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The Henney Kilowatt: A Vehicle A Head of the Curve

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The movie industry would have you believe that important inventions happen in a lab, with a scientist wearing a white coat surrounded by beakers shouting “Aha!” after a moment of clarity. But in reality, inventions are developed a very different way.

Often, ideas for the items we rely on today were developed years (if not centuries) ago. Most are familiar with Leonardo da Vinci being credited for creating the first ever helicopter concept, which he designed in 1493. But did you know that an early version of the ipod was created in 1979? Kane Kramer of England came up the idea for a portable music device the size of a cigarette pack, with a display screen with buttons for four-way navigation. Kramer even planned to open a music store where the new songs could be downloaded through phone wires. Only five devices were built, however, before the idea was grounded. The device and the digital music store are very common now, and have been since Apple’s Steve Jobs introduced the ipod in 2001. Leonardo’s helicopter and Kramer’s music player are good examples that sometimes modern technology can just be…too modern.

Another idea far ahead of his time was the Henney Kilowatt. The Kilowatt was the world’s first modern electric car, and was powered by rechargeable batteries. The brainchild of B.L. England and C. Russell Feldmann, the propulsion system on the Kilowatt included 36 six-volt batteries- 18 in front and 18 in the rear- and had a range of 40 to 60 miles per day. Although the Kilowatt’s batteries would regenerate after stops of 15 minutes or longer, it could be fully recharged overnight by plugging the car into any standard outlet.

Considered the predecessor to battery electric vehicles like the GM Volt, the Kilowatt was actually inspired by the modern day golf cart. To operate the Kilowatt, the driver simply selected forward or reverse on the dash-mounted controller and stepped on the accelerator. It handled normally, and could easily carry four adults while emitting no noxious fumes. Advertised as “silent, dependable, simple, versatile, uncomplicated, undemanding, and completely electric”, the Kilowatt was a green vehicle far ahead of its time.

Since the Kilowatt’s top speed was 35mph, Henney planned to market the car in urban areas, with plans to target housewives, salesmen, meter readers, and utility companies. Because it didn’t consume power while idle, the Kilowatt could sit out traffic jams without diminishing battery strength. Despite such advanced engineering concepts, only 100 Kilowatt’s were ever built, with not a single vehicle ever sold to the general public. Electric utility companies were given 58 vehicles for promotional purposes, and the rest went to a collector who used them as novelty items. With inexpensive and plentiful gasoline in the early 1960’s, and the car industry focused on building cars larger and larger, the tiny Kilowatt was an idea before its time.

For more information check out

1957 Henney Kilowatt | Auto Collectors Garage


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  • 5 years later...

Henney was the custom body arm of the Packard company. They made the Packard limousines ambulances and hearses. I don't know how they were in business in the early sixties but evidently they were.


Somebody came up with the idea of a modern electric car and arranged to buy Renault Dauphines with no engines. Henney got the job of installing the electric motors, batteries and controls.


I understand they worked ok for what they were but were in no danger of setting the world on fire.  A few sold to electric companies who gave them to their meter readers and that was about it.

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