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 Clift. It was powered by an 850 cc air-cooled engine and featured a claimed 70 mpg- 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 had been wanted by the police since 1961 for alleged involvement in a counterfeiting operation. The company would ultimately prove to be a sham, when Carmichael went into hiding with investors' money.
The Dale was originally envisioned by Carmichael. The prototype was designed and built by Clift, 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 and would hit 85 miles per hour. She expected sales of 88,000 cars in the first year and 250,000 in the second year.
Other vehiclesTwo 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.
Rumors of fraud began to emerge and the California Securities Commission began an investigation. Although Clift 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. She died in 2004 of cancer.