Part of the Transportation Coil Series, the design of the 17-cent Electric Auto is based on a 1917 Detroit Electric coupe once driven by Edgar E. Rohrs of Manassas, Virginia. Throughout his life, Rohrs was extremely active in the Antique Auto Club of America, serving as that organization's president between 1963 and 1964. The Detroit Electric coupe depicted on the 17-cent stamp features plush, overstuffed seats and tie-back curtains for privacy. It reached a speed of 25 miles per hour on wooden-spoked wheels and had a range of 80 miles before the battery needed recharging.
The Electric Auto stamp was introduced on June 25, 1981, during a first day ceremony at Greenfield Village, Michigan, where 239,459 first day covers were cancelled. When issued, the stamp was intended to pay the seventeen-cent fee for each additional ounce above the basic first-class letter rate. This additional fee for the second through the twelfth ounces remained in effect until April 3 1988. Stamps issued for this purpose received overall tagging.
The stamp was printed on the Cottrell press in rolls of one hundred, five hundred, and 3,000 stamps. The plate number alternates every twenty-four stamps. Tagged stamps are found with plate numbers 1 through 7. Only plates 1 and 2 were available on first day covers.
The 17-cent Electric Auto found new life when the rate for a presorted first class letter was increased to seventeen cents on November 1, 1981. For this purpose the basic stamp was precancelled with the legend “presorted first class” between two parallel bars. The precancelled stamps were untagged and were available in rolls of five hundred or 3,000 stamps. They are found with plate numbers 1 through 7. Like other stamps printed on the Cottrell press, there are gaps between the precancel bars at intervals of twelve stamps. Specialists distinguish the four different precancel mats used on this issue by their length: Type A = 11.3mm; type B=12.8mm; Type C = 13.4mm; and type D = 14.1mm.
The stamp was designed by Chuck Jaquays of Woodbridge, Virginia, and engraved by Edward P. Archer, vignette, and Thomas J. Bakos, lettering, both from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.