Short Story (Part One)

Brevity is an art.

Image: The Author/ Encyclautomobile fr/ Wouter Huisman

Although a much less common course of action compared to stretching a pre-existing vehicle, several car manufacturers have at times explored this avenue nevertheless. There can be several reasons for this; the main ones being motorsports competition requirements, creating a smaller and cheaper entry level variant, responding to customer requests or complaints, and unique geographical market circumstances.

The just for fun variants are left out of the equation here, those (however amusing in some cases), for the most part being one-off amateur concoctions and mobile billboards.

Image: Encyclautomobile fr

DS Ricou and Barbero

The Ricou family ran one of the oldest Citroën dealerships in France, located in Chambéry. Proprietor André Ricou liked to tinker with self-designed shortened and lightened DS’s. In early 1959 Ricou presented a two door DS coupé with a wheelbase shortened by almost 22 inches; powered by tuned versions of the familiar ID and DS saloons with either 100 or 125 hp the agile Ricou coupés were capable of reaching a maximum speed of up to 112 Mph. With the modifications costing between 300,000 and 400,000 ancien Francs on top of the cost of the donor vehicle these shortened Citroëns were however not cheap.

Semi-professional rally driver Robert (Bob) Neyret purchased a Ricou, modified in certain aspects for entering in rally competition, and his results caught the attention of Citroën’s competition department which soon proceeded to build curtailed versions of the ID and DS themselves. Until well into the seventies these shortened Citroëns would add a substantial amount of silverware to the company’s trophy cabinet.

Joël Peyrou/ Klaus Nahr

Racing competition was not on the mind of Fermon Barbero, the Italian engine tuner based in Marseille, but since his creation appeared almost a decade after the Ricou cars, he must have been aware of – and inspired by – their existence. Barbero took a different approach however, creating a luxury GT for his personal use as opposed to a special aimed at rallying.

Based on a DS21 Pallas, the interior retained all the Pallas niceties plus in some cases the more sporty Jaeger tableau. There was also still a rear seat, although since the car had been shortened by 20 inches that one was really suitable only for small children. The C-pillars, much narrower than those on the regular DS, were made out of glassfibre and the rear side windows from plexiglass.

Body and floorpan modifications were carried out in Italy while the engine was tuned in Barbero’s Marseille workshop. The flywheel was lightened, as well as the crankshaft and connecting rods. Valve diameter was also increased and a special exhaust manifold fitted. The result was 115 hp at 6000 Rpm, enough for a top speed of over 115 Mph. It is estimated that not much more than a handful of Barberos were made.

Image: Fabwheelsdigest/ Bestcars

Ford Falcon wagon USA-AUS/ Ford Mustang 2-seater

Apart from its monocoque body construction, the very straight-laced in execution Ford Falcon was a big success in the USA; starting in the autumn of 1960 the car was also produced in Australia as the XK Falcon. During the first few years the Antipodean version was almost identical to its North American cousin, but the differing road conditions in Australia necessitated a change in the station wagon version.

Early on-site testing of US-built Falcons before introduction down under revealed that the station wagons, which had an 8-inch longer rear overhang compared to the sedans would regularly ground their tails on rural Australia’s rougher roads.

Thus the Australian-made Falcon Wagon was made exactly the same length as the sedan, the slight reduction in luggage capacity this entailed was considered a price worth paying. It did mean that it would be two months after the introduction of the XK sedans before the XK wagons became available.

Image: Ford Motor Company/ Barret-Jackson

One ultimately unrealised project was a two-seater Ford Mustang with a shortened wheelbase. This avenue was thought to have been in reaction to the many previous 1955-57 Thunderbird customers that longed for a more sporty version instead of the ever larger and heavier T-Birds of the sixties. Likely because both Mustang and Thunderbird sold very well as they were this two-seater Mustang did not get past the prototype stage.

Image: Skoda club net

Škoda Shortcut

Škoda was active in the electrically powered car field earlier than many people think: in the late 1980s Bruno Fridez, a Swiss car distributor specialising in electric vehicles, struck a deal with Jaromír Vegro (head of the association for electromobility in the Czech Republic) for an order of 1000 electric Škoda Favorits.

