There’s an Ultra-Rare GM EV1 Abandoned in an Atlanta Parking Garage

One of the rarest cars in the world—and we know where it’s hiding.

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There’s an Ultra-Rare GM EV1 Abandoned in an Atlanta Parking Garage © There’s an Ultra-Rare GM EV1 Abandoned in an Atlanta Parking Garage

What you've been told is that the GM EV1, the first realistic electric car from a modern automaker, was killed off by shortsighted corporate greed over fifteen years ago. So good it threatened entrenched interests, every single one of the 1,117 EV1s was declared a failed experiment, pulled off the road over the protests of happy lessees, and crushed. But we've got a big dusty red pill for you—there's still one out there in the world, and it's been left for dead in an Atlanta parking garage.

We first learned about this lone survivor EV1 on Thursday when a man named Jacob Hoyle tagged The Drive's Mike Spinelli in a tweet that stopped us in our tracks: "Found an EV1 today." As proof, Hoyle posted three pictures showing the red electric car at rest in a mostly empty parking garage, sitting primly between the lines, nose out, coated in a thick layer of dust and dadaist anatomical drawings. The rear tires are rotted and flat. Leaves and other debris are accumulating around it; obviously, the car hasn't moved in years.

December 2019, Twitter | @jacobonscience

Hoyle's tweet was deluged with people demanding to know where exactly one of the world's rarest cars is hiding—to heist it, engine swap it, or simply protect it from GM's roving goons. He's wisely not saying, but we've been able to confirm the location through our independent reporting. To protect the car from any malefactors, all we'll say is it's in a parking garage near an educational institution in Atlanta. Why is it seemingly abandoned? We're looking into that too. What's clear is those cheeky graffiti artists didn't quite understand what they were touching, and good thing; an intact EV1 today is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

December 2019, Twitter | @jacobonscience

See, GM spared a tiny handful of EV1s from the crusher—no more than 20—and donated them to museums and schools. GM also bricked the cars' control units to ensure those entities didn't turn around and put their presents back on the road. Nice. Handed an extremely interesting paperweight, engineering students did what they always do: They took it apart. Many of the collegiate EV1s were completely stripped for parts that went into experimental race car builds or design projects. This one was not.

Vanishingly few survive today outside museums. The only one confirmed to remain in private hands is owned by director Francis Ford Coppola, who told Jay Leno in 2014 that he hid the car away when GM rounded them up in 2003 because he loved it so much. There are rumors of another that allegedly sold to an anonymous collector for nearly $500,000 in 2008. The rest are dust in the wind, but this one appears mostly intact save for a missing battery pack and drive unit indicated by the high-riding front end. A Facebook post from another wanderer who stumbled upon the car in 2016 described the interior as being in "great condition."

February 2016, Facebook | John Thomas
Facebook | John Thomas

Little has changed in the intervening three years save for more dust and flatter tires. It's an inherently sad sight, that optimistic Nineties streamline design with the pallor of a dead thing, wasting away like a long-abandoned Worlds Fair prop piece. It's even worse if you know the whole story.

The EV1 was developed mainly in reaction to a 1990 move by the California Air Resources Board to institute the nation's first zero-emission law requiring electric cars to comprise a set percentage of a manufacturer's total sales. Ironically, CARB's policy was in part inspired by GM's promising 1990 Impact EV concept—that had to sting a bit. So GM grudgingly went through with building it, called it the EV1, and in 1996 launched a lease program for eager customers in California, Arizona, and later Georgia.

December 2019, Twitter | @jacobonscience

Its heavy lead-acid battery meant it could barely travel 100 miles, though a nickel-metal hydride pack added in 1999 boosted the range to an incredible-for-the-time 140 miles. An asynchronous electric motor similar to the kind used in modern EVs helped route 137 horsepower and 110 lb-ft of torque through the front wheels. Aside from the plastic interior and parts-bin switchgear, the EV1 was by far the most advanced and thoroughly modern car GM had ever built. Unfortunately, GM couldn't wait to stop building it.

Those feverish drivers didn't realize it at the time, but the automaker was treating the whole thing as an annoying public beta test. By 1999 the CARB zero-emissions sales regulations that had forced GM's hand (and other half-baked early efforts like the Honda EV Plus) were being relaxed in favor of hybrid models. Remember, the Toyota Prius reached America in 2000. Meanwhile, GM was plainly losing money on building the EV1 with lease payments based on a $34,000 sticker price. That the EV1 was an oddball two-seater coupe made for an even tougher sell.

GM ended production in 1999 and started recalling and crushing the leased cars in 2003 over the outrage of the devoted. As chronicled in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, the messy public fight sowed a lot of distrust in GM; critics alleged it destroyed the EV1 to protect its partners in the oil industry and its large-scale investments in the internal combustion engine.

It wasn't a total loss in the big picture—a lot of what GM learned here went into developing the plug-in Volt (RIP) and later the full BEV Bolt, and it remains the largest investment a major automaker made in the technology prior to the rise of Tesla. But today, the EV1 looks like a martyr ahead of its time. And GM? They're finally ready to see just how deep the rabbit hole goes. They're going 100 percent electric, eventually. They'd just be about fifteen years closer if the EV1 had made it.

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