Chacun Voit Midi à Sa Porte*

A trio from the French quarter.

Amid the less frequently visited outposts within automotive history’s archives, intriguing and fascinating things can sometimes be found.

Marsonetto

Until fairly recently the family business of Automobiles Marsonetto was still active as a concessionaire of Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia in Villeurbanne on the outskirts of Lyon. Founder of the company, Mario Marsonetto was the son of an Italian mason but was more interested in automobiles than following in his father’s footsteps. By his early twenties he had successfully trained to become a coachbuilder, having gained valuable work experience by rebodying passenger cars – mainly Renaults and Citroëns – as well as trucks.

The work carried out on those commercial vehicles helped, not only in terms of bodyworking experience, but also in constructing supporting frames and other underlying structures.

Unsurprisingly considering his automobile-loving background, in the 1950’s the young Marsonetto succumbed to the temptation of creating a car of his own. His first effort was the Panhard Dyna Z based Luciole (firefly) of 1957; the first examples had aluminium bodywork but Marsonetto soon switched to the relatively recently introduced fiberglass. Only about fifteen Lucioles were sold, after which Marsonetto stopped its production and opened an Alfa Romeo dealership.

The desire to have his own sportscar lingered however and in 1965 he commenced work on a new car that would initially be named the Mars 1 but later 1600GT. Utilising in its first guise a Renault 8 Gordini engine and assorted mechanicals and clothed in fiberglass bodywork on a tubular frame, Marsonetto’s new 2+2 was a decidedly more grown up proposition than the Luciole. Its styling showed a clear influence by Jaguar’s E-Type at the front and a mix of Ferrari and Maserati in the rest of the design- not unpleasant but a bit derivative and from certain angles ungainly.

Image: Patrimoine-Lyon.org/ Chrisoncars.com

This first Mars 1 remained a one-off and was used by Marsonetto who made several running changes, both mechanically and styling-wise, before he deemed the result good enough for an official offering. The 1968 Geneva Motor Show saw the official introduction of the car, which was now powered by the engine of the new Renault 16TS good for a claimed maximum speed of 124 mph.

Later that year, at the 1968 Paris Motor Show in October, the car was renamed 1600GT and there were some changes to the rear styling: the new large glass opening rear hatch complete with padded unzippable tonneau cover over the boot area was a notable and novel feature that predated the Porsche 924 and Renault Fuego by many years.

Maserati’s Mistral of 1963 did feature a similar glassy hatch but had no covering for the luggage area. Some 1600GTs had round taillights but a few were fitted with Renault 16 items – somewhat anachronistic were the sliding front side windows – a literal side-effect of giving interior space (the 1600GT was claimed to be a full four seater) preference in this matter.

The 1600GT’s chassis consisted of a steel platform chassis with duralinox reinforcements in the highly stressed areas. Engine, steering, suspension, brakes and other components came from the Renault 16TS but Marsonetto massaged the engine and fitted a different exhaust system resulting in a gain of 12-15 extra horses over the standard powerplant. A five speed gearbox was fitted, but it is unknown from what car it came, since no Renault 16 had such an item before the arrival of the 16TX in 1973.

By virtue of its low weight of less than 600 Kg and aerodynamic body the 1600GT boasted a claimed top speed of 136 mph. Impressive as this was, there was also the uncomfortable reality of the elevated price that Marsonetto charged for its handmade car: 38,000 Francs when for less than half of that you could drive away in an admittedly less swift, Matra M530.

Even so, Marsonetto claimed twenty orders were made at the Salon, but in reality and according to the source consulted only between six and sixteen 1600GTs were actually produced and sold, some as late as 1972.

Image: Club205gti.fr
Image: Club205gti.fr

The story would normally have ended there, but for many years the Marsonetto dealership showroom contained a car that likely was developed by Marsonetto as a possible replacement for the 1600GT. It is unclear exactly when this car was constructed but the 2.2 litre Douvrin engine points to a birthdate somewhere in the late seventies. What is clear is that the styling is quite sharp for the time and the rear end predicts the later Renault Fuego; the Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint taillights seen here were fitted later in its life to replace the original ones fitted.

As Marsonetto has reportedly currently ceased all operations in the automotive field the exact whereabouts of this one-off are not known but the photos seem to suggest it is being cared for well enough.

Renault Alpine PPG Pace Car

Perhaps Franco-American oddity would be a more accurate description but let us not dwell on semantics: between 1979 and 1997, the American chemical firm PPG Industries was the main sponsor of CART racing in the country. The series was even officially renamed the PPG Indy Car World Series in their honour. One of the several divisions of PPG specialized in car paints which explains the sponsoring connection.

PPG even went as far as commissioning unique pace cars for the racing events; some were only mildly modified but others were concept cars that would also be on display at motor shows. The vast majority of these originated from domestic manufacturers but a few foreign makes also received the PPG pace car treatment –
a Renault was chosen three times during the 1980s and this car was one of them.

