Basic motoring

The Evolution of the Modern Ultralight Economy car.

Chapter 6 European Variety


Renault R4LRenault R4L
The later nineteen fifties and the nineteen sixties was a high point for the european economy car with variety and diversity of design not seen before or since. The only universal design feature was independent front suspension; but that came in various configurations, double wishbone, swing axles, Mcpherson strut, Dubonnet and other combinations. chassis layout and form was also diverse with all forms except mid engined used, also ladder frames, backbone frames to unitary construction. Some manufacturers produced a variety of design at the same time. One such company was Hans Glas GmbH, of Dingolfing, German, they produced a range of miniature twins under the name of Goggomobile, from 1955 to1966, and after the factory was taken over by BMW production continued until 1969. They had an air-cooled, twin-cylinder, two-stroke, rear mounted engine driving the rear wheels via swing axle. The first model the T250 had a 245cc engine producing13.6hp. In1957 the T400 with a 392cc engine producing 18.5bhp, was added to the range. 54,000 saloon's and coupes were produced. Hans Glas GmbH also produced a couple of front engine and a live axle rear wheel drive models  with a horizontally opposed overhead valve twin cylinder engine of 584 cc in the T600 and the related T700 with a 688 cc engine.  Eighty-seven thousand were made between 1957 and 1965. I have mentioned other German manufacturers of the period such as DKW and Lloyd in previous chapters but there were more. BMW had been making the Isetta micro car since 1955. In 1957 they introduced a compact four-seat, four wheeled ultralight economy car based on the Isetta. A 582cc version of their well known air-cooled flat twin engine that was located at the rear of the car. The BMW 600 shared with the Isetta the distinction of having a door at the very front of the car.  Almost thirty-five thousand BMW 600s were produced by the time it was superseded by the BMW 700 in 1959. The 700 was a development of the design of the 600. The engine size was increased to 697cc, but the biggest change was the fitting of a new body designed by Michelotti. Production continued until 1965 and a total of 188,121 examples of all type were produced. An unusual feature of these cars, was the Dubonnet independent front suspension system used on the cars, probably the last time it was used in any design. NSU Motorenwerke AG of Neckarsulm in the German Federal Republic, were well known for their bicycles and motorcycles that had made cars to their own designs early in the century, they had also produced Fiat designs under licence.

DAF 600                                                                                                                                                                    DAF 600                   
The first NSU designed car to go into production since 1928 the Prinz was a ultralight car with a 583cc transverse inline air-cooled twin cylinder engine producing 20BHP. An unusual feature of the engine was the Ultramax eccentric strap drive for the overhead camshaft. The unitary construction chassis was independently sprung with wishbones at the front and swing axles at the rear all with coil springs. The Prinz was produced from 1958 until 1962 and almost ninety-five thousand were made. A pretty little coupe version the Sports Prinz was produced from 1959 to 1967. The engine was tuned to produce 30BHP and it had a top speed of 76MPH. The French manufacturers were as divided as the Germans over weather the all at front or all at the rear layout was the best with Panhard as described above and Citroen sticking to the former and Renault and Simca to the latter; although Renault was about to change. Simca first introduced the only rear engined car they made the 1000 in 1961. The chassis design of the 1000 was  similar to the rear engined Fiat of the period and was fitted with a heavy engine already in use in the Simca Aronde. It was in production until 1978  with a couple of increases in engine size. One point six million saloons and estate cars were produced. In 1961 Citroen introduced the Ami 6. The 2 CV platform was fitted with a 602 cc 22 bhp engine and an odd four door body. It was produced until 1971 and over a million examples were produced. A revised version the AMI 8 was introduced in 1969 and produced until 1978.
The Renault Dauphine of 1956 was mechanically similar to the 4CV but with a 845cc engine. The elegant body/chassis unit was all new and larger than the 4CV. The model was in production for twelve years and over two million examples were produced. Renault abandoned their rear engined only small car policy when they introduced the R3 and R4 in 1961. The engine/transmission layout of the 4CV, with the gearbox ahead of the inline engine, was located in the front of a practical hatchback unitary chassis, with the necessary changes to the drive shafts and transmission joints. The long forgotten R3 had a 603cc engine and the R4 a 747cc or 845cc engine. Over eight million R4s were made by 1992 when production ceased. The fourth and last mass produced Renault model was the R8 of 1962. This was the year after the first front wheel drive Renault the R4 was introduced. The R8 had a box like body shape, and mechanically was very similar to the Dauphine but with a 956c.c. engine, also disc brakes were fitted all round. One point three million R8s were produced by 1971 when Renault ceased making rear engined saloons.

