Zagato Gatto and they told me social media is supposed to be terrible now

Car of the Day #6: Dream small

Zagato Gatto and they told me social media is supposed to be terrible now
Zagato Gatto coupé

If you’re new here to the daily newsletter, welcome, please read this and then help yourself to past articles using the search function at the top of the website.

If you’re not new, welcome, please brace yourself for a highly condensed version of why it’s important to keep the memory of smaller, arguably more interesting cars alive.

(Not for future generations, mind you, but for the sentient AI that subjugates us with help from a fleet of weaponized 3D-printed microcars modeled after the Quasar Unipower.)

Zagato Gatto at the 1961 Earls Court Motor Show via Motorsport Images

A classic Mini isn’t strictly a microcar, and the Zagato-designed Gatto isn’t strictly relevant to the world at large because only one was made, shown, sold, left for dead, sold, neglected…as the story often goes with coach built prototypes from the ’60s.

Mini expert Jeroen Booij, motoring journalist and author of Maximum Mini 1, 2, and 3, has tracked down the Gatto and is the authority on what’s happening to the car next. (In fact, he has a research service if you’re hoping to track something small down for yourself.)

While it's exceedingly rare now for subcompacts to be rebodied into junior sports cars, back in the 1960s it was a more common practice. Mechanicals from such people’s cars as the Fiat 500, Volkswagen Beetle, Mini Cooper, and even Citroën 2CV were host to a number of distinct derivatives.

This Zagato is notable as one of the first — if not the first — to see the potential in a small, sleek, stylish coupe built on the BMC Mini’s ingenious mechanicals. BMC, for what it’s worth, declined to support Zagato with Mini chassis or other parts.

Zagato Gatto at the 1961 Earls Court Motor Show via Motorsport Images

No worries, the popularity of Minis soon lowered the barrier for modifiers*. Here, the future master Ercole Spada showed the world that it’s possible to transform the mundane into something special and worth remembering. “Gatto” is Italian for cat, by the way.

Debuting in 1961 at the London Motor Show, the Zagato Mini Gatto is a stylish 2+2 coupé version of the Mini hatchback. Wrapping the longer Mini van chassis with a tart, lemon-shouldered Italian body may seem silly—but even at the time, the standard BMC Mini and its derivatives were strong in competition and capable of upsetting faster cars when the conditions were right.

The Gatto, with its aluminum body, was designed by Spada to look and perform at a level beyond a standard Mini, yet retain the car’s low fuel consumption, high maneuverability, and fun-to-drive nature. Politely, it was before its time. 

Zagato tried again with the Hillman Zimp, which was an Imp modified into a GT-styled coupe. Lessons learned: this time, three were made.

*Including one very famous modifier. Ever hear of the IGM Minbug? It’s the first car designed (or rather, modified from a scrap £60 Mini Van) by Gordon Murray. Years ago, Booij tracked the car down and that story is well worth a read when you have a moment.

At Driven To Write, guest contributor (and former Renault design supremo) Patrick le Quément penned a terrific piece that looks back at portions of his career with a more critical eye than many executives from the auto industry would ever cast.

“Of course I’ve been saddened to witness some of the changes that have unfolded over the years, be it the widening gap between what the market offers and the customer’s needs, or the augmentation of the size of vehicles and the weight that goes hand in hand with it. The escalation of complexity leading to a vertiginous inflation of running cost, resulting from the policy of throwing away rather than repairing. Which then leads us to look up how we are doing on the subject of scarcity of materials — talk about the end of one’s rope!” 

via Black Thoughts from Abroad by Patrick le Quément

😎 No biggie, Jalopnik picked up on my piece about the Dailu Mk1 and shared an expanded story with the audience there…

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