Forget the Focus EV. It promises to be a fine vehicle, but it’s old hat. Ford’s first attempt at a modern electric vehicle made its debut more than 40 years ago at the 1967 Geneva Motor Show, and it foreshadowed the next four decades of EV development.
The Comuta was Ford’s first stab at battery-powered propulsion since Henry Ford and Thomas Edison worked on an EV in 1913. It could (reasonably) comfortably seat two adults and two children, and it had a top speed of 40 mph and a range of 40 miles if driven at 25 mph– not bad for 43 years ago, and in the ballpark of modern neighborhood electric vehicles.
When the folks at Gizmag dug up an archival photo of the Comuta, we were as amused as the lady in the picture and had to find out more about the tiny Ford EV that never was. Ford’s archivists were kind enough to provide photos and press releases about the vehicle’s original debut.
It turns out it was a concept developed by Ford of Britain. Heritage Fleet Director (we love that title) John Nevill tells us the concept’s rear wheels were driven by dual DC electric motors that put out 3.7 kilowatts (5 horsepower) and were originally designed as aircraft auxiliary units. Power came from four mid-mounted 12-volt lead-acid batteries.
At 6 feet, 8 inches long, the Comuta was less than half the length of a contemporary Cortina or Mustang. It was so small you could fit three of them in a single parking space. It had a “sophisticated” heating and cooling system, and a battery-charge meter was optional. Ford advertised the vehicle as a city car with a turning radius of 18 feet and “automatic driving” without a transmission.
At the vehicle’s unveiling, Ford of Britain’s assistant managing director Leonard Crossland — later Ford chairman Sir Leonard Crossland — said similar cars would hit the road by the mid-1970s, and he said it before any hint of the oil crisis we experienced during that era. “We expect electric cars to be commercially feasible within the next 10 years, although we believe their uses will be primarily as city-center delivery vans and suburban shopping cars.”
“The internal combustion engine will continue to be the most practical form of power for long-distance and motorway driving, but we are sure that electric cars will have a part to play in meeting some future transportation needs,” Crossland continued. The “practical, little experimental car” needed better batteries, he said. “And, as you know, a great deal of effort is being put into more-advanced battery technology.”
The more things change …
According to Nevill, Ford built two Comutas. One still exists at the Science Museum in London, alongside other feats of British engineering including Sinclair computers, Avro aircraft and early steam engines.
Even though the styling screams, “Honey, I shrunk the Econoline!” down to the 10-inch “dog dish” wheels, we imagine its retro lines might make a cute Cube competitor on the Fiesta platform.