Leaping Lightning, It’s A Lectric Leopard!

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Jamie PalmerBy Jamie Palmer

If you recognized this car as a Renault 5, kudos to you. But what you might not have known was that the basic R5 platform was used as the basis for electric car conversions by the U.S. Electricar Corporation in 1979 and 1980. This one is for sale here on eBay and is located in New Milford, New Jersey. The opening bid is $1,500 with no reserve.

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The history of U.S. Electricar is long–for a while they were the largest converter of electric cars in the USA, and even exported some cars to Japan. Unfortunately they hit some financial snags and sold out to Hyundai around 1997. However, it looks like around 400 of these Lectric Leopards were produced. The “roller” LeCars were purchased from Renault Canada. This one is said to have covered around 6,000 miles and is almost rust free. The seller tries to make a case to convert it back to gas with a rusty LeCar, but not only do I think it wouldn’t be worth the effort, I’ve found several stories like this one where folks have modernized these a little and made them quite capable commuter cars.

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I happen to like the looks of the R5. The extra height in the back is due to the missing battery pack from the rear. These use readily available batteries, so that’s not as big a problem as you might think. The rear shocks were replaced with air shocks to level out the load for the heavy batteries.

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Here’s the hole where the rear batteries would go. This particular car has been off the road and stored indoors since late 1981, so it hardly got going at all. It looks like someone used some primer to try to prevent some rust from spreading back here.

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Here’s the front battery pack. I doubt that these are good for anything except recycling now. So, are you interested in a cut-rate, vintage Tesla? A really nice one that’s also been updated is for sale here for $5,000 if you don’t want to go to the trouble of resurrecting this one! Do you get a charge out of this vintage electric car?

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Comments

  1. Chris in Nashville

    It would be fun to revive and then make up historic 70’s or 80’s looking Tesla logo’s for it and screw with people by saying it is a classic Tesla!

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  2. RayT Member

    If I was given one of these — as in having to pay zero dollars — in decent condition I would junk all the electric stuff and find/rebuild a standard R5 engine for it. I’ve had plenty of experience with the factory-original cars, and never had anything worse than a single bent pushrod go wrong. Racked up 200K miles on one, and rebuilt the engine more-or-less to see what it was like inside. No problems, virtually no wear.

    Fun little cars, distinctive and comfortable. Got decent gas mileage, too. If I wanted a golf cart, I’d buy a golf cart.

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  3. whippeteer

    Put in a Tesla drive train and really mess with people’s minds.

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  4. Chris

    I only recognized this as a Renault 5 as I am from Europe. This model is actually the precursor of many modern hatchbacks along with the Golf I and Peugeot 205, which I think comes a bit later compared to the other two. It is interesting how the electric car was actually quite feasible more than 30 years ago but the industry and the public were not receptive enough.

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    • David

      How usable would you find a car that could only go 20 to 30 miles? Would you be willing to spend a thousand dollars a year on batteries? It’s not that the public wasn’t receptive,it’s that the battery technology wasn’t there yet. Lead acid batteries and mechanical controls rersulted in very short range and engine fires. It wasn’t until Li Ion batteries that there is enough energy density to be practical, at least for some. Now you can select from short range, a very expensive car or a plugin hybrid.

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