Failure to Launch

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.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

18 thoughts on “Failure to Launch”

  1. Good morning Bruno, and thanks for unearthing this oddity for us. Given the way automotive design has evolved over the past two decades, I suspect that this monstrosity looks considerably less odd today than it would have done when first revealed, to the extent that it could plausibly be a Toyota concept!

  2. At the risk of being shot down in flames….. I find this far less offensive than the vast majority of current offerings to the gullible, at least in its Mk 2 version. From the rear it has a degree of unity so often lacking and the front end works remarkably well.

    I think Brrrruno may have just made up the Gadaffi story – this is really the next Tesla….

    1. On the contrary I do remember John Simpson reporting from Tripoli for the BBC when the green version was launched, although it looked black on old school 525 line television. In occasional moments over the years I’ve even wondered what happened to it. I don’t recall the spike nose been visible but do remember it been driven albeit slowly round a car park, so it was an actual car and not a mock up.

      In white it looks 10 times better than the, oh let me think, Toyota Auris/ Suzuki Swace or anything made by BMW. I’m intrigued by the idea that cars would bounce off each other, clearly it isn’t too outlandish as even in frontal impacts crash test cars are often shown rebounding to one side. In a way it is about turning every head on collision into a frontal offset one, is that better?

      Why not go the whole nine yards and revive the 1920’s boat tailled tradition, potentially quite cool I think.

    1. If only Daimler-Mercedes-Maybach management had launched a coupe model and not force customers to Xenatec, Germany to carry out their albeit beautiful and expensive conversions with donor car.

  3. Bruno, you certainly have a “nose”for finding these oddball creations for our enjoyment, thank you. I had to read the part where a supermarket chain had become car manufacturers, twice…
    And I side with Richard; opposite to the colonel, the rocket appears rather coherent containing African flare, something you don’t often hear of in the car world.

  4. I’ve seen worse. From wheel to wheel, the green one does not look ridiculous as concepts go – even the wheels look usable on a road (though maybe not a Libyan one?). The white one brings Star Wars Stormtrooper helmets to mind, but take the pointiness away and again they are no worse than many other concept cars.

  5. Never mind Toyota concepts, is really any more weird than the Mk1 Mirai?

    1. Looks as though someone at Toyota woke up about a year ago. The new 2021 Mirai is actually quite attractive. Well, with Hyundai on a fuel cell rampage as well as the Japanese company, something had to be done. Unfortunately, Toyota is still wedded to the vacuum-formed slat grille, which has been frightening small children for several years on the Camry and Avalon. Blank that grille from your mind, and the new Mirai is decent.

      Now sit back and think. When did you last see a hydrogen refilling station? Exactly. Toyota seems hell-bent on converting natural gas (methane CH4) to hydrogen by stripping off the carbon molecules, an energy-intensive process. So the real question is — why?

  6. The designers certainly deserve credit for being attentive to contemporary design trends/cliches.
    Rear –> CLA/CLS shooting brake.
    Lower door trim –> 2012 Renault Clio
    Floating roof with ghost C-pillar –> 2007 Lancia Delta.
    The only incorrect prediction was the bulging belt line with large DLO.

  7. Here is European availability, according to this map from the European Commission:
    UK appears to have eleven stations, of which six (according to the map) are actually active at present; three are unavailable, the other two are unknown. One of those is at Honda’s factory, which is due to shut. It looks more popular in central Europe, while Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland have no H-stations at all.

    If I were considering such a car, it would not fill me with confidence that only two companies sell them here (Hyundai and Toyota) and neither feels inclined to offer refuelling stations on their premises. “Early adopter” types may remember LPG, which seems to be in retreat (aside from Dacia being the first firm in several years to offer new LPG cars), and bioethanol (gone?) and prefer to wait and see.

  8. There’s something about this which still appeals – and I’m not sure why. The only aspect which I do find offensively pointless is the weird double crease in the lower third of the doors. Remove that and it has the makings of a new electric Jaguar….

  9. Interesting story, thank you for sharing. The rear end reminds me of the rather lovely Alfa Romeo Brera.

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