Vanity Of Vanities : Work In Progress

Following the post from a couple of weeks ago, expressing my desire for an enjoyable, yet slow, car I’ve been trying to flesh out what was, when I first suggested it, a rather nebulous idea.


At the same time, I’ve been getting my own low-level insight into the mindset of Ferdinand Piëch.  From what I know of him we have little in common, save a desire – realised in his case, unrealisable in mine – to see a rather silly car produced; one that no-one else in the world needs.  I started my doodlings thinking of simple things that could, perhaps, be built on top of a scrap 2CV platform. But Dr Piëch has inspired me that, like the Bugatti Veyron, second-best just won’t do.

So, for the purpose of my own vanity project, I have assumed that I will be able to draw on the substantial reserves of the Driven To Write organisation to fund this vehicle. In the process solutions may be proposed that my colleagues might judge to be financially unjustifiable. To counter such criticism I am spending an hour daily in the bathroom, practising my steely glare.


To my mind, driving any car that isn’t straightforwardly practical in its intent should involve a sense of theatre. There are many practical reasons for hiding suspension parts, but here I think it’s essential for them to be on display. Both driver and onlookers should be able to watch them moving as corners and speed bumps are negotiated. As such they need to look good, in a engineering sense, and I’ve judged a nice, old-fashioned, double wishbone system all round will do the job. Tyres would be unfashionably narrow and unfashionably high profile. Dimensions shown are a 135-15 size, as the Michelin ZXs that were fitted to Citroen Amis and the like, which should provide the roadholding levels I’d want.

Despite my Nissan’s rear door, generally I am a stickler for symmetry. So, following the Panhard Dynamic and McLaren F1, I’ve gone for a central steering position. Two folding passenger seats set back allow for passengers, or goods of some sort. The rear window lowers to allow access and through ventilation.slow-sports-front

I want a front-engined, rear-driven layout. Ideally (for me alone I imagine) it would be an 800cc straight eight.  More practically I toyed with the idea of a Citroen Flat twin (too old) and a Moto Guzzi V Twin (too tall), but decided that a newer BMW motorcycle boxer twin would suit it best.  I used the dimensions of the R1200GS unit, which has partial liquid cooling that might even give the chance of supplying half-decent heating, though I suspect that its 125 hp output might be a bit more than I’d really want. The unit’s throttle-by-wire supposedly allows you to select powerbands, but I’d need to be convinced that it allows the intimacy of control I’d like. Maybe a simpler BMW unit would suit it better.slow-sports-rear

I need room for the centrally positioned driver’s feet and don’t want it too nose heavy, so I’m increasing the budget to split the powertrain and to develop a tidy transaxle unit with sequential change. This solution, involving running the propshaft just 5 cm below the driver’s bum, might necessitate the use of a bit of composite work to the body structure for that added security and, also, the mudguards moving with the wheels will also need to be light but very rigid. So there goes a few more thousand per unit.slow-sports-side

I’ve ended up with something very slightly taller and about 250 mm longer than the original Mini. It’s also considerably wider, about the width of a Toyota iQ.  All this poor packaging is really a result of the indulgence of the central seating position, but it’s still slightly shorter than a Smart Roadster. Generally, too, I’ve never found width too much of a problem when negotiating city streets – those little gaps that people think you can ‘nip through’ are very few and, anyway, the view of the front wheels will be a good aid. More importantly it comes in over a metre less than Ferdinand Piëch’s monster, so there should be some sales there from people who’ve been having parking problems on Belgravia’s streets.


