Saturday, April 9, 2011

Tuner Turtle: 1965 Renault Dauphine Gordini

1965 Renault Dauphine Gordini

By 1966, Renault's worldwide production of it's French "people's car" had eclipsed one million units. But the largest untapped marketplace- America- had yet to be conquered. The idea of a fuel efficient, sporty and affordable car for America was nothing new. Volkswagen and Fiat had already amassed a strong following. But in an epic case of misunderstanding its market, the Dauphine was introduced as an underpowered and poorly sprung urban transporter just as the high speed American interstate highway system was coming to full bloom.

To boost performance, Renault called in tuner Amedee Gordini. Gordini was actually Italian, born in the great motorsports region of Emilia-Romagna, home to Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Bandini and others. He learned his trade working for Maserati and later Simca. The Dauphine variant that bears his name sported four wheel disc brakes, a four-speed transmission, and a whopping 37hp. It was not enough to save the market for this unique car, and its failure in the U.S. threatened the existence of Renault itself.

This particular example claims Florida heritage...which to these thin metal bodies is not always a good thing. It looks to have an older restoration to club standards, and the motor appears tidy enough. The $5500 asking price is consistent with other sales achieved for this model in this condition. Just don't expect to win any drag races.

Still, there is a charm about Dauphines and we have always wanted the licensed-built Alfa Romeo version- more so having seen this 1960's commercial .Consistently voted amongst the worst cars ever produced. Reviewed by Road & Track magazine in period as "peevish" (yes, we had to look that one up to make sure we got it right: it means discontented or ill-tempered) Still there is something about this old underpowered, underbuilt, underdog that appeals.

नमस्ते दोस्तों! एक और महान फिएट! : 1963 Fiat 1100 D Europa

If you don't understand the title above written in Hindi ( in English : "Hello Friends! Another Great Fiat!") then apparently you are not among Barnfinder's latest and greatest audience- Fiat lovers in India!

Ever since our first posting of a Fiat 1100D Premier Padmini way back in February, website hits from the country of India have far outnumbered any other country except for the U.S. . All we apparently had to do to gain such an intrigued audience was to mention Bombay or Mumbai or Premier Padmini and it became an overnight sensation. Apparently there are many folks in India who go into work, log on to their computers, and waste time searching the Internet for photos of weird Fiats. Just like America!

Here is another great multicultural Fiat: a German built Neckar Europa, living in West Jordan, Utah. (One can only wonder what great Google feeds could come from that sentence alone!) We are starting to piece together the anecdotal case that the Fiat 1100 series may well be one of the world's most enduring and numerous automobile models in history. License built 1100s came from almost every country: France (Simca), Russia (Lada), India (Premier), Spain (SEAT), Argentina (Fiat Argentina) and on and on.

But we digress: This particular car was built by NSU/Fiat in Heilbronn,Germany at the former NSU plant near the Neckar river, hence the Neckar Europa designation. Like other licensed products like the Fiat 500 and 600, the Europa was personalized a bit and thus more luxurious and sporty than domestic Italian production Fiats. Alas the run was relatively short lived, as the higher workforce costs in Germany forced the closing of the plant in 1971. German car fans will be quick to contend that build quality in turn was superior.

This particular car has among its more sporty features a great looking sunroof. The interior of the car looks freshly restored, and the paint and mechanicals all seem very tidy. This car has the great looking factory steel wheels which resemble Fergat wheels used on period Lancias. NSU/Fiat dog-dish hubcaps have to be rare; these look in great shape.
The seller has a "Buy It Now" price of $6900, which seems optimistic- but given the condition and global appeal of this charming car- perhaps obtainable. With Fiat coming back to the United States, renewed club activity will generate new interest in these old bangers. And dare we say this car has crossover interest from the NSU cult. Let's watch and see what happens.

Lest we cause a global recession in workforce productivity: रोक Fiats देख रही है और वापस पाने के लिए काम करते हैं!  (Stop looking at Fiats and get back to work!)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Freakshow: 1970 Fiat Spider/ Ferrari 250GT mutant

Wow. Now this is something you don't see very often.

