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The Automotive Chronicles

Monthly newsletter published by McLellan's Automotive History. Dedicated to literature collectors, restorers, museums, publishers, manufacturers and investors who collect and preserve automotive literature
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December 2005 Issue
 
ARTICLE
 
The Mysterious Dale
By Sharon McLellan & Mona Nath
 

It seemed too good to be true, and yet it made America sit up with wide-eyed anticipation. The country's automotive history was set to achieve a new landmark! In November of 1974, newspapers reported the imminent launch of a two-seater car called the Dale, which would give 70 MPG and sell for $2,000! This was to be followed by a $2,450 car called the Revelle that would give 50 MPG, and an eight-seater station wagon, Vanagon, for the same amount that would deliver 40 MPG. All of these vehicles were to be three-wheelers.



SALES FLYERS SHOWING PROTOTYPES OF REVELLE & VANAGON
Revelle Vanagon
   

The company behind this was Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation. Mystery surrounds its president Elizabeth Carmichael, 37 (in 1974), said to be widow of a NASA structural engineer, mother of five, whom newspapers reported as a 6-foot, 200-pounder who grew up on a farm in Indiana. There are also reports of Mrs. Carmichael being a transsexual, born Jerry Dean Michael. Hard to tell how all of this could be true at the same time, but the automotive tale is for real.

The Dale prototype was built by Dale Clift and the project was marketed by Elizabeth Carmichael with much bravado. Speaking to reporter Dan Jedlicka of Chicago Sun-Times in November 1974, Mrs Carmichael said she was on the way to taking on General Motors or any other car manufacturer for that matter. She said she had millions of dollars in backing "from private parties", and also talked of a 150,000 sq ft assembly plant in Burbank, California and over 100 employees on the rolls.

One of the most noted individuals to be "charmed" by Elizabeth Carmichael was Johnny Carson. She appeared on his "Tonight Show" and, though we did not personally see the show, there are reports that Carson was ready to invest in the car.

Dale of three wheels

Courtesy: The Commercial Appeal, Memphis
Nov 14, 1974
Click for larger view
"By eliminating a wheel in the rear, we saved 300 pounds and knocked more than $300 from the car's price. The Dale is 190 inches long, 51 inches high, and weighs less than 1,000 pounds", said Mrs. Carmichael. She maintained that the car's lightness did not affect its stability or safety. The low center of gravity always remained inside the triangle of the three wheels making it nearly impossible for it to tip over. She also went on record to say that she drove it into a wall at 30 MPH and there was no structural damage to the car (or her). She said the Dale was powered by a thoroughly revamped BMW two-cylinder motorcycle, which turned out 40 horsepower and would hit 85 MPH. She expected sales of 88,000 cars in the first year and 250,000 in the second year.

The story is long and truly fascinating. Get the unabridged version here, carried by The Commercial Appeal, Memphis on Nov 14, 1974. And this extract from The Libertarian Forum Newsletter of May 1975 that talks of the great "ripoff".

Not to be…
None of the three vehicles (Dale, Revelle or Vanagon) were ever believed to have been manufactured apart from two prototype vehicles, and only one of those was able to run under its own power. It is alleged that there were rumors of fraud and the authorities began to investigate.

Clift said he still believed in the project and that he would receive $3 million in royalties once the Dale went into production. In all, he received $1,001, plus a $2,000 check, which bounced. And Elizabeth Carmichael went to prison.

This whole Dale story came alive a few days ago when we received an interesting e-mail from a Susan Beyer, who saw it all first hand. In her own words:

"I was 21 years old, married a little over a year, I had just finished nursing school and was waiting to resume college the next semester, and we had no money! Gas lines were a fresh memory. I don't remember how we found out about it, but my husband (at the time!) hauled me over to Dallas one Saturday morning to get information on a new line of cars coming out. These were amazing cars because they supposedly would provide 40, 50 or more mpg!

We went to an office building off of Stemmons Highway — one of the main freeways close to downtown Dallas. We went to an office located in an office complex right off the freeway. I don't remember if there were sales people there, but we weren't the only ones interested in this radical new car! We brought home marketing literature that I still have…"


Susan Beyer searched the Net for automotive enthusiasts who might be interested in this unique literature and she found us at www.McLellansAutomotive.com.

Below is a list of Dale / Revelle / Vanagon literature she has and would like to sell:

1. Single sheet color illustration of the Vanagon.
2. Single sheet color illustration of the Revelle (with a small stain on the lower right corner).
3. Tri-fold slick color brochure "The New 70 MPG DALE".
4. Typewritten introduction letter (photocopied) with E. Elizabeth Carmichael's signature.
5 "Option to Purchase Automobile" form.
6. Photocopy article from The Commercial Appeal, Memphis Thursday November 17, 1974 headline "This One Just May be the Car of the Century".

Individuals interested in Ms. Beyer's collection will be put directly in touch with her.

Acknowledgements:
* www.3-wheelers.com for use of scanned news item on Dale that appeared in 'The Commercial Appeal, Memphis' dated Nov 14, 1974
* www.mises.org for use of extract from their 'The Libertarian Forum Newsletter' of May 1975
 
 
The Automotive Chronicles, December 2005
 
 
 
 
 
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