Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model S Too Mainstream? How About This Ultra-Rare Classic 1960s Henney Kilowatt?

As regular Transport Evolved readers are no doubt aware, although we love our modern electric cars, the majority of the Transport Evolved editorial team are absolute suckers for rare, classic cars. If they happen to be electric then it’s even better.

Over time we’ve even had a few pass through the Transport Evolved staff car fleet. The little Enfield that currently holds the record for the fastest street legal EV was, prior to the massive amount of beautiful restoration and upgrading work it’s had, this author’s intended daily runabout (it unfortunately only had one run-about before being hit by a 3 foot deep flood that killed it fairly spectacularly). There was the notoriously terrible banana-yellow City-El (or Mini-El), and the team-shared (and dreadful) pre-production Reva G-Wiz. For a while, our benevolent dictator Editor-in-Chief Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield even owned one of three right-hand drive factory-built 1985 Volkswagen Golf City Stromer electric cars ever made. As it stands the team here are attempting to monopolize the US ownership of the first generation Toyota Rav4 EVs.

This car has us drooling.

This car has us drooling.

And before the second of those first-generation Rav4 EVs joined the fleet – there was remarkably serious consideration of whether a Electrica Jet 007 could possibly fulfill our needs (it couldn’t, but we tried damn hard to make the case). So there was considerable excitement in the Transport Evolved offices when we saw a rare 1960 Henney Kilowatt electric car listed for sale in Nesconset, New York on Hemmings.com. Because like we already said, we’re suckers for classic electric cars. 

Of course, it’s a common misconception that electric vehicles are a truly modern invention: they’ve been around for the entire life of the automobile and have waxed and waned in popularity as the technology required has been surpassed by (or surpassed) the internal combustion engine. So although for much of the 20th century battery and power electronic technology really could not keep pace with the power available from fossil fuels there have been a not inconsiderable number of attempts to make it work all the same.

The interior is pure 1960s -- and excellent condition for its age.

The interior is pure 1960s — and excellent condition for its age.

Some of these are quirky in the extreme (like our former Enfield 8000 – aluminium and glass fiber and wrap-around heated windscreen in the 1970s). Others, like the Henney Kilowatt, are far more conservative, at least in terms of their outside design. And if the picture above of the Henney Kilowatt looks familiar to classic car officionados, it’s because it’s based on the gasoline-powered Renault Dauphine, a rear-engined car with simple, clean lights that was unofficially known as the Renault 5CV. Sadly however, while its design is clean, delightful and pleasing to the eye, the Renault Dauphine’s handling characteristics could be a little less delightful – particularly in early versions. The swing-axle suspension and rear-engine, rear wheel drive layout could lead to some fairly pronounced oversteer.

The Henney Kilowatt used the Dauphine as its starting point, combining that 1960s simple charm with electric drive, but sadly not doing a whole lot in terms of performance or handling. 

Apart from the badgework, from the outside the Dauphine and Kilowatt look pretty much the same. Even inside, it is really just the presence of two extra gauges that alert you to the fact that the Henney isn’t powered by the 850cc motor the Dauphine sports. That and the “CHARGE” printed next to the standard fuel gauge. The car for sale now – which is sadly not running – is the later (and vastly improved) post-1960 model. As originally introduced it sported a sub-50mph top speed and puny 36 volt electrics. Motive power that would struggle to give even a slug a decent race. The improvements made after the Eureka Williams Company redesigned the transmission tipped the car to a reasonably respectable (for the time) top speed over 60mph – and a very reasonable 60 mile range. Unlike most vehicles of the time which were somewhat clunky, the relatively advanced control system made the Kilowatt perhaps more drivable than many of its contemporary electric vehicles.

With only 828 miles on the clock and fewer than 100 cars ever completed (possibly as few as 47), this Kilowatt is part of a rare breed of early production EVs, something reflected in its $10,000 price tag. But with fewer than fifty known to have been built and an apparent survival of fewer than ten, this Henney Kilowatt really deserves a good home, and probably one where it can have the 12 six volt batteries slipped back into that svelte chassis for an original EV driving experience.

The low odometer reading explains the car's condition.

The low odometer reading explains the car’s condition.

Despite the Dauphine’s reputation for rusting if it even looks at salty water, the car looks to be pretty sound – at least in the photographs (although if you’re considering investing, we’d heartily recommend a very thorough inspection). And of course it inspired the Transport Evolved team to opine (yet again) that there really should be a Transport Evolved EV museum. Then we really could find an excuse to buy that Jet 007 too… Until then, we’ll just have to gaze longingly at the photos and leave the desire next to our urge to have a ride in the 1956 DKW Elektro-Wagen.

Do any classic EVs haunt your dreams? Or do you only have eyes for modern metal? Let us know in the Comments below.

 

Photographs used in this article were reproduced from the original Hemmings listing for journalistic purposes.

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