The two door prototype made by Škoda, unofficially christened Shortcut, was powered by a 15.5Kw DC electric motor driving the front wheels. No official reason has been given for the unusual truncated bodystyle; perhaps it was in the interest of weight saving, or increased agility in city traffic which was where the car’s intended use was.

There were fourteen lead-acid batteries on board; the maximum range was quoted as 50 miles, top speed 50 Mph. These specifications seem laughable now, but this was of course early days for the electric car as we know it today. Unusually for this type of vehicle the Shortcut was equipped with a manual gearbox.

Production versions of the electric Favorit – with virtually identical specifications to the Shortcut including the manual gearbox – were made beginning in 1992 at a rate of ten cars per day, not by Škoda but by ELCAR in its Ejpovice plant, but these had the regular Favorit bodywork (a pick-up version was also offered) and were known as the Favorit Eltra 151.

Encyclautomobile fr/ Newsdanciennes

Bertin Renault 4

Jean Henri Bertin was a French scientist, engineer and inventor. After working for SNECMA (a French manufacturer of aircraft engines) for over a decade, Bertin started his own engineering company – Bertin & Cie – in 1955.

Quite forward looking for the times he focused his energy on reducing air pollution, tackling expected shortages of certain raw materials, as well as the increasing congestion of big cities by the ever growing number of vehicles. Bertin reasoned that too many cars carried just one or two people while most had a capacity for more, thus causing unnecessary parking problems and traffic jams. What he came up with was in effect the Smart three decades in advance.

A Renault 4 Parisienne served as the base to build Bertin’s city car concept; 29 inches where taken out of the wheelbase of the little Renault (which left 65.3 instead of 94.5 inches), and two new doors were fashioned from the four doors of the donor vehicle by some deft cutting and welding. Mechanically there were no changes, the trusty 747cc four cylinder coupled to a three speed manual gearbox remained as it was, but this shorter and thus lighter vehicle did offer somewhat better performance.

Bertin’s compact 4 was displayed at the 1969 Paris Motor Show but would remain a one-off. The car was used by Bertin himself and employees of Bertin & Cie for a few years, but after the completion of the short 4 all of Bertin & Cie’s efforts were directed towards the Aérotrain project fostered by Président Georges Pompidou.

The Aérotrain was a futuristic high-speed monorail train driven by a propeller and riding on a frictionless aircushion. In testing impressive speeds of up to 266 Mph were recorded, but Pompidou’s successor Valérie Giscard d’Estaing cancelled the project in 1974 and shifted resources to the TGV which as we now know came out on top.

Bertin’s 4 was donated to the Claude-Nicolas Ledoux foundation in 1973, and in 1984 the Mulhouse Car Museum purchased the neglected car for one symbolic French Franc. It would not be until 2007 however that the unique vehicle resurfaced when it was discovered by a journalist in the museum’s storage facilities; it has since been completely restored.

Image: Allpar

Talbot / Chrysler Horizon C2 Short

In the early seventies Chrysler Europe started developing a successor to the long in the tooth Simca 1000 and Hillman Imp, with a planned introduction by 1980.

In 1975 a three-door hatchback looking very much like a shorter version of the eventual Horizon had progressed to the full size mockup stage. Struggling and cash strapped, Chrysler never gave the green light for this compact three-door hatch however. Instead, it would fall on the RWD Chrysler Sunbeam and after that the Talbot Samba to fill in the role of the stillborn C2 Short. The five door version of the car would make it to production of course and be known as the Horizon.

The concluding part will follow shortly.

Author: brrrruno

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

13 thoughts on “Short Story (Part One)”

  1. Good morning Bruno. An interesting and entertaining subject, thank you. One of the more famous examples of this technique is the AMC Gremlin. Not having the money to develop a new subcompact to compete with the Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto, AMC simply chopped the tail off their Hornet sedan and took 12″ out of the wheelbase:

    The result wasn’t at all bad, especially compared with the underdeveloped Vega.

    1. AMC had previously done a 12″ wheelbase cut (109″ to 97″) when creating the two-seat AMX from the Javelin two years earlier.

  2. I always thought the short R4 was a hobbyist’s version of fun, not a smart person’s vision of the future. Learned something again, everyday is schoolday on DTW.

