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Car and Driver November 1977

MagazineCar and Driver
DateNovember 1977
TitleSebring Vanguard Citicar
SubtitleFrom the world’s leader in Volts wagons.
AuthorTerry Cook, Turtle Wrangler

The cover of the magazine didn’t feature anything about the CitiCar or electric cars in general.

Inside on page 5, the contents had a section for “Short Takes”, and listed the article on page 126 as “SEBRING VANGUARD CITICAR from the world’s leader in Volts wagons.” This appeared to be a play on a well known German automakers name, Volkswagon.

Terry Cook, Turtle Wrangler

The author of the article, Terry Cook, is also listed on the side of the page with a title of “TURTLE WRANGLER”. This may be a humorous jab at the author regarding the slow speed of the Citicar and it’s odd shape.

Turning to page 126, a full page article is entitled with the same name from the table contents: “SEBRING VANGUARD CITICAR from the world’s leader in Volts wagons.”

A photograph of a CitiCar is prominent on the page, attributed with Terry Cook. With the presence of door handles, sliding windows, side heat vents, and absence of ventilation holes in the front body give the appearance of a later transitional model of the Sebring Vanguard CitiCars.

Another photo is listed in the bottom center showing the battery configuration under the bench seat for 48 volts. Of special note is a clear demonstration of how to properly hook up the wires, along with how the batteries are held down from moving. A circular plate appears at the center under the passengers seat covering all four batteries. A long strip of metal in the shape of an extruded “L” is able to cover the edges of the three batteries under the drivers seat, and extends over to the edge of the batter in the center. I suspect the “L” shape might be used to add additional support under the drivers seat, or to make the metal more ridged to prevent bending up on bumpy rides.

Dystopian Future

Zapping about the ultra-modern planned community of Columbia, Maryland in the electric-powered Sebring-Vanguard CitiCar triggers flashbacks of Farhenheit 451 and THX 1138. Here we have an uncar-like module suggesting life at the turn of the century as commuters silently shuttle around in phone booths on wheels. Of course, this glimpse of tomorrow today does have its shortcomings: It goes only 38 mph and has a range of just 40 miles between recharges. Even Buck Rogers put his pants on one leg at a time.

Sebring Vanguard Citicar: From the word’s leader in volts wagons
by Terry Cook
Car and Driver, November 1977
Page 126

The location of Columbia, Maryland in this article is of special note. Even though the cars were manufactured in Sebring Airport in Florida, the company Sebring-Vanguard, Inc. [Company Number F00665117] had a mailing address in Columbia Maryland.

References to a science fiction movie, comic strip, and book appear in this introduction. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury and published in 1953, is a novel regarding the future where books are burned, at which paper catches fire at 451 degrees. THX 1138 is known as George Lucas’s (Director of Star Wars & Indiana Jones) debut film in 1971 of the future where people are controlled by drugs and robot police.

Buck Rogers was a hero introduced as Anthony Rogers in Armageddon 2419 A.D., by Philip Nowlan, was featured in the magazine “Amazing Stories” in 1928. He later gained popularity in comic strips as Buck Rogers. At the time of the article, Buck Rogers was not yet made into a television show that ran from 1979 to 1981.


One might expect to be swept with waves of paranoia when driving the Citicar because of its Coke-machine proportions. It’s definitely the runt of the road. But unlike the ill-fated Subaru 360 “egg car” that was so small its roofline fell below the gunwales for the cars around it, the Citicar’s five-foot height lets other motorists know you’re in the neighborhood. If they bunt you into the sidewalk, it’s probably because you were too slow, not because they didn’t see you. And the NASCAR-like roll cage of aluminum tubing adds a measure of confidence. Because the car’s top speed is 45 mph (downhill with a strong tailwind), you are limited to low-speed accidents by the very nature of the beast. There are over 2200 Citicars loose on the highways, and the manufacturer knows of nary a fatal accident involving its cars to date.

Sebring Vanguard Citicar: From the word’s leader in volts wagons
by Terry Cook
Car and Driver, November 1977
Page 126

Desribing the cars shape as a coke machine seems a bit odd here, as most machines stood upright as they do today, and are cube shaped without any angles. However, it’s size may be considerably similar.

The Subaru 360 was a car that looked a little bit like a smaller version of the popular Vokswagen Beetle debuted in 1961. Of special note were its “suicide doors” that opened from the front.

One of the complaints about the roll cage was listed in Motor Trend, March 1975 by John Pashdag:

Motor Trend
March 1975

The CitiCar’s body is one sheet of un-reinforced cycolac plastic, and although the car does have an aluminum tube roll cage, there’s no tube across the doors, and my fears weren’t assuaged any when I mumbled something about the probable result of getting T-boned on the side and the dealer replied, “Heck, you get T-boned on the side, the front, the back, the top, and you’d better just forget it.”

Charge! John Pashdag, Motor Trend, March 1975, pages 62-63

To this day, there are still no known fatalities associated with CitiCars. The company had claimed that this was due to it’s low speed preventing it from being on express ways risking high impact collisions. Sebring-Vanguard indicated that it would primarily be used during the daylight hours, resulting in staying off of roads late at night when drunken drivers are out and about.

