GRR

Fake news and fake cars – Axon’s Automotive Anorak

08th October 2020
Gary Axon

Have you ever heard of a 1950s bubble car called the Frojt Model 2.23 or the sporty Zombi 1500SR of 1959? No? I thought not. Perhaps the mid-‘70s Wallaby from Southend might be more familiar to you? Okay, maybe not.

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Note: Illustrating a story about fake cars has proved so difficult that we’ve had to resort to pretty photos of traffic. Sorry about that.

Even if you are one of the most knowledgeable and dedicated automotive historians around, you will be perfectly forgiven for not recognising the trio of motor car names mentioned above, as these, along with a series of other cars over the years, were never actually made, existing in name only as hoax machines.

Living through the COVID-19 global pandemic for the last few months, we have all learned to tolerate a constant stream of potential hoaxes and fake news stories, from 5G mobile phone masts rumoured to spread the coronavirus, through to the internal consumption of disinfectant helping to cure the pandemic (it doesn’t and it is very dangerous, so please do not try it!).

Non-existent hoax cars have been around long before the term ‘fake news’ become part of our everyday parlance, with the modern power and wonder of Photoshop making the creation of phony vehicles even more prevalent these days, many looking quite amazing and realistic.

I was reminded of the bizarre world of fake cars recently whilst sorting through some old motoring magazines during the lockdown. A March 1975 edition of the excellent ex-weekly UK magazine Motor contained a small black-and-white advertisement in the classifieds section for an unusual car, called the Wallaby. An amateurish sketch and line drawing illustrated how the ‘planned’ Wallaby might look, with a small, ugly three-door hatchback, adaptable to add an elongated clip-on rear section (with its own separate wheels and axle) to turn this strange four-wheeled vehicle into a more versatile six-wheeler. As a curious young kid, I sent off 25 pence and a stamped addressed envelope to the Wallaby address in Southend to receive more detailed information about the car, but unsurprisingly, I never received a reply, and nothing more was ever heard of the Wallaby again. Perhaps it was all an elaborate early April Fool’s Day joke, which 45-years on I still don’t know the answer to!

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Quite why anyone would choose to create a hoax car and/or motor manufacturer is a little lost on me. Perhaps it could be a scam to relieve innocent (but gullible) individuals of their hard-earned cash as an investment ‘opportunity’, as has been the case with a number of automotive crooks and conmen over the years (examples such as the American late-1940s Davis Divan three-wheeler immediately springing to mind).

Some fake cars may have been part of questionable get-rich-quick schemes (the Hapsburg Sport and aforementioned Zombi being possible examples here), whereas others, such as the fictitious Frojt Model 2.23 bubble car, seem to have been created purely for fun and head-scratching entertainment/bemusement.

Tackling the initial pair first, the Hapsburg seems to have been an elaborate (and probably illegal) attempt at coning American car buyers and investors into engaging with a pair of appealing European-style late-‘50s open top sportscars. The ‘entry’ Hapsburg model was a version of the tiny rear-engined Buckle Goggomobile Dart sports car, made in Australia, with the other being a close (i.e. exact) facsimile of a 1958 Siata 170 S, an obscure but stylish Italian coachbuilt Fiat 1200 Spider.

The period American magazine – Small Car Illustrated – ran a full four-page detailed editorial about these new Hapsburg sports models, with this respected publication either duped by the creators of this fake new marque, or it being a serious (but failed) attempt to draw in potential investors and customer orders. Sadly, I suspect the former as an elaborate scam, but history doesn’t provide an answer.

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A second possible North American scam car (but probably intended as more of a joke) was the attractive Zombi 1500SR Sports Roadster, a Canadian vehicle for which a poor-quality photograph was released (supposedly in 1959). The Zombi was clearly an older Maserati A6 GCS sporting two-seater cycle-winged roadster, with its give-away Trident badges removed (or air brushed out back then). There is zero evidence that the 1500SR model and/or the Zombi company of Vancouver ever existed, beyond an odd spoof mention online, so this totally fictitious car was probably created within the 21st Century, rather than the late 1950s, for some odd reason.