Ford 105e

Ford 105e
The Vespa 400 was the Italian Piaggio companies only ultralight car. It was a two seat rear engined car with a 393 cc two-stroke air-cooled twin cylinder engine giving it a maximum speed of 55 MPH. Thirty four thousand were made in the Piaggio factory in France from 1957 until 1961. Giacosa's next rear engine car for Fiat was the Nuova 500 of 1957, with a similar layout to the 600, but with a two-cylinder air-cooled engine instead of the water-cooled inline four-cylinder unit. Being a two/plus/two-seat car, it was the true replacement for the "Topolino", at the bottom of the Fiat range. With a wheelbase fractionally over six feet and a length under nine feet, it was also a lightweight weighing less than five hundred kilos. The 479cc engines in the early production cars  so under powered with only 13 BHP that they  recalled and an up rated engine that produced 16.5 BHP was fitted. The final 500F of 1965 had a 499cc engine producing 18 BHP, sufficient to get to 70 MPH and a fuel consumption of 55 MPG. In 1960 Fiat introduced the "Gardinera", a 499cc station wagon with a similar inline twin cylinder engine as the "500", but with cylinder horizontal. The engine was located under the floor at the rear of the car. With a slight increase in wheelbase and the weight increased to five hundred and seventy kilos, it was newer a four seat car with a luggage area over the engine. In parallel with the Fiat models, the "500", platforms  clothed in prettier bodies by Autobianchi at their Desio factory. Named the Bianchina, a convertible, a four seat saloon, an estate car and a van version on the Gardinera platform  was produced. A version of the Nuova 500 was made by Styr-Puch in Austria in 1957, with their own flat-twin air-cooled engine and swing axle drive and suspension. The Styr 650TR of 1965 to 1969, was the hottest 500 model made and a competent rally car. Fiat introduced a roomier four-seat two-door saloon in 1964, to run alongside the "600". The 850, it had an 843cc engine and a 270 centimetre increase in the wheelbase, but the specification was the same as the "600". An 850T version of the "Multipla" was also available the following year. Fiat also produced coupe and spyder versions using the "850", platform with an engine that produced 47 BHP at 6200 RPM, later 52 BHP from a 903cc engine. A total of over a half of a million of these  produced by 1972. Spyder production had ceased by 1973. Many special versions  produced by the legion of specialist coach builders at work in Italy at the time. The 850 saloon and coupe models  were also produced by Seat in Spain.

BMC Mini

                                                                                                                                                                          BMC Mini
There was an interesting newcomer to the to the light car world from Holland in1959, in the form of the DAF600. Its air cooled flat twin engine mounted at the front was not unusual for the time, but the drive toDAF 600 the rear wheels was. It consisted of a variable ratio belt drive controlled by the depression in the engines inlet manifold, this ensured an optimum engine performance. Starting in 1961 the DAF went through various models with the twin cylinder engine, rising from an initial 600 cc to 750 cc in the 33 to 844 cc in the 44.  From 1967 until 1972 a version with a Renault four cylinder engine of 1108 cc the 55 was also produced, well over half a million of these unique cars were produced by 1973 when the type was discontinued. The later models where badged as Volvo’s.
New models weren’t so numerous in eastern Europe as this was planned economy with the respective government deciding what would be produced. The next model from VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke, the Trabant P50, was in 1957 and it would stay in production until 1989 in almost original form with over three million produced. An 595cc air-cooled version of their two-stroke twin cylinder engine driving the front wheels was mounted in a type of steel unitary chassis frame. This was clothed in plastic body panels in a similar manner to the present day Smart cars. The panels were produced from waste products from other industries, cotton waste from the cotton industry and Phenol from the dye industry. Front and rear suspension was by transverse leaf springs and wishbones and steering by rack and pinion. Only minor changes were made for the later P60 (600) 1962 to 1964 and the P601 of 1964 until the twin-cylinder engine was replaced in 1989. By 1960 a rear-engined car was in production in the Ukraine. The Zaporozhets ZAZ965 was a two-door saloon car with a 748cc, later a 887cc air-cooled Vee four engine in a unitary chassis and independent suspension with torsion bars at the front and coil springs at the rear.  It was replaced by the ZAZ966 with a new body form and a 1196cc engine in 1967. A later version the ZAZ968 was produced until 1990. A rear engined Skoda designed car finally reached production in 1964. This was just as the rear engined car vogue was coming to an end. The 1000MB was a totally new car with a monocoque chassis/body unit a first for Skoda. They had explored front wheel drive as well as rear engine layouts in prototypes of various sizes with engines of various configurations before settling for an inline water-cooled four of 998cc. This was located behind the rear axle, driving the rear wheels through swing axles in the manner of the Renault cars. The 1000MB were roomy four-seat cars considering the engine size. Built to durable rather than beautiful, as was the way in Eastern Europe at the time. It proved a good workhorse in that region and was considered in Britain what would be called " Cheap and cheerful” But that didn't diminish from its true value. One and a half million 1000MB's and versions of it were produced by the time production ceased in 1977.

