The Enfield 8000 electric car was the product of a scheme backed by John Goulandris, a Greek shipowner. It was designed by British and Greek engineers and manufacture took place on the Greek island of Syros. 66 of these cute little two-seater cars were bought by the Electricity Council and distributed around the UK in 1974 to build up practical experience that would help guide the production of vehicles made in higher volumes. Their top speed was about 50 mph and they had a range of 40 to 60 miles.
The trials established the limited appeal of a two-seat urban runabout, and noted that the Enfield could be the basis of a light van. Indeed a few Enfield Bikini fun cars were built that had a passing resemblance to the Talbot Rancho, and a number of vans followed the same pattern. At least one of these was run by Eastern Electricity, which also amassed a fleet of forty of the Enfield 8000 cars which it allowed its staff to borrow.
I have to declare an interest here as I had the use of an Enfield 8000 for about a year between 1982 and 1983. It was great fun until the storage capacity of the batteries started to decay alarmingly quickly, and its range barely extended beyond the end of my road.
Firefly Electric Vehicles of Milton Keynes produced conversions of Ford Escort vans in the early 1980s. It took standard Escorts and replaced the engine with an electric motor that drove through the existing gearbox. Part of the battery fitted where the radiator would go, and the rest sat behind the front seats. The payload was 340 kg. It was claimed that a range of 50 miles was possible, with a maximum speed of 40 mph. Eastern Electricity took one. The firm also offered similar conversions to pick-ups from Bedford, Datsun, Ford, Mazda and Toyota.
Ford’s activity in electric vehicles in the UK has been significant but until the 2020s it was generally through its vehicles being chosen as the basis for another manufacturer’s product, as in the case of the Lucas Ford Transit prototype and the Smith Edison.
In 1991 the US operation announced a project to build a fleet of 100 research vehicles, for evaluation in the US and Europe. They were based on the Ford Escort van, and were powered by a prototype sodium-sulphur battery from ABB. A few had hybrid drives. The base vans were built at Ford’s Halewood factory in Liverpool. A number came back to the UK, but battery problems across the fleet discouraged Ford from further large scale commercial electric vehicle research for some time.
Ford did however convert an Escort van to electric power in the early 1990s, and named it the Ecostar. It was fitted with prototype sodium-sulphur batteries which gave it a range of 100 miles and a maximum speed of 70 mph. It was tried out by both the Hampshire and Metropolitan police forces. Plans to build a run of 105 were shelved when the cost of making the sodium-sulphur batteries in any quantity became apparent.
The launch of the e-Transit in 2022 signalled a new strategy committing Ford to no longer be a bystander, but a market-leading maker of commercial battery-electrics. Ford’s activity in the 2020s is covered in the ‘Prominent makes since 1990’ section.
The light commercial vehicle interests of the British Leyland (BL) combine were assigned to the Land-Rover group in 1980 and became known as Freight Rover. In 1982 a major overhaul of its Sherpa range included an electric model, described by Tony Gilroy, Freight Rover’s managing director, as a ‘toe in the water’ to stay abreast of developments in alternative driveline technologies. This cautious stance might explain why the electrics had no clear branding, just being advertised as Sherpa Electric Vehicles. The intellectual rights to the electric power train installation in the Bedford CF vans belonged to Lucas Chloride EV systems and it was keen to get its kit into a variety of vehicles. Talks were held with Freight Rover and through a joint development exercise a virtually identical package was slotted into the Sherpa, that is to say a 216 V unitary battery pack in the wheelbase, a rear-mounted Lucas CAV MT305 motor, with a chain-drive reduction to a short prop shaft into the rear axle, and the controller under the bonnet. The major change was that the shape of the battery pack could not be a simple rectangle as on the Bedford. The electric Sherpa had a Range Rover rear axle and rather bigger tyres than the standard models. The payload was 950 kg, a little shy of the one tonne achieved by the CF. It was claimed to achieve a top speed of 60 mph and a range of 70 miles.
The Post Office and some of the electricity boards, who were already big users of Freight Rover products, had actively encouraged Freight Rover to produce an electric alternative when it updated its range in 1981. Indeed, when the initial batch of twenty were built, the first went to the Post Office (a big Sherpa user) in August 1982. Southern Electricity also ran a number. One of its fleet was rear-ended by a 38 t truck in 1985. The van rolled right over and landed on its wheels. Unhurt, the driver was able to drive it out of harm’s way. None of the battery acid leaked out and the low centre of gravity ensured the van only rolled over once. Everyone was very pleased (and relieved).
Harbilt was set up as part of Harborough Construction Company, based in Market Harborough. It is mainly known for electric platform trucks used in factories, and pedestrian controlled vehicles, but it did produce a few full-size road vehicles.
The 750 was launched as a 25 cwt milk float in the mid-1950s, notable for its plastic cab and curved windscreen.
In 1956 details were announced of a compact articulated refuse collector capable of handling up to 6 cu yds of waste material. It was specifically designed for work in confined areas.
Over the following decades Harbilt built up a wide range of platform trucks, tractors and PCVs, but full-size road vehicles remained important.
