Citröen’s Méhari was a far more fecund species than one might have imagined. We plot the mutations.
From the mid-seventies until sometime in the following decade, I spent most summer holidays with my family at my uncle’s second home in Les Marines de Cogolin near St. Tropez. Being in my early teens at the time, amongst the things I always looked forward to -apart from the usual French Riviera attractions – was getting to ride along to get groceries and bread in the Citroën Méhari they had at their disposal for local errands.
I can still smell the salty Mediterranean breeze, mixed with the aroma of suntan lotion and fresh bread from our favourite boulangerie as we bumbled down the meandering streets in our endearing orange ungulate (Méhari is named after a dromedary species).
The Méhari was quite popular in these regions; we also encountered the occasional Renault 4 or 6 Rodéo but those did not have the same charm to my eyes. What I never realised at the time was that worldwide there were Méhari-like vehicles in existence that used the same “A” platform and mechanicals (and also built-under-license Méharis with a difference), made in countries as geographically and culturally diverse as Chile and Liechtenstein.
Only recently did I dive into this phenomenon and was surprised how many there have been. This article lists the ones I found, but it is entirely possible that there are more. Hop in!
Fiberfab Sherpa, Germany
In West Germany, sales of the Méhari were prohibited in the mid seventies as a result of new TÜV rules regarding the alleged flammability of the Acrylonitrile Butadine Styrene (ABS) body. A Glass Reinforced Polyester (GRP)-bodied car, named Fiberfab Sherpa, was produced and offered as a replacement. Kuhnle, the manufacturer, posessed a license of the American company Fiberfab.
The vehicle could be purchased ready-built on a 2CV or Dyane chassis or as a kit and was marketed in West Germany, France, The Netherlands and the UK. Unlike the Méhari, a hardtop was available as an option. The Sherpa was manufactured from 1975 to 1982, with the total amount produced estimated to be just 250 examples- far short of the envisaged 150 units per year. If that grille looks familiar, that’s because it is the same as that used for the Fiat 850T small van.
The Dalat – the name comes from a Vietnamese town known for its cathedral – was introduced in 1970, and was available in several body configurations. It was the first car made in Vietnam; contrary to the ABS Méhari, the Dalat’s body was made of steel.
Citroën was sufficiently interested in the enterprise to purchase three Dalats in 1973 and bring them back to Paris. Plans were underway to design a vehicle that was simple to manufacture and did not require expensive pressing tools. This would ultimately result in the FAF, on which more later. Approximately 5000 Dalats were sold until the fall of Saigon in 1975 put an end to proceedings.
Emmanuel Bonnet was an inventor, cartoonist and artist. He could not find the car that would accomodate all his demands for both his professional and personal life so decided to design and build his own. With the result being so similar one wonders in what respect exactly he found the Méhari lacking. As with the Fiberfab Sherpa, some cars were delivered with a hard top.
The fiberglass-bodied Fredcar had a long “production” run of 22 years (1971-1993) but only 19 ever found an owner. With the disappearance of the last source of new A-platforms in the early 1990’s, the result of the discontinuation of the 2CV, it was doomed entirely.
Baby Brousse, Yagan and Jiane Pickup (Ivory Coast, Chile and Iran respectively)
These three were basically all the same vehicle. The Baby Brousse was conceived in 1963 in Ivory Coast, so it predates the Méhari by 5 years.
It used the Ami 6 chassis as a base and had a pressed steel body that required no welds and was bolted onto the chassis.
It is unclear in what way, if any, the Baby Brousse served as an inspiration for the Méhari. Be that as it may, Citroën did purchase the license for the Baby Brousse design in 1969, the objective being to put the design into production in countries without the industrial infrastructure at hand to build complete automobiles.
Reliable production figures of the Baby Brousse are unavailable; the almost artisanal way the vehicle was put together (modifications were implemented at will making no two Baby Brousses exactly the same) and a presumably similar system of administration are to blame for this. Production ended in 1987.
In 1972 President Salvador Allende called for a tender for a utility vehicle to be employed by the Chilean army. The job went to the Corfo-Citroën consortium, and they renamed their Baby Brousse, Yagan – one of the indigenous people of the Southern Cone. Unfortunately, the Yagan proved unfit for military duty – yes, it was simple but also proved fragile. A test where some Yagans were parachuted out of a Hercules C-130 did not end well; none of the vehicles were driveable after touchdown.
The Chilean government reacted by offering it to the general driving public as a cheap, economic and versatile “car for the people”. Takers were few as the price of the Yagan was not much lower than that of a “real” car such as the VW Beetle. The counter stopped in 1976 at 651 cars.
Details on the Iranian Jiane Pickup (Farsi for “lion”) are sparse and sketchy at best. Production started in 1970 or 1971 by the Iranian Company for production of Citroën automobiles. Apart from the Jiane Pickup, the Dyane, Dyane van and oddly enough also the Méhari were produced under license. How many Jianes were made is unknown, but it is assumed production ground to a halt around the time of the Islamic revolution in 1979.
Namco Pony, Greece
The Pony was built in Greece starting in 1974 by Namco (National Motor Company), the Greek Citroën concessionaire, in a factory constructed specifically for the purpose in Thessaloniki. The all-steel Pony was available in two versions: a Baby Brousse-like open version and a roofed version not unlike the later FAF.
The car was quite succesful in Greece as it was cheap and eligible for tax breaks for light vehicles. In addition, it also gained a reputation for being robust and reliable. It was even exported to several countries including the USA. In all, 16,780 Pony’s rolled out of the factory between 1974 and 1983. Production continued for a while after 1983 as the Pony New Generation but this was powered by a Ford engine so is outside of the scope of this article.
Teilhol Tangara, France
In 1987, as the Méhari was about to be discontinued, Raoul Teilhol, owner of ACL, the company that had built Renault’s Méhari competitor Rodéo decided to replace the Méhari with an updated version using composite fiberglass bolt-on materials with pre-dyed colours; both easily replaceable and inexpensive.
Unlike its inspiration the Tangara came standard with a removable hardtop. Citroën supplied the mechanical components. Introduced at that year’s Geneva Motor Show, the Tangara proved shortlived. Two years later a new version followed, based on the AX. The “old” Tangara remained available however. Around 1,400 2cv-based Tangara’s were produced between 1987 and 1990, including 47 4×4 versions.
Part two follows shortly.