Motoring Trailblazers - GM Electrovan

Sun 2nd Sep 2018

The world of motoring is hurtling headlong into a bright new future of all-electric, automated, connected technology - and Marty McFly is not behind the wheel! But what were the cars that were ‘back to the future’ of years gone by?

There have been many different trailblazing motors which were seen by the critics to be ahead of their time, and in this series, we will investigate and showcase many of the best in class.

GM Electrovan
When a vehicle comes along which is employing the same fuel technology as NASA’s spaceships, you know straight away that it is going to be a gamechanger. So when President John F. Kennedy laid down the gauntlet for America to get a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, a handy byproduct of that venture was the fuel and energy technology which was to get the men up into space.

The GM Electrovan was the product of a 200-strong team of developers, they had seen fuel cells power onboard systems on NASA’s Gemini spacecraft, and working with Union Carbide, created super-cooled liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen cells. An amazing concept, and with hydrogen fuel technology all the rage more than 50 years later, an idea that was well ahead of its time.

Unfortunately for GM, and the team behind the Electrovan, the vehicle had one large tank for the hydrogen, one for the oxygen and then had 550-feet of piping in the rear of the vehicle. So whilst it looked spacious and homely from the outside, the interior looked more like Dr Who’s Tardis. The fact is, the only reason GM built a van, was to carry all the extra weight and technology - there was only ever room for two passengers.

However, it was still a vehicle of some capabilities, with a top speed of 70mph and a range of 120 miles, it was a van which had respectable stats compared to some of the greener battery-powered cars we have seen more recently.

Ultimately, the rocket-fuel powered car also came with rocket-like issues. A leak with the electrolyte produced ‘brilliant fireworks’ and there was also the hydrogen tank explosion which sent pieces of the vehicle flying a quarter of a mile. Fortunately nobody was injured, but it made people think twice about accepting a ride in the space-age vehicle.

The Electrovan was demoed to the public and media as a signpost to a future without fossil-fuel powered cars, but that future was still half a century away at the very least, and due to excessive costs on the project, the one and only GM Electrovan was mothballed and spent decades in cold storage at a warehouse in Michigan.