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Retro: 1959 Goggomobil Dart

By Michael Stahl, 25 Aug 2018 Classic Wheels

Retro: 1959 Goggomobil Dart

It took a TV ad from the ’90s to enlighten Aussies about this microcar from the ’50s

There was always going to be an issue with the name. ‘Goggomobil’ may have been cute in German, being originally derived from a child’s nickname, but in Australia it may as well have been called a Schitzengiggle.

Hans Glas’s farm equipment business had expanded post-WW2 into motor scooters (the ‘Glas-Goggo motorroller’) and then microcars. The first four-wheeler was the Goggomobil T sedan of 1954, a two-door bubble-car initially powered by a rear-mounted, 250cc two-stroke scooter engine, with larger 300 and 400cc versions in 1957.

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A world away, Sydney racing driver and car dealer Bill Buckle was looking to augment his successful De Soto, Citroen and other franchises with small, economical cars. In 1958, Buckle went to Glas’s factory in Dingolfing with an ingenious deal.

Buckle was an early adopter of fibreglass, having produced a handsome, Ford Zephyr-engined coupe in 1954 and eventually building 20 examples of the Buckle 2.5 Coupe (aka Buckle GT) from 1958-’60.
Familiar with Australia’s stiff tariffs on complete cars, Buckle arranged with Goggomobil to import only CKD (completely knocked down) chassis kits; he would replicate the steel body locally in fibreglass. Thus, in 1958, began Australian assembly of Goggomobil sedans and coupes.

Buckle was soon inspired to add a two-seat roadster. Sketching it himself, it was refined by Stan Brown, an ex-Lotus panel man who built the prototype body in aluminium. The production Dart was a doorless monocoque, with separate mouldings for the rear engine lid and dash panel. Just five months elapsed from pen to prototype.

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Launched in 1959 with a 295cc engine, the Goggomobil Dart drew sniffs from sports car snobs – and was loved by younger buyers. Paint schemes were often bright, two-tone or GT-striped. And the price was right: when a 1.0-litre Austin-Healey Sprite cost about £1175, the Dart was just £685.

People forgave the smoking exhaust and sundial-calibrated performance for the fun of driving and being seen in it. Production, which began in September 1959, was soon at seven cars per day – and couldn’t match demand.

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Only a fortnight earlier, however, the death knell for the microcar had begun to ring in distant England. The BMC Mini would bring four seats, four cylinders and affordable fun to the masses. Buckle had produced about 5000 local Goggomobils – sedans, a rare van, and just over 700 Darts – before closing production in September, 1961.

In Germany, meanwhile, the over-ambitious Glas went from almost taking over struggling BMW and Audi in the late-1950s, to being absorbed into BMW in 1966.

More mini than Mini

At 2895mm overall, the Dart was about 160mm shorter than a BMC Mini, which also dwarfed its 1797mm wheelbase. Dart sat on the Goggo’s pressed steel structural platform, with simple swing-axles front and rear, coil springs and telescopic dampers, and good drums within 10-inch wheels. Quick rack-and-pinion steering and a featherlike 360kg made the lively handling quite controllable.

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No hurry, then

Goggomobils were, uhh, motivated by a rear-mounted, air-cooled, two-stroke parallel twin with single carb and a four-speed gearbox in-unit (like a motorcycle). Early 295cc version had 11.1kW/27.4Nm; later, bored 394cc version offered 13.8kW/28.4Nm. Acceleration tests on the 295cc car yielded 0-80km/h in 27 seconds and a standing 400m in 25.1 seconds.

Strip show

Dart was long on fun but short on comfort, lacking doors, windows and instrumentation beyond a central Kienzle speedo. Wet weather meant attaching the (included) soft-top with side curtains, all fixed in place with hardware store fasteners. Nicely vinyl-trimmed interior had rubber floor mats and basic bucket seats that hinged up and back for step-in access. There was no luggage boot; but frog-eye Sprite didn’t have one, either.