your car’s engine purrs so sexily
We’ve come a very long way since 1980 and this gas-electric hybrid cobbled up by venerable lawn mower maker Briggs & Stratton. In comparison to Toyota’s Prius, first shown in 1995, it’s crude and primitive, really not significantly different than the system used in the Belgian 1899 Pieper, which went on to be used by another Belgian firm, Auto-Mixte (Ferdinand Porsche’s 1900 Mixte was a serial hybrid).
In 1980, everyone was working on ways to reduce fuel consumption, and presumably B&S figured that a hybrid was a way to utilize a much lower output gas engine, as in one of their 18hp air cooled twins, as also used in garden tractors and industrial applications.
Why the third axle? To help support the weight of the bank of lead acid batteries at the rear.
Here’s how it worked: the 694 cc gas engine was mounted ahead of the electric motor, with a one-way clutch between them. The 8 hp (contiguous) DC electric “coffee can” motor then fed into a Ford Pinto four speed transmission, drive shaft and rear axle.
The idea was that EV-only mode would be used for lower speed in-town driving (up to 40 mph), with the gas engine cut in to augment acceleration and cruising at higher speeds (55 maximum). And when the batteries’ limited range (not stated) ran out, the gas engine could be used to keep the party going, although undoubtedly none to briskly with 18 hp.
The body was styled by Brooks Stevens Associates. The doors (and dash) are from a VW Scirocco, and the rest are mostly custom built panels.
Not surprisingly, only this one prototype was built, but it’s still in excellent condition, and Jay Leno did a video on it. I had to hit Pause after 10 minutes, as I find him rather unwatchable, but that’s just me. It’s a slow as the B&S is.
I want to say positive things.
The doors are nice.
Jay Leno usually wears shirts in a nice shade of blue.
Yellow is a good safety color.
Probably won’t flip over in a reverse-180.
Yes, primitive as hell, but then I think back to the ’75 Sebring-Vanguard CitiCar I was driving that year, and in five years they had done some technological advances (admittedly slight, but still a baby step ahead). I’ve got to give B&S credit for their marketing department, because you know that’s where this effort originated, then the engineers were told, “Make it so.”
If nothing else, it really drives home the reality that EV’s didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell as long as the industry was reliant on lead-acid batteries. This car reminds me of the home conversions that’d pop up periodically in magazines like Popular Mechanics once or twice every year.
Wow. A fever dream of an automobile.
That said, the sheet metal sure resembles the small Chrysler/Mitsubishi products of roughly the same era (other than the number of wheels and the drivetrain, of course): Plymouth Arrow, Dodge Omni, etc.
Exactly; it looks like a knockoff Colt.
Looks more like a Charger or a Ford Mustang/Capri of that same era.
A bit heavier than my Mustang GT though, and nowhere near the same performance.
First impression is that, 6 wheels aside, it looks like what a 1982ish reskin of the AMC Pacer might’ve.
According to a press release at the time, Briggs & Stratton claimed the range was:
– 30-60 mi. w/ the electric motor alone
– 175-280 mi. w/ gasoline engine alone
– 200+ mi. in hybrid mode
I assume they stated all three ranges because the driver is responsible for switching between modes, and I assume the “gas engine alone” range is longer than the hybrid range because with such a small engine, there will be range, but not too much speed.
From what I understand, Briggs & Stratton didn’t make this prototype for the purpose of becoming a car manufacturer, but rather so that other manufacturers would latch onto the idea (and find B&S engines good components for this task).
I remember reading the Motor Trend article on this back in the day – I may even have it still up in the attic. I thought this was an interesting concept – and an attractive body style for the times. But 18 hp couldn’t quite cut it, even in the malaise 80s…
To put this into context, adjusted for inflation, some of the highest prices for gas were in the early eighties. This was the time of new, small V8 engines from both GM and Ford which, aside from meeting emission regulations, did nothing well. It’s not an understatement to say that fuel economy was king back then.
