Of course it is debatable what exactly makes the best selling points, but in that context I feel it is reasonable to herald the three S’s: Style, Sport and Safety. Back in 1974, a Swedish sports car attempted harnessing all three.
The whole safety aspect didn’t really gain proper momentum until much more recent years, but that just goes to show quite how much foresight today’s car had in 1974. Or maybe its focus on safety was simply due to its national cultural heritage? It is a well known fact that the other marques from the small car-manufacturing Scandinavian country equally had safety in mind when developing cars earlier than most others. And as you might already have guessed from the model name of this car, it is indeed Swedish – named of course after one of their race tracks.
Or at least some of it is Swedish, including the idea itself which was born from the fertile mind of Othmar Beckmann. He created the company OBC to produce a new safety sportscar. It was not just its marketing concept and market niche which was new, for the very idea behind launching OBC Mantorp as a safety sports car was based on a relatively new technique known as sandwich construction. In the case of the OBC, the structural elements consisted of a hard polyurethane foam sandwich with fibreglass reinforced plastic shells on both sides. The technique had however been used before, as the OBC Mantorp’s construction was largely similar to a prototype which the big German plastic company Bayer had put on wheels as early as 1967.
Similarities between the Swedish OBC and the German Bayer went into further detail than just construction, as much of the drivetrain in both cars had been borrowed from BMW. This of course meant (as we were in the late Sixties) that the heart was BMW’s fine M10 engine, well known from the “Neue Klasse” and 02 models. The Mantorp was actually thought of as a basic model which was supposed to utilise a standard engine, but OBC intended to offer no less than four variations over the theme. The other three were also going to be named after racetracks, and with a model line up consisting of Mantorp, Nürburgring, Le Mans and Indianapolis models, only the biggest of ignorants could possibly doubt the brand’s sporting intentions. There was even thoughts about using the 6-cylinder M30 engine too as the E3 saloon also donated suspension and brake parts.
Amazingly, there was even talk of building the car with anti-lock brakes, which surely seemed nothing short of science fiction for a sportscar in 1974. Otherwise, the passive safety of this “safety sportscar” stemmed from the fact that the sandwich construction had far better shock-absorbing properties than the contemporary steel bodies. As a side effect came the inability to rust, greater rigidity and less noise in the car. The disadvantage was the same as with all other similar designs: The production time of the process. But Bayer had, with their old experiments, established that even the expensive process was profitable for small series production anyway – and that was exactly what OBC strived for.
So far so good: Sport and Safety had both clearly been covered. Then we just lack the third element, the Style of the new car. This also took OBC on a trip outside of their home country, but unlike many other spectacular prototypes of the seventies, OBC did not turn to Italy, but chose Germany instead: The task of penning the new OBC went to German Gugelot Design GmbH. It probably doesn’t ring many bells in the car context, and as such the choice may seem a bit risky. But Hans Gugelot was not just another unknown nor was he without talent. He co-founded the famous design school “Hochschule für Gestaltung” in Ulm, and on his personal resume were some of the pioneering designs of the Frankfurt company Braun. Gugelot was in a close collegiate relationship with Dieter Rams, father of the famed ten principles for good design. The two together created the integrated music system below, the 1956 Braun PhonoSuper SK4, which is said to be the first product to exhibit a distinct German functionalism in its design.
So there you have it: Basically all the ingredients for a huge sales success were considered and present. One might even ask how it could possibly go wrong if you were designing a car around the top three selling points? Here an old basic rule from my old MBA-studied friend springs to mind: It’s more about execution than about the idea itself, and (again) in the case of OBC he is right. Creating a brochure about a great idea is not enough, just as actually building a factory is not enough. There are numerous steps in between which must also be in place, and in the case of the OBC they weren’t quite there.
In fact, they frankly weren’t there at all. Some elements of the OBC Mantorp surely must have sounded like science fiction, and that is exactly what the project remained. The reality looked very different from what was portrayed in the glossy brochure. What the motoring press eventually was shown during a presentation did not even remotely resemble the sketch in the brochure. I’m fairly certain that Hans Gugelot can’t possibly have welcomed it either – see below:
It is perhaps all too easy to criticise Gugelot’s original design of the Mantorp, as it basically looks exactly as one would expect of a seventies mid-engined sportscar (I am talking about the brochure car here, not the mule above!). The distinct wedge shape is quite profound, but still several details seem somewhat unfinished and the whole is oddly boring anyway. Apparently the prototype never got an engine either, at which point it requires an abnorm amount of trust and optimism to believe in the project. Not just for you or me today, but in particular for investors in 1974. Except for the municipality of Klippan, Sweden, which OBC convinced to build a factory with the promise of providing work for 100 men who were to build five cars a day. Pure science fiction.
A rather funny detail is this: Who designed the original Bayer prototype from 1967? Exactly: Gugelot Design. So clearly, they really could design a car. And theirs even worked.