Last week, I told you all about the Allard Clipper, Britain's (and possibly Europe's) first fiberglass car. Shortly after the Clipper disaster, fiberglass became accepted and an enterprising Australian who had never built a car before brought the technology down under.
The Buckle family had been importing cars like Citroens and Triumphs and retrofitting them for the Australian market to sell on their own lots for decades when, in 1947, Bill Buckle Sr. died passing the company along to his ambitious son, Bill Jr. Junior was keen to grow the company from importing and selling cars, to building cars, and in 1953 traveled to London where he first saw one made from a revolutionary new material: fiberglass. He knew instantly that this was a way to make his dream a reality. Steel and aluminum along with the facilities to work with metal were prohibitively expensive, but with fiberglass, Bill figured he could bang out the thing himself. So, he learned all he could and headed home to persuade the company to give him the go ahead to build a car. Bill had no idea what he was doing, but he had an idea of what would sell. A light, nimble sports car, but with room for luggage. Design took about a year with Bill and a couple engineers sketching and then making a plaster of paris model.
"We made it by doing some rough sketches on paper, then building a little model of what our sketches looked like, and from that building a full-scale plaster of paris model of the car. You may think it sounds fairly straightforward. So did we, until we tried. However, after spending several thousand man hours on the job we knew differently. Firstly, we had to get a shape which looked pretty right. Then we had to combine that with an envelope to contain people, luggage, engine and other mechancical parts. We had to arrange it so that there was room to get at all the components, and that a mechanic wouldn't have to take the car to pieces merely to make a simple adjustment - one of the bugbears of limited-production cars. So we changed and altered and covered ourselves and the shop liberally with plaster of paris."
He chose the Australian Ford Zephyr for the chassis and mechanical parts because with its straight-rail chassis, live rear axle and independent front suspension, Bill thought it handled right. He had some experience racing Citroens, so knew what he was looking for in terms of performance. He boosted the Zephyr's 86HP up to 127 with dual carbs and Raymond Mays six-port heads. By mid 1955 they had a prototype and, after some tweaking, the handsome Buckle Coupe went into production in 1957.
I really like it. It's got an obvious AC face and some early Corvette in the fenders. It also gives off a general Triumph vibe to me. The bulgy roofline is a little awkward, but it looks like it has good headroom for a small car. It weighed 1900 lbs. and had a top speed of around 100 mph. It was a pretty good performer and raced quite successfully especially in hillclimb events. It wasn't cheap, however, and was rather complicated to build for a company that had never produced a car before, so production stopped after 20 cars. But, Bill Jr. now the had the experience he needed to try again. He saw a gap in the market with inexpensive microcars which were taking off in Europe, but were unavailable in Australia. So, Bill returned to Europe and went to the home of one of the most successful microcars of the time, Dingolfing, Bavaria and the headquarters of Goggomobil where he worked out a deal to bring the little things down to Oz.
Goggomobils could be had in coupe or sedan form and came with a variety of engines from 250cc up to 400. Realizing he could save on import duties by bringing in chassis only and then mating fiberglass bodies built by Buckle, Bill saw a great opportunity. He brought home one coupe and one sedan and set about making molds. When those were set, he ordered a shipload's worth of Goggomobil chassis and motors. The cars were small enough that they could be made in pretty much one piece with separate doors, floor, and engine cover. The Australian Goggomobils would be perfect plastic replicas of the German cars at about the same price as they were in their home country. Except for one. Goggomobil built a van, but its larger size and square shape wouldn't be stable as one-piece of fiberglass like the cars.
So, a radical rounded clamshell design was penned. The body and tub were two pieces mated together with a thick rubber gasket. I absolutely adore the side roll-up door.
Unfortunately, only a handful of vans were built as I think they were too cute and may have taken over like tribbles had production been allowed to continue.
Fiberglass was lighter than steel making the 300 and 400cc motors feel a little peppier. This gave Bill another idea. He would build a Goggo-based sports car. With the help of racecar builder Stan Brown, Bill designed a pretty little open roadster. He used the same two-piece clamshell process of the van to make production easy and the body strong. The rear window off of a Renault Dauphine served as the windscreen.
He called it the Dart and with the 400cc Goggo engine, it wasn't exactly fast, but was still great fun. Learning from the earlier Buckle sports car, the Dart was kept as simple as possible even eschewing doors. Who needs 'em when your car is about knee-high. There was nothing else like it for sale in Australia and it became a minor hit. It achieved icon status in the 90's when it was featured in a series of Yellow Pages commercials. 700 were built and it's become one of the most popular cars in the microcar collector world.
Buckle stopped building Goggomobils in 1961 and never produced their own car again. The little Goggos were not really money makers and their import car business was still doing well. So, Buckle went back to retrofitting foreign cars for Australia, converting many European and American cars to right hand drive. Australia, like America, didn't really need teeny tiny cars like cities in Europe and Japan, but for a minute there, Bill Buckle convinced them they did while introducing them to the magic of fiberglass.
The other cool thing Buckle did with fiberglass was making this sweet Mini "coupe" conversion called the Buckle Monaco: