Mike Locash was never great at business, and the latest deal he’d struck up with a wheeler-dealer named Charlie Montana to buy the rights to a defunct car brand seemed worse than usual. Buying a car nameplate that no longer exists has pitfalls, despite Charlie’s glowing praise. “Look, this was the best-selling brand of electric car in America until the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S came out” says Charlie Montana, a man with the ability to sell snow to Inuits since changing from his given name of Reuben Lifshitz years ago. “In fact, the Tesla Cybertruck STOLE this design, and you’d have an easy lawsuit on your hands that would settle out of court to give you start up money”.
[Editor’s Note: Remember, this is our Daydreaming Designer. I don’t think these are real people. Just go with it. – JT]
Charlie isn’t totally full of shit; nearly 4,500 examples of this car brand sold in the seventies and eighties, a record that nobody came close to for production, roadworthy EVs built after World War II. Mr. Montana also speaks the truth about design; well, sort of. The pyramid-like straight-line styling of this particular car in question is painfully similar to the visual language of Elon’s controversial, yet-to-be-produced pickup.
What Charlie is glossing over, however, is what the brand and model he’s selling to Mike actually is: the rather infamous, cheap-n-cheerful Citicar:
It Beats Walking?
The Sebring-Vanguard Citicar comes from what Jason Torchinsky calls charitably “The Crap Era” of electric vehicles, and it certainly lives up to the expected dismal performance abilities of that genre. Still, at its introduction in the throes of the 1974 gas crisis, it seemed like the right idea at a time when price-per-gallon went up over fifty percent overnight (if you could find a station that actually had gas). With a tight two person passenger compartment, the Citicar reportedly could get up to 38 miles an hour from the three horsepower electric motor, with a range of about 40 miles (later model doubled that horsepower number, and range improved).
True to its name, the Citicar was never going to work on a US highway, but that wasn’t the point. As Jason points out, his similar-in-design-and-performance Changli electric car was the primary form of transportation around his small town until the batteries shit the bed (but stay tuned since he’s working on it!). As a second car it might be ideal. It’s sort of like a roadworthy golf cart, but it does offer a rudimentary car-like weatherproof interior.
The Citicar design was bought Commuter Vehicles in the late seventies and renamed the Comuta-Car. The addition of absurd looking deeper bumpers allowed for, of all things, trays for additional batteries and extra range. Expanding the brand was attempted with the introduction of new products like the Citivan/Comuta-Van, with over a foot of car added behind the rear doors for extra cargo space.
The most ambitious project was the Postal Citivan, which was lengthened even more and had sliding doors added to each side to fulfill a contract that Citicar was able to secure with the US Postal Service in Florida in 1981. Apparently 500 were requested, though reports state that VIN numbers die out after number 367 and a lawsuit against the company due to poor performance was reported (big surprise). These had right hand drive, a kerosene heater (!), and whopping 12 horsepower, along with a three speed transmission. Civilian versions with fake TRX Mustang hubcaps appear to have been offered as well, based on the brochure image below with the woman pretending to be a statue or something.
Records are sketchy but it seems the last one of any of these little wedges was produced in around 1982. After moldering in warehouses or in back lots for decades, Citicars or Commuta-Cars have actually caught on with some hipsters; it’s about the only vintage EV that exists. YouTube bloggers have embraced them as restoration fodder and even rocker Jack White owned one for a fashion. They’re terrible by today’s standards, but certainly cute and, with the advent of and hype around Elon’s endless-lead-time pickup, the angular styling is accepted more than it probably should be.
A Citty Idea Comes To Life
Mike is convinced that building something like this in China will fill the lower end of the EV market that nobody in the US seems to have really hit yet.
Mike’s lawsuit against Tesla doesn’t get off the ground, of course, but he has another idea in mind. If Elon won’t acknowledge him, he’ll STEAL BACK the Cybertruck design! He’s pretty sure that he can pull it off for two reasons. First, he won’t copy it verbatim since it’s easy to change it up a bit. Second, ask a lawyer to launch litigation against a company in a communist country a million miles away. Seriously, just ask them- they need a good laugh now and then.
Here’s what the design team came up with:
The awful seventies detailing on the original will be cleaned up, but the beady little Mutant Ninja Turtle eyes will stay. There’s another trick the designers in China will employ to give more cargo room up in the “frunk”. Note the “power bulge” on the hood that is in fact really just to allow for more cargo room; is it just me or does this feature look a bit like the rear end of a 1980-85 Seville? It wouldn’t be the first or last time that a car was more aerodynamic going backwards than forwards.
As with the revived all-caps MINI compared to the 1959 Mini, the new Citicars will be small but significantly larger than the original cars. Like the seventies car, there will be different body styles, from the basic short wheelbase two door version and the longer four door model.
In back, there’s a “loop” taillight surrounding a recessed area for the bumper and logo which is all wash lit from LEDs above at night. Repeater lights, backup lights, and reflectors live in the bumper below. The wiper stows neatly in a recess.
Naturally, Mike will follow up with an even longer model line called the “Cylon”; since this thing is sort-of-a-copy he’ll jokingly name it after the wiggly-LED-eyed robots in the show that ostensibly ripped off Star Wars (no, they will not say “by your command” after you give it voice prompts). The Cylon models includes the fake Cybertruck four door pickup and an enclosed-back SUV version.
The truck model has roof rails and removable/optional “sport bars” on the sides of the cargo bed to keep the “pyramid” look but still allow access or at least visibility into this space from the flanks. It would be available in colors, including a matte steel finish (or wrap) for those that want it, without the cost of stainless steel. Mike really wanted flat stainless steel panels, a peaked pyramid-style roof and solid wedge “D” pillars making the cargo bed inaccessible from the sides to look exactly like the Cybertruck, but the design engineers Mike met in Shanghai described those ideas as, according to the translator, “dumb as a box of rocks…and I mean dumb rocks…who the hell would do that?” Mike pushed a bit more about trying to match the Tesla pickup design, to which the Chinese asked if they were even able to get this so-called “Cybertruck” into production yet. At that point Mike gave up and let them make something more producible and realistic.
Someone Stole Your Car Interior Design, IKEA
Inside, the minimalism of the OG Citicar is kept intact. Features such as electric windows and locks are standard, but the basic dashboard is an exercise in functional minimalism. There’s a horizontal bar going across the full width with two slots; one features power and the other does not. Into these slots snap in the tablet holder but also accessories like phone holders, cup holders, speakers, and even rechargeable phone batteries/flashlights (I was going to say “ashtray” but it should probably be a “vape charger”). The bins on top of the dash actually can remove and be carried away with built-in handles. Here’s a view with the steering wheel (and pods) removed:
To keep the dash totally clean I’ve put essentially every control for the car on pods surrounding the tilt adjustable steering column, including a holder for your phone or a separate small tablet to act as a main gauge readout.
Finally, someone like Mike is able to offer the small, affordable EV that America is looking for, and doing it with something sort of fun and silly looking that plays on the history of electric pioneers. With his full range of models there’s something for pretty much anyone; you could likely even get a few different ones like an SUV and the little hatch to fill the spaces of your garage together for less than the price of a single premium European EV. I’m pretty impressed with what Mike was able to pull off, and of course Charlie Montana wastes no time in capitalizing on this seemingly poised-for-success operation.
“So, Mike, you know I might be able to get the rights to the Studebaker name, or at least Avanti…that’s something you’d be interested in, right? Right?”