Rare EV Ancestor: 1932 Detroit Electric Model 97

This 1932 Detroit Electric Model 97 is no Tesla alternative, despite what you may have heard. It actually is an incredibly rare and relatively-early-yet-late battery-powered car that can be found here on eBay in Wilson, North Carolina. The bid price is at $15,100 as I write this and there are three days left on the auction.

For as much as most classic car lovers with gasoline flowing through their veins love to hate Teslas and other modern EVs and all they stand for, it seems like Detroit Electrics have earned some amount of respect and admiration among the classic car community. They really do have an incredible history worthy of respect. Doctors loved them as they were quick to start, as in they didn’t require cranking and that helped in emergencies. Women customers were a major market for these cars due to the ease of starting and driving and not having to deal with smelly gas and oil.

These cars began from a company called Anderson Carriage Company and in 1919 they became Detroit Electric. Once internal-combustion engines started picking up steam, so to speak, by 1920, electric cars like the Detroit Electric fell from favor and sales dropped. The company went bankrupt in 1929 but was purchased and cars were made to order until they made their last car in 1939. They made over 13,000 cars which is amazing since there are so few still around today, especially those in operating condition. Here is a short YouTube video of another 1932 Detroit Electric Model 97 in restored condition.

The seller mentions one of my favorite things in car ads, saying that this Detroit Electric is original but then saying that it has a new interior and it has been repainted. I’m assuming that they mean original spec or not-modified or updated. I would love to have a Detroit Electric but my 1973 Auranthetic Charger EV minibike could beat it in a drag race as this car had a top speed of around 20-25 mph. That makes it almost unusable on public roads today, but in 1932 it was fine for city driving. The bench seat/driver’s seat is not actually the back seat as we know it today as the driver would sit back there.

As we almost always hear with battery-powered vehicles, this one needs new batteries. With the invention of the self-starter and a lack of charging infrastructure such as we have today, the electric car had no hope of surviving in the early part of the 20th century. But, every example since then seems to have furthered the technology and cars like this Detroit Electric are most likely why we have EVs today capable of going up to 300 miles on a charge and charging stations set up so drivers can go cross-country. Have any of you seen a Detroit Electric in person?

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Comments

  1. Mr. Exotherm

    There is a small town museum in our area that has a working 1931 Detroit Electric. As far as I know it is in unrestored condition. A very interesting piece of automotive history.

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  2. luke arnott

    Hasn’t someone started making Detroit Electrics again recently?

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    • Mr. Exotherm

      It looks like Detroit Electric in name only. They appear to be UK based and haven’t updated much of their website in 2 years. Guessing we won’t hear much more from them.

      • luke arnott

        Think you’re right,though they are based in the Netherlands.

  3. Bob McK Member

    I would love to own this. Wouldn’t it be fun to put Tesla motors in it?

    3
  4. FOG

    Wow, actually did a little work on one of these a few years ago. Loved touring around campus with it. Fun car!

    2
  5. canadainmarkseh Member

    Very nice car but fairly useless, there’s a reason it only goes 25 mph, With that tiller steering you wouldn’t want to go faster. If your in a place where there is a lot of parades this would be fun. If your not then it’s just something else that eats up storage space. I’d want to put in a proper steering wheel and brake upgrade. I’d then want to fit it with a small 4 cylinder engine and a manual gearbox. In my opinion what’s the point of having it if you can’t use it reliably. As far as I’m concerned it’s currently not that safe to drive nor would it be reliable.

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  6. Lance

    You will cry if a corner glass cracks. No Thanks. Historically wonderful but not in my garage.

  7. Dusty Stalz

    Neat car but I’d chop it about 8″ and put a 350 under the hood. Maybe channel it a bit and throw it on some 20″ wheels and if you’ve read this far without your head exploding I’m just kidding. Still a neat car but it belongs in a museum.

    7
  8. Steve

    Looks like there will be a lot of backseat drivers for this car.

    4
  9. Peter from Oz

    There was a 1920s or earlier model a few suburbs away from where I lived as a teenager (here in Australia). I saw it a few times in the 60s & 70s. It was in top condition and owned by ‘a little old lady’ who purchased it new and drove it until she passed away. Of course I showed my interest but it went to a local auto electrician whose business had been around probably as long as the car. It ended up in our Power House Museum but I have not seen it on display as the Museum has so many items.

    1. I didn’t realise they were made in 1932 and as late as 1939.
    2. If you look at the second photo you will see a long tapered glass vase on the B-pillar with a flower in it. The Australian car had the same vase.
    3. The Aussie car was black.
    4. The Aussie car had a second set of batteries under the front cowel.
    5. The tiller steering arm folds upwards so you can get in and out of the car without it being in the way. I can’t remember if the Aussie car was right or left hand tiller, but I think it was left and there might have only been one entrance door.
    6. I can’t tell from the photos if the car here has front brakes.
    7. I would never had drilled holes in the car and fitted those white lights on the front and red on the back.
    8. Lance is correct. The front curved glass on the sides are impressive but would be expensive to replace. However, it looks as though they are curved in a single plane only so could be remade. If my memory is correct, the Aussie car also had curved corner windows on the rear.
    9. The wheels on this car seem fatter and smaller diameter than what I remember. As I remember, the Aussie car might have used the T-Ford wheels.
    10. In regard to the readers who like to chop cars, all I would do is consider a modern electric speed controller. As I remember, the car used to jump at the start to move. I don’t know if used a set of resistors which were switched in or somehow varied the voltage in steps to the motor.

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  10. Burger

    I have never understood why mfr’s. of electric cars always have a bent to build an ugly body. From the oldies like this, to those 2000’s Insights to the new Clarity …. is the object to kill sales by making them ugly ? There is no reason an electric car can’t be a great looking. This thing looks like a sculpted cabinet to display Grandma’s china in, inexplicably mounted on a wagon. No one thought to style them like a Packard and sell 100,000 of them ?

    2
    • canadainmarkseh Member

      They make them ugly to appeal to the knot head tree huggers that will buy them. That’s all I can think of when it comes to EV’ past and present.

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      • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

        Not to generalize or anything..

        1
    • Jiminy

      Yes the Tesla onversions would make this vehicle even more amazing.
      I find it ironic thst the battery starter helped make the all electrics fade away. We need a kaw that gas and diesel cars are not allowed to have any electric or battery in them. They would die like the rocks they are. LOL

  11. TimM

    I wonder if the 396 I have on my engine stand would squeeze under the hood of this thing????

    1
  12. local_sheriff

    Is this the car Gramma Duck drove?

    1

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