It’s funny, but I can’t remember the first time I saw this particular photograph, but I know it was a long time ago, and it’s haunted me ever since. Like most unrepentant gearheads, the act of identifying an obscure car in a photo is one of those things that causes a massive burst of satisfactitonin or pleasurisol or whatever those endorphins are called that make you feel good. And in those times when you can’t identify a given car, when the identification slides away and eludes you, like trying to grab a mayonnaise-slathered eel, it can drive you mad. You can feel the identification just there on the tip of your brain, just out of reach, as the details of the car fecklessly light up neurons tagged with neurons that recognize a piece of a Lancia or Panhard or Vauxhall, but just not quite. It hurts. And, by that metric, this picture has caused more of that sort of pain to car-lovers than any other. Behold, the most-unidentified car on the Internet.
I was reminded of this photograph again because it was tweeted out recently, re-kindling the part of my brain that stays in a holding pattern until this car is identified, definitively.
Here’s the tweet:
Oxford Street, 1962. Apparently, for years, the blue car has remained unidentified. It's been published in magazines and on many car forums yet remains a mystery. pic.twitter.com/1RZb3I1s45
— Bobbie☀️ (@bo66ie29) October 20, 2023
And, of course, the car in question is that blue sports car in the foreground there. There’s something about this particular car that almost feels like some AI-generated thing, as it’s an uncanny mix of forms and shapes and details that almost fit with a surprising number of cars, mostly British, mid-century sports cars: Sunbeam Alpines, Reliant Sabres/Sabras, Mini Marcoses, Unipower GTs, Triumphs, and on and on. And yet somehow this thing has defied identification for years.
The original photo came from a 1968 book called Buses, Trolleys & Trams but there’s no way to know when the mystery car was first identified as a mystery. I’m about certain some late-’60s gearhead spent hours puzzling over that image, and maybe showed it to friends who found it equally confounding, but records of the mystery only really exist in the internet era.
Holy crap! All I did was a quick sketch of what it might look like behind the people blocking it:
There’s so many distinctive details on this thing: that wraparound windshield! The odd door cutlines! That little air-exhaust vent at the rear! Those chrome bumperlets! I feel like I’ve seen these elements on a number of other cars, but all together, like this?
My best guess is it’s likely a one-off, based on, well, something, maybe an Alpine, maybe a Triumph, a Reliant, who knows. The bodywork is likely custom. But that’s kind of a copout answer, isn’t it?
For as long as this car has been posted online, the one thing I can definitively say is that it has never been posted to this audience, the Autopian Brain Trust, and that seems wrong. A wrong that we’re going to correct, right now. I think this particular, spectacular, obsessive group of car-weirdos may be the best collective entity to once and for all figure out what the hell this car is.
Everyone up to give it a try? Speculate, research, and discuss? I feel like by doing so we’re continuing a glorious automotive tradition, one that needs to be kept going, perhaps forever, as maybe this is one of those cases where the search is the real reward?
Either that or we need to pool our resources and build a time machine to go back to this time and place in London and just yank that door open and ask whomever is inside just what the hell this thing is.
And after that we can swing by and kill baby Hitler before we head home, maybe after we go back a bit and see what dodo tasted like.
Okay! Everyone ready to get driven crazy by this thing? Off we go!