The urge to build and improve electric cars is breaking out again, under environmental pressures. If the government continues the present new war on drivers, speed may soon be regarded as so criminal that pootling along at milk-float pace until the batteries give out will be avidly encouraged by politicians. Somehow. I cannot see myself ever commuting in an electric vehicle.
However, to mark this fresh ripple of interest in such things, I am about to recall an effort, made in 1913. to show something of the capabilities of the electric car as it was at that time. In this I am indebted to Mr Peter Warrilow, whose father, then on the staff of The Electrician, acted as observer of the accomplishment in question and wrote a report on it. The demonstration he observed was that of driving an Arrol-Johnston electric-car (pictured) from Dumfries to London as quickly as was reasonably possible. The start was from Dumfries because that is where Arrol Johnston, who had built the car for a Mr Monnet on behalf of Edison, had its factory. It finished in London in order that this Edison could take part in a rally of electric vehicles at Kingston, which was to be held in conjunction with a meeting of the Incorporated Municipal Electrical Association at which papers were to be read about electric vehicles by three experts.
Expected at this gathering were this Arrol-Johnston coupe. three Edison Andersons (coupe, roadster and 10 cwt van), an Edison limousine, a two-ton Edison-Lansden van, an Edison-Walker delivery van used by Harrod’s. Liberty’s Anderson van, a Silvertown one-ton van, an fwd Fram five-ton van, an Edison travelling crane, Krieger and Electromobile coupes and two Torpedo three-wheeled trucks — which shows the state of the “art” 81 years ago.
1 have no idea why the American Edison folk choose Arrol-lohnston to make them a car, unless it was their respect for Scottish engineers. For those who understand “electrickery”, the chassis was designed by A-I’s Mr EW Lewis and was powered by a 900 lb battery made by the Edison Storage Battery Co. It was in two sections, one of 36 cells under the coal-scuttle bonnet, as used on the Arrol-Johnston petrol cars, the other of 24 cells under the seats, each of 1.2 volts/ 150 amps.
The motor, rated at a nominal 3.3 hp at 1000 rpm, drove through a 6:1 gear, more suited to a town car than a long-distance one, as it restricted speed to about 18 mph. Palmer tyres were used and gave no trouble.
The car’s weight was 27 cwt, or 30 cwt with two passengers. Edison’s Mr Watson was responsible for the charging arrangements during the run and Mr Lewis watched over A-I’s interests. A Mr ME Fox drove throughout, with Mr Warrilow observing. The superiority of the new Edison accumulators, for which Mr Monnot had secured the rights for most of Europe, with Mr Watson his London manager, gave confidence in the demonstration, and young Mr Fox was one of their engineers.
The slow speed cf the A-I decided Fox to move the Monday morning start from 5.00 to 3.00; one hopes that his technical journalist passenger did not object! Indeed, preparations had started at the gruesome hour of 2.30. Although this was on lune 9 1913, the weather was against them, a gale-force wind blowing after passing Carlisle, with sleet and hail.
They fell four hours behind the set schedule, after 121/2 hours on the road and 81/2 recharging and boosting the battery, including manoeuvring in and out of the works at which this could be done. Shap Fell had been climbed at 5 mph, successfully, but this, the heavy roads and the lack of wipers for the high plate-glass windscreen in heavy rain held the Edison Electric back; it came into Manchester, where it had been expected at 7.45, at 11.45. They had been at it for over 21 hours, making charging stops at Carlisle, Penrith, Kendal, Lancaster and Preston.
To hell with the schedule! On the Tuesday the two men left at 7.00 instead of at the intended 3.00, after charging at Manchester Corporation’s Pologon sub-station. The hope was to arrive in London by late that night. But the 1 -in-15 Kidsgrove Bank reduced the Edison to a crawl, although it was considered a fine feat for an electric car to ascend it at all, as the battery was in need of a boost at the Burslem Electricity Works, reached only after completing the climb. Further stops for battery-boosting were made at Stafford, Walsall and Birmingham, where it was done very expeditiously and two cars provided to escort the Edison out of the town. In Coventry no charging was needed but a pause was made to show the vehicle to local press men.
In spite of this, Rugby was reached from Birmingham in three hours. Here BTH was very helpful. However, perhaps the strain on the driver and observer was beginning to show, because they did not leave for two hours, so that when the Edison got to Northampton 2 1/4 hours later the Electric Light & Power Co had been waiting some time to complete their ‘pit-stop’. That took until 16.15. Thereafter it was just a case of obtaining boosts at Bedford and Luton.
They left the latter at 22.30, after the stop had lasted 21/2 hours, and the final 30 miles into London brought the Edison to the offices of The Electrician by about 1 o’clock on the Wednesday.
Mr Warrilow reported that in the 382 miles, including an extra five going into and out of the charging stations, 13 recharging stops had been made. Some of these were free of cost. At others, the charge was one penny (1d) per Kilowatt/hour. Maximum charging was 125 amps for one hour, followed by 90 amps for half-an-hour.
The five-speed controller, although asked to break current at up to 150 amps. showed no arcing or excessive sparking. The battery, motor and back-axle were hand-warm during the run. A little oil was added after 340 miles and two gallons of distilled water were needed. It seems as if the chassis had been hastily prepared because the overhead-worm of the final-drive had not been subjected to the full grinding-in process — and any unwanted drag is a disadvantage where every amp counts! But the run was successful, the Edison having averaged a running-time 12.3 mph.
But with anything from 30 minutes to 21/2 hours needed for recharging, would many petrol-car owners, including those owning 15.9 hp Arrol-Johnstons, have wanted to change them for an Edison? I think not, and I cannot see myself ever going electric.