4 Stroke Rumen

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Now this is a fresh idea for a car.

Give me a few minutes to explain. Don't get turned off by its neo-classic looks or two-tone paint. Pay no mind to its small size.

All because the Rumen, by 4 Stroke Design, is one of the most interesting vehicles of the last decade. Maybe.

I try to keep this publication on track by thinking, "What's an interesting vehicle?" Sometimes, it's sheer strangeness. Other times, it's a neat story, situation, or outcome that a particular car was a part of. 

Like the Lamborghini Countach Evoluzione, however, this particular selection may be a glimpse into one possible future for small carmakers and budding coachbuilders.

Coachbuilding, even styling houses, are a rapidly shrinking bunch. Bertone is bankrupt. Pininfarina, after a massive restructuring, is still a shadow of its former self. Ghia, and Vignale were absorbed into Ford; Italdesign into Volkswagen. Carrozzeria Touring, after closing its doors in 1966, was relaunched in 2006 as a modern version of its old self.

A perfect storm of production techniques, rapid prototyping, safety standards, ideas about brand image, computer-aided design, and homologation standards removed—piece by piece—nearly every tool from a coachbuilder's tool book.

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Really, what do we need them for? If small automakers as diverse as Pagani and Tesla can develop high-end vehicles in a largely independent manner and startups like Aptera and Urbee can make vehicles with little more than ovens (autoclaves) and 3D printers…why bother calling the masters of bodywork manipulation?

4 Stroke's founder is Bulgarian-born Roumen Antonov, who has a pretty significant invention to his name: a DSG-style transmission. The most coverage of it I can find is in a profile article on Antonov that details his eventual escape from Bulgaria and subsequent invention that uses centrifugal clutches to engage each epicyclic gear set. 

I'm sorry, but transmissions are a kind of voodoo for me, so if anyone would like to explain how it works, follow the link via the sources for this article.

In addition to automotive components, he has a medical foundation for studying the effects of fungus in the human body. Strange résumé for the boss of a car company…

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…that just gets stranger the more you read. It's difficult to figure out just what's fact and what's fiction. Early Rumen prototypes were powered by a rear-mounted smart fortwo three-cylinder engine, but according to an article in Caradisiac, the most recent prototype (from 2008) features a rear-mounted three-cylinder engine from the first generation of Peugeot 107/Citroën C1/Toyota Aygo triplets.

The car has been shown with both a semi-automatic transmission (from a smart, I believe) and a manual transmission. The all-white and red-and-white examples of the car you'll see online seem to be later designs–the styling, fit and finish, and overall look seems to be much more buttoned-down.

That "overall look" was inspired by the Bugatti Type 57, if you hadn't guessed.

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But what is it? At a quoted price of €50,000 (just under $70,000 US) it's almost like a coachbuilt microcar. The interior is trimmed entirely in wood, leather, and chrome. The exterior is a blend of off-the-shelf parts, with lines that—for me, at least—manage to stay clear of looking like a neoclassic.

Its composite bodywork is most noticeable from the back, with its egg-like tail and swappable rear trunk lid—drivers can swap between a fully enclosed trunk or a speedster-style cover that gives the car an open air feel.

Weighing just 550 kg (1212 lbs), performance is said to be brisk.

Reviews point to a slow-to-change semi-automatic transmission, poor rear visibility, non-existent soundproofing, and impractical details, like a fuel cap that's located somewhere underneath the front hood.

Taken as a whole, though, can we get excited for this new approach of building a memorable car? Can we take this little company seriously? Most importantly, should we be sad there's been little on the Rumen since 2008? 

I'm not sure. The 4 Stroke Rumen confuses me.

Tomorrow, a Japanese compact car related to everyone's favourite domestic compact car. No, it's not the Toyota Cavalier.

Sources / Recommended reading