Brevity is an art.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.