Wanna buy an Electric Vehicle with 100 mile range, battery swap ready, and just $1000?

Thursday, February 18, 2010
Wanna buy an Electric Vehicle with 100 mile range, battery swap ready, and just $1000?

You're 90 years too late.

I had the opportunity to ride in (and drive!) Tom Henry's 1920 Milburn, one of the first vehicles that women could drive because you didn't have to start your car using a hand crank.  While it may seem so foriegn to us now, most cars didn't have an engine that you could start electrically until 1926 (that's when the Model T got electric start as standard equipment).  If you didn't start a hand cranked car correctly, it might cause a "kick back" which can make a mess out of you.  If you've ever started an old Huskavarna motorcycle, you might know the pain. 

The Milburn is simple, pragmatic, and humble looking...it was all about utility...
  • The interior is open...I mean WIDE open...like there's NOTHING in the middle of the interior except for the petals for the parking and standard brake right in front of the bench seat in the back of the car.  The seating arraingement is 2 people in the back (including the driver on the left) and two in fold down jump seats in the front.  It's very easy to get around inside, but not too safe given the driver is could be surrounded by passengers,
  • Swappable Batteries. Under the hood and trunk lid, there are battery trays in the front and bank of the car which can be slid out to swap the batteries.  If you want to charge the car, there was also a DC charge port on the back of the car...but that's not used anymore since someone installed an onboard AC charger.
  • 100 Mile range.  A rack of lead acid batteries would get the car 100 miles down the road.  At a top speed of 20mph, that would be a 5 hour trip.  Does it seem odd that 100miles was the range of electric vehicle then...and now?  100 miles is the range of the new Nissan Leaf EV and Ford Focus EV. 
  • Less Maintenance.  There's not much to the car...suspension, brakes, motor, batteries, lights, and a dry place to sit.  No gas powered motors, radiators, oil changes, belt changes, tune ups...all the maintenance stuff that sucks about owning a car.  EVs were a good idea then and a better idea now for many of the same reasons...and now there's the added benefits of aiding climate change and easing our reliance on foreign oil.

The funkiest thing about the Milburn is how you drive it...it doesn't have a steering wheel!  Instead, there are two bars you lower over your lap that control the direction (right hand) and speed (left hand).  On the floor are two petals for the parking brake (left) and standard brake (right).  If you watch the video, you can see how it works.

Even back then, Electric Vehicles came at a premium price because of their low volumes...with the Milburn setting you back $1,000+ when Model Ts sold for $250.  Oddly enough, General Motors ended up killing the electric Milburn once they bought the company after 1923...which means that they killed two electric cars in their history once you include the EV1 in 1999.  If you want to learn more about the Milburn and find out who owns one near you, check out the Milburn fan site.

The owner this very well preserved Milburn is Tom Henry.  Tom is a 72 year old electrician-turned-educator who owns Tom Henry's Code Electrical Classes which has taught over 28,000 people since he opened in 1982.  Over the years, he's owned several vintage cars, including 16 Model T's he recently parted with to expand his business into teaching solar courses.  Tom kept the Milburn since, in his own words: I'm an electrician, I figured I needed to have an electric car!


  • Adam Gray

    Vintage stuff especially cars are just amazing, looks wise. Though basing it on its performance it's better than the new model we have now, perhaps it is because of the certain parts they've got in it. That they could still managed to run it smoothly on roads even these days.