Electric Countryman
There is much talk these days about reducing emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels, and many car manufacturers are now producing hybrid and full electric models of their cars.  But electrically powered vehicles are not a new idea, indeed the first electric carriage was built over 130 years ago by Robert Davidson of Aberdeen.  By the end of the 19th century there were fleets of battery electric omnibuses operating in London, Paris, Berlin and New York, and there were even land speed records being set by electric cars!

In 1963 the Electricity Council and the South Western Electricity Board (SWEB) initiated a project to encourage the general development of the battery electric car.  Three years later, on Monday 21st March 1966 four cars were demonstrated to the press in London.

The following day's newspapers reported that battery powered cars would be the solution to increasing traffic congestion and air pollution.  The Electricity Council claimed that it was possible that there would be 1 million electric cars on the UK roads by the mid 1970's and predicted that parking meters would later incorporate electric sockets so that cars could recharge while parking.

The four cars demonstrated in London were:
  • The Scamp built by Scottish Aviation of Prestwick and the only one of the four cars specifically designed as an electric car from the outset.
  • The Trident Bubble saloon built by Peel Engineering of the Isle of Man.  This was an electric version of their existing bubble car and the smallest of the four.
  • An Austin Mini Countryman (woody) converted by Telearchics Limited of Gloucestershire.
  • An Austin Mini Countryman (all steel) converted by AEI of Manchester.  Amazingly this vehicle still exists today and still runs on battery power!

A Wilson Brougham electric car built in 1936 should also have been present.  This car, belonging to Mr H. T. Masser, a solicitor from Nottingham, and used by him to travel daily to and from work, did not arrive due to the fact that the crown wheel and pinion had given way.

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The press noted that all the cars were quiet and cheap to run, having the equal running cost of 170mpg.  They also had the advantage of not emitting any poisonous exhaust gases.  Reporters also pointed out the limitations of the electric cars, notably their limited range and that fact that the batteries are heavy and expensive to replace.

The two Minis were Electricity Council research vehicles and it is interesting to note that all reports from the time incorrectly describe them as Mini Travellers.

Factory records show that DAE137C was a tweed grey Austin Countryman built at Longbridge on 26th September 1964 and despatched on 28th September 1964 to Henly's in Bristol.  It left the factory with a standard 850cc engine.

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After being bought by SWEB it was sent to AEI in Manchester to be converted to electric as part of the Electricity Council project.  AEI removed the 850cc engine and installed a 10hp 96V electric traction motor.  The normal gears were dismantled and the drive to the front wheels was through the existing Mini differential by means of a chain drive.  At first AEI fitted a 96V Exide Gauntlet battery, however it was found that the voltage dropped too much under heavy discharge, meaning the car struggled with acceleration and climbing hills.  The battery was thus changed for an Exide Ajax battery and the vehicle was modified slightly so that power for the lights and auxiliaries was provided by a separate 12V battery.  The Countryman was controlled by a highly sophisticated pulse controller, however it was soon realised that this was not a economic proposition for production cars and so a second Mini was sent to Telearchics for conversion.  This second car, DHT767C, had its conventional engine, gearbox and differential all removed and two electric motors were fitted with direct drive to the front wheels.  A standard carbon-pile resistance controller was used and a Varley dry battery was chosen.  The AEI converted Mini was unique amongst the demonstration cars as it was the only one to feature regenerative braking.

DAE137C was not registered with the DVLA until 6th May 1965, after the conversion had taken place.  It is interesting to see that the original buff logbook for the car states that it is propelled by "Electric".  Indeed the car is still listed as electrically powered on DVLA records to this day.

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Following the press demonstration in 1966 DAE137C was used by SWEB for three years for various other demonstrations and exhibitions. Pathé film footage from 1966 shows the car being put through its paces on the roads around Bristol.  The car had a further brief moment of glory in November 1973 when it was transported to London and used briefly by Secretary of State for Environment Geoffrey Rippon during the petrol crisis.

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DAE137C currently resides at the Abbey Pumping Station Museum in Leicester.  The museum acquired the vehicle from SWEB in 1982 and it was kept in storage for many years.

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The museum relies on volunteers to restore and maintain their extensive collection of historic transport exhibits and a couple of years ago they were lucky enough to find a volunteer with the specialised skills needed to completely overhaul the car's electrics.  A new set of batteries were kindly donated by a local firm and it was then off to Whights for a new coat of Tweed Grey paint.

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MTACR would like to thank Andrew Simpson and all at the Abbey Pumping Station Museum, Leicester for kindly sharing the information they have on this unique car with us and for allowing us to rummage in their history file.