To the few who got an opportunity to drive it,1980 Briggs & Stratton Hybrid concept car performance was nothing to shout about. Car and Driver was moved to describe the 1980 Briggs & Stratton Hybrid concept car as the "six-wheeled, two-engined, yellow-plastic people mover." But the car didn't move editor Don Sherman very much -- or very quickly.
The Briggs & Stratton prototype employed a hybrid drive comprising an air-cooled gas-fired two-cylinder engine, made by B&S, and an equally small Baldor electric motor. Both lived up front along with ancillary mechanicals.
Observed top speed was only 50 mph in either mode, 68 mph combined. Acceleration was just as tepid: 0-40 mph, for instance, took well over a minute on the little gas engine alone, 36.4 seconds with the torquier electric motor (which could produce up to 20 horsepower in brief spurts), and 21.9 seconds in hybrid mode. "At that rate," said Sherman, "merging onto a busy expressway would be heart-stopping."
But forget freeways. The B&S Hybrid was conceived as a surface-street runabout that would cost peanuts to run and hardly smoke up the atmosphere.
Though emissions from the gas engine were apparently neither controlled nor measured, economy was outstanding. B&S claimed 25-52 mpg in gas-only mode and said that the recommended use of the two powerplants -- electric to accelerate, gas engine for cruising -- was calculated to give up to 85 mpg. However, as Sherman noted, the "pure-electric range" was only 30 to 60 miles and a deep recharge took 6 to 8 hours.
Then again, this was only an experiment in high economy born of fears that gasoline would become far more scarce and costly -- if not today, then tomorrow. It was also something of a trial in how little raw power a future car might be able to get away with and still be practical.
Not that Briggs & Stratton ever intended to enter the car business, though it would have doubtless gladly welcomed a Ford or General Motors building hybrids in the millions -- and paying $643 apiece for little air-cooled B&S twins to power them. Of course, the electric motor was sold separately and batteries were not included.
Though Car and Driver's Don Sherman derisively likened the B&S Hybrid to "what you get when you mate a garden tractor with a golf cart," he felt its concept held genuine promise.
As he wrote in late 1980, it had the makings of a new Citroën 2CV "[with] the same . . . B&S engine, front-wheel drive, two axles, Kip Stevens bodywork, a carbon-fiber chassis and a 1200-pound curb weight. It should sell for $3000 (or less) [contemporary dollars] and deliver 50 mpg. The Ace Hardware store could sell a bunch of 'em."
Then again, maybe not. Remember the Crosley or the Allstate? Case closed.