Not many automotive tales of international mystery, intrigue and endeavour have strong links to sleepy Isle of Wight backwaters, but here’s one that’ll probably bring tears to your eyes… in more ways than one.
In 1965, the Electricity Council research centre was established to help English and Welsh Area electricity Boards improve efficiency, and create new opportunities to sell more electricity. Yes, really.
From this sprung a national marketing department, and the ‘swinging 60’s’ being a time for bright ideas backed by government money, it was an easy step to invite tenders for small electric cars to evaluate for promotional use.
Lined up alongside the Ford Comuta and the Scottish-Aviation built Scamp in the mid 60’s was at least one other contender, the “465.”
Whether the company behind it was known as Enfield Automotive when bidding – and exactly when and how it came into being – has become heavily obscured by the mists of time. Indeed the full startup story may never be known, as Greek shipping magnate John Goulandris, who owned and bankrolled the operation, died in 2011.
The 465 featured sliding doors on its glass fibre body, with a 48v electrical system and 6kW motor delivering a top speed approaching 30mph, and maximum range around 35 miles, from the only practical mobile electrical power source of the day – heavy lead acid batteries. It never made production: its frontal impact performance was er, poor, and it didn’t meet the Electricity council’s specification, but its showing was enough to secure a contract to build 65 compact electric cars.
Here we should explore the link to the famous Royal Enfield marque, which during the war moved well outside its comfort zone as a respected motorcycle brand, forming a number of war-work subsidiaries. Amongst them was Enfield Industrial Engines, which built small, two-cylinder diesels, and later marine engines. However, with the British motorcycle industry fading fast in the 1960’s, the E & H P Smith industrial combine took over Royal Enfield, and sold off its non-motorcycle activities.
Enfield Industrial engines was bought by John Goulandris and relocated to the Isle of Wight, becoming Enfield Automotive, based at Somerton Works, Cowes. The 456 had emerged from the operation’s previous home – reputedly an old garage on Elm Road Wimbledon – apparently under the direction of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Alumnus Constantine Adraktas.
Around this time Goulandris also established Enfield Marine along the road at Fishbourne Creek. Here, during the early 1970’s, a series of highly successful race-winning aluminium-hulled power boats were built, the most famous being Miss Enfield 2 and Enfield Avenger.
Under Constantine Adraktas’s direction, Somerton works became home to the car which evolved to meet Enfield’s contract. It also benefited from the input of talented engineer John Ackroyd, perhaps better known for his later work on the Thrust 1 and Thrust 2 Land speed record cars, part of a career surely qualifying him for the title of ‘engineer extrordinaire.’
The E8000 Electric City Car (ECC) emerged early in the 1970’s, featuring an aluminium body on a tubular steel chassis, notable for a low claimed Cd of just 0.28 – and its length, about 8 inches (20cm) shorter than the original Mini. It was powered by a 48v 8 hp Mawdsley motor with crude contactor style control, its power output varied by mechanically switching four front and four rear mounted 12v batteries in series and series/parallel. It had an early form of kers as well and now standard in F1 cars. This diminutive two-seater weighed over 2000lb (907kg) with a claimed 40 mile range (64km) and top speed around 45mph (75km/h) Charging time was quoted at 10 hours.
Production of one car a week saw the Electricity council contract fulfilled shortly before the 1973 oil crisis. It seemed Enfield might have fallen on its feet – but this was an age of industrial unrest, and with tiny numbers of cars sold to private buyers, the company suffered a protracted metalworkers strike. All production of individually formed aluminium car panels and hulls for power boats ceased. John Goulandris closed Enfield Marine, and moved electric car production to a factory outside Ermoupolis on the island of Syros, a Greek maritime and commercial shipping hub, where his family operated the vast Neorion Shipyards.
Here, small groups built six cars simultaneously from components sent from the Isle of Wight – with completed cars returned there for battery installation and final testing.
By 1975 the car – known after 1973 as the Enfield Neorion 8000 – was listed around £2800, comparable with far more powerful and desirable conventional machinery. This, combined with curious looks, tiny size, and speed, range and charge time shortcomings was not a recipe that impressed the British public, and the last car was completed on the Isle of Wight in 1977.
Opinions differ, but the expert consensus is that perhaps 100 examples were made there, with another 120 Enfield Neorion variants assembled on Syros. Many early cars remained in Electricity Council use into the 1980’s, ultimately being disposed of at public auction. A handful remain today, though later Neorion survivors are rare.
Though never a viable export proposition, some examples escaped aboard. California took three, proving particularly keen, with a proposal – rejected out of hand – to build the cars in the US. Others went to Canada; Australia, France and South Africa.
Bizarrely, however, it never appeared in its adopted home country, where even its well-connected owner couldn’t crack the combination of politics and Byzantine tax rules assembled by opaque Greek bureaucracy which completely prevented electric vehicle sales.
The Enfield 8000 saw two developments. Promotional photographs exist of two different buggy-style runabouts for local beaches, the later one, known as the ‘Bicini’, stillborn seemingly because Greek sales proved impossible. More intriguing is a utilitarian version called the Miner, of which at least one Isle-of-Wight road registered photograph exists.
Folklore suggests it was hastily conceived for the vast Dinorwig hydro-electric power station in Snowdonia, where work began in 1975. Whether any were actually delivered there is another enduring mystery.
© Images Georgios Michael
The Enfield 8000 story on Wikipedia:
A biography of John Goulandris (1923-2011) is here:
The history of the Electricity Council is here:
At least one Enfield 8000 has been given a quite remarkable new lease of life as the Flux Capacitor – said to be faster than a modern Tesla…
Some key Enfield powerboat successes are outlined here:
The remarkable career of John Ackroyd is outlined here by the man himself:
John Ackroyd has written a book about his career, entitled Jet Blast, which includes some details of his time at Enfield Automotive. The book can be purchased via his website. The site also includes a gallery of some pictures from his years at Enfield Automotive.
The Dinorwig Power station Snowdonia is a remarkable feat of engineering. Some details are on the website operated by its owners:
A selection of pictures of the Dinorwig site are here:
Dave Moss has a lifetime connection with the world of motoring. His father was a time-served skilled engineer from an age when car repairs really meant repairs: he ran his own garage from the 1930’s to the 60’s, while Mum was the boss’s secretary at a big Austin distributor. Both worked their entire lives in the motor trade, so if motor oil’s not in Dave’s blood, its surely a very close thing.
Though qualified in Electronics, for Dave it seemed a natural step into restoring a succession of classic cars, culminating in a variety of Minis. Writing and broadcasting about these, and a widening range of motoring matters ancient and modern, gathered pace in the 1970’s and has taken over since. Topics nowadays range across the modern motoring mainstream to the offbeat and more arcane aspects of motoring history, and outlets embrace books, websites national and international magazines, newspapers, radio programmes, phone-ins and guest appearances. Spare time: hard graft on the garage floor attending to vehicles old and new. Latest projects: that 1968 Mini Cooper S has finally moved again after 30 years, and when the paint is finished, the 1960 Morris Mini 850 will also soon be ready for the road again…