It had two predecessors: in 1982 a rebodied 5 Turbo, reportedly styled by AMC stylist Dick Teague, lead the field to be replaced the year after by the even more radically restyled gull winged 5 Aerowedge. Underneath their futuristic clothes both of these cars were mechanically identical to the stock Renault 5 Turbo. Sometime in the middle of the decade – the exact season is vague – the car you see here did the PPG pace car honours.

Based on the then new Renault Alpine V6 (GTA in the UK) it wears a thoroughly reworked body and seems (and to some extent is) a totally different vehicle; constructed by a company named Triad Targa Group (a joint venture between Triad Services and Car Craft); the changes were not limited to just the cosmetics. ASC/McLaren fitted an engine with twin turbochargers, according to the manager of Triad’s prototype shop at the time, but it is not clear if this was the Renault powerplant or something else entirely.

That is not the only question mark surrounding this vehicle; unlike most other PPG pace cars it somehow suffered severe neglect after its pace car career and ended up in the parking lot of an Ohio engineering college from which it has since disappeared without a trace not long after the photos seen here surfaced on the web.

Peugeot-Chrysler

By the end of the seventies, neither Chrysler nor Peugeot was in the best of health; the former sold its unprofitable European arm to PSA to counter the large financial losses Chrysler was suffering in its homeland. New Chrysler CEO Lee Iaccoca and his counterpart at PSA, Jean-Paul Parayre, found common ground on a plan to jointly design and develop a low-cost car – produced by Chrysler – that could be sold under both the Chrysler and Peugeot name.

Image: http://www.facebook.com/cardesignarchives/ cardesignarchives.com.

This would provide Iaccoca with a compact, frugal car to help Chrysler comply with CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) requirements and give Peugeot a modern, smaller car to sell on the North American market alongside the ageing 504 and its soon to be introduced 505 successor. In early 1981 styling development started under the guidance of Paul Bracq. One of his design staff members was sent to the USA to monitor the stateside design efforts and ensure the result remained recognisable as a Peugeot.

Almost from the start of the project however, cracks began to appear in the relationship between the two manufacturers: Iaccoca pushed strongly to have the French variant positioned more upmarket and to be sold at a correspondingly higher price and allocated just a tenth of the planned production volume to be badged as a Peugeot.

The French firm who had until that point agreed to evenly share development costs was not amused and refused to invest more than 10% from that moment on as a result. Serious doubts were also raised by PSA’s financial marketing department whether the proposed new Peugeot could be produced profitably at a proposed price of around US $6000.

Image: http://www.facebook.com/cardesignarchives/ cardesignarchives.com.

The worsening situation in Sochaux in 1981-82 saw management decide to kill off the project and cut their losses while it was still in the early stages; all hopes being on the upcoming 205 model which fortunately would indeed save the day for the French firm.

By 1990 Peugeot had retreated from the American market. Chrysler had by that time formed another alliance with a foreign car manufacturer (Mitsubishi) little more than a year after the Chrysler-Peugeot deal faltered: under the Diamond Star Motors umbrella several imported and rebadged cars were marketed with varying levels of success. The one car specifically co-developed and sold under three different brand names however (Plymouth Laser, Eagle Talon and Mitsubishi Eclipse) never really took off.

* ‘To each his own’

Author: brrrruno

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

15 thoughts on “Chacun Voit Midi à Sa Porte*”

    1. The Alpine GTA-based car seems to have been “inspired” by an earlier Teague design:

  1. Good morning Gooddog;
    That particular rear haunch line on the AMX III certainly looks familiar and points to Dick Teague being the designer of the Renault Alpine PPG Pace Car. Although Teague appears to have borrowed that particular styling element from Michelotti’s 1968 DAF Siluro concept:

  2. What comes to mind with the 1981-82 Chrysler-Peugeot low-cost project would be its visual similarities with both the Chrysler (L/K-Car based) P-Platform Dodge Shadow and Chrysler Europe’s Project C28 that eventually became the Peugeot 205-derived Talbot Arizona aka Peugeot 309, even as far as to share the same wheelbase despite their differing lengths and width (not to mention both cars appearing within 2 years of each other).

    The Dodge Shadow was said to have originally been intended as a direct replacement for the earlier Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon, only for Chrysler to opt to make the car a bit more substantial on the basis the economy segment in the US was becoming more crowded with recent introductions on the market from non-US marques.

    From Chrysler’s perspective it would have made sense to base the low-cost project on the adaptable K-Car platform, whereas OTOH it would have made sense for Peugeot to base the car on the Peugeot 205 as recall reading elsewhere of them being interested in bringing it over some form to North America to spearhead its attempt to penetrate the US market alongside the Peugeot 405.

    In that light the rationale for the conservatively styled Project C28 later the 205-based Arizona / 309 becomes understandable as a possible starting point in being Peugeot’s ideal for the low-cost project were one to view it as initially an abortive attempt at a Peugeot analogue of the similarly sized and styled 9/11-based Renault Alliance for the US market.

    Is it possible the P-Platform and Project C28 at one time shared a common origin in the low-cost project if it was intended to be a replacement for the Horizon before both Chrysler and Peugeot differed in different directions?

