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.
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
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
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.