As Masahiko Isobe explains in the video below, in 1947, Japan had just come off a devastating loss in World War II. The allied forces controlling the island nation limited gasoline reserves for the public. What Japan did have an abundance of at the time was electricity, thanks to the hydroelectric powerplants tucked away in the mountains.
Eager to fill the need for cars without relying on scarce gasoline, early Nissan, formerly Tachikawa Airplane, designed and built the Tama electric vehicle.
Constructed of wood and covered in a steel skin, the tiny Tama EV could travel 66 miles on a single charge and hit a top speed of 22mph.
While the little EV looks romantically rudimentary to our modern eyes, the car was a bit of a lone wolf, in terms of design. The hood hinged from the firewall and opened, as Isobe describes it “in the same way and shape that a crocodile opens its mouth.” While this seems normal to us, most Japanese cars at the time still featured center hinges.
Propelled by a direct current (DC) electric motor, acceleration is controlled by limiting the current through a resistor. Interestingly, excess energy is turned to heat, which is why designers had to include a radiator. The design is both rather ingenious and simple.
Even the turnsignals, which pop out from behind little shields, are trick – or at least novel – by modern standards.
Isobe makes a point to mention how some parts were difficult to find during the restoration process of the Tama, like the headlight lenses and tires. He urges Japanese viewers to look to England for specialty tires, as the Nissan team did. Amusingly, he seems to ignore the car-obsessed continent between Japan and Europe, which can make specialty tires on demand as well.
It’s a fun little car and video to match. We’re glad that Nissan took the time and care to restore the Tama and share it with the world.
Tour the Tama in this video from Nissan:
Sure, Nissan makes the Leaf, but would a modernized Tama EV be a cooler car, along the lines of a retro Cube or a Scion Xb? Comment below.