Classic Cars A to Z

Electric Car History (1970-1989)

NASA helped raise the profile of the electric vehicle when it's electric-powered Lunar rover became the first manned vehicle to drive on the moon.


Lunar Rover Vehicle

First deployed on the 1971 Apollo 15 mission, the LRV (more commonly known as the moon mobile or moon buggy) used four electric motors (one per wheel) powered by non-rechargeable silver-zinc potassium hydroxide batteries.

history of electric cars

Built by Boeing and GM subsidiary Delco Electronics, the Moon Buggy was used during the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions of 1971 and 1972.


BMW 1602E

BMW was one of the first major Automotive manufacturers to offer an electric car. In 1972, they produced the 1602E, an EV based on a standard production sedan fitted with a dozen 12-volt batteries. Combined, the batteries weighed 771 pounds.

history of electric cars

After removing the engine and the transmission, engineers installed a 43-horsepower electric motor in the transmission tunnel. Travel range was 37 miles on one charge.

Gas Shortages and Emissions

It was the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, which brought about gasoline shortages and high prices, that sparked renewed interest in electric-powered cars.



In the same year, General Motors developed a prototype for an urban electric car, which was displayed at the Environmental Protection Agency's First Symposium on Low Pollution Power Systems Development.

Zagato Zele

From 1974 through 1976, the Italian company Zagato produced a small, pug-nosed EV called the Zele. With chassis and suspension derived from the Fiat 500 and Fiat 124, the Zele could reach a speed of 45 mph, with a range of 60 miles when fully charged.

history of electric cars

The Zagato Zele was sold in the U.S. as the Elcar, with an average cost of $4,000 to $4,500.  Approximately 500 examples were built.


Bob Beaumont and Sebring-Vanguard

In the early 1970s, Bob Beaumont was interested in EV's. He spent time working with and for several people and companies that were looking into or attempting to enter the market with their EV conversions.

In late 1973, he took steps and started his own company called Vanguard, selling modified golf-carts that would meet most roadworthy standards, but fall under a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) exemption for lightweight vehicles under 1,000 pounds.

Vanguard electric sports coupe


Soon after the company name was modified to Sebring-Vanguard, to reflect the City in Florida where the EV factory was located. Sometime in 1973, the Vanguard Coupe was the first of several EV models the company would produce.

The CitiCar (1974-1977)

After the NTSB deleted their under 1,000 pound exemption that Beaumont's first EV had been built under, the CitiCar was designed and built. With Beaumont as it's creator, it was basically an experiment in what it would take to make as minimal a vehicle as you can and yet still meet the then NTSB standards for an automobile.

Vanguard-Sebring's SV/36 CitiCar made its debut at the 1974 Electric Vehicle Symposium, held in Washington, D.C. The CitiCar had a top speed of about 28 MPH for a maximum of 35-40 miles.

Bob Beaumont history of the electric car

The SV/36 was a 36 Volt DC model but almost immediately was upgraded to the SV/48 which was the mainstay 48 Volt DC model most CitiCars are. The way to tell the difference between the two is count the number of six volt batteries under the seat. Through 1975, and first half of 1976 (those built before January of 1976) Beaumont built the SV/48 as a roadster.

electric cars history

Starting in late December 1975 through May of 1976, Beaumont started to build/sell a slightly modified version sometimes referred to as the transitional or 1976-1/2 model CitiCar. The 29 changes made at this point were not done all at once, but over a number of vehicles, with some having one but not necessarily all the change.

By May of 1976, all the changes had been incorporated into the final product. These cars can be referred to as Hatchback Coupes, as they now had full side doors with sliding windows instead of the pop out Roadster type in the SV/36 and SV/48's. On these coupes the back window now opened like a hatch for easier access to the behind the seat area, also.

Sebring-Vanguard Production Numbers

During 1975, Sebring-Vanguard produced somewhere around 1,500 EV's. This made Beaumont's company the sixth largest automaker in the U.S, behind #5 Checker Motors, but far ahead of #7 Avanti and #8 Excalibur Motors.


In 1976, the United States Congress passed the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act, which authorized the Energy Department to encourage research and development in electric and hybrid vehicles. Prototypes and limited production EV models began to surface from several major automotive companies.

CitiCar electric car history

In late 1977 into early 1978, Beaumont made the last CitiCar change by offering the longer wheel-base version referred to as the CitiVan. This model is easily identified because it is the only CitiCar with a side back window. Vanguard-Sebring was dissolved in 1978, and the assets sold to pay off debts incurred, and to avoid an NTSB fine that was pending.

Commuter Vehicles Inc

It was during this time that a major portion of the assets from Sebring-Vanguard were sold to a New Jersey business man named Frank Flower, who owned several other companies.

Not wanting any problems that might arise with the CitiCar or Sebring-Vanguard names, Flower decided to start his own company called Commuter Vehicles, Inc. (CVI) to build his version of this light weight EV called the Comuta-Car. It is not clear if Flower started CVI as a separate company or a division of General Engine, one of his other companies.

electric CitiCar

The Comuta-Car (1979-1982)

The Comuta-Cars were based on the 1976-1/2 CitiCar, with the major difference being that the batteries were now located behind the front and rear bumpers, not under the seat as the original CitiCars were. This gave the Comuta-Car it's distinctive extended bumper There were a number of other changes including various frame strengthening and safety additions, as well.

Comuta-Cars were built from 1979 to December of 1981, under a special exemption from the NTSB (National Traffic and Safety Board); with those built from August to December 1981 registered as 1982 models.

history of electric cars

1979 Comuta-Van

For 1979 only, in addition to the Comuta-Car's, Flower also assembled some of Beaumont's longer wheelbase Citi-Vans, but under the name Comuta-Van. These 1977 and 1979 models are referred to as the short wheelbase Vans or Citi-Styled Vans.

electric car history

To help identify this group of early vehicles they are often referred to generically as 'C-Cars' for an easy classification. Current owners of these unique EV's have formed online internet connections on both YAHOO and Facebook.


Bradley GTE

In 1980, Bradley Automotive, the kit car company, began production of an electric-powered version of their Bradley GT sports car kit. It was to be marketed as the Bradley GTE. Unfortunately, amidst customer complaints and mounting legal problems, the company ceased operations in 1981.


Electric Postal Vans

In 1980, Frank Flower obtained a government contract with the United States Postal Service to build 500 Electric Postal Vans. These were be built to strict governments specifications. Thus, the Postal Comuta-Van was a much larger and higher voltage EV than previous models.

electric postal van 1981

Most of these USPS EV's are registered as 1981 and 1982 Vans. At some point the contract was canceled due to problems between CVI and the USPS that eventually wound up in federal court. Some of these Postal Comuta-Vans were sold to the public with minor alterations (as the 1981 and 1982 regular Comuta-Vans as well).



After January of 1982, some leftover Comuta-Cars and Postal Vans were sold without serial numbers in whole or as kits. They were to be registered in their individual states as home built EV's, or for off-road use. Frank Flower eventually won his court battle with the USPS, but died shortly after.


The 1980's saw very little in the way of electric vehicle development. Up until the popularity of today's Tesla, the Vanguard Citicar was the single best-selling electric car in America.

electric powered CitiCar

Pictures/Citicar information courtesy Peter Crisitello


Related Articles:

Electric Car History 1900-1969
Electric Car History 1990-1999