1912 Detroit Electric

If you would like to donate to the Restoration Fund for our rare 1912 Detroit, email  us at Detroit@veva.ca

1912 Detroit Restoration Fund

VEVA funds the annual maintenance and operations costs to enable our electric car "Ambassador" to be experienced by the public at events and parades and static displays.  We have maintained the car in original condition as much as possible, and given its long 108 year history, it is still pretty well as it was.  However, the car has its limits. Yes the original Thomas Edison nickel iron batteries only lasted 88 years.

After 30 years with conventional lead acid batteries our Detroit has now been fitted with a replica set of nickel iron batteries. This project, funded by a generous anonymous donor,  commenced in 2018 includes maple wood battery boxes carefully crafted to reflect the original mounting  and configuration. 

The original speed controller, an intricately crafted rotating copper drum and switching arrangement was rebuilt in 2017-2018.  But there are many more improvements that can, and must be done.

The exquisite silk and satin interior has degraded, and key pieces have disappeared.  The leather work has been partially restored. Over the years the body has been painted from its original royal blue colour to black, typical of the other popular cars of the period. (Model T Ford for example, the celebrated first mass produced internal combustion engine car.)

Background Information:  History and more

VEVA owns this 1912 Detroit Electric car which was manufactured by the Anderson Car company in Detroit. It was purchased new in 1912 at a cost which exceeded a large house of the day. It was owned by Mrs. Florence French, a doctor's wife who after being widowed, lived at the Empress Hotel in Victoria. It was kept charged in the hotel garage by the staff and was delivered to the hotel entrance whenever she phoned for the car. It was driven regularly until the late1950's and was a featured historic car at Vancouver's Expo 86.

The front and rear compartments were filled with the optional Nickel-Iron batteries which gave it a range of close to 100 miles. The still fully-operational batteries finally had to be replaced in the late 1980s due to the Bakelite cases starting to leak.

Today, the car is owned and maintained by the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association and is a permanent feature exhibit at the BC Hydro Stave Falls Powerhouse Museum near Mission. Coincidentally, that historic 55 megawatt powerhouse was also built in 1912 and only recently replaced by a 90 megawatt hydro plant.

From 1993 to 2019 the car was powered by 96 volts consisting of 16 lead acid batteries, each 6 volts. The range with the lead acid batteries is 60-80 kilometers. In place of the original large wall-mounted charger are two smart 48 volt chargers operating off 120 volts, manufactured and donated by Delta-Q Technologies of Burnaby, BC.

Steering is via a tiller bar operated by the right hand and speed is controlled by the left hand. There are two brake pedals for redundancy and to increase braking effectiveness. As various speeds are selected, a rotary switch style controller places two, factory original, 40 volt battery banks in parallel or series (80V) and also selects various windings on the motor. For starting off and low-speed operation (1st speed) there is a large power resistor in series to provide gentle, single speed movement in forward or reverse.

The motor has never been serviced and closely resembles elevator motors of the day, many of which are still in daily operation. In place of a horn is a DC-operated bell activated from a button on end of the tiller lever. The wheels are wooden-spoked. There is seating for 3 people. The car body is made from rust-proof sheet aluminum with a steel and wooden chassis.

From the report taken from the Anderson records, the production date was October 9, 1912, but the type refers to the model year.  The 'fake radiator grill' was a limited production run, emulating the competition's radiators required for internal combustion engines. The model number was 31, Type 13B, Two-Passenger Coupe with Third Person Seat. Interestingly, this vehicle was only offered in Blue, Brewster Green, and Maroon - with other colors extra.  Currently black, we believe it was repainted at least 7 or 8 decades ago while still owned by the Frenchs.

 A 1936 letter from the Thomas Edison Battery Company to Dr. French acknowledges the longevity of the car's nickel-iron based Edison cells, at the time 24 years old. Indeed, these cells performed well in the car until 1990.

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The purpose of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association is to promote and develop a general interest in the use of electric vehicle transportation as an alternative to the internal combustion engine.


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