1st of Only 43 Made: 1960 Henney Kilowatt

The 20th Century was littered with so many unusual and interesting vehicle companies that I wonder if anyone has ever come up with a comprehensive list of every different car company? Probably not, but now I have something to work towards in my spare time. Here’s one for the list: a 1960 Henney Kilowatt. This rare car can be found listed here on Hemmings in Rio, Illinois and the seller is asking $9,000 or offer.

Most of you probably guessed correctly that the Henney Kilowatt is based on the Renault Dauphine and by the Kilowatt part of the name, you guessed that it’s a battery-powered car. Most of you also probably noticed the other part of the name, Henney, as a maker of limousines, ambulances, hearses and other professional cars. How such an old and established company as Henney became a part of this venture and then went on to only make a reported 43 – or 47, depending on which source a person goes by – of these cars is as strange as a battery-powered Renault Dauphine.

I’m not sure why parts of this car are painted blue, maybe either a French or American red, white, and blue flag theme? For anyone who is into vintage EVs (a show of hands of who thought they’d never hear that?), this is a museum piece. National Union Electric Company made Exide Batteries and they came up with the Henney Kilowatt for the 1959 model year as a way to sell batteries but it didn’t quite turn out like they thought it would. The seller has a YouTube video of this car along with another one that they sold to someone in Germany for $15,000!

This car is reported to be the first example every sold, according to the seller. Although, since they made 36-volt Henney Kilowatt models in 1959 and this is a 1960 model which is the upgraded 72-volt Kilowatt, I’m not sure what that means exactly. The 1960 72-volt cars were reported to have a range of 60 miles at 60 mph which was pretty good for 1960 and even for a lot of 1970s, 80s, and 90s EVs. The interior looks good in this car right down to a forward-reverse switch between the gauges in the dash which is correct. I have seen one with a stick shift which would be incorrect for a factory-produced Kilowatt. The back seat looks like it’s either missing or it needs help in the padding department, but look at what’s right behind your back as you sit there!

With the parent company of Exide Batteries as one of the partners behind the Kilowatt, we would expect to see those here but I can’t quite tell what the batteries are and hopefully, they aren’t 59-year-old original batteries. This is where the gas engine would have gone in the Dauphine but it’s now holding a 7-hp motor and six of the 6-volt batteries with the other six being in the front compartment¬†along with the charger. This car would have weighed 768 pounds more than a gas-powered Dauphine, no small amount. This Kilowatt looks incredibly solid and nice other than having surface rust and needing cosmetic help. I’m guessing that a set of new batteries wouldn’t hurt, also. Have any of you heard of a Henney Kilowatt?

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Comments

  1. Howard A

    Knowing the author personally, I saw this in Hemmings and I knew the allure of this would be too great not to do a piece on it. The Dauphine was a miserable car, and the only reason for it’s popularity, was because it was the only alternative to the VW at the time, of utter importance to people like my old man. As with all electric cars, it’s the same old thing, too many batteries, not enough power or range, something they still haven’t gotten over 50 years later. Obviously, not being a fan of electric cars, this will have a VERY limited following, a trip to the store across town,( and back) will be about it. The novelty runs out with the juice. Since Dauphines are so rare anyway, I’d convert it back to a gas job. I’m sure there’s piles of Dauphines back in France somewhere.

    2
    • Dave

      Harbor Freight sells a nice 22 hp V-twin that would be a vast improvement. As is, it would make a nice golf cart at some seaside trailer park.

      2
    • Rex Kahrs Member

      I’m waiting for something to come along that you actually like, Howard.

      4
      • Howard A

        Poppycock, that statement just isn’t true. Why, because I tell it like it is? And I thought you were one of the cool ones Rex.

        5
  2. Tom Henderson

    There are plenty of people out there with too much money. I would not invest in any pre-Tesla electric cars. They just don’t have much range.

    1
    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      How much range would be enough for you to change your mind, Tom? Most folks with gas-powered vehicles stop every 200-300 miles anyway for a bathroom or food break even though they may have another 200-300 miles left in the gas tank. A 60-mile range is more than enough for most commuters, that’s what this car is/was made for, not for driving from New Hampshire to Seattle without stopping…

      EVs are like 2019 politics, a person either likes them or they don’t and neither side will ever change the minds of the folks on the other side no matter what information is thrown at them. It will just never happen. And, with vehicles, that’s ok! I’m a staunch gas-burner myself but I just like how unusual these things are.

