Yup, the people known for making great small engines came up with this.
This spot is sort of special to me because Briggs & Stratton is located right here in Milwaukee, and has been manufacturing small engines since 1908. If you have a lawn tractor, chances are it has an engine they manufacture. It also turns out that one of my flying buddies, Mike Dorna, works as Manager-Rapid Prototyping Center there. So we were talking one night over some beers about hybrid cars and the conversation turned to Briggs & Stratton developing a hybrid way back in 1980, 17 years before the Toyota Prius hit the market.
This was a strictly one-off concept designed to be a technology demonstrator. It was put together using Ford Pinto front end and Volkswagen Scirocco doors, along with custom panels created by Brooks Stevens who lived in Milwaukee and was also a designer of the 60s era Jeeps. If you squint, you can sort of see elements of a 1980s L-Body Dodge Charger.
The idea behind this unusual hybrid was to showcase a more efficient way of travel and, in style. In theory, the electric motor and its instant torque would be used to get the car up to speed, then the gasoline engine would be used to maintain highway speeds. The top speed was just over 60 mph, but in 1980 the U.S. national speed limit was 55 mph so, in theory, this car could easily run within the limits of the law.
Briggs & Stratton built this six-wheeler concept, giving the 12 Globe Union 6-volt batteries their own driven axle. With this additional 72-volt system at the rear, the company’s parallel hybrid was capable of 68 mph on its combined power and they hired Richard Petty to prove it. The 6-volt lead-acid batteries would also grant Briggs & Stratton’s 3200-pound hybrid a pure electric range of at least 45 miles. and giving it a combined mileage of around 30 mpg. Think about that. Doesn’t seem like a lot but the majority of hybrids we test can only go 20 miles on more powerful and lighter batteries. It also featured disc brakes at the front to handle the mass, a Recaro interior and had the unmistakable sound of an air-cooled industrial flat-two.
The car toured the country, taken to events in a special trailer sharing with the public what Briggs & Stratton could do. The last time it was on the road was in March of 2020 when on the streets of California, Jay Leno and a Briggs & Stratton Engineering Technician achieved 60 mph. Keep in mind that this was with just an 18-horsepower air-cooled twin-cylinder Briggs engine under the hood. An electric motor is connected to the engine, which then connects to a four-speed manual transmission sending power to the first set of rear wheels. The second set was just there to handle the extra weight of the batteries.
The Briggs & Stratton Hybrid concept cost a quarter of a million dollars to build, and when it was unveiled in 1980 there was no clear path forward for the vehicle. The company had no plans to put it into production and is the only one of its kind but it displays a shocking amount of hybrid technology that was far ahead of its time. Today this one-time star sits quietly in the museum located at the company’s headquarters in Milwaukee along with Briggs & Stratton’s other historical accomplishments.
Thanks for stopping by and checking out our blog. Have a great Easter! Check back next week for another spot along with some of its history and have a super weekend.
I don’t have blood, pretty sure I have motor oil in my veins. It started before I was even born. My mom’s dad sold Pontiacs and Hudsons while my other grandpa was a Chevy guy. My dad worked for AMC/Chrysler for 27 years and I’ve been told that I was conceived in the back of a Nash. I love everything about cars, from how they are designed, manufactured, marketed, and tested. I especially love high-performance cars and have driven, the new Corvette, Dodge Challenger Hellcat, Ram TRX, along with several Jaguars. It’s the sound, I love the sound, and the power when I step on the gas. I love the way they handle and have driven several of them at Road America.
EV’s to me are a waste of time.
I will admit that most of them can out-accelerate even the biggest and baddest V8 but outside of that, I see no upside. Ok tree huggers, jump in telling me how they save the planet with their zero o2 tailpipe emissions but you are forgetting one huge item, actually several. First, all the current EV’s are manufactured the same way ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles are. In a factory that uses tons of electricity to make the steel and or aluminum used in the body, frame, and other areas, the plastic found in the interior, and carpeting. How about that glass. Forged in the same factory that supplies manufacturers of ICE vehicles. And let’s not forget about the batteries. Their carbon footprint for manufacturing is even larger and where do they go when they wear out?
So much for the manufacturing. Now let’s talk about tax revenue. Except for Teslas, owners receive a tax credit. Less revenue to run this country which almost always seems to be running out of money. Now since EV’s don’t fill up with gas, there’s lost tax revenue there that goes to many things like road construction and repairs. Boom, gone!
Now let’s talk about charging. It’s gotten a lot better. The longest range EV according to the EPA is the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus which will get you 263 miles before needing a charge. But here comes the downside and deal-breaker for me. It requires 8.5 hours to get a full charge and that’s assuming you can plug into 220V. Sure, the standard argument is that you can do that overnight but what if you need to travel a longer distance? I hate waiting.
Let’s talk about them spontaneously bursting into flames. Have you read about the Chevy Bolt? Here’s a new term for you, thermal runaway. This happens when the battery overheats, over-pressurizes, and boom! (I’ll talk about my experiences in a bit). This happened so much that GM was forced to recall all of them. Do EV’s catch fire more than ICE cars? There is no reliable data. What is a fact though is that because of all that energy in the battery they generate more heat and take longer to put out.
My blogging partner, Mark, reminds me that EV’s are coming. More like the flavor of the month. With virtually no infrastructure for charging, they are decades from any mainstream acceptance. Here’s an example. Kwik Trip is a large midwestern gas station/convenience store operator and I go there a lot.
