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Ten quirky Olympic-themed cars | Axon’s Automotive Anorak

12th August 2021
Gary Axon

With the first stage of the Tokyo 2020 summer Olympic games already a receding memory, we can now celebrate Team GB’s second highest-ever overseas medal count (65, including 20 gold medals) as we have a moment to regroup and brace ourselves for hopefully some more Team GB successes in the pending Paralympics.

To mark an outstanding Tokyo 2020, delayed by twelve months and set in the most bizarre and challenging of circumstances, here are ten Olympic-related cars to savour.

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Opel Olympia

Opel once had a great fondness for the Olympia model name, first using this tag in 1935 for its latest mid-sized family saloon, Germany's first mass-produced car with an all-steel unitised monocoque body no less!

This initial Olympia was a popular model, with more than 168,000 examples built, the car lasting until the outbreak of war, and then revived after the hostilities to gain a second life from 1947–49.

Opel retained the Olympia name for its all-new top-line Rekord range in 1950, before phasing out this derivative in 1953. Popular demand saw Olympia raise once more from the Olympic flames however in August 1967, when the more prestigious Kadett B-based Olympia A was revived in two- and four-door fastback saloon and coupe forms, powered by a quartet of four-cylinder engines, ranging from 1.1 to 1.9 litres. A price premium over the visually similar Kadett B made the Olympia B a hard sell for Opel dealers though, and the model was quietly dropped in 1970 with the model name then consigned to the history books, possible for ever more.

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Rover 25 and 45 Olympic Impression Team GB Special Edition

A low cost German supermarket (Aldi) becoming a major sponsor of Team GB for the Olympics seems wrong somehow as surely the Team GB partner should be a British company! As if to prove the point, in February 2002 for the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, that most British of car makers, Rover, announced a commemorative range of 'Olympic Impression' special edition 25 and 45 models, featuring additional equipment over the standard models, including red, white and blue Olympic 'Team GB' and 'Impression' liveries, plus 15-inch alloy wheels, remote central door locking, air conditioning, electric front windows and even a CD tuner, quite a luxury almost 20 years ago.

Rover supported UK Athletics and Team GB as the official car suppliers and blatantly used this close connection to promote the chance to win a Rover 25 Olympic Impression SE or a trip to the Olympic Winter Games via an in-dealer competition to cunningly increase MG Rover showroom traffic. Ultimately this opportunist promotion didn’t help Rover’s long-term survival under the questionable Phoenix consortium though, with the MG Rover Group expiring in Spring 2005.

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Alpine A106

Alpine skiing is always a popular perennial feature of the Winter Olympics, with the Alpine name also proving a hit with car makers (as both a marque and a model, such as the Sunbeam Alpine of the 1960s and 1980s Talbot five-door rep-mobile).

In the early 1950s Dieppe-based Jean Redélé was Renault’s youngest dealer in France, as well as an ambitious and keen rally driver, successfully campaigning a rear-engine 4CV in the 1950 Dieppe-Rouen Rallye and graduating on to competitive events based in the French Alps. Redélé’s first bespoke competition car was a 4CV-based lightweight ‘Berlinetta’, this model being inspired by the 1954 Marquis, a pioneering fibre-glass Renault-derived coupe acquired for production under licence in the USA, but which had never entered production. He also took considerable inspiration from a pretty Allemano bodied one-off 4CV prototype too.

Debuting at the 1955 Paris Motor Show, Redélé launched his production version of this 21PS (15kW) 4CV Coupe as the A106 under his new Alpine brand name (the name chosen as a memento of his first victory in the 1954 Coupe des Alpes Rallye), setting in motion a proud heritage of rear-engined Renault-based sportscars, such as the iconic A110 Berlinetta, A310 and A610, with the marque more recently revived via the acclaimed (and now mid-engined) new A110.

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Jowett Javelin

Bradford-based Jowett built its first passenger car in 1913, soon gaining a reputation for making a series of simple but tough two-cylinder models. It was the Javelin of 1946, however, that really turned Jowett’s public image around with one of the few all-new cars to be launched immediately post-war.

It featured ultra-modern light and aerodynamic modern four-door coachwork, quite unlike anything that either Jowett – or its British competitors – had produced before. Featuring an advance unitary body/chassis construction, allied to all-rounder torsion-bar suspension and rack-and-pinion steering, the aptly-named Javelin flew through the air, with its flat-four 1.5-litre 51PS (38kW) engine capable of propelling the slick Jowett along at 80mph.

Sadly this cleverly-engineered motor would prove to be the Javelin’s downfall when early short-lived durability problems ruined the model’s reputation, not helped by rival Ford buying the Javelin’s body supplier, ultimately forcing Jowett into bankruptcy in 1954. AMC-Rambler revived the Javelin name for its sporting Ford Mustang-rivalling coupe in the late 1960s, but that’s another story… 

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Volkswagen Golf

Golf was one of the surprise sporting activities chosen for this year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with the omnipresent Golf car being as popular as the ball game, although Volkswagen supposedly chose the Golf name after a Gulf wind (to tie-in with its wind-themed Scirocco, Bora, Passat etc.), rather than the sedate sporting pastime for Pringle-wearing folk that enjoy a good walk.

