1966 GM ElectrovanThere was reportedly 550 feet of piping used on the prototype, some of which you can see to the left, nestled between the front row occupants. The apparatus may look irrelevant and clunky by today’s nano-sized scale of measurement but we’re talking nearly half a century ago here and the results weren’t half bad.

Electrovan’s fuel cell powerplant supplied a continuous output of about 32 kilowatts and a peak output of 160 kilowatts. It had a top speed of about 70 mph and could sprint to 60 mph in just about 30 seconds… okay, so sprint wasn’t the best word choice. How about it would arrive at 60 mph in about 30 seconds. The upside is that it was capable of traveling between 120 and 150 miles between hydrogen fill ups.

It’s actually the “fill up” part of the equation that snuffed GM’s Electrovan fuel cell experimentation. There was no refueling infrastructure and, even today, it still doesn’t really exist. Another part of the program’s problem was the cost implications. Reportedly, the platinum used in the fuel cell alone cost enough to “buy a whole fleet of vans.”

1966 GM Electrovan interiorThe program which was years in the making was studied, then shown off to journalists in 1966 and then retired. Reports claim GM offered the Electrovan to the Smithsonian Institution but the offer was declined. There is no known official reason for the apparent snub but I read something written by a former Smithsonian employee who said more items are declined than accepted and it could have had to do with available space and even the van’s relevance as perceived against other available items.

In any event, I think it worked out to GM’s advantage since they decided to store it at a warehouse in Pontiac, Michigan, “avoiding the crusher on several occasions.” It is now a tangible testament to GM’s visionary approach and long-standing engineering prowess and can be occasionally viewed at the Heritage Center or on loan to be displayed.

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger versions.

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