Daewoo isn’t a brand that screams automotive enthusiasm, but for a brief time in the mid-1990s, it had exactly that aspiration. As it planned a new slogan, “Daewoo, that’s who” it was also in the process of having Italdesign pen a concept that truly made the most of humble underpinnings. That project was the Bucrane Concept car, and the deeper one looks at it the stranger it gets.
Throughout most of its history leading up to 1995, Daewoo was a Korean automaker known for building inexpensive people-movers. By contrast, in the mid 1990s Italdesign had finished work on gorgeous machines like the BMW Nazca, the Subaru SVX, and the Toyota Aristo/Lexus GS.
Those were only the latest in a string of successful designs dating back to the start of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s career. Remember, Italdesign is also responsible for the BMW M1, the Hyundai Pony, the Italdesign Aztec, and the DMC DeLorean.
It made sense, then, for Daewoo — who was trying to increase interest in its brand — to try standing on this Italian giant’s shoulders, especially since Daewoo had already used Italian design house Bertone for a previous car, the Espero:
If that’s what Bertone did, maybe Italdesign could do better?
Enter The Bucrane
The car resulting from the tie-up with Italdesign is the Bucrane, which the designer describes as “a stylish, prestigious four-seat hatchback coupe with formal references to the design of the 1960s.” Think of it as sort of a competitor to the Hyundai Tiburon, which debuted around this time.
A write-up from TopGear explains a bit of the intended underlying powertrain:
This is where it gets exciting – the engine is a 3.2-litre V6, pumping out 240bhp and 228 ft-lb of torque. Where it gets less exciting is when you find out that power is sent to the front wheels through a four-speed auto box. Oh well, it’s not real anyway. There was no word on performance figures, if the car ever got that far. It was said to have a kerbweight of around 1,400kg, which would have made for spritely if not earth-shattering performance.
To look at a still image of it, that description isn’t too crazy but watching it show off its party trick is another thing altogether.
Like any good concept, the Bucrane is flashy and it gets that shine from its wacky door setup. The doors themselves open like any other everyday car door. The windows, however, fly up into the air like they would if they were attached to gull-wing doors. Perhaps this is the only case in history of gull-wing windows, and that’s probably good considering how impractical they are.
According to Italdesgin, “The two-stage system of access to the passenger compartment involved a door opening maneuvre that triggered the raising of the window and the transparent half-roof in a wing-like movement.” Having scoured the few original source materials surrounding the Bucrane it doesn’t appear as though there’s any record of exactly how they function. The video below does show one very short clip of one moving but the hinges aren’t visible and we never see the window finish its movement.
In theory, one could simply pull the door handle, deftly avoid getting hit by the window itself as it raised up out of the way, and then slide in. These same window panels were meant to be removable to provide an open-air experience. One very quick shot of the panel getting lifted off of the roof appears to show attachment points at the fore and aft sections on the upper spine of the removable window. Presumably, a mechanical link would swing them up when one pulled the door handle. It’s pure supposition but it would’ve likely been possible to drive the car with the gull-wing windows in their fully extended position.
If those features aren’t enough to sell you on just how sporty and exotic the Bucrane was perhaps the cameo from a famous Lamborghini concept will help. The same year that Italdesign penned the Bucrane it worked on a V10 supercar design for the House of the Raging Bull — a design that ended up being the Cala Concept. Someone somewhere somehow green-lit one shot of the Bucrane promo video below where it appears to drag race the Cala (you’ll have to excuse the low resolution):
Sadly, or maybe correctly due to the impracticality of these doors, the Bucrane never sniffed production. Actually, neither did the Lamborghini Cala… maybe this video with the Bucrane cursed it! Regardless, Daewoo itself would end up getting bought out by General Motors and would later turn into a Korean division of Chevrolet. For instance, the Chevy Spark solid in the USA and the Matiz sold in absurd volumes overseas were both rebadged Daewoos.
Despite numerous attempts to get someone from Italdesign to explain to me how the two cars ended up in the same promo, the company has yet to respond. Nevertheless, it goes down as one of the strangest collaborations in a single video that I’ve ever seen, even if both cars were designed by the same legendary firm. Who would think to build such a strange car? Daewoo, that’s who.
Here’s where the story takes an interesting turn.
Around this time, Daewoo would end up hitting a lot of trouble as the larger financial crisis in Asia coupled with apparent leadership issues resulted in the company getting sold off to partner General Motors. There are some good details about what happened, and on former Daewoo CEO and founder Kim Woo-choong, in this Reuters obit:
In 1989, Kim published a book that galvanized a new generation of South Koreans with bright dreams for the future. Titled “The World is Wide and There is a Lot to Do,” its English version was called “Every Street is Paved With Gold”.
But Kim’s aggressive leveraged expansion, which swelled the group to 41 affiliate companies, helped push South Korea to the brink of national default during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s.
Once admired as a hero, Kim fled South Korea in 1999 when Daewoo collapsed with debts of more than $75 billion, forcing the government to step in and take control, leaving taxpayers holding the bag.
The car would never get built, or at least it would never get built as a Daewoo. Around the time of Daewoo’s collapse, ItalDesign did work for nearby Maserati, resulting in the Maserati 3200 GT.
There’s no historical mention of an official connection between the two but huh, that looks pretty familiar, doesn’t it?