A real automotive rarity went under the hammer at Bonhams over the weekend with the only known 1905 Woods Queen Victoria Brougham selling for DKK632,500 (US$94,548). Part of the Frederiksen auction at Ebeltoft, Denmark on September 26, the electric vehicle acts as a window into the early days of motor cars when new technologies fought for supremacy on the roads and in the show rooms.

Saturday's sale is a reminder that in the automotive world, gasoline was not always king and that, even before the advent of today's lithium-ion powered supercars, electric vehicles weren't always the exclusive province of milkmen and nervous little old ladies.

At the turn of the 20th century, gasoline ran a distant third to both steam and electricity in terms of performance and popularity, with electric cars even breaking world speed records. On the other hand, gasoline-powered cars were notorious for being smelly, slow, and so dangerous that even starting one could result in a broken arm. Then there was the fact that you had to buy fuel at the chemist's, as well as needing to be a fair mechanic just to have an even chance of getting home.

On the other hand, in 1905 electric cars were a mature technology that wouldn't be outstripped by gasoline and diesel until they managed to outperform the primitive lead-acid batteries of the day. Furthermore, electrics were attractive to middle class women because they were clean, silent, comfortable, and didn't require much physical strength to start or operate. No wonder that in 1900 there were 30,000 electric vehicles running about.

Formerly the property of James E. Cousens, the 1905 Woods Electric Style 214A Queen Victoria Brougham chassis no. 284 was built by the Woods Motor Vehicle Company. The company was formed in Chicago in 1899 by Standard Oil executives, Toronto businessmen, and notables like August Belmont, who built the Belmont Park racetrack, and Samuel Insull, who was Thomas Edison's personal secretary and co-founder of Edison General Electric.

With US$10 million in capital stock, the company used patents purchased from electric vehicle pioneer Clinton Edgar Woods to construct 500 electric cars annually, including a rear-entrance Tonneau. Despite a belated effort to get into gasoline and hybrid cars in 1916, the company closed in 1918.

The Queen Victoria that went on auction is believed to be the only one known to still exist and in its day it was by no means an economy model. With a price tag of US$3,000, which is about US$71,000 in today's dollars, it only has a 72-in (1,829-mm) wheelbase that belies its 2,600 lb (1,179 kg) weight. However, it's still drivable after 110 years thanks to an upgrade with lightweight modern batteries and a fast-charging system, though it still retains its four-wheel full elliptic leaf-spring suspension and rear drum brakes.

Inside, the Queen Victoria demonstrates that it's more of a two-seater luxury car than a track monster thanks to its all-leather interior complete with glass flower vase and discrete controls. It even has a removable cab for open-air touring, but that doesn't keep it from doing about 30 mph (48 km/h) flat out, which is fairly impressive for a town car of its vintage.

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