By on January 25, 2016

06 - 1972 Gazelle Kit Car in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

Trying to track down the history of all the varieties of fiberglass-bodied kit cars intended to look something like the Mercedes-Benz SSK will drive you crazy in a hurry because so many companies building these cars popped up in the 1970s and 1980s. You could build an “SSK” based on hardware from a Chevy Chevette, a Ford Pinto, or a VW Type 1 Beetle. Many did. Because Classic Motor Carriages and Fiberfab and Tiffany Motor Cars all called their versions “Gazelle” (trying to parse the relationships between those companies is like deciphering the wiring in a Porsche 928), this has become the generic term for these cars.

Anyway, here is an early variety of Gazelle, built on a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle pan, that I found in a Denver yard a few weeks ago.
08 - 1972 Gazelle Kit Car in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

About the one thing all these cars had in common was this grille, no doubt manufactured in a dodgy facility owned by shadowy Cayman Island investors.

13 - 1972 Gazelle Kit Car in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

The riveted-on manufacturer’s tag is long gone from this car, but I’m guessing it’s a Tiffany.

14 - 1972 Gazelle Kit Car in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

It had been sitting outdoors for many, many years prior to arriving here, and the Colorado sun has had its way with the stuff made of wood, cloth, and leather.

21 - 1972 Gazelle Kit Car in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

VW used generators (which suck) for many years after most other manufacturers switched to alternators. The electrical demands of a Gazelle weren’t very serious, so this rig probably worked well enough.

11 - 1972 Gazelle Kit Car in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

Look, safety! If you want to know how these cars were assembled, you can still find the manual (PDF).

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30 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1972 “Gazelle” Mercedes-Benz SSK Replica...”


  • avatar
    -Nate

    I’m shocked no one has yanked the twin port 1600 C.C. engine ~ even if it’s stuck they’re cheap and dead simple to overhaul/rebuild .

    VW’s didn’t need much electricity so generators were fine .

    This thing looks wretchedly poorly designed and assembled ~ the trunk isn’t sealed so it must have had cold & dirty air flowing through it always .

    Fiberglass cars are always death traps , worse than any year air cooled VW .

    There’s been one of these for sale ($1,000 IIRC) in the Long Beach Pick-A-Part on Blinn for months now , no one wants it . those grilles were made of tin foil .

    -Nate

  • avatar

    I f**king hate these things because around this time of year, Gazelles appear out of the garages, their condo carports, their Uncle Bob’s Storage bays, unsheathed from their weathered Griot’s one-size-fits-some car covers, and trundle aimlessly around Pinellas County piloted by bespectacled octogenarians with their tan jackets and little Newsies-style caps with either un-humored wife or wearing-the-same-outfit dog riding shotgun.

    When they’re not Gazelling, they always seem to stop by to look at a late model convertible I have. They pull up in a Town & County or Lucerne or CR-V so I’m none the wiser. They spend a good hour with me while I do a walk-around of a CLK or SLK or 128 or whatever, they drive it, their wife drives it, they like it, then they tell me, “We’ll be back tomorrow. I have a great little Mercedes roadster I want to trade in.”

    And then they come back.

    In a Gazelle.

    …and they always want $6500 for it.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    This is utterly terrible. The late model Millenia is almost -too good- to sit next to this thing, and that’s really saying something.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang…LOL

  • avatar
    JimZ

    does anyone else cringe at the sight of four wheel drum brakes?

    • 0 avatar
      hudson

      I hate drums period. Almost always give me more problems than disk brakes. I was constantly getting them cleaned and adjusted on my Dakotas. My Fiat 850 Sport Coupe pushed a piston out of the cylinder because they had worn passed the spec for the car, but not the spec on the drum (fiat used the same drum for ever). Single circuit system as well, so NO BRAKES at all at that point. Good times.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I’ve never understood the whole rebody-a-beetle-as-something-else thing. Even if it looked absolutely perfect (which I’m guessing never came remotely close to happening), why? Why? You’re still driving a f**king Beetle! About the only reason I could see doing it is as some kind of snarky send-up, a raised middle-finger to the snobs who drive the real thing. But I don’t get the feeling that’s how it was usually perceived. I just don’t understand…

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      look up the Zimmer Quicksilver, and you’ll be asking why anyone would want to re-body a Fiero.

