Jay Leno Prepares To Bring 100-Year Old Electric Car Into 21st Century With Help of Modern Parts

If there’s one thing that Jay Leno is as well-known for as his various TV shows over the years, it’s his love of cars. Indeed, since he left the The Tonight Show in early 2014, Leno has spent a large part of his time indulging that love, hosting Jay Leno’s Garage online and on CNBC.

Jay Leno has a very special plan for this 1914 Detroit Electric.

Jay Leno has a very special plan for this 1914 Detroit Electric.

Among his collection of more than 170 cars and 120 motorcycles spanning more than 115 years of the automotive industry, Leno has a number of electric cars, ranging from an early 1909 Baker Electric through to a first-generation Chevrolet Volt, a Fiat 500e and of course, a Tesla Model S. Some of his other non-electric cars are factory-original concours vehicles that look as good as they did the day they rolled off the production line. Others are heavily tweaked hot rods, street sleepers, or custom-made racer cars.

To date, all of Leno’s electric cars have been kept in stock configuration. But as Leno disclosed in his latest Restoration Blog YouTube video, one of his electric vehicles — a 1914 Detroit Electric — is destined for a rather special restoration. With a brand-new wooden frame, the 101 year-old electric car is about to get a modern electric motor and powered by the same lithium-ion battery pack used in a modern Nissan LEAF.

New parts include a Nissan LEAF battery pack, and this new AC electric motor.

New parts include a Nissan LEAF battery pack, and this new AC electric motor.

The resulting car should, in Leno’s own words, travel a lot faster and possibly a lot further than the original vehicle.

Before you get too upset over someone turning a classic historic electric vehicle into a street sleeper however, this particular car — much like the Flux Capacitor drag-racing Enfield Electric owned by TV presenter and friend of Transport Evolved Jonny Smith — was in a pretty bad state when Leno added it to his collection. What was left of the vintage electric car’s wooden frame had become so rotten that there was little holding it together. Its original metalwork was still intact, but it also lacked any motor, power electronics or batteries.

Having rescued it for just $1,000, Lenno decided it would be the perfect car to bring into the modern electric car age, complete with air conditioning, comfortable seats and public charging station compatibility.

“What we’re doing here is resto-modding it,” said Lenno. “It’ll be powerful like a Tesla when it’s done.”

Using a UQM Technologies 380-volt three-phase AC electric motor with ten times the power of the original unit, Leno said the car’s new top speed will be far quicker than the 20 mph or so the original stock 1914 car could manage. Add in air conditioning and bluetooth, and Leno joked that “It’ll be a modern electric car in a 1914 body.”

Leno says the original drivetrain and differential should manage the far more powerful motor.

Leno says the original drivetrain and differential should manage the far more powerful motor.

Power for the new ‘resto-modded’ Detroit Electric will come from a repurposed Nissan LEAF battery pack, which Leno said Nissan has donated to the project. Split between the front and rear of the vehicle, the Detroit Electric should have an almost perfect weight balance, albeit far lighter than the original heavy lead batteries (or optional Edison nickel-Iron batteries) fitted to the car when new.

Handing over the technical work to Brok Winberg of Simple Solutions Inclusive, Leno says the project will be completed some time in 2016 alongside various other restoration projects being undertaken by his in-house staff. With the majority of the exterior bodywork already complete, all that’s left is for the batteries and modern components to be married to the freshly-restored chassis and body, installation of modern conveniences such as air conditioning and bluetooth radio, and of course, the all-important test drive (which we’d assume will be filmed).

Writing about the project on Linked In back in October, Winberg said that the rearranging of the Nissan LEAF battery pack will split the original Nissan LEAF components up somewhat — but noted that his company has designed a new Wireless Battery management system designed to bolt onto Nissan’s original battery modules, something that he said will make the entire process far less cluttered in terms of wiring and eliminate the large wiring harness and more than 100 crimped wire connections found in the original LEAF battery pack.

While there’s no news about when the car will be finished, Winberg talked enthusiastically about his time at Jay Leno’s garage, noting that in addition to getting a personal tour of the facility by Leno himself, he was also treated to a ride in Leno’s recently-acquired Tesla model S P90D.

“Not a bad way to spend a Friday,” he joked. We’d have to agree.

Are you a fan of resto-modded electric cars? Do you think old electric cars like this should be given a new breath of life, or treated with dutiful restoration to concours standard? And what do you think the new hot-rod 1914 Detroit Electric will be capable of?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • leptoquark

    I trust Leno to respect the spirit of this car, based on what you said he had to start with. It sounds like a very cool build.
    What I would like to see is a restored original car with restored Edison nickel iron batteries, charged from a restored mercury arc rectifier.

  • indybandwagoner

    If Brock were a gangster he would be called Brock 2 times, cause he likes to say things twice lol.

  • Chris O

    What do you know turns out that even a century ago EV makers knew to fit heavy duty transmissions to deal with high EV motor torque. Looks like Tesla can learn something from this project;) Don’t think those “non skid tyres” will go a long way in making this contraption safe when driven faster than the 22 MPH the chassis was designed for though.

    Seems like a bit of a waste to do such a great job on restoring body and chassis only turn the whole project in a weird exercise in futility.

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