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You may have recently noticed a significant increase in hysteria surrounding the environment. Now let’s be clear, I oppose bulldozing the rainforest and feeding plastic bottles to dolphins as much as anyone else. I can see that human activity has contributed to global warming and that emissions from industry and transport need to be reduced. However, behind the headline clickbait of protestors supergluing themselves to trains and proclaiming the end of days, the actual science around how to achieve a carbon neutral society is vague at best.

I could propose that reducing the rapidly growing global population would help and point out the hypocritical irony of climate change hippies wanting a better future for each of their seven children, but we’d probably get angry letters and end up on some sort of hitlist for when the revolution comes. So I won’t. All of us car enthusiasts will already be in for a tricky enough time, so I suppose we need to show willing, but the truth is that I don’t see classic cars as much of a problem. Yes, exhaust emissions are higher than those from new cars but mileage tends to be minimal and most of the ecological impact has already happened; the old cars already exist. The process of manufacturing a complex new vehicle is immensely polluting, especially so when you add batteries into the equation. The annual whole life carbon impact of doing a few thousand miles in my old crock is microscopic compared to ordering a brand new hybrid. It’s not as if plugging a hybrid into the mains should be guilt free anyway. The electricity isn’t produced by magic fairies. Even if you kid yourself it’s all generated by wind turbines and solar panels, such installations are not exactly constructed of pure distilled innocence and they’re hardly easy on the eye or sympathetic to natural habitats. But sorry, there are 7.7 billion people out there who all deserve a perfect Instagram life, and me bringing factual complications into the matter won’t help. We need to stop the use of all fossil fuels by next Tuesday afternoon and go electric. Ok, you want electric? We can do electric.

The week’s Prime Find will allow you to keep your ViaRETRO credentials, be smug about not introducing a new car onto our crowded roads and embrace electricity (make sure you are earthed first though, it’s dangerous stuff). The history of electric cars goes right back to the dawn of motoring, back to when the term “hybrid” referred to breeding your cat with a goat just to see what would happen. Early horseless carriages were rather held back by contemporary internal combustion engines and electric stole an early lead on petrol. The key enabling technology was the lead-acid battery, invented in 1859 by Frenchman Raimond Louis Gaston Planté. English engineer Thomas Parker then developed a technique to improve the efficiency of the individual cells by using an acid treatment to honeycomb the plates, thereby increasing their surface area and enhancing their capacity to store energy. It so happened that Planté had simultaneously come to the same conclusions and they were both awarded patents on the same day in 1882.

The Englishman’s Elwell-Parker company subsequently bought out the Frenchman’s rights and Parker is credited as prototyping the first practical electric car in 1884, complete with those rechargeable lead-acid batteries. As early as 1897, New York City boasted a fleet of twelve electric taxis which neither deposited the malodorous calling cards of horse drawn cabs, nor required the maintenance demanded by the embryonic gas guzzlers. An impressive 30,000 electric cars existed globally by 1900 and if you were a betting man you would have assumed the future was clear. However, petrol power was ultimately more practical for the infrastructure of the time and rapid development soon propelled the combustion motor off and over the horizon. Ironically, electricity provided the one key development which did so much to make the ICE engine more attractive; namely the electric starter motor.

It would be nearly 100 years until electric cars would once again start to gain traction in mainstream motoring, but the idea didn’t completely go away in the meantime. Electricity could still be found in some public service vehicles and niche applications such as milkfloats, but we’ve found a genuine classic electric car that should keep both you and the extinction protesters happy. We present, the Sebring-Vanguard CitiCar.

Originating from Sebring in Florida, the CitiCar was a response to the fuel crisis of the early 70s and an experiment in utilitarian personal mobility. You may be forgiven for thinking it was simply a novelty, a glorified golf cart with no practical purpose, but Sebring-Vanguard were deadly serious and it was actually an evolution of a previous attempt at glory. Debuting in 1974, the tiny CitiCar needed to account for the fact that battery technology had not advanced much since Thomas Parker’s day, so mimicking the archetypal American land yacht was off the menu. Sebring-Vanguard’s vision was to produce the very minimum of car as a matter of principle, and for a commuter tool there was simply no need to go large. Measuring only 2.4m by 1.4m and constructed from Cycolac ABS resin, the lightweight wedge shaped body concealed an aluminium frame incorporating a safety hoop to protect the occupants in the event of a roll. Accidents were perhaps best avoided but a top speed of 28mph was protection itself from most dangers, unless you were inadvertently trampled by a stray Eldorado.

