1899 La Jamais Contente landspeed racer – Click above for high-res image gallery

There was a time when electric cars were some of the fastest land-borne vehicles ever made. The electric motors powering the vehicles have always been plenty powerful, sending a boatload of torque to the wheels at very low RPMs. And, depending on the chosen gearing, all that torque can result in relatively high speeds.

Proof of such can be seen in the La Jamais Contente from 1899. Driven by Belgian racecar driver Camille Jenatzy, this electric vehicle was the first car to break 100 kilometers per hour (about 62 miles per hour). Two electric motors powered the bullet-shaped machine to such high speeds, each putting out 50 kW to the rear wheels.

Batteries have always been the stumbling block, but the Contente's 100 two-volt cells apparently had enough juice to push the 3,197-pound racer to record high velocities. The vehicle pictured here, which is currently on display at the Detroit Motor Show, is a replica of the original and was assembled in 1993-1994 by technical students in France. Seriously, how cool is this thing?


Related GalleryDetroit 2010: EV landspeed racer