Poland’s first electric car turns 50
Commonly known as the Melex, the first ‘electro city car’ was created 50 years ago in the city of Mielec.
Built in the WSK Mielec aviation plant, it was later adapted for golf courses and beat off Japanese competition to conquer the American market.
Still produced to this day, the Melex project was a result of the government’s campaign to align Poland with ‘the West’ – it was in this very same era that the country bought licenses to produce Coca-Cola as well as the 126p Fiat.
Although environmentally friendly, it wasn’t ecological concerns that laid the path for the car’s construction, but rather economic factors.
With fuel considered something of an expensive luxury, the development of an electric car promised to cut out Poland’s gasoline problem.
Collaborating with engineers from the German firm Varta, the model manufactured in Mielec was able to carry loads of 100 kilos and reach speeds of 60 kilometres per hour.
Moreover, it was capable of travelling for 70 kilometres on a single battery charge.
Using various components from the Polski Fiat 126p, elements that were taken from this cult vehicle included the front suspension and steering system.
Weighing 600 kilos, the vehicle was proudly displayed at the 1973 Frankfurt Motor Show. Similarly, the following year saw the entire Melex ‘family’ parked up for show outside Warsaw’s Palace of Culture & Science.
Reputedly, the logo, meanwhile, came about after being sketched onto a napkin by the chief engineer, Stan Siedlecki.
Yet although the ‘city car’ project never went beyond the prototype stage, the nippy buggy was discovered by the American golf market.
This would arguably be the biggest success, though Melex’s were also used to transport people with disabilities as well as to function as convenient forms of transport in such places as zoos, airports and cemeteries.
Exported to over 30 counties, including such places as Australia and Chile, the low-cost electric vehicle experienced a huge wave of popularity that was largely unexpected – initially, only ten were shipped to the States, a number that would soon be revised to feature several extra zeroes.