KINGMAN, Ariz. — Can you guess where the world’s first dedicated electric vehicle museum is located? Kingman, Arizona might be a long shot. But that’s precisely where it is—inside the Powerhouse Visitor Center right on historic Route 66.
Kingman is an old mining town in northwest Arizona. The city is also home of historic Route 66 and popular spots such as Mr. D’z diner, antique gas stations and gift shops. It also has the former church where actors Clark Gable and Carole Lombard once got married.
The EV museum is a collaboration between the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation, the City of Kingman and Mohave County. It opened in 2014 after a Route 66 Festival was held with just 10 vehicles on display. Today, it has grown to nearly 100 vehicles and spans more than 100 years of EV history from 1909 to 2013.
“We had this event space in our visitors venter that was being used for quinceneras, for auctions, different fundraisers,” said Josh Noble, tourism services manager at the City of Kingman. “We decided that instead we would take it and change that space into part of the museum if they wanted to leave them there for a longer period of time. We had to come up with a mutual partnership for all three parties to coordinate the operation of the space. It’s been a bit of a challenge. But we all have good relationships between all three of us.”
The EV museum features antique cars, hot rods, race cars, motorcycles and even golf carts — all powered by electric motors. In addition, they have some charging stations to show how to recharge the battery pack.
There are 26 electric vehicles on display inside the museum and another three in the parking lot. In total, the collection includes about 100 vehicles so they are rotated every once in a while. The others are kept in storage.
Roderick Wilde is the Executive Director of the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation. He is in charge of the EV museum in Kingman. Wilde also serves as the owner and president of Vintage Golf Cart Parts, Inc. He was a founding member of NOPEC (Northern Olympic Peninsula Electric Cars) the local electric car club in Port Townsend, Washington.
“This is the only electric car museum in the world. Electric cars are out of the box now. They are not going to disappear; they are here to stay.”— Roderick Wilde, HEVF Executive Director
One of the first cars that I saw in the exhibit is also my favorite. It’s a 1930 Detroit Electric Model 60. It comes equipped with 14 six-volt Edison batteries that were made of lead-acid or nickel-iron. The Model 60 featured an advertised range of 80 miles but some owners achieved more than 200. It takes about 6-9 hours to charge the batteries. Detroit Electric cars were popular with women. The wives of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison once owned them.
“I think one of the most interesting things about those is most of them have steering from the back seat,” Wilde explained. “Here’s another idea I have, a theory, but it might be where the term backseat driver came from. They could all sit around and have a conversation while they are driving. You’ve got to remember cars didn’t go that fast back them.”
What is the oldest car in the collection that people can go look at?
“Currently, it’s a 1909 Ewell-Parker baggage truck. It’s getting harder and harder to find the older vehicles. But we’re constantly searching, hoping that we will get some donations.”
How about the newest vehicle in the collection right now?
“Probably, that would be a 2002 Toyota RAV4 electric.”
I also noticed there’s a race car that set the land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Can you tell me more about that one?
“That record has been broken but that one did 235 mph or something like that. Well, it was on display at the NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, Calif. Larry Fisher passed away last autumn. Larry Fisher was the executive director. He arranged it with the university to put it on display there. They needed some space for another exhibit. They had a big exhibit coming in.”
On the other end of the museum, I noticed what looks like a USPS mail truck that was converted to electric. Correct?
“It was originally made electric for the postal service. We converted it into an all-wheel drive for a TV show I did called Sucking Amps. It was a Discovery channel show. We turned it into a drag racing machine. It was having mechanical issues; too much torque was tearing up stuff.”
I saw that you have on display Waylon and Willie’s golf carts. That sounds like a really big addition to the museum.
“That was a real luck. I was actually in Croatia when I was searching the net. I ran into Willie Nelson’s Rolls-Royce style golf cart and when we flew back into the U.S. and got a truck and headed straight to Florida to pick it up. Within six months, surfing the net again, I came across Waylon’s Mercedes golf cart. I thought, ‘Wow, that would be a great display!’ We even have the album cover with it.”
I also noticed an Arizona State University Indy-style race car in the corner.
“There used to be a race series where colleges would build electric vehicles and race Indy style. They would allow battery swapping and they had it down to a few seconds to change the battery pack. That particular vehicle won.”
Which electric vehicle gets the most attention when people come to the museum?
“I would think they might like something like The Sparrow in there. They are kind of like a little bubble car. I think if I was a kid, I’d think that was kind of cool.”
There’s also a 1929 Ford Roadster turned into a 1995 Lightning Rod 2. I didn’t know that was an electric car. I was surprised by that.
“That was the world’s first electric street rod. It was actually on the cover of Street Rod Action and it was also voted one of the top ten cars at the 6th annual Good Guys Nationals in Pomona. My partner and I built that when we had a company called Wilde Evolutions in Jerome, Ariz. We built different types of electric cars in the ’90s.”
On the other end, I saw the 1987 Kasashocki based on Kawasaki Ninja bike customized in Fontana, Calif.
“It belonged to the late Ed Rannberg. He was way before other people were thinking of electric drag racing. He was one of my mentors. He also had a Streamliner on display back east.”
What would be one car that you are still hoping to add to the collection?
“Of course, we’d love to get a Tesla roadster sometime. They are actually all over the place. There’s one in Outer Space right now.”
Many people are probably asking how do you charge these cars? The exhibit also features two charging stations — one from blink and the other from SoCal Edison that makes it easy to understand.
Other vehicles on display at the museum include:
- 2007 Kurrent NEV designed in Italy and built in Wixom, MI
- 1997 Bombardier NEV prototype made in Canada
- 1979 Lyman Electric Quad with a top speed of 9 mph
- 1959 Taylor-Dunn Model “R” Trident three-wheel neighborhood cart
- 1922 Custer Chair Car invented by Levitt Luzern Custer
The visitors center and museum closed on March 20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and orders from Gov. Ducey. However, it reopened back up about two months later on May 19. So I wondered how has the attendance been since the reopening?
“The first week when we reopened, we were averaging 50-60 people a day,” Noble answered. “We had some 30 people days, pretty slow. Before all of this, we would average about 650 a day. During the winter, we’d see maybe 300-400 people. In the summer, we would see 800-1,000. Right now, we’re up to about 100-150 people a day except on Fridays and Saturdays we can see more. We had almost 300 people this last Saturday. Those are also because we’ve been having a lot of softball tournaments.”
The museum also offers free electric vehicle charging. The station is located on the side of the building that faces the railroad tracks. A great idea for an electric vehicle museum!
Visit the World’s First Electric Vehicle Museum inside the Powerhouse Visitor Center at 120 W. Andy Devine Ave. (Route 66) in Kingman, AZ 86401. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with the last admission at 4 p.m. Tickets are $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and children 0-11 are free with paid adult.
For more information about the Route 66 EV Museum, go to www.hevf.org.