Other indulgences are pop up headlamps and well padded seats. I’m not a fan of over-exposed discs and calipers, but I guess they fit in here, though the wheels could certainly do with more work to set them apart. Here’s an alternative (with the windows up and in another hue from our tasteful palette) showing Alfa GTA type wheels, which I’ve always liked – though maybe they’re a bit too retro.slow-sports-side-alt

As might be noticed from my championing of the likes of the Fiat Multipla and Nissan Cube, I have a pragmatic attitude towards aesthetics, as long as they pay homage to function. I certainly haven’t tried to draw a car that puts a svelte shape first – I want headroom, good visibility and, to a point, practicality. After drawing it, I have seen both intentional and unintentional homages to the Meyers Manx, Fiat Multipla, Lotus 7, Range Rover, Triumph TR7, Fiat Punto, Porsche 928, Mini Moke as well as various golf carts and electric irons. It’s not really categorisable, but I suppose the niche it falls nearest to is that of French Microcars, although, despite not wanting a car that’s too fast, a 45 kph maximum would set the bar rather too low. Possibly there’s a bit of the motorcycle based trike to it. Or maybe it’s a 21st Century take on a cyclecar from 100 years ago. Here is the sort of inspiration board that proper designers prepare in advance – mine was done in hindsight.

I make no apology for the tiresomely fashionable floating roof, here it makes sense as an expedience born of wanting pillarless, fully opening side windows, opening roof and opening rear window for that near-convertible feeling, yet retaining a firm overhead structure. I’m even thinking about the feasibility of being able to wind down the windscreen to half height.

Does it suggest something that would fulfil my brief? Personally, yes, though there are already things I’d change, possibly lengthening it by 20 cm or so. And I need to give ease of access to that centre driver’s seat a bit more thought. The rear track needs to reduce by at least 4 cm or those rear mudguards are likely to snag the bodywork on full load – also it would allow the rear wings to curve a bit more naturally in plan. I need to reconsider the positioning of the fuel filler – ideally it would maintain the overall symmetry, so the position shown, centre of the rear panel, Mustang style, would be fine but that restricts the lowering of the rear window. And, yes, I am aware of the little problem of type approval.

Anyway, it’s a start. There are cars that I look at and would like to get in and drive. This is one. A Veyron is not one. Everyone to their own vanity.

  • Postscript. Since writing this Mr Editor Kearne has revealed to me the true state of DTW’s finances. Thinking of other ways I might bring forward development I thought of crowd-funding. Rather cruelly Simon suggested that the only group I could join that might concur on the merits of such a vehicle would probably have committed all their spare cash to the cost of the therapy.

19 thoughts on “Vanity Of Vanities : Work In Progress”

  1. I will start the ball rolling with the contribution of a solitary 135-15 Michelin which I have lurking in the nether regions of my garage. Plenty of tred but alas is an XAS – possibly too bourgeois as opposed to the humble ZX ?

    1. Thank you Simon, though the XAS might be a bit more sticky than I’d like. But I could possibly overcome that by having a single front wheel.

  2. The headline picture reminds me of Gordon Murray’s T25. Coincidence?

    1. I’ve been thinking along these lines for some time. Murray seems a decent sort of chap, but I can’t entirely discount a bit of plagiarism on his part.

    1. My position as a car blogger who hardly ever looks at other blogs means that I was unaware of the Kikai. It is excellent and looks as though it would answer a lot of my questions. Except open air motoring which would be essential. The people in the video are certainly enjoying it though, of course, it is as unlikely to be built as my own suggestion.

    2. Yeah, it’s really too bad, as would have bought one in a heartbeat had they actually built one.
      One day when i’m filthy rich i’ll probably spend my entire fortune making a pair of street legal kikai clones.
      A regular one, and another configured as a forward control van to replace my aging domingo (that i’ll still be driving even though i’m filthy rich at that point) 😉

    3. I’d possibly want the love child of the Kikai and Camatte. But I’m glad to see that Toyota are pushing that central driving position.

