updated 6/19/2005 10:18:02 AM ET 2005-06-19T14:18:02

Victor Wouk, an electrical engineer and entrepreneur who developed the first full-size version of the modern hybrid car, has died. He was 86.

Wouk died of cancer at his New York City home on May 19, his son Jordan told the Los Angeles Times for a story in Sunday’s editions.

Described as the father of modern hybrid automobile programs, Wouk held more than 10 patents, most of them related to hybrid and electric vehicles. In the early 1970s, he formed his own company, Petro-Electric Motors, to develop a hybrid vehicle for the federal government.

Wouk said his work was spurred by the Clean Air Act, passed by Congress in 1970, which called for the development of a car engine that could eliminate 90 percent of the pollutants then being emitted by engines.

Wouk and friends invested about $300,000 into the project and he and a partner, Charles Rosen, modified a 1972 Buick Skylark with a rotary engine and an electric motor that supplied peak power when needed.

“We built the first full-powered, full sized hybrid vehicle,” Wouk said in a 2004 interview. “Nobody had taken a full-sized passenger car and made a hybrid out of it.”

The car proved effective in independent lab tests. It met the strictest emission standards, got 30 miles to a gallon of gas and its top speed was 85 mph. Nevertheless, it failed the Environmental Protection Agency’s tests.

Petro-Electric folded in the 1970s and Wouk became a consultant and remained a booster for hybrid cars. He believed Toyota’s 1997 introduction of a gasoline-electric car was affirmation of his life’s work, said son Jordan.

Besides Jordan, Wouk is survived his wife of 63 years, Joy; his brother, the novelist Herman Wouk; another son, Jonathan, and a grandson.

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