I found this example recently. Their charging station with the same 120 v plug you’d find in and outside plug at your home. Think of the charge time on that bad boy. Even with tax credits according to Pew Research about 231,000 all-electric vehicles were sold in 2020, down 3.2% from 2018. In each of the past three years, EV’s accounted for about 2% of the U.S. new-car market which is tiny. It would most likely be even smaller if it were not for government tax credits as incentives, some as high as $7,500.
I’m fine with hybrids and had a chance to drive two very different ones recently at the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) event at Road America.
First, there was the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4xe which I had a chance to take off-road. The first thing I noticed, especially after just driving the Wrangler 392 with its rumble, was how quiet it was. And it was never lacking for power when I needed it to climb a hill or get through some mud. FYI, it is the number one selling hybrid. What does that say for saving the planet and having a whole lot of fun doing it?
The other vehicle was the Karma GS-6, a masterpiece of design. This car oozes cool both inside and out. The interior looks like it were designed for the 25th century. So futuristic-looking but with a price tag of just over 100 grand, not for everybody.
Electric propulsion works well on a smaller scale
Here’s where I’m big on battery-powered propulsion. One of my time, and money-sucking hobbies, is radio-controlled airplanes. This is the segment that has experienced a huge jump in technology in the last couple of years. My first electric plane was a small Piper Cub or something that resembled one, with a two-foot wingspan. It carried six nickel-cadmium batteries slightly smaller than AAA’s. The battery took about an hour to charge and the plane flew for maybe five minutes. Charging the battery was sketchy at best. If you looked at them the wrong way, they would burn up. Sound familiar? The plane barely had enough power to get out of its own way.
Flash forward to today. Now we fly with Liquid Polymer batteries (LiPo’s) which hold tons more energy. I just sold my last gas-powered airplane and except for my turbine jet am now an all-electric fleet. This wasn’t something that I had decided to do on a whim. It took a while so that I could have several planes utilizing similar batteries based on their size. While there are still electric planes that will have very short flight times, mine can fly on an average of five to eight minutes. That might sound like a short time but it’s maybe slightly shorter than gas-powered planes. Care must be taken with the batteries just like the ones that go in the car because they can catch fire and have been known to burn up a car or entire garage.
Some of my planes are actually jets with electric ducted fans powering them. Sort of like a little turbine except with an electric motor. It takes 30 minutes to an hour to charge the batteries on one of the several chargers I have. All of the flying fields have the power for me to charge the batteries. One even uses solar cells that charge storage batteries. Unlike the EV auto industry, there are no tax breaks for guys like us for doing this. It is driven by demand only and doing really well. Each time I show up at the field I see new electric planes.
While converting planes from fuel to electric is popular I want to share an example of one of the planes that I built designed specifically for electric power. The Avro Vulcan was a cold-war era four-engine jet bomber the English flew. It was designed to defend England from a Russian nuclear attack. Go check out this video and turn up the volume to hear what’s called the Vulcan Howl. The Jet was so far ahead of its time.
My radio control model is a large one, an 80-inch wingspan, the fuselage is 74 inches long and it weighs just 14 pounds. It’s powered by four electric ducted fans and requires four Li-Po batteries. Efficiency in the build was critical here and with a combination of balsa, ply carbon fiber, and foam it has a 14-1 thrust ratio.
A friend of mine and I both built Vulcan’s a few years ago and they are a blast to fly. We have had both of them up at the same time as you can see inthis video.
Will commercial aviation go all-electric? Not in a mine or your lifetime. Right now they are just getting into that but on a very small scale. Commuter aircraft is a possibility but that represents about 2% of all commercial flights.
And finally my point
A good friend of mine, Mike Dorna, who works at Briggs & Stratton here in Milwaukee, forwarded a great article on this whole electric bruh haha. Mike’s dad was one of the Model Makers who developed an EV hybrid for the company while they were still just dreams. Jay Leno did a segment on it.
The article by Tony Adams, who launched Engine + Powertrain Technology International brings up valid points that are often ignored by the media. He points out that gigafactories are being built but the eco-ramification of building them is being ignored. The exhaustion of cobalt and other rare earth materials with questionable supply chains is being overlooked. Then there are the eco-credentials of the batteries themselves is being disregarded and so are the weight and generally negative dynamic effects of heavily over-burdened cars.
Rather than trying to create a totally new system that will expend gobs of energy, how about alternative fuels like maybe hydrogen? It’s free and the most abundant chemical in the universe and we don’t even have to drill for it! Talk about zero emissions, this is it and cars can be developed to run on it. Gas stations can dispense it just like they do gasoline now and it’s a much better alternative than electricity.
They simply take energy and turn it into rotational movement – the difference is that in a normal electric car, this energy only comes from an onboard battery that needs to be charged up, while in a hydrogen car it comes from an onboard generator that uses hydrogen. A hydrogen car can be taken from empty to full in a few minutes at a fuel pump, like a petrol or diesel car – so in this way, they’re better than electric cars, and it’s convenient.
Porsche is testing a synthetic eFuel made out of CO2 and hydrogen and is produced using renewable energy. This creates a liquid that an engine will burn the same as if it was gasoline made from crude oil, but in theory, an eFuel can be produced in a climate-neutral manner. They expect to have its first small test batch, 34,340 gallons ready by 2022.
Ok, I’m done now. Watch carefully how the EV game is played out in Europe. The UK has set 2040 as a date where they are going to ban the sale of ICE cars. Good luck with that. Please somebody make sanity take over. The market should be determined but consumers, not politicians. This is nuts!