Home » The Sebring Auto-Cycle Zzipper Was A 3-Wheeled EV Designed to Be Towed By Your RV

The Sebring Auto-Cycle Zzipper Was A 3-Wheeled EV Designed to Be Towed By Your RV

Zzipper Ts
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On today’s edition of Weird Facebook Marketplace finds, we travel to San Pedro, CA near the city of angels, home to not only the Kardashians but someone equally famous, David Tracy. DT sent me this thing and boy, was I taken aback. I had never seen one of them before or heard of them, to be quite honest. But I love the concept of it. Let’s dive in.

Zzipper Edit 2

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Automotive History Review

It’s a 1991 Sebring Auto-Cycle Zzipper. No, not a Chrysler Sebring. This is better. It’s a three-wheeled electric car. Or trike? It’s a thing, I like to say. While digging into the history of said thing, I came across the Spring 1991 edition of Automotive History Review and journalist Patrick R. Foster’s feature on the Sebring’s startup, entitled  “Sebring- Vanguard Citicar- the Dawn of A New Age.” Although Foster writes mainly about the Citicar, a different model from the Zzipper, he provides a useful background history of Sebring:

Sebring-Vanguard, Inc. was registered as a Delaware corporation on May 14, 1973. Its stated purpose was to be engaged in the business of “designing, engineering, manufacturing, and marketing electric vehicles.” The company founder was Robert G. Beaumont, president and chairman of the board. Beaumont perceived a small market developing for electric cars, a market that he felt he was in a position to satisfy. He began to formulate the plans necessary in the Spring of 1991 for entering into full-scale production of his most advanced electric to date, the Vanguard Coupe, and found several investors willing to take a chance on the new venture.

The Zzipper was released in 1991, with Bob Beaumont putting a great emphasis on a “small market” for developing EV cars, as it’s estimated that only about 35 were sold in the United States. It’s a three-wheeled, aluminum and plastic two-seat car, designed for a top speed of 55 mph. Not too ba, though plastic and aluminum construction with no front engine compartment to absorb impact means you’re stridently encouraged to keep your seatbelts on if you ever get a chance to ride in a Zzipper.

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True, you have a better chance of shaking Kim Jong Un’s hand than taking a spin in one of these things, but hey—safety first.

The Zzipper had an electric range of nearly 85 miles before it required recharging, which could be done by plugging into a standard 120 Volt outlet. And the price? According to this 1990 South Florida SunSentinel article, a Zzipper of your own would set you back $8,795, equivalent to just under $20,000 today. A Toyota Corolla was between $9,000 and $13,000 at the time, so the Zzipper’s ask wasn’t too bad for such a unique, low-production vehicle.

Zzipper1 Rv 3

Econogics

So what was the point of the Zzipper, beyond being a small and affordable EV? The answer is towing, but you weren’t supposed to haul things with your Zzipper. No, the Zzipper was designed to be hauled. It featured a collapsible tow bar and a retractable rear wheel, allowing for it to be easily anchored to the back of an RV. Once you arrived at your destination, it was easy to unhitch the Zzipper–like a “zipper” itself, I guess, whereupon you could travel off into the wilderness or pick up groceries or cook illicit drugs, whatever you RV people do these days.

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All kidding aside, this is a fantastic idea. A modern recreation of the Zzipper would be an extremely practical solution for RV folks, especially those who travel as a couple. A Zzipper can be plugged into an external source for charging rather than the RV itself. If need be, leaving the campsite in a Zzipper would be a breeze. Most RV campsites are centered near scenery, such as a lake or park, and have recreation for their patrons to enjoy.

Its range of nearly 80 miles is an ideal figure; I cannot imagine owners would stray farther than 30 or so miles from their RV and campsite, leaving a few extra miles for the trip back to the RV. There’s plenty of room for groceries and luggage, and with a top speed of 55mph on tap, highway jaunts wouldn’t be a problem. And of course, electric power saves gas money for the camper. The Zzipper is a neat little addition for RV travelers, and it’s a shame more weren’t sold!

(Mercedes’ Note: This little guy was apparently built to solve the problem of having a vehicle to use once you park your motorhome at a campground. Part of the fun of RVing is exploring the area around your campground, but you need a vehicle for that. Clearly, the idea here is that you’d deploy your Zzipper, go exploring, then return to base. It’s a neat concept, but one that sort of falls apart when you realize that many regular passenger cars can be towed behind a motorhome, likely including the car you already owned, negating the need to buy a Zzipper. Plus, it cost just a few hundred less than a Corolla for a lot less vehicle. Still, what a distinctive trike!)

