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First Solar Car

The first solar car invented was a tiny 15-inch vehicle created by William G. Cobb of General Motors. Called the Sunmobile, Cobb showcased the first solar car at the Chicago Powerama convention on August 31, 1955. The solar car was made up 12 selenium photovoltaic cells and a small Pooley electric motor turning a pulley which in turn rotated the rear wheel shaft. The first solar car in history was obviously too small to drive.

First Solar Car

Now, let's jump to 1962 when the first solar car that a person could drive was demonstrated to the public. The International Rectifier Company converted a vintage model 1912 Baker electric car (pictured above) to run on photovoltaic energy in 1958, but they didn't show it until 4 years later. Around 10,640 individual solar cells were mounted to the rooftop of the Baker to help propel it.

In 1977, Alabama University professor Ed Passereni built the Bluebird solar car, which was a prototype full scale vehicle. The Bluebird was supposed to move from power created by the photovoltaic cells only without the use of a battery. The Bluebird was exhibited in the Knoxville, TN 1982 World's Fair.

Between 1977 and 1980 (the exact dates are not known for sure), at Tokyo Denki University, professor Masaharu Fujita first created a solar bicycle, then a 4-wheel solar car. The car was actually two solar bicycles put together.

In 1979 Englishman Alain Freeman invented a solar car (pictured right). He road registered the same vehicle in 1980. The Freeman solar car was a 3-wheeler with a solar panel on the roof.

At the engineering department at Tel Aviv University in Israel, Arye Braunstein and his colleagues created a solar car in 1980 (pictured below). The solar car had a solar panel on the hood and on the roof of the Citicar comprised of 432 cells creating 400 watts of peak power. The solar car used 8 batteries of 6 volts each to store the photovoltaic energy.

The 1,320 pound solar Citicar is said by the engineering department to have been able to reach up to 40 mph with a maximum range of 50 miles.

In 1981 Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins built a solar powered racecar. In 1982, the pair became the first to cross a continent in a solar car, from Perth to Sydney, Australia. Tholstrup is the creator of the World Solar Challenge in Australia.

In 1984, Greg Johanson and Joel Davidson invented the Sunrunner solar race car. The Sunrunner set the official Guinness world record in Bellflower, California of 24.7 mph. In the Mojave Desert of California and final top speed of 41 mph was officially recorded for a "Solely Solar Powered Vehicle" (did not use a battery). The 1986 Guinness Book of World Records publicized these official records.

The GM Sunraycer in 1987 completed a 1,866 mile trip with an average speed of 42 mph. Since this time there have been many solar cars invented at universities for competitions such as the Shell Eco Marathon. There is also a commercially available solar car called the Venturi Astrolab. Time will only tell how far the solar car makes it with today's and tomorrow's technology.