The Hammerhead Eagle i-Thrust was the creation of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, and the rest of the BBC Top Gear team.
In the days before Tesla got into its stride, its aim was to create a decent electric car that people would actually want to buy.
Back in 2009, Autocar was asked to run this vehicle through Autocar’s famously challenging and long established comprehensive roadtest - which is now published here online for the first time - and this is the result. As usual, we give the vehicle star-mark scores out of five for its performance in various areas:
Model tested: initial prototype
30-0mph: 549 feet
We like: pragmatic design, intelligent seating layout, low costs of ownership
This car, believe it or not, is fully road legal and, apart from its occasionally functional diesel generator, is also virtually emissions-free. The i Thrust started life as an entirely healthy TVR Chimaera and has since been re-registered at the DVLA as a van, hence its temporary legality.
It is powered by 13 12v lead acid batteries that provide its Wales & Edwards electric motor – pinched straight out of a milk-float – with approximately 85kw, which is rather less than most other electro-hybrid rivals.
Design and Engineering - 0.5 stars out of 5
Although the Hammerhead Eagle i Thrust may appear to be an entirely conventional three-box design (to which a smaller fourth box is added that serves as a viewing turret for a brave third passenger), beneath its part-aluminium, part-plastic, part-wood exterior it is, in fact, a genuine hybrid. There are so many contributory factors to its technical make-up that it could, in fact, be more accurately described as a freak.
The basic running gear has been kindly donated by an ex-TVR Chimaera, so the platform on which the hybrid powertrain sits should, in theory, be fairly sound. There are ventilated steel disc brakes and double wishbones at each corner while even the steering rack has a touch of TVR to it.
The Nankang tyres, however, aren’t quite of the same standard, their primary duty in life being to provide the Citroen 2CV with its half-thimble of grip. Attached to the 1200kg i Thrust they aren’t, as we’ll discover, quite so tenacious as they are on the Deux-Cheveau.
Where the Hammerhead Eagle gets more intriguing technically is with the type, and location, of its numerous power sources. The vast electric milk-float motor sits beneath the bonnet and sends drive directly to the rear wheels, yet the army of 12v batteries that provides the motor with its main power sits precariously, and in various places, within the rear compartment. And then on top of this sits an enormous diesel generator, approximately five inches behind the passengers’ soft heads.
A plugin hybrid?
In theory, the batteries can be recharged lightly while on the move by the generator – a nice touch – or you can pull over for a full charge at one the UK’s increasingly popular plug-in-and-pay recharging stations.
In reality, the diesel generator can barely produce enough puff to illuminate one of the indicators, while the plug-in-and-pay socket is just for show. It’s not actually attached to anything, which means the only way to recharge the i Thrust is to unbolt its batteries and hook them up to the mains for hours on end.
Interior - 1 star out of 5
There are flashes of genius present inside the i Thrust, such as its three-seater layout and its non-attached, and therefore unusually portable, stereo. The view forwards out of the vast, Land Rover-sourced windscreen is also a refreshing discovery in an era of increasingly thick A-pillars.
Seating lacks support
On the whole, though, the i Thrust is fairly limited in its appeal inside. The seats themselves, plastic garden chairs courtesy of a DIY store, fail to provide either the comfort or support you’d expect of a contemporary road car and would, at the very least, benefit from some form of cushioning.
The dashboard, while clear enough in its fundamental layout, is obviously from a bygone era visually – we believe that it has been stolen straight out of a Fiat Panda.
And the driving position is similarly compromised, both by the off-set pedals and the fact that you have to intertwine your left arm through the centre seat in order to grasp the TVR-sourced steering wheel properly.
And then there’s the fit and finish. And the noise. The Hammerhead was so loud while on the move, thanks to its clattering bodywork into which the air would freely rush, that we couldn’t actually take an accurate decibel reading. Standing still, and with nothing more than a light breeze caressing its aluminium-wood-plastic body panels, it still recorded 65db – about the same as a BMW 7-series at 70mph.
Performance - 1 star out of 5
Racecar driver Martin Brundle once said that it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve driven a Formula One car, the first time you climb back in after the winter testing break, you are always astonished by the raw performance. A similar rule applies to electric vehicles over their first few feet of travel, though in the case of i Thrust the effect, it must be noted, is not as startling as in some rivals.
