In the years since his death, Fred Rogers has been hailed as a champion for educational television, a practitioner of radical kindness and acceptance, and a balm for the ills of our modern world. He also, apparently, liked the idea of electric cars.
Or, at least, we can discern as much from an episode in the show’s 11th season, which Brian Austin recently dug up and forwarded to us. Except, after watching the segment, we’re left scratching our heads over which EV manufacturer Rogers actually visited.
Here’s the basics: In episode 1478, which originally aired in February 1981, Rogers visits what he describes as a friend’s garage after showing off a model of an electric car.
He takes a ride to the garage in a blocky electric pickup with a guy named Paul, then at the garage itself meets his friend, Wayne.
Wayne explains that the cars are built from steel tubing with fiberglass bodies.
He also shows off a completed chassis with batteries and drivetrain, and lets Mister Rogers (you try calling him just Fred) turn the steering wheel.
Mister Rogers then gets a chance to take the pickup for a drive with Paul.
So, of course, as automotive history enthusiasts, we need to know everything we can about Wayne and the electric vehicles he’s building, but there aren’t that many clues to go on. Neither Wayne nor Mister Rogers mentions a name for the cars or for the company. In the Neighborhood Archive entry for episode 1478, it notes that the show gave special thanks to Electric Vehicles Industries. But in the background of one of the above scenes, we see a sign for Electric Vehicle Engineering. Both names are sufficiently vague to make Google searches pretty much worthless.
Where was the company based? A good bet would be Pittsburgh, where The Fred Rogers Company produced the episodes for WQED. But as Brian pointed out, the license plate on the rear of the blue pickup appears to be a red-on-white Massachusetts dealer plate. Also, Paul refers to the EV as a “cahh.”
The EV’s drivetrain layout is unique enough to serve as a clue as well. Most, if not all, scratchbuilt EVs from that time were rear-wheel drive, but this one uses a big motor and 18 6-volt batteries to power the front wheels via a small coupler, a center differential (possibly from a Corvette, just flipped upside down?), and a coil-sprung double-wishbone front suspension.
But take note of the bare van-style body and chassis in the background; that may be the key to the company’s identity. By chance, we came across mention of Electro Motion Transportation Systems, a company that operated out of Bedford, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. According to Beaulieu, Electro Motion adapted its commercial vehicle (which “featured a tubular steel chassis with independent suspension and boxy aluminum bodywork with fiberglass opening panels”) as a four-passenger vehicle from about 1975 to 1976. And according to AllCarIndex, the Electro Motion EV looks identical to the van-style body in the background of the Mister Rogers segment.
That said, we’ve found zero other mentions of Electro Motion, Electric Vehicle Industries, or Electric Vehicle Engineering. Nothing on how long they lasted, how many vehicles they built, or who Wayne and Paul are. Anybody out there recognize this obscure bit of electric vehicle history?