One of the more recent additions along the so-called “Mother Road” is the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum. Located in Kingman, Arizona, the museum opened in 2014. It’s billed as “the only museum in the world devoted to electric vehicles.”
It seems fitting that Route 66, the ultimate Road Trip route, should have a car museum on it. Kingman is part of the longest continuous remaining stretch in of the original Route 66. The Powerhouse complex contains multiple attractions to augment a museum visit. In addition to the auto museum, inside you’ll fine the Kingman Visitors Center, Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona and Route 66 Museum.
The birth of the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum
The Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum is the brainchild of Roderick Wilde. Wilde founded the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation with support from the city of Kingman. A long-time proponent of electric propulsion, Wilde started racing electric vehicles in 1993 at Phoenix International Raceway. In 1995, he and his business partner Bob Rickard built what is considered the first all-electric hot rod. They fabricated the canary-yellow car, which is now in the museum, on a 1929 Ford Roadster.
En route to the electric cars, visitors detour through the Route 66 Museum. This museum highlights the history of the historic road. View exhibits from its days as the National Old Trails Highway up through mid-century. with a 1950 Studebaker Champion parked outside a reproduction Richfield service station. The museum exits via descent into an indoor basketball court-sized space to see the electric cars. Due to the relatively tight quarters, Wilde can only display 30 cars at any one time. The museum’s has almost 1,0 cars in its collection. One of the goals is to find larger space to showcase the entire collection.
Electric Cars & a Need for Speed (sort of)
You can view both former and current electric vehicle technology at the museum.
A 1930 Detroit Electric represents “what might have been” for the future of automotive propulsion. It was powered by 14 (count em!) 6-volt Edison batteries. Thanks to all this “power,” it reached a top speed of 20 mph. Not exactly ground-breaking, but batteries were in their infancy back then. Who knows what efficiencies and technological improvements might have been achieved with greater development funding?
Flash forward about 80 years. Ohio State University students built the Buckeye Bullet 2.5 racecar (also on display). Because it was powered by lithium-ion batteries, the the car could go much faster than than it’s ancestor from the 1930s. The Buckeye Bullet zipped up to a staggering 320 mph (!) at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2011.
Not so speedy, but they work . . .
Because electric vehicles represent an alternate energy source, they’ve taken a few detours finding practical application.
One of Wilde’s favorite pieces in the collection is the Custer Chair, manufactured between 1919 and 1933. As the name implies, it resembles a motorized tricycle version of a wheelchair. Since few survived World War II scrap metal drives, the model on display here is a rarity.
Luzern Custer developed the Custer Chair. His friend and business neighbor in Dayton, Ohio–Orville Wright–inspired his invention. Custer also produced four-wheel versions of the chair. Because of its diminutive size, Wilde describes the Custer as “the smallest street-licensed vehicle ever made. The license plate is wider than the front of the car!” Not surprisingly, many Custers were later sold as amusement park rides.
Not so speedy . . . but they’re fun!
You can find many electric vehicles out and about . . . if you know where to look. Due to their small batteries and low speeds, the majority are golf carts. Here, they are represented in style with two tricked-out versions from country music greats: Waylon & Willie. Willie Nelson’s 1981 Rolls-Royce themed golf cart comes complete with an on-board wet bar. And why wouldn’t you stitch “Willie” on the crushed velvet seats? Sitting right alongside it, Waylon Jennings’ Mercedes-Benz-themed model seems almost tame by comparison.
Electric cars on Route 66
But the museum is much more than one-off racecars and quirky golf carts. If you follow the automotive industry you know that electric vehicles are very much the wave of the future. The Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum gives us a glimpse into cars that paved the way for today’s Teslas and Chevy Volts and the like.
In 1959 and 1960 Henney Motor Company produced the Henney Kilowatt. US-based Henney Motor Company built the cars using Renault Daphine bodies. Henney delivered a few dozen Kilowatts were to utility companies for promotional purposes, but the line never sparked much interest. Despite low-wattage sales, its transistor-based electric technology was a precursor to electric vehicles like GM’s EV1.
Fun Fact: Henney Motor Company invented first electric-powered casket mover—a niche market it there ever was one.
Moving up to the 1990s, we can see two odd-looking cars that demonstrate the evolution of the three-wheeled Personal Electric Vehicle (PEV). A Danish 1993 Citycom City El Targa had a range of 30 miles with a top speed of 35 mph. Corbin produced the turquoise Sparrow sitting next to it Ohio from 1999 through 2003. With an MSRP of $29,999 its range expanded to 40 miles with a top speed of 70 mph. Due to its sinewy lines, it earned the nickname the “Jelly Bean.”
What’s next . . .
The Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum explores the possibilities of electric propulsion for the future. As recent announcements from the Big 3 automakers show, “Detroit” and “Electric” can once again be uttered in the same sentence. Tesla continues to make progress, and the technology appears to finally be emerging from its former role as a quirky sidecar to the mainstream automotive industry. The industry’s eccentric forbears warrant a visit.
After your visit, stroll across the Mother Road to Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner. The retro café has a few classics parked out front, including a wedge-shaped electric circa 1980 Comuta-Car and a decidedly non-electric 1954 Chevy pickup truck.
If you’re hankering to see more of Route 66, check out our Route 66 in Arizona post! And if you really love classic cars, check out our Road Trip Through Arizona post, where we showcase classic cars “in the wild”!
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