Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 4th April 2019

Unusual Vehicles is a segment that looks into the history of an unorthodox vehicle. Cars have been powered by a variety of fuel options, but one of the weirdest has to be the Sunraycer, which was powered by the sun. Built in Australia, this outlandish vehicle was designed to compete in the world’s first race to feature solar-powered cars. The race became known as the World Solar Challenge and the Sunraycer ended up winning.


The idea for the car came about after the announcement of the World Solar Challenge. General Motors’ Australian division put in a request to GM headquarters to participate in the event. CEO of GM, Roger Smith was interested in the idea, so he funded a study to see if a solar-powered car could be built in 10 months.

GM worked with AeroVironment in order to build the machine. The concept needed to be low-weight, so AeroVironment produced a design that looked like a high-tech streamlined cockroach. The Sunraycer proved to be lightweight, coming in at 585 lbs.

8800 solar cells were installed by Hughes Aircraft, a company with plenty of expertise in photovoltaic cells. The body was made out of Kevlar. GM built a new electric motor based on Magnequench permanent magnets. The Sunraycer also utilised silver-oxide batteries to provide extra power. Extensive testing took place throughout the spring and summer of 1987, with the Sunraycer setting a new world solar power speed record of 36 mph.

Racing success

The World Solar Challenge took place in November 1987 in Australia. Driver John Harvey navigated the Sunraycer to victory, achieving the fastest speed of 109 mph. Over a course of 1867 miles, the car clocked an average speed of 41.6 mph, with the race being finished in 5 days.

In 1988, the Sunraycer smashed another solar powered speed record in Arizona. It achieved a speed of 75.276 mph, a record held until 2011. The Sunraycer is a prime example of the power of solar engineered vehicles.