Long Before Tesla: 1969 Mars II Electric

It’s no secret that electric cars are nothing new, but we tend to think that there was a vast gulf between the electric broughams of the early days of automobility and the advent of the modern electric era with the GM EV1 in the 1990s. While it’s true that major automakers weren’t doing much with the technology in the meantime, individuals, universities and research labs, and entrepreneurs continued to tinker with emissions-free cars. One such company was the Electric Fuel Propulsion Corporation, which built this Renault-based Mars II EV in 1969. Now it’s available here on eBay out of Falun, Sweden, and yes—it is a barn find! Thanks go to Neil for the tip!

This little number has been in a barn since 1975 and, remarkably, it still runs and drives, although it needs some minor brake work. The Mars II—based on a Renault R-10, while the Mars I was Dauphine-based—was capable of speeds up to 60 MPH with a claimed range of 70-120 miles per charge. Its lead cobalt batteries, managed via a mechanical controller board, could regain 80% capacity in 46 minutes of charging, and like modern hybrids and EVs, it boasted regenerative brakes.

The Electric Fuel Propulsion Corp. was serious about electric cars, working with Holiday Inn to create a chain of five charging stations connecting Chicago and Detroit, the “Electric Car Expressway” touted on the sign in the period publicity photo above. Nevertheless, production was very limited; while the eBay listing for this car claims production of 115 Mars IIs, another site indicates that number may be as low as 42. After the two Mars Renaults, EFP built a series of AMC-based prototypes. Many other companies used Renaults as the basis for electric conversions as well, most famously the Dauphine-derived Henney Kilowatt and the LeCar-based Lectric Leopard—and, well, Renault, which is displaying its own electric R5 from its historic collections at the Paris Motor Show right this very minute.

So this Mars II is a rare and neat bit of electric car history, and it’s really incredible that it’s still fully functional. Bidding is only up to $2,075 as I write this, although the reserve hasn’t been met yet. That’s a pretty small price to pay (even if you’re factoring in shipping the car to a country other than Sweden) for a zero-emissions car that nearly matches the range of some much more modern EVs!

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Comments

  1. Pierre

    Just Amazing!

    Like 3
  2. Beatnik Bedouin

    Interesting machine. I hope the buyer uses it, rather than seeing the car languish in a museum.

    Like 6
  3. CanuckCarGuy

    Great piece of history, and an interesting perspective on how little electric cars have actually progressed in 49 years.

    Like 3
    • Chris

      Go to your local Tesla outlet and test drive a P100D. They are pretty awesome.

      Like 3
    • Poppapork

      Yeap! European compacts moving at a pace of a forklift versus huge land yahts doing 0-60 in 2.5 seconds and a quater mile in 10.7… youre right- very little difference!

      Like 5
  4. Howard A Member

    I really liked the R-10, kind of everything the Dauphine wasn’t, except still pretty gutless, and I’d imagine this was no different. Proof positive, until we literally run out of gas, electric cars, then as now, will be a tough sell. And while 60 mph could be possible, it would never get that kind of range at 60 mph. Suck the juice pretty fast at those speeds, I’d bet.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcmZ1dof3Qw

    Like 2
    • John Westerdale

      I owned one of these, a gift from my college in 1983. Converted it back to gas thought it was a fun car to drive, as long as you liked rebuilding the brakes every year!

  5. Ken Nelson Member

    Funny thing – when I went to Detroit the summer of 1970 to look for a job at Ford, I somewhere during that trip made contact with this co. and as I showed an interest in its electrics, was invited to lunch with the driver and co. rep. So instead of going to Ford, I went to lunch in an electrified Renault Dauphine which must’ve preceded this car, as the R8 came out after the Dauphine but had virtually the same mechanicals in a more modern body.
    Long story short, I took my career job with Dupont Engineering Polymers and later became Dupont’s consultant to Ford Engine, helping develop their first lost core glass-reinforced nylon V8 intake manifold – a first in the industry around 1996 when it went commercial on their 4.6 L engine. So I came in thru the back door and subsequently hand-built their first ever vibration-welded nylon intake for the Vulcan V6 3L engines in our laboratory in Troy Mich., using the largest Branson vibration welder in the country.
    Alto Ford was the first of the Big Three to replace sandcast alum. V8 intakes with Dupont nylon, Porsche had actually been the world’s pioneer, introducing bonded nylon intake plenums on the 911 in 1972. I personally brought back one of those manifolds to Detroit and shopped it to all the mfrs to prod them that we in the US were decades behind the Europeans in using high strength composites to replace metals. The weight and cost savings were terrific for the OEMS – we took 10 lbs out of that 4.6 L V8 engine, and that’s impossible to do anymore. Ford got the weight save, huge cost reduction as all machining was eliminated, free hot-restart insulation of the injectors as they were seated in the nylon, and a free port&polish job as the eutectic metal lost cores were perfectly smooth compared to sand cores, so some free extra HP came along with the job and the plastic doesn’t corrode as does aluminum. Ford didn’t really appreciate all the advantages the plastic brought them, they just immediately tried to squeeze another price reduction per lb. of material! So much for rewarding your suppliers when they make major contributions to your corporate profits!

