Friday Flashback: The DIY Urba Electric From 1977


By 1977, America had already gone through one major oil crisis, and unbeknownst to anyone, another one was just on the horizon. Even so, actual interest in electric vehicles as a replacement for combustion-powered automobiles was minimal at most, but there was enough interest for some enterprising entrepreneurs to launch ideas like the $1,800 Urba Electric kit car.

urba-2Debuting to the world on the February 1977 cover of Mechanix Illustrated and rocking a cutting-edge fiberlgass/foam composite body, the Urba Electric was meant to be a DIY alternative to the gas-chugging land yachts of the late 70s “malaise era” automobiles. Powered by a glorified golf kart battery producing a measly 48-volts, the producers nevertheless claimed a top speed of 60 MPH and a range of 60 miles on a full charge. Sure, it probably took awhile to get to 60 MPH, but those specs aren’t all that far from the likes of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV or Renault Twizy.

More impressive than the battery or bodywork though was the Electronic Drive Transmission, an advanced form of the CVT transmission that was years ahead of anything the conventional auto industry was working on. The Urba Electric even came with regenerative braking two years ahead of the Chrysler ETV-1, which was another auto industry deadend. Amazingly, 20,000 people actually shelled out for the plans to build an Urba Electric, and you can still get the plans (now priced at $75) for yourself.

There are much better battery and motor options available too, though you’ll have to shell out a lot more than $1,800, and nobody will ever doubt you when you say it was designed in the late 70s.

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.