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Did you think GM or Toyota invented the hybrid? Think again. The hybrid has been around a lot longer than you think.

1917 Woods Dual Power

The first hybrid gas electric car did not come out in 1983, but in 1917. The Woods Dual Power was built by the Woods Motor Vehicle Company of Chicago. Because the gas engine was so rough, but supplied more power and electric cars were smoother, but had limited range, the Woods Motor Vehicle Company wanted to supply a car that gave you the best of both worlds.

The best part is, it was a full hybrid (listen up GM) with regenerative braking. The engine was a parallel hybrid that included a 12-hp, 4-cylinder gasoline engine as an auxiliary drive system in addition to the electric drive train. The electric engine could propel the car up to 20 mph. Together with the gas engine, the dual wood power could get up to 35 mph.

The gas engine and electric engine were connected using a magnetic clutch. The gas engine became magnetized when activated (by a lever controlled by the driver). The copper disk was pulled against the flywheel connecting the electric motor to the gas engine.

Only the electric motor could be used while going in reverse. Why? Because the engine had no clutch and so the gas engine had no gears!

The car battery designed for this car was about half the size of the batteries in other electric cars of the time. Once the car got up to 20 mph, the gas engine could be engaged, allowing the electric motor and gas motor to work together. The battery could be recharged or discharged by another lever. Recharging was done by the gas motor (at speeds over 6 mph) or by braking on level ground or when coasting down hills. A conventional brake pedal was only used at speeds of less than 6 mph.

Available for only $2650 (remember this was 1917). Wire wheels were a luxury, costing an extra $25. Or you could ‘pimp’ your vehicle out for another $100 (paint and trim).

Ultimately, the first hybrid was a commercial failure. It was built only in 1917 and 1918. It was too expensive, too slow, and too difficult to service to be a commercial success.

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