Rare Rides: Rad Van Time With the 1998 Citron Berlingo Calao, by Sbarro

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Today’s Rare Ride started off as a standard and rather uninteresting Citroën Berlingo van, and was then thoroughly edited by Sbarro into a windsurfing-oriented beach vehicle.

It’s a lot to process, visually speaking.

The Berlingo went on sale for the 1997 model year, alongside its twin the Peugeot Partner. Two body styles were available in the Berlingo’s first generation, a small panel van with four or five doors, and a five-door “leisure activity vehicle,” which is the European name for a short-wheelbase van like the Ford Transit Connect.

Power was provided via a range of inline-four engines that ranged in size from 1.4 to 2.0 liters. There were a few EV examples too, sold as the Berlingo Electrique. In very European fashion, all vans were equipped with a five-speed manual transmission. Tidy in its dimensions, the Berlingo was just 162.8 inches long. To put that in perspective, Berlingo was a full 21 inches shorter than the second generation Chevy Cruze.

The Berlingo and Partner lived a very long time in their first generation, with singular facelift for 2003. Sales of the first-gen continued in Europe through 2013, and continue on in Argentina today. They just love the ancient Berlingo.

Shortly after its release, Italian car designer Franco Sbarro dreamed up a funky concept version of the Berlingo for a very specific audience: Windsurfers. His Swiss company, Sbarro, set to work and reimagined the Berlingo almost entirely. Gone were the doors and roof, the former replaced by hollowed-out panels to hold windsurfing boards and accouterments. The roof was changed to a connected roll bar setup and added a roof rack to hold additional equipment. Up to six windsurfers were seated on its teal and banana-colored seats; the rear cargo area provided two additional jump seats.

The exterior continued the teal/banana color scheme, and up front a decorative silver plastic brush guard was fitted for extra off-road sand adventure vibes. At the back, a drop-down tailgate wore the same perforated aesthetic as the brush guard. With no roof and no windows beyond the windshield, a windy driving experience was assured by the Calao.

The very Nineties Calao ended up in the hands of Peugeot-Citroën, at their Adventure Museum. PSA decided to thin their collection in 2020 and sold the Calao without registration and a disclaimer about its lack of regular use. That wasn’t a joke, as in 2020 the Calao had accumulated just 363 kilometers. It sold for $26,000.

[Images: Sbarro]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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3 of 5 comments
  • Wolfwagen Wolfwagen on Sep 29, 2021

    What. The. Hell. Is. That? The headline picture has a lot going on too: - The surfboard appears to have the silhouettes of an SR-71/A12 - Model holding the surfboard is wearing a dress with platform shoes. I have never seen a woman wear such an outfit to the beach _ Model in the car is wearing jeans. Again, I have never seen a woman go to the beach wearing jeans The last picture looks like that teal and yellow didn't hold up real well for NOT being in the sun as it was intended

  • Cicero Cicero on Sep 29, 2021

    I guarantee that the woman with the surfboard had never seen one of those things in her life before the photographer made her stand next to it.

  • Grant P Farrell Oh no the dealership kept the car for hours on two occasions before giving me a loaner for two months while they supposedly replaced the ECU. I hate cords so I've only connected it wirelessly. Next I'm gonna try using the usb-c in the center console and leaving the phone plugged in in there, not as convenient but it might lower my blood pressure.
  • Jeff Tiny electrical parts are ruining today's cars! What can they ...
  • CEastwood From zero there is nowhere to go but up . BYD isn't sold in the U.S. and most Teslas are ugly azz 90s looking plain jane drone mobiles . I've only seen one Rivian on the road and it 's not looking good for them . I live out in the sticks of NW NJ and EVs just aren't practical here , but the local drag strip thrives in the warmer months with most cars making the trip from New York .
  • Lorenzo Aw, that's just the base price. Toyota dealers aren't in the same class as BMW/Porsche upsellers, and the Toyota base is more complete, but nobody will be driving that model off the lot at that price.
  • Mike The cost if our busing program is 6.2 million for our average size district in NJ. It was 3.5 last year.