However, they were aware of accidents involving CitiCars, but to which there were no injuries.

During 1974 the CITICAR was involved in three known accidents resulting in NO INJURIES. In fact, the CITICAR came out better in each accident than did the conventional cars with which they were involved.

CITICAR is now being insured as a compact car. However, when insurance underwriting is completed we expect the insurance costs to eventually be much lower than insurance for any other automobile, for some of the following reasons: CITICAR, with a top speed of 38 miles per hour, will not be used on Interstate highways where minimum speeds allowed are 40 mph. It is therefore less likely to be involved in high speed collisions. CITICARS are used primarily during daylight hours for commuting to work, picking up groceries etc. It is usually the family car that goes out at night to a bridge party, dance etc. This means CITICARS are rarely exposed to drunken drivers or in use on the highways during the high accident nighttime periods. The CITICAR simply has far less exposure to a serious accident.

Sales Bulletin #2-75, Sebring Vanguard, February 1975

525.00 – Insurance costs for three years. We believe this figure will be much lower when insurance underwriters finish evaluating the fact CITICAR isn’t allowed on expressways where the minimum speed is 40 mph, would seldom be in a high impact collision, is used only on secondary roads. It is presently insured as a compact car.

Sales Bulletin #3-75, Sebring Vanguard, March 1975, page 3


While you are motoring down the road in the Citicar, your nose might detect a faint trace of ozone, but there is no noise pollution. In fact, there is almost no noise. To start, you turn the key to “On,” flick the toggle switch to forward or reverse, and the only way you can tell if the motor is “running” is to step on the accelerator and lurch away. Only the two audible clicks of the solenoid shifting you to automatically from first (24 volts in parallel with nichrome resistor) into second (24 volts in parallel) and third (48 volts in series) interrupt the electric dynamo-hum of the motor. Coordinating the throttle for smooth acceleration is a skill that must be developed with practice, and we found backing the car into a parking space an especially trying experience. Acceleration is surprisingly brisk and the series wound GE six-horsepower DC motor spins at 4100 rpm when the 38-mph cruising speed is achieved. You will, however, learn to dread uphill sections. As you would suspect, six horsepower won’t flatten many hills.

Sebring Vanguard Citicar: From the word’s leader in volts wagons
by Terry Cook
Car and Driver, November 1977
Page 126
CitiCar Ignition

I experience the same thing when I turn the key in my Citicar. However, I have seen other CitiCars that make a buzzing sound until you flip the car into forward or reverse.

CitiCar Nichrome resistor

The nichrome resistor used in the first step is a fairly large heating coil. It sits behind the passenger side rear tire. A lot of energy is lost as the resistor heats up. They are known to burn out easily. The first step is primarily for getting into and out of parking areas.

CitiCar 1976 Owner’s Manual

The owners manual instructs that third speed is to be used most often and expresses that the vehicles range will deplete faster when using the first step:

For normal driving, you will mostly have your foot fully depressed and the CitiCar will be in the third speed. It is here that your vehicle will operate most efficiently. Use first and second speed for slow accelerations in heavy stop-and-go traffic and when you wish to cruise at a lower speed. The recommended maximum speed is 45 mph, downhill. Also, when driving off the road, in sand or on grass, hold the accelerator pedal in second and, if possible, third speed. The same is true driving up long, steep hills. By driving in first speed, and sometimes second speed, under these conditions, you are likely to blow the Citicar’s 250-amp fuse located in the controller box behind the seat.

It is important for you to know that a slow first speed is attained with the use of a resistor/heating coil. This device dissipates much of the energy from the batteries before it is fed into the motor. Continual use of first speed will therefore significantly reduce vehicle range. It is suggested that you keep the vehicle in first speed as little as possible during operation. In other words, when accelerating, move into second speed as soon as possible: when decelerating, take your foot completely off the accelerator pedal, as opposed to letting your foot rest in the first speed position.

CitiCar 1976½ Owners Manual, Sebring-Vanguard, 1976, page 18
Motor plate on a 1976½

The writer mentions that the General Electric 6HP motor spins at 4100 RPM’s. This is much higher than what I’ve seen myself. My motors plate states that it is 4000 rpms. He may have a later model, given mine was built in 1976.

The owners manual gives instructions pertaining to climbing steep hills. It states that you should pull over and wait for the hot motor lamp to go out.

It is possible that ascending a long, steep hill could also cause the motor to overheat. Your CitiCar is equipped with a Hot Motor Lamp on the dash to warn you of this occurrence. If this should occur, stop the CitiCar and wait until the Hot Motor lamp goes out. Your motor cooling fan should prevent the motor from overheating.

CitiCar 1976½ Owners Manual, Sebring-Vanguard, 1976, page 18

Regarding hills, I crawl up a 150 foot hill to get onto the main road. It is often a slow drive at 20 mph, full throttle. I am in the process of replacing the motor for more horsepower.


