Friday Flashback: The 1979 ETV-1 Electric Car

America may finally be buying electric cars in meaningful numbers, but it isn’t the first time US policy makers have tried to force electrification on the auto industry. After the first Arab Oil Crisis sent gas prices skyrocketing, the U.S. government pushed the auto industry and its partners to develop a viable electric vehicle, and a joint venture between Chrysler and GE almost did.

The ETV-1 project paired the GE Research and Development Center with Chrysler’s engineering gurus in the late 1970s. The Department of Energy set a goal of creating a $5,000 (about $20,500 today) electric car with a 0 to 30 MPH time of 9 seconds, a top speed of 65 MPH, and a driving range of between 70 and 100 miles. Based on the then-new K-car chassis, the ETV-1 hit all of those milestones, using a T-shaped battery pack containing 18 lead-acid batteries that could be charged in just 10 hours from a home outlet. Sounds pretty promising for 1970s technology, right?

Unfortunately the EVT-1 project was cancelled before its mid-80s debut as after another gas price spike, oil costs fell back to Earth. Interest in alternative fuels and electric cars dwindled as the a decade fueled by cocaine and Wall Street greed went into full swing. The videos I included in this post are retro 70s goodness though, from the Malaise-era interiors to the trumpeting up-tempo background music.

Chrysler wasn’t alone in exploring electric cars and hybrids, as both BMW and Mercedes-Benz were developing electrified vehicles of their own design. It’s almost sad to imagine just how much farther along electric car technology might be if just one of these automakers had decided to commit to electrification, even in a small scale, instead of dismissing the technology for decades.

As for the one-and-only ETV-1 ever built? It ended up on eBay, of course, after being bought at auction from the American Museum of Science and Energy, but with no way to repair it, the ETV-1 wound up languishing in a barn. When the eBay auction came to an end, the winning bid was just $3,554, a sad end for an electric car that once held so much promise.

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.