Columbia electric cars

The electric drive is regarded as a beacon of hope for the automobile of the future. This is by no means a new idea. Electric cars were built over 100 years ago. At the Technik Museum Sinsheim, there are two original Columbia electric cars (built in 1900 and 1904) belonging to the famous Rockefeller family dynasty, New York. These extraordinary vehicles were always ready to drive with the technology of those years - with two forward gears and a reverse one. With a set of fully charged batteries, the cars could even drive for three hours back then. 

How would such a vehicle perform if the focus were not on speed but on economy? To answer this question, specialists from the Technik Museum Sinsheim have retrofitted this over 100-year-old electrically powered vintage car with modern technology. It was able to prove what it is capable of in a race held as part of a large event of vehicles with alternative drive.

The car was fitted with new lead-gel batteries with a capacity of 6 kilowatt hours to store energy. At a current electricity price of around 20 cents per kilowatt hour, charging it full costs around 1.20 euros. What distance can be covered with this amount of electricity and how much petrol do vintage and current cars with combustion engines consume compared to such an electric vintage car? Five very different vehicles were sent on a 2 km long circuit: The modernised electric car built in 1904, a current Smart with petrol engine, a Messerschmitt cabin scooter built in 1957, an Opel Super Six built in 1938 and a Maybach limousine, also built in 1938.

This illustrious group of vehicles drove round the museum for two and a half hours. Then, after almost 54 kilometres, the batteries of the electric car were almost empty. The consumption of the petrol-powered vehicles was measured under the expert supervision of motor vehicle expert Klaus Stephan of the Gesellschaft für Technische Überwachung (GTÜ) in Sinsheim. The result was amazing. The Smart needed 2.9 litres of petrol for the same distance and thus, at a daily price of approx. 1.25 euros per litre, the fuel costs were around 3.62 euros. Despite its tiny 200 cc two-stroke engine, the Messerschmitt cabin scooter consumed 5 litres (approx. 6 euros), the Opel Super Six had burned 6.1 litres (7.32 euros) of petrol, and the huge Maybach limousine powered by a 12-cylinder 8-litre engine even 17.5 litres (22 euros). An electric car is thus not only environmentally friendly but also extremely cheap when it comes to consumption.