How One Weird Car Broke the Electric World Speed Record

We tend to think of electric cars as more modern technology. In fact, if you had to name the first hybrid or electric car, you would probably name something from the past twenty years. It isn’t very widely known that a hundred years ago, electric cars were quite popular. Almost 120 years ago, to this day, the Torpedo Racer, an odd little electric car, broke the world speed record for electric cars.

The Torpedo Racer

On this day, 119 years ago, an odd-looking electric car took the title for the world’s fastest electric car, and according to 365 Days of Motoring, it was referred to as the Torpedo Racer. While it is weird to imagine what an all-electric powered car might have looked like that long ago, I can assure you that it is nothing similar to what companies like Tesla produce.

A picture taken on September 5, 2020 shows a "Tesla Model Y" car, an all-electric compact SUV by US electric car giant Tesla, during its presentation at the Automobile Club
The Tesla Model Y | ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images

An electric car record

The Torpedo Racer was designed, built, and driven by one man. His name was Andrew Riker, who broke the record at Coney Island in New York. While the record today for fastest electric cars stands at around 245 mph, the lesser-known Aspark Owl, Riker and his Torpedo Racer set the record at around 57 mph. That may not seem very impressive for today’s modern technology, but over 100 years ago, it was incredible. The Riker and his electric car held the record for 10 years.

A man photographs the Aspark Owl, which is the first Japanese full-electric hypercard during the media day for the Salon Prive Concours d’Elegance at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire Steve Parsons/PA Images, Getty Images

History doesn’t always repeat itself

As you probably already realized, since the record was broken over 100 years ago, electric cars hadn’t exactly skyrocketed in popularity. Well, at least until the past few decades. Perhaps technology just hadn’t advanced enough for electric cars to be a truly viable option yet, or maybe the excitement of gasoline-powered cars was just too great. Many factors played into the lull of electric car production. Still, with the rising demand and increasing production, it seems like electric vehicles have a better chance now than they ever have.

The GMC Hummer EV is an all-electric pickup truck.
GMC Hummer EV | GMC

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It seems silly to reminisce about a time where electric cars were beating records set at speeds lower than some highway speed limits, but there is still a lot of importance in the events. At the time, electric cars might not have been the best option for the general consumer. Still, it allowed engineers, designers, and dreamers to continue working toward better electric vehicles, providing us with the ever-growing options that we see today.