Only a handful of photographs depicting Leopold Garcia’s El Chicito are known to exist. Even fewer of his other car, known only as the City Car. Garcia himself remains something of an enigma to automotive historians, and the whereabouts of his vehicles were kept so secret that some supposed the cars no longer existed. Yet all of that stands to change later this year when a Route 66 Visitors Center and museum in Albuquerque, not far from where Garcia built his cars, will open with the two cars on display.
“It’s an honor to have these cars showcased at the Route 66 Visitor’s Center,” said Klarissa Peña, an Albuquerque city councilor whose district includes the visitors center. “Leopoldo Garcia lived in New Mexico, so it’s a fitting tribute to honor his innovative work here along Route 66.”
Garcia, according to researcher Robert Cunningham, studied engineering and sculpture at the University of New Mexico before apparently coming to own a salvage yard in El Llanito, a tiny settlement just north of Bernalillo, which in turn is just north of Albuquerque. Cunningham noted that Garcia built a small three-wheeled electric vehicle able to “be operated by a person with only one good limb” before he set out to put his own stamp on contemporary auto design.
According to an April 1957 Motor Life article on his El Chicito, Garcia “looked at the current boxy styles from Detroit and concluded that he would create something not so square.” He started with a 1940 Ford chassis that he cut down to a wheelbase of just 80 inches. (The AMC Gremlin, for comparison’s sake, rode on a 96-inch wheelbase.) The Motor Life article reported that Garcia worked out his design on paper and in clay before roaming his junkyard in search of “curved sections which came closest to approximating the pre-conceived form.” Garcia apparently characterized that form as “fleshy,” Motor Life described it as “organic rather than geometric,” and in that vein Garcia later rechristened El Chicito as Bubbles.
Once he had all his pieces, he then started to weld them together, adding a couple late Thirties Ford taillamps, a Continental-style spare tire cover, headlamps in the shape of eyes, and a homebuilt convertible top. The design essentially precluded doors, so Garcia decided to make entry easier by hinging the windshield to tilt forward.
For power, the Motor Life article claims an unspecified Ford V-8 engine, but Cunningham wrote that Garcia used a 1954 Mercury V-8, which would make it a 161-hp, four-barrel, 256-cu.in., overhead-valve Y-block. No details on the transmission, but Garcia apparently decided that the exhaust pipes could double as rear bumpers. In total, he claimed to have spent just $800 building the 2,200-pound car and displayed it as far afield as Sioux Falls, Minneapolis, Des Moines, and Indianapolis