Back in the mid-1970s America was facing an oil crisis, and one woman, Liz Carmichael, stepped up claiming she had the answer – the Dale, a three-wheeled car that got 70 miles to the gallon. But was it all it was cracked up to be? Some didn’t think so, and eventually Liz found herself in hot water. She was put on trail for fraud, and her identity as a transgender person was outed without her consent, adding to the media frenzy around the trial. When found guilty Liz jumped bail, disappearing for over a decade, only resurfacing after an episode of Unsolved Mysteries featuring her story aired. A tale almost too wild to believe, and a favorite of mine in automotive history, is now the subject of an HBO mini documentary series, titled The Lady and the Dale, and to promote it HBO took over a car wash last weekend.
Since drive-thru everything is life now due to COVID, I braved my fear of drive-thru car washes (yes, I know I’m weird) to get out of the house over the weekend. I hadn’t been out since our visit to Christmas Tree Lane in December, so I was very much in need of a COVID safe outing.
HBO really went all out, including giving the car wash the temporary title of 20th Century Motors Car Wash, swathed the business in multiple banners and wraps, had a special radio station to tune in to, a mock up of Liz’s office, costumed attendants handing out swag bags, and even a Dale body! I was especially thrilled to see the body since I was let down when I didn’t get to see it at The Petersen Automotive Museum, which has one! You can check out that visit from a couple years ago here.
We snapped nearly all of these photos from the car, with the exception of the close-ups of the Dale body itself. We parked along side the car wash (just in time to see Buick Rivera inside) after getting our car done and Pat hopped out, wearing a mask, and snapped a few quick photos. Due to COVID, we decided to take outfit photos when we got home.
The swag bag included an air freshener of Liz, a Shell gift card, and most neat of all, a replica of the Dale brochure, originals of which sell for around $150!
As for the series itself, I really enjoyed it. I found it balanced, with an impressive amount of interviews, from Liz’s family, Dale engineers, reporters, and more. I also loved its creative use of stop motion animated collages to give life to moments described by those interviewed. The documentary also showcases the struggle of being transgender in the 1970s, and includes insight from trans historians.
All four episodes of The Lady and the Dale are currently available to stream on HBO, watch the trailer below. Sadly, the car wash only lasted one weekend.