Electric cars are now a mainstream reality, along with hybrids and plug-in hybrids. It wasn’t that long ago that electric cars were a fringe interest, and those who wanted one had to either build it themselves or find a niche manufacturer that made them.
This Bradley GTE Electric was produced in limited volumes back in 1980, it rides on a VW Beetle chassis, and it makes use of bank of lead acid batteries and a large rear-mounted electric motor driving the rear wheels.
Fast Facts – The Bradley GT Electric
- Bradley Automotive was founded in 1970, based on the earlier company Gary’s Bug Shop, a specialist fiberglass manufacturer that made a number of Meyers Manx-like dune buggy bodies.
- The Bradley GT is a kit car that was first unveiled in 1970 and sold until 1981. The development process of the car is said to have cost just $2,000 USD, thanks largely to the fact that it’s made up of a fiberglass body on an unmodified VW Beetle floorpan.
- Despite the humble beginnings of the Bradley GT it attracted a number of celebrity owners including Liberace, Barry Goldwater, Gaylord Perry, Ed Begley Jr., and Jeff Dunham.
- After a period of financial instability Bradley Automotive changed their name to The Electric Vehicle Corporation (EVC) Bradley GTE Electric. It was closely based on the GT II kit car but made use of batteries and an electric motor rather than a VW Beetle engine.
The story of Bradley Automotive is a tale of a fast moving automotive start up that had revenues of over $6,000,000 USD just 7 years after it was founded in 1970. It was a seat-of-the-pants corporation that sold kit cars to people who sent in $1 for a brochure after seeing an ad in the back of a magazine.
Funnily enough, when Bradley Automotive first ran ads asking people to send them $1 to receive their brochure for the Bradley GT kit car there actually was no car, and there were no brochures.
These two issues were quickly resolved, a fiberglass body with gullwing doors was designed and moulds were created. The car was to be based on a VW Beetle chassis which significantly reduced the R&D that was required, as company co-founder David Bradley Fuller had plenty of prior experience building Beetle-based dune buggies.
The Bradley GT
The company’s first car was the Bradley GT, and as soon as they finished getting the brochures printed they started sending them out to all the people who had mailed them a dollar.
Perhaps surprisingly the Bradley GT sold quite well, in fact by kit car standards it was a best seller. Celebrities owners included Liberace, Barry Goldwater, Gaylord Perry, Ed Begley Jr., and Jeff Dunham.
The appeal of the car was largely down to its sleek supercar looks, the fact that it looked expensive to many, and perhaps most importantly, the fact that it was cheap to build. The performance of the GT was somewhat lackluster due to the Beetle underpinnings, but it was more than adequate for summer boulevarde cruising.
Some owners did rework their cars to make them faster, different engines were fitted including bored-out Beetle engines, Corvair engines, and there are rumors that some cars even received old Porsche engines. One owner went so far as to rebuild his car around a gas turbine jet engine, creating what was probably the fastest Bradley ever made.
In 1975 a largely redesigned car named the Bradley GT II was released, it had been designed by industrial designer and former Shelby American employee John Chun. The GT II featured gullwing doors and vastly improved fit and finish throughout, the development costs were said to be over $1,000,000 USD.
By 1977 Bradley Automotive had six-figure net profits of over $6 million dollars however there were clouds looming on the horizon. A significant number of employees left to work for arch rivals Fiberfab, quality control issues began to grow in number, and by the late 1970s the company had filed for bankruptcy.
This might have been the end of the story for Bradley, but the company still had one remarkably interesting car to come – the Bradley GTE Electric.
The Bradley GTE Electric
In 1980 while still operating under Chapter 11 from their earlier bankruptcy, Bradley announced a new model – the Bradley GTE Electric.
It was actually called the GTElectric at first, this was changed to GTE Electric, GTE II, and then to GTE, but for the sake of simplicity that middle name is now the most common.
The name changes weren’t limited to just the car, due to bad press Bradley Automotive changed its name to the Classic Electric Car Corporation, followed shortly by another name change to The Electric Vehicle Corporation (EVC).
The GTE Electric was based closely on the GT II, it kept the same body and VW Beetle chassis/running gear but in place of the original German flat-four you’d find a General Electric Tracer I direct-traction motor and a GM EV-1 motor controller.
Electricity was provided by a bank of 16 x 6 volt batteries which were connected in series for a total of 96 volts. Inside the car the driver could select either “Boost” mode or “Cruise” mode, Boost gave them the full 96 volts and Cruise provided 48 volts – less power but more range.
According to period advertisements (shown below) the batteries could be fully recharged in 7 to 8 hours at a cost (in the early 1980s) of approximately 40 cents. There is no mention of the car’s range, though that was likely a deliberate omission.
The car contained an additional battery, the 17th, but it was a more standard 12 volt car battery used to run all the car’s electrical needs, things like headlights, indicators, brake lights, windscreen wipers, etc.
Power from the GE motor wasn’t breathtaking, it produced just 15.4 kW or 20.7 horsepower in 96 volt Boost mode, but the low weight of the GTE Electric resulted in a claimed top speed of 75 mph (120.7 km/h).
In all it’s believed that just 50 examples of the GTE Electric were made in total, no one knows how many have survived but it can’t be many – the example we’re showing in this article is the only one we’ve ever seen for sale.
It’s clear that this is a project car, all the major parts do appear to be accounted for including the electric motor and batteries – though of course they’ll need replacing by now as it’s been 42 years since the car was made.
In the coming years it’ll be interesting to see if unusual low-volume electric production cars like this begin to become desirable, as electric cars become more and more mainstream and general interest in their forebears grows.
If you’d like to read more about the car or make an offer you can visit the listing here. It’s being sold out of Gurnee, Illinois with a Buy It Now price of $4,900 USD.
Images courtesy of AP City Inc.
Ben has had his work featured on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, and many more.
Silodrome was founded by Ben back in 2010, in the years since the site has grown to become a world leader in the alternative and vintage motoring sector, with millions of readers around the world and many hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.