YOU MAY know that electric cars have been around as long as cars powered by internal combustion engines (there were even steam-powered cars in the early days), and you may even know that electric cars outsold petrol cars around the turn of the 20th century. But did you know that the first road vehicle to break the 100kph (62mph) barrier was an electric car? And can you name it?
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The first car to break the 100kph barrier was a Belgian-built electric car, La Jamais Contente (Never Satisfied). The land speed record was set on April 29, 1899, in Achères, France, at 105.9 kph (about 66mph), during a period of intense rivalry between the Belgian electric car manufacturer Camille Jenatzy and the French Jeantaud EV company.
La Jamais Contente was not the first model Jenatzy had driven in a succession of duels, which his arch-rival Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat, aka “The Electric Count”, often won. The torpedo-shaped design meant that Janatzy, who drove La Jamais Contente during the record run, sat high up, proud of the body, while underneath the chassis and suspension was fully exposed, rather spoiling the streamlined profile.
However, it was constructed using a lightweight alloy made of aluminium, copper, zinc, silicon and iron — known as partinium — and so was a fairly sophisticated bit of kit. Powering it were two direct-drive Postel-Vinay 25kW electric motors, yielding about 67bhp in total.
A steam car bettered La Jamais Contente’s record in 1902 before that was in turn beaten by a petrol-powered car later that year. Petrol soon emerged as the dominant power source for cars, taking off particularly after the invention of the electric starter motor, which consigned the laborious and potentially dangerous hand crank to the history books.