This Absurd Wooden Kit Car Was Made By The Aston Martin Lagonda Designer

Hustlertop

The 1970s were a time of wedge-shaped automotive goodness. The era is responsible for some bangers like the Lamborghini Countach, weirdos like the electric CitiCar, and stunning concepts like the Ferrari 512 S Modulo. Then there was the striking Aston Martin Lagonda, one that our Beau Boeckmann loves enough to have multiple of. The designer of the Lagonda, William Towns, also drew up a line of kit cars. His Interstyl Hustler kits are patently absurd, and include a six-wheeler, an amphibious buggy, and even one made out of plywood.

British car designer William Towns was born in 1936. As Channel 4 News writes, his car design career began with the Rootes Group, where he worked on seat styling and door handles. The channel notes that Towns was also involved in the design for the Hillman Hunter. In 1963, Towns joined Rover, where he worked for David Bache, a designer who would later be involved in the Range Rover. With Rover, Towns designed the body of the Rover-BRM gas turbine-powered Le Mans racer. his work was good enough to land him at Aston Martin three years later, where he was back to designing seats. However, as Hemmings writes, Towns spent much of this time with the idea to design his own cars, though he reportedly feared that his ideas wouldn’t sell.

Hustlerwood
Stone Cold Classics

Channel 4 reports that Towns was thrust back into designing cars again with the 1967 Aston Martin DBS. Towns didn’t like the proposals from the Italian coach builder Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera of Milan, and offered up his own. The owner of Aston Martin at the time, David Brown, liked Towns’ designs and decided to go ahead with them (it’s worth noting that, around the same time, Carrozzeria Touring also went out of business).

However, Towns is perhaps best known for his design work on the 1976 Aston Martin Lagonda. In an era when so many cars were wedges, the Lagonda certainly stood out.

Lagonda
Aston Martin

As Hemmings notes, Towns perhaps found inspiration for his own cars from his other work during the era. The 1972 Minissima concept city car was Towns’ idea for a futuristic replacement for the Mini. This little car took the era’s hot wedge design and scaled it down to a size comparable to today’s Smart Fortwo. Later, the 1974 Guyson E12 gave Towns experience working with fiberglass bodywork. And then there was the awesome Microdot, which used large windows as doors. You’ll see this all come together in a moment.

In 1977, Towns left Aston Martin to start his own firm. There, Towns got to work on a new car that looks like an amalgamation of his previous works. First shown to the public in 1978, the Hustler 4 utilized windows that worked as doors like the Microdot.

Hustler4
Towns, pictured, with a Hustler 4 in 1979. CC BY-SA 2.5

It had a fiberglass body like the Guyson E12. And it was a small car with Mini mechanicals like the Minissima. Specifically, an A-Series Mini drivetrain provided power up front and there was a Mini subframe in back.

Reportedly, Towns’ idea was to collaborate with Jensen Special Products. The Hustler was designed to be simple to build, utilizing folded steel that didn’t require a press for manufacturing. Apparently, the idea was to sell some in less-developed countries, as the Hustler didn’t require complex machinery or a high level of skill to build.

Microdot
The Microdot. Malcolma CC BY-SA 2.5

As obscure car history site Below The Radar notes, the prototype had a box-section steel chassis with an integrated roll cage. Fiberglass panels were affixed to the chassis and interior featured those sort of hard plastic chairs that you sat in during elementary school lunch. Ultimately, the Jensen deal fell through, but an undeterred Towns decided to sell his Hustler 4 as a kit under his Interstyl brand.

Here’s where things get really fun. Towns soon started expanding the Hustler into a lineup larger than what some automakers have today. Hemmings describes the long and winding number of models:

Due to the extensibility of fiberglass, he whipped up no less than 15 different models, not counting the nautical Hustler In Wood. The original, dubbed the 4, soon found a litter-mate in the 6, so called for the second Mini axle in the rear. The more powerful Huntsman, based on the Austin Metro, also came in four- or six-wheeled versions, as did the stripped-down Hellcat, the MPV Holiday, and the Force with its more conventional fiberglass doors. The Sport and Sprint were two-seaters, a convertible and a couple, respectively, while the Harrier – like a later evolution of the Minissima – was designed to accommodate a wheelchair via a drop-down door in the rear. Then there were the one-offs, including the Rag Top and the Highlander, a six-wheeler that Towns himself stuffed full of Jaguar V-12.

Sprint
All Car Index

Pictures of most of these models exist thanks to All Car Index.

The Hellcat models were meant to be the entry-level Hustlers. A Hellcat 4 kit was £999 while the Hellcat 6 was £1,150. Pricing for all of the models doesn’t appear to be readily available, but the Hustler 4 was initially supposed to be £2,242.

Hellcat
Autobelle

And that Jaguar V12 Highlander? It was priced at £3,444. Of course, none of those kit prices included donor cars, which Towns figured builders would pick up used.

