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Before the Tesla Model S, This Was America’s Best Selling EV

Contrary to what some might be enclined to believe, Elon Musk did not invent the electric car. He was just brilliant enough to guess the right moment when to launch his Tesla, and a genius in the way in which he chose to advertise the company’s products.
1976 CitiCar 12 photos
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Before Tesla, the Leaf and even the less-electric Prius, there were cars like the Chrysler TEVan, or the Chevy S-10, and even an electric variant of the Ford Ranger. All were well ahead of their time, and as such quickly sank to the bottom of the pit and into oblivion. But believe it or not, electric cars have been around much earlier than two or three decades ago, and even on American soil.

The CitiCar is such an example. Built in Florida by a company called Sebring-Vanguard (later Commuter Vehicles), the first of its kind rolled off assembly lines in 1974. Obviously, at a time when names like Mustang, Barracuda Chevelle dominated the landscape, the small electric CitiCar came and went virtually unnoticed, and by the time when production ceased in 1977, just close to 4,500 of them had been made.

This number, extremely small when compared with the production output for conventional vehicles, is huge for the electric car segment. In fact, the CitiCar is the EV that has seen the largest production volumes in American history until Tesla came out with the Model S in the early 2010s.

Much like today's EVs, there were three variants of the CitiCar on the market, depending on the power of the motor and the size of the battery pack. The entry level was the SV-36 (36v battery, 2.5 hp electric motor), then came the SV-48 (48v battery, 3.5 hp electric motor), and finally, towards the end of the car’s lifespan, came the most powerful model with a huge power jump to 6 hp.

Taking these specs into consideration, and seeing just how insanely ugly and small the vehicle looks, it is very hard to actually consider it an electric vehicle in the purest sense. Few saw the vehicle’s historical value, and that means few of them have been preserved for our generation to enjoy.

The CitiCar pictured in the gallery above is one of those that somehow survived. It is a barn find, according to its seller, that packs the monstrously powerful 6 hp motor and that can reach dazzling speeds of 35 mph. Depending on how you look at it, it might be incredibly expensive, or a steal: its price has been set at $3,500.


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