When cars were corrugated
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NEW JAGUAR REMINDS US OF THE DAYS WHEN SOME MANUFACTURERS WENT METAL
Jaguar’s new F-Pace SUV incorporates the manufacturer’s new Aluminium Intensive (AI) architecture. This method of construction utilises around 70 per cent aluminium in the manufacturing of key structural elements of the car.
Using aluminium components is nothing new of course, and in the Jaguar’s case it’s mainly below the surface. But back in the 1960s and 70s, a handful of carmakers chose to make the metal the main feature of their cult models. Well, apart from the one that used plastic…
Another element that belied its tough-looking exterior was the fact its shell was constructed using Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) plastic, topped with a soft canvas fold-down roof.
Designed by French war veteran Count Roland de la Poype, the car was named after a type of fast-running dromedary camel. It was based around the Citroen Dyane 6 five-door hatchback (a sort of stretched 2CV) and powered by the same 602cc flat-twin petrol engine that featured as part of both the Dyane 6 and Citroen Ami ranges.
With its summery beachside vibe, the Mehari was a big hit in the South of France and on the Iberian Peninsula.
Surprisingly it was also popular on the West Coast of the United States. Surprising? Given that US safety protocols forced many European carmakers to garnish their models with extra crash protection, the Mehari escaped such frivolities as seatbelts in America by being officially sanctioned a “truck” under import law. Rental car companies even offered them on their fleets for a time.
Manufactured mainly in continental Europe, Citroen also built a version for South America in Argentina, and by the time production ceased in 1988, 144,953 Meharis had been built.
But that wasn’t quite the end of the Mehari story; last year Citroen broadened its already brimming portfolio of off-beat concept cars with the E-Mehari; an all-electric crossover concept influenced by the air bump-silhouetted Cactus and inspired by the original soft-top Mehari.
The concept, the carmaker said at the time, was designed to bring to market a “cheery, optimistic vehicle different from the rest.”
Though no production version of the E-Mehari has surfaced yet, Citroen takes its concepts — no matter how extreme they might appear — seriously as design studies, so who knows what summer 2017 might have in store for sun-loving Francophiles?
The most recognisable side-less model here must surely be the diminutive Mini Moke; a car that started life as a military prototype envisioned to fulfill the same light field work for the British forces as the Jeep did for the Americans.
But where the civilian Mini’s compact size was a strong point, the Moke’s tiny wheels and low ground clearance made it impractical for anything beyond a gravel road. BMC re-pitched the model to the masses as a beach buggy-style recreational vehicle.
It was an instant hit, especially in sunny regions such as Australia and the Caribbean. Many found service as hotel transport vehicles. Today the model still enjoys global cult enthusiast appeal.
Starting production in 1964, the Moke was built alongside regular Minis at BMC’s Longbridge facility until 1968. Satellite production began in Australia in 1966 and continued there until 1981. The Moke’s last gasp was as a Portuguese-assembled vehicle between 1980 and 1993.
The Moke’s simple construction and, until recently, broad supply of 1960s and 1970s Mini spares meant there have been many kit-car facsimiles of the model over the years, including creations with names such as Hobo, Hustler, Scamp and Warrior.
A bit like the Mehari, the Moke has enjoyed a rebirth of late. Twenty-odd years after its curtain call in Portugal, a company called Moke International (a subsidiary of Chinese auto concern Chery Motors and Sicar Engineering) announced it would be manufacturing an updated Moke that blended old-style design with new mechanical and safety specs. Known as the Classic Moke, the model is penned by British designer Michael Young. It’s longer and wider than the original and powered by a Chery-sourced 50kW/93Nm 1.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.
Although the car is distributed in sunny climes such as the Caribbean, Panama, Sri Lanka and Thailand, there is no news of a New Zealand dealer. Mind you, despite its obvious charms, without airbags or an ABS braking system, the chances of one being road-registered here are non-existent.
Oh and that name? “Moke” is an archaic word for donkey.
VOLKSWAGEN TYPE 181
Yes, your mental shorthand is correct; the Volkswagen Type 181 (or Volkswagen Thing as it was marketed in the US) has its development roots in military matters.
But technically this open-topped four door corrugated shed-on-wheels traces its armed forces lineage from later than the WWII-era Kubelwagen; namely the late-1950s. It wasn’t until a decade later, once surf-n’-sand beach buggy culture took hold in popular culture, that the vehicle would become well-known.
Manufactured in West Germany from 1968 to 1983 and then in Mexico and Indonesia during the 1970s, the Type 181 (or Type 182 for right-hand drive versions) originally saw light as Volkswagen’s pitch for a pan-European light military (ie. Jeep-style) vehicle for military use by the land forces on the continent.
Meanwhile Volkswagen’s successful foray into the Mexican market – where the Type 1 Beetle was immensely popular – led to repeated requests for something more rugged to cope with rural roads.
Across the border, American executives could see the appeal too and in 1968 the 1500cc rear-engined “Thing” was born. Built using Beetle mechanicals and the wider floorpan of the Kharmann-Ghia, more than 90,000 units of Type 181 would eventually roll off the production line.
Ironically, though popular in the markets that built it, as well as US, the Thing never really took off in Europe. By 1975, when stricter safety regulations were the norm, it had even been discontinued in North America.
Despite ending up more likely to adorn the cover of an early Beach Boys album than be seen moving personnel around West Berlin, the Type 181 did end up playing a role for the armed forces. After the pan-European Jeep project fell over in the late 1970s, Volkswagen delivered over 50,000 Type 181s to Nato forces. It seems its rugged nature had a part to play in military matters, after all.