A Blast from the Past: 1976 Electric Car Gets a Second Life


by Written by Alison Luedtke • September 2011
Interior of the Ford Endura

Chuck Knierim found a gem in a trash heap when he pulled out a discarded 1976 electric Ford Endura. The Endura traces its origin back to the Arab Oil Embargo of the early 1970s. As oil prices skyrocketed, the federal government allocated funds for alternative transportation options, and every project proposed was an electric car. The Ford Endura was a test model that became obsolete when the oil embargo and its related subsidies ended, leaving it to be found by Chuck.

While the car was designed to be battery powered, the technology was old: analog and leaky lead batteries. Chuck decided he might need help with the technical aspects of the project, and called on Dr. Paul Imbertson of the Institute of Technology at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Imbertson had recently started working with the student group, Applied Environmental Solutions. These students were in need of a project that would challenge their technical skills and creativity: They got a farmer with an old car and big ideas. A partnership was born.

Weekly meetings took place on campus and Chuck quickly became invested in the student group, bringing food and donating money to the group’s treasury. “The students were brilliant problem solvers,” Chuck explained, “even when perplexed by the old technology of the car.”

After exploring the possibility of restoring the car’s original parts, it was determined that the analog parts were useless and the car would need to be stripped to its fiberglass shell. The original plan was expected to cost around $3,000, but the cost of testing, travel time, and other overheads led to a total cost of $12,000. With help from CERTs, Chuck and his team of students were able to continue their work.

When the car was temporarily moved from the University campus, it lost its spot in the garage, so it is now housed two hours from campus. This makes it difficult for students and staff to continue work on it. However, the car is still being promoted via the local 4th of July parades and appearances at the Living Green Expo, Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), and Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) gatherings.

Despite the setbacks, Chuck remains positive about the car’s future, “I anticipate it being extraordinarily reliable.” Physical progress on the car may have slowed, but Chuck is hoping to work out other aspects of the project, such as setting up a deal with the electricity company to charge the car during off-peak hours, which will cut the already low cost of charging the car in half. Even without this deal, once the car gets running, its fuel costs will translate to about 300 miles per gallon.

As communities continue to explore alternative fuels for transportation, the work of Chuck and the University of Minnesota takes on increasing importance. As they work to restore the dream of the Ford Endura, they are also working to bring about the dream of strong and healthy communities.

Project Snapshot:

  • Purpose: To restore a 1976 electric Ford Endura and to research the engineering of an electric car
  • Technology: Battery-powered electric car
  • Grant: $5,000 Central CERT Grant
  • Total Cost: $12,100
  • Benefits: Education and Research for the Applied Environmental Solutions at the Engineering School at the University of Minnesota, community education about alternative fuels, and food distribution for Wildrose Farm

Tips from the Expert, Churck Knierim:

  • There aren’t many, but if you can find an old electric car, everything will be structured to support a battery. But don’t hold your breath, most are in scrap heaps.
  • Cars with internal combustion engines don’t allow room for a large battery, so if you go that route you may need to come up with some creative solutions.
  • Every vehicle is different, so you are somewhat redesigning the car every time you adapt.
  • Lighter is better.
  • Address your needs first, then decide if an electric car is a feasible option. A 20-mile commute is reasonable, but a cross-country trip isn’t realistic in an electric car at this point in time.

For more information, email Chuck Knierim at info@wildrosefarm.com, or call (218) 330-6666.

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Minnesotans building a clean energy future


    CERTs Partners:

Minnesota Department of Commerce University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension Great Plains Institute Southwest Regional Development Commission