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Science And Nature

The super-secret story behind the worlds only electric Motorola Corvette

This short article was originally featured on The Drive.

Todays onslaught of electric vehicles might feel just like its appearing out of nowhere, but really, its the culmination of a long time of research and development from the amount of automakers. Return back several decades, and you also begin to find some really strange and captivating stories from the dawn of our modern electric revolution. Recently, I discovered probably the most incredible unknown projects from that era: Back the first 1990s, Motorolayes,that Motorolabuilt a completely functional 1987Chevy CorvetteEV prototype. And moreover, the automobile still exists today, another museum piece currently sitting in a random salvage yard in Gurnee, Illinois, waiting to be discovered by the proper buyer.

At this time, youre probably as surprised when i was. Motorola made cars? Motorola madeelectric cars? But after obtaining the tip and checking it out personally, I couldnt deny that which was before my eyesa fully-intact C4 Corvette with a battery-electric drivetrain, official Motorola markings around it, and stacks and stacks of internal Motorola paperwork on the project. Its the real thing.

Within an era where EVs were mostly homemade kit cars cobbled out of cheap hatchbacks, Motorola built itself a proto Tesla Roadster that, from what Ive had the opportunity to understand, matched the performance of its contemporary gas-powered sports cars. A lot more surprising was that when i dug around, I realized basically no information regarding this car exists online. No rumors, no reports, no chronicles on hobbyist EV sites and forums from the mid-2000s. Its an incredible project that apparently lived and died at the tail end of the analog age, slipping out of sight right before the web could hoover up its story and immortalize it for everybody.

Just how did this important little bit of automotive history find yourself languishing in a random garage in northern Illinois? The planet needs answers, therefore i decided to learn. The story continues to be incomplete, but heres what we realize up to now.

What got me there

The Corvette EV story started from the random tip from the friend in regards to a different obscure car that has been tiny bit north of the Chicagoland areaa Chinese-made Beijing Jeep that has been badged as a Fuqi, if youre curious. AsThe Drivesresident Chinese car fanatic, I needed to check on it out. Soon, I was touching the Fuqis owner, Larry Brosten, the proprietor of Auto Parts City.

While chatting, Brosten dropped a bombshell on me, maybe so that they can drum up more fascination withhis ginormous collectionof custom cream-de-menthe colored Studebakers, 6.9-liter V12 Benzes. Ill do ya one better, he said. Ive got a one-of-one 1987 Chevy Corvette, done up by Motorola.

1978 electric Chevy Corvette with hood opened up
Beneath the hood of Larry Bronstens one-of-a-kind vehicle. Kevin Williams

For reasons uknown, what Brosten said didnt immediately click. Its probably only a pace car or something, maybe some weird livery, I considered to myself. But within two seconds of Brosten unveiling his Motorola Vette if you ask me in a garage a stones throw from the Wisconsin border, I realized that I had wildly underestimated its significance. It wasnt some decal package. It had been a one-of-a-kind fully electric prototype vehicle that has been built by Motorola Automotive sometime in the first to mid-1990s.

And not just that, but Brosten was also in possession of the motherlode of its development documentation.

The automobile itself

Ill let you know right from the start: The automobile doesnt run. Brosten says that the prior owner left it outside in the wintertime, which ruined the batteries. Hes uncertain what it could try get running, and he wasnt clear just how long hes owned the electric Vette.

Outside, the automobile appears like any normal, pre-facelift Chevy Corvette C4 convertible. Its red and contains exactly the same body panels and interior because the standard Corvette, but no badging, wheels or whatever would inform any passerby that its different, save for the EL electric vehicle plate on the trunk. Today, EL plates are fairly common, once mandatory on all electric cars registered in Illinois until mid-2020. Back the first to mid-1990s, chances that any stranger would know very well what those plates meant will be pretty slim.

Pop the reverse-opening, clamshell hood, and youre greeted with several silvery boxes with scary-looking High Voltage stickers in it. Along with the largest box closest to the automobile firewall sits a bright blue Motorola Automotive logo. The conversion is bespoke, definitely using as much stock C4 Corvette pieces as you possibly can, combined with the proprietary electric powertrain.

