Before the Leaf or Volt, there was the CitiCar – not many remember

Maybe it’s something you have had to live through once or twice in your life and long lines queue up for gasoline in the morning or you have odd day/even day fill-ups with gasoline not only becoming scarce but having its price double or even triple overnight, then you really begin to think the electric car is the way to go.

That’s what happened in the 1970s in the United States, first in 1973 and later in 1979 or so (the shortage wasn’t quite as bad as the Saudis did pump more oil for the U.S., but it did leave us beholden to them) and, again, the price of gasoline spiked and while the odd/even days were gone, it did mean there were days when tanking up was impossible at your favorite service station.

Of course, the auto industry responded with advanced studies like those launched by GM, Chrysler or Ford, but, those electrics never seemed to get off the drawing board. In short, people became used to the idea of higher-priced gasoline and everything stabilized.

There was one visionary, though, who tried to move the country to the electric car named Bob Beaumont. His name isn’t a household word, but, maybe it should be as he actually did manage to manufacture a sort-of electric car, based on golf cart technology and a Fiat body, called the CitiCar.

To digress a minute, it’s funny that the time between an idea’s conception and its realization have this way of never quite making it at the same point (just getting to today’s electric car has been a 20-plus year battle for many in the auto industry and it has taken near $4 gasoline to drive the public to the electric, though GM’s EV1 effort appeared about 1992) and that’s what happened to Beaumont.

The electric pioneer, who found a backer who believed in the concept, had his idea in 1972 or so and by the time the CitiCar appeared in 1974, gas lines were disappeared and, though the price of gasoline had doubled or tripled, people were willing to pay it.

Still, Beaumont was of the Press On Regardless (POR) school (there was a famed auto rally of that name in the 1970s) and Beaumont, who recently passed away, was of that school.

By 1974, his firm actually brought out the Sebring Vanguard CitiCar, a vehicle with rather lousy handling characteristics, a 1.8KW electric motor and a 36-volt lead-acid battery pack that was greeted with a stifled yawn from a market headed back to the gasoline car. Beaumont wasn’t deterred, though, and kept on trying through 1977 when he actually put out a model with a 4.4 KW electric motor; 48-volt battery pack Iead-acid) and a 50 mph top speed and 40-mile range.

That pretty much ended the CitiCar as a separate vehicle line, although it was purchased in the mid-1970s and eventually won a Post Office bid for 4,440 right-hand-drive delivery trucks in the early 80s. By 1982, though, the design, which still has its crew of cult followers, was pretty much done and Beaumont retired to become a tiny footnote in auto history.

It’s sort of sad when you can say that of the only person who actually produced an American electric car after the Bailey stopped production in 1916. Maybe someday, he will be recognized for what he was, a real pioneer with a great idea, in an industry where an idea just outstripped the materials available at the time.
Beaumont deserves his own page in automotive history.

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