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.
FLYERS SHOWING PROTOTYPES OF 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
"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 Commercial Appeal, Memphis
Nov 14, 1974
for larger view
The story is long and truly fascinating. Get the unabridged
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
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:
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
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.
* 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