1972 Zagato Zele

Zagato, established in 1919, collaborated with some of the most renowned car manufacturers to create some of the most attractive (or polarizing) vehicles ever made. However, by 1972, the company faced a dire financial situation with bankruptcy looming due to a lack of projects. As carmakers had begun to bring design work in-house, Elio and Gianni Zagato had to attempt something drastic if their father’s company was not to be a mere footnote in the history of motoring.

And that’s precisely what they did. At the 1972 Geneva Salon, Zagato unveiled the Zele, a small two-seater electric car with a plastic body. It was a far cry from what Zagato was accustomed to selling, but the Zele made complete sense. As global fuel prices increased due to the onset of the energy crisis, replacing an internal combustion engine with an electric motor appeared to be the obvious solution.

As an electric microcar for commuters, the Zagato Zele was was cheap to buy and run, and it was well-suited for daily driving around the city. The Zele was slightly under two meters (77 inches) long, making it three feet shorter than a Mini, although the latter was not limited to just two passengers or a very restricted range.

The Zele was made up of two plastic moldings connected in the middle, ensuring that it was resistant to corrosion, and its light weight was excellent news. However, it could only go up to 43 miles on a single charge with its four 24-volt batteries, and its top speed was quite low at just 25mph, which was provided by the rear-mounted 1000-watt Marelli electric motor, driving the rear wheels through a three-speed gearbox.