If there’s anything more amusing than the content on this great website it must be the behind-the-scenes machinations of the staff. The back-and-forth on the workaday messaging platform Slack provides premium-channel-sitcom-level humor on a regular basis, and we’ve shared some of the best of these exchanges on the Tales From The Slack posts that you can see weekly as long as you’re an official Autopian member. You are a member, aren’t you?
However, a question was asked by Mercedes Streeter a few weeks back that got me thinking:
What would the ultimate Autopian car be? While this site prides itself on being open minded to fans of all makes and models, it’s fairly clear that the staff tends to favor vehicles with a certain level of what might be called “character”. I’m not referring to the condition of their sometimes dilapidated vehicles; I am talking about attributes that the car left the showroom with. If we were to attempt to define what this difficult-to-define word means in our motor pool, we could boil it down to a few characteristics:
- Cars with unorthodox mechanical solutions or overly complex systems which were designed to do things ‘better’ but usually don’t, and quite often don’t work at all. Pointless features are also popular. Power doors that cover the climate control vents on a VW Phaeton? Love it!
- Styling and overall design that would be described as ‘acquired tastes’. Cars that mainstream media hacks put onto ‘100 Ugliest Cars’ lists or even ‘World’s Worst Cars’ are prime candidates. Go ahead and dismiss the Pacer or the Citroen DS; what do we care?
- Products from manufacturers that, likely due to the characteristics above, have not been in existence for decades. American Motors or Zastava are good examples.
It’s not that Autopian staffers hate conventionality; they typically just don’t see the point in it. All of this means that if Autopians were asked to design a car that appealed to them, these rather eccentric preferences would come shining through. Auto makers choose conventional solutions for a reason- Autopians don’t want to hear them. Twice the cost and three times the complexity for a ten percent gain in performance? Bring that shit on. Here’s what such a fictional car made up of a collection of automotive bad ideas might have looked like.
Our imaginary car would come from an imaginary place that we’ve visited before:
In 1970, a fastback sedan was launched on the tiny island of Jasonia (Jasonia Automobile Manufacturers) and exported in very small numbers to outside nations. Launched to tremendous fanfare at a Jasonia Emu Racing Park event, the JAM 808 was accompanied by an almost embarrassing press packet. An excerpt:
“Jasonia Automobile Works has used state of the art unproved technologies to attempt what others have achieved through much more basic means.”
The JAM 808 (pronounced YAHHM) sold fairly poorly outside of its birthplace; a dealership was set up in Paris but the French thought that it was “too weird.” Still, it’s quite impressive once you start looking at the unorthodox different-to-be-different features that many Autopians can’t get enough of (which, truth be told, are found on a number of now-classic cars that you might know).
If a car looks like a distorted, inaccurate vision of the future from the perspective of long ago, it’s got Autopian written all over it. Things like Tatras and Citroens get the staff all hot and bothered. Thankfully, this Jasonian-made sedan has just such a look- an aero teardrop shape with skirted rear wheels from a time when cars typically were rectilinear boxes.
source: Aguttes (car for sale)
The nose of any Autopian car worth its salt has to have hidden headlights, but the JAM takes it a step further with a center mounted ‘cyclops’ spotlight that turns with the steering wheel. The US received a small number of them, which necessitated giant rubber ram bar 5MPH bumpers. Besides the massive bumper blocks, the US models require side marker lights that JAM designers made in the shape of engine rotors.
It’s a little known fact that Jasonia fielded a world-class team in the 1976 World Wiffle Ball Championship, so this runout model has the special edition Wiffle Ball Pattern Wheels at each corner (Saab has the lock on the soccer ball shape). The headrests are shaped like heads so that, according to JAM literature, ‘the car will always look fully occupied for the safety of the driver’ (also so that those who patrol HOV lanes might be fooled).
If this near-the-end-of-production 1977 model with New York ‘80085’ plates (Patrick George couldn’t get ‘808’) in the picture above seems a bit dilapidated, get used to it. There are no known running examples of JAMs anywhere on the planet today.
