- - Thursday, January 10, 2013

With a maximum cruising speed of 38 mph and a maximum cruising range of 50 miles no electric-powered Comuta-car was ever destined to be a high-mileage vehicle.

But the odometer on Dave Kinney’s 1980 Comuta-car has registered only 117 miles in the past 25 years, an annual average of 4.68 miles.

Having had a couple of the diminutive cars in his college days when they were nearly new, Mr. Kinney never really shook the Comuta-car virus.

The 9-foot, 9-inch-long car was offered in six standard colors:

• Arctic white.

• Cascade red.

• Sebring green.

• Bermuda blue.

• Mandarin orange.

• Sun Country yellow.

For an extra $100 a Bar Harbor blue metallic color was also available.

In the summer of 2001 Mr. Kinney saw a 1980 Bermuda blue Comuta-car advertised for sale. As far as he could determine, a Comuta-car dealer in Baltimore had it as ademonstrator and, when production ceased, gave it to a friend. Mr. Kinney bought it from the second owner and trucked it to his Great Falls home. “I believe that I’m the third owner,” he says, “and the first titled owner.”

The government-mandated safety bumpers appear to be oversized for the car, but they also serve as access panels to the eight six-volt batteries that provide the juice to propel the shovel-nose car. The original base price was $3,995.

The Comuta-car, riding on a 63-inch wheelbase, is still supported — after all these years — by the original steel-belted Michelin 2X 135 SR 13-inch radial tires. The hubcaps look as if they were inspired by those on a 1957 Plymouth.

Standard equipment on the Comuta-car includes not only a heater but a defroster, a hatchback with tinted glass, white custom rally stripes on both sides of the car, heavy-duty batteries and, of course, those steel-belted radial tires.

When the Comuta-car was delivered new, it had two of the nine available optional accessories:

• Battery saver caps …$58.50

• Right-side mirror. ….12.00

The seven accessories not included are:

• AM/FM radio….. $150.00.

• Right-hand drive …150.00.

• AM radio………….89.50.

• Spare tire/jack……..5.00.

• Tinted windshield….50.00.

• Seal-n-drive tire kit…7.50.

• Cigar lighter………..7.50.

The sliding windows in the doors are plexiglass but the one-piece windshield is glass and is swept clean by a single wiper blade.

Inside the cozy cockpit for two is the two-spoke steering wheel. A rocker switch on the dashboard is flipped up to go forward or down to reverse.

That’s all there is to operate a Comuta-car. Press the accelerator to go and press the brake to stop the 1,400-pound car.

Mr. Kinney says that the 50 mph speedometer is “wildly optimistic.” A voltmeter on the left end of the dashboard, he reports, “Is a more accurate gauge to see how fast your battery is dying.”

The only ashtray is on the driver’s door, leading to the assumption that the passenger doesn’t smoke. Opening the hatchback window exposes the 12-cubic-foot storage area behind the white vinyl seats. The owner states the capacity at six grocery bags. The top of the two-seat car is typical of its era — covered in white vinyl.

The new-car warranty from the Sebring, Fla., manufacturer covered the car for six months or 6,000 miles. If not for the time constraint, Mr. Kinney would have 5,883 miles left under warranty.

Safety was high on the manufacturer’s list because touted were the four-wheel hydraulic brakes, race track-engineered roll bars, lap and shoulder belt harnesses and, of course, the massive, energy-absorbing bumpers.

In literature from General Engines Co., the manufacturer, is a statement that the Comuta-car is best suited on roads where the speed limit does not exceed 50 mph. A cautionary note says the car should not be used on interstate highways.

An outlet on the right side of the car behind the door is where an extension cord can be plugged in and attached to any 110-volt plug for recharging the batteries in six to nine hours.

Some of the advertised performance claims can’t be disputed — such as the 0-to-20 mph in five seconds or the 0-to-30 mph in 15 seconds. Lock-to-lock, the steering wheel turns 3.75 times and the car can be turned in 29.6 feet.

Mr. Kinney, however, does question some of the “official” claims. “They say the cruising range is 50 miles. I’ve never gotten more than 12 miles. They say ‘full throttle’ cruising can be done at 35 to 38 miles per hour. I’ve done 35 and it’s scary.”

Nevertheless, the little chariot never fails to bring a smile to his face when he is driving and pedestrians witness the phenomenon. Mr. Kinney has every intention of maintaining at least the current rate of usage that equals 22.5 yards a day.

• Vern Parker can be reached at vparker@washingtontimes.com.

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