One Hell of An Eye
The Official Blog of Mike Salisbury
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The middle of the ‘70s. The oil crisis was on full.  Car and Driver magazine called me.  The editor said, “The Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation is an automobile company started by entrepreneur, Jerry Dean Michael.   The Company’s flagship vehicle is the Dale, a prototype two-seater sports car designed by a Dale Clift,” he said.

Michael had told Car and Driver   “It is powered by an 850 cc air-cooled BMW engine which turns out 40 horsepower and would hit 85 miles per hour and get 70 mpg fuel economy.’

The Dale...

The Dale...

The editor said Michael had millions of dollars in backing from private parties and a 150,000 square foot assembly plant in Encino with over 100 employees.  Michael told him he expected sales of 88,000 cars in the first year and 250,000 in the second year with only a $2,000 price tag per car.  “Hot,” said I.

“Mike, get us pictures of the car and Michael,” said the editor.

I went out to the plant location….driving forever to nowhere.  Finding a crystal meth factory would have been easier — it felt like I was ultimately that close to Apache Junction.  Finally found the alleged factory somewhere east of Encino in the land of Nod.

Driving in a small alleyway between a bunch of rotting wooden chicken sheds I found a dirty yellow building that could be the plant. Not quite 150,000 square feet but it had walls, sad walls, and no chickens.

It also had no door and dirt floors.  Not exactly a ratty chicken shed, it was a filthy empty cattle barn that smelled of scam.

I wandered into emptiness.  In a far corner was something yellow, looking like a broken-off plastic airplane cockpit from a scary amusement park ride operated with a big long stick turning the circling mini-winged cockpits on and off by some three-time losing perv offender.

Under one bare light bulb, about three guys — not 100 — in lab coats wearing Clark Kent glasses and scribbling on clipboards were studiously circling this thing.  There was one rear wheel missing.

“By eliminating a wheel in the rear, we saved 300 pounds and knocked more than $300 from the car’s price. The Dale is 190 inches long, 51 inches high, and weighs less than 1,000 pounds,” had said Michael.

The inimitable Dale.

The inimitable Dale.

Apparently he had eliminated anything else that made this alien’s egg a car.  There was no steering wheel, no gas pedal.  No glass windows.

The clipboard guys left after their opening number performed for my benefit and I was left alone with the Geigermobile.  Knowing I shouldn’t, I opened the engine compartment hatch.  Well, hello.  The motor’s branding did start with B but didn’t follow with M and W.  It was Briggs followed by Stratton.  Like in your granddad’s power mower.

Then a roar of a real car motor came in from outside, justly enhanced by toots of truck air horns signaling the arrival of our host in a replica of the “Elvis the King’s” Lincoln, complete with gold monogram on the door.  It hit the stoppers.  Motor off.  I was on the passenger’s side.  But I saw the high-heeled, opened-toe pump hit the ground below the door edge and the top of the teased bouffant hair just over the door.

From around the front of the Lincoln, cigarette in hand, offering a shake with the other, all dressed in a pale yellow pants suit with the heels, came Jerry Dean, who, with a voice like Broderick Crawford, introduced himself:  “Hello, I’m Elizabeth.”

Geraldine Elizabeth Carmichael aka Jerry Dean Michael

Jerry Dean Michael aka Geraldine Elizabeth Carmichael; photo by Mike Salisbury

Yes, I thought, and I’m ‘enery the Eighth I am I am.

Miz Carmichael claimed to be the widow of a NASA structural engineer and a mother of five.  “She” was 6-foot tall, over 200 lb in weight, and also claimed to be a farm girl from Indiana.  In reality, Jerry Dean Michael was a transvestite, the father of those five kids, and had been wanted by the police since 1961.  It seems the Carmichael get-up was a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone disguise.

Jerry Dean Michael's mug shot.

Jerry Dean Michael's mug shot.

The next part I feel sort of guilty about: manipulating a subject to caricature them.  But I could not resist directing “Elizabeth” to stand in front of the Dale thing.  Legs apart, viewing the tire between his legs, hands on ample hips with that cigarette (see photo above!).

The company would ultimately prove to be a sham when Michael went into hiding with investors’ money.

He was eventually found working under an alias in a flower shop and was arrested.

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Comments:

Ha!  Great story on the Dale, Mike!  Darren M.

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I love your blog – thanks for sending to me.  You should take all of these stories and publish another book – I love this last one about the Dale car.  Hope all is well with you!  Jeanie S.

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Good! Thanks.  Bob G.

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You must write another book. Your life is too interesting to just leave on a blog….Rudi Lee

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Great balls on fire. Good story, Mike.  Robert P.

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This is absolutely hilarious and (wonderfully) creepy at the same time. That might be the most absurd car this side of the Fiat X1/9th.  It must be in a barn somewhere, or maybe the same barn where you photographed it.  I love your site.  Patrick C.

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God, Mike! You just jogged the mothballs in my head!  I guess my age is showing :-))  Lee L.

Remember her/him? Mike

Absolutely. And the picture.  Certain things leave vivid impressions.  Lee L.

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I’m a really busy guy with too much reading to do, but I can’t stop myself from burning some time reading these posts. Fantastic work, Mike!  Kevin D.

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“Yes, Bob, we’re really rolling here...”  Paul T.

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