At speed, the ride is remarkably smooth on good pavement, considering the stubby 65.5-inch wheelbase, the solid front axle, the twelve-inch diameter Michelin ZX radial tires and the 1300-pound curb weight – all factors that are normally deterrents to easy rolling. By all rights, the thing should ride like a coal car. Because the eight high-density, six-volt, deep-cycle, rechargeable lead-acid batteries that power the motor are tucked under the seat, that 500 pounds of ballast provides a low CG for go-kart, rather than golf-cart, stability. Despite its short wheelbase, 22-foot turning circle and apparent vertical design, the low top speed tends to mollify the relatively quick steering and the probability of putting the Citicar on its door handles. Visibility is hampered by the world’s fattest windshield pillar, but the proximity of the flat windshield to the driver’s nose makes it almost possible to view the pavement beneath one’s own shoes. The Bendix seven-inch brakes barely get the job done.

Sebring Vanguard Citicar: From the word’s leader in volts wagons
by Terry Cook
Car and Driver, November 1977
Page 126
4.80×12 tires on a CitiCar

By this point, the Citicars had upgraded to Michelin ZX radial tires. In a past article in Motor Trend, March 1975 by John Pashdag, he mentioned the tires on his car were golf tires. Specifically, McCreary Preakness 4.80×12’s. Even my own car from 1976 had non-radial tires as Good Year Hi-Lander CT 4.80-12, 2 Ply Nylon Cord. An initial upgrade to radial tires that were a little too big improved the ride. I’m now driving on the recommended size with Michelin X 125R12 radial tires, providing better turns without any rubbing.

The writer brings up the common complaints with the CitiCar that most everyone has: low speed and weak brakes. What goes up, must come down. When I come home, I’m using the breaks quite a bit gowning down a steep 150 ft hill. I’m often thinking about how much energy is being wasted in heat and wearing out the breaks.

Cost Savings

According to the manufacturer, the Citicar is roughly comparable in cost per mile to a Honda Civic, but when you consider that only sixteen percent of our nation’s electrical energy is oil-generated (the remainder comes from hydroelectric, nuclear, coal and other sources), the petroleum-saving attribute of the Citicar becomes apparent.

Sebring Vanguard Citicar: From the word’s leader in volts wagons
by Terry Cook
Car and Driver, November 1977
Page 126

In one of their sales bulletin, Sebring-Vanguard compared the total cost of ownership of a CitiCar to a report from a Hertz evaluation of compact, mid-sized, and full-sized cars. The compact car was estimated to be 19¢ per mile, compared to 12¢ per mile to drive a CitiCar over a three year period.

In another bulletin we give you the Hertz Company figures documenting that it costs them .19 a mile to operate their compact cars; .24 per mile to operate their mid-size cars and .29 per mile to operate a full-sized automobile. Based on the same formula it costs .12 a mile to operate the CITICAR for 10,000 miles per year over a three-year period. CITICAR offers a savings of $2,100.00 over compact cars; $3,600.00 over the ownership of a mid-sized car; $5,100.00 over the ownership of a full-sized car.

Sales Bulletin #3-75, Sebring Vanguard, March 1975, page 1

The other thing of note is the alternative energy being hydroelectric, nuclear, and coal. Nuclear power plants were taking off pretty well around this time as a way to decrease our dependence on foreign oil due to the OPEC oil embargo of 1973. Coal and “other sources” such as natural gas still provide plenty of pollution. Hydroelectric has environmental concerns regarding natural wildlife and endangered species. Any way you look at it, you could always find a way where electricity provided by the utility companies was producing pollution, but not nearly as much, and not as close to people compared to leaded gasoline.


As long as you accept the limited speed and range, the wonky cartoon styling and the idea of plugging in the extension cord every night, the Citicar is an ecologically minded method of zipping around town. It’s kind of like walking sitting down.

Oh, yes, and one other thing; don’t park it in any puddles.

Sebring Vanguard Citicar: From the word’s leader in volts wagons
by Terry Cook
Car and Driver, November 1977
Page 126
CitiCar on a
rainy day

For my own personal use, I zip around town to parks and outings. I have two other vehicles that I use for commuting to work or and trips across the country. The “wonky cartoon styling” is what attracted me to the car. Ideally, you would want to avoid driving it in the rain to begin with due to the break handling and extra energy usage to run the wipers and lights, which will often result in a blown fuse.

The following table is listed in the center of the page, which includes the base model price at $3,188. Also of note is that the motor is now air-cooled compared to earlier models.

Manufacturer:Sebring-Vanguard, Inc.
9130 Red Branch Road
Oakland Ridge Industrial Center
Columbia, Maryland 21044
Vehicle type:rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger coupe
Price as tested:$3352 (base price: $3188)
Engine type:General Electric series wound DC air-cooled electric motor
Power source8 rechargeable lead-acid batteries
Power (SAE net)6 hp @ 4100 rpm
Wheelbase65.5 in
Length94 in
Curb weight1300 lbs
Sebring Vanguard Citicar: From the word’s leader in volts wagons
by Terry Cook, Car and Driver, November 1977, Page 126
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