything was safe. The first run took 16 seconds over the quarter mile, followed a little while later by a 13 second quarter mile at 93 mph, with the controller set to max out at 1,300 amps.
“I Have to say it felt shockingly good. The twin 9″ Current Racing motors were strong, the coupling and 6″ propshaft held, as did the Hyperdrive battery pack, with its twinkling LED lit BMSs,” Jonny recounts.
For the majority of the weekend-long meet, the team continued to run 13-second quarter miles, testing and proving the car had what it took to fly up the drag strip without a hitch.
“When it felt right, [we] upped the amps to 1,400 and hit a best of 12.56 seconds at 101.43 mph,” he said. “We hit the 60 foot line in 1.88 seconds and the 1/8 mile marker in 7.9. The car was over 100 mph every time [after that].”
For an extra-special treat, Jonny even raced his mentors from Black Current Racing in their heavily-modified Volkswagen Beetle. While they beat the Flux Capacitor with some significant margin and a sub-10 second quarter mile, Jonny says it was the first time in Europe that a pair of custom-modified EV dragsters had squared off against one another.
Returning the future
For the rest of the weekend, Jonny reports that the Flux Capacitor stayed pegged at a 1,400 amp limit, meaning that the runs recorded were at about 70 percent of the car’s potential power.
That leaves plenty of room for improvement and we hope, a time that not only heads into the 11-second territory but could also maybe even beat the Tesla Model S P85D.
“Mid 12s makes it faster than any road-going production EV bar Tesla’s P85D — which is my next benchmark to beat,” Jonny said. “That means running 11s.”
“Racing it for the first time in 2015 is apt, given that Back To The Future’s 30th birthday is around the corner, and my Enfield was born in 1975 – 40 years ago,” he said.
We hope that he and his team has a successful race season and proves that one person’s vision of the future from 1975 really can come back to the future — and beat some of the competition too.
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