The British motor industry mostly seemed determined to stay with the familiar layout of new models with the only concessions to progress the almost universal adoption of a unitary chassis, and overhead valve engines. The Austin A40 Farina Mark1 of 1958 was of this pattern, with an 948 cc version of the familiar  a series engine. The Countryman bodied version was possible one of the earliest hatchbacks. Almost one hundred and seventy-thousand had be made by 1961. The new Ford Anglia 105e and Prefect 107e models first produced in 1959 followed this pattern, the Anglia was all new  with a state of the art four cylinder water-cooled 997 cc overhead-valve engine, the Prefect with had the new engine in an old 100e chassis replacing the larger side-valve engine. The 105e was made until 1967 with over a million produced. In the same year Standard Triumph were unable to produce any new models at that time with a unitary chassis as used previously so decided to employ  a pressed steel backbone chassis frame and a separate body constructed by  bolting together seven separate pressings. This allowed the Michelotti designed body to have a one piece lift up front for their Herald model,. As well as allowing the Herald to be produced in more than the then usual range of body forms, it also enabled it to be the basis for a range of models including the Spitfire sports car. They  retained the front engine rear wheel drive configuration but a with swing axle final drive; using the same engine as the Standard Ten which it replaced. A hundred thousand of this original Herald model were made between 1959 and 1964. BMC the British Motor Corporation were already producing two one litre engined models, the Morris Minor the Austin A35 soon to be replaced by the Austin A40; but decided that they should have a smaller more economical cars in their range of models. Design work started in March 1957. A front wheel drive version of the Morris Minor was built but not developed, in 1951/2. With a transverse engine with the gearbox inline and equal length drive shafts with an intermediate jack shaft to extend one of the shafts. It wasn't developed for production. Alex Issigonis who had designed the Minor, returned to the front wheel drive layout for this new design the Mini. The aim was to produce a very compact car with maximum space utilisation. To achieve this Issigonis decided to fit the engine transversely in the car an 850 cc version of the A series as fitted in the Minor and the A40, with the gearbox located in the engine sump. With the final drive unit gear driven from the gearbox it could be located centrally. This allowed equal length drive shafts to be used, without the need for an added jack shaft. The component that made the design acceptable to Alex Issigonis was the Birfield-Rzeppa constant velocity joints made by Hardy Spicer and were fitted at the outer end of the drive shafts.


Hillman Imp  Hillman Imp

Early Mini's had flexible rubber drive couplings at the inboard end of the drive shafts. Later manual gearbox models had offset sphere type joints. While Auto-box and Cooper S models had universal joints and sliding joint shafts.  Other features of the Mini design where rubber springs and ten-inch wheels. Prototypes where running on the road in October 1957 and production started in 1959. It was first marketed as the Austin Seven and the Morris Mini-Minor and it wasn't until 1962 that the name was changed to Mini, after popular usage. A Mini Cooper version of the mark 1 model with a 997cc engine later of 998 cc was introduced in1961 and was produced until 1967, top speed was increased form 70 mph of the 850 cc engined cars to 85 mph for the Cooper version. Britain’s other ultralight economy car of the decade was the Hillman Imp of 1963. In that year Hillman introduced Britain's first and only mass-produced model with a rear engined layout. The Imp was produced by the Roots Group to give them a share of the booming ultralight car sector of the market. The Rootes Group was a collection of motor manufacturing companies owned by the Rootes brothers. The Rootes brothers were successful motor agents that had graduated to motor manufacture. The cars they had been produced up until the introduction of the Imp were middle and large sized cars of conservative design and Rootes existing models had evolved over a long period of time and the group had little experience of developing new models. As early as 1955 work had been started on small car concept, designed by Michael Parkes an ex Farrari development engineer and an other engineer Tim Fry, but it was two small being almost a micro car. By the end of the nineteen fifties a larger and more refined design was taking shape. They stayed with their original idea of a rear-engined car. The final design had trailing arm rear suspension and the unusual feature of a swing axle type of independent front suspension. Finding a suitable engine of a refined design proved a problem, until it was decided to mass produce an adaptation of the Coventry Climax FWMA  engine design. The FW series of engines in various sizes had been used with great success in Lotus, Cooper and other racing and sports cars including the Lotus Elite. The Imp engine was a die cast aluminium water-cooled inline four with a single overhead camshaft with a capacity of 875c.c.that produced 39bhp. The car was not fully developed before production commenced at a new factory at Linwood in Scotland, with a new labour force. The resulting deficiencies in the cars produced gave the car a bad start that it never recovered from. Although in production until1976, only four hundred and forty-thousand of all versions were produced. Just to show that not all british engineers were convinced by all these new to Britain concepts, The Reliant Motor Company began producing its Rebel model in 1964 their answer to the mini. It had a front engined ladder frame chassis with rear wheel drive by live axle and a glass fibre body, the 598cc engine later of 701 cc engine fitted in the later Rebel 700 was the same as used in their three wheeled cars. While in production until 1972 only two and half thousand were made.


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