      12
      • James Schwartz

        I’m actually somewhere in the middle on electric cars. I’d own one, but NEVER as my only car.
        As you state, most people do stop every 200-300 miles anyway for a break. But what you aren’t acknowledging is that the infrastructure for electric cars is not even 5% what it needs to be in this country for them to have mass appeal. When I stop to take a leak on a road trip, it’s not ever going to be appealing to stop for an hour to “recharge”, and that’s IF you can find a charging station on your route and where you wanted to stop and take a break.
        They (electric cars) are still entirely impractical for cross country drives, or even cross state drives. As a daily commuter car? YES, absolutely! I would drive one daily to my job and back (40 mile round-trip) and I could recharge at home. But I would still be forced to own another reliable vehicle that I could count on to go on vacation with, or for any travel beyond a 100 mile radius from home.
        Electric cars are improving, and so is the infrastructure for them, but it needs to improve another 2000% before I could have one as my “main” driver.

        6
      • geomechs geomechs Member

        Myself, I’m fascinated by the real old EVs. It would be fun to joyride in an ancient Baker or Detroit Electric but I’m going to remain on the fence for a long time before I would consider changing to even a hybrid. My older brother drives a Lexus SUV Hybrid and he’s completely satisfied with it, except when the A-C quit (he lives in Tucson). Out in the western prairies one finds himself up to 100 miles between gas stations which would nullify practical use of an EV. However, a hybrid is capable of bridging that gap, as I’m sure you can attest to. I might add that if I needed any insight as to the significance of a hybrid, you would be the first one I’d contact.

        1
      • Nick G.

        I will always prefer the internal combustion engine but I also see these as being beneficial to people like myself. As long as there are people who drive EVs, there will be more gasoline left for our classics in the future.

        2
      • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

        I hear ya, James. Although, it takes 5 minutes to change a replaceable battery pack (robots in China, that’s being worked on now) so in about the same time as it takes to hit the rest stop or get gas you could keep on sailing with fresh batteries and another 200-300-400 miles of range to the next battery change station. Somewhere, someone is working on those sorts of problems.

        It’s easy to forget that there weren’t gas stations or even really usable roads when cars first came out yet we came together as a society to overcome those problems. There is no question that we can do that with EVs if we really wanted to.

        5
      • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

        Ha, thanks, Geo! I am an authority on Andy Griffith and Brady Bunch trivia but maybe not much else… I just turned over 250,000 on my hybrid and I almost literally beat it as hard as I can and it just keeps going, at 45 mpg now which isn’t much these days but compared to 15 with the winter vehicle it’s decent. I would absolutely love to have a Detroit Electric, man. That’s a post-lottery car for sure.

        3
      • Mountainwoodie

        Well put, Scotty.

        My view is that I don’t understand the allure of EV’s, specifically the Teslas. But I am somewhat prejudiced, or shall we say practical. Why would a rational person invest a hundred grand plus in a Tesla even with the superior battery platform they contain? It makes little sense to me. Now that said, when GM came out some decades ago with their EV, leased them to people, and then summarily gathered them up and crushed them, I didn’t understand that either. I actually wanted one.

        I get the human impulse to try and develop a carbon free rolling platform, but as a matter of fact, electricity has to come from some carbon based production facility and or sunlight, which even then the panels are produced through carbon based manufacturing.

        So from an environmental point of view, not much of a gain to my mind. From a practical point of view, a total loser.

        This coming from a guy who usually is sympathetic to trying to lower ones “carbon footprint”. But in that case I’m Big Foot. And, it’s for others to worry about I guess. :)

        Every time I see a Renault Dauphine, I see a street in NYC in 1961 where one stood at the end of the block every day, alone among the American iron.

        This example will end up in a museum next to an early Apple computer.

        1
  3. blyndgesser

    The Tennessee Valley Authority bought several of these in the early ’60s to demonstrate the viability and desirability of electric power for transportation. Mission not accomplished…

    6
  4. Watts Up

    I saw one of these around 1975 in Ontario CA while touring a foundry for work. It must have belonged to someone who worked there and obviously lived close by. Regardless, I applaud the attempt.

    1
  5. Royal Ricci

    If you really wanted an EV Dauphine, you could buy a gas powered one and convert it and something better than what is being offered here.

    1
  6. Dovi65

    Interesting, & unusual venture for a coach-building company like Henney. How long did it take this little guy to reach 60 mph?
    A nice little novelty to bring to local car shows. Parts should be easy enough to source since there doesn’t appear to be anything specific to Henney

    1
    • Brakeservo

      Easy to buy – just charge it!

      2
  7. sourpwr Member

    I’ve had a couple of Daulphines and loved them. The extra weight from batteries would be like a couple of mother-in-laws in the back seat. Not good.

    6
    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Ha!

      2
  8. sourpwr Member

    I was hand mixing cement on our undeveloped property back in 1987. We didn’t have water so took the back seat out of the Daulphine and put an oak barrel in its place and filled it with a garden hose at the neighbors house. The driveway was pretty rough and I had a big hill to climb so I had to hit it pretty hard. Most of the water stayed in the barrel. I made that trip several times. Good memories

    3
  9. David Yando

    https://www.lanemotormuseum.org/collection/cars/item/renault-dauphine-henney-1959
    We have it as being rare – one of ~120, but perhaps your sources have better numbers. Still, an odd duck.

