Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation
|Key people||Dale Clifft
Geraldine Elizabeth Carmichael
The Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation was an automobile company started by entrepreneur Geraldine Elizabeth Carmichael in 1974. The company's flagship vehicle was the Dale, a prototype three-wheeled two-seater sports car designed and built by Dale Clifft. It was powered by an 850 cc air-cooled engine and featured a claimed 70 mpg-US (3.4 L/100 km; 84 mpg-imp) fuel economy and a $2,000 (in 1974 U.S. dollars) price, which were popular specifications during the mid 1970's US fuel crisis.
Carmichael, 37 in 1974, claimed to be the widow of a NASA structural engineer, a mother of five, and a farm girl from Indiana. In reality, she was actually a transsexual undergoing sexual reassignment to become female. Her former, biological male identity, Jerry Dean Michael, had been wanted by the police since 1961 for alleged involvement in a counterfeiting operation. The company would ultimately prove to be fraudulent when Carmichael went into hiding with investors' money.
The Dale was originally envisioned by Carmichael. The prototype was designed and built by Clifft, and the project was subsequently marketed by Carmichael. Much of the interest in the Dale was a result of the 1973 oil crisis: higher economy automobiles like the Dale were viewed as a solution to the oil crunch. Speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times in November 1974, 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 (14,000 m2) assembly plant in Burbank, California and over 100 employees on the rolls.
The Dale was also marketed as being high-tech, lightweight, yet safer than any existing car at the time. "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 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 miles per hour (48 km/h) 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 engine, which turned out 40 horsepower (30 kW) and would hit 85 miles per hour (137 km/h). She expected sales of 88,000 cars in the first year and 250,000 in the second year.
Two additional vehicles were planned to complement the Dale: the Revelle and the Vanagen. Both of these would also feature a three-wheeled design and used the same 2-cylinder engine. None of the vehicles ever saw production and only two prototype vehicles of the Dale were made. Only one of those was able to run under its own power.
According to author Richard Smith, a close friend of Dale Clifft, however, the putative Revelle and Vanagen vehicles were never truly intended to be be built in the first place. In an interview with the website 3-wheelers.com, he states:
"Talk of the Revelle and Vanagon [sic] were an effort by Liz [Carmichael] to deceive investors into believing the company was set to do great things, nothing more. It was Liz’s ability to feed prospective investors all kinds of garbage in an attempt to buy as much time as possible to scam as many people as possible."
Rumors of fraud began to emerge and the California Securities Commission began an investigation. Although Clifft said he still believed in the project and said that he was promised $3 million in royalties once the Dale went into production, he only received $1,001, plus a $2,000 check, which bounced. Carmichael went into hiding and was featured in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries which detailed the fraud behind the Dale as well as the fact Carmichael was wanted. She was eventually found working under an alias in a flower shop and was arrested shortly after the episode's airing. Elizabeth Carmichael, as a result, went to prison. Unverified sources from the Museum of Hoaxes website state that she died in 2004 of cancer, while other sources from the same site indicate she may still be alive and living in Austin, Texas with a daughter.
- "Dale Sales Brochure". Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation. 1974.
- "Libertarian Ripoff of the Month Dept.". The Libertarian Forum. May, 1975. Retrieved 2009-07-01.
- "e-interview with Richard Smith". 3-wheelers.com. June, 2010. Retrieved 2012-11-27.
- "Car Firm's Records Show Many Cash Transactions". San Gabriel Valley Tribune. February 12, 1975.
- "The Cockeyed Tale of the Three-Wheeled Dale". Old Cars News and Marketplace. February 17, 1994.