1969: GM's Clever Hybrid Was Decades Ahead Of Its Time
By James Grahame
The Stir-Lec I was a hybrid gasoline-electric version of the Opel Kadett. It was a wickedly clever design incorporating a Stirling engine that could conceivably run on a wide variety of fuels.
A vintage GM ad enthused, "It's got an Opel body. But it's powered by electricity. The power plant consists of 14 conventional lead-acid batteries that you could buy down at the corner. The energy from the batteries is transferred to an electric motor which in turn drives the rear wheels. And the car can tool along at speeds of up to 55 miles an hour.
While the car's running, the batteries are constantly recharged by a small Stirling engine in the rear. It's so quiet that you can hardly tell whether it's on or off. And since the Stirling is an external combustion engine, the exhaust has no odor and pollution levels can be made very low."
GM eventually deemed this experimental series-hybrid program too complicated and expensive and it quickly faded into history. Of course, four decades later computer-controlled hybrids are all the rage.
Sadly, hybrid technology is too little, too late. Producing millions of gasoline-electric hybrids cars won't change the fact that we're running out of easy-to-reach oil. Besides, about half somewhere between 2% and 12% of the total energy consumed by a car is used to build it in the first place, so the best thing most of us can do is to look after our current ride while using it sparingly.
Hybrids and their sexy 'plug-in hybrid' cousins merely buy us a little extra time before the inevitable end of the Hydrocarbon Era. In the meantime, I'd suggest shopping for a few good pairs of walking shoes.