Vanished 1950s Electric Car: Pioneer By Nic-L-Silver Battery Co.

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1959 Pioneer electric car prototype, with Nic-L-Silver Battery president Geroge Lippincott at wheel

1959 Pioneer electric car prototype, with Nic-L-Silver Battery president Geroge Lippincott at wheel

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George Lippincott was the founder and president of Nic-L-Silver Battery Company, Santa Ana, California, which made a popular line of American car batteries in the 1950s.

Inspired by fiberglass-bodied sports cars being developed in Southern California at the time, he considered building his own line of battery powered vehicles.

Lippincott hoped  eventually to build 10 cars a day, with the market being primarily power companies and postal authorities.

In 1958, he brought together a team of engineers and designers--including Indy race car builder Frank Kurtis--to design and engineer the chassis, and experienced California fiberglass sports-car manufacturer Victress to style the body and assemble the car.

The prototype two-seat body was made of laminated fiberglass (with a removable hardtop) mounted on a Kurtis-designed box frame using full torsion bar suspension.

Behind the seats were 12 4-volt, series wired, Nic-L-Silver lead-acid batteries, each with two cells and a capacity of eight hours at 235 Ampere-hours. It included a built-in battery charger.

The car had two electric motors and a stated range of 100 to 150 miles, depending on how the vehicle was driven. Top speed was given as 50 mph.

Price was targeted at just under $2000, and battery replacement cost was estimated at about $300.

The car was unveiled at the Pomona Fair in 1959, but only the one prototype was built at Victress before the project was abandoned.

1956 Vectress fiberglass-bodied sports car

1956 Vectress fiberglass-bodied sports car

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The Pioneer prototype has never been seen since.

Author Rick Feibusch is an automotive journalist, historian, and classic-car appraiser living in Venice, California. He has been active in the car business and vintage car hobby for more than 50 years.

He has done everything from writing and editing for websites and magazines, organizing major marque clubs, and promoting large auto events to restoring and collecting vintage cars. He also sold Toyotas when they were new to America. Today, he primarily does appraisals for antique, classic and sports cars as well as hot rods and motorcycles. You can find more of his writings here.

Feibusch discovered this car while researching homemade and small-firm-developed, low-production fiberglass bodied sports cars built starting right after WWII. They all but vanished after imported sports cars became widely available in the late 1950s. Fiberglass was considered a wonder material but was still not fully developed at that time. By the mid-Fifties, both GM and Kaiser were producing fiberglass sports cars, but most of the genre remained one-offs that were too expensive to produce commercially.

For more coverage of kit cars of the 1950s, see here and here.

[SOURCE: Sports Car Illustrated, January 1960, p. 32]


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Comments (15)
  1. Looked like a sweet little car; too bad they didn't explore it a little further.

  2. That is amazing; in the 50s, over 60 years ago, 12 4 volt lead acid batteries could get you roughly 150 miles at about 50 MPH. In 2012, 2,000 lithium batteries can get you roughly 100 miles at roughly 100 MPH. Am I the only one who sees a regression there instead of progression? Who is it screwing with us and trying to plunge us back into the fossil age?

  3. @James: The difference, of course, is the weight. Lead-acid batteries weigh roughly four times as much as lithium-ion batteries with the same energy content. That obviously has a huge impact on the design and practicality of electric vehicles.

  4. John, I just can't fall for the weight theory. In the 50s cars and batteries were a lot heavier than they are now, yet 12 4 volt lead acid batteries could take you 150 miles. Today's cars and batteries weigh a lot less than they did 60 years ago, yet they struggle to push out 100 miles. Shouldn't we try those 12 4 volt lead acid batteries again in the new lighter cars, with improved electric motors, and see if they wouldn't double to 300 miles with the lighter vehicles? How far can those 12 4 volt batteries take the Nissan Leaf or the Smart For 2 electric?

  5. @James: That "150-mile" range is a *claimed* statistic from an article 50-plus years ago. There's no indication that the prototype achieved anything close to that range.

    And what I wrote is not a "weight theory"; it's factual physics. Lithium-ion cells have approximately 4x the energy density of lead-acid cells. The battery pack for the GM EV1 weighed about 1,200 pounds; the Volt battery pack, with the same energy capacity, weighs slightly more than 300 pounds.

  6. Let's also mention the overall weight of the car makes a huge difference (not just the batteries) a tiny fiberglass car which probably had zero safety considerations surely weighed a forth of our current vehicles.

  7. The Volt's battery pack is over 400 lbs while that of the EV-1 was about 1300.
    Yet the former has an all-electric range of 40 miles while the latter could go twice as far for the same charge.
    Clearly a step backwards.

  8. Seriously ?? where do you guys get this crap?

    1300 pounds? the EV1 battery back was 1043 pounds not 1300 pounds. Where do you guys get this 1300 pounds figure from?

    80 miles? where did you get that? 80 miles would be VERY hard to get with the EV1. you would have to really HAMMER it to get that range.

    typical range for the EV1 was OVER 120 miles to a charge with MANY hitting 160 miles to a charge with just slightly altered driving habits.

    80 miles. maybe if you have the AC and the HEAT on and you floored it the whole time you would get 80 miles range.

    OH and lets not forget THEY COULD build an EV1 like car today for $14,000 with NO subsidies.

    the battery pack cost $4500 to replace (if mass produced) oh and would last over 300,000 miles

  9. There are more comments in this thread
  10. @James, You do not seem to comprehend the finer aspects of drag. The power needed to overcome drag will vary as the cube of velocity. Wikipedia has the same speeds you used in their example.

    A car travelling at 50mph that uses 10hp to overcome drag will use 80hp to overcome drag at 100mph. The battery will be depleted 8x faster at 100mph than 50mph, which would result in going 1/4 of the distance. That would reduce the 150 mile range down to 37.5 miles. So the 100 mile range at 100mph is 2.67x better than 150 miles at 50mph.

  11. there is not a place in this nation where you can legally drive 100mph on a public roadway.

    50mph is a GOOD example since that is a good average speed.the volt is a joke. its literally a big F U to the american people a giant slap in the face.

  12. Volt is not a joke but a start in the right direction. Carries 4 adults and their stuff with 21st safety features as air bags, ESC, impact lessening bumpers n body panels, etc. that contribute to vehicle weight. Yes I'm disappointed in the low range of the Volt but expect that range to double within the next few years.

    BTW, there is a long, desolate stretch of highway in TX where I think the state has recently raised the speed limit to 85 or higher. Folks shouldn't be driving any faster than 60 anyways for safety as well as efficiency....we expect stupid practices from TX though.

  13. check out new Telsa S for a real EV....

  14. Recently Peel Engineering Company is bringing back the zero emission petrol and electric version of Peel P50(World's Smallest car) to life to fight urban traffic congestion.

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