Notorious gear-head Jay Leno has been a long-time supporter of electric vehicles and his latest restoration is a great reminder of the history of the segment.

Leno bought the body of a 1914 Detroit Electric car and he is restoring it while upgrading its electric drivetrain, which he calls “restomodding” – a combination of “restoration” and “modding”.

Not everyone knows that in the early days of the auto industry, electric cars had a significant market share in the industry. In 1900, 40% of American automobiles were powered by steam, 38% by electricity, and 22% by gasoline, according to Duke Energy.

By 1920, advances in internal combustion engine technology and the invention of the electric starter gave an edge to gasoline. Electric car production declined significantly and soon became almost non-existent. Detroit Electric itself folded in 1939.

The company used to make vehicles powered by rechargeable lead acid and nickel-iron batteries. The cars were advertised as getting 80 miles (130 km) of range on a single charge, but they had a top speed of about 20 mph (32 km/h).

Investors revived Detroit Electric in 2008 and the company recently started production of the SP:01, an electric sport car reminiscent of the Tesla Roadster.

For the restoration/modification, Leno is using batteries from a Nissan LEAF and a UQM electric motor.

Here’s Jay Leno updating viewers on his latest restoration projects, including the 1914 Detroit Electric:

hat tip to @w_moorhouse for the heads-up

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