Straight Outta Santa Ana: EV Sportscar Pioneer
One in an occasional series reviewing consumer vehicles that are powered by water, natural gas, electricity, hybrid motors, high-efficiency gasoline engines or some other alternative source.
I remember when the first Mazda Miata hit American shores in 1989, I wondered to myself why it was a gas- as opposed to electric-powered version of the European roadsters of the 1960s. Turns out a Santa Ana company had already unveiled such a car . . . 30 years earlier.
As John Voelcker recalls in a recent Green Car Reports story, it had also occurred to George Lippincott, founder and president of Nic-L-Silver Battery Co. of Santa Ana, that Americans would better embrace an electric that resembed a sportscar as opposed to, say, a refrigerator box.
Already at the helm of a company that made popular American car batteries, Lippincott in the late 1950s assembled a team of engineers and designers to design the chassis for his dream car. Fiberglass sportscar maker Victress was enlisted to style the body and assemble the vehicle.
A light fiberglass body to compensate for battery weight and the style of this 1956 Victress made the company the perfect Pioneer partner.
With the idea of churning out 10 cars a day, Lippincott unveiled his Pioneer prototype--with a box frame designed by Indy car builder Frank Kurtis--at the 1959 Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona:
George Lippincott behind the wheel of his one-and-only Pioneer electric.
With two electric motors, the Pioneer ran eight hours or up to 150 miles on a charge (and came with a built-in charger), reached top speeds of 50 mph and cost just under $2,000, reports Voelcker, who adds battery replacement was estimated to cost around $300.
Alas, the Pioneer was abandoned after that single prototype was built. Can you imagine how far battery and electric-car technology would have advanced by now had it caught on?
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