Rare Rides: The Obscure Automeccanica Daihatsu Zebra From 1985
Today’s Rare Ride started off as a tiny Japanese hatchback, and morphed into a utility vehicle produced on another continent by a Greek car company.
Let’s check out the Zebra, by Automeccanica.
First, we must discuss Daihatsu. In the early Sixties, the small Japanese manufacturer sold its three-wheel Midget, and some commercial vans and trucks of the Kei persuasion. The company’s first compact car was the Compagno, a stylish ride designed by Vignale. Compagno’s replacement was the subcompact Consorte, which was a rework of Toyota’s Publica sedan. The Consorte was made possible by Toyota and Daihatsu’s then-new partnership.
Once the aged Consorte ran its course, Daihatsu had a replacement of their own design at the ready. They called it Charade. The new Charade entered production in 1977 and was front-engine and front-wheel drive. Power arrived via a 993-cc inline-three engine, a new design that cranked out 55 horsepower. Initially available only as a five-door hatchback, a three-door was added later in the model’s run. Transmissions included a four- and five-speed manual, as well as a two-speed automatic manufactured by Daihatsu. That must’ve been very brisk with 55 horses underfoot.
Charade lasted in its first generation through 1983 before it was replaced by gen-two, and eventually a third generation which we covered at Rare Rides long ago. The third-gen was the one sold in North America. The first Charade was also produced in Indonesia from 1979 to 1983, and in Greece from 1981 to 1985.
Said Greek production leads us to today’s Rare Ride. In Greece, the Zebra was produced by a new car company called Automeccanica. Founded in 1979, the company was created primarily to take advantage of a tax loophole in Greece for “passenger-utility” vehicles. Starting in ’79, Automeccanica assembled the regular Charade and worked to develop a special utility version. Called Zebra, the new utility two-door was based on the three-door Charade underneath but had a much more squared-off body designed by Automeccanica. Focused on utility and nothing else, the Zebra had square wheel arches and a roof and rear made of canvas. It was a new take on the “beach car” idea created by the Citroën Méhari and then copied by the Renault Rodeo.
Aside from the body and roof, pretty much everything else on the Zebra was standard Charade. The Zebra entered production in 1981 and was sold in two different Series models. Series One was identified by its round pre-80 Charade headlamps. Later models switched to the square headlamps (also Charade) and were called Series Two.
But the fun didn’t last long, and by 1985 the special taxation allowed for the passenger-utility vehicle ended, and it could no longer operate under lower commercial taxation rules. As a result, sales fell off and the Zebra was canceled. In total, around 2,000 Zebras were produced. Automeccanica went on to produce a licensed version of the Lada Niva, which it turned into a convertible. The firm lasted until 1995 before it closed its doors.
Today’s Rare Ride is located in Greece and is indexed on one of those car listing pages. One of the last examples produced from the model’s final year, this Zebra’s ask is/was $3,900.
Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Writing things for TTAC since late 2016 from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find me on Twitter @CoreyLewis86, and I also contribute at Forbes Wheels.
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