The Zagato Zele 1000 was a car born decades before its time, it was released in 1974 as a compact electric car with a lightweight composite body, independent front and rear suspension, and a design penned by prestigious Italian design house Zagato.

Designed specifically for low-speed city transportation, the Zele 1000 had a top speed of 25 mph (40 km/h) and a range of 50 miles (80.5 kms). Recharging was as simple as plugging it into a wall outlet, and it could accommodate two people plus some cargo in the rear.

Fast Facts – The Zagato Zele 1000

  • The Zagato Zele 1000 was first shown to the world at the 1972 Geneva Motor Show, it attracted some attention at the time but less than a year later when the 1973 Oil Crisis hit the interest in the 100% electric Zele increased significantly.
  • With its compact, boxy design the Zele was designed to be the perfect city car. Two of them could be parked in a normal parking bay, they had a top speed of 25 mph (40 km/h) and a range of 50 miles (80.5 kms) – more than enough for typical urban use.
  • The car entered production in 1974 and was sold until 1976 with 500 or so built, some of which were sold into the US market by distributor Elcar Corporation.
  • Power is provided by a 1000 watt Marelli electric motor with electricity coming from a bank of four linked 12 volt lead acid car batteries. To recharge you would just plug it into a wall outlet in your garage overnight.

The Electric Car

Electric cars are nothing new of course, they first appeared back in the 1830s and for a time, around the turn of the 20th century, there was a three-way battle between gasoline, electric, and steam-powered automobiles for supremacy.

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Image DescriptionThe interior of the Zele 1000 is spartan to keep weight (and cost) down. The driver sits on the left and operates a traditional steering wheel, two pedals, and a 3-speed semi-automatic shifter.

Gasoline-powered cars typically had the best range but were smelly, they had to be hand-cranked to start, and they could be unreliable. Steam-powered cars could be run on many fuel types, including easy to come by materials like coal and wood, but they were also temperamental and inconvenient to operate daily.

Electric cars could have won the battle if it wasn’t for the well-known limitations of battery storage. Electric motors are small, powerful, and they have excellent reliability. Starting is easy, they don’t need oil, coal, or gasoline, and they became the preferred automobile type for many women in the 1910s for these very reasons.

The battery problem held electric cars back, however thanks to technological developments in this field over the past few decades the electric car is staging a major comeback, a comeback it looks poised to win over the next 10 years or so.

The Zagato Zele 1000

There can be no denying that the Zagato Zele 1000 was a car ahead of its time, so prescient was it that it could almost be released today as a new electric city car and no one would bat an eye.

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Image DescriptionThis is almost certainly the least expensive car ever designed by Zagato, the most expensive is almost certainly the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, now worth $12.8 million USD.

The team at Zagato had been studying the future of the automobile and mobility, specifically the future of mobility in cities. They worked to design the perfect city automobile, with seating for two and space for some groceries or other shopping.

As an Italian company, Zagato looked around locally for a platform to use as the foundation for their new car, they settled on a combination of parts from the mass-produced and inexpensive Fiat 500 and the Fiat 124.

With a steel chassis, independent front and rear suspension, and brakes all in place a new body was designed to fit over the platform. It’s an upright fiberglass box with little consideration given to aerodynamics, as the planned top speed was under 30 mph.

Power from the 1000 watt Marelli electric motor is sent to the rear wheels via a 3-speed semi-automatic transmission, and electricity comes from a bank of four linked 12 volt lead acid car batteries stored in the floor. As mentioned above, the top speed is 25 mph (40 km/h) the range is 50 miles (80.5 kms) on a full charge.

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Image DescriptionThe design is somewhat similar to the Smart Car that came decades later, inside there’s seating for two and some space behind the seats for groceries.

The Zagato Zele 1000 was released in 1974 and sold until 1976, approximately 500 would be sold over that time. Today the surviving examples are quite collectible, and we see them come up for auction once or twice a year, typically in Europe.

The 1976 Zagato Zele 1000 Shown Here

The Zele 1000 you see here is a 1976 model, the final year of production. It had its batteries and wiring replaced in 2020, upgrading them to modern standards.

The original charger is provided with the car, and it’s still riding on its original 10 inch steel wheels shod in Goodyear custom G8 tires.

It’s finished in light blue with a black center stripe, with a black vinyl-trimmed interior, and a black dashboard, with black carpeting throughout.

The odometer displays just 2,063 kms (1,282 miles), and it’s listed as being in very good overall condition.

This Zele is currently being auctioned live online on Collecting Cars, it’s currently based in Rome, Italy. At the time of writing there are still a few days left to bid and you can see the listing here.

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Images courtesy of Collecting Cars

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Published by Ben Branch -