  3. Unfortunately you can’t have the pop up lamps as they are deemed dangerous to pedestrian impact. The engine idea is a good one, buy that- get your chassis made from aluminium tubing which can be put together by a decent fabricator. The same fabricator can press an aluminium skin to keep the weather out from underneath and have the body work done in smaller pieces using 3D printing. Make a feature of the fasteners (like the original Land Rover spot welds) and its possible. Make you central seat on runners to enable it to slide to one side and you’ve solved some of your ingress issues. Perhaps the rear window can be wound down over the fuel filler?
    Type approval- bah! Doesn’t Brexit mean that you can now proudly do whatever you want so long as it is in direct defiance of EU legislation?

    1. Mark. I was hoping that I could secure funding from the nine trillion squillion pounds that we will be saving every nano-second once we leave the EU to bring this piece of all British manufacturing to our streets (I’m sure someone here could knock up a flat twin, no problem). As you suggest, if I take the right people out for a few beers, I’m sure those safety niggles will disappear. Once in production I will then be in a position to secure huge orders from some of the new trading partners who are crying out for our goods. Do penguins drive?

  4. I’ve been up close and personal with the Kikai, but the Camatte has passed under my radar. Very nice indeed, a hommage to the centre-steer Land Rover which was still being seriously considered in late 1947.

    Much more appealing than the Land Rover DC100, which looks like the bastard child of a Land Cruiser FJ and a Troller T4 without the flair or purposefulness of either parent.

  5. Also, may I say I like this car design exercise – very DTW, not pompous or high-handed, tongue firmly stuck in cheek. Or have I got this all wrong, and it’s a desperate, contrarian bid to be “Influential at last”?

    It’s in a honourable tradition. CAR, before it became Boring, Boring featured occasional designs by LJKS and Robert Cumberford, possibly others. Even longer before, the 7 February 1939 issue of Motor featured a design by Laurence Pomeroy for a transverse-engined front wheel drive “Mini-Motor”, which I’m convinced must have influenced… Carl Borgward.

    Much later, Autocar delivered the occasional “Autoproject”. I have before me a September 1972 design for “A car for 1976”. The work of Geoff Howard and Vic Berris, it’s Cortina-sized, but packaged to give Granada interior space. The engine is a 200bhp triple-rotor Wankel, the benefits of a Pontiac-like ‘rope drive’ are considered, but a conventional propshaft is chosen, linking a front mounted torque converter to an automatic epicyclic geartrain in a transaxle located behind the rear axle centreline. Suspension is by double wishbones and torsion bars at the front, and semi-trailing arms at the rear.

    45 years on, it’s easy to recognise several wrongnesses. The value of the exercise is the understanding it gives of the design process through the options set out before the reader.

    1. Robertas. Yes and no. I actually would like a car like this but, as you point out, my tongue has now been stuck so firmly in my cheek for several decades that even the best plastic surgeons say that a cure is impossible. Good job in this case because I am only too aware that coming up with your own car designs on a motoring site is one of those things that can cause embarrassment, if not for you then for your friends. “Hmmm, it’s really, amazingly……. lilac”.

      We mention LJKS regularly but, as well as Pomeroy, Geoff Howard is another giant of motoring journalism. How many of today’s journalists could come up with a reasoned proposal like that?

      Next week I will be posting some of my oil paintings.

  6. the thing i really like with the camatte is the modular nature of the bodywork.
    mix and match your own design! allow third party manufacturers to make new bodystyles! maybe not economically feasible in the real world, but i like the idea.

    i like designing cars myself, though not as realistic well thought out future cars – more like alternate reality regular cars.

  7. Happy to know I’m not the only car blogger who comes up with the occasional bonkers post. Brilliant, Sean! Ever thought of an Amphicar? That looks like it’s made of bitsa this and bitsa that. Bit different, skinny tyres, practical in its own unique way. And of course, you could give it a floating roof…..

  8. Just learned of the Kikai, while reading this post. Pity it got nowhere…
    Only Toyota to spend all that money on a show car (including a costly video), and nothing real ever comes out of it.

    PS – Sean, I like your ideas, but may I propose that you get a Smart Raodster and be done with it ?

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