    Like 6
    • Greg L

      I was involved with the lost core molds, the molds that made the tin bismuth inserts that were inserted into the intake manifold injection molds. The plastic was injected around these inserts and afterwards the entire plastic manifold part with the tin bismuth was soaked in a hot oil or antifreeze can’t recall and the tin bismuth melted out of the injection molded intake manifold. The company I worked for at the time hard chrome plated the copper beryllium molds to help with wear resistance where the tin bismuth was injected into the mold, it was very corrosive. The molds we did the plating on were built in Windsor Ontario, Canada.

      Like 1
    • LD71

      Great story, many of us can relate, thanks for posting!
      LD71😄

  6. Kenneth Carney

    My stepfather worked on the Henney
    Kilowatt project as an engineer in the
    late ’50’s. Over dinner one night, he told
    the story of how the Kilowatt came to be.
    The car was a joint venture between
    the Henney Company, Renault, and the
    Eureka Company (The same firm that
    makes vaccuum sweepers) in 1958.
    After the Renault Dauphines were
    shipped to the ‘states, they were sent
    to the Henney Coachworks to have the
    mounting apparatus for the electric
    motors and the battery trays installed
    in the cars before they were shipped
    on to Eureka’s electric motor plant in
    Bloomington, Ill, where my stepdad
    and his team finished the assembly
    process by mounting the motor,
    batteries, and all the needed switch
    gear to make the car drivable. He
    said that when they first started the
    project, everyone was very optimistic
    that Americans would indeed buy an
    electric vehicle once they learned that
    they could drive one for less than $.02
    a mile as opposed to gasoline engines
    that cost much more to operate. But
    things went south in a hurry after it was
    determined that like today, range was a
    very big issue with these early electric
    cars due to battery technology and the
    number of batteries needed to operate
    such a car. Sadly, only 200 or so of these
    cars were built before the project was
    abandoned and the partners went their
    separate ways in 1960, the only year the
    cars were produced. This was something
    that very few residents of my hometown
    even knew about unless like me, they had
    relatives who worked on the project. Very
    sad indeed.

    Like 4
  7. Darren Krimminger

    Innovative design no doubt. But in the real world, as a Ford technician, these things leaked incessantly and I can’t recall how many hundreds I replaced under warranty. I understand the weight savings and power gains but the reliability was truly sacrificed for those minimal advances. Took a number of years before those issues were finally honed down to acceptable failure rates.

    Like 3
  8. Jeff

    Very cool! I’ve never even read about one of these before.

  9. Ken Nelson Member

    Darren, you’re absolutely right about the manifold problems – I was the one who brought the smoking gun on the design error Ford had made when they released the design for tooling. I had our computer folks run an FEA on the manifold design, which was a direct copy of the cast aluminum original part. Unfortunately, the engine manifold designers hadn’t allowed for the difference in material properties from aluminum to glass-reinforced nylon – a fundamental mistake. As the material supplier, we always ran FEAs on critical parts – which our customers often didn’t do themselves. Until I came along on our application development support team, evidently no FEA had been run by the engine group on the design during its development stage. I had our team run one when I saw the CAD design, and sure enough, our FEA pointed out a very high stress area in the water crossover passage from one head to the other, near the thermostat cavity. A very small radius at the bottom front corner of the crossover focused water pressure pulsations from the waterpump on the passage, and that corner, combined with internal pressures that could spike to around 90 psi if I recall correctly, and running hot, could crack the manifold and leak water down the front. The design didn’t allow for the significant change in stiffness of the reinforced nylon at the max engine operating temp, so the corner flexed and started stresscracks under the right combination of conditions.
    When I took this news into the program mgr in the engine engineering bldg next to the HF museum in Dearborn, I was hoping the information was early enough to provide a chance to fix the problem before production started, but turns out the tooling was complete. The mgr’s comment took me aback when he saw our disclaimer on the report: He said “you guys are always CYAing yourselves” and grumbled unhappily when I gave him the copy.

