I think it’s gonna be a long, long time…
Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi: dictator and terrorist to many, hero and martyr to others. The late Libyan ruler has been associated with many things, most of them of the unpleasant variety. But few could imagine the self-proclaimed brother-leader as a car designer. Yet colonel Gaddafi really did order the development of Libya’s first car, and had a considerable say in its styling and design concept, with the lofty aim of producing the safest car in the world.
Colonel Gadaffi named the car Saroukh El-Jamahiriya or Libyan rocket (once a military man, always a military man) and it was unveiled at a special summit of the Organisation of African Unity in 1999, organised to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the revolution.
The car was described by the press officer at hand as an elegant sedan and that Gaddafi “had spent long hours thinking of ways to preserve human life all over the world“; this latter statement in particular leading perhaps to more than a few raised eyebrows.
The Libyan rocket was certainly large, well over five metres long and over 1.8 metres wide, with a kerb weight of 1860 Kg. Italian company Tesco SpA was contracted, for a fee of 2.85 Million US dollars to build the prototype, the styling of which was credited to ideas and suggestions of the colonel himself according to the Italians. A transversally mounted 3.0 litre 230 horse power V6 of undeclared origin was to have provided the motive power.
The Saroukh El-Jamahiriya certainly had a weaponised look to it with its severely pointed nose and tail. The pointed nose, it was claimed, was an important safety feature as it would ensure the car would bounce off any object (or other vehicle) in a head-on collision. Presumably this would work best if both cars were Libyan rockets…
Some other safety features included airbags for all passengers, parking assist cameras, run flat tires, ceramic brakes, a smart collapsible bumper and – an intriguing one this as it was never further explained at the unveiling – an “electronic protection framework“.
Gaddafi insisted on utilising materials of domestic origin wherever possible; hence the fabrics, leather and also marble used were all sourced locally. Plans were announced to build a factory to build the Libyan rocket within a few years.
After this presentation however there was only silence. A silence which lasted for exactly a decade, when a revised version of the Saroukh El-Jamahiriya was shown on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the revolution. It looked broadly similar, although its nose section was now even more sharply pointed than before and the colour had changed to white. The original dark green Saroukh was shown alongside it.
The old press releases from ten years previously were evidently dusted off as well, as the safety claims and descriptions were identical. Once more, an announcement proclaiming the intent of starting volume production in Libya was made – the yet to be built factory would have its first Libyan Rockets coming off the assembly line before the end of 2009 at a projected retail price of around €50,000 each.
Unsurprisingly, this never happened and as Gaddafi met his brutal end in October of 2011 any slim chance that the Saroukh El-Jamahiriya would ever see the light of a Tripoli showroom was eliminated once and for all.
Currently Libya is in chaos and it is doubtful if the Libyan people are any better off now than they were under Gaddafi’s regime. The whereabouts of the two Libyan Rockets are unknown, and considering that most possessions connected with the brother-leader have been destroyed it is assumed that both Saroukh El-Jamahiriyas were among the casualties of the people’s purge.