Tesla Swap? 1981 Vanguard Comuta-Car

While we think of electric cars as being an evolving class of vehicles, history shows us that the attempt to mass-market a car that runs on batteries is nothing new. The Sebring-Vanguard company of Florida is a perfect example of this, and while their CitiCar and Comuta-Car concepts were not exactly primed for mainstream production, it does show that you didn’t need to have a colossal development budget to bring an electric car to the masses. This example offered up for sale here on craigslist in Georgia is a later Vanguard ComutaCar, with the large bumper extensions a clear giveaway that this is a model produced under the ownership of Commuter Vehicles, Inc., which purchased the original design from Sebring-Vanguard.

Now, like many electric vehicles, the design is pretty goofy. Even today, it would be difficult to convince your average driver to own something like this, but I can’t even fathom the response in an era like the 1970s when large, personal luxury coupes were still all the rage. The closest thing I can think of in the modern era is the Toyota-built Scion iQ, which had similar proportions to the Comuta-Car, and the Smart Car. I can’t say either of those models were a rip-roaring success, and given the popularity of pretty much every Tesla model on offer, I don’t think you need a ton of hard data to deduct that style is as important a feature as battery range. Speaking of which, the seller’s Comuta-Car does need a new electric motor, so it’s not going to move off of that porch under its own power anytime soon.

Output ranged from 3.5 to a burly six horsepower throughout the various years of production, but more power could be found in the models built for commercial enterprises like the U.S. Postal Service. The range topped out at around 40 miles, and top speed was just under that number at 30 miles per hour. The most fascinating detail about the Comuta-Car’s history (in my opinion) is that it actually ranked pretty high on the list of domestic automobile manufacturers in terms of total annual production, and was the largest producer of electric vehicles in North America until Tesla came along. Despite looking somewhat silly, Sebring-Vanguard built the ComutaCar to be taken seriously as a viable form of transportation.

The dash is a simple affair but it’s at least in good condition. This vehicle requires a very specific type of owner, as the novelty factor is strong but the usability score is low. Yes, you can buy replacement motors and batteries and all that good stuff, but you have to have a place where you can use it. What communities can you get a way with a 30 mile per hour top speed, or is there a golf cart neighborhood wherein the ComutaCar would fit right in? I think it has to be a place south of the Mason-Dixon where you can drive a lightly insulated vehicle all day long on short trips to and from the town center. Ironically, I have seen one of the postal carrier vehicles up here in Massachusetts, but I have no idea what happened to it. Would you ever own one of these Comuta-Cars and where would you drive it?


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  1. Terrry

    Them lead-acid batteries just didn’t provide the oomph! that electric cars need, at least if you wanted to drive more than walking distance from your house. And this one needs a new motor? Good luck with that, but on the other hand a custom one could replace the old, but at a huge $$$. Update the lead acid to Li-Ion? Another big chunk of change. Bottom line, ignore this car unless you just want to display it.

    Like 2
    • Psychofish2

      That will be a major problem with old car EV conversions.
      That replacement battery pack cost will keep those in the garage decoration category and immobile.
      Just like this one.

  2. Troy

    Every time I have seen one of these things they are always parked in a carport, barn or yard because they had some electrical issues that stopped them from working.

    Like 1
  3. Raymond

    Why is everyone afraid of “electrical gremlins” in these things?…they seem pretty damn simple to me, positive and negative guys?…wiper, lights, yeah that’s all…needs motor, great!!!…chance to upgrade…new batterys?, chance to upgrade, maybe definitely add tunes…batterys are much better now….breaks down just replace a fuse, that don’t work?…small enough to push and plus you got plenty of bench space on the bumpers for 2….

    Like 3
    • Beel

      Ah yes, I remember these. And yes, goofy looking. And with “around 40 miles” range (er, less), you are always on emergency. But for somebody confident in circuitry (Raymond or a submariner with battery expertise) and somewhere suitable to use it, you can’t get much simpler than this. Yeah, an island, or a coastal beach town (Gerald).

  4. Howie Mueler

    This looks pretty good.

    Like 2
  5. MattR Member

    I don’t know much about electrical motors but ones with horsepower adequate to power this car are out there for fairly cheap it appears: https://www.electricmotorsport.com/ev-parts/motors/brushless-motors?limit=all

    I’ve been thinking about motors like this one for my kid’s go-kart: https://www.amazon.com/Brushless-Controller-Throttle-Motorcycle-Conversion/dp/B07KR2FN89/ref=sr_1_15?dchild=1&keywords=electric+car+motor&qid=1633456121&sr=8-15

    Like 2
  6. Gerard Frederick

    Usable only if you get past its dowdy looks and live in a place like lovely Santa Catalina island off the coast of LA.

    Like 1
  7. Neil

    I bought a 1980 Comuta Car in October of 2020. Had it shipped to Saskatchewan. Drove it all Summer, I have yet to have another 1 pull up beside me.

    Like 5
  8. Quidditas

    Don’t bother. Make your own. Simply obtain plans for the Urba Electric (http://www.jumpingfrog.com/images/epm12jul09/zz5570a.jpg), a plans built car from https://rqriley.hostcentric.com/electromatic.html

    Far superior to the Comuta-Car that seems to be a copy (and a bad one at that of Robert Riley’s Urba Car of Total Recall fame.


  9. Stu

    I wonder why…Not the best looking car…

  10. Jack Leary

    Are Friends Electric?

  11. Steve

    Owned one in the early 80’s, it was a good golf cart with a solid roof.

  12. Frank of Eden

    Yes, I owned one. Drove it everyday to work for almost 3 years, as did the fellow I bought it from. Mine was a ’75. The things were built with a roll bar cage/frame, like NASCAR vehicles, all around the passengers. I felt very safe in it.

    Believe it or not, they are still being built in Norway, or Sweden, not sure which…. They stole the design when it was no longer built here, and produced the exact car for about 5 years. Now days it has morphed into a much more modern design, and performs better, but still looks like a wedge. I think they called one version the “Buddy”.

    It is true it would only run a little over 30 on flat land. I did get it to 47 once going down long hill… scared the daylights out of me…I found if I moved the steering wheel just a little bit it would put me in the oncoming lane. WAY too quick steering for higher speeds.

    I don’t understand why this one needs a NEW motor. Unless he damaged it in some way. When mine started preforming poorly, I just put new brushes in the motor… pepped right back up. Had a heck of a job removing it as I did not have any jack to hold it’s weight. They weren’t brush-less motors.

    I also replaced the batteries once, cost a little more than 700 bucks… you look for some good but cheap Golf Cart batteries… that was what they used.

    Perfect back then for my little town, (only 10 miles across at it’s widest part). So I only charged it about twice a week. But speed limits are higher now… at least it seems that way… and the local cops aren’t writing speeding tickets much anymore. So might not be as fun now days.

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