    Fact is, when the cracking started showing up on police Crown Vics around the country, I designed & built an oven test chamber that would pressure cycle 12 manifolds simultaneously at 230 F and 90 psi 24/7 to find design mods to fix the problem. I spent the next 3 yrs testing those parts and that rig became Ford’s test center for all future nylon manifolds. We gradually introduced mold design modifications based on my testing that improved the design life, but later, doing on-car data-logging tests on our own CVic, we discovered that Ford’s outside original contract testing co. had missed the smoking gun. The contractor’s method was taking readings every 5 seconds or so. Our data showed that there were pressure pulses far faster than their sampling rate – and as the cracking was due to material flex fatigue, the contractor’s data was virtually worthless, but Ford had based their reliability on that incorrect information. We turned our data over to the program mgr’s team, and that basically seemed to shut down criticism of the material – the final smoking gun.

    The next generation of plastic manifolds of course eliminated the water crossover, as it went on the Vulcan 3L V6 without water in it, and was vibration-welded together instead of relying on lost eutectic core metal to provide internal air runners. Once the manifold got into production, a backfire problem showed up: Under certain restart conditions, the engine could backfire on rollback after a false start, and blow the manifold apart! Turns out Porshe had had the same problem over 20 yrs earlier! I personally welded the first test manifolds for that program, and it saved Ford a ton of money. Then I had to turn around and figure out how to reinforce the manifold against backfire, which I did by heat-welding strengthening ribs onto the runners in our lab and do backfire testing on them which showed they worked. Those ribs were immediately cut into the molds and fixed the problem. The whole story is one of how new applications that sometimes miss due to not learning enough about the new materials that enable the changes – live and learn, but try to do the homework before diving in headfirst!

    Like 5
  10. Urquiola

    Is there a possibility of installing in this R-10 car a modern set of batteries, perhaps a more powerful electric engine? 50 mph, 80 km/h, is quite slow.
    What about acceleration? You need it in road or highway traffic
    Even if the original car was too much over-steering, from the rear mounted engine and the empty front, Lead batteries are very heavy, and may alter driving as placed in front.

  11. john Westerdale

    I did own one of these in the 1980s. Think I might have a relay or two from it, anyone need parts? With the batteries and Electric motor out. the suspension limited on the straps! Tons of camber.

    Like 1
  12. Doug

    Ah yes, Renault, the Fiat of France…..may they rust in pieces….

    • Howard A Member

      Fiat of France,,,SACRE` BLEU!!!

  13. Eddie Gerrits

    This is not a barn find. For a coupe of month ago was this car for sale at the auction. ( van der brink auction)

  14. Ken Nelson Member

    IMHO, Renault made two mistakes: Too many different models vs someone like Citroen, and poor steel or rustproofing. Even tho Citroen DSs and their other models rust, they sure seem to last longer than the Rs. Only Renaults I ever see are usually in Ca. or dry climates where they don’t disappear into the dirt as fast as elsewhere E of the Rockies. And Citroens, with their mostly flat, square, non compound curve chassis boxes are easier to repair with mig and sheetmetal vs anything with curvy structural stampings. And DSs keep coming out of the woodwork vs Renaults. Also, over their 20 yr run, the DSs changed so little that lots of parts can be swapped from first yrs to last yrs! Not many other cars were so stable in design.

  15. John westerdale

    Did like the metallic dust clutch. Energizing a magnet seems intuitive . Not sure if it would pass 500HP, but my big block R10 had 1289 cc that “thrived on harsh usage” from haynes manual. Sounded great. Plodded along at best, esp with 5 people in car!!

  16. chad

    had the Renaults as 2nd cars in early/late 60s I believe (even some Simca 1000s). Went thru the Dauphine (even had semaphore turn signals?), 10 & 16 I think. All good for the mommie / kid shuttle. Last of em looked like the above.

    The ele car slowly improves/evolves here. Lots resist it as it is change, threat, strange, etc. Autonomous get same resistance. Both have great advantages, few draw backs. Just like personal life – “focus on the good, always the good”. Evolve, keep what is important/good, leave the rest…

  17. Dominique Legeai

    …..wow….such interesting contributions! On one end I feel I know a bit more about this version of the R10, on the other hand I struggle with the technical language to the point of having to read over and over and still barely understand. One good thing: I am an avid player of Words with Friends……just added 6 words to my repertoire……🤡

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