The version that blows my mind the most is the Hustler In Wood. As the name suggests, these were regular four- and six-wheel Hustlers, but instead of fiberglass body panels, they would sport marine plywood.

Inwood
Stone Cold Classics

As Bonhams writes, this was meant to be the ultimate kit. Instead of shipping the fiberglass panels–which would add cost–Interstyl could just ship the rest of the kit and the builder could go to a lumber yard to source the wood for their car’s body. The builders would then cut and fit the wooden body over their new car. Here’s what that looks like in video.

Of course, since these were kits built by regular people and since some of these people had to literally saw and cut their own wood bodywork, each Interstyl vehicle is different in their own way.

It’s noted that Towns continued to improve his Hustler designs over the years, finding ways to reduce weight while making the build process easier. By the mid-1980s, Interstyl managed to sell some 170 kits. And yet, the madness of Towns’ work doesn’t end there.

Intwood
Bonhams

At some point, Towns made an amphibious version of the Hustler, which was reportedly a Crayford Argocat eight-wheeled amphibious vehicle with that wedge-shaped Hustler bodywork on top. According to Autocar UK, Towns even brewed up a version that had a boat for a roof, too.

Towns apparently had other vehicles in the works, too, from a Hustler sailboat to another, more rounded car that would have been based on a Ford Cortina. For whatever reason, these didn’t materialize, and Towns worked on other projects. Towns died in 1993, leaving behind a legacy of interesting automotive design.

Depending on who you ask, Interstyl sold anywhere between a few hundred to about 500 examples of the Hustler. It’s estimated that about eight people bought the Highlander V12 kit. There is likewise a similar discrepancy in reports in the number of Hustler variations. Hemmings says that there were no less than 15 versions while Below The Radar notes 72 versions.

Blah
RM Sotheby’s

Either way, 15 versions or 72, the Hustler looks like it was a properly silly experience. I’d love a small car that’s mostly all glass, including the doors. And there’s something charming about brutal simplicity like this. I hope to see one of these imported to the United States one day.

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34 Responses

  1. Man, all of these vehicles are eyesores to me. To their credit, at least they are light weight.

    Perhaps the Microdot is something I’d gladly drive though, looks aside. The rest? No thanks…

    All of these are likely very bad for drag, so I don’t imagine their fuel economy at highway speeds is good either.

      1. I take my design out on the open road. Call me crazy!

        That microcar thing you see in my profile? I cruise 45 mph on state highways in it. It only uses about 0.015-0.20 kWh/mile while cruising at 45 mph. It also has almost zero crash worthiness, but I’ve been upgrading it and it will have a roll cage and crushable substructures implemented when it is finished. It has been rear-ended by a truck while stopped at a red light and I was uninjured. Legally, it’s a “bicycle” and thus far there’s been nothing the police have been able to do about it(no drivers license, no title, no tags, no insurance, ect.). If I had to stick to side streets, it wouldn’t be practical to use. Instead, I used it as a daily for years on any road I needed to travel that is not an interstate highway and it now approaches 70,000 miles. Including the cost to build the vehicle, plus any replacement parts, tires, tubes, chain, ect., total ownership cost is slightly below $0.06/mile. That’s cheaper than taking the bus or light rail, but unlike those options, this vehicle offers convenience comparable to a car. I can just get in it and go where I need to. No waiting for a bus, no walking to the MetroLink station and waiting for a train then having to transfer to a bus, and I can carry a week’s worth of groceries in the trunk, or a briefcase, or hardhat/vest/tools/computer/medkit/safety goggles to make field visits to job sites.

        If it was a box like the designs in this article, it would easily consume an order of magnitude more energy per mile and get some very crap range as a result, and wouldn’t be very pedalable either with the motor disabled. I only have an 18 lb 1.5 kWh battery in it, and get 150-200 miles range at 30-35 mph cruising speeds, dropping to about 70-100 miles at 40-45 mph. If I designed it like the items in this article, range would only be 15-20 miles!

        With further drag reduction, given that my design is not nearly as aerodynamically clean as is possible(the outboard wheels are especially terrible for drag), I think I could double or triple its efficiency.

        I did some coast down testing and derived frontal area from taking a photo from far away and measuring it. Accounting for rolling resistance coefficient, my overall CdA value ended up at 0.20 m^2. Frontal area turned out to be 0.58 m^2. This means a drag coefficient of 0.34. The average new car produced by the major auto makers didn’t match this drag coefficient value until the mid 1990s. Keep in mind, I did this without a wind tunnel, only very basic knowledge of aerodynamics, AND had the penalty of both outboard wheels and no windshield. The auto industry could have done way better than that almost a century ago, but deliberately chose not to.

