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.
RELATED VIDEO: Learn more about the car and see it drive
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.