Around 1960 the 800 series was introduced. This featured extensive use of glass fibre for the cab and load bed roof. Some models had double-curvature windscreens which was a rather sophisticated feature for such otherwise utilitarian vehicles. Subsequent generations of Harbilts reverted to flat screens and surfaces, which were more durable and easier to keep clean.
In 1970 the firm announced the Dairy-Liner, a 30 cwt machine offering a higher road speed than its rivals (up to 22 mph), and a striking glass fibre cab with a deep windscreen. It featured Harbilt’s Rectactor battery economizer for which battery consumption savings of up to 20% were claimed. The company also said it had applied ergonomic and anthropometric principles to the design of the cab, aiming to make the driver’s job less fatiguing.
By 1971 the range included the Dairy-Liner (payload up to 32 cwt), Model 808 (1.5 ton payload, milk float, street cleanser or ambulance), Model 824 (1.5 ton milk float), Model 836 van (900 lb payload), Model 850 (1.5 ton payload, milk float), Models 916 and 924 (lower speed, 30 cwt payload, milk float or ambulance) and Model 936 (1.4 ton payload milk float). The company also advertised a number of small refuse collectors, some with crew cabs. The HSV3 replaced the Dairy-Liner in 1974 offering even higher road speeds.
A Commercial Motor article in 1972 showed how – unlike the other British manufacturers – Harbilt had been a very active exporter. Vehicles were at work in the Bahamas, France, Israel, and the United States – generally Model 836s with 30 mph capability. The success in the US was especially notable. 30 HSV3s were sold to the US Postal Service as a trial fleet and proved highly reliable and cheap to run. Alas the big order for 350 electrics went to AM General, a domestic manufacturer.
In the mid-1970s Harbilt was producing the 400 Series four wheeler, with a conventional layout and a utilitarian cab. This was available as a flatbed, refuse collector, box van and in other formats. Designed principally for site use, the road-going versions had a top speed of 30 mph. For that sort of performance the payload was limited to 400 kg.
In 1974 a deal was done between Harbilt and Crompton-Electricars whereby Harbilt road vheicles would be produced at the latter’s factory in Tredegar, and manufacture of Crompton-Electricars industrial trucks would be transferred to Market Harborough.
Hindle Smart was a Manchester-based engineering company that began manufacturing electric vehicles in the late 1940s under the Helecs brand. The company took a number of interesting steps in doing so. It recruited E E Grant from Partridge Wilson to develop its range, and also purchased all rights to the Sunbeam electrics from Guy Motors. The firm was already an agent for Wilson electrics and began to build them so that Partridge Wilson could focus on producing heavy electrical equipment at its Leicester factory.
In any event in late 1949 the Helecs Tough Ten was unveiled as a 10 cwt van, followed by the Intruder 25 cwt milk float the following year. The design of this model was an attempt to create a less utilitarian and more curvaceous appearance. In 1952 came the Endeavour, a 30 cwt general purpose machine intended for local delivery of heavy loads or acting as a feeder for small electrics running separate rounds. The 10/15 cwt Avenger followed in 1953.
That was joined in the same year by the 18 cwt Helpmate which had a central driving position where the driver stood at the controls inside an extremely narrow cab. At just under fifty inches wide it was skinny enough to find its way into narrow alley ways and housing complexes. It filled a gap between the pedestrian-controlled vehicle and the conventional milk float or small delivery.
Back in 1948 Hindle Smart also promoted the Jen-Helecs. This machine was an electric version of the Jensen petrol-powered Jen-Tug – a tractor unit intended to move trailers around depots and carry out local deliveries. This had a very narrow rear track to enable the landing gear at the front of a trailer to hang down when it was hitched to the tractor. Apparently Hindle Smart supplied the electrical components to Jensen, which installed them in the Jen-Helecs. The trailer payload was 4 tons.
In the mid-1950s it delivered 168 Helecs 10 Rider Prams to Express Dairy which were actually to the designs of T H Lewis, and were built under sub-contract by Ross Auto. All vehicle production ended in 1957 and the company was wound up. However, such was the durability of the bodywork, as well as the chassis and running units, examples survived in daily use well into the 1980s.
Leyland Truck & Bus (Leyland Vehicles Limited from 1978) had been observing developments in the electric vehicle arena for some years before it decided to build a battery-powered lorry. It had noticed Lucas’s prototype work with vans in 1972. At a meeting with PA Consultants in 1973 about new battery developments, Leyland revealed outline proposals for an electric 440 EA van. Ribble, a major bus operator and big Leyland customer, had converted a Leyland National single-deck bus to battery power in 1975 – towing the batteries in a four-wheel trailer. And Leyland knew what Chloride was up to with its Van About Town work.
In 1978, a study was carried out that concluded that there was a growing interest in electric vehicles within the urban delivery arena. Leyland may even have been approached by a major dairy products firm that wanted to know if a larger, traffic-compatible electric could be produced. Whatever the spur was, Leyland decided to develop a vehicle based on its Terrier model, rated at a 7.5 tonnes GVW.