    • 0 avatar
      hudson

      Dying for the look (even if it’s just at a distance). Don’t have the money. Didn’t know or care that it didn’t sound remotely correct. Same can be said for all the Lambo clones.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      I agree with the rebody thing, but I did dig some of the hood and trunk swaps that were available back in the 70s. There was no real pretense to them, just a bit of silly fun for no more effort and expense than swapping out a couple of parts in the driveway. The Rolls hood was pretty common, but my favorite was a Morris Minor set of hood and trunk lids that gave the owner something pretty unique at a time when Beetles were ubiquitous.

    • 0 avatar
      I've got a Jaaaaag

      Simplicity and cost, you could remove the body from a beetle and drive the floor pan. No engineering add in that a used beetle could be bought for pocket change in the 1970s and you have your answer.

      • 0 avatar
        wstarvingteacher

        You have the answer. Spent some time in my life wanting to build a kit car. The advantage was that you still had VW reliability and simplicity. Don’t laugh if you aren’t retirement age. They compared well for a while.

        Never did one. Bathtub Porsche was the main one or a dune buggy. You could still sell me a vw trike or dune buggy.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          VWs of that era are certainly simple.

          As as I understand it, they’re perfectly reliable.

          It’s just they’re reliable on the Russian model (cf. Ural bikes), not the Japanese model.

          The Japanese model of reliablity (ideally) is, “take it in for oil changes and maybe yearly for scheduled maintenance and it runs basically forever”.

          The Russian model is “follow the maintenance instructions which are a lot more intensive than a yearly belt check and fluids, and it will run just fine basically forever”.

          In the VW’s case that means “carry a spare fan belt at all times” …

  • avatar

    I wonder how much the scrapyard pays for a fiberglass kit car.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Ah, kit cars. Friend’s dad built, or had built, two Bradley GTs. Don’t know that he got much use of them, they had to be blazingly hot in the summer, and he lived in Mississippi. Speaking of blazing, both of them caught fire and burned to the waterline not all that long after they were completed.

    The man was a physician by trade, you’d have thought he’d have better sense.

    I shouldn’t impugn all kit cars, I kinda like the Factory Five 818.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      The kit car variants probably suffered from the same problem the VW Beetle donor car did if you didn’t do something about it — the factory fuel line fitting would pop off, spraying the hot engine with gasoline; causing the entire car to be on fire in no time. The cure was aviation grade fuel fittings.

      My wife had a Beetle her former husband redid for her, complete with multiple coats of candy apple red. It was beautiful, but he did nothing about the fuel line, and it popped off on a Houston freeway in rush hour traffic; by the time the fire truck could finally get to it, there was nothing left to save.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Don’t buy an 818. Friend of mine is building one. He is a professional mechanical engineer, and says the kit is an absolute nightmare. Nowhere near as good as it looks, and every one of them seems to be a prototype at this point. Consequently the parts don’t match the instructions… Epically lousy customer support too. His will be great when he gets it done, but that is because he is a professional engineer.

      I really want one of the better Porsche 356 kits, but they are so bloody expensive. If much, much cheaper than the real thing.

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    Only 1 piece of fiberglass on a Vee Dub was cool. Meyers Manx. The rest were nerdmobiles.

  • avatar
    skor

    The only kit car I ever wanted was the Ferrari Daytona Spyder that appeared in the first couple of episodes of Miami Vice. The fake Ferrari body was made by McBurnie Coachcraft and the rolling stock was C3 Corvette. Soon after the show went on the air, Ferrari slapped McBurnie with a ‘cease and desist’. Ferrari offered the producers of Miami Vice the use of two real Ferraris in exchange for the destruction of the two fake cars that appeared on the show. The producers of Miami Vice accepted the offer. One of the kit-car Ferraris was blown up in front of the cameras.

  • avatar
    hawox

    i like the dune buggy, i also like many other well made kit cars, and hot rods.

    but i really don’t like mercedes and rs 550 spyder stiled kit cars based on the beetle.
    never saw a good one, and don’t understand the joy of driving one. the vw beetle is allready funny car to drive and look.

    not to mention that a well made fiber body would be eavier than the beetle steel.

  • avatar
    Nick

    Has anyone ever produced a neo-classic kitcar that wasn’t just horrible?

    There used to be a VW-based Jag 120 kitcar in my hometown and I always desperately wanted to set it on fire just to rid the world of it.


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