Sorry gentlemen, no lucite heels and garterbelts here, just painted metal and blanked out switches.
There can be a quiet sort of dignity in an austere car. Shorn of distracting embellishments, the observer has an excellent opportunity to judge the essential purity – or lack thereof – of the design in question. But there are limits to how far a manufacturer can go before a car’s business case starts to collapse like a jenga tower when one too many blocks has been removed. Today we present three examples that at the very least caused an alarming wobble.
Renault Dauphine Teimoso
When Brazil came under the rule of a military junta after a 1964 coup, one of the few laudable initiatives of the new rulers was an attempt to enable those who until then were unable to purchase a new car to finally fulfil their dream. The junta did this through the Caixa Econômica Federal, which ordered Willys-Overland, who was producing Renault’s Dauphine under licence, to build 1000 severely decontented Dauphines per month.
The manufacturer was required to somehow strip and simplify the Dauphine to such an extent that it could be sold at 60% of the price of the existing Dauphine. The result, named Dauphine Teimoso, appeared in 1965.
The word teimoso means stubborn in Portuguese; this unusual model name came about because of a twenty-two day, 30,000 mile endurance test of the Dauphine at the Interlagos circuit. The trial was conducted because of the reputation for fragility that surrounded the small rear-engined Renault. At one point the Dauphine became unstuck in a corner and rolled; it was put on its wheels again and the endurance run was resumed. One of the test drivers nicknamed the battered Dauphine “the stubborn one” after it had successfully completed the gruelling reliability test, and the name stuck.
Outwardly, apart from the air intakes at the rear doors, the totally dechromed body with silver painted bumpers clearly distinguishes it from a regular Dauphine. Look closer and the single windshield wiper, deleted front indicators and the single central taillight also stand out.
Inside the extreme austerity continues – no provision for a radio, no floor mats, hammock style seats, the simplest of door panels, and no fuel level or water temperature gauge – these were replaced by warning lights. As a final touch to impress upon occupants that they were inside a true stripper there was no headliner.
The decontenting shaved over 70 kilograms off the weight, which improved performance and fuel consumption, since the Teimoso was mechanically unchanged. Between 1965 and 1967 a total of 8967 Teimoso’s were sold, representing slightly over 10% of the total amount of Dauphine variants produced by Willys-Overland.
In late 1941 all US car manufacturers were ordered to build cars in a blackout version only – no more chrome because this was needed for military production [*] and no whitewall tires. Studebaker’s 1957 Scotsman would have needed very little work to conform to the blackout rules – it was that bare.
As the 1950s wore on Studebaker faced increasing difficulty to keep up with the domestic big three; its image tarnished by quality problems, while the merger with Packard had not provided much positive effect for either company. The South Bend carmaker was working on a smaller compact, the Lark, but that car would not be ready until 1959.
Meanwhile, in order to lower the price of entrance, the Scotsman was conceived. Studebaker certainly succeeded in slashing the price as the Scotsman was the lowest priced American car of 1957 at $1776; the next to cheapest Studebaker was the 2-door Champion at $2189 which represented a substantial gap in those days.
Of course, this $413 chasm came at a price. The front and rear bumpers were the only chrome-plated elements; all other items chromed on the more expensive Studebakers such as the windshield moulding, taillight housings, headlamp bezels, grille and so on were painted either silver or body colour. Those body colours also seemed to have been chosen deliberately to confirm the bottom-rung image: Glasgow gray, Glen green and Loch blue were the unexciting choices. For the 1958 model year Parchment white and Midnight black were added to the palette.
The Scotsman’s interior continued the barren austerity- a very simple instrument panel of painted metal whose bathroom-scale type speedometer was the only unusual and amusing element, plain vinyl upholstery, cardboard-and-vinyl doorpanels bereft of armrests and rubber mats on the floor. Contrary to the Teimoso the Scotsman did have a headliner but no interior dome light. The boot likewise did not have any protective upholstery and there was no panel to protect the back of the rear seat.
Mechanically the Scotsman was fitted with the familiar flathead inline Sweepstakes six cylinder engine, delivering a none too thrilling 101 hp but did allow the Scotsman achieve as much as 40 Mpg – impressive for the time. In 1958 a more peppy 180 hp V8 became available as an option – regardless of which engine was fitted the only transmission choice was a three speed manual. However, if you wanted an automatic the Champion was available.
