The 1970s were full of startups building their own hilariously terrible electric cars. One of them, the Electrek Uncar, was so ridiculous that it had a manual transmission that doesn’t really work and a window defroster that is literally a hair dryer.
If this car looks familiar to you, it’s because our Jason Torchinsky found one for sale on Craigslist last year. That Electrek Uncar was in a bit of a sorry state. It was missing batteries, a controller and its body falling apart. But if you ever wondered what the Electrek Uncar was like to drive with its manual transmission, the Aging Wheels YouTube channel has you covered:
The malaise-era 1970s generated a number of comically awful ways to save fuel and cut down on emissions. Some of these solutions were trikes with lawnmower engine but there were plenty of janky electric cars. These cars are part of the timeline we call the Crap Era, the worst period for electric cars.
In 1979, Unique Mobility threw its hat into the electric car ring with the Electrek Uncar. Built in Colorado and looking like an AMC Pacer that spent some time in a microwave, the fiberglass-bodied Electrek Uncar tried to be a real usable electric car. A press release from Unique Mobility says:
“Unconventional, unusual, unlikely, unpolluting, uncombusting, unbelievable, unsurpassed...these are all words that have been used to describe the Electrek Uncar from Unique Mobility.”
The company began development in 1967 and at first, Unique Mobility was planning on converting a regular gas-powered car to electric. Why didn’t it follow through? The company’s President, John Gould said:
“We discarded the conversion approach because: first, it did not provide the necessary safety for the occupants of the vehicle; second, it would not deliver the performance that an electric vehicle should be capable of; and third, it did not offer the long term reliability and low maintenance cost that should be inherent in an electric vehicle.”
Ok, sure, so what did buyers of an Electrek Uncar get? I’m glad you asked!
Up front is a giant brushed DC electric motor by General Electric. This chunky unit was good for 32 horsepower and strangely, that power was sent through a four-speed manual transmission.
The transmission doesn’t seem to shift as you’d expect, as our Aging Wheels host had to use some Herculean force just to get it into gear.
And it’s not like that manual transmission setup gave the car any real performance, either. Unique Mobility claims a 0 to 30 mph time of nine seconds. Top speed was said to be 75 mph and range was up to 100 miles, provided a constant 40 mph speed.
In reality, the cars were far slower with lower real world range. As for the batteries, these came with 16 six volt lead acid batteries. Accessing them was also pretty weird as you had to remove the rear bumper.
Lee Iacocca and Carroll Shelby were board members of Unique Mobility, reports Times Call. Shelby wanted an electric car that could accelerate from 0 to 100 mph then brake back to 0 again in 10 seconds. Clearly, the Electrek Uncar didn’t stand a chance at hitting that lofty goal.
You got all of this for $25,000, or about $82,000 in today’s money. Dropping that load of cash on an Electrek Uncar didn’t get you a vehicle with a nice interior, either. The Electrek Uncar was awful as far as space-efficiency. There’s a lot of dead space in the back that isn’t used for anything.
Not only was the fit and finish ghastly, but creature comforts were practically nonexistent. At least you got a window defroster, even if the defroster was literally a hair dryer stuck to some piping.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Electrek Uncar didn’t sell. Unique Mobility sold anywhere between 35 to 50 or more of them depending on who you ask. You’d think that Unique Mobility itself would have flopped given the car’s failure, but it’s actually the exact opposite. Unique Mobility eventually changed its name to UQM Technologies and continued making electric motors for everything from cars to boats and even planes. The company was bought out by equipment manufacturer Danfoss in 2019.
An owner of an Electrek Uncar set up a site for these cars, detailing the history of these almost forgotten machines and keeping a registry of sorts of the ones that still exist. If it were not for these enthusiastic people, the history of this EV might have been lost.
Watch more Aging Wheels for more wacky terrible cars you probably haven’t heard of before.