If those high gas prices had continued, the B&S hybrid might actually have seen production. As a primitive hybrid for the time, after watching the Leno video, it doesn’t seem all that bad. Noisy, and slow, yes, but still looks to have been built reasonably well. It could have been a contender under the right circumstances.
FWIW, B&S (and no one else) took it seriously, with those extra wheels being the biggest culprit, at least stylistically. I would kind of like to know what it cost the company to build and if they had any kind of forecast as to the price of production examples.
One big mechanical negative is how the change between gas and electric was totally manually controlled. That would have taken a lot of concentration to constantly remember to switch back and forth.
This is the key reason the Prius was a success; computer control had advanced enough by 1995 and Toyota had done a simply amazing job of finding an algorthm that was effective in doing this automatically. To this day, I don’t think anyone else has come up with anything comparable.
Looking at the first picture, I don’t think that the lady is very impressed with her date or his car. She looks like she’s about to have a headache.
I’m actually impressed. Wedging the motor inline was fairly innovative for the day. Most early hybrid attempts I have seen (homebrew) were basically an electric car conversion with some form of generator either AC with a charger or direct DC.
Notice how she’s avoiding eye contact. Trying to figure out how to break the date.
While I admire planners who are ahead of the curve, sometimes you can be too far ahead and just need to stick to something simpler. Like a hybrid lawn mower.
She’s thinking “I wish someone would invent a smart phone so I could fake an emergency call so I can leave.”
He’s thinking “She loves my awesome golf cart. I am SO IN!”
Looks right out of one of those old British Gerry Anderson sci-fi shows.
It’s worth noting that the original Type 1 VW engine was 985cc with 23.5 bhp. Of course, it was also a little over half the weight of the B&S hybrid, too.
In fact, with its Scirocco doors and instrument panel, this seems like something VW might have been able to actually build with the Rabbit’s FWD. It even looks like a 2nd generation Scirocco in the full frontal views from the video.
But with much cheaper gas just around the corner, there was just zero hybrid interest. If B&S was really serious about auto production, they would have done better to just stick with a traditional ICE configuration in a much smaller, lighter, cheaper vehicle. IOW, something like sticking their engine into an old VW Beetle.
»raises hand« No, it’s not.
Leno was funny before he the got The Tonight Show.
After that, not so much. And even less after he left the show.
The wheels are sharp. What are they from? What a waste of a great wheel and tire package.
The rest looks like one of those YardMaster dump truck thingies with the XTraBling accessory pack. It could be a cool lawn mower, though a little damaging to the lawn in tight turns.
The headlamps may not be to up to SAE or any other standards. Using them probably slows the car down as well. Daniel Stern would be most displeased.
I don’t see anything wrong with the headlights, they look like they could be 1978-79 Dodge Magnum units, right down to the lines. If they aren’t off the shelf Mopar parts they almost certainly were inspired by them.
I’m constantly meeting someone from the under 40 crowd, who, when they find out I restored cars for a business and hobby, They begin talking about old cars, and inevitably ask me if I’ve seen a specific episode of Leno’s YouTube videos. And surprisingly the car they are referring to is often a pre-ww2 vehicle. The younger crowd grew up watching videos. I believe his YouTube videos have done a lot in allowing a younger crowd to have access to old and unusual vehicles, especially during Covid19.
I find that the Leno You Tube series is much better than the broadcast series. He concentrates on one car, discusses it’s development, sometimes he’ll have the owner or an expert with him as well. He takes these cars seriously, without a lot of nonsense. His ride along videos give us to see the cars in motion. The TV show tries to be clever, with “funny” guests and some kind of stupid stunt, like playing soccer with cars. And burnouts. I hate burn outs. I won’t waste my time watching it. I think that Leno started out as a regular car guy, but all those years of being rich and famous have caused him to lose touch with the regular guy. Still the YouTube show is a real gift to enthusiasts.
Part of the reason Porsche did a hybrid in 1900 was carburettors were yet to be properly developed and it was easier to control speed via batteries.
That 694cc engine sounds so similar to the BMW i3 with its 650 engine backing up.
Perhaps this car was ahead of its time….
Repower that with a hopped up Predator and have some fun.