Early EV: 1968 MARS II Electric Car

Long before the hybrid and other cars with some degree of voltage power, electric cars were being put into limited service 50 or 60 years ago. One such attempt was the MARS II produced by a Michigan-based company using Renault R-10s as donors. One of less than 50 produced, this MARS II is located in Eugene, Oregon where it may have been first commissioned there by the local utility authority. It’s available here on craigslist for $5,800. A shout out to Barn Finds reader Andria Antonakos for passing this one along.

Apparently reworked Renaults made good prospects for turning into electric cars. The MARS I and MARS II vehicles (can’t find what those acronyms stood for) were produced by Michigan-based Electric Fuel Propulsion. We understand they were the impetus for a string of five fast-charge stations at hotels off I-94 between Chicago and Detroit. The MARS II was based on a 1968 Renault R-10 and production estimates range from between just 42 and 47 units.

The seller’s MARS II is said to have been purchased by Eugene, Oregon’s local electric utility (EWEB). The cars were supposed to have a maximum speed of 60 mph, a driving range of 70-120 miles on a charge, and they could be recharged to 80 percent of capacity in under an hour. We’re told this car has all its original equipment still intact. The MARS II is powered by at least 18 X 6-volt batteries as I can count them. One of the claims to fame, supposedly, for the MARS II is its mechanical controlling board that set the stage for electronic controllers in later generations of electric cars. The MARS II is a 120-volt system and has a tri-polar, lead-cobalt battery and regenerative braking-system that work together.

This is not the first time this car has changed hands. Back in 2005, an electric car enthusiast named Craig Huber had the car up on his web site. You can tell it’s the same vehicle as to the small rusty dent up by the trunk on the driver’s side is in place for both 2020 and 2005 photos. Also, the photos show a completely different set of batteries between the two-time frames, so perhaps the car was a runner at one point. It does not run now, and a trailer will be required to take it away.

Finally, this is not the first one of these cars that have appeared on Barn Finds. One materialized in Sweden in 2018 and it was reviewed by us at that time. Please click here for that story.

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  1. Howard A Member

    Nah, why bother, I’d much rather have a stock R-10. I live in a rural setting, and electric cars will NEVER replace good ol’ gas.It’s the freakin’ batteries we just can’t get past. I talked to a guy in town that has an electric VW Bug conversion. I think an outfit out of Denver made a bunch. While he thought it a novel idea, the Bug has just as many batteries, and he said range is the biggest problem, maybe 40 miles in “slow” speed.. For in town, it’s adequate, but he’s afraid to take it out of town. He said, at 55 mph, the charge drops dramatically. Just stop at one of the “charging stations”, you say? Well, here’s this on that. They started putting up charging stations, that look like gas pumps in our town. 4 so far. Takes a couple hours to charge a car, can you imagine if hundreds of electric cars needed a charge at the same time? Sorry, until they release the “miracle chunk of energy” to power our cars ( probably already in a warehouse in Tucson), electric cars will just be a fad, nothing more. They’ve been trying for 120 years. Going to take a lot more for rural driving to replace gas.

    Like 6
    • Matt

      You are right, Battery technology is here (Tesla has its own factory) Lead acid is very old tech, dating back to the late 1800s…heavy and no range. Lithium ion has been suppressed by the oil companies … nothing bigger than a cell phone battery (again Tesla said FU we will make them ourself) Until those batteries are readily available and brushless motors are , the range will be limited. Here’s a thought to bridge the gap Put solar panels on the roof and a small Honda or similar generator in the trunk and your range will double or triple and you wont be stuck .

      Like 3
  2. nycbjr Member

    Impressive tech for ’68! Didn’t know regenerative braking was a thing then,.

