RIP Bob Beaumont: Creator Of 1970s CitiCar Electric Dies

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1980 Comuta-Car. Photo by Chad Conway

1980 Comuta-Car. Photo by Chad Conway

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Ask most people how long electric cars have been driving on the roads of the U.S. and they might give you an answer of a few years. If they’ve seen Chris Paine’s 2006 film Who Killed The Electric Car, or knows someone in the know, they may give you the real answer:  about as long as gasoline cars. 

But while it’s easy to remember the very early electric cars from the 19th century, or the famous EV1 from General Motors from the late 1990s, it’s easy to forget the electric cars and the people who made them in-between. 

Now it’s time to remember one such person: Bob Beaumont, creator of the 1970s CitiCar, who died peacefully on Monday 24th October. 

As folklore would have it, Beaumont was pumping gas one day at his Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in upstate New York when he had an epiphany, namely that there had to be a better alternative to gasoline. 

“I thought, There’s got to be a better way than to pump this stuff out of the ground and piss it away in gas tanks,” Beaumont told a Baltimore newspaper in 2008. And that solution, he realized, lay with electric vehicles. 

1980 Comuta-Car. Photo by Chad Conway

1980 Comuta-Car. Photo by Chad Conway

Enlarge Photo

His search led him to join a project in Detroit selling converted Renault cars, and then to Georgia, where he asked a golf-cart company to modify a few of its electric golf-carts to a design he had penned. 

The resulting road-legal vehicle eventually impressed an investor, enabling Beaumont to set up his own electric car factory, producing what became known as the Sebring Vanguard CitiCar. 

The original CitiCar may have only had a 1.8 kilowatt motor and a 36-volt lead-acid battery pack, but its launch date of 1974 coincided perfectly with the tail end of the 1970s oil crisis.

Spurred on by interest from drivers wanting a non oil-based solution for their transport needs, Beaumont and his team continued to refine and rework the design. By the end of production in 1977, the CitiCar had evolved through three major revisions, and had gained a more powerful 4.4 kilowatt motor and a larger 48-volt battery pack. 

Top speed ranged from between 30 and 50 miles-per hour, with range around 40 miles per charge for later models. Earlier models managed much less. 

The slow speed, and golf-cart origins made the CitiCar the G-Wiz or neighborhood electric vehicle of its day, gaining the negative attention of many newspapers. In fact, Consumer Reports called it “The nosiest vehicle we have tested this year,” adding that it was “Foolhardy to drive... on any public road”.

Nevertheless, In1979, Commuter Vehicles purchased the design of the CitiCar, and brought the vehicle back into production as the slightly modified 1979-1982 Comuta-Car and Comuta-Van.  

Sold exclusively to the U.S. postal service, the Comuta-Vans were produced as right-hand drive vehicles so postal workers could deliver mail without leaving their vehicle.  

In total, around 4,440 electric vehicles were made on Beaumont's original designs. Interestingly, that makes his car the highest-selling road-legal post-war, U.S.-made electric car to date.

Despite its strange, wedge-shaped looks, poor performance and questionable road handling, the CitiCar and Comuta-Car still commands a great fan-base. 

One such fan is Chad Conway. During his final years of high school, Conway rebuilt a 1980s Comuta-Car, becoming so interested in electric vehicles that he decided to become an electric car engineer. These days, Conway is an engineering intern at none other than Tesla Motors. 

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Comments (3)
  1. What was his opinion of the LEAF, and especially the Volt? Was he an EV purist, or did he see the value of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell vehicles and/or bio-fuel ICE vehicles as well? Did he pioneer any technologies still in use today? Did he participate in any of the standards committees defining plug interfaces, components or systems? Selling 4,400 EV's back then is astonishing - I had no idea. Funny that tidbit never comes up when discussing sales numbers of the Volt, LEAF, Roadster or Karma.

  2. Are you still wondering why I am so negative about GM and their gasVolt hybrid? That is two opportunities GM has passed up so they can keep us chained to the gas pump. The first was this very popular EV and the second was the very popular hydrogen skateboard car, or (hydrogen fuel cell battery on wheels) They bought the hydrogen skateboard and hit it away on their shelf...dummies.

  3. There is a 1-owner orange 1st generation 1975 Citicar prominently displayed in the Scottsdale International Auto Museum located at 9119 East Indian Bend Road, Scottsdale Arizona 85250. (480)302-6460. Hours are 10am to 6pm Mon-Sat & noon to 5pm on Sunday's.

    The original owner, a Doctor, bought it new in 1975 and used it in Colorado and later in the Phoenix area before he donated it to the SIA Museum this year. The car was always garage-kept and well maintained and is still driveable.

    The 1st gen Citicars had 6 lead-acid golf-cart batteries located under the seat. Later models as pictured in this article had the drive-batteries located in the front and rear bumpers. The body was made of a plastic material very much like a foot-ball helmet.

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