    2
  10. Gsuffa Gsuffa Member

    Sounds like EVs are toys for the rich. Some day they will be more accessible/practical/green.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      You’re probably right, Gsuffa, for now at least they are. But, weren’t cars toys for the rich when the rest of society rode horses on muddy “roads” with no gas stations 120 years ago? It’s the same idea with EVs.

      4
  11. Kenneth Carney

    My stepfather was actually affiliated with
    the project for the entire run. I think he
    oversaw the installation of the electric
    motors, which were produced at the
    Eureka-Williams Co. located in Bloomington, Illinois. All the components
    were shipped to the Eureka plant in
    Bloomington, where the cars were
    assembled. When he told me the story in
    2004, he told me that some 150-200 cars
    were built before production ceased in
    1960. If I owned this car, I’d convert it
    over to lithium-ion battery packs and
    replace the old charging system and
    charge controllers and add regenerative
    braking into the mix as well. Hopefully,
    I can use a direct drive system to bypass
    a conventional transmission. That way,
    anyone can get in the car and drive it
    without having to shift gears. This car is
    a piece of history that should be preserved and I wish I had the cash to do it.

    7
  12. Dennis Zozula

    There is one of these at the Miracle of America Museum in Polson Montana. I always wondered about the origin. There wasn’t any info as the “museum” seems to be a hoarders collection of everything. It is worth a stop. Upon finding the photo the one I saw was not a Henney but custom or a different model

    3
    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Dennis, I had to pass that museum the last time I was in the area as my wife was with me and she has zero interest in cars. Next time for sure, thanks for the reminder.

      • Dennis Zozula

        The collection is wide variety of motor driven equipment. I remember a number of custom snow machines, lots of motorcycles and whatever. I’m sure you will enjoy yourself.

        1
    • Ralph

      That looks like a later one done from another Renault, an R10 or something.

    • David Clague

      Renault R10.

  13. Rex Kahrs Member

    If you want your Renault Dauphine to have battery-like power, just pull one plug wire…

  14. Brakeservo

    I find the “one of 43” comment interesting – in the 30 years I’ve been fooling around with old cars, I bet I’ve seen at least 50 of those 43 advertised for sale!

  15. ck

    Back in the 80’s in Phoenix AZ, at 19th Ave and Mcdowell Road, there was a really old battery shop, that I spotted a Dauphine in the fenced area. I stopped to see if it was for sale. He told me it was not a Daulphine, It was a Henney Kilowatt. He showed me the car, he said it needed new batteries. He said he drove it for years to and from his battery shop. He said it would only do about 35mph, and it was slow to get there. It was not for sale, and years later the battery shop and the car were gone.

  16. Bryan W Cohn

    What baffles me about EV’s and car enthusiasts is the polarization. Why expend any energy to dislike technology of all things?

    It is highly likely our next car will be an EV for my wife’s soon to be 15 mile daily round trip commute. For my daily rounds (errands, school pick up, etc) and EV would do the trick as well. A friend bought himself a new Leaf for his daily 40 mile round trip commute and loves the thing.

    I see EV’s as leaving more gasoline for my race car, classic cars the world over and so forth.

    You can drive a Tesla coast to coast via their charging stations.
    https://www.tesla.com/supercharger

    Then there is PlugInAmerica, a website devoted to helping people find charging stations for EV’s. https://pluginamerica.org/get-equipped/find-an-ev-charging-station/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=ev%20stations&utm_campaign=US%20Charger%20Locations&gclid=Cj0KCQjwtr_mBRDeARIsALfBZA5YWMG58hdyYVwvuA8leHmYFxayBOkoLj5DQwude2xcNLmnwrMjR1AaAoPWEALw_wcB

    I live in a very EV friendly city, Lawrence, KS and there are charging stations all over. The above listing doesn’t even come close to listing all the local charging stations interestingly.

    And lastly, if we all weren’t so scared of properly built nuclear energy and didn’t have stupid laws that don’t allow for proper nuclear fuel recycling we could power America off nuclear and kick the oil baron robbers to the curb. Hell there is a design out there for neighborhood nuclear power stations, done by a young man who gives an excellent Ted Talk on the subject. If possible I’d have one in my yard tomorrow without worry or a second thought. https://www.ted.com/talks/taylor_wilson_my_radical_plan_for_small_nuclear_fission_reactors?language=en

    1
  17. chrlsful

    hada have 1a these to get to where we R today.
    Good on ya mate (ah, er Froggie!).

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