More recently, and potentially more menacing with concerns over its legitimacy, is the Malaysian Mini EV X2, a small electric city car that can exclusively be ordered online at a ‘too good to be true’ bargain price and generous specification. No one has ever seen an actual production EV X2, and a lack of documentation and contact information on the car’s website raises suspicions, as does the fact that the Firm’s payment tab only provides the company name, bank account number and a direct ‘Payment Instruction’ tab, which all seems suspicious enough to prompt the local Malaysian Cyber Crime constabulary to take a healthy interest in the X2’s backers.

Other recent online fake cars (that hopefully aren’t money making scams) include the Nikola Tesla, a hoax electric car claimed to be built around a modified Pierce Arrow in the early-1930s, using a brushless AC electric motor, and created by Nikola Tesla’s nephew Peter Savo (Tesla had no such nephew). The so-called Alvis TJ21 of 1979 is another intriguing fake car too, a well-known British motoring website speculating that the famous Warwickshire-based ex-luxury car maker might have gone on to build a version of the wedged Aston Martin Bulldog concept car had it not stopped car production in 1967. All very amusing, but complete works of fantasy.

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A more elaborate digital prank car is the 1952 Frojt Model 2.33 bubble car, (a.k.a. the Egg Car, or Ten Frijt). This fictitious micro car has a plausible Wikipedia page devoted to this Bohemian-based vehicle maker, amusingly written with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Joined by a history of that other well-known Bohemian car maker, Skota, a fantasy web page details vehicles made in this central European region, with real imagination put behind the tale of Ti Frojt Motorverki, the creators of the Model 2.33 ‘Egg Car’. To quote directly from this spoof online page, summarising Frojt’s activities immediately post-war: “In 1949 Bohemia regained independence. Frojt’s factory was in ruins. Once again it produced horse carriages but in 1952 a new model, the 2.33 Ten Ojvákän (The Egg Car) or simply Ten Frojt (The Frojt), was introduced. There are persistent conspiracy theories that the design was not from Frojt at all, but from an obscure Italian refrigerator maker that went bankrupt and sold the design to Frojt. Frojt denied such accusations.”

Supported by a doctored image of a BMW Isetta bubble car, this Frojt page continues: “Once again back to the car business, it moved down market, cutting with its past. Bohemian car consumers needed a small cheap vehicle as few people could afford pre-war-style luxury cars. The Egg Car seemed just like an egg with three wheels, powered by a small two-cylinder engine capable of transporting the driver and two passengers. The major curiosity was its lambda motor (an inverted V engine) which helped on car stability and the driving wheel on the middle of the dashboard. Cheap and well built, the Egg Car soon became a best seller worldwide… Meanwhile new versions of the Model 2.33 were introduced: van, pick-up, convertible and a longer family car with larger engine, Model 2.66 Ten Krós Ojvákän (Great Egg Car).”

The online Frojt pages go on the claim: “Due to its peculiar styling, Frojts have a constant presence in movies, especially on futuristic and science fiction ones. Their presence is also regular on comic books, literature and philately so as to became a cult car both for the average people (the Egg Car or simply the Frojt) so as for the rich ones. Frojt references in music also appear. The most notable is the English rock band Pink Frojt which uses a stretched Egg Car on their concerts. The Egg Car became one of the ultimate symbols of the post-war European reconstruction, permitting millions of average people to be possible to own a car and to drive.’

All very droll, with some amusing subtle references there, including a witty dig at the former Italian fridge (and super car) maker ISO, which invented the bubble car, plus a nod to the East German Trabant, as famously once used on-tour by U2! An image of a modified Tatra 603 is also used to depict a later Frojt prestige model.

Just remember that not everything you read, see and hear is true! Now, where did I leave the keys to that Hapsburg?

Photography by Alexander Popov, Denys Nevozhai, Ryan Searle and Euan Cameron.

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