        I mention all of this, because it should paint a reason why I LOATHE the designs in this article. They are so damned inefficient. Rant aside, even boxes can be streamlined. These designs likely have a drag coefficient approaching 1.0, but the Toyota Scion xB and Kia Soul have proven that you can streamline a box into the low 0.3 range, like an “aerodynamic” sedan from the 1990s. I’m not sure if the Lagonda designer was aware of the possibility of streamlining boxes into more functional shapes, especially given the time period these cars were built, but it appears that efficiency and function were a complete afterthought.

        At least the Microdot appears to be functional in many ways.

        As for the Lagonda, I wouldn’t want to own one!

        1. oh wow that’s fascinating! yeah, you sure as hell wouldn’t be able to do a lot of what your microcar allows you… no pedal power, of course, and yeah, the drag coefficient in these things is… something that wasn’t taken into consideration in the design stages I’m sure.

          I must say I love all of Towns’ stupid designs. I’m all about efficiency but I appreciate bold, nonsensical designs every now and then. The Lagonda is a personal favourite.

            1. If someone gave me a free Lagonda, it would become the coolest lawn ornament in my hometown. But if I was crazy rich, I’d have a lot of fun taking care of it. My crazy rich garage wouldn’t really have any obscenely expensive new cars, I’d definitely put that money into getting crap cans on the road again (EV conversions certainly on the table).

  2. The Hustler 4 looks just like a real-world Lego car. Actually, most of these cars look pretty much like Lego cars; very upright windshields, lots of 90 and ~45 degree angles at the front and back. There was a old electric Citicar near my office in Brooklyn, years ago, that had a very similar shape. In that case it was a triangular box with a flat windshield on very, very small wheels.

  3. Never heard of these. Pretty cool! Also, they jogged my memory about the OX flat-pack truck that has been in development for so many years (which is now electric). It seems to be in service now in Rwanda. Gotta love flat sides & flat glass!

  4. The Hustler looks scarily like IKEAbot from Futurama. “Enjoy your purchase!” (wheel falls off)

    That said, I irrationally love the Microdot. It looks like something we’d all be zipping around in in the far flung year of TWO THOUSAND.

  5. I’m such a sucker for flat panels*. I love how these look, and some details like the windows that double as doors (or vice-versa) are just lovely. I like the looks of the plywood version but fibreglass seems like a smarter option because of durability and lightness (and, by extension, better mileage).

    (*) except in the Cybertruck. Not even the flat panels do it for me, there’s not a single redeeming quality to that design.

  6. Oh, nice reference to psychedelic drugs in the Microdot, by the way. LSD microdots became popular throughout the 70s in the UK (the gang that made them was caught in 1977, still the biggest drug bust in the UK to this day in terms of single doses – about 6 million). Hard to believe the naming was just a coincidence.

  7. Reminds me of the Africar that Tony Howarth designed. There’s a cool bbc series on his trip in them from the arctic down to Cape Town on YouTube. Those had a fully plywood chassis as well. They used Citroen gs running gear. I found a copy of his book a couple of years ago in used bookstore in Alabama. The Africar is probably worth a write-up sometime.

  8. As an aside, the Lagonda always looked like Towns snuck an early concept drawing of what would become the 1977 Chevy Caprice out of GM Design and built it without the compromises to buildability and functionality that car needed (to sum those up, Lagonda owners could send their shopping-spree purchases home in a taxi. That cab was, of course, a Big Chevrolet.)

    1. I have always had a weak spot for the Lagonda. Although I can understand your reference to the square-body Caprice, in person they have nothing in common including the fact that the Caprice is pretty reliable.

      Seriously, I have always thought that, in black, the Lagonda would make an excellent Evil Super Villain®️ car. I mean, it looks like it costs ‘one million dollars’ …. and a Hustler, now that I see one, seems obviously designed with Mini-me in mind.

  9. Was one of the great things about Britain — you want to build your own car, no problem. As long as it was MOTed and insured.
    Heard that things have changed for the worst in the last five years.
    Completely different in France, where the only kit cars you ever see are British, driven by Brits.
    Trying to get them registered in France is just about impossible.
    Which is strange because I judge that in rural France there are more people happy to spend days getting oily with a car than there are in the UK…

    1. Yes Le passage aux Mines ( obvious French, that’s the French version of the MOT, TUV or the DMV check for a modified car, not the regular check ) of any modified car is a killer and a PITA…

      I know somebody that had to go through it just because he assed a bit of fiberglass spoiler to his car…
      And he had to provide, beside the car, blueprints of the car modified part, before modification, and after modification, each and every bit of component used, with details… And that’s just for a small mostly esthetical modification.

  10. Classic Brit. Nothing better than pottering in the shed with a cheap and light car.

    Here’s a few of his compatriots who would agree: Henry Austin, Cecil Kimber (MG T-series), Henry Morgan, Alec Issigonis (Mini), Colin Chapman, Lawrie Bond (Berkeley Sports, Bond Minicar), John Cooper, Tom Karen (Bond Bug, Reliant Robin), Gordon Murray (Midas Rocket, T.25, OX truck), Niki Smart (Ariel Atom).

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