BUFFALO, NY - Nikola Tesla was certainly a genius. His work with alternating current, or AC power was groundbreaking, as was his partnership with George Westinghouse in harnessing the power of Niagara. But did he, decades later, also learn how to harness power right from the air, in the form of ambient or radiant energy?
As the story goes, Tesla came to Buffalo in the early 30's and swapped out the combustion engine of a 1931 Pierce Arrow, replacing it with an 80 horsepower Westinghouse electric engine, then powered it with some sort of energy-gathering device that was positioned in the passenger seat.
Jim Sandoro, who owns and operates the Buffalo Transportation/Pierce-Arrow Museum, doubts the account to say the least.. "He supposedly came and went and bought some parts and made a small box with two levers on it, got in and said, here it goes, and took a ride and came back. It's bologna. There's never been one eye witness ever writing that they saw or heard anything about it."
There are others who say it did happen. Apparently the story was relayed to a reporter by Peter Savo, who claimed to be Tesla's nephew. This story has received some debate because no physical evidence has ever been produced confirming that the car actually existed. Tesla did not have a nephew by the name of Peter Savo, and Tesla's grand-nephew William Terbo considers the Tesla electric car story to be a fabrication.
Sandoro says that one good thing has come out of what he calls "urban legend;" interest in Buffalo and the Pierce Arrow. He says he fields phone calls all of the time from people wondering about the Tesla story. After telling them he thinks it was a hoax, he goes on to enlighten them to the Queen City's already-rich history in electric vehicles.