Vanished Vehicles – Part 15

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A look back over the past century and beyond at the manufacturers that once produced transport for the masses….

Pre WW1 Walter – Czechoslovakia 1908-1936

1910 Walter complete with 2 cylinders, 2 gears, 2 brakes and 3 wheelsCzechoslovakia may not enjoy a notable automobile history but was at the forefront of car manufacture from the dawn of motoring. The last century saw around fifty various marques originate from the Central European Republic, often around the capital Prague, as was the case with Josef Walter. Aged 24 in 1898 he set up a small workshop building bicycles and by 1905 had progressed to supplying 30 motorcycles annually. Walter’s first car was in essence a trike with a V twin 500cc engine placed behind the front wheel offering a shaft drive to the rear. Initially only available in open touring spec, fully enclosed versions arrived later with increased power up to 1250cc; not for the faint hearted, as 55mph was within the reach of these tri wheelers with tiller type steering and rear drum braking. Many were shipped to the east as Russian customers favoured Walter’s machines. By 1912 Walter enjoyed financial backing and bespoke premises allowing the production of conventional four wheeled transport; the W1, a 14hp 4-cylinder machine. This was followed by W2/W3 and post WW1, a 1540cc unit powered the company’s WZ model; sales rose and so did the cubic capacity and quality of the Walter vehicles. Their gorgeous two seat sports model, the Junior, proved very popular, then the stylish and advanced Super of 3.3 litres introduced Walter’s six cylinder engines. Strangely, engine supply would see an end to the marques car production as aircraft power plants took priority; not before the Walter Royal arrived in 1933 complete with a V12. Road transport supply ceased in 1936 and Czech visionary Josef Walter died in 1950 whilst his company continued to build aero engines into the new millennium.

Between the Wars Avions Voisin – France 1919-1939

Avions Voisin LSR in-line eight of eight litres providing 210bhp in 1927The engineering brilliance of Gabriel Voisin came to public notice long before he produced his first motor car; designer of Europe’s first confirmed heavier than air powered aircraft built in the world’s first commercial aircraft factory. After WW1 the aircraft industry shrank, so Voisin switched to automobiles acquiring the rights to the Citroen 18CV of 1918 which used a Knight double sleeve valve power plant. This engine type worked well in the M1 Voisin which was capable of 80mph and the Knight design was installed in most future Voisin’s. Boasting silent running, powerful performance and refined appearance, the M1 set a standard that all future models from the Parisian factory followed. During the twenties the company enjoyed a reputation of one of France’s premier luxury brands and their extensive use of light alloys contributed to their sporting achievements. The C1 Laboratoire model of 1920 produced 100bhp with alloy pistons from a four litre unit of 4-cylinders, it also had 4-wheel braking; all Voisin’s had vacuum servo units from 1925. The world’s first monocoque bodied race car arrived in 1923 courtesy of the C6 Labortoire Grand Prix car. Sales were buoyant into the late twenties and the range expanded to include Knight six cylinder engines and a V12. In 1927 the LSR featured a pair of four cylinder engines in-line and propelled the car to 18 speed records with 210bhp and 129mph performance. The depression unfortunately curtailed Voisin luxury production and the final model arrived in 1937 minus the Knight type engine; a 3.5 Graham installed. The Avions Voisin brand did not reappear post WW2 but Gabriel himself lived in France into the 1970s.

Post WW2 Larmar Engineering Co – England 1946-1951

The Larmar was certainly the narrowest post WW2 shopping trolleyDesignated for invalid transport, the Larmar enjoys the title of the worlds narrowest car at just 28.5 inches; yes, just over two rulers in width. The company was founded in 1919 and continues in engineering to this day at Margaretting in Essex, although its foray into the automotive world took place well over half a century ago. The Larmar differed from all previous disabled transport, a far reach from the crude contraptions available prior to its launch in 1946. Whilst the narrow width was deliberate, allowing entry through the standard 2ft 6inch garden gate, the company concentrated on its versatility for any use; not just disabled. Promoted as an economic ‘shopping car’ the Larmar was well built featuring all round independent suspension and easy start via a handle next to the driver’s seat. Powered initially by a BSA 250cc four stroke coupled to a three speed gearbox via chain drive to the rear wheels’, performance peaked at 35mph. The engine was updated in 1950 to 350cc and whilst it sold in small numbers a few remain in the hands of enthusiasts and collectors. Considering the Peel P50 is recognised as the world’s smallest car, the Larmar was actually 1 foot narrower, with a turning circle of just 15ft. Produced for everyday use with interchangeable normal/hand controls put the company at odds with HM Customs, as the £198.00 purchase price was free from tax being designated as disability transport. With a large storage area up front, fold down fabric roof and single ‘cyclops’ headlight, the Larmar was a unique and versatile vehicle, ideal for post war roads but by the early fifties its time had gone.
Modern Era Moretti Motor Co – Italy 1925-1989
Moretti took the Fiat 124 in 1966 and produced their lovely Coupe versionGiovanni Moretti set up a small shop in Turin, initially to produce small capacity motorcycles but soon moved into microcars with his first model known as La Cita. Advanced for its time featuring a straight tubed frame, independent suspension and hydraulic brakes with a front mounted vertical twin offering 14hp. By the fifties, the capacities had increased to 600 and 750cc plus the company built a 500cc formula three racer. The marque performed well in America where customers were required to put up 50% deposit on order of their 1954 Michelotti styled sports car with a twin cam 1200cc engine. Post-war the company had also produced small commercials but by the 1960s had diverted from complete individual and often specialist production to utilising Fiat mechanicals. Unique and very attractive sporting bodies were adapted to 124, 128, 127 and 132 Fiat models into the 1970s and although they were often twice the price of the standard showroom models the Moretti versions became popular; especially for those who could afford something different. Although they dabbled with Fiat’s 2300 and produced a 163bhp Spyder by enlarging its capacity to 2.5 this proved very expensive, thus focus from 1963 was always on smaller capacity combined with sporting looks and improvements to the factory offerings from Fiat. Production fluctuated with one of the best years being 1973, seeing 3,300 cars completed. Later in the decade super luxury versions of the of Fiat’s Campagnola off-roader (Pope mobile) and 127 pick-up appeared. In the 1980’s variants of the Uno and Panda were built by Moretti but overall sales had begun to decline and the marque ceased car production in December 1989.