This rare example of an Enfield 8000—a failed attempt to popularise electric vehicles way back in the 1970s1 —can be found outside the decrepit Victorian-era remnants of Wingfield Station in rural Derbyshire. I’d heard rumblings of some odd vehicles apparently abandoned by the railway in this neck of the woods—and there are a couple of other specimens I’ll probably post about in a future entry—but this was by far the most interesting of the bunch.
The vehicle’s manufacturer, Enfield Automotive2 seems to have come into being out of a tangled web of interconnected companies and interests in 1967, when the Enfield Diesel Engine Division—an offshoot of the Enfield Cycle Co famous for the ‘Royal Enfield’ brand of motorcycles—was sold off to a subsidiary of the Greek N.J Goulandris shipping firm3 who then subsequently purchased a prototype electric vehicle in development by a steel tubing company, Tube Investments Ltd who were at the time, diversifying from a competitive industry into other research and engineering sectors.
The entire Enfield project appears to have arisen from an initiative by the British Electricity Council who, in 1966, had just taken over from the Electrical Development Association in seeking to promote the domestic demand of electricity, and apparently kicked off their tenure by launching an evaluation of the feasibility of electric cars, the uptake of which could help them achieve their aims of not only increasing overall electrical usage, but of balancing the load on the grid during the night-time ‘off-peak’ hours when the majority of vehicles would likely be recharged.
The initial prototype eventually manifested in 1969 as the short-lived Enfield 465—a tiny car whose limited range lent itself to being marketed as the ‘Enfield Electric Town Car4’ and only really suited for short trips in the UK’s more unchallenging urban environments. Only 3 of these were built and it never entered into production, seemingly due to failing crash tests that were part of the Electricity Council’s spec. Despite this, it appears as though they were enthusiastic enough about the attempt, to order 66 vehicles for their fleet—presumably on the proviso that the concept was redeveloped so that the cars didn’t disintegrate on impact, and Enfield, perhaps as a result of this step forward, then moved their base of operations from their small garage in Wimbledon, to a larger facility in Cowes on the Isle of Wight to join Enfield Marine – Goulandris’s other pet project – a powerboat manufacturing facility that had commenced operations a few years previously —almost certainly a strategic move to make use of the existing production line to assist in forming the body panels for the new vehicle.
Ex-Saunder’s-Roe jet engineer John Ackroyd (Who would later go on to work on the land speed record shattering Thrust1 and Thrust2 jet-propelled vehicles) was then brought in to help design and develop what would become the Enfield 8000 when it entered production in 1971, and a slow manufacturing cycle seems to have resulted in it taking a further 2 years before the Electricity Council order was fulfilled in what actually turned out to be quite fortuitous timing. The organisation’s promotion, combined with the effects of the sudden 1973 Oil Crisis that were being felt all over the country at the time, garnered renewed interest for electric vehicles in the press, and journalists were sent vehicles to review, with the car receiving a somewhat positive reception overall despite misgivings about the limited 40 mile range, inconveniently slow charging, and immense price tag.
Around this time Enfield was incorporated into another Goulandris shipping interest—and renamed ‘Enfield-Neorion’, and the main factory was subsequently relocated from Cowes to the Greek island of Syros — a somewhat bizarre move considering that the 8000 couldn’t even be sold there due to the country’s taxation system seemingly having no legal statute for electric vehicles in its registration process. Instead the cars were sent back to Cowes for final assembly and testing – an inefficiency that no doubt added considerably to the already high purchase price.
I’ve seen a few theories as to what prompted this move: financial and legal pressure, along with a metalworker’s strike at the Cowes factory probably related to the government’s introduction of the Three-Day Week seem to be the most widely reported causes, however I’ve also seen it mentioned in a paper that appears to have been written by Enfield Automotive’s chairman at the time, that in addition to these, John Goulandris allegedly saw an opportunity amidst the chaos and convened with the Seven Sisters for oil related shipping contracts, intending to wind down the 8000 project, with the relocation being a step towards this outcome5.
After a few more years of struggling on—the last Enfield 8000 apparently left the Syros and Cowes factories in 1977 and the whole operation was put to bed6. The Electricity Council continued using their vehicles and conducting their ongoing research before eventually publishing their findings in 19797, and auctioning off their fleet of 8000s throughout the 1980s.
I can’t find an exact number of how many 8000s were produced overall, but the general consensus seems to be somewhere between 120 and 240—only a few going to private buyers and the majority destined for business use, the largest single buyer by far being Electricity Council. The vehicle in Wingfield is almost certainly one of these ex-Council vehicles judging by the ‘Electric Car’ branding on every aspect serving its promotional purpose, along with the slight customisations to the interior.8. How it got it here I’m not sure, but taking the other odd vehicles into account, I suspect the place is something of a storage area for a local collector—probably the former owner of the station itself, although looking back through photos, it appears these have been here for some years so perhaps at this point they’ve been abandoned outright.
With the local council initiating a compulsory purchase order of the station in 2018 due to negligent upkeep of a historic building, it remains to be seen what will become of the Enfield and the rest of the vintage vehicles left here when restoration work finally commences, and hopefully it won’t be a sad end for this little piece of automotive history.
For those interested, there are some great sites and articles on the Enfield knocking around the web: This article by The Western Group contains a very thorough history of the Enfield 8000 endeavour, and Greek news outlet Neokosmos has a great piece on the car. The most comprehensive site I’ve found though, is this one which contains a whole host of press clippings, promotional brochures, and even the Electricity Council’s research findings.
- Although the concept wasn’t particularly new at the time, with electric milk floats arising in the 1930s, and becoming a common sight by the 50s before supermarkets brought about the gradual demise towards the end of the 20th century.
- This wouldn’t have been the first time that the Enfield name had been used for cars rather than motorbikes—the first examples were seen in 1901 (although apparently were just a rebadged French marque) and the Enfield Autocar Co. was established in 1906 to produce original models until its demise in 1925.
- Quite why an industrial shipping conglomerate would suddenly have an interest in producing electric vehicles I haven’t been able to ascertain. It could just be an attempt at diversification or the whim of owner John Goulandris – but both would be pure speculation on my part so I’ll say no more at this juncture.
- As can be seen in this rather relaxingly paced 60s promotional video.
- This may have been due to pressure from the oil companies, or he may simply have not had the time or will to continue on with it, with lacklustre sales and a turbulent UK economy making operations difficult.
- Apparently, an entity in California was interested in purchasing Enfield after then governor Ronald Reagan had arranged to have a few 8000s sent over to the States as a means of promoting his ‘Clean Air Act’, but these proposals were soundly rejected by Goulandris for reasons unknown, but certainly subject to speculation
- If you’re interested, the creator of this excellent site dedicated to the 8000 has found and published the entire thing.
- The Electricity Council modified many of its vehicles throughout the research phase — I believe the ‘charge-meter’ above the batteries in the trunk of this one is one of these as I can’t find examples of this in other photos of the vehicle I’ve been able to source.