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Gas Too Expensive? Rare Electric Car Is Rarin' to Go

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"I said, 'Wow. That's fantastic,'" Kenton recalls. Immediately he began calling electric vehicle (EV) dealers around the country, trying to figure out where he could buy one. He eventually found a 1993 City-El that had been imported to the United States as part of a demonstration program in Sacramento, Calif.

Kenton says he wanted the City-El "as a toy, to drive around." But he soon discovered that a car with a top speed of 35 mph wasn't terribly practical in the suburbs. "Everybody smiles," he says of other drivers. "Except for those folks I'm holding up."

So he's selling his little piece of the future for $8,000. The City-El would better suit an urban commuter, Kenton says, especially in these days of painful gas prices. "The cost per mile has got to be just pennies," he declares after a moment of mental tabulating.

The virtues of the City-El lie primarily in what it lacks: noise (it turns off entirely when stopped), pollution and parts. "Here's the whole works," Kenton says, lifting a rear panel to reveal three 12-volt batteries and a modest motor.

The car isn't equipped for real road trips, however. The City-El goes about 25 to 30 miles on a single charge, which takes two to eight hours. An available retrofit kit soups up the car so it'll travel 53 miles per hour for up to 40 miles on one charge. It's street legal and requires a motorcycle license. "And it's easy to park," Kenton throws in.

Kenton has long been a fan of electric vehicles for their efficiency and low environmental impact. Some of the better-known small EVs include the Sebring-Vanguard CitiCar, a 1970s artifact some called a cross between a telephone booth and a lawn chair, and the modern Corbin Sparrow, which looks like a futuristic running shoe.

Kenton won't mourn the sale of his little City-El. His real baby is his 1981 Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible. Yet he rarely takes the black beauty on the open road. "Can't afford the gas," he says wryly. — Melissa Scott Sinclair

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