It's a shame that American car companies were lagging behind electric vehicle development since, well, forever. There are exceptions, of course—several of which I've written about here—but as we've seen with Tesla, sometimes all the market needs is a little shake-up.
See, big car companies have always toyed with electric cars, no doubt enticed by their inherent advantages: they can be fuelled almost anywhere (all you need is an electrical outlet), they're very quiet, they require fewer moving parts, and they often handle quite well due to the weight of the batteries down low in the chassis.
In racing, these advantages would be enough to build a competitive car…if only range wasn't a problem. This is something only a racer would think, and more than a decade before the Globe-Endura was shown, Bob McKee used his racing experience to design and develop the Sundancer, a small electric car that would take a fundamental racing technology and apply it to the world of wires and volts: the backbone chassis.
Since the genius Hans Ledwinka used it on Tatras (from 1923!), everyone from DeTomaso (the Peter Brock-penned P70) to TVR has tried the backbone chassis design—but none more famous than Lotus. McKee took this backbone chassis concept and applied it to electric cars, with the resulting Sundancer prototype employing a stressed backbone chassis to house its batteries.
Yes, it's a design Chevrolet has since (mostly) adopted for the Volt, a car with batteries down the middle of the car in a 'T' shape.
Globe-Union may sound like the name of an evil, faceless corporation from a Die Hard movie, it's actually a turn-of-the-last-century firm that became one of the world's largest replacement battery suppliers. In a move similar to Michelin and its restaurant guides and maps (give people a reason to drive more and they'll buy more tires), Globe-Union thought, "Heck, we can sell lots of batteries if there are more of them in cars!"
Turning to McKabe, the brief was simple: make a practical family car. The Endura has two doors, four seats, and an interchangeable wagon back that was (to my knowledge) never shown. (The wagon in the photo below is just a reworked Ford Fairmont wagon.)
The completed car had a fibreglass body, weedy 20 horsepower motor said to be good for 104 km/h (65 mph), and range of up to 160 km (100 miles)…if you kept speed to just 55 km/h (35 mph). Charging time was roughly equivalent to watching 10 44 minute-long episodes of Family Feud. This sounds terrible, but the brochure mentions that preliminary testing was done during a Milwaukee, Wisconsin winter—which surely would have dented performance.
Two things surprise me about the car. First, its ingenious battery replacement solution: the entire array is housed in a sliding compartment that opens from the front. Need new batteries? Just slide one set out and the next one in.
Second, it's still a strangely popular car. Jalopnik's Jason Torchinsky breathlessly titled his recent article, "The Endura Was Basically The Tesla Model S Of 1978" and it's been covered in a number of different places, including Hemmings and Autoblog.
Actually, Autoblog's story detailed the car's recent eBay listing, selling for just $2,425 in early 2014. It requires a restoration, but let's hope the buyer will restore this slick family car to its former glory.
To the new owner: If I get to drive it, I'll bring a box of VHS tapes to watch while it's charging.