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Meet the all-electric BMW… of 1972

Battery powered 1602e was BMW's first EV, and grandaddy to the i8. Here's its strange story

Published: 19 Mar 2015

The loveable lump of orange metal is the world's coolest electric car you've probably never heard of. It's the 1972 BMW 1602e, and it's excellent.

Conceived as a prototype in 1969, this battery powered Beemer premiered at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, conveniently in time for the OPEC crisis. Why was it cooked up? To showcase that BMW could sustainably build cars that allowed the world to enjoy fresh air.

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The engineering behind it was rudimentary. Twelve standard 12V Varta lead-acid car batteries were hooked up, and stored on a pallet under the bonnet of the 1600's engine bay. The whole package weighed in at a whopping 350kg, though BMW tells us the setup could be recharged, or removed as a single unit and replaced with a freshly charged pack. If you had a forklift to hand.

Then there was a Bosch electric motor with a peak output of 43bhp (32kW), positioned in place of the manual gearbox, hooked up to the rear wheels via intermediate gearing and a prop shaft. BMW also fitted a radial fan to keep everything cool.

Was it fast, you ask? Erm, not really. The iBeemer could accelerate from 0-31mph in 8.0 seconds, before topping out at a heady 62mph. BMW reckoned on a range of 19 miles when driving at a constant 31mph, which wasn't bad by 1972 standards. It even had regenerative braking, the motor doubling as a generator to recharge the batteries during deceleration.

At the 1972 Olympic Games, BMW used the two prototype vehicles as support cars for the marathon, though even then they recognised that "the specific drawbacks of the electric drive could only be resolved by advances in the field of battery technology".

BMW would have many further shots at solving the battery range issue - from the 1975 LS Electric, the 1981 325iX, the 1991 BMW E1 and E2, the E36 electric 325, and the Mini E - until it hit upon the next coolest electric car that you probably have heard of. Enter the BMW i8...

Of course, BMW weren't the only ones experimenting with electric cars in that period: the Sixties and Seventies saw the Electrovair and the Electrovette, zero-emission versions of the Corvair and Corvette. The history of the electric car, in fact, stretches right back to the 1880s...

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