Jay Leno gets a close look at the coolest hybrid you've never heard of.
Did you know Briggs & Stratton built a car? Yes, that Briggs & Stratton, the company best known for the small engines used on lawnmowers. And it’s not just any car, but a hybrid … built in 1980 no less. Honestly, we didn’t know such a machine existed until this video cropped up at Jay Leno’s Garage, but when we saw this six-wheeled hatchback with styling not unlike a 1980’s L-Body Dodge Charger, we couldn’t not click on it. And once we watched the video, we knew we couldn’t not share it with you because it’s actually very impressive.
This is strictly a one-off concept car designed to be a technology demonstrator, and actually, its top speed isn’t so impressive. According to the video, Richard Petty managed to get this car to a whopping 68 mph on a closed course. On the streets of California, Leno and Briggs & Stratton Engineering Technician Craig Claerbout achieved 60 mph, but when you realize there’s just an 18-horsepower (13-kilowatt) air-cooled twin-cylinder Briggs engine under the hood, that’s not such bad speed. An electric motor is connected to the engine, which then connects to a four-speed manual transmission sending power to the first set of rear wheels.
Gallery: 1980 Briggs & Stratton Hybrid Concept Screenshots
As such, the design is a parallel hybrid, meaning it can run solely on the gas engine, the electric motor, or a combination of both. Six 12-volt batteries are installed in the back – positioned so the weight is supported by the second rear axle – and when fully charged up the car has an estimated electric-only range of around 50 miles. That’s actually very impressive considering this was built at a time when the Ford Pinto was still a thing.
Speaking of Pinto, Briggs & Stratton didn’t have the mojo to build an entire car from scratch, so the front suspension, steering, and transmission actually come from a Pinto. And if VW fans see some familiarity here, it’s because the doors, dash, and windshield are from a first-generation Scirocco. The rest of the design, however, is all Briggs.
The idea behind this unlikely hybrid was to showcase a more efficient way of travel. In theory, the electric motor and its instant torque would be used to get the car up to speed, at which point the gasoline engine could be used to maintain highway velocities. Yes, the top speed was just over 60 mph, but in 1980 the U.S. had a national speed limit of 55 mph so, in theory, this car could easily run within the limits of the law. It would’ve been a noisy ride, however, as the video suggests it’s quite loud in the cabin with that little 688 CC air-cooled twin maxed out.
Being a concept car, this is the only one of its kind. But it displays a shocking (pun intended) amount of hybrid technology that was far ahead of its time. Perhaps more importantly, we adore the fact that Briggs & Stratton kept this prototype in good repair over all these years and revived it for actual road use. It makes us wonder how many other little-known concept machines are out there, waiting to be rediscovered.