    Renault revisited the idea decades later when they launched the short version of the Kangoo, called the “be bop”. The vehicle was not a real success, the zeitgeist train called “bigger is better” was already travelling at high speed by then.

    I have never read anything or seen any pictures about the DS Ricou. A very beautiful car that made it instant into the top 10 of “my list of dream cars I allways will dream of and never will get them“ right away.

    1. Hi Fred. That Kangoo Bebop is a news to me:

      I rather like it!

    2. Here’s one I’ve spotted a few weeks ago:


      I’m not sure white is the best choice but I like the subtle two-tone effect. Back in the day I had sat in one of them in an auto show and it felt very interesting – airy and cheerful. A commercial version was also available (I see them from time to time, certainly more often than the BeBop), and the sliding rear sunroof is basically a fancy version of the black plastic Girafon trap door that was available in the commercial Kangoos.

  3. How do cars fit in here that are factory supplied with a shortened wheelbase and are coupés in the literal sense of the word?
    Think Alfa Giulia saloon/sprint GT/junior Zagato, Alfetta GT or Benz W/C 114/123/124?

    1. I think if one can prepend the car’s name with “lovely” without breaking into uproarious laughter then it doesn’t qualify.

      I am puzzled about this Pontiac Phoenix Seaplane Coupé though, isn’t it a lovely thing?

  4. Have to wonder if the Simca 936 project mentioned in another article a while back was related to the larger Simca 1100 to the same degree as the Talbot / Chrysler C2-Short was to the Horizon.

    The 2-seater Ford Mustang was a missed opportunity, as for the Kangoo Bebop quite like its appearance otherwise how does its length and wheelbase compare to the Twingo II?

    1. The Bebop has a very short wheelbase (about 5cm/2in shorter than the Twingo’s) but in every other dimension it’s quite a lot bigger than the Twingo and even the standard-length Modus – above all, it’s more than 180cm/6ft tall and about as wide, so it has a really very unusual stance in the flesh (perhaps the A3 and C-Max that are parked near it in my photos give an indication).

  5. I hope I’m not treading on the toes of Part 2, but there’s another dramatically truncated LCV as well as the Kangoo BeBop – the original Fiat Talento.

    I haven’t checked the prevailing exchange rates, but presume that a Talent was worth less than a Ducat. In any case the Dubloon and (E)scudo came along in due course.

    Information is hard to find, but the basics are:

    A Ducato with the wheelbase shortened from 2929 mm to 2315 mm.
    Produced from 1989–1994.
    Available in four different body styles: a van, a bus, a crate(?) and camper bodies.
    Intended to take the place left by the discontinuation of the Fiat 242 discontinued in 1987. (I find this puzzling – the 242 is rather a big beast with 3200mm and 4200mm wheelbases. Could they mean the Primula-based 238, or the similar looking, but RWD 241?)

    I’d assumed it was an Italy-only product, but the Heilbronn registration suggests otherwise.

    1. I think it was about four talents to the groat….. And we should be eternally grateful that Leyland didn’t try the same trick with the Sherpa.

    2. It is also interesting that the Talento has the front end of the Peugeot J5.

      It is quite possible that Fiat built this slightly shorter version only for the local market in Italy. Commercial customers there did not always order the biggest and longest vehicle, as was the custom in other countries.

      Heilbronn was Fiat’s German headquarters at the time, so it is quite possible that the vehicle pictured was purchased and registered exclusively for internal factory use and did not go on official sale.

  6. Fred – the orignal Talento appeared in pre- and post-1990 facelift forms.

    I now know what a “crate” is!

    The facelift – across all brands – was actually clever and visually successful. Perhaps the office copy of The Fiat Charter had gone missing, or Peugeot were given the task.

    I was last in Heilbronn about four years ago, and noticed an unusually large proportion of Fiats in the city. Mostly Pandas and Puntos, rather than the fashionable cars. Could it be old loyalty, or possibly a lifetime employee discount scheme?

    JTC – according to Liepedia,” the original Homeric talent was probably the gold equivalent of the value of an ox or a cow”. So about £2000-2500, assuming it’s not an exotic or premium beast.

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