The world’s fastest road-legal electric vehicle, with quicker acceleration than many supercars, has gone on display for visitors to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.
Just months after the re-engineered 1974 Enfield 8000 set a world speed record – accelerating to a staggering 121mph in just 9.86 seconds on the Santa Pod Raceway quarter-mile drag strip in July – the car joins the Driving Change display of motoring innovations and technology.
It may be mistaken for a Reliant Kitten and was originally used by South East Electricity Board as a research vehicle, but the unassuming looking Enfield is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Producing an incredible 800bhp and more than 1200lb ft of torque from its twin DC electric motors, the rebuilt historic EV (Electric Vehicle) is a formidable drag racer with supercar-beating performance. Though it is completely road legal and remains docile enough to also drive at normal road speeds.
Its owner, motoring journalist and Channel 5’s Fifth Gear presenter Jonny Smith, rebuilt the Enfield to show how fast an electric car could be and to challenge the public’s perception of EVs as limited and sluggish. However, as the British-built Enfield’s original 6kW electric motor gave just 8bhp and a 40mph maximum speed, it has been completely re-engineered with the latest electrical technology.
The car’s drag racing name ‘Flux Capacitor’ is a tribute to the time-travelling Delorean in the Back to the Future films.
Jonny said: “The essence of this project is about resurrecting a forgotten EV underdog and giving it some 21st century hot rod inspired treatment, but with tongues in cheeks. I fancied building a hot rod electric car a while back, but rather than convert a piston-propelled relic, why not remind the world that EVs aren’t a new invention?”
Discovered in a terrible state in 2012, with the original electrical equipment wrecked by flood water damage, the Enfield is now fitted with two DC electric motors rated at 2000 amps – in stark contrast to the 150 amp rating of the car’s original electrical system. As many as 188 Lithium-ion cells, formerly used in a military helicopter, provide the power and are half the weight of the Enfield’s eight original 12-volt batteries, yet much more efficient. Jonny estimates the car’s new top speed to be in the region of 140mph, with a range of 50 miles between charges.
The car’s aluminium bodywork has been left unaltered, but the tubular steel space-frame chassis was modified to cope with the significant power increase. Bespoke braking and suspension systems were fitted and a tougher Ford rear axle replaced the original Reliant part, while the tiny wheels were swapped for bigger 1970s slot mag wheels. There is no gearbox, with the electric motors driving the rear axle directly.
The Enfield is not the only drag racing electric vehicle. In America, John Wayland’s 1972 Datsun ‘White Zombie’ is a well-known and fast electric-powered machine. In the UK, Olly and Sam Young, who built up the electric motors for the Enfield, have created the ‘Black Current’ Beetle based on a 1965 Volkswagen. It is the fastest EV in the world, but unlike the Enfield, is not road-legal.
Created by motorcycle and gun manufacturer Enfield, the 8000 Electric City Car was built in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, just a stone’s throw away from Beaulieu, between 1973 and 1976. Smaller than a Mini, it offered a fume-free alternative to fossil fuel-powered cars during the 1973 oil crisis. Its forward-thinking design included an on-board charging system, a heated windscreen and run-flat tyres, but its heavy batteries limited its performance and range, while its retail price was twice that of a Mini. Of the 120 examples built, half were used for testing by electricity companies.
The record breaker joins other remarkable electric vehicles in the National Motor Museum, including a 1901 Columbia Electric which was used by Queen Alexandra to drive around the grounds of Sandringham House, an electric 1939 Harrods delivery van, 1985 Sinclair C5 and a new electric bicycle. These fascinating machines demonstrate that electric vehicles have been around since the early days of motoring.
The Enfield 8000 can be seen in Driving Change as part of a visit to the Beaulieu attraction, which includes entrance to the National Motor Museum, the World of Top Gear, On Screen Cars, the 13th century Beaulieu Abbey and grounds and Palace House, which has been home to the Montagu family since 1538. All are included in the standard admission price and discounted tickets can be bought in advance online at www.beaulieu.co.uk. Beaulieu is open every day except Christmas Day from 10am to 5pm. For more information call 01590 612345.