If you asked the average person when the first electric vehicles were invented, their answer would likely have something to do with Tesla Motors. And while Elon has certainly done a great deal to proliferate EV technology, his company was far from the first to crank out electric-powered cars. In fact, EVs were some of the very first automobiles produced in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Without the need for a crank starter or a heavy clutch pedal, these vehicles did prove rather popular with a select group of buyers during the early era of the car. Henry Ford’s wife Clara even drove an electric vehicle, a 1914 Detroit Electric Model 47 Brougham. But did you know that early automakers even messed around with the idea of hybrid vehicles? Well thanks to Jay Leno, we get a chance to see a 105 year-old 1916 Owen Magnetic hybrid car in action.
Known as “the car of a thousand speeds”, the Owen Magnetic is quite a bit different from the hybrid vehicles we see today. That is because the six-cylinder Buda engine up front only served as a generator for the electric motor, and shared no physical connection to the gearbox. The 60 horsepower engine simply charged up the car’s battery, which then used what is essentially a horseshoe magnet to generate power. This helped to address the utter lack of charging infrastructure available in the early 1900s, but it isn’t exactly the most efficient way to go about things. Of course automakers didn’t really think about fuel economy or drivetrain efficiency back in the day. Instead the Owen Magnetic focused on providing a smooth driving experience without the hassles of its competitors. Considering you’ve likely never heard of this thing before, it’s obvious that the hybrid vehicle didn’t really catch on.
After a thorough breakdown of the Owen Magnetic and how it operates, Jay Leno takes this old-school hybrid car out for a spin. And while it initially doesn’t seem all that different from other cars from the period, things get particularly interesting when it comes time to slow down. The Owen Magnetic only features rear drum brakes, but it also uses the electric motor to help get things slowed down. While it’s not quite on par with modern regenerative braking, the process does indeed handle most of the slowing needs. The best part however is the noise that is made by this system, which sounds straight out of “The Jetsons”. Pretty neat stuff for a 105-year-old machine, if you ask us.
The automotive industry has a knack for pretending that everything attached to a modern car has never been done or thought of before. In reality, this is far from the truth. We might all associate the idea of hybrid vehicles today with the likes of the Prius, but it’s clear there were some brilliant minds delivering rather cool hybrid powertrains a century ago. Talk about a long turnaround.