Live Auctions

Electric Oddball: 1940 Autoette

Long Beach, California was once nicknamed “Iowa by the Sea” – droves of Iowan farmers were snowbirds there, many staying put once they decided the ocean view beat out of the corn view. Living in Long Beach was cheap then, affordable enough even for retired farmers. For the most part, the “Red Car” trolley system provided transportation, but for a period of time little electric motivators like this Autoette were the commuters option of choice in areas like Long Beach. Thanks to Ikey Heyman for the interesting tip! You can find this Autoette here on craigslist.

What inventor Robert Tafel pulled off in manufacturing and selling these three-wheel, stick-steered electric-powered cars to the public for street use could not be duplicated now (unless you’re Elon Musk). The regulatory hurdles alone would strangle any entrepreneurial manufacturing hopes. Competing little electric cars had names like “Marketeer” and the “Electric Shopper” and were not only street legal with license plates, but there were special micro-car parking spaces provided by the local businesses in Long Beach and nearby Belmont Shore. The Autoette had a scorching top speed of about 25 mph (if you dared push her that hard) and a range of 50-100 miles per charge and only came with a curb-side door.  Spiffy rear bumper!

The first Autoette was built in 1936, and in 1938, Tafel applied to the US Patent Office for protection of the brand “Autoette.”  Use of the mini-electrics waned when manufacturing finally stopped, but there was still a strong contingent of Autoette users in and around Second Street in Long Beach until the very late 70s.  Following an Autoette on city streets was–how would one politely say–brain damage. Autoette’s interiors were spartan, but so was the mission as a neighborhood cruiser. No cup holders here. Autoettes were advertised to be “all-hand controlled” (brakes, steering, and accelerator) meaning that people suffering from the effects of polio, infirm war vets or those who just had trouble walking had cheap, dependable mobility and a way to bring home the bacon and milk.  These cars cost in the $300 range (today’s $5,000) when new–a lot of corn in those days.

A simpler time and a simpler engine compartment. Originally, Autoette had batteries specially made by Trojan Battery Company powering a 24-volt 1½ hp altered Dodge starter motor.  Autoette later had a motor specifically made to its specifications. The posting for our featured Autoette for sale in Huntington Beach does not provide enough description to determine its current battery and motor configuration. The seller is asking $4,500 for this piece of bright red nostalgia.  As local Long Beach writer Tim Grobaty aptly points out in an article in the Long Beach Post here, the Autoettes of Long Beach were truly “electric cars before they were cool.”


  1. Dual Jetfire

    This is actually the luxury version of the 2021 anti climate change all purpose universal transport vehicle.

    Like 6
  2. Jim

    Came on here expecting to see at least one person recommending putting a V8 in the thing.

    Like 8
    • stu

      Remove the batteries and for sure a V10 will fit! Ya might need a sledge hammer to tap it in…..

      Like 1
      • Mike Tarutis Staff

        How about we just pinch the batteries from the V10 and see what that juice would do for the Autoette?

        I would guess somewhere back in the corner of Big Daddy Ed Roth’s garage there was an Autoette waiting for the Rat Fink blown hemi projects with a seven foot long shift lever.

        Like 2
      • stu

        I’d love to see that….LOL

  3. Ike Onick

    I remember seeing the Electric Oddballs in Golden Gate Park during the 1967 Summer of Love in San Francisco. I think. I’m pretty sure I was there.

    Like 11
    • Mike Tarutis Staff

      Were you too young to remember or was it a result of Haight Asbury/Grateful Dead medicine?

      Like 1
      • Ike Onick


        Like 3
  4. JMB#7

    This thing will knock the socks off an Elio. Because it was in production in 1940 (or earlier), and the Elio still has not been produced. Great little 3 wheeler, and to think it addressed the handicap market in 1940 !!!

    Like 7
  5. JMB#7

    You can see the electric motor in the picture of the batteries. (top right, look down past the batteries). Someone who knows more about 1940 Dodge starter motors, or the custom motor will have to chime in on what this one is…

    Like 1
  6. DeeBee

    Being born in 1956 and raised in Long Beach, I remember these being like flies on the sidewalks downtown!

    Like 5
    • Mike Tarutis Staff

      My first year living in Long Beach I called on a 1966 GTO that was for sale on First Street, and a lovely older lady once from Iowa named Mildred toodled up to meet me in a red Autoette just like this one. We made a deal for the GTO (350 big ones), and she rode me down to Great Western Savings in the Autoette. First and last actual sitting-in-one experience. Cars were beeping and Mildred just said “Ever’body’s in such a darn hurry. [Chortle] Oh, dear, don’t pay them no mind–let ’em get a good taste of the speed o’ retirement.” She gave me $5 back and I went to SuperMex as she suggested, right on First Street.

      Not much later, she offered to sell me the Autoette for $300. Since I worked part-time at Disneyland and part-time at Sears, the $300 was just out of my financial reach. I would have bought it.

      Like 5
  7. Rex Payne

    A grandma — she was called Grandma Fossey — had one of these parked in front of her daughter’s and son-in-law’s house just up the street from my house in Long Beach, and she’d drive it to nearby Lakewood Shopping Center, the first major shopping mall in the USA — that is, when the teenaged boys hadn’t picked it up and carried it around the corner. Eventually she got an Isetta and the pranks stopped.

    Like 5
    • Mike Tarutis Staff

      I knew a plumber in Rossmoor who had three Isettas in his garage on Marth Ann. I do hope he waited out the market and held on to his Isettas.

      Would like to have seen a race between Mildred in her Autoette and Bill in his Isetta around the Grand Prix course.

      Like 3
  8. Brad Loomis

    “Claremont Cadillacs”. Everyone in Claremont, CA knew what that was. Mostly from Pilgrim Place retirement community. Very ubiquitous in the early 60s.

    Like 3
    • Mike Tarutis Staff

      I had a place in Catalina for many years. Autoettes were the perfect transpo choice in Avalon and, like other island economies with vintage car inventories, Autoettes were well cared for as long as I was part of Catalina living. (Cars are strictly rationed on the island and–crude to say–one had to wait until someone with a car permit expired before permission went to the next applicant in line.) Catalina Caddies must have derived the name from Claremont Cadillacs. Or people may be limited in the “C” word alliterations.

      Like 2

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