Thinking about Mother Earth News reminded me of one of their most influential and successful articles, describing the conversion of an Opel GT to a gas-electric hybrid, in 1979. Of course, hybrid technology has been around since at least 1901, but not much had been done with it, at least on a grass-roots level. And this conversion made for $1500 definitely fits that description: a 5 hp lawn-mower engine, surplus generator and traction motor, some lead-acid batteries, and some workshop tinkering. But it set off a pre-Prius boomlet: 60,000 of his plans were sold. Exactly how many were actually built is quite another matter.
Given what we know now, his claims of being able to cruise almost indefinitely with only a 5 hp engine to feed the electric motors and recharge the batteries are highly questionable; maybe at a steady 30 mph, perhaps. But it makes for a fun read, if nothing more than to appreciate how far the same technology that powers today’s Volt has come.