As is often the case, you wait for years for an asymmetric car to be launched and suddenly two come along in quick succession!
Axon's automotive anorak: beautiful (a)symmetry
At the recent Pebble Beach concours in California, Infiniti revealed its unusual race-inspired Prototype 10 concept car. What makes the Infiniti concept particularly unusual is that it is a single seater with the driver positioned off-centre, this being a different take on the asymmetric three-seater concept shown by DS Automobiles just a few weeks earlier with its distinctive X E-Tense prototype, with the driving position also canted over to one side.
DS Automobiles’ states that its X E-Tense is the French premium brand’s vision of how its models might look by the year 2035. Its asymmetric, three-seat concept is ‘founded on a unique association of two vehicles in one that allows owners to select the driving mode that matches their need at any given moment,’ according to DS, with the eyes being drawn to ‘the pyramidal architecture of the single drivers’ seat.’
In the case of the latest Infiniti concept, the Prototype 10 visits an imaginary sporting past that the Japanese luxury brand is too recent to possess, inspired by race cars from between the two 20th century wars, picking up the lines of the race ‘trays’, with a flat beltline and a cover behind the driver's head.
The reveal of these new asymmetric Infiniti and DS Automobiles concepts set me thinking about a number of other cars with unusual off-centre features. These go beyond the odd wheelbase that differs in length from one side to the other on a Renault 4, 5, 6 or 16, for example, as well as the unnerving off-centre tailgates of the Nissan Cube and recent Land Rover Discovery models. No, the cars I have in mind are more competition derived, with a few personal asymmetric car highlights as follows, in no particular order:
2015 Honda Project 2&4 powered by RC213V
The star of the Honda stand at the 2015 IAA Frankfurt Motor Show was its tiny but impactful Project 2&4 powered by RC213V (and yes, that is this small concept car’s official and very long name). The Honda was an asymmetrical, rear-wheel-drive single-seater, aimed at combining the rawness of a motorcycle with the manoeuvrability of a car, according to the designers.
Conceived by the company’s motorcycle design studio and designed in collaboration with the automobile design team, Project 2&4 drew on Honda’s racing heritage, with the body design and engine position having been inspired by the famous Honda RA272 Formula 1 car of 1965.
Much like a Honda motorcycle, and similarly compact, the mid-engined concept’s external structure revealed the core frame and functional parts of the car, resulting in a weight of just 405 kg. Powered by the RC213V MotoGP bike’s 999cc V4 engine positioned at one side of the chassis next to the driver, Honda claimed the car generated more than 212 bhp at 13,000rpm.
1965 Gene Winfield Strip Car
American Gene Winfield is world-renowned for the crazy custom cars he created in the 1960s and '70s. One of his most radical customs was the ‘Strip Star’ which featured an asymmetric-styled, hand-formed aluminium body, powered by the Ford 427 engine with an enclosed driver's compartment and open-air seating for the passenger. The car featured a full-length belly pan and ran at 127mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats!
2009 MEV Atomic
Six years ahead of Honda’s Project 2&4 powered by RC213V concept, the inventive British kit car maker Stuart Mills introduced his MEV Atomic car for self-assembly at home. The 2009 Atomic was a motorcycle engine-powered kit car, with a single seat side-by-side with a Yamaha R1 bike engine. The MEV’s mechanical layout was intended to give optimal weight distribution (25 per cent at each wheel) with driver on board to provide perfect balance; not just the much sought 50/50 front to rear weight distribution, but 50/50 left to right as well! The Atomic was a true drivers’ car with no room passengers, making for a memorable track day toy which sadly found few buyers, the model being short-lived and the kit project sold on.
1955 Nardi-Giannini Bisiluro Damolnar
The ideal aerodynamic body shape is like a drop of water, many futuristic concepts and racing cars having exactly this form. The bizarre asymmetric racing Nardi-Giannini Bisiluro (twin torpedo in Italian) followed this principal, the ‘twin-boom’ car designed by Surrealist architect Carlo Molly for the famous competition motorcycle rider Mario Damonte. During the Nardi-Gianni engineered Bisiluro’s first (and only) race at the fated 1955 Le Mans 24 Hours, the light and aerodynamic (too aerodynamic!) asymmetric car was literally blown into a ditch from the wake of a passing Ferrari, after which Molly and Damonta quarreled forever and the double hull car never turned a wheel in anger again.
1960 Plymouth XNR
Penned by the Chrysler Group’s controversial vice-president of style, Virgil Exner, the unbalanced-looking (i.e. ugly) Plymouth XNR concept car was meant to be totally driver-centric, with its asymmetrical layout intended to recall a single-seater racing car. The XNR was powered by a NASCAR-specification slant-six engine and was eventually sold to Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. It went to Kuwait and then Beirut, just in time to be caught in the middle in Lebanon’s civil war, yet amazingly the Plymouth survived and still exists today!
1951 Piero Taruffi ‘Italcorsa/Tarf II’ Speed Record Car:
Piero Taruffi was a driver and innovative engineer. Beginning with motorcycles, his racing career included Works drives for Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Cisitalia, Ferrari, Maserati and Mercedes-Benz, with his victories including the 1951 Carrera Panamericana and the final Mille Miglia.
Designed by Taruffi, and alternately known as Italcorsa and Tarf II, this twin-boom record car vehicle was built in 1951 for the 2,000cc class. Power came from a supercharged four-cylinder 1,720cc Maserati engine, developing 290bhp. On March 20th 1951, Taruffi drove the car to a pair of speed records for the flying mile and flying kilometre at 298.507km/h (185.49mph) and 290.552km/h (180.55mph), respectively, going on to take more speed records in 1952.
1967 OSI Alpine Silver Fox
A past star of the Cartier ‘Style et Luxe’ at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, Italian coachbuilder OSI’s uncommon twin-fuselage Silver Fox concept was first seen at the 1967 Turin Salon. The twin-boom OSI was powered by a small 1-litre Alpine-Renault four-cylinder motor, positioned on the left side of the car, with the driver sitting in the opposite ‘pod.’ Very strange, yet strangely pleasing.
1967 Paxton STP IndyCar
Designed by Ken Wallis as the STP race entry for the 1967 Indianapolis 500, the asymmetric Paxton was driven by Parnelli Jones, seated on the right side of the backbone chassis, with a Pratt & Whitney Canada ST6B-62 engine mounted next to him. Jones lead for much of the 1967 Indy 500, a transmission failure with only eight miles left to race ending its victory. A crash during qualifying for 1968 was not fixed and the Paxton ended its career.
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