If Hopes Were Dupes, Fears May Be Liars. Turin Motor Show 1970 – Part 2

Stepping back fifty years, we return to the Salone dell’Automobile di Torino for a second day for a feast of stylistic flair and bright hopes for the future.

Tjaarda-Giacobbi Sinthesis Image: Hemmings

As with neutral Geneva in the spring, Piedmont-centric Turin was a showplace for the industry’s fringe performers. In Italy fantasists and dreamers exhibited beside perfectly worthy but little-known Carrozzieri. In 1970, the sideshows were still rich in interest, although my IPC Business Press Cicerone, Anthony Curtis gave them only a sideways glance.

The UK and Italy seemed to share similar ambitions at the peripheries of their automotive industries. In Britain, clubman racing car constructors nurtured ambitions to be the next Colin Chapman, and beach buggy and kit-car entrepreneurs abounded.

In Italy, small-series Carrozzieri provided a wide choice of rebodied mass-market cars for individualists with the lira to indulge their desire to be different. A new wave of constructors had emerged hoping to be the next Renzo Rivolta, Ferrucio Lamborghini, or Alejandro De Tomaso, but without the necessary industrial or ranching fortunes to bankroll their dreams.

Lombardi-NSU 1200 SS

Francis Lombardi stand Turin 1970 Image: carstyling.ru

The exhibit from Carrozzeria Francis Lombardi is described by Curtis as “clothes on a NSU”, at least credited with being a “pretty exercise”. It was too, from a Piedmontese coachbuilder established in 1947 and best known for stretched or garnished Fiats and a variety of Lancia station wagons. Previous highpoints had been an extended-wheelbase Fiat 2300 in 1963 for Papal use, and the four-door Fiat 850 Lucciola, adopted by SEAT for small-series production, although demand was so strong that the Spanish firm had their own longer-wheelbase four-door in production in less than a year.

Lombardi NSU 1200 SS Image: francislombardi.nl

In 1968 Lombardi showed the Grand Prix, a Fiat 850-based two-seater, with styling attributed to Lombardi’s in-house designer and engineer Giuseppe Rinaldi, although rumours persist that one Pio Manzù may have lent a hand.

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The design had an unusual career, as an open-source body for Giannini, OTAS (Officina Trasformazioni Auto Sportive), and Abarth (as the Scorpione).  A British-assembled version with the Hillman Imp’s powertrain was proposed by F. Demetriou Ltd, London-based importers of Lombardi and Vignale cars. The plan did not proceed beyond prototype stage owing to the unfortunate Mr. Demetriou’s fatal encounter with a runaway British army tank in his native Cyprus in late 1970.

Lombardi NSU 1200 SS Image: carstyling.ru

The NSU 1200 SS coupe develops the themes seen in the Grand Prix, but looks a more practical design with broader appeal, of the kind which could have sat successfully in the mid ‘70s range of a mass-market carmaker. Its destiny, however was to be a one-off, regrettably largely forgotten.

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If I might sound another note of regret it is that although NSU encouraged sporting interpretations of the four cylinder Prinz derivatives – Autonova GT, Delta Design 1, Coggiola / Sessano Nergal – they never took the initiative themselves to produce the sort of X1/9 and MR2 forerunner that the powertrain and chassis would have suited so well.

They were perhaps just too preoccupied with the Ro80’s troubles, and readying the K70 for production. In any case, their new masters at Wolfsburg decreed the end of production of the rear engined air-cooled NSUs in 1972, using the space at Neckarsulm to build more examples of the phenomenally successful Audi 100.

By 1973 Lombardi was gone too. The early seventies were tough for the smaller carrozzieri. At least Lombardi went out in style, with the dramatic 1972 FL1, a well-proportioned and prescient two-seater with a mid-mounted Lancia 2000 powertrain.

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The FL1 was intended for series production but only one example was built before the closure of the Vercelli-based carrozzeria.

Tjaarda-Giaccobi Sinthesis

Returning to Turin in October 1970, the same powertrain as the later Lombardi FL1 was used in Tom Tjaarda’s Sinthesis, also amidships and in this case comprehensively reworked by renowned tuner Nardi. The Sinthesis was designed for series production – is anyone seeing a theme here? – in a joint venture with Tjaarda’s Italian-American engineer friend Peter Giacobbi. It’s as neatly chopped a wedge as could be found at the show and much capital was made of its practicality – generous luggage space and low door sills, and even integral airbags, two decades before they became commonplace.


OTAS KL112

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OTAS has already received mention as one of Lombardi’s customers for the Grand Prix coupe rolling chassis. At Turin in 1970 they showed a neat Autobianchi A112-based coupe, styled by Aldo Sessano and built by Fissore. Intended for production, it was destined to be a one-off, and OTAS closed down in 1971. Nevertheless, the unromantically-titled KL 112 is a pleasing thing in its own right, as we should rightly expect from Sessano, who should have been better known. His NSU Nergal concept evolved into the SEAT 1200/1430 Sport, but there’s quite a lot of KL 112 in that car too.

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Goertz-Eurostyle Porsche 914/6R 

Giugiaro’s Tapiro may have been the star styling exercise at the show, but it was not the only 914-based concept. Enigmatic German aristocrat Albrecht Graf von Goertz presented a reinterpretation of the mid-engined VW-Porsche, in this case a 914/6R works racing car which he seems to have obtained from the factory almost by accident. Turin-based Carrozzeria Eurostyle, which emerged in 1968 and disappeared not long into the ‘70s were given the task of turning Goertz’s sketches and scale model into full-sized metal reality. What emerged was a mid-engined fixed-head coupe in the breadvan style.