Studebaker produced 30,220 Scotsmans in two years which qualifies it as a reasonable success; for 1959 the Lark would take over the entry-price position and grant Studebaker a temporary stay of execution until the big three introduced their own compacts. Meanwhile, Americans old enough to remember could have been forgiven for thinking that there was a war on again.
Ford Vedette Abeille
The French Ford Vedette originated from an aborted US small car programme, initiated by Edsel Ford. Started in 1941, when the war had ended by late 1945 it transpired that domestic demand for even warmed over pre-conflict models was very strong. On top of that, cost calculations had shown that it would have been very difficult for Ford to make a profit on this small car as it would have to be priced substantially lower than the regular Ford models while costing almost as much to produce.
Ford SAF however, the French subsidiary, expressed an interest in the car as it desperately wanted to revive production at its new plant in Poissy. Dearborn agreed and after some more engineering and finetuning the Vedette was presented in October 1948.
By American standards the Vedette may have been a small car but at 175 inches long and with a 106 inch wheelbase, it was classified in Europe as a good size family car. The styling was clearly American in origin as a comparison with the concurrent stateside Mercury showed: the Vedette was mostly a smaller rendition of its US relative but with a rounded fastback rear end.
Pricewise it was slightly more expensive than Citroën’s Traction Avant; the Vedette may have had a V8 engine but many buyers lamented the feeble performance of the 2158cc powerplant which dated back to before the second world war as well as the lack of refinement in fit and finish. Ride comfort however universally gained good marks. Nevertheless, sales did not meet expectations, prompting Ford of France to take action.
In mid-1952 a Vedette stripped of most of its equipment and visual niceties arrived, dubbed Abeille (Bee). Presented as a commercial vehicle that could at the same time also serve as the family car, the Abeille’s appearance seemed almost deliberately drab.
All chrome parts apart from the doorhandles and bootlid grip were painted in one of three available body colours: dark gray, dark blue or a somewhat military-like green. The Abeille had only one taillight and the rearmost side windows were simply metal blanks. Inside only the absolute basics in terms of instrumentation and creature comforts were provided.
The utilitarian character of the Abeille was evidenced by the bootlid which now was a two-piece construction: the larger top part opened as a hatch and the smaller lower part opened downwards, held in a horizontal position by chains. The rear seat was removable and when taken out opened up a large area for cargo with a maximum payload of 500 kilograms; the Abeille’s suspension reinforced to handle the potential loads.
Technically, the Abeille was almost identical to its better equipped sisters, the only change was the fitment of a different carburettor in an effort to reduce fuel consumption.
The decontenting of the Vedette to turn it into the Abeille resulted in a price that was just 10% lower, hardly an enticing reward for anyone that contemplated purchasing so obviously a cheapened vehicle. Indeed, total Vedette sales continued to decline even with the addition of the Abeille. A facelift in 1953 where the Vedette (but not the Abeille) gained a three-volume body, and the addition of a more powerful and luxurious version named Vendôme could also not prevent steadily falling sales.
The Abeille was granted a little more external brightwork with a simple chromed front bumper and offered the new option of having the central pillar on the passenger side removed in order to facilitate access to the loading area. This option was often chosen by those who used the Abeille as a medical vehicle, although one wonders what effect the removal of one central pillar had upon the structural integrity of the body.
The disappointing sales performance of its French subsidiary resulted in Ford leaving the French car production business and selling the Poissy plant to Simca in the summer of 1954, just as an all-new Vedette (designed and engineered in the USA) had been readied – that car would live on under the Simca brand however, and would not feature an Abeille-like decontented variant.
One thing all three of these strippers have in common is that they ultimately failed in their mission – the slow selling Teimoso did not put Brazil on wheels and could not prevent the discontinuation of Dauphine production by Willys-Overland in 1968. The Scotsman sold reasonably but was unable to measurably avert the inevitable demise of Studebaker, and the Abeille did not improve the Vedette’s sales performance enough to entice Detroit to retain its French subsidiary.
To be fair: with or without the Scotsman, Studebaker’s fate was already virtually sealed by the late fifties and production of the dated Dauphine ended in France at about the same time it did in Brazil. The lesson perhaps to be taken from this story is that austerity in automotive terms only works when the vehicle in question has been conceived as an extremely basic mode of transport to begin with- which is why the Citroën 2cv never rocked anyone’s jenga tower.
[*] Any parts previously produced and chromed had to be painted to prevent any manufacturer gaining an unfair advantage.