The car was available in two mechanical variants throughout its production run; the SV-36 or the SV-48. The initial 36 volt model took its name from the six 6v batteries which powered a 2.5hp Baldor electric motor giving a 28mph top end capability. This was superseded by the higher performance SV-48 which boasted eight 6v batteries producing 48 volts feeding a 3.5hp electric motor. Foot to the boards, a top speed of 38 mph was attainable if perhaps not desirable. Each variant was equipped with a three step contactor control system in lieu of a conventional gearbox. The CitiCar could offer a range of up to 40 miles between charges, but with so many caveats that anyone depending on the full distance capability may have found themselves pushing it some of the way. They would have then found the CitiCar to be heavier than it might appear to be, at 570kg unladen, but batteries have never been light. Strangely, the SV-36 originally featured front disc brakes but these were ditched on the higher performance SV-48 in favour of drums all round for reasons unclear, but I suppose “higher performance” is still a relative term.

Probably the most remarkable fact is that the CitiCar sold well enough for Sebring-Vanguard to claim the position of America’s 6th biggest automaker by 1976, but that title flatters to deceive when you consider all the GM brands are lumped as one for example. Sebring-Vanguard were bought out by Commuter Vehicles Inc in 1977 and production continued until 1979 by which time a total of 4,444 had been produced. The CitiCar thereby claimed the record for highest volume American post war electric vehicle until the Tesla Model S whirred onto the scene in 2012. Somewhat improbably, the core design of the CitiCar lives on in the present day in the form of the Norwegian made Buddy, itself a development of the similarly obscure Kewet. Here are a few pictures of the Sebring-Vanguard Citicar which we’ve borrowed from the dealers website:

You now have the rare chance to buy your own CitiCar and you don’t even have to venture to America to collect it. Currently on offer at Potoma Classics in the Netherlands (whose website incidentally lists all manner of fabulously mad contraptions) is this low mileage example, which according to the vendor boasts new brakes, tyres and batteries. It’s not 100% clear whether it’s the firebreathing 48v model or the sloth-like 36v, but you probably can’t be too picky if you’re looking for one. The price is not listed so you’ll have to negotiate for yourselves, but it looks good and it’s a lot more convenient than going to Florida. Unless you live in Florida, obviously. So go on, do the right thing and contribute to saving the planet. Go electric, and with this little number you’ll even do so with the blessing of ViaRETRO. Here’s a link to the website: 1975 Sebring-Vanguard Citicar

 

With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to primefindoftheweek@viaretro.co.uk

9 Responses

  1. Tony Wawryk

    You’re not wrong about the dealer having some unusual cars, Dave. Annoying that there’s no price listed for this unusual little Prime Find – not that I want it, but it would have been interesting to compare with this Zagato electric car that Historics of Brooklands have up for auction later this month, carrying an estimate of £10 – 13,000. Funny what the future looked like in 1975…

    Reply
  2. yrhmblhst

    Seriously? ‘global warming’ is a scam and has been disproven so may times as to be laughable.
    And yes, population explosion contributes to the issues surrounding us, but the eco-nazi hippies seldom have many if any kids – the third-world is the issue. Not PC, but fact. One might also note that thirdworld and communist countries – thinking india and red china – contribute SIGNIFICANTLY more waste and ‘pollution’ than all of Western Society combined.
    Another fact is that ‘electric’ cars and hybrids are significantly more ‘polluting’ than traditional cars built in traditional manners; a study a few years ago looked at ‘environmental impact’ of all new cars available in the US at the time. It considered energy and materials to manufacture as well as recyclability of materials in the car. The WORST car on the market? A toyota prius. The best? Jeep Grand Cherokee. Even if we went all electric by next Tuesday, the grid cant handle it and the cost/energy usage of producing that electricity outweighs current traditional energy consumption. As noted, magic fairies dont just pull it out of the air, no matter what bernie sanders and alexandra occasional cortex think…
    I recently read another paper that showed that ONE ROUND TRIP of the largest Maersk freighter produces more emissions than the entire automotive population of the US in almost a year. And where does that freighter go and what does it haul? If you really want to help reduce emissions, stop buying krap from red china. Simple.

