If things had gone a little differently in our world, like the oil crises of the 1970s never really improved, we may have focused on electric cars much more. And that may have made Tesla-like cars come much sooner. Like that Globe-Union Endura up there. It’s like an alternate-universe 1970s Tesla Model S.
Globe-Union was a huge maker of car batteries, for a while the biggest maker of all, thanks to their deal with Sears to make DieHard batteries. Being a battery company, there must have been some sign on the wall somewhere that said “sell more batteries,” so they were clever and around 1978 commissioned electric car pioneer Bob McKee to make them some electric cars.
McKee’s biggest, longest-lasting contribution to the design of electric cars — one that’s still being used on modern electric cars today — was the idea of making a long pack of batteries into the backbone of a car’s chassis. He even patented the idea.
What makes me liken the car he ended up creating, the Endura, to the Tesla is that, unlike most electric cars of the time, he didn’t design some tiny little gumdrop-shaped commuter. He specifically designed a full-size car with modern, striking styling. It’s even a big fastback like the modern Tesla is, though the Endura did have the option to swap the fastback section with a wagon-type module, which, as you may guess, I think is really cool.
Also like the Tesla, the Endura’s biggest achievement was its range, which was claimed to be over 100 miles, at speeds of 35 or so. It could hit 65 MPH with its very non-Tesla-like 20HP motor, and it took a solid 16 hours to recharge at 120V — seven hours at 220V. Still, this was the 1970s, and those numbers for a full-sized electric car were actually pretty impressive.
And look at this — this is the real kicker as far as Tesla predicting goes. Check out the center stack of the instrument panel — what do you see?
That’s right, a big screen. Just like in a Tesla. Globe Union called it a MONOPANEL and said
MONO PANEL technology is a promising alternative to today’s electromechanical instrumentation.
Now, in 1978 I know that wasn’t a color LCD, but I’m not sure exactly what it was. A CRT? A segmented LCD with color overlays? VFD screen? I haven’t been able to find out just yet, but it sure as hell seems to be some sort of giant screen, just like in a Tesla.
Globe-Union also made the Maxima, which looks like the stylist wanted to get rid of all those rectangular sealed-beam lights cluttering up the snack closet. It was more of a battery test bed than a serious prototype, and it seems to have been converted from a Ford Fairmont Wagon.
Maybe all that lighting was to really give those batteries a workout. It feels like if you put all six of those lights on at once, sure, you may be able to see clear through solid masonry, but your range would drop down to something in the range of 700 ft.
Of course, we ended up having pretty cheap gas throughout the 1980s and beyond, and battery technology never really got the push to improve until we started making a bunch of portable, notebook-shaped computers, which is where the modern Tesla takes its battery technology from. As a result, the Endura never really went anywhere, and Globe-Union isn’t a household name synonymous with electric cars as they probably hoped.
Still, it’s fascinating to see this strange refugee from another timeline that never really got to happen.
(Thanks to Evan, for sending me the Complete Book of Electric Vehicles where I first saw this!)