First to 60


This 'car' was first to set a 0-60 time

Nowadays, EVs are becoming a novel and effective way to travel from A to B – when A and B are quite far apart, but not too far.

Over the last century, a network of refuelling stations has spread like a rash across the globe, enabling fossil-fuel-guzzlers to top up their tums every so often, and so became the norm – and by far the best way to get across a large distance.

But, back at the turn of the previous century, using electricity was just as viable as using a few gallons of crushed pre-history. Indeed, the first car to hit the magical 60 miles per hour (a mile per minute) was a 19th-Century EV, the La Jamais Contente – French for ‘Never Satisfied’.

The slightly Wacky Racers-esque vehicle was designed to spear its way through the air at these unimaginable speeds. Sticking the driver out the top seemingly didn’t matter – it still needed to look like a sleek bullet.

First 60mph car EV

It was 1899 and aerodynamic studies were in their infancy so, despite the sleek shape of the bodywork, the driver and undercarriage still acted like airbrakes, and without today’s bearings, tyres etc. frictional losses were high – meaning this suppository-bodied record-breaker needed 68hp from its two direct-drive Postel-Vinay electric motors to get to over 65mph.

The designer and driver was Camille Jenatzy, and he’d been battling all year against Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat for the honours of being the inventor and driver of the fastest car in the world – swapping records a few times between January 1899 (when it stood at 41mph courtesy of the Count’s CGA ‘Dogcart’) up to La Jamais Contente’s 65.79mph in April that year.

Nowadays, a small EV like the Volkswagen e-Up! gets given 80bhp and can hit 80mph at full chat, so it’s not really that different in terms of performance – although, of course, you get far more creature comforts in a modern car. And you can’t really fall out.

As a tribute to Jenatzy, ‘La Jamais Contente’ was recreated by a team in France around a decade ago, although it was never truly tested to its limits.

Should the inventor of the first car to top 60mph, Camille Jenatzy, be given a bigger entry in the automotive hall of fame? And if the world would have paid more attention to the performance of this EV, could it have become the powertrain of choice across the globe through the 20th Century?

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