Gatso Barchetta “Platje”

Car of the Day #46: 1949 Gatso Barchetta “Platje”

Gatso Barchetta “Platje”
1949 Gatso Barchetta “Platje” • source unknown

Made by a man obsessed with speed…it's not surprising to me that car enthusiasts would be betrayed by one of their own. Let me explain.

The name of this car may sound familiar, well, the first part at least: it was designed by Maurice Gatsonides, from whom we were gifted the speed camera — the ‘Gatso’ camera. 

Despite creating a small range of hand-built sports cars and finding racing success, Gatsonides’ race car company declared bankruptcy shortly after this car was introduced, in 1950…while Gatsonides was busy, out racing somewhere!

That bankruptcy was for the second time, by the way. “The best way to make a small fortune in racing is to start with a big one,” said NASCAR's Junior Johnson, albeit 40 years too late to help ’ol Maurice.

In 1953, the ever-accomplished Gatsonides would even win the Monte Carlo Rally, but I find it funny that his enduring legacy has been in the gathering of speed fines for going too quickly—Gatsonides had initially designed the speed camera to accurately measure cornering speed.

Speed camera, not speeding camera. Otherwise, how else would he know if his driving was improving from lap to lap?

A big problem at the time, and key to its sales pitch, was the clumsy way in which police officers handed out speeding fines, often relying on a stopwatch to time drivers' travel between two fixed points. With reliable proof a motorist had exceeded the limit, the device was an easy way for many municipalities to, uh, redistribute public wealth into the coffers of town councils and police departments.

Plus…broke boy’s gotta eat. Funding sports car production through the sale of speed enforcement devices is either utter genius or a character flaw large enough to drive a streamlined grand touring automobile through at more that 100 mph.

Gatso cars (above) were mostly based on period V8-powered Fords, with various modifications to make them quicker. The main modification? A slippery body said to be inspired by pre-Second World War Auto Union race cars.

Designed to maintain high average speeds, in the '40s, all you really needed was a V8 and slippery bodywork to be quicker than anything else on the road. Neat.

Gatso Platje; note the far less streamlined bodywork of its competition.

In 1949, Gatsonides designed a new type of streamlined racing car, influenced by lessons learned from racing and Gatso's earlier models. Nicknamed Platje, or “Flatty” owing to its low height, it eschewed Ford mechanicals for mostly Fiat parts. 

At its heart was a 1,500-cc inline-6 cylinder engine, a motor obviously smaller than a Ford V8 and so the car wore a more slippery nose. The chassis was a shortened Fiat 1500 piece and the racer is said to have been Dubonnet-derived independent front suspension.

Pushing the limits of metallurgy in 1949—essentially right after the end of the Second World War—is, in hindsight, probably not the best thing to do. In the Flatty’s case, it was handily leading its debut race at Zandvoort before one of its novel-until-they-failed alloy wheels failed at the hub, putting Gatsonides out of the race. 

The second Gatsobankruptcy saw Platje sold for very little, and it was lost for many years before being found by an enthusiast and restored—not to mention completed in time for an elderly Gatsonides to be reunited with his very quick and unexpectedly fragile creation.

One benefit of getting Car of the Day by email is that you’re able to go back and check out the sources, especially if you remember me mentioning the world’s foremost resource on Gatso vehicles, as well as this thorough article on about the inventor. 

In my research, I came across a salient quote of his that I'll end with:

“Never despair when things are not turning out as you expected, but try again. Remain inventive and flexible.” - Maurice Gatsonides

To that end, Happy Weird Pride Day. ✌️


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