Image: ClassicDriver.com/Auto-Classic

The 914 was possibly the first ‘liveable’ mid-engined car, with good visibility and luggage space, and an occasional third seating place. Goertz reimagined it into an awkward ‘rite of passage’ machine, with the character of a competition car repurposed for the streets.

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Sergio Sartorelli, Bruno Sacco, and Ron Hickman all did breadvan better, and by the start of the new decade there were plenty of examples of truly elegant mid-engined cars. Although Goertz had production ambitions for his design, it remained a one-off, retained in his personal collection, and is now on display in Langenburg Automobile Museum.

16 thoughts on “If Hopes Were Dupes, Fears May Be Liars. Turin Motor Show 1970 – Part 2”

  1. Good morning Robertas. What an eclectic collection! It is a real shame that the creativity evident in the automotive industry (or, at least, at its periphery) half a century ago has been killed off by safety regulations, liability risks etc. My favourite in today’s selection is the Sinthesis, which is a lovely thing and its 2 litre engine is large enough to give it useful and useable performance, unlike many similar looking supercars then and now.

  2. The lombardi FL1 does appear to have been brazenly replicated in Pontiac’s 19830 Fiero

  3. The 914 version by Goertz looks like a design from Colani just with more edges.
    I think Frua delivered a better draft.
    The best version of an improvement on the 914 was never on display in Turin. The Murene came from France. Designed by Jacques Cooper (at that time next to Paul Braq at Brissonneau & Lotz) and was built at Heuliez.

    The Sinthesis, in deed, is a lovely thing.

  4. If one was to believe the hype, it would be possible for small firms to manufacture parts at low cost using 3D prototyping of various types. Another matter is about the customers. Since the world now has far more millionaires and billionaires and just plain really rich people, why are there still apparently not enough customers for bespoke cars? Even if there are quite a lot of rules, surely they aren´t so byzantine as to preclude their interpretation? Or is it about crash safety (where you need to crash ten carbodies, say, to get a certification)?

    1. This information may be very out of date but I know that some countries (certainly the UK) have/had a special sort of type approval for low volume manufacturers, which alleviated some of the burden of crash testing etc. I have no idea if this is still the case but suspect that something of this sort must still be possible in the EU, given that specialists like the Dutch Donkervoort survive.

    2. The needs of millionaires and billionaires are cared for by companies like Koenigsegg or Pagani.

  5. Petrolicious made a lovely little film with Peter Giacobbi and the story of how he commissioned a one off design from Tom Tjaarda. I just love the fact we can hear the story from the actual people involved…

  6. Also, the Lombardi GP is one of my absolute dream cars. And the proportions doesn’t really make sense until one see one in public. Because it’s a tiny tiny tiny car. It’s so tiny in fact there aren’t room for an instrument binnacle between the drivers knees, the steering wheel, and the top of the dash. The binnacle is situated in the middle of the car, above the gear shifter because there wouldn’t be room otherwise.

  7. Like the idea of an Autobianchi A112-based coupe though the front end of the OTAS KL 112 leaves a lot to be desired, could the front of Pininfarina’s A112 Giovani or another A112-based sportscar / coupe have improved things?

    The Imp-based Lombardi Grand Prix deserved to have gone being more than just a prototype.

    Not sure how NSU could have taken the initiative with producing a suitable Prinz 4-cylinder powered / chassis based sportscar forerunner of the X1/9 and MR2. The styling of the NSU 1200 SS and NSU Nergal would have been a decent starting point.
    Could the capacity of the production NSU 1200 engine have been stretched to at least 1300cc like the NSU 1300 TT Spiess without the latter’s motorsport focused mods? Would the larger related water-cooled 1600-1800cc K70 engines have been a viable alternative?

    Or would it have made more sense for the K50 aka Audi 50 / mk1 Volkswagen Polo to have been used as a possible basis for an equivalent mid-engined sportscar like the Fiat 128-based Fiat X1/9, though utilizing the Giugiaro styling of the Volkswagen Beetle-based 1971 Volkswagen Cheetah concept?

    If I might sound another note of regret it is that although NSU encouraged sporting interpretations of the four cylinder Prinz derivatives – Autonova GT, Delta Design 1, Coggiola / Sessano Nergal – they never took the initiative themselves to produce the sort of X1/9 and MR2 forerunner that the powertrain and chassis would have suited so well.

    Must say the Lombardi FL1 was a real missed opportunity, would have been great to see it powered by a reliable version of the Gamma Flat-4 including the 170 hp 2.5-litre 16-valve prototype and whatever output was achieved with the turbocharged Gamma engine.

    It would be pretty much an Italian Boxer powered mid-engined alternative to the Volkswagen/Porsche 914 without the historical baggage (slightly OT though were any mid-engined sportscar concepts or low production specials ever powered by Subaru Boxer engines?). Cannot say really care about the proposed 3-litre Ford Essex V6 engine, though an Alfa Romeo V6 powered Lombardi FL1 does sound very appealing had it been available as an option.

    1. If you wanted an NSU TTS based sports car you could always buy a Thurner RS

    2. Nice, essentially the NSU equivalent of Alpine or Matra though not sure about the gullwing doors nor whether NSU would have taken the initiative in building something like this themselves.

      Also wonder if NSU would have been better off developing a Prinz-derived 1200-1300 sportscar or a more specialized Ro80-powered rear/mid-engined successor to the NSU Spider.

    1. I see a lot of the AMC Gremlin in the OTAS KL112; that rear pillar style also featured in prototype Ford Capris, so it was something of a late 60’s design theme.

      There’s some Lotus Europa in the Goertz-Eurostyle Porsche 914/6R, too.

    2. There sure is a lot of gremlin in the OTAS KL112, i wonder if the design was inspired by the actual gremlin (released earlier that year) or the AMX GT concept from 68.

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