For those of us who know and love Italian automobiles, this is the ultimate head-scratcher. Someone has taken great pains (and exercised considerable skill) in mutating a 1970 Fiat Spider into something that looks remarkably like a Ferrari 250GT California Spyder. Even to the experienced eye, one has to stare to see where the Fiat ends and the Ferrari starts.

We'll ignore the obvious question of "why" and instead go to the more interesting question of "how". In the eighties, there were a string of replica bodies produced for many Ferraris, including Daytona and Cal Spyders. Copyright infringement litigation by Ferrari quashed that cottage industry, but the bodies were already out there. Some were in fiberglass and others were in metal. The vehicle in this auction does not specify the material used, or whether it utilized a pre-existing replica body. Upon closer inspection, it appears that the Fiat body is basically intact, with an added nose and tail fins over stock fenders and rear quarters. However some of the trim pieces might indeed be from one of the replica kits.

The engine is clearly all Fiat, and that is not a bad thing. Despite having only a third of the cylinders of the 250GT, the DOHC 1.8 makes a great noise and winds up admirably. It was designed by Lampredi, the same Ferrari engineer who designed the early 12 cylinder motors.

The auction description is a perfect example of a little knowledge being dangerous. The seller cut-and-pastes tech data from a standard Fiat Spider manual, but gets some of the Ferrari details woefully wrong. Misspellings do not add confidence. However, the workmanship looks remarkably detailed and the presentation very tidy.

The reserve is off the car at $13k and whoever the new owner is--and whatever he chooses to do with this car-- will be very interesting to watch.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Only the Brave: 1974 Austin Marina GT

Sometimes the journey is better than the destination. Or the thrill of a barnfind exceeds the actual ownership experience of any particular vehicle. This might be just that sort of story.

It would be difficult to duplicate any find as absolutely obscure and weird as a 1974 Austin Marina. Make that a lime green with white vinyl top 1974 Austin Marina. In a shed in Wisconsin.

Known as the Morris Marina in its home U.K. market, there CERTAINLY could not have been many of these gems imported into the U.S. The 1800 cc. single carb is nothing to brag about..though it was rallyed in period with some success. It is the same sort of mid-seventies econobox that the U.S. never did very well, and that a whole generation of Brits came to grudgingly love despite its lengthy list of shortcomings.

Here is a rather melancholy salute to the oft-maligned Morris Marina. The video, gleaned from British Motor Industry Heritage Trust footage, was made in response to the British television show "Top Gear" dropping a piano onto one of its brethren.

The buyer for this car is probably an expat Brit who had one as his first car. The low original mileage is offset by the sad fact that it sat for 15 years. But with a little soaking of the cylinders, the engine might turn over. And it would be a lot of fun to see how well the rest of the car could clean up. At $1500 you would have a unique time capsule ride.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rotary Resto Needed: 1967 NSU Wankel Spider

This rare Wankel powered NSU popped up on Ebay in Central Wisconsin with an opening bid of $3000. The car is not running and has at least one rust spot, but otherwise seems fairly well preserved. Missing door panels are probably easily fabricated, and all the hard-to-find trim seems intact. A nice bonus is the factory removable hardtop included with the sale.

These NSUs were the world's first production rotary-engined car. Production estimates vary, but are anywhere from 3000-5000 units were made between 1964-1967.  As you might expect, it didn't work out very well. Apex seals and other engine problems quickly developed and few survive today. The experiment was not completely a failure; NSU's patents survive today under license by Mazda and the produced the wonderful rotary-powered RX-7 Series.

Styled by Bertone, these Spiders were available in either white or red and offered surprisingly brisk performance. In period a few were campaigned for rallyes and hillclimbs. Here is a video of another single rotor Wankel Spyder to give you an idea of the sounds and feel of this unique powerplant:

Like most automotive pioneers, NSU survives in name only today. The company was consolidated in the late 1960's with the company that would become Audi. Here is a chance to own a very neat piece of unique automotive history..and a chance to learn how to rebuild a rotary motor!