1978 electric Chevy Corvette in red with back charger cover that says
This baby doesnt run, but its an excellent little bit of history and art. Kevin Williams

From what wecansee, the EV Vette appears to be powered by an unknown level of what seem to bedeep-cycle batteries; most of them in the trunk, some possibly in the floorboards, and 4-6 within the hood, housed in those big silver high-voltage boxes. None of the documents specify just how many batteries the Corvette used or where these were placed, so Im only going from what I could see because the car sits in a candlight and dusty warehouse. The batteries look old, with a restricted warranty and void or even dated stickers that only rise to 1997. Whatever electric motor sits beneath the hood of the Corvette seems to send capacity to the Corvettes manual transmission and spins the trunk wheels. None of the documentation explains just how much power the electric Vettes motor made, though.

The charging plug was done in that manner that it could have fit right in exactly the same housing because the old gas fuel filler door. Yet, it appears like the charging port was removed and the lines hastily capped. Its unclear when this is done, possibly once the car left Motorola, but before it arrived to Brostens possession. Brosten himself isnt sure the way the previous owner charged the automobile.

Brosten said he got the automobile from the former Motorola engineer who worked at the business in this project, however, notonthe project itself. The automobile floated around Motorolas Northbrook, Illinois, headquarters until, somehow, someone escaped with it. In accordance with Brosten, the cars previous owner stealthily rolled round the Chicagoland area it until it eventually arrived to Brostens possession.

Accompanying the automobile are acres of documents; in regards to a phonebooks worth of wiring diagrams, blueprints, and technical schematics that likely only a power engineer could make sense of. Some blueprints and correspondences are hand drawn and done in pencil. Interestingly the documentation even outlines plans for the charging, utilizing a now-obsolete NEMA L10 connector, but its unclear if the Corvette needed any parts to its charging system. This setup will be a pre-Magne Charge (SAE J1773)charging paddle, like what youve seen on a GM EV1 or early Toyota RAV4 EV, and in addition preAVCON, like what you might have discovered on cars just like the very early Ford Ranger EV. Those two technologies were early attempts to standardize the EV charging experience, as opposed to the Home Depot special 220- to 240- volt plug entirely on most EV homebuilt kits.

Inside, the Corvette looks mostly stock, save for the big, red kill switch close to the drivers right leg, and another metallic box with wiring behind the seats. In the guts console, a nearly OEM-looking electric heater switch have been cut in close to the stock power mirror switch. Beneath the hood, the electric heater is manufactured by way of a company named Russco, and seems to utilize the same routing lines because the standard gas-powered cars heater core; meaning, the Corvettes standard HVAC likely worked to some extent.

The documents from the phonebook stack appear to support this theory, too. Corvette wiring diagrams with pin-out information turn to be something Motorola engineers likely used to help keep the gas-powered cars ancillary functions. It seems there was an effort to help make the hydraulic power steering work, and the vehicles ride height looks a comparable because the gas-powered car. Batteries and electric motors are heavy, and the Corvettes stance isnt dramatically sagging or too low, and therefore, at least, there is likely some thought keeping in mind the Vettes weight in balance. Each is hallmarks of a complicated EV prototype, rather than homebrew 90s-era conversion that could have used a lot of batteries and a glorified golf cart motor.

Electric 1978 Chevy Corvette battery diagram by Motorola
Among Motorolas instructions read: This vehicle is powered by high-voltage electricity and will kill! Kevin Williams

The complete project was definitely a secret; deep in the documentation are procedures on how best to act when visitors were at the Motorola office. Motorola employees aware of the existence of the EV Vette werent to ever focus on the batteries, plug the automobile set for a charge, wear it a lift, as well as pop the hood if visitors were in the building.

The documents place the development of the automobile as starting sometime in 1992 or 1993. Motorola purchased the used 1987 C4 Corvette with about 64,000 miles on the clock in the wintertime of 1993. This Convertible could have been built with the Chevy 350, making 250 horsepower, and matched to thestrange 4+3 manual transmissionwith automatic overdrive endemic to early C4 manual Corvettes.

