Jeroen Booij takes a look at the TICI - a fun City car for the 1970s.
Said to be the shortest road car ever, the Mini powered TiCi was at least as smart as the Smart… but it still didn’t succeed.
Anthony Hill was a lecturer in Furniture Design at the Loughborough College of Art and Design. He was also responsible for a number of everyday designs – from classroom furniture to demountable stages and even a locomotive cab. He’d also worked as a designer at Ford in Dagenham in the 1960s, specialising in instrumentation. So perhaps his plan to come up with a car of his own design wasn’t so strange. This
was in the late 1960s to a background of the sounds of traffic congestion, petrol sources drying up and an impending doom through congestion about to befall mankind. No wonder that Hill’s car design turned out to be something cheerful, economic and small, or more specifically, diminutive.
Hill had been playing with the idea of a tiny city car that was able to park transversally since 1966. His first prototype was a groovy two-seater, bright orange in colour, just over 50 inches long and powered by a 500cc Triumph motorcycle engine. Although Hill used it extensively throughout Europe for a couple of years, it remained a one-off. However, the designer was now smitten by his creation and couldn’t wait to manufacture it. What he needed was a financial injection, which came readily when ERA and BRM-founder Raymond Mays decided to support the project. To make the car suitable for everyday use
as well as production it needed a few developments. Now with a length of 89 inches – still ultra short – and 850 Mini power behind the seats, the car was named TiCi (pronounced Tichy) when it was first announced in 1972. But it was also appointed the title of ‘City Sprint Commuter Car’ and called the shortest road car ever, when it made it to the London Racing Car show in January 1973. Press releases from the time
celebrated the quirky little car’s versatility “It’s a city sports convertible… a shopping run-about for the busy housewife… a buggy for fun on the country lanes… for the golf course… for the beach.”
TiCi’s fibreglass body shell, made by Bourne Plastics of Nottingham who were also manufacturing bodies for the Lotus Elan, came in four pieces: front, enginecover, dashboard and the actual monocoque. The latter even included moulded in seats, which weren’t very comfy despite Hill’s claims to ergonomic seating. The exterior colour was always bright yellow as colour coded gel coat was used. A Mini front subframe complete with engine and all the suspension parts plus locked steering
was bolted in at the rear. The front suspension used Mini links and coil spring/damper units. A specially made six gallon steel fuel tank was fitted centrally in the interest of safety.
Thanks to backer Raymond Mays, Hill managed to tie up with Stirling Moss for promotion. Moss made headlines by driving it through London traffic surrounded by dolly birds.
The car was offered for sale as a complete kit with step-by-step instructions for £395. The car could even be winter proofed as a hardtop and doors were available as an extra, both at £35. “There is no need for improvisation or of specialist knowledge to build a TiCi. If you’re capable of removing Mini parts properly then you should be able to construct your own TiCi in a couple of weekends!” heralded the brochure.
Unfortunately, despite the promotional efforts and the financial backing of Mays, who believed it could become a big seller in times of oil crises, the TiCi didn’t become much of a success. A year after its introduction, just 40 kits were sold and by that time new VAT-rules for kit cars made it far too expensive.
Singer Eartha Kitt is said to have owned one, as well as Sinclair C5 mastermind Clive Sinclair, who supposedly converted his TiCi to electric power. Motoring journalist Chris Rees also owned one and recalls the time that a London cabbie pulled alongside him in traffic one day, asking what he had done with the other roller-skate…