The Story of the Light Sports Coupe

Part Four,The Nineteen Sixties.

The best decade for the light sports coupe, was the nineteen sixties, with a wealth of different models available. Unfortunately many only for a short time, at least thirty manufacturers in six countries, some with just one model and others with an evolving range, that spanned the decade and survived into the nineteen seventies.
Of the cars available in the nineteen fifties, the MGA coupe survived until 1962 and the Gilbern GT, with steadily increasing engine size and weight until 1967. In 1962 Alfa Romero began phasing out the Giullietta range of cars replaced by the Giulia range, with an increase in engine capacity to 1570cc and power output and suspension improvements.The coupe models became the Giulia 1600 Sprint, in production until 1964 and the Giulia Sprint Special in production until 1965, the “SZ” was discontinued. A “Giulia 1300 Sprint” was also available from 1963 until 1967. Then the coupes became four seater's and the inevitable happened and the engine size and the weight went up again until the cars could not be called lightweight.
  Lotus Europa  Lotus Elan 2+2

In 1963 the Lotus Elite was replaced by the Elan,but a fixed head coupe version the S3 did not appear until September 1965. In 1966 Lotus unvailed thier first mid engined production car the Europa. With a fabricated backbone chassis and GRP coupe body and fitted with a 1470 cc Renault 16 engine and transmission installed 180 degree's from the original. The car was cramped but handling was exeptional due the usual excellent Lotus suspension.  produced until 1971 with a 88bhp 1565cc engine in later version, and usually sold in kit form in the UK. The Europa Twin Cam, fitted with the Lotus DOHC engine fitted was produced from 1971 to 1975, the Special was the star performer with a top speed of 121mph and 0 to 60mph in 7.7 seconds. A total of 9230 examples of Europa's were produced.  Another new Lotus was the Elan+2, a long wheelbase version of the Elan platform with an all new coupe body. made between 1969 and 1974 and fitted with a 1558cc version of the Lotus DOHC engine producing 118bhp. Later 130+2s models had the same 126bhp engine as the Europa Special and a top speed of 120mph. A total of 5200 examples of all versions were produced.

Lotus was only one of many small car makers in Britain in the nineteen sixties, either making kits ready for final assembly to take advantage of the British taxation laws or completed cars. Marcos, Ginetta, Rochdale, TVR, Piper, GTM, and a few others that only produced a handful of cars. Rochdale began making bodies first in aluminium then GRP for the British special car market in 1948. By 1960 they had progressed to making complete cars in the form of the Olympic.
Rochdale Olympic
The coupe monocoque chassis/body unit for the Olympic was only preceeded by the Lotus Elite. A Riley 1.5 litre engine was fitted at the front driving a live rear axle. From 1960 to 1970 four hundred were produced before Rochdale gave up car manufacturing for industrial GRP production.
Marcos GT
The first Marcos car the GT, a coupe with gull wing doors, was almost unique in having a wooded monocoque chassis. The work of Jem Marsh and Frank Costin, Costin was structural engineer experienced in the plywood. The rest of the design was conventional for the time with a Ford 105E engine. A total of 29 were produced between 1960 and 1963 and proved popular for circuit racing. The next Marcos model the 1800 fitted with a Volvo engine also utilised the plywood monocoque but was clothed in a GRP body. With a top speed of 116mph,  From 1966 to 1968 Ford engines were fitted, at first 1500cc then 1600cc. 373 examples were produced between 1964 and 1968.  

