Retro

Lo­cally built mi­cro

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -

THERE was al­ways go­ing to be an is­sue with the name. ‘Gog­gomo­bil’ may have been cute in Ger­man, be­ing orig­i­nally de­rived from a child’s nick­name, but in Aus­tralia it may as well have been called a Schitzengig­gle.

Hans Glas’s farm equip­ment busi­ness had ex­panded post-ww2 into mo­tor scoot­ers (the ‘Glas-goggo mo­tor­roller’) and then mi­cro­cars. The first four-wheeler was the Gog­gomo­bil T sedan of 1954, a two-door bub­ble-car ini­tially pow­ered by a rear-mounted, 250cc two-stroke scooter en­gine, with larger 300 and 400cc ver­sions in 1957.

A world away, Syd­ney rac­ing driver and car dealer Bill Buckle was look­ing to aug­ment his suc­cess­ful De Soto, Citroen and other fran­chises with small, eco­nom­i­cal cars. In 1958, Buckle went to Glas’s fac­tory in Din­golf­ing with an in­ge­nious deal.

Buckle was an early adopter of fi­bre­glass, hav­ing pro­duced a hand­some, Ford Ze­phyr-en­gined coupe in 1954 and even­tu­ally build­ing 20 ex­am­ples of the Buckle 2.5 Coupe (aka Buckle GT) from 1958-’60.

Fa­mil­iar with Aus­tralia’s stiff tar­iffs on com­plete cars, Buckle ar­ranged with Gog­gomo­bil to im­port only CKD (com­pletely knocked down) chas­sis kits; he would repli­cate the steel body lo­cally in fi­bre­glass. Thus, in 1958, be­gan Aus­tralian assem­bly of Gog­gomo­bil sedans and coupes.

Buckle was soon in­spired to add a two-seat road­ster. Sketch­ing it him­self, it was re­fined by Stan Brown, an ex-lo­tus panel man who built the pro­to­type body in alu­minium. The pro­duc­tion Dart was a door­less mono­coque, with sep­a­rate mould­ings for the rear en­gine lid and dash panel. Just five months elapsed from pen to pro­to­type.

Launched in 1959 with a 295cc en­gine, the Gog­gomo­bil Dart drew sniffs from sports car snobs – and was loved by younger buy­ers. Paint schemes were of­ten bright, two-tone or Gt-striped. And the price was right: when a 1.0-litre Austin-healey Sprite cost about £1175, the Dart was just £685.

Peo­ple for­gave the smok­ing ex­haust and sun­dial-cal­i­brated per­for­mance for the fun of driv­ing and be­ing seen in it. Pro­duc­tion, which be­gan in Septem­ber 1959, was soon at seven cars per day – and couldn’t match de­mand.

Only a fort­night ear­lier, how­ever, the death knell for the mi­cro­car had be­gun to ring in dis­tant Eng­land. The BMC Mini would bring four seats, four cylin­ders and af­ford­able fun to the masses. Buckle had pro­duced about 5000 lo­cal Gog­gomo­bils – sedans, a rare van, and just over 700 Darts – be­fore clos­ing pro­duc­tion in Septem­ber, 1961.

In Ger­many, mean­while, the over-am­bi­tious Glas went from al­most tak­ing over strug­gling BMW and Audi in the late-1950s, to be­ing ab­sorbed into BMW in 1966.

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