Thursday, September 8, 2011

Origins of the Autoette

While researching my upcoming book on the history of California's micro-electric cars, I've conducted interviews and done extensive research into the origins of the cars and the industry. The beginnings of the business can be traced to the WWI era and the handicapped or infirmed veterans who were coming home. A number of makers of "invalid cars" began to pop up in England and in Europe, as well as here in the United States. One of the more notable and successful was the Custer Specialty Company of Dayton, Ohio.

Levitt Lucern Custer was an inventor and entrepreneur who had come of age as a contemporary of the Wright Brothers. Custer had worked with the Wrights and was an accomplished balloonist and aviator in his own right. World War I brought him the opportunity to create a mobility solution for the wounded soldiers returning from the front and for the elderly, promising independence and mobility. His answer was the three-wheeled Custer Car that promised "Miles of Smiles for a Penny." The Custer Specialty Company offered cars with first with electric power, and later optional gasoline power. Here are two beautiful examples, one gasoline and the other electric.

In my research I have been able to confirm that the creator of the Autoette was inspired to develop his own design in part due to his dissatisfaction with the complex workings and limitations of the Custer Car, which by the 1930s was the primary vehicle of its type in the United States. Here is a photo of the restored control switches on my Custer Car.

In chasing the origins of the Custer Car I ended up acquiring this one for the collection. The car sat in a collection for several decades with damage to the electrical system until its owner passed away. Then a friend of the collector acquired the car and it sat for another dozen years until that fellow passed away. I acquired the car just a few months ago. Just this past Labor Day weekend, I completed the restoration of the electrical controls and the rewiring of the car. In addition, I was able to take care of some mechanical issues and by Sunday evening take the car for a test drive. Here's a video of the Custer on the road again after many years sitting idle.

More to come soon on the origins of California's micro-electric cars! Thanks for reading.


  1. Hi Just got a "new" (used) 1950's autoette. Have all parts except soft upholstery and a tail light lens. ready to restore. Hope to fine another owner that will share details and resto recommendations. Plan to make it as stock as possible

  2. Hi Craig,

    Congratulations on your new Autoette! I'll be happy to help you with your project. Have you determined the actual year and model of your car and which options, if any it came with? If not I can help with that as it us a good place to start. If you have any photos or the serial number that would be great.

    I look forward to discovering more about the car.


    Larry Fisher, author
    The Autoette Project

    1. Larry please call me about my autoette truck 5411-490-3044

  3. Hi Craig,

    I need two of these. Any idea where I can buy them?


  4. Dennis,

    Please contact me offline at and I will help you regarding Autoettes.


  5. Just came across the electric version of this chair. What is the value (non-restored but great shape)?