the tall, reed-thin man walked cautiously in car and driver offices, each step deliberate. He paused to silently scan his surroundings. Eighty-nine-year-old George Chartier had come to close a circle of his life: he was about to take his first ride in an electric car.
He was accompanied by his son Alan. Before the trip, he explained to us, “He’s always been interested in electric cars, starting with the radio-controlled electric car he built in 1955. [Ford Mustang] Mach-E.”
Model EV Enthusiasts
Growing up in Wisconsin, George Chartier loved model cars and the promise of electric propulsion in equal measure. He followed those interests throughout his life, first teaching himself to build one-off, show-quality, 1/12-scale model concept cars from scratch using raw materials: basswood for the body and hand-made Wispy strips of copper that he chromed for trim.
In his early twenties, he entered several of his scale-model cars in the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild Competition, a national design competition sponsored by General Motors’ body-building division for aspiring teenage car designers. His entries took first place statewide in 1953 and second place statewide in 1954.
But they were static display models. Chartier’s idea was electric propulsion. His next project, begun in 1955, was far more thrilling: a 1/12-scale, radio-controlled electric model car—the black coupe you picture here looks downright realistic.
Like their Craftsman Guild cars, every piece on it was handmade, including a full interior with tiny instrument gauge faces. Chartier also designed and built the one-off chassis, which packages an electric motor, powered by a D-cell battery, and radio-control hardware to drive it – plus a working suspension and steering system, headlights , turn signals, reverse lights, and a horn. It took about 3000 hours to make it. Like his earlier models, he built it entirely on his own; RC-car kits did not exist in the mid-20th century.
“I took that model to my job interview at Ford in 1962,” Chartier tells me in his calm voice. He applied for a job as a clay modeler, hoping to become one of the craftsmen who create and refinish the exterior and interior of a vehicle modeled by designers. During the interview, Chartier said, “I told him I wanted to include sequential turn signals in the model, but there was no room for it; the mechanism was too heavy. He asked me if I had a patent on the idea, and I Told them I didn’t.”
Chartier was hired on the spot, “and then a few years later my idea for sequential turn signals turned up on the Thunderbird.” Could Chartier have invented the sequential turn signal or at least given the idea to Ford? Maybe, but he clearly anticipated its use.
Chartier remained a Ford clay modeler for 37 years, turning down a managerial promotion so he could continue his love of model making by working on full-size clay, which was an important part of the vehicle design process throughout his career . Full-scale clay is still used today to confirm that the lines of a new vehicle look as good in real life, at full size, as they do on a computer screen.
back to the future
“Is it really all electricity?” Chartier asked as we circled the Mach-E charging car and driver Lots of testing. He scrutinized the familiar triple taillights.
“It’s a Mustang, all right. You can tell by the taillights.” I turned on the LED turn signals; They are sequential, a modernized version that first appeared in production on the 1964 Ford Thunderbird. Chartier looked at them, then back at us, brows raised.
From the Mach-E’s passenger seat, Chartier quietly embraces the large central infotainment screen and its many functions. “Nice and quiet,” he said as we left the office premises. Out on the road, I pressed deep into the accelerator to give him the feel of Mach-E’s instant torque. “You can’t feel it shift,” he said with a slight chuckle, clearly knowing the Mach-E lacks a multi-speed transmission.
Why was that always taken up by electric vehicles? As we cruised down I-94 at 80 mph, he said, “I thought cars were supposed to be quiet and sleek. There are electric cars—and they don’t smell.”
Thanks to today’s tighter emissions controls and much improved engine sealing technology, gasoline-powered cars run with antiseptic cleanliness. But Automotive World’s Chartier was a stinker. If you love the smell of gasoline in the morning, buy a pre-1970 car, park it in your garage, and enjoy the perfume of unburned hydrocarbons, coolant, and engine oil. And those are the smells that are evaporating from the car, let alone the exhaust fumes, that will come out when you light a fire.
We headed back to the office on surface roads so Chartier could see what one-pedal driving was like and how normal it is to drive an electric vehicle in everyday traffic. Chartier said: “As a clay modeler, I worked on everything Ford made. I didn’t want to be a designer or manage people.
“Where do you find recharge stations on the map?”
back into CD Much to the chagrin, Chartier carefully exited the Mach-E to pose for photographs. He smiled shyly for the camera. “It was impossible when I was a kid. Amazing battery.”
A few days later Chartier’s son wrote of the experience. “I think my dad is happy to see the progress toward electric vehicles in general. I know he enjoyed the ride and all the details you shared with him about the car at the time. He drove home But didn’t say much. About it. With his memory loss, he’s very much ‘in the moment’ these days.
Within a week, Chartier had forgotten all about his ride in the Mach-E, Allen said. But for a short while, at least, Georges Chartier got to see his dream of an electric-car future come true. Somewhere out there, we’d like to think, a dream shared by generations of car enthusiasts like him has finally come true.
Director, Buyer’s Guide
Rich Cepos has evaluated automobiles and automotive technology during his career, which includes 10 years, two terms at General Motors. car and driver A total of 19 years, and thousands of miles logged in racing cars. He was in music school when he realized what he really wanted to do in life and somehow, it worked out. between his CD posting he did as executive editor of automobile magazine, Campbell was Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications; worked in GM’s product-development area; and became the publisher of autoweek, He has raced consistently since college, holds SCCA and IMSA Pro Racing licenses, and has competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona. He currently miniscules a 1999 Miata and 1965 Corvette convertible and appreciates that none of his younger colleagues have yet said “Ok, Boomer” when he tells a story of his own about the crazy old days . CD.