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  3. Dave Leadbetter

    Ha, now that’s what I call a reader reaction! :)

    Seriously @yrhmblhst , I think we’d need to sedate you medically if you lived over here. We’ve just had London shut down for weeks by Extinction Rebellion demanding a total ban on the use of all fossil fuels by… 2025. Given this country has got itself into a proper hole with regards to generation capacity of any kind, I can’t see too many people being happy when they find out they’re rationed to five minutes of electricity per day. Returning the nation to a state of feudal subsistence (in the dark) within six years probably isn’t a vote winner. Wait until child prodigy Greta Thurnberg rocks up in your neighbourhood with her list of helpful hints, although how she’ll get there without flying I’m not sure…

    I just like to remind myself that geologically speaking we’re still emerging from the last ice age so it can’t be all our fault. I’ll probably get hauled away in the middle of the night for stating that, the way things are going…

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  4. Anders Bilidt

    Hehehe… @yrhmblhst, sit down my friend. Relax your shoulder muscles. Now take a deeeeeep breathe. Hold it – Hold it…. And now exhale. Is that better mate? ;-)

    I’m certainly not a big believer in EV’s either. Quite the contrary! 20 years ago, every government in the world told us that the only way to save the world was if all of us drove diesels. I didn’t believe them – but seemingly most people did. Look how that went! Today, every responsible government has cursed the diesel with taxes in order to get rid of those stinking, polluting oil-burners. Now the same governments are instead backing EV’s. In 20 years time, let’s see how that went….

    But much as I despise the current hype for EV’s, in some weird way, I kind of like the idea of a retro EV. Just for a bit of a laugh really… But if I were ever to actually buy one, I would probably have to instil a bit of national pride and light-hearted humor into the equation by not going for a Sebring-Vanguard, but instead purchasing the Danish built Ellert which entered production in 1987. Besides, I’ve heard from reliable sources that youngtimers are much trendier now than proper classics, so just imagine how hip I would be by combining youngtimer with EV… ;-)

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  5. David Yorke

    As a driver of a diesel car and one who once foolishly believed that governments’ scientists knew what they were talking about (true scientists are supposed to be objective after all), I totally agree about the danger of knee-jerk reactions to fulfil political promises and objectives. The UK population now well knows about false claims and assertions after the Brexit fiasco.
    If the UK goes all-electric too quickly, the only solution is to have more nuclear reactors which is good for Sellafield which has to dispose of nuclear waste but hopeless for the environment. But the delivery of the new Hinckley Point reactor is going at much the same speed as the delivery of Brexit and I question if either will ever be delivered.
    Jaguar Land Rover took their eye off the ball and are now trying to playing catch-up with their electic offerings. If they finally fall into the hands of PSA, then Carlos Tavares is likely to have seen some future for the Ingenium engines despite France being a net exporter of nuclear power, even to the UK.
    Perhaps I should take up cycling again – would that be recycling?

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  6. Claus Ebberfeld

    @yrhmblhst , over here you’d get stoned (or hurt by another CO2-neutral method of inflicting damage) for uttering something like that in public. Which is why we NEVER hear anything like it – well, except privately, maybe. For that reason alone your outcry is very refreshing.

    I don’t believe the Prius / Cherokee-comparison stood the test of time, though – and I thought even at the time that it DID sound so foul that I would have suspected the analysis was paid for by JEEP.

    Most people don’t seem to understand the concept of energy versus movement, though – even though it would take only a few miles on a bicycle (still the best alternative to short distance transportation ever invented) to understand that nothing comes for free. How anyone could pass off a two-tonne luxury electric vehicle off as an environmental friendly vehicle when it would be entirely possible to do a one-tonne version of the same using roughly half the energy (all things being equal) is frankly beyond me.

    Exactly as the fact that all-electric automotive transportation would require such a huge expansion of the capacity that I understand that we would not be able to do it without nuclear power. Which is, as I understand it, not a bad solution anyway – but certainly has a reputation about equally bad as diesel. And then there’s the distribution of all that power demanding beefing up everywhere over the western society, requiring equally huge investments and billions of (mainly dieselpowered) man hours building, digging and hanging tons of conductors from ingenious structures.

    I personally believe this terrible mess is a function of our capitalist system relying firmly on production of- well, something and anything. Where someone simply needs to come up with the next big thing and then the next big thing after that. Let’s say, for example, diesel and then electric (insert smiley except that it’s not funny).

    Road transport of course doesn’t account for all of the energy consumption (far from it, if fact – in Denmark the number for personal as well as goods transports account for around 20% as far as I know), so it shouldn’t really be such a big deal. But it is just so TRANSPARANT what happens here. At least when you’re looking at local numbers like CO2. When looking at the big picture it is far more complicated, of course. So most don’t.

