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.

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:

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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Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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