Back to the Marketplace sale. This Zzipper is, of course, an original from 1991. The seller states that it’s been “standing for awhile,” and it’s been for sale for at least a year. That’s not a good sign. The seller also lists it as being equipped with a “Motor Advanced DC FB1-4001 Series -Wound DC 9, ” and a “Drivetrain direct belt drive.” Additionally, there are 6 12V Lead-Acid batteries that “need to be updated.” The seller also states that the Zzipper has a “flooded system voltage 72 volts charger onboard.”

Zzipper Fb

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Unfortunately, the batteries are shot and need to be serviced or replaced. The seller states that it’s a “good project car.” It certainly is, if you can find any information on servicing the batteries. If they are standard 12V, a potential restorer should have no problem.

This Zzipper is listed for $5,000, a bargain for one of the rarest EV cars to come out of the 90s, certainly one among a few, possibly rarer than a GM EV1. If you’re interested, take a trip out to San Pedro. This will certainly be a head-turner at C&C. Hurry before one of us Autopians gets to it!

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Mike DeSimone
Mike DeSimone
1 year ago

Is it front drive or rear drive? If front, any chance you can set it to recharge as it’s being towed? Could be an interesting (if fuel-inefficient) way to charge it when 120v service might not be available where you’re going.

STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
1 year ago

Saw “Sebring” and was immediately drawn here like a moth to a flame.

A lithium-ion upgrade to these would be killer. Great piece, Rob!

Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
1 year ago

Paging Dr. Cutter, Dr. Toebert Cutter, your vehicle has arrived!

Ron888
Ron888
1 year ago

This makes me wonder.Is A-frame towing a thing in the USA?
Here in australia it’s the go to solution for taking a spare vehicle with you on holidays.Those who travel in large or mid size busses seem to always have a small 4WD attached

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 year ago
Reply to  Ron888

It’s called flat towing here in the US and it has largely, but not completely, fallen out of favor over the last few decades except behind large RVs where it remains reasonably common. In that context it is sometimes known as dinghy towing, although that term can encompass any method of towing a smaller vehicle behind an RV, such as with a tow dolly.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
1 year ago

The great thing about electric cars is that the motors do not care about spinning when unpowered. Unlike an automatic transmission which really needs the engine operating to pump its lifeblood. There are aftermarket companies that make auxiliary ATF pumps to properly lubricate automatic transmissions on toads. We’ve also seen the pictures of carnage when accidentally leaving a manual vehicle in 1st and/or low range then flat towing at 75 mph.

For avoided costs of transmission replacement or other significant repairs on a daily driver pressed into toad use this is brilliant.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
1 year ago

Pretty bad design idea with small front wheels and a huge front overhang if you are supposed to lift the rear. Towed Zzippers must have hit something quite often.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
1 year ago

Is it just me, or does this thing look like it was designed in the 70’s? When the article said it was produced in 1991, I kept expecting it to say the original design had been around for a while.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
1 year ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

No, you’re right. I guess it was made to be practical and not good looking, like a HM Freeway (1979) or a Grumman LLV (1987). Which is really too bad: Maybe it could have sold a bit more if it wasn’t so ugly 😎

Last edited 1 year ago by Jakob K's Garage
Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 year ago

I wish to state for the record that my HMV Freeway is beautiful.

https://live.staticflickr.com/1393/4733417200_c246d1d1e2_c.jpg

Ron888
Ron888
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

I love that sedan thing! It looks like a mix of child’s toy and cartoon character

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 year ago
Reply to  Ron888

Thanks! It is, of course, also beautiful:

https://clunkbucket.com/victoire-de-citrons/

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
1 year ago

An ugly 3-wheeled EV towed by an RV? Well, I guess that’s it, we’ve reached Peak Autopian Buzzword Title. There is nothing you could do to make it more Autopian unless it had semaphore turn signals and a 7-slot grille.

Mercedes Streeter
Mercedes Streeter
1 year ago
Reply to  Austin Vail

No no, it’s almost there. It needs a diesel range extender from a motorcycle, a manual transmission, and was sold by a company that also built the Walmart shopping cart helpers or something.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
1 year ago

Ooh and faux woodgrain appliqué on the sides!

Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
1 year ago

You are supposed to say ‘San Pedro – home to Mike Watt, George Hurley, and the late D.Boon of the seminal punk band The Minutemen.’

Kids these days…

Jnnythndrs
Jnnythndrs
1 year ago
Reply to  Derek van Veen

Does the Zipper jam econo?

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
1 year ago

The front of this vehicle has an uncanny resemblance to an electric foil razor.
Kind of like this:

https://www.mankind.co.uk/remington-f3800-dual-foil-x-foil-dry-electric-shaver/10727572.html

🙂

Last edited 1 year ago by Shooting Brake
Eggsalad
Eggsalad
1 year ago

It looks like they missed out on the biggest idea for this… something akin to regenerative braking that would charge the batteries *while being towed*! I suspect the tiny bit of mechanical drag from (some sort of) generator would be almost unnoticeable for the tow vehicle, and you arrive at the campsite with a full charge on the batteries.

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
1 year ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

That’s exactly where my mind went when I read this story, and I couldn’t tell if it was a brilliant idea or a stupid one.

Conservation of energy being what it is and knowing that no energy transfer is lossless, you’re going to wind up losing more fuel economy on the tow vehicle than you’d put into the car, but you can’t argue with the convenience of arriving at your destination fully charged and ready to go. That may be worth a slight fuel economy hit.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
1 year ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

I suppose since towed vehicles already have wires going to them for brake lights, it wouldn’t be unrealistic for that same electrical signal to activate actual regenerative braking.

BigThingsComin
BigThingsComin
1 year ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

This is the killer app.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
1 year ago

The Zzipper is an interesting vehicle, but if you want a cheap short range EV to tow behind your RV, it is easier (and not much more expensive) to buy a first generation Leaf.

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 year ago

If it doesn’t work, I guess the seller’s Zzipper is down. How embarrassing.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
1 year ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Eyes up here ⬆️ 😉

CSRoad
CSRoad
1 year ago

Styling wise I’m thinking electric sidewalk sweeper.
It is a blip in the history of electric cars that is worth preserving, but by somebody else. so in the race to buy it don’t worry about me. Maybe if somebody here gets it, they can arrange a group battery buy with Torch with his needy Changli.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
1 year ago

“It’s a neat concept, but one that sort of falls apart when you realize that many regular passenger cars can be towed behind a motorhome.”

Yeah but most regular passenger cars cost at least $30k, cost a lot more to maintain, and can’t recharge at your campsite. I think this is a fantastic application for EVs. If you’re not sure you’re gonna have power when you get there, you could charge it via regen as you tow it! This also would be a rare good application for solar panels on cars, because this thing probably has a small enough battery and spends enough time sitting/going down the interstate during sunny vacation season for the panels to make sense.

Mercedes Streeter
Mercedes Streeter
1 year ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

To clarify what I mean there, this is a vehicle that you were supposed to buy to go along with your motorhome. The problem, at least how I see it, is that even back then, motorhomes were capable of towing the car that you already owned.

As Rob noted, these were just barely cheaper than a new Corolla, so it was certainly cheaper to mount a towbar onto your existing car or just use a car trailer than to buy one of these. Basically, it’s a cool, but unnecessary vehicle.

Of course, the rest of what you’re saying is totally correct. EVs are great RV “toads!”

Last edited 1 year ago by Mercedes Streeter
Jon Wilson
Jon Wilson
1 year ago

I’m guessing there is a significant weight difference which would mean better RV fuel economy?

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon Wilson

better RV fuel economy” Ha! there is no such thing as fuel economy in an RV. 😉

( I speak as an owner of a class A Gas motor home that gets 5.5 -7 MPG)

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 year ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

Yeah, but this was $8800 new in 1991, at 1991 money – a brand new Chevy Beretta or Corsica was $10,000, a Dodge Colt was $7300, a Ford Escort was $8,700, a Geo Metro was $6800, a Honda Civic was $7000, a CRX was $9300, every Hyundai model stickered between $6300 for the Excel and $11,000 for the Sonata, a Mazda 323 was $6900, a Nissan Sentra was $8000, etc. etc – you could buy lots of real cars for the same or less, and since this couldn’t be used as an “only” car, that meant you’d still need a real car at home, plus this electric to tow, or you could just buy one regular car for all purposes and save 50+%. It was a poor value proposition – if you wanted a neat electric trike, buy the electric trike, but you bought it because you wanted it, not because it was solving a problem or saving money.

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