    However @dave-leadbetter is absolutely correct in all his observations regarding this retro EV, and what a wonderfully terrible machine it is. I am completely with @anders-bilidt in preferring the Danish “Ellert”, though – a vehicle that I in fact view as one of the triumphs of modern Danish Design. I once saw one fitted with a 750 CC Honda V4.

    But anyway, here’s another retro-trick for environment fundamentalists to reduce your carbon footprint: Watch DVD’s (or VHS, if you can find any) instead of streaming. The energy consumption used for running the huge datacentres and distributing the data (a terrible thing to call a B-movie or -series) and running your wireless network as well as the devices in your house is about to equal that of the aero industry, I read recently. Just remember to take your bicycle to the video shop.

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  7. yrhmblhst

    Messrs Bilidt and Leadbetter ; relaxing and taking too many ‘chill pills’ is one of the reasons we are in this mess…and yes Mr L , [[[they]]] would like to haul anyone who dares question the narrative away secretly at 3am never to be heard from again. Of course, thats one reason why we have the Second Ammendment over here, for just such emergencies…

    I did and do believe the jeep / prius thing Mr Ebberfield, and no, to the best of my knowledge, Chrysler had nothing to do with the study. What i took from the study was that the Jeep surged ahead of others due to several factors, the main two being the recyclability and/or biodegradability of materials, and the fact that at time at least, the factory building those vehicles was the most labour [human labour] intensive one left. Robotics use a LOT of power…
    That damned virtue signalling ugly lunchbox on wheels is almost entirely constructed by robots – ironically matching the ability of the end purchasers for independent thought – and is full of caustic materials. The batteries in those contraptions are not recyclable and have a caustic half life of several thousand years. So, as is always the case with leftists and their cause[s] d’celebere[s], the truth is the opposite of what they claim and they themselves are guilty of that of which they accuse others.
    You are also correct in that transportation is a small percentage of energy useage, but, is as you say, so OBVIOUS. I not only re-refer to my example above of cargo ships, but would throw another couple of things out. As an example, clown world citizens cry and squawk about cars and motor racing in particular. Conservative estimates prove that all the motor racing in America uses less fuel than ONE nfl ‘football’ game. But Heaven forbid that we would suggest regulating or eliminating mind numbed morons sitting in huge stadiums swilling beer and watching illiterate felons play a schoolyard game!

    I could go on for hours.

    Remember, whether the snowflakes, npcs or their media masters like it or not, the Truth is still the truth. I heartily suggest telling it at every opportunity. Of course, one of my personalised plates is ‘Not PC’ too.

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  8. Claus Ebberfeld

    It is a very interesting point that a human labour extensive plant should be more environmentally friendly than a robotintensive one, @yrhmblhst . Here I am sure it must be taken into consideration that robots don’t gather up at those environmentally terrible football games nor watch netflix after hours.

    I like the idea of the Cherokee being better than a modern electric (the study is some years old, though), but am sure the outcome of such an analysis depends heavily on the expected life of the compared vehicles too. The shorter the life expectancy the more advantage to the Cherokee (less energy intensive production), the longer the life expectancy the more advantage to the modern EV (less energy intensive driving).

    How such an analysis would deal with the fact that you could probably keep a Cherokee driving on endlessly with comparatively small repairs I don’t know. Although it wouldn’t really matter much, though, as most old vehicles are just thrown away anyway. We’re a very small part of the population, us classic car enthusiasts.

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  9. Dave Leadbetter

    Reduce. Re-use. Recycle. The slack jawed masses need to place the emphasis on the first of those.

    I love the ethos of flea markets and car boot sales because somebody’s cast offs become someone else’s new acquisition, thus postponing the day when it all ends up in landfill. If people bought just a little less to begin with, we wouldn’t need so many cargo ships full of plastic tat. Unfortunately, the only things that will stem the tide of rampant consumerism will be global financial meltdown or an asteroid strike. Although in the case of the latter I’d give it a week before a Chinese factory was churning out billions of collectable “I survived the asteroid strike” souvenirs in finest non-degradable plastic. People just love to spend… I wonder what effect the asteroid strike will have on central bank interest rates? I’d hate to miss out on my chance to buy a commemorative asteroid lawn furniture gift set, buy now and pay nothing for 12 months; allows time for the flames to die down.

    Anyway, I’ve done my bit for the environment this month by buying a used tow car with a big old diesel engine. Left to it’s own devices it should last another 20 years but it’ll probably get legislated off the roads long before that. I’ve reduced demand for a new car, I’m re-using an old one, but I suspect that won’t be a good enough argument…

    Reply

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