Jay Leno appears to spend most of his free time tinkering with various cars, including electric ones. One of his recent projects has been the restoration and modding (or as he calls it, “restomodding”) of a 1914 Detroit Electric EV. It was made by the Anderson Electric Car Company in Detroit, Michigan, back in the days when EVs had significant market share.
“Production of the electric automobile, powered by a rechargeable lead acid battery, began in 1907. For an additional US$600, an Edison nickel-iron battery was available from 1911 to 1916. The cars were advertised as reliably getting 80 miles (130 km) between battery recharging, although in one test a Detroit Electric ran 211.3 miles (340.1 km) on a single charge. Top speed was only about 20 mph (32 km/h), but this was considered adequate for driving within city or town limits at the time.” (source)
Before you wonder why modern electric cars don’t get much better range than a hundred years ago, you have to remember that this was basically a wood box with wheels and doesn’t compare to modern cars when it comes to safety, comfort, or performance. But still, Detroit Electric did an impressive job, and these things certainly had style!
There’s an interesting philosophical aspect to Leno’s restoration project: Much of the parts of the car were badly damaged, including pretty much all of the wood parts, and had to be replaced. It’s a bit like the tale of the old ax that had the handle and the blade replaced a few times. Is it still the same ax? I think so. What matters is the pattern. To get more biological about it, the cells in our bodies don’t live as long as we do, and so are all replaced over time. Yet we are still the same people.
Anyway, here’s Jay. The first segment is about the Detroit Electric, the rest is about other of his projects:
Library of Congress/Public Domain
Above is a Detroit Electric charging in 1919, and below is a 1916 model.
Here’s a Detroit Electric ad from the 1920s:
Public domain/1920 ad/Public Domain
Here’s a Detroit Electric in action. It’s so quiet, you can clearly hear the birds as it rolls away:
Here’s another one driving down the street: