A boffin has a bash: When he wasn't baking bread, Jack Tritton, 79, was beating swords into ploughshares - or old Spitfires into electric cars, as he explains to Jonathan Glancey

I always liked cars, but petrol rationing kept us off the road during and after the Second World War. We had two vans for the family bakery business, but I thought I'd have a bash at solving our domestic transport problems by building an electric car.

My brother and I had always fiddled about mending electrical equipment as youngsters, so the idea of an electrically powered car seemed pretty straightforward.

It didn't have a name: we just called it the electric car. I suppose it was the Sinclair C5 of its day. That was 1946. It wasn't difficult or expensive to build. All over Kent, scrapyards were dismantling surplus RAF planes and you could pick up bits from Spitfires and the like - geared electric motors, instruments, wheels and so forth. It was beautifully engineered stuff, going for a song.

I hadn't any training in metalwork, but I made the chassis from duralumin, which is very strong, and the body from aluminium sheet, which is very light and child's play to shape. The car was a two-seater with a boot for the shopping. There was no styling, but I don't think it looked too bad.

The tiny wheels and balloon-like tyres came from a Spitfire. My sister has got them now the car has been dismantled; she was going to use them for a wheelbarrow she never made. They're still around somewhere. The motor? Well, it had two combined starter motors and dynamos from pre-war Morrises. They drove the two rear wheels independently of one another. That way, I didn't have to bother with a differential. They were connected to lead-acid batteries, but I later replaced these with nickel-cadmium batteries. They cost pounds 1 each in 1946, which was a lot; but they lasted longer and gave more power.

How fast would it go? Well, downhill with a following wind, it would do 20mph; on the level I suppose we could manage about 15mph. So it had the performance of a decent bicycle. The power could be stepped up and down through a three-position switch from an aircraft. This delivered a choice of six, 12 and 24 volts from the batteries to the motors, so the car had three forward speeds - and no reverse.

The steering was quite good. I wrote to Practical Mechanics, a very helpful magazine, and they suggested I use a system based on the earliest Morgans. Knowing Morgan, perhaps they still use the same kit today] Anyway, it did the trick. The car had suspension on the front, but not on the rear wheels. It didn't need it, given how slow it was and the fact that those chubby Spitfire tyres soaked up the bumps.

I fitted cable brakes to the rear wheels and it stopped pretty quickly. The only real problem was the fact that it couldn't go very far. A trip down to Petts Wood and back to do the shopping, about eight miles, was the limit. It did generate electricity downhill, but the batteries of 50 years ago were primitive things. It took four hours to recharge.

Still, every journey was fun. People would often stop us to talk about the car. I liked to tell them it was a proper car, registered, tax, insured and all that. My friend Alec Bacon took some nice pictures of us and the car. But when petrol rationing went, it made much more sense to use our Ford estate and store the electric car. I put her away in an outhouse. Some of the components were recycled: one of the original batteries is still at work under the bonnet of my 1926 Rover 9.

I suppose I never thought of taking much care of the car; looking back, it is a bit of a historical curiosity, but at the time it was just a response to the lack of petrol.

Long after the electric car was put away, when I retired from the bakery business, I began to mend old lawnmowers and other people's cars. I made a canal cruiser which we still use, a dinghy, a conservatory for our house in Kent and I invented electrically powered fanlights for it. These opened automatically in response to changes in the temperature. I know this sort of thing is commonplace now, but it was something different back in the early Sixties.

My son, Bernard, and I have collected a few cars between us since the end of petrol rationing. Bernard used to work for Reuters before farming in Wales; he came back to Kent and now keeps a '64 Cadillac pillar-less Coupe de Ville, a 1960 Austin Princess A135 and a white Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow to hire out for weddings. We keep the old Rover 9 I bought for pounds 55 about the same time as I made the electric car; it's insured for pounds 25,000 these days. I still use the F-reg, 1968 Land-Rover I've had since new; that, and a Rover 110.

Bernard publishes Motoring Classics, an enthusiasts' magazine that comes out again after a break next month; I suppose we're both keen on cars and neither of us can bear to throw anything away. I like making useful things for the house and grounds and never know when an old electric motor I might have thrown away will come in handy. I've still got a lot of old aircraft bits bought from those military scrapyards in the late Forties. I'm sure they'll get used in some contraption or other.

Looking back on Alec Bacon's pictures, I'm reminded of what fun it was and how we used to make and mend and invent things to get by in those days. Still, with modern batteries, I suppose I could make a car that went a lot better.

(Photograph omitted)

Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C#.NET Developer

    £300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL,MVVM, SOA...

    Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

    Technical Account Manager - Java, FIX Protocol, FIX 5.0, C++

    £30000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Account Manager - Java,...

    WPF .NET Developer

    £300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform