Friday, 3 December 2010

Beach Cars


Designers’ dreams. Al fresco cars with wicker seats. Open air motors to drive on beaches. Ever since Gordon MacRae tried to get Shirley Jones into his Surrey with the fringe on the top in Oklahoma, sun worshippers from San Trop to San Francisco have longed for a bit more speed. Milk-white horses and dashboards of gen-yoo-ine leather were all very well but engines were essential.

Now Frank M Rinderknecht says he will show his Bam Boo at the Geneva Motor Show. “This open-top vehicle awakens the longing for sun, summer, for lightness and easiness, the desire to be at the beach,” cries his press release. “It is a reminiscence of the Seventies, of the south of France and St. Tropez. One expects to find Brigitte Bardot behind the wheel with playboy Gunther Sachs at her side heading towards Tahiti beach.”
Tahiti? San Trop? No matter. “Anyone who might think this is simple retro design for nostalgia’s sake underestimates the boss of the Swiss concept powerhouse. Yes, Rinderknecht incorporates the automobile references of the time.” Rhetoric knows no limits.

Rinderknecht’s references for fun cars to the conspicuously wealthy go back a long way. In 1958 Ghia created the Fiat 600 Jolly. It had no doors, wicker seats and you could have a fringed sunshade top. Aristotle Onassis owned one when they were bespoke and rare, probably losing interest when they were put into limited production. A Jolly was just the thing for the beach house or whenever you parked your yacht. It cost twice as much as a standard Fiat 600; they made it for 18 years and there might be about a hundred survivors. Thirty were used in 1958-1962 on Catalina island, Los Angeles. Lots more were courtesy cars at luxury hotels.
Citroën made the Méhari between 1968 and 1988. It was named after a fast dromedary camel of the French African army. A Méhariste was a sort of Sahara cavalryman. Based on the Dyane 6, with a plastic body and flat-twin 2CV6 engine, the Méhari weighed only 570kg (1300lb) with squashy interconnected all-independent springing so it was quite agile. There was a four wheel drive version in 1979. The self coloured plastic panelling was available only in beige, green or orange and a 4-seater in 1971 had doors replacing the little chains that kept occupants from falling out.

California went for beach buggies, generally cut-down from VWs but they were never very elegant. In Europe ACL made 60,000 Rodeos on the basis of the Renault 4 van between 1970 and 1987. “Moke” apparently meant donkey and the Mini Moke was an open platform of a car based on Issigonis’s masterwork. It was meant to be military or agricultural but small wheels and not much ground clearance saw to that. Yet it had the rugged appeal of a Jeep and appealed to the young-at-heart.
Mokes were made at Cowley, then Longbridge. Between 1964 and 1968 14,500 were produced. From 1966 to 1981 26,000 were made in Australia followed by another 10,000 in Portugal up to 1993.

Rinderknecht feels he won’t get the attention of the young without green credentials. The Bam Boo really has an interior made from bamboo fibres and the engine will be electric.

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