As this time of year is commonly known as ‘silly season’ we thought it the perfect opportunity to introduce you to some of the works of the iconoclastic Italian-Swiss designer and engineer Franco Sbarro.
The weirdest Sbarro concept cars
There are certainly some classically proportioned sportscars and utility vehicles among Sbarro’s portfolio but where the designer excels is pushing at boundaries the rest didn’t even know were there; a dual chassis car, hubless wheels, gullwing doors which open downwards and erstwhile family hatches with absolutely no concession to practicality but with plenty of panache.
Actually, ‘silly’ is unfair of us; Sbarro’s creations are all immaculately engineered and built. It’s simply that in terms of their concept and design they are so far left field that they’re in a separate stadium. Of the many to choose from in a career spanning decades, these are just a few which caught our eye.
1968 Dominique III
Not quite the genesis of Sbarro but his first design having left Scuderia Filipinetti, where he was team manager, and set up Atelier de Construction Automobile (ACA). The Dominique was commissioned by Pierre-Yves-Mourgues d'Algues from a Swiss banking family who lived in London.
Named after the buyer’s wife, the Dominique used Ford GT40 running gear and displayed an early taste for the space aged and dramatic. With its huge scoops, horizontal rear deck and monstrous wing, the Dominique III wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Thunderbirds cartoon but led to a commission from Lola to make a road going version of its famous T70 racer.
1978 Cadillac Function Car
Many of us are all too familiar with using our cars as mobile offices, if even just to get some peace and quiet for a Zoom meeting over the last few months, but Sbarro took the idea to a whole new level. The result was the Cadillac Function Car; 7.1-metres long, over three tonnes in weight and powered by an 8.2-litre V8 with a side-exit exhaust.
The Cadillac was a mobile office as only Sbarro could dream it with four velour armchairs, a phone, a bulkhead-mounted television and, this being the ‘70s, a fridge and two secretaries’ desks. To support the additional weight a second rear axle was installed, making the car a six-wheeler. A production run of 25 was intended but sadly never happened. One prospective owner even wanted to install a piano.
1979 Windhawk 6x6
The triple-axle layout appeared again the following year in a personal commission for King Khaled of Arabia who requested that Sbarro build him a car specifically for his hobby of falconry. Largely taking place in the desert, traction and power were essential so Sbarro adopted the layout of the Cadillac but this time with Mercedes power to match the rest of his Highness’s garage.
So a 6.9-litre Mercedes V8 drove all six wheels while a 350-litre petrol tank allowed for sufficient range. Ground clearance could be raised hydraulically as could the seats to allow the hunter to release the birds without leaving the vehicle. The falcons themselves got their own fridge for storing treats of raw meat.
1981 Sbarro Super Twelve
And now for something completely different; could this be the smallest supercar ever? The Super Twelve was, as its name suggests, powered by two six-cylinder Kawasaki motorcycle units which were transversely mid-mounted. Each retained its own five-speed gearbox and powered a single rear wheel each via a belt drive system.
Just 3.1-metres long, weighing 800kg and producing 240PS (177kW), the Super Twelve really could outrun the supercars of its day and even introduced the world to finned side scoops a full two years before the Ferrari Testarossa. Sbarro decided the car was rather too much of a handful to drive and so three years later created the Super Eight; same formula but with Ferrari V8 power.
1983 Volkswagen Golf Turbo
We’ve all wished for better engine access after soothing skinned knuckles post-weekend maintenance but the Sbarro Golf Turbo took this to extremes. The engine itself was a 330PS (243kW) flat-six from a Porsche 911 Turbo mounted in place of the Golf’s rear seats and driving the back wheels.
Rather than a clamshell to allow access, Sbarro opted for a hydraulic system that rotated the entire rest of the car around the front axle to clear the engine subframe. When not presenting like a baboon the Golf Turbo was relatively subtle for a Sbarro, the only obvious differences being much-widened front and rear tracks and side scoops behind the doors.
1985 Sbarro Challenge
If any Sbarro is familiar to the wider public it would be the Challenge which was a genuine sensation at the 1985 Geneva Motor Show, where all Sbarro’s wild creations debuted. Boasting a drag coefficient of 0.26Cd, it looks like the weekend wheels of Buck Rogers and includes appropriate technology. Well at least for the mid-1980s.
The windscreen can slide forward to create a sunroof, the wiper itself is a rotating, brush-type affair and the wing mirrors are replaced with a rear-mounted camera and TV screens mounted on either side of the cabin. Power comes from a twin-turbocharged Mercedes V8 driving all four wheels with roof-mounted air brakes increasing the stopping power. Sbarro followed it up with a 2+2 version.
1987 Sbarro Monster G
If you only take away one fact from this article please let it be that the Monster G used wheels from the undercarriage of a 747 Jumbo Jet which were 20 inches in diameter and 14 inches wide. The chassis they were attached too was slightly more conventional, coming from a Range Rover and the eagle-eyed will spot that the rear light comes from the same donor vehicle, albeit doubled up.
Under the bonnet – and sending its exhaust straight out through vertical stacks – was a 6.4-litre Mercedes V8 while the body was made of Kevlar. Clearly made to go anywhere, the Monster G came with a mini motorbike in the back in case it somehow became stranded.
Elegance, restraint, beauty. Those are just some of the words rarely used to describe Sbarro’s flights of fancy. Yet they can all definitely apply to his reinterpretation of the Lancia Stratos, which to our eyes looks superior to the later recreation.
Perhaps the restraint came from the fact the Sbarro was not the lead designer but instead mentoring a group of design students to create the car. Then all the weirdness comes rushing back when you discover that the car is powered by two Lancia five-cylinder engines mounted upside down to create an inverted V10 with Mercedes exhausts powering all four wheels using Porsche hardware and stopped by Alfa Romeo brakes.
1998 Renault Espera Espace Spider
Having perfected the art of making hatchbacks entirely unfit for purpose Sbarro turned his attention to larger family transport. His starting point was the original Renault Espace, made by Matra, with the goal, obviously, of turning it into a roofless, windscreen-less track transporter for Le Mans VIPs.
The driver and front-seat passenger each get their own single-seat cockpit while the three rear passengers are arranged in a V-formation because... reasons. Power, sadly, was not a Renault V10 but the V6 soon to make its debut in the production Espace. The Le Mans officials liked it enough to commission two further roofless designs for shuttling VIPs around Le Sarthe.
2002 Sbarro Espera Picasso Cup
Finally, one more family car flight of fancy from the fertile mind of Franco. This time is was the Citroën Picasso which got the unsubtle sports car treatment. The enormously extended arches and rear wing are only the start of it; both front and rear doors on either side were replaced with giant single gullwings.
Internally the car came with four race seats, harnesses and a full cage. Power came from a tweaked 2.0-litre engine from the Peugeot 306 S16, developing 250PS (184kW) for the family that is always really, really late for school.
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