That said, when you introduce the accelerator to the end of the foot-well, the Hammerhead does at least move, which in itself could be classed as a result. But once the initial burst of energy is over – which lasts at least two seconds – the acceleration doesn’t so much fade as almost disappear completely, at which point you register extra momentum in hours per mile, rather than miles per hour.
Our best two-way average for the 0-30mph lunge was 6.0sec, and unfortunately we failed to even record a 0-60mph time, the i Thrust trying hard but ultimately failing to crack 60mph within the confines of the MIRA test cicuit’s one mile straight. In the end it reached 50mph in 16.6sec and ran out of juice at 55mph, making it the slowest car we have tested this century.
If the i Thrust could compensate for this with a modicum of in-gear flexibility, its lack of fizz in a straight line would be easier to live with. But, of course, it only has one gear, so what you see is what you get. Which isn’t much.
The one area in which it did impress, sort of, was under brakes, and this was thanks primarily to its TVR ventilated discs. Having said that, the i Thrust would lock its front tyres up at the merest hint of pressure on the left brake pedal, hence the reason required an incredible 549.6 feet in which to stop from just 30mph. That’s slightly concerning given that the British highway code says the average stopping distance from 70mph is 215 feet.
Ride and handling - 0 stars out of 5
To all intents and purposes, the Hammerhead Eagle i Thrust has no ride or handling as such. Instead it just rumbles from one location to the next, its bodywork flapping in the wind as the 2CV tyres try their best – and occasionally fail – to prevent the body panels from rubbing on the floor.
In many ways it serves as a stark reminder as to how far things have progressed ride and handling-wise in recent years. Having said that, there is something strangely likeable about the way it lurches around almost uncontrollably on its suspension. There is a certain honesty to the way it bumbles about that is (thankfully) missing in today’s anaesthetised, mass produced cars.
The steering is, in fact, extremely direct, and although it provides no feel whatsoever through the rim, there is such a massive corresponding reaction from the various detritus mounted in the rear, turn in is actually very crisp once you commit to a direction change.
Perhaps too crisp, truth be told. At one point during testing, the Hammerhead went into a monumental tank-slapper while being driven in a dead straight line. After that we didn’t bother much testing it through corners, although it did somehow register 0.408 of lateral g on the skid pan.
Buying and owning - 0 stars out of 5
There will only ever be one Hammerhead Eagle i Thrust, and that’s probably a good thing overall, but this does make it hard to attach an accurate value to. Priceless is perhaps the best way to describe it. As for the day-to-day running costs, it should be pretty reasonable considering the price of electricity, allied to the relative ease and affordability with which parts – such as its shed door-handles – can be replaced.
The main problem with running the i Thrust everyday would be the inconvenience factor, given that its batteries need to be hiked out and recharged every 20-25 miles, which takes several hours. But then as Karl Benz discovered in 1885, you’ve got to start somewhere before you can progress…
Verdict - 1 star out of 5
In the end, and despite showing one or two very dim flashes of genius, it’s hard – no, it’s impossible – to regard the i-Thrust as a success.
Its hybrid system looks good on paper but fails to deliver much in practice, its range and performance are rather pathetic compared with anything else on four wheels, while its styling is unlikely to win fans among those of us blessed with the gift of sight. And remember, a perfectly fit TVR Chimaera went to its grave to bring us this monster.
A green car?
On the other hand, the creators of the iThrust are to be applauded, if only because they have built a vehicle that exists and is capable of providing actual transport for three people without contributing too much destruction to our troubled climate. As to whether it will help save the world or not, the answer is; probably not.
Under the skin
The Hammerhead Eagle iThrust may look like a collection of bits found after a hurricane has blown through a garden centre, but it is actually based on the tried and tested underpinnings of a TVR Chimaera. Except that most of the powertrain sits in the back, not at the front, as it does in the TVR.
This provides the iThrust with a distinct, some would say unique, rear-engined handling bias, which may or may not be a good thing. Its main power source is a bank of 13 12v batteries, which provide drive to the rear wheels via a 96v Wales & Edwards electric motor, the exact same motor you'd normally find in a milk-float.
When does the Clubsport version go on sale?
Jobs for the facelift:
1. Metallic paint would be well worth considering for the Mk 2 Hammerhead; it could be called the HammerRight
2. Some sort of rear view mirror wouldn't go amiss.
3. Lose the clutch pedal on the Mk2, it's hardly worth having. In fact, why is there at all?
Scroll further to see some of the exquisite detailing on this remarkable vehicle