The last lightweight Marcos car was the Mini-Marcos of which approximately 700 examples were produced between 1965 and 1974 plus 500 made by D&H Fibreglas Developments between 1971 and 1981 after Marcos had failed. The Mini-Marcos was not pretty but it had a good performance and good handling which it inherited from the BMC Mini which was the source of all the major components except the lightweight GRP monocoque chassis/body unit.
Ginetta G15
 The Ginetta G15  was the companies most successful model through out its history from 1957 into the twenty first century, with 800 examples produced in kit or complete form between 1968 and 1974.  A semi-monocoque coupe body mounted on a square tube ladder frame chassis  with Triumph Herald components at the front and Hillman Imp at the rear including Sports engine and transmission.
The TVR Grantura was produced in different versions until 1967 when a new model the Vixen was introduced. basically the same as the Grantura , at first fitted with an MGB engine and gearbox which was soon superseded by Ford Cortina GT units of 1599cc. Over 500 of these were produced between 1967 and 1970 when larger engines were fitted making these the last TVR's in the lightweight class.
Piper GTT/P2
A British make that had only a one model run with serial production was Piper. An offshoot of a company specialising racing cars, the Piper GTT/P2 coupe displayed its racing heritage. At first sold in kit form but later sold complete and fitted with various engines sizes from 948cc to 1599cc, mainly Ford high performance units after initially using engines from BMC.  These were installed in the front of a tubular backbone chassis. Approximately a hundred were produced between 1967 and 1974.
The Cox GTM (Grand Touring Mini) Coupe was another attempt to produce a sporting car utilizing BMC Mini components, this time in the mid engine configuration in a fabricated sheet steel chassis with a GRP body. Initially the quality of design and manufacture was poor at first , even so with a few different owners, over three hundred kits were sold between1966 and 1972.  After a couple more changes of ownership a much improved GTM Coupe was again in production in 1980, continuing at a rate of 50 to 60 a year into the 1990's. Another British Mini based mid engined kit car was the Unipower GT. Only produced were produced between 1966 and 1970, This spaceframe chassis, GRP bodied coupe had a high reputation due to its excellent road holding and relatively good performance due its low profile, particularly when fitted with 1275cc Mini Cooper engine. Speeds of up to 120mph were possible.   
The French didn't have a kit car industry but it did have specialist small car makers, Alpine and Bonnet. The later Alpine A106 cars produced had a backbone chassis and were fitted with a Renault Dauphine engine and transmission and finally those of the Renault R8.  They continued to be located behind the rear axle. In 1963 a new coupe model the A110 was produced, continuing with these features. At first with an 1108cc R8 engine fitted,later 1.25,1.3 and 1.6 litre versions were fitted. The A110 was used with success as a rally car and almost 8200 examples were produced when production ceased in 1976 or 77. One of the dissolved DB partnership Rene Bonnet set up on his own to produced a Renault based small mid-engined coupe weighing 1350cc giving a lively performance from a 1100cc engine. The Jdet had a tubular backbone chassis all round coil sprung wishbone suspension and disc brakes. The Jdet was made by Bonnet between 1961 and 1964 when the concern was taken over by Matra when the Jdet became the Matra Jdet. Matra produced 1681 Jdet's from 1964 to 1968, the latest model the Jet 6 had a 1,255cc engine.
Lancia Fulvia HF
There were two other light sports coupes produced in Italy in the nineteen sixties, The Lancia Fulvia HF a high performance version of the Fulvia coupe itself based on the Fulvia a front wheel drive saloon. The HF had exceptional handling properties, initially fitted with a 1216cc Vee four engine with the final version of 1,584cc that produced 114 or132 bhp depending on the state of tuning. Over six thousand examples were produced between 1966 and 1972, eight hundred of which were a the Zagato bodied version of the HF. ASA Mille
The ASA Mille made from 1963 to 1967 was far more exclusive. With an DOHC engine of 1032cc designed at Ferrari, a chassis designed by Giotto Biizzarini and a body by Bertone it had a great pedigree. It all added up to a very expensive car and few were made.
  Saab Sonnet
The first few hundred examples of the Saab Sonnet were fitted the two-stroke three cylinder engine as fitted in Saab Monte Carlo, but most of the 10,219 examples produced between 1966 and 1974 had the 1498cc German Ford Vee four engine fitted. Saab had gained a high reputation for handling with their Front wheel drive rally cars and produced a GRP coupe bodied car aimed at the American market.

Porsche started the nineteen sixties with 356B fitted with the 1582cc OHV flat four engine introduced in 1959 356A. The final 356 model the 356c was introduced in 1963, the model had evolved with chassis refinements and increased engine power. In 1965  the 356 coupe was replaced by the Porsche 912. The 912 was the new 911 chassis fitted with the 1582cc engine used in the later 356 by now producing 90BHP. Over thirty thousand 912's were produced between 1965 and 1969, proving there was still a place for the small engined Porsche.
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