    1. I seem to recall a car magazine, can’t remember which one, when the Shadow/Sundance was new reporting that the bubbleback was part of the design until the very last possible point when Lee Iacocca personally ordered the flatter rear window and hidden hatch since hatchback=cheap was getting burned into the brains of consumers and the bubble would’ve been a more expensive piece of glass anyway.

      It is interesting to see the P-body and C28 came out so similar from opposite approaches, the one being a cut-down larger car and the other an expanded smaller one.

    2. It is interesting, also the suggestion the P-Body was originally conceived as a smaller Horizon/Omni-sized car.

      Cannot see why Peugeot would have agreed to the low-cost project in the first place unless the car was to feature a lot of Peugeot content then expected. It is fascinating to note the 309 also carried on using of Simca Poissy engines (both in and outside of Spain) until the late-1980s to early-1990s that previously powered the US spec Horizon/Omni, the latter being particularly strangled in 62 hp 1.6 US spec guise.

      OTOH it is possible a 1.6 Simca engined US-built Arizona-sized car would have clawed back some power similar to how the 55 hp later 51 hp 1.4 engine used in the Renault Le Car recovered to 64 hp in the Renault Alliance.

      No idea what if any engines the low-cost Arizona-precursor was to feature, one can only speculate if the 2.2/2.5-litre engine used in the Horizon/Omni and Shadow would fit (read it was originally designed as a 2-litre) yet worth noting North American versions of the Peugeot 405 meanwhile made use of 110-150 hp 1.9 XU engines though could see the 1.6 XU being utilized in place of the 1.6 Simca unit.

      Chrysler themselves also had plans for 4-cylinder 2.2-2.5 diesels in both naturally aspirated and turbodiesel forms, a development of a stillborn Slant Six diesel / turbodiesel project planned for use in Chrysler’s FWD cars around the same period. Seem to recall reading the 2.2-2.5 4-cylinder and 3.3/3.8 60-degree V6 being distantly linked to the Slant Six which would not be surprising given all were developed by Chrysler engineer Willem Weertman together with the LA V6/V8.

      Had the projects reached production it would have been curious seeing for example how a hypothetical US-built Chrysler Arizona 2.2 TD would have compared against a European/UK-built Peugeot 309 1.9 TD.

      https://www.curbsideclassic.com/automotive-histories/automotive-history-diesel-chrysler-slant-sixes-in-house-and-otherwise/

  3. Good morning Bruno. A trio of curiosities to get the week off to a good start, thank you. The Peugeot-Chrysler effort certainly influenced the 309, but there’s more than a hint of Giugiaro’s later Renault 19 in the first drawing.

    On the subject of borrowed parts, can anyone identify the source of the front indicators and glass rear hatch on the blue Mars 1 car? The former is easy, but the latter has me stumped.

  4. Good morning Bruno, as always thanks for discovering these rarities. The Peugeot- Chrysler doesn´t seem bad at all (at least the uncovered rear wheel variant), and a lot better than the ungainly 309. As Bob says it has some similarities with the Dodge Shadow and even the Lancer/Le Baron GTS.

    Interestingly, after buying AMC in mid ´80s the Chrysler line-up would have included Peugeot and Renault derived models.

  5. @Daniel; I’m pretty sure that’s a Citroën DS front indicator.

    The rear hatch. Matta Djet? DeTomaso Vallelunga?

    1. Hi Ingvar. Agreed on the indicator. It is from the post-facelift, twin-headlight DS.

      Alas, no cigar for the rear hatch, I think: the Djet’s is a much more ovoid shape and the Vallelunga’s looks more heavily curved across the roof at its leading edge and more inclined against tbe C-pillar. Good obscure guesses though. 🙂

  6. Thank you once again for a nice dose of obscurity, Bruno. That Chrysler-Peugeot model looks rather handsome to me, enhanced by the wonderful and VERY in-period renderings… Given Peugeot’s and Chrysler’s respective paths, I think Peugeot came out the winner. So much so that it now effectively owns a Chrysler that’s only marginally more alive than Lancia.

    For completeness’ sake, here’s the delightful aerowedge (image ppgpacecars.com):

  7. Marsonetto rear hatch – from an Arista, perhaps?

    The 5-speed gearbox could be from a Gordini.

    I think it looked better before the large hatch was fitted; I also think I’d have bought an Alpine A110 if I wanted that sort of thing. Interesting to see it though – thank you, Bruno.

    1. Hi Charles. The Arista’s rear glass looks more heavily curved and is surrounded by bodywork, so I don’t think it’s the one, but it’s another wonderfully obscure guess. The encyclopaedic knowledge of DTW’s readership on all things automotive is amazing!

    2. Thank you – I’ll try to keep guessing. I’m constantly amazed by the depth and range of people’s knowledge at DTW and it’s put across nicely, too.

      Coming back to the rear hatch, it looks a bit like the rear glass for a Citroën SM, but that’s impossible, as the SM was launched later. I wonder if it is actually glass – it’d be really heavy if it were. If it’s plastic, it could be made specially for the car.

  8. I’m late to the party, but what an interesting bunch of curiosities we have here. All new to me, so thanks for posting it here, Bruno.

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