At the other end of the car, the JAM 808 has a two-part backlight similar to that on old Italian exotics like the Lamborghini Espada (well, or a Toyota Prius). However, unlike the Prius, JAM puts the wiper on the vertical section. The proportion of this section requires a cable-driven vertical wiper that sweeps over the entire surface. The JAM puts the taillamps behind this vertical window (like a Maserati Khamsin) so that these lamps get cleaned by the wiper as well, which must be a world first. For markets outside of the US, the license plate can sit behind the glass as well, but Americans make do with a stuck on plate between the ram bars. The rear turn signals sit high up, built into the hatch hinges near the roof. You can also electrically raise the hatch a few inches for flow through ventilation as on various Zagato creations.
The trunk can be expanded by folding the rear seatback- into the ceiling. JAM engineers thought this was an easier way to gain a flat floor.
With the introduction of the rotary engine, it probably seemed unlikely to many people of the 1960s that motors with reciprocating pistons would survive; why make such inherently unbalanced things? Well, we all know that pitfalls and challenges that were never eliminated on this type of motor, but the Autopian car would absolutely have one. Adding to the eccentricity is the fact that the JAM’s rotary power plant would be air cooled as well.
The engine is so small and light that it weighs less than the fluid semi-automatic transaxle used, so you’d end up with a rear weight bias if the motor were placed in front. Jasonian Motor’s solution was to make the JAM rear engined, with a driveshaft sending power to the transaxle in front. Brilliant! An Autopian cannot resist a rear-engined, front wheel drive car.
source: Citroen via Posterama
Brakes and Suspension
Brakes are discs all around, but inboard in front for less unsprung weight. Up front, the suspension is torsion bars and wishbones; it’s actually one torsion bar to act as an anti roll bar as well. The rear features a DeDion setup with coil springs. Basically no other cars did had suspension and braking systems like this, and do you know why? Because most companies are weak, that’s why.
The power steering pump, alternator, and optional air conditioning compressor are all in front as well, powered by a power takeoff on the transaxle (the grille up front is for the A/C condenser and transmission cooler). The windshield wipers are actually powered by a fluid takeoff on the power steering pump. The master cylinder is in the nose of the car, so the brake pedal actually presses on a long metal rod to activate it. The spare tire is up front, and air pressure from the tire is used to operate the retracting headlights. This particular example has twin energy polarizers in it, similar to what Peter Brock controversially put into his racing cars, because orgone energy might not be proven but it just can’t hurt.
It goes without saying that the inside of the JAM is perfect for people that understand standard automobile interior conventions and want absolutely none of it. As with the last NSU Spider (which also doesn’t exist) the rotary theme is taken to extreme levels. A giant rotor form sits dead center of the driver above the single spoke wheel with a drum-type rotating speedometer and side gauges, while smaller switch ‘pods’ flank it. The ‘four in the air’ selector lever for the semi automatic transmission sprouts out of this mess. To truly protect your belongings in theft-prone neighborhoods, you flip a release lever and the glove box can be removed; carried around like a suitcase. Also, Jasonian home market cars are right hand drive, and they didn’t bother moving the hood release over for other markets; ‘safety reasons’ is the excuse for this laziness.
Pop the ashtray off and take it with you!
Heating and ventilation switches are on the floor between the seats, with a sideways mounted radio and ‘main nuclear power plant switch’ parking brake. The optional air conditioning and controls for the front power windows are all located on a center console. That’s rather standard, right? It is, but the console for those items is mounted to the ceiling of the JAM.
Out on the hood, a recessed area visible to the driver has a drum-type tachometer flanked by turn signal and high beam telltales.
Pioneers in any frontier often don’t fare so well, and the demise of Jasonian Automobile Manufacturers in our alternate reality after the 808 was discontinued should surprise no one. Equally unsurprising is the near mythic proportions that the legend of this collection of unconventional ideas would have reached among Autopians today.
The JAM would have lived on as a holy grail of fans of automotive misfits – like us.