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Electric “Crate Motor” Swaps Then and Now

Electric “Crate Motor” Swaps Then and Now
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Some of the 6-volt batteries replaced the factory-installed rear engine.

If you want a little hot rod with electrifying performance, start searching for one of the 47 or so Henney Kilowatts made between 1959 and 1964. Henney Motor Co. was a long-standing builder of “professional” cars such as ambulances and hearses. In the late-‘50s, it linked up with another such firm—Eureka Williams Corp.

A company exec was also connected to National Union Electric Corp., a battery maker that hooked up with Exide Battery Corp. and a group of utility companies led by the Atlantic City Electric Co. to push electric cars. From that union sprang the idea of using a school bus factory in New York to convert Renault Dauphines to electric power.


More batteries were stuffed into the front luggage compartment.

Dauphines were diminutive, rear-engined French cars with an 89-in. wheelbase and 155-in. overall length. Renault sold 100 Dauphine platforms to Henney, and about 32 Kilowatts were put together for electric companies. Others were sold to various customers ranging from the State of Tennessee to private owners. Twenty-four were 1959 models and eight were 1960 models. The other 15 were later models. It’s believed the leftovers were purchased by a Florida Renault dealer who finished them to regular factory specs. Two Kilowatts are known to exist in drivable condition and a handful of others survive.


 A stock 1961 version of the tiny French compact car.

Anyone thinking about building a kilowatt-style electric hot rod today should know about Electric GT (www.electricgt.com), a Huntington Beach, Calif., company that is planning to sell electric crate engine packages for do-it-yourself installations in old cars.

Eric Hutchinson, the managing partner of Electric GT, noted that California is banning internal combustion engines (ICE) by 2035. The law won’t outlaw gas cars, but sales of new ICE vehicles will be stopped and gasoline will most likely get more costly.


his Dauphine was customized for abstract artist Pablo Picasso.

According to Hutchinson, in 10 years or less, 30 percent of America’s vehicles will be EVs. “The younger generation wants a classic car, but they don’t really like the ICE engine that goes with it,” Hutchinson explained. “That whole generation and the car culture we grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s are tilting pretty quick and hard towards electrics.”

Hutchinson sees electric motor swaps as a trend that both young and old car hobbyists will embrace in the future.  He pointed out that people have been putting electric motors into classic cars for years, but he stresses that it’s not easy. Electric GT wants to make it simpler. His focus is D-Y-I electric motor swaps for ICE vehicles. The electric motors he’ll supply as part of a kit will even look like four-cylinder, V-6 and V-8 ICEs.

Hutchinson started Electric GT in 2014 after repowering a used Ferrari 308 GTS with an electric motor. The company’s products are turn-key replacement power systems. A 413 motor that’s in the pipeline will deliver 406 lbs.-ft. of torque and will feel like a 400- to 425-hp gas V-8. All the torque is available at take-off and it turns about 5,000 rpm all day. And if you open the hood, it has the appearance of a gasoline-powered engine.

Imagine putting that motor in a Renault Dauphine! With 406 lbs.-ft. of torque, the tiny car would really fly. It might even “French fry” the original 5.50 x 15 tires!