Owen Magnetic: the premier pioneering hybrid

The control mechanism on Jay's 1916 Owen Magnetic hybrid was so complicated that a placard warned operators to take the vehicle to the factory for repairs. Image credit: John Lamm
Date:1 May 2012 Tags:,

People think hybrids are something new, but they’ve been around since the beginning of the car. Ferdinand Porsche built the Lohner-Porsche series hybrid car back in 1901. It used a petrol engine to spin a generator that fed electricity to in-wheel motors. In 1917, the Woods Motor Vehicle Company of Chicago offered the Woods Dual Power, a series hybrid that could motor along ““ at speeds of less than 25 km/h ““ solely on battery power.

But I think the 1916 Owen Magnetic might be the most interesting early hybrid of them all. The Owen Magnetic’s technological leap was its electromagnetic transmission. Invented by the wonderfully named Justus B Entz, an electrical engineer from New York who once worked with Thomas Edison, the electromagnetic transmission compactly housed both a 24-volt generator and an electric traction motor. The crankshaft of a 56 kW petrol engine was attached to the generator, which sent juice to the traction motor, which in turn powered the rear wheels. There was no mechanical connection between the engine and the drivetrain.

Read more in the May 2012 issue of Popular Mechanics ““ on sale on 23 April.

Video: take a closer look at Leno’s 1916 Owen Magnetic