This remarkable 1920 Ford Model T runs on electricity. According to the seller, who has been a collector for more than 45 years, it’s the only electric Model T he has ever seen. Ford originally built the vehicle to run as a conventional gas-powered vehicle, but sometime in the past few decades, the original engine was disconnected from the drive shaft (but left in place). “Someone has skillfully installed what appears to be a 36-volt golf cart motor behind the rear of the engine,” wrote the seller.
If history had taken a different turn, there would have been a lot of electric Model Ts to collect. In 1914, Henry Ford revealed that he had been working on an electric car. “Mr. Edison and I have been working for some years on an electric automobile which would be cheap and practicable,” he told the New York Times. “Cars have been built for experimental purposes, and we are satisfied now that the way is clear to success.” He explained that he was seeking a lightweight battery that “would operate for long distances without recharging.”
Rumors circulated that Ford’s EV would be released in 1915, cost between $500 and $750, and offer range somewhere between 50 miles and 100 miles on a single charge.
As early as 1903, Thomas Edison had encouraged Henry Ford to build an electric car. Edison extolled the virtues of EVs. “Electricity is the thing. There are no whirring and grinding gears with their numerous levers to confuse. There is not that almost terrifying uncertain throb and whirr of the powerful combustion engine,” he said. “There is no water circulating system to get out of order—no dangerous and evil-smelling gasoline and no noise.”
The search for appropriate battery technology proved unsuccessful. By 1919, engineers associated with the electric vehicle project helped Ford adopt the electric self-starter for gas cars—which made them easier to start and operate. That innovation signaled the death of the fledgling EV industry in the early 20th century.
Almost exactly 100 years after Ford’s first attempt at electric cars, the company is back in the EV game. In May, it began selling the 2012 Ford Focus Electric—a fun-to-drive all-electric car capable of 80 to 90 miles of driving on a single charge. The Focus Electric has the same sleek design as the gas version—and in almost all respects, drives just like its petroleum-powered sibling. “We wanted the Focus Electric to be a vehicle first, that just happened to be electric,” said Eric Kuehn, Ford’s chief engineer for global electrified programs.
The 21st century electric car market is off to a slow but steady start. But all signs indicate that this time around, EVs are here to stay.
Meanwhile, the electric 1920 Model T on auction at eBay is a glimpse into what might have been—had Henry Ford and Thomas Edison made more progress. Yet, this particular model needs work. “The car moves forward and reverses at about 3 – 4 mph, however there is insufficient power to drive up a small grade,” writes the seller. “If you wish to keep it electric for fun and let the kids drive it like a golf cart, the engine weighing 550 pounds should be removed.”
According to the seller, Model Ts stand apart from other collectible cars for their ease of repair and wide availability of replacement parts. As a result, this 1920 Model T could quickly be brought back into tip-top shape.
For more information about electric cars, visit eBay’s Green Driving Center.