I’ll admit that what drew me to this particular car wasn’t as much the car itself, which resembles a number of ‘70s-era low-volume wedge shaped weirdos like the three-wheeled Bond Bug or the early EV ComutaCar, but rather the art of the brochure, which has some of the most wonderfully unhinged illustrations of a car being enjoyed and used that I’ve ever seen. Just look at this cover, here—it’s like a celebration of the very defiance of death.
That little yellow doorstop is weaving around, inches from the pavement, dodging building-sized lorries and double-decker buses, the wheels of which are the entire height of the car, like a vole running through a stampede of hippos.
Do hippos stampede? I have no idea. But if they do, I’m not sure anything tiny running among them would have the same looks of glee as that helmet-haired driver and his joyful blonde friend have.
So what the hell is this thing, anyway?
It’s a TiCi (pronounced tih-chee), and was the creation of a Furniture Design lecturer at the Loughborogh College named Anthony Hill. Hill actually worked for Ford doing instrumentation design in the 1960s, so he had some familiarity with the automotive world, but more importantly, he had a vision: a tiny city car that could park nose-to-curb, a concept that Smart revived decades later.
Hill built a one-off of his idea to start, powered by a 500cc Triumph motorcycle engine, and drove that extensively for a few years until he found financial backing to start a company.
For the production version — well, sort of production, as it was a kit car — a BMC Mini 850cc engine was swapped in. Really, not just the engine, but the entire front suspension/drivetrain of a donor Mini was used, with the steering locked in place.
The company that made the fiberglass bodies for the Lotus Elan built the fiberglass body panels for the car, of which there were only four pieces: a front section, an engine cover with a small integrated storage cubby, a dashboard, and the rest of the bodyshell. A removable hardtop was also available to give a bit of weather protection.
In 1972 the kit was offered for sale, sans the donor Mini, for £395, or £4,557 today, which would be a bit over $6,000 today.
That’s maybe not terribly cheap for something that seems so remarkably tiny, but with the Mini engine and a weight of just 900 pounds, this thing had to be a blast to drive.
I mean, look at that guy in the brochure there, tearing ass along the beach, bellowing out some kind of primal scream of joy and madness. He also looks a little too big to be in there? How many knees does he have to fold his legs into that footwell?
I like the slogan, too: “It’s new, it’s different, it’s British, and it’s yours,” a slogan that I think could be repurposed for a line of Mr. Bean body pillows, should anyone be interested.
The TiCi only sold about 40 kits overall, but it had a couple famous drivers; legendary British racing driver Stirling Moss drove a promo model, and the sultriest Catwoman, Eartha Kitt, was also said to be an owner, which makes for a fascinating mental image.
I’ve only been able to find two videos of a TiCi driving online; first, this deeply strange one with a lot of superfluous CGI butterflies and leaves:
You’d think that perhaps coming out at the time of the oil crisis would have made the TiCi a bit more popular, but I think the Mini already was fuel efficient and small enough for most people, along with having an actual body and at least the illusion of safety.
Even so, the TiCi seems like it would have been an absolute riot to drive around, and I bet I’d be making faces similar to the bonkers fellow depicted in the fantastic brochure.