Subaru EV: 1981 Jet Industries Electra-Van 600

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I always think of Stevie Ray Vaughan when I think of Austin, Texas, and when I’m there I always visit the SRV statue on the banks of the river. One thing I rarely think of when I think of Texas is EV production, but this 1981 Subaru Sambar Jet Industries Electra-Van 600 is just that, a battery-powered microvan made in Austin. It’s posted here on craigslist in Spokane, Washington and the seller is asking $5,000. Here is the original listing.

A top-ten vehicle for me, I would love to have this Electra-Van almost as much as I’d love to be able to play the guitar like Stevie Ray Vaughan could, God rest his tortured soul. For the record, I know that SRV was born and raised in Dallas. Tesla is now located in Austin, Texas, so that’s a huge Stevie Ray Vaughan-like hat feather in their EV cap but before the most famous EV maker moved to Austin, there was a company called Jet Industries.

The 1970s and early 80s were the heart of the oddball EV vehicle era. Companies were springing up out of nowhere to provide what was typical-for-the-era: 40-mile range, battery-powered vehicles with a dozen or more regular, heavy, lead-acid car batteries for power. Jet Industries in Austin, TX bought vehicles without drivetrains and converted them to battery-powered rides. The Subaru Sambar 600 is the one I’d want. The company also converted Ford Escorts into Electricas, Dodge Omni 024s, and Plymouth Horizon TC3s into Electricas, and even full-sized Dodge vans.

This particular 10-foot-long, 4.5-foot-wide kei car, or van, started out as a third-generation Subaru Sambar (1973 through 1982) and went through the Jet Industries factory. It came out the other end with a 20 horsepower GE motor, a 55-mph top speed, and over a dozen batteries jammed under the backseat, which opens to reveal a bevy of bat’ries in order to go around 40 miles before charging up again. You could haul a minibike or maybe two in the rear cargo area if you were strategic in packaging.

The seller includes photos of when this van was in use and the “last six” are photos of the van in its current condition and location, hidden away unused and in need of, of course, new batteries, which is usually the case. It’ll need more than that from sitting for the last decade and it had a “skip surge” before being put away in slumber. That’s likely a sign that it needs new brushes, but who knows what else. These are very rare to see today and I would love to have one, but maybe not at $5,000. Have any of you heard of Jet Industries? Better yet, are any of you fans of the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan?

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  1. HoA HoAMember

    August 27, 1990, my then gf was at Alpine Valley that fateful night, it was a foggy night, the chopper took off, and nobody knew until the next day what happened. There were a lot of great musical artists, sadly many getting recognition posthumously, he was great.
    The van? Seems like a bit of a downer after SRV, and like all these, the batteries are its biggest downfall. We just can’t get past that, and for a 2 mile radius, they can work, my biggest pet peeve, with all this EV hoopla, with 1.1 million E bikes last year, where is that juice going to come from? These very small vans have limitations in some states, and just as well. Remember, it’s not a 40 mile range, it’s 20 miles out and 20 back. Might want to keep a gas powered generator on hand, and I can’t begin to say what’s wrong with that.

    Like 14
    • Scotty GilbertsonAuthor

      HoA, wow, that’s nutso that your girlfriend was at his last concert! I can’t even imagine that, what a loss. I saw Randy Rhodes (Ozzy’s guitarist) two months before his death, but sadly the arena had, for the very first time, put up “NO CAMERAS” signs so I had to run mine back out to the car. It was the first concert where I wasn’t able to take photos and my last time seeing him in concert.

      Like 1
  2. Driveinstile DriveinstileMember

    I think its pretty unique that they used an electric motor, but, had a manual transmission. I’d love to try that out. I think Scotty wrote another one of these up in 2019 that had Chevy Volt batteries installed that increased the range a bit, but it was expensive.
    This is a great write up Scotty. And thanks for the memories of Stevie Ray Vaughn. I cant believe how many years ago he died.

    Like 7
  3. That AMC guy

    Probably faster than the original! I owned a Subaru 360 van many years ago. Driving that thing you would lose a drag race against a VW Microbus!

    Like 5
  4. Jon Calderon

    Whether it’s this, a Tesla, Rivian, or any hybrid vehicle for that matter, I wouldn’t give you 10 cents for all of them combined. The EV fad will pass, and market will dry up. Except for those who still wish to virtue signal and try to tell people how ‘green” they are. Truth be told, the carbon footprint on a Tesla still on the showroom floor is the equivalent of a diesel motor with 300k miles on it. Sad but true. Even when they start to build cars that pull electricity out of the ether, like they did in the early 1900’s, I still prefer a petrol motor any day of the week.

    Like 8
  5. KurtMember

    Actually you should be able to increase the range with the Optima batteries. This is a fascinating vehicle. Replacing the batteries wouldn’t cost thousands like it does with modern EVs, you can just go to local auto parts store too, not a dealer.

    Like 4
  6. Mark Tilton

    I bought in the Chicago area about 25 years ago came with a 5 gallon bucket of cables and a map of which way to point the batteries! I got used golf cart batteries and with directions from a forklift repairman installed the 17 of 6 volts of 220 amps, and a 12 volt for lights and electrical controls, only dropped the wrench once, which scared him more than unknowing ME ! I licensed with the plate— PLUG IN 1 ! I sold, after a couple years to a Chicago school teacher and deliver to her school. Clutch still engaged the gears and had a gas heater from original tank. Far more advanced then my 2 miserable CITICARS !!!!

    Like 4
  7. Paul JacksonMember

    If this were on the East Coast, I’d try to negotiate a little bit lower price and play with it as if it was an oversize golf cart with all the new gadgets and widgets. It would be an interesting experiment for somebody, myself included

    Like 0
  8. chrlsful

    yes, I am – of the latter not the former. Have U seen an av sz man (5.9/10) stand nxt 2 1 of these? Only upto his chest (just past the waist). Small !

    I’d hafta modernize the EV components B4 anything else (but sitting in the driver’s awhile). 20 X 40 lbs (most the batteries I lug around) is just too much weight. Luvit if it worked. Seems perfect design (smallest ‘big box’ available)

    Like 1
  9. Frank

    When I moved back to Austin, (after military life), I went to work for Jet Industries off Burleson Road. Full size Dodge trucks and vans, Ford Couriers, Dodge Omni 024, Ford Escorts and Fiesta. They ordered right-hand drive Ford Fiestas from overseas to fill a postal contract. They were developing a 2 seat version of the Fiesta for a sportier and faster car. We had from 96 to 144 volt vehicles.

    Like 1
  10. Big C

    Stevie Ray was one of the best. Like Hendrix, we’ll never know where he would have gone, musically, had he lived. As for this EV? I wouldn’t trade my white grooved “Couldn’t Stand The Weather” lp for it.

    Like 2
  11. FOG

    Living across I-65 from the Subaru plant in Indiana. This would be the local “golf van” around here. Subaru should build a museum nearby for all their history.

    Like 1
  12. Bunky

    My Brother in law had his ‘34 Ford Cabriolet painted by a guy in the Spokane area- I have met him. He had one of these. Chances are, this is it. He used it for errands, and said it was quite handy for parts/paint runs- which were typically considerably less than 40 miles round trip. I’d like one as a toy- but not enough to pay 5k-“batteries not included.”

    Like 1

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