By the early 1970s VW was in desperate need to replace its ageing rear-engined Beetle. Mercifully, its 1969 acquisition of NSU and its appealingly modern production-ready front-engined, front-wheel-drive K70 model showed VW that the way forward did not remain in archaic rear-engined air-cooled fossils.

Wolfsburg wisely sought outside help with the styling expertise of ItalDesign, and by late 1974 Beetle’s long-overdue successor was introduced, the thoroughly modern Golf hatchback, using a (by then) utterly conventional transversely-mounted front-engine, allied to front-wheel-drive, with the competent model quickly setting the standard for the European small family car norm, helped by exciting lively derivatives such as the GTI of 1976 and Cabriolet of 1979. The Golf remains the dominant force in the mid-size C-sector today, now in its eighth generation.

Renault/Eagle Medallion

Medallions are what every Olympic athlete strives for during the Games, and in automotive form, the Medallion had to work almost as hard for recognition as the Olympians do, as the car had a troubled launch.

Conceived as an Americanised version of the Renault 21, the Medallion was introduced in 1987 wearing the familiar Renault diamond lozenge logo, planned to be sold alongside AMC Eagle and Jeep models in AMC’s North American showrooms.

Only a handful of Medallions were every sold with Renault branding though, as just weeks after the model’s American introduction, the Chrysler Group took over the ailing AMC operations, mainly to get its hands on the potentially profitable Jeep 4x4 side of the business. The Medallion was caught in limbo, the model hastily being re-branded as Eagle (along with its larger AMC-developed Premier sibling) but soon dropped as an unwanted and unloved orphan by 1989, never able to claim a podium finish.

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Midas Gold

Designed by the talented Richard Oakes as a fitting successor to the popular but ugly Mini Marcos, the ultra-professional Midas coupe first saw the light of day in 1978 as a thorough and high-quality Mini-based kit car.

Gradual evolutions to the cheeky alternative hatch, aided by welcome suggestions and arms-length guidance of ex-Brabham and McLaren F1 engineering genius and Midas fan Gordon Murray, saw three distinct ‘trim levels’ announced in 1981. The base home-build kit was sold as the Bronze, with the Silver being the interim kit with some of the mechanical assembly work already done, and the Gold being the ultimate Midas kit, using all-new componentry with minimal self-assembly work required.

Further Gold improvements came in 1985 with more modern Austin Metro parts replacing the previous Mini units, with a short-lived Gold Convertible version being added to the Midas range in 1989, giving something for all kit car fans to strive for, until production prematurely ended due to fire totally destroying the Corby-based Midas factory.

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Hyundai Stellar Gold Medal Special Edition

To help celebrate the 1988 Summer Olympics being held in Seoul, then-fledgling South Korean car maker Hyundai introduced a special edition Gold Medal version of its slow-selling Stellar executive saloon that same year, partly to help shift unsold stocks of this forgettable model, despite sharing poor man’s contemporary Maserati Quattroporte styling from the talented studios of ItalDesign in Turin.

Painted metallic gold with the official 1988 Seoul Olympics logo stuck on the front doors via poorly-applied local decals, this special Stellar had the desired effect of helping to reduce the stock of remaining unsold executive Hyundais at a time when the brand was just finding its feet, and sold on the merit of strong value for money and reliability, rather than cutting-edge design, desirability and clever low emission models as Hyundai does today.

Rochdale Olympic

Offered in self-assembly kit form from 1959 to 1973, the Rochdale Olympic can arguably claim the shared title of the world’s first fibreglass monocoque construction with the more celebrated Lotus Elite, these two British specialist coupes being launched around the same time in 1959.

Designed by Richard Parker, the Olympic was a stylish two-plus-two coupe, usually powered by BMC 1.5-litre engines, with the Ford 109E motor being a popular alternative, and Ford power becoming the mainstream choice for the improved Phase II models launched in 1963. By the time production had fizzled out, due largely to the introduction of VAT taking its toll on self-build kit cars in 1973, Rochdale had made around 250 Olympics.

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Renault Espace V6 ‘Olympique 92’ Albertville Edition

For the 1992 Winter Olympics, staged in and around the French Alpine resort of Albertville, local (and then State-owned) vehicle producer Renault lent 1,500 cars to the Olympic Organisation Committee and used its involvement to launch a range of limited edition ‘Olympique 92’ models to mark the occasion, all painted glacier white and equipped with bespoke Olympic badges.

Each special Olympique model also featured the official Albertville 92 logo and white wheels, these being either hubcaps or alloy wheels, depending on the car in question.

This extensive limited edition range included a Clio Olympic 92 (the most prolific model with around 1,100 examples built), plus a 19, 21, 25, Espace (mostly V6s), Jeep Cherokee (the American 4x4 brand then being distributed by Renault in France due to its former AMC connections), plus the real star of the show, the Alpine A610, with just two examples of this desirable rear-engined V6 sportscar being built in Olympique form, these even being joined by special all-white Traffic van and Renault coach models!

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