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Fascinating cars

Here are some cars you've probably never seen before

by Julian Edgar

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Jaguar C- Type

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Everyone has heard of the E-Type Jaguar, and many people know of the D-Type racing cars. But what about the C-Type?

Built between 1951 and 1953 for racing use, the C-Type (also called the XK120-C) is exotically beautiful.

Powerful – with the 3.42 litre twin-cam six cylinder developing 205hp – and lightweight at under 1000kg, the car won Le Mans in 1951 and 1952. The aerodynamic, aluminium body was designed by Malcolm Sayer, with the alloy panels cladding a tubular spaceframe. Some cars had disc brakes.

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And the body was slippery. Compared to the previous racing model of the XK120, frontal area dropped only fractionally (from 13.86 to 13.8 square feet) but drag was down by a massive 24 per cent. All the aero story wasn’t good though – rear lift was high, something addressed with the later D-type.

Still, the C-Type remains one of the prettiest cars of the 1950s.

All-wheel Drive Mustang

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In the 1960s, the world leader in all-wheel drive technologies for performance cars was Harry Ferguson Research of the UK.

In the early 1960s the company fitted an all-wheel drive system to a Formula One car - it won a race with Stirling Moss driving it. In 1966, the Jensen FF (Ferguson Formula) was produced as a production car, the big 6.3 litre Chrysler-engined car also featuring world-first anti-lock brakes.

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In late 1964, two (or it may have been three) Mustangs were ordered and shipped to the UK to be converted to all-wheel drive. A combined transfer case / viscous coupling centre diff was used, giving a front/rear torque split of 37:63.

The transmission was angled slightly to allow clearance for the front drive shaft, and a front differential was fitted. A new cast alloy sump was used to give clearance to the diff. The same Maxaret anti-lock braking system used on the Jensen was fitted to the Mustangs.

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The converted Mustangs were displayed around Europe before returning to the US in 1966. They were demonstrated to Ford, Chrysler, GM and American Motors. The engineering staff of these companies were apparently impressed, but the added cost of the all-wheel drive system meant that management was not interested.

It took decades before the advantage of all-wheel drive in performance cars would be (re)discovered…

British Leyland EVC3 Concept Car

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The ECV3 was an early 1980s concept car produced by British Leyland in the UK. It had a structural aluminium frame (developed in conjunction with Alcan) and unstressed plastic panels. Windows were bonded into place. The body-in-white weighed just 138kg and the entire car only 664kg. There was said to be good interior space for four adults.

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The car had an aerodynamic body with a Cd of just 0.24 (another source says 0.25). The flat underfloor helped dropped the Cd from an original drag target of 0.30 to the final value. The large rear spoiler was adopted to reduce the severity of drag-inducing vortices that formed behind the car. Underfloor longitudinal deflectors were placed to reduce turbulence of the rotating wheels, and the car boasted a rear diffuser panel. Headlights were faired and the cooling air intake was small.

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The engine was a 1-litre, 12 valve, EFI 3-cylinder engine with a single overhead cam - it had a mass of just 84kg. Engine power output was 54kW. Top speed was 185 km/h (so yes, the body drag was very low) and average fuel economy was said to be 2.8 litres/100km – presumably in highway cruising.

Lessons from the EVC3 (and other contemporary aero specials) can be seen in many cars of the following decades.

Porsche Type 64

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Regarded as the forefather of all Porsches, the Type 64 was originally designed for the Berlin – Rome long-distance race. The race was scheduled for mid-September 1939 but the advent of WWII caused its cancellation.

The Type 64 dates back to not only the beginning of Porsche cars, but also the beginning of the Volkswagen - the Type 64 was built on a very early Volkswagen chassis. Three of the curvaceous cars were produced, with the hand-formed aluminium body made by the custom coachwork firm, Reutter. With just 24kW at its disposal, the 1131cc flat four could still propel the slippery body to 130 km/h.

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And what happened to the three cars? One was crashed and destroyed in the early years of WWII, one car survived the war but was driven to destruction by triumphant American forces, and the other survives to this day.

The Type 64 body shown here in the Porsche museum is a replica.

NSU Sport Prinz

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The first car from motorcycle manufacturer NSU appeared in 1957. That car – the Prinz 30 sedan – used a two cylinder, air-cooled OHC 600cc engine located at the rear. The engine developed 15kW. No one could describe the Prinz 30 as a pretty car – it was bulbous and awkward – but the two-door Sport Prinz version, released in 1958, was a stunner.

The Sport Prinz was designed by Franco Scaglione of Bertone. The engine retained the sedan’s 600cc, but power was increased to 27kW. Compression ratio was a high-for-the-time 7.6:1. Suspension comprised unequal length wishbones at the front and low-pivot swing axles at the rear. Front and rear springs were coils.

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According to the brochure, this suspension gave you “a celebrated road holding champion”! Rack and pinion steering was fitted and the steering ratio had just 2.4 turns lock to lock.

Weighing only 540kg and with external dimensions to match, the well balanced styling makes the car look much bigger in the pictures than it is in the flesh, where it’s tiny. Speed in top gear (4th) could reach 135 km/h.

The car was initially built by Bertone, then also by Drauz, who subsequently took over all production from 1962. The Sport was popular, with 20,831 manufactured between 1958 and 1968.

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However, overshadowing the Sport Prinz was the NSU Spider, the first production car in the world powered by a rotary engine. Between 1964 and 1967, 2,375 Spiders were built. The Spider was much more technologically interesting than the Sport but it lacked the grace and style of the fastback Sport’s body.

Issigonis Lightweight Special

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It may look like a scaled-down Mercedes Grand Prix car of the 1930s, but the Lightweight Special was constructed by Alec Issigonis and George Dowson working in a simple garage with no power tools. Even the steering wheel was cut by hand from a single sheet.

Issigonis, the man who would go on to design the famous Morris Minor and Mini, was at the time the rather young Chief Engineer at Morris Motors. Beginning in 1933 and taking four years to complete, the car used a stressed monocoque constructed of plywood, faced in aluminium sheet. The main side panels of the body were joined by the engine bulkhead and cross-tubes. In addition, the engine, seat and differential acted as further braces.

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Double wishbones were used at the front (still very unusual in any car) and the rear suspension comprised swing-axles. Both front and rear suspension used rubber bands as the springing medium – the rubber in compression at the front and in tension at the rear. The wheels were lightweight alloy and incorporated brake drums.

A side-valve ‘works’ 750cc Austin engine was fitted, supercharged by a Zoller blower. The engine was set low so that the driveshaft could pass under the seat, being stepped up in height again at the diff. Despite the engine having a mass of 115kg, the all-up weight was just 270kg.

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The car had a successful career, competing in hillclimbs and sprints.

Issigonis much later described the Lightweight Special as: “A frivolity in my life. It was not so much a design exercise as a means of teaching me to use my hands.”

However, it’s likely that the Lightweight Special showed Issigonis – one of the greatest car designers ever – that a good car requires a holistic approach. As he said, “There is no use designing and studying [just] one part of a car. Everything is too tightly integrated for that.”


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The amphibious Amphicar was designed by German Hanns Trippel. It was manufactured in Germany by the Quandt Group between 1961 and 1965. Amazingly, 3,878 vehicles were built.

“Take a boat ride in your car,” said the brochure. “Amphicar lets you cruise on land, cruise on water. Amphicar lets you travel off the beaten path.”

“A sensation on land and water,” said a newspaper advertisement. “A car AND a motor boat. No more trailers. No more towing – just one vehicle. No more accommodation problems for your boat – you just keep your Amphicar in your garage like any other car.”

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The vehicle used a rear-mounted, 1.2 litre, four cylinder engine taken from a British Triumph Herald. This 32kW engine powered the rear wheels when out of the water, while in the water, twin plastic propellers were driven.

A special Hermes-built gearbox with four forward gears and a reverse was used on the land; when in the water, neutral was selected and a second, smaller, lever used to engage the propellers. Forward and reverse were available on the water. The front wheels steered on both water and land.

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Brakes were drums all round, equipped with special waterproof linings. Top speed on land was 115 km/h, and in the water, 12 km/h.

The Amphicar was equipped with navigation lights and an electric bilge pump. US models also had a timed bilge blower fan that cleared the hull of fumes before the engine would start. Options included an anchor, flares, paddles, fire extinguisher and even a shower that connected to the bilge pump! An AM / FM / short-wave / marine band radio was also available.

In 1965, two Amphicars successfully navigated the Yukon River in Alaska, and Amphicars have crossed the English Channel.

It is thought that about 600 Amphicars still exist today in a fully working state.

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