OSAKA, Japan – The Nissan restoration team’s Masahiko Isobe explains the unique characteristics of the Tama electric vehicle, including the work of airplane engineers, which helped to pave the way for Nissan’s lineup of zero-emission vehicles.
The Tama EV is a car made in 1947, or Showa 22. So, the question becomes why was this car made?
Around that time, Japan lost the war and gasoline and industry were limited by the Allied Occupation forces. But engineers at the time – particularly airplane engineers – took Japan’s logistics and transport systems into consideration and thought that they had to make some kind of automobile.
The Tama EV came to be made entirely by engineers at Nissan Motor, Prince Motor, formerly known as Tachikawa Airplane.
Because the state of industry was in burnt out ruins from the war, industrial options were stifled. Even in the home, there was nothing more than bare light bulbs and radios. But in the mountains there were electric power plants and hydro-electric power plants and electricity was rapidly generated.
So with the idea that they could make cars run using excess electricity, they built this Tama EV.
There are characteristics of this car that make one think, “This must be made by an airplane engineer.” For example, the shape of this bonnet.
The middle is hinged – both sides are the arch-type. And it takes the alligator-type name, because it opens in the same way and shape that a crocodile opens its mouth.
At that time, this kind of car didn’t exist. It was discredited and considered unattractive. But think about it. The cars that exist today all open in this way. Designers who had an eye for this line thought of this. The reason is that this makes it easier to do maintenance.
They couldn’t press it even once, they pounded it out and cut out the best parts and fit it all together. That’s how they got this shape.
Another point is the windshield. It’s completely flat. Nowadays windows have a curve to them. Therefore, with the wiper and mirror, there were no safety standards and they used a completely flat front window. This kind of equipment was used by all cars during that period, so it has its commonalities. If you were to restore a car now from this era, any of the component parts would match.
One other main feature is that the blinkers pop in and out. These were the turning signals. The popular term was “Apollo”, which was a company name. Apollo would import and with a production license make these in Japan. During the war and after, this kind of equipment was also used for large-sized buses, and is famous in the U.S. with the Jeep brand.
When we restored this car, we made sure to use the same equipment and labor techniques. So that’s the Apollo, the wiper and this headlight. This headlight has a different cut of lens than those made today. If you research it, this lens is one of only 10 in Japan. It’s an extremely precious lens. It would get thousands of dollars at an auction.
For those who are familiar with old vehicles, headlights weren’t usually attached in this manner. They were round and sat right on top. This design is completely intentional. You can see it if you imagine an airplane wing, the place where the engine is attached.
And then there’s the overrider on the bumper. You make each side and then weld at the back. You make the mold and hammer it out, without using heat.
As for tires, people often wonder how we found these tires. But there’s a cultural difference in play here, I think. If you go to England, they still sell tires for a variety of cars. You can get most any kind of tire in England. So, for anyone who wants to repair a vehicle, please look for them in England. This one here is the same size and there are tire makers in England who will remake the size.
This car uses a direct current (DC) motor. Directly from the battery, the current varies through the resistor unit to accelerate. That controls the speed. So, it’s a very simple car. You see that it’s different from the LEAF. The excess electricity is immediately turned to heat and released. That’s why there’s a radiator of some sort to convert the heat energy.
Automobiles originated as carriages and were first made from wood. And this car is also wooden. Over that is a layer of steel. That was common construction at that time. As many other parts that I’ve described, it was the common architecture.
And that’s it!
1947 Tama Electric Car
Overall length / width / height: 3,035/1,230/1,630mm
Curb weight: 1,100kg
Seating capacity: 4
Cruising range per charge: 65km
Motor (36V): DC series-wound, rated at 3.3kW (4.5hp)
Batteries (capacity): Lead-acid battery (40V/162Ah)
Top speed (economical speed): 35km/h (28km/h)
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