All-Cars Autozodiaco Damaca

Car of the Day #55: All-Cars Autozodiaco Damaca

All-Cars Autozodiaco Damaca
All-Cars Autozodiaco Damaca

What would it take for you to be inspired enough to leave your job and do something completely different with your life?

Seeing a shooting star? Watching someone on TV wearing the exact same shirt you are? A health scare that inspires a life led to the fullest?

A Vin Diesel movie…?

To my eyes this looks like the prototype Damaca; note the placeholder headlights and badge-less rear panels. • via allcarindex

Don’t laugh, it could happen to you: this is the story of a former construction worker who went out on his own to create a dune buggy. In Italy. After watching a Hollywood movie four times.

Talk about inspiration, right? But according to Mario Zodiaco, founder of All-Cars Autozodiaco, that's exactly how it happened. 

He worked with his father in construction. He watched Steve McQueen’s impeccably cast and customized Meyers Manx, “Queen Manx,” in The Thomas Crown Affair — and went back to see the movie again, and again, and again.

He quit the construction job and started a used car dealership called All-Cars. The buggy bug bit Zodiaco.

He travelled to the U.S., and by the end of 1968 Zodiaco had shipped back to Italy his very own dune buggy, the Deserter GT. He intended to sell the Deserter GT once he'd evaluated it (and *cough*copied*cough* how the whole thing was put together), and fate did the rest.

After parking the buggy in front of his flat in Bologna, he could hear car horns from the street. Opening his front door, a scene unfolded: his imported Deserter GT, a large crowd…a road blocked.

The public was clearly interested, leading to this Construction worker named Mario Zodiaco envisioning and building his very own Italian buggy, the Autozodiaco Damaca. 

The End.

All-Cars Autozodiaco Damaca

But not really. To reach the Damaca, first we must examine its predecessor, the Autozodiaco Deserter. The Deserter’s story is more akin to an Italian soap opera presented in five nail-biting acts.

ACT ONE: Zodiaco travels to the U.S. in 1968, and by the end of the year, he ships back to Italy his very own dune buggy kit of the Deserter GT. He intended to sell the Deserter once he’d evaluated it (and saw how the whole thing was put together), however, a crowd convinced Zodiaco that he might be on to something. His first car, the Deserter, is heavily inspired by this American dune buggy.

ACT TWO: Italian authorities refuse to approve the Deserter car after Volkswagen gets wind of the project and objects to the use of its engines in a production buggy; Zodiaco finds a loophole and takes on an investor to start production.

ACT THREE: Some 109 orders are placed, but the prototype is stolen — by the investor, who’d scratched off the serial numbers and tried to sell it under his own company, Auto Mirage, after seizing the workshop and sales contacts.

“Meanwhile, for myself, assembling the buggies in Rome was real agony: I had to go to the capital three to five times a week. So it was that a few months later I moved the factory to Pianoro, 8 km from Bologna where, having definitively started All Cars, I also moved the commercial offices.” – Mario Zodiaco, translated, in a letter to

ACT FOUR: Zodiaco hid outside his former partner’s house, and photographed the prototype buggy in the garage. On this evidence, the police seized and returned the prototype to its rightful owner.

ACT FIVE: Now penniless, with car but without an investor, Zodiaco is saved by an angel who saw potential in buggies: the Fiat tuner Giannini. Giannini produces enough buggies in Rome (sold as the Giannini Deserter) for Zodiaco to reinvest his profits into moving production to Pianoro, near Bologna. All-Cars Autozodiaco is finally in business.

For the encore? Call up Tom Tjaarda, designer of the De Tomaso Pantera, and ask him to style your next buggy, a larger 2+bench seat version that would become Damaca.

Damaca was so named after a competition held in Italy’s motorsport magazine, Autosprint. The winner would get…a buggy. “Da” and “ma” came from “Magdalene,” and “ca” from “Carlo Palermo,” the guy who’d suggested the name.

How Carlo was connected to Magdalene is up to your imagination, though a jilted lover’s scenario that begins with “Honey, I had them name a dune buggy after you!” is my choice.

Autozodiaco DAMACA - 1977
Anno 1977Disegnata da Tom Tjaarda - Targhe e documenti Italiani - Rarissima Year 1977Design by Tom Tjarda - Italian registration and papers - Very rare

View the listing above; please get in touch if the car sells or the page doesn’t load. Note: I have no dealings with the dealership Auto Classic but I hope it can appreciate sharing one of its vehicles to a wider audience! There is so little information available on the car that this particular photo set is one of the best references I’ve seen anywhere. • Visit

(Above) Note that even the steering wheel finisher confirms the car was marketed as an ‘ALL-CARS AUTOZODIACO’ (Below) Volkswagen engine and ‘AUTOZODIACO’ stamped into the front seats.

Damaca is unique in its styling—it’s much more road-ready and complete than other buggies. It had two front seats and a rear bench. The engine was fully covered, the tires were (somewhat) enclosed, and there were a number of options available to customize it to taste.

Powered by either a 1500- or 1600-cc Volkswagen flat-4 engine, it was every bit in line with other kit buggies of that era: not fast, fast enough.

Performance? A top speed of 155 km/h (96 mph) and fuel consumption of 8.5 L/100km (27 US mpg) meant it was both affordable to run and quick enough to give drivers a thrill.

(With that much positive camber in the rear, lap belts, and no roll bar, just looking at this open fibreglass casket has me asking: “When’s the wake?”)

Priced at $1,798,000 lire in 1972, the Damaca’s list price was approximately $3,000 Usd. at the time. That’s a bargain even today, at less than $23,000 Usd. in 2024. By now you’ve put two and two together and have realized the 1970s dune buggy game wasn’t as lucrative for the dozens of manufacturers who sought to sell their own version of the Meyers Manx.

After producing a few other vehicles, including a fat tire off-road motorcycle, All-Cars Autozodiaco was sold in 1974. Finally, our favourite former construction worker was able to retire.

Mario Zodiaco bought a sailboat and reportedly wandered around the world, eventually landing in Panama for a number of years.

Again, I ask: what would it take for you to be inspired enough to do something completely different with your life?

Embed from Getty Images

Above: The only interesting…well, any…owner I could find of the Damaca was Prinz Michael von Preußen (2014). Formally known as Wilhelm Heinrich Michael Louis Ferdinand Friedrich Franz Wladimir Prinz von Preussen, he was the great grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II.


Thank you to my supporting members: Ben B., Brad B., Chris G., Daniel G., Damian S., Daniel P., Ingrid P., Karl D., Luis O., Michael J., Michael L., Michelle S., Mike B., Mike L., Mike M., Richard W., Sam L., Wiley H.