A Triumph of Electrical Engineering: Triumph Spitfire Electric

Sections: Chassis, Powertrain

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A 1979 Triumph Spitfire electric conversion displays its "engine room"

The bonnet is lifted on a 1979 Triumph Spitfire 1500 to reveal the heart of its electric conversion: an electric motor and a few of the 10 12-volt batteries that power it. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

Nashville, TN is home to Lane Motor Museum, and Lane Motor Museum is home to this home-brewed Triumph Spitfire electric car conversion. Details after the jump!

According to the museum literature, one Rick Michaels had enjoyed daily driving a Triumph Spitfire and thought it might be cool to make an electric version way back in 1992. So he found a Triumph Spitfire shell with no engine, and he proceeded to fit it with batteries galore.

The car body is a 1979 Spitfire, meaning it was originally fitted with a 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine good for a whopping 53 horsepower thanks in large part to U.S. emissions equipment of the time. With the end looming for the Spitfire– production ceased in 1980 after some nearly 96,000 Spitfire 1500s rolled off the assembly line– the car would have originally cost nearly $6,000 USD. The information plate next to the car said Michaels had about $15,000 and 2,000 hours of his time invested in the project.

The trunk of a 1979 Triumph Spitfire 1500 is full of batteries

Batteries fill the trunk of the Triumph Spitfire electric conversion displayed at Nashville’s Lane Motor Museum. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

The museum information says Michaels spent two years restoring the body and retrofitting it for electric power. Rather than opting for a direct drive mechanism or torque converter, Michaels left the car’s original four-speed manual transmission and its rear axle in place, which means the car must still be shifted like a gas-powered Spitfire. Much like hybrid and electric cars of today, he also fitted the car with a regenerative braking system to recoup some energy that would otherwise be lost as heat during braking. To maintain factory throttle feel, the original throttle cable was used to move a potentiometer that controls the electric motor.

That motor, the museum says, is powered by 10 12-volt batteries and is good for more power than the car originally had– 58 horsepower. It can reach a top speed of 72 MPH and has a single-charge range of 50 to 75 miles, depending on conditions.

“With the hood and trunk closed, the car looks totally normal, except it has no exhaust pipe,” the display plaque near the car says.

Lane Motor Museum has a sizable collection of automotive rarities and plenty of automobiles most Americans have only seen in pictures, if at all. The museum is located at 702 Murfreesboro Pike in Nashville and may be reached at (615) 742-7445.

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