Except for the Chloride vehicle, all other recent efforts to build next-generation electrics in Britain had focussed on 3.5 tonne GVW or less, but there were good reasons for Leyland’s decision to plumb for a bigger platform. At the time 7.5 tonne GVW was the upper limit of what could be driven without a Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) licence.
There was plenty of space on the Terrier chassis cab to fit electrical components, meaning little change to the base vehicle. The Terrier was well-established in the market with good parts and service support. The power to weight ratio would be lower than on a van, because car-equivalent performance was not necessary. Lastly, the production volume at which making a larger truck would be viable was much lower than on a highly-engineered van.
The prototype was based on a Terrier 738 chassis cab, which was delivered from the factory in Bathgate, Scotland, minus engine and gearbox to the Research Engineering group at the Leyland Technical Centre in Lancashire in late 1979. I was the project leader on this exercise.
An agreement was made with Chloride Technical Limited to provide technical assistance, based on their own work, and supply the battery, motor, controller, auxiliary motor, wiring and charging equipment. This kit would actually account for about 70% of the value of the final vehicle.
The 180 V battery pack was carried in a single detachable cassette under the frame within the wheelbase. A hover pallet system, similar to the one employed by Lucas, could be used to remove it when required. The separately-excited DC motor was mounted at the rear of the chassis, driving the rear axle via a short prop shaft. The controller was mounted under the cab, and there was regenerative braking. A paraffin-fuelled heater was provided to warm the cab and demist the windscreen.
The cab was to the higher-spec Super G Cab standard. The tilt mechanism was retained to improve access to the controller and other components, but the engine tunnel was removed to enable better cross cab access. The vehicle had a wheelbase of 3.35 m and, fitted with an aluminium dropside body, could take a payload of 2.5 tonnes. This payload compared with the three tonnes payload that could be achieved on Leyland’s 5.6 tonne GVW 550 FG. The battery and its carrier alone weighed 2.5 tonnes.
This prototype was completed in June 1980 and was given the label REV03 (Research Engineering Vehicle number three). It underwent an exhaustive test programme at the Technical Centre, which had extensive test track facilities. At this point Leyland approached the UK government’s Department of Industry about securing technical and financial support for its electric vehicle initiative, declaring that its ambition was to enter full-scale production of electric vehicles when the market was big enough.
The Electric Terrier was not revealed to the public until April 1982, when Leyland announced it had plans for limited production. It was also contemplating a range of models, with higher GVWs, and also an electric version of the Leyland Cub bus (itself a Terrier derivative). A road test in Truck magazine in June complimented its performance and ease of driving.
The big news came in July 1982 when Leyland disclosed it had reached an agreement with Kenning Motor Group that production Electric Terriers would be assembled by its subsidiary, W&E Vehicles, at its factory in Shrewsbury. Terrier chassis cabs, less engines, gearboxes and other components, would be shipped to W&E where electric systems would be fitted. Leyland regarded it as uneconomic to attempt to build small numbers of electrics within its own factories. W&E would also be responsible for selling the Electric Terriers.
The production Terriers diverged from the prototype in three important ways. The rear-mounted motor and large battery cassette were abandoned in favour of a more conventional layout, with the batteries contained in four panniers slung off the chassis in the wheelbase and the motor nestled in-board of them. The system voltage was dropped to 160 V, but by using fewer higher energy density batteries, range could be increased. These two changes produced a weight saving of about 400 kg that could be directly converted into body and payload. Third, there would be a choice of batteries and drive trains. The Chloride package was the standard, but an optional package using Oldham batteries and a Cableform controller was offered.
In addition, a 6.65 m wheelbase version was available. In production form, the Electric Terrier was claimed to be able to achieve a range of 50 miles and run at up to 40 mph. It could also run up a 1 in 6 (16%) gradient and restart, fully laden, on a 1 in 7 (14%).
In September 1982 the Department of Industry gave approval for the first four pre-production vehicles to be built. One went back to Leyland for development work, and one each went to the North West Electricity Board (NORWEB), Southern Electricity, and West Midlands County Council. These three customer vehicles were purchased under the Department of Industry’s Pre-production Order Scheme, whereby the DoI bought them and then loaned them to operators for an 18-month evaluation period. The plan was to build a further 37 vehicles in 1983 and up to 75 subsidised production examples over three years, and offer a 9.5 tonne GVW version.
Not many Electric Terriers went into service. One factor might have been that the base vehicle, the Terrier, was getting rather outdated. But Leyland and W&E’s confidence in electrics endured and when the Terrier was replaced by the brand-new Roadrunner in 1986, an electric option was not far behind.
The basic design concept remained the same, but efforts were made to cut energy consumption to extend range. For example, the lighter front axle loading led to a decision to drop power steering. There was a choice of five wheelbases, going from 3.25 m on the E32T model to 4.4 m on the E44, but all limited to 7.5 t GVW. Performance was claimed to be a range up to 50 miles and a maximum speed of 45 mph, and the payload was around 2.8 t. The first production example went to Southern Electricity, who chose the shortest wheelbase as the basis for a delivery box van, adding to its existing 73 strong fleet of electrics. Eastern Electricity also took a box van Roadrunner in 1986.
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