Among the first pages of the documentation carries a starting and driving procedure. Starting and driving the EV Vette was pretty seamless. The driver merely had to insert the main element and transform it, taking care never to press the throttle without in gear, because the motor would turn. Because the motor wouldnt turn unless the throttle was depressed, drivers could place the automobile into first or reverse without depressing the clutch. While on the road, the documentation recommended using first gear for slow speed driving around 30 mph. Otherwise, Motorola suggested drivers cruise around in second gear, then permit the automatic overdrive function that the gas-powered Vette already had to dominate at higher speeds. To shut the automobile off, simply turn the main element, set the parking brake, and leave. Very simple, specifically for the era.

The Motorola E-Vettes previous owner attested that the EV setup was as fast as, or even faster than, the 250-hp gas-powered Vette, in accordance with Brosten. A paper marked EV Power states that at 320 volts and 1,000 amps, the automobile, theoretically, will output 428 hp. ThatsPolestar 2degrees of power, but back the 1990s. In comparison, the initial Toyota RAV4 EV only had 67 hp, and the GM EV1s 137 hp was an unheard-of rocket by EV standards of the era.

Electric 1978 Chevy Corvette list of horsepower and voltages
Theres no hard record of just how much power the Vettes battery engine could generate. Kevin Williams

Im no electrical engineer, but I gather that the documentation Brosten has for the EV Vette isnt complete. None of it has any battery information for the automobile, so we dont understand how many kilowatt-hours, amperes, or volts the batteries currently installed could cumulatively make. Sure, the EV power paper insists that the automobile may potentially make 428 hp, but theres no real solution to know if the batteries within could support that output, or what the voltage and ampere specifications of the installed electric motor are rated for. The documentation for the electric motor appears to be lost.

Im also uncertain if the Motorola Vette had the opportunity to sustain a 320-volt system back the 1990s when it had been developed because battery technology just wasnt there yet. EVs of the era (like the GM EV1) primarily used nickel-metal hydride, or lead-acid batteries, not the relatively energy-dense, high voltage lithium-ion batteries within modern cars. I cant see watt-hour, amperage, or any information at all on the couple of batteries visible, if they’re actually simple auto parts store deep-cycle batteries.

Tracking people down

Clearly, there are always a ton of question marks here. The care and OEM precision of the electric Corvette informs me that Motorola was clearly seriously interested in the project. Brosten explained he heard that the Corvette wasnt the companys only electric vehicle prototype and that it had other prototypes using various kinds of vehicles, all showcasing whatever EV tech Motorola was focusing on throughout that time.

Unfortunately, that’s where the trail goes cold.

Enjoy it or not, 1992 was an extremely very long time ago. Thats 30 years because the development of the EV Corvette started. Motorola Automotive no more exists, having been sold off and acquired by Continental AG back 2006. Yes, the tire company.

There have been some names on the printed-out intra-office Motorola emails contained in Brostens stack of documents, and some names on blueprints and engineer drawings. I succeeded to find a few people on LinkedIn; greater than a handful of the profiles indicate theyd worked at Motorola Automotive for pretty much 40 years but disregard the switchover to Continental. Its totally possible that most of the engineers that done the Corvette are retired or have since passed on. I sent messages to everyone I came across, but none have replied.

I also reached out to GM, Motorola, and Continental, and none were acquainted with the EV Vette, even with I dropped some names of the engineers who done the project. That is strange, to state minimal. Why did everyone just just forget about this project? Ive been researching this Vette since i have first found out about it in 2021, yet, most of my leads have converted into dead ends.

Electric 1978 Chevy Corvette in red with hood propped up next to an RV in a garage
None of the firms would touch upon the electric sportscars creation or fate. Kevin Williams

For his part, Brosten is principally thinking about selling the Corvetteideally to a museum, to a person who can perform it justice in setting it up back on the highway, or own it displayed in a manner that gives this type of strange project its due credence. His nephewrecently wear it TikTok,but up to now most offers have already been just talk, in accordance with Brosten.

So heres where you can be found in. We have been admittedly publishing this piece without knowing everything in the hopes that it jogs some memories on the market and gets us nearer to the true story of Motorolas electric Corvette. Did you just work at Motorola Automotive from the late 1980s until it had been folded into Continental in 2006? Have you any idea a person who did, who may have been associated with the project? Are you experiencing any inside info on what Motorola was likely to do with EVs? Get in contact here:tips@thedrive.com.

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