    Like 4
  3. Fred W

    I knew electric cars dated back to the 1890’s- but after checking Wikipedia, I was surprised to learn they go back nearly 200 years- Copied:

    In 1828, Ányos Jedlik invented an early type of electric motor, and created a small model car powered by his new motor. Between 1832 and 1839, Scottish inventor Robert Anderson also invented a crude electric carriage.[8] In 1835, Professor Sibrandus Stratingh of Groningen, the Netherlands and his assistant Christopher Becker from Germany also created a small-scale electric car, powered by non-rechargeable primary cells.[9]

    Like 3
  4. Kenneth Carney

    Nice car! As I said before, we’re not
    ready for transcontinental trips in an EV,
    but we can use them to zip around town
    running errands or to your nearest car
    show where you will be, no doubt, the center of attention. Here in hurricane
    country, a car like this would be great to
    have when gas hits $10 a gallon after the storm passes. Just add solar panels to a car cover and you have your
    charging system should the storm take
    out the grid. About the re-gen braking,
    that was a surprise to me too. Looks like MARS had it covered even 50+ years
    ago. Now if they’ll just get the bugs out
    of self driving system, I’d have it made.

    Like 1
  5. Ralph

    Mars needs extension cords……

  6. Cobra Steve

    Another forgotten electric Renault was the Dauphine Henney Kilowatt. Don’t know much about them but would rather have my stock 845 cc water-cooled Dauphine with its 27 rompin’ stompin’ horsepower! True economy car for 1961 with four doors, 40 mpg, and EASY to maintain!

    Ever notice the Dauphine “gills” located where the rear doors meet the rear fender? That’s where the air comes in for the radiator which is located directly behind the back seat. Now we all know where the designers of the Ferrari Testa Rossa got the idea from!

    Like 2
    • Matt

      My dauphine was rebuilt with the Gordini upgrade to 55hp!! Yay…

  7. steve sammut Member

    My twin brother and I purchased our first car together, a Renault Dauphine for $200 I believe. We were in high school and it got us there and back. As you can imagine, nothing fancy, but it did climb the SF hills fairly well. Anyway, when we both got summer and subsequent part time jobs, we sold it and my twin purchased an R10…new if I remember correctly. Certainly not the fastest thing on the road, but it was definitely dependable. I remember the seats as being the most comfortable I ever sat on. My brother liked it because you could fold the front seats down and they matted perfectly to the back seat. In other words, a queen sized bed. There was guy in our SF neighborhood who had one and put an Alfa twin cam in his. I can’t imagine the handling! I’ve read about these and they are definitely rare. Still, you couldn’t get me to purchase an electric car today let alone one with 1968 technology.

  8. Pat Gill

    A guy I know has a 190? electric car, wooden frame, open car, but he has retro fitted a modern motor, charging system and LIFEPO4 batteries, best thing is when he plugs it in at a supermarket charging point !

    Like 2
  9. charlie Member

    And even in the 1960’s, Railway Express, a predecessor of UPS, had a fleet of electric delivery vans which spent the night at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, plugged in, and the days, in congested traffic, delivering around the city.

    Like 2
  10. charlie Member

    Friends have a Tesla 3, the least expensive one, and drive it about 1800 miles each way, from CA to MN, and have had no problem with recharging it, in the Rockies or on the Great Plains. It takes a bit more planning than with a gas or diesel car, but, the charger network is well established.

    Like 1
    • Brad J.

      As with all the EVs you have to factor in the overnight motel/hotel stops to recharge the damn things so an across country trip could take ages as well as cost a hell of lot more. Give me gas or diesel any day, simple, effective and we’ve been doing it for quite some time now and it still works fine !!

      Like 1
  11. Big_Fun Member

    Studies show the public’s “range anxiety ” dissappears at the 300 mile range. The new electrics introduced in the next 2 years will have that covered. Amazing how batteries and tech is improving at such a high rate.
    If you ever get the chance, go drive the all electric Chevrolet Bolt EV. It’s a blast to drive! Batteries down low, if course, so it handles well. Sport mode is the way to go. Loved the lever on the steering wheel for regenitive braking, also.
    Great article on these, always love how BF expands my breadth of automotive knowledge!
    I do love my Chevrolet big blocks, and the exhaust sounds they make, though.

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