Hooniverse Weekend Edition: The 1966 ElectroVair II


During the 1960s, GM was looking seriously at electric cars. Gas may have cost only about 34 cents a gallon, but Americans were more concerned about potential air pollution than fuel economy, according to a GM overview on the Electrovair. So why did GM abandon the project? Let’s find out.


The Electrovair II was an improved version of 1964′s Electrovair I. Both were based on the rear-engine gas-powered Chevrolet Corvair, whose design provided a convenient location for the batteries. The large battery pack went under the hood, while the electric motor drove the wheels from the back of the car. “The GM electric vehicle concept is based on the belief that an electric car should have performance compatible with modern expressway driving,” press materials for the car said.

The Electrovair II used silver-zinc batteries and they were expensive and wore out quickly, as the carmaker admitted at the time. Performance was similar to the gas-powered Corvair, but range was a problem with the car needing a recharge after 40 to 80 miles.

The battery powered 1966 Electrovair II concept was a test bed for motor and control developments. The battery pack, in a 532-volt array, located in the front compartment of a 1966 Corvair Monza sport sedan. The silver zinc batteries delivered high peak power and provided good energy storage but they were costly and were worn out after 100 recharges. The battery pack was connected to a 115 horsepower AC-Induction Motor that produced approximately the same performance as a conventional gasoline powered Corvair. A tank full of gasoline would propel a Corvair 250-300 miles. Top speed was 80 m.p.h.

According to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) paper #670175, “Electrovair – A Battery Electric Car,” the 1964 Corvair was chosen for the first conversion to an electric drive. Quoting from the SAE paper:

It was the lightest GM production car available, and its rear drive was ideal for a compact and simple motor installation. The problems encountered in Electrovair I suggested many basic improvements in the electric drive system. As a result we started on an improved motor control system. Soon it became apparent that building an entirely new car would be easier than upgrading the first car. Thus, the decision was made to build Electrovair II starting from a 1966 Corvair


Cost and range would be the major undoing for the electric car in the 60’s. With pending emission and safety regulations set to become law during the late 60’s, the decision to drop any further research on electric vehicles, and to shift these funds to other more relevant projects was prudent.
Image Source: Autoblog Green/Sam Abuelsamid

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  1. Beatnikid Avatar

    Such a shame they managed to have it perform as good as it's gas burning brethren but hung it up, over range. I think GM really could've had the electro market if they kept tinkering with it. Risks should be worth taken.

  2. Beatnikid Avatar

    Such a shame they managed to have it perform as good as it's gas burning brethren but hung it up, over range. I think GM really could've had the electro market if they kept tinkering with it. Risks should be worth taken.

    1. mgrinshpon Avatar

      So you're not aware of how insane what you just said was? It's take fourty years for batteries to not suck enough to get cars moving with a half-decent range, and they're still not optimal. They wear out after 5-8 years, several thousand cycles. This wears out after 100. e.g. every 2/5ths of a year. Coupled with GM's situation (emissions, ahoy!), dropping this like a bad habit was one of the last good ideas GM would have for a long time (see: almost every GM car built after 1973 and before the C5).

  3. smalleyxb122 Avatar

    So just how many times has GM killed the electric car?

  4. Maymar Avatar

    Ralph Nader would be shocked, I'm sure.

  5. Maymar Avatar

    Ralph Nader would be shocked, I'm sure.

  6. Beatnikid Avatar

    True GM was in deep poo back then, I guess I got the idea of having battery powered cars having an early start cloud my common sense.

  7. CJinSD Avatar

    If we'd spent the last 125 years doing nothing but developing battery electric cars and someone invented the internal combustion engine tomorrow, its superiority for propelling automobiles would immediately revolutionize the car market.

  8. Tim Odell Avatar

    Hmmm…I'd argue if we'd spent 125 years developing batteries, the tech would be much farther along than it is today. Additionally, we'd have infrastructure built around EVs and their limitations.
    Batteries are typically the limiting factor, but it's not hard to design a vehicle with a quick-change battery. Drive in, 6 bolts and a plug are removed, battery swapped, bolted back up.
    The idea that we'd have a tank full of flammable fuel, than we'd have to pump ourselves would seem ludicrous. How do you get the fuel to the filling stations, giant trucks full of even more fuel? That's crazy talk!
    To be clear: I'm not in denial about the real world of ICEs Vs EVs as they sit today. I'm just saying that if the 20th century developed around the electric car, things would look very different. Not necessarily better…just different.

  9. dmilligan Avatar

    What? No liquid hydrogen and oxygen system? I'm not interested…

  10. dmilligan Avatar

    What? No liquid hydrogen and oxygen system? I'm not interested…

  11. jim-bob Avatar

    Yes, we would be running low on the materials needed to make batteries instead of oil. In fact, that is one of my greatest concerns when it comes to EV's.

    1. Tim Odell Avatar

      Ah, but battery materials are recyclable, not so with fossil fuels.
      Not saying it's trivial, but batteries are not made from materials that require irreversible reactions and millions of years to make.
      Sidebar: …but what if we'd built our ICE infrastructure around ethanol rather than oil? After all, this was Henry Ford's intention with the Model T. There are issues with fuel competing with food, but Brazil's seemed to work it out pretty well.

  12. AlexG55 Avatar

    Really? You think everyone would rather have a 2-horsepower 954-cc single-cylinder engine that weighs 200 lbs (what powered the Benz Patent-Motorwagen) than even the current state-of-the-art in battery-electric vehicles? Even with Victorian/Edwardian battery technology, electrics could compete with IC for a quarter of a century, until the electric starter was invented.
    The problems of adopting IC in an electric world aren't just infrastructure (which is a tougher nut to crack than the reverse- everyone has electricity in their house, not everyone has an oil refinery in their backyard). People would have to get used to shifting gears and dealing with a clutch- an electric has peak torque at zero revs.
    And that's to say nothing of the noise and smoke (remember, primitive engines with no mufflers), or having to hand-crank it, or the fact that the EVs then would be far in advance of even the best on the drawing board now…

  13. AlexG55 Avatar

    Really? You think everyone would rather have a 2-horsepower 954-cc single-cylinder engine that weighs 200 lbs (what powered the Benz Patent-Motorwagen) than even the current state-of-the-art in battery-electric vehicles? Even with Victorian/Edwardian battery technology, electrics could compete with IC for a quarter of a century, until the electric starter was invented.
    The problems of adopting IC in an electric world aren't just infrastructure (which is a tougher nut to crack than the reverse- everyone has electricity in their house, not everyone has an oil refinery in their backyard). People would have to get used to shifting gears and dealing with a clutch- an electric has peak torque at zero revs.
    And that's to say nothing of the noise and smoke (remember, primitive engines with no mufflers), or having to hand-crank it, or the fact that the EVs then would be far in advance of even the best on the drawing board now…

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