What would it take for you to be inspired enough to leave your job and do something completely different?
A shooting star? Someone on TV wearing your favourite shirt? Health scare? Inspirational book? Oprah?
Today's car is the story of a former construction worker who went out on his own to create a dune buggy. In Italy. After watching a Hollywood movie four times.
Talk about inspiration, right? But according to Mario Zodiac, founder of All-Cars AutoZodiaco, that's exactly how it happened.
He worked with his father in construction. He watched Steve McQueen's impeccably-placed and customized Meyers Manx "Queen Manx" in The Thomas Crown Affair—and went back to see the movie again and again and again.
He quit the construction job and started a used car dealership called All-Cars.
After traveling in the U.S., by the end of 1968 Zodiac not only had shipped back to Italy his very own dune buggy, the Deserter GT. Intending to sell the Deserter once he'd evaluated it (and saw how the whole thing was put together), a crowd convinced Zodiac that he might be on to something.
After parking the buggy in front of his flat in Bologna, he could hear car horns from the street. Opening his front door, a scene unfolded: Deserter GT, large crowd…road blocked.
The public was interested.
It is at this point I should tell you that the Damaca wasn't the first buggy from All-Cars AutoZodiaco, the Deserter—the story of which is more like an Italian soap opera presented in four acts:
- Construction worker starts car company, does his homework, and produces his own car.
- Italian authorities refuse to approve the car after Volkswagen objects to the use of their engines in a production buggy; Zodiac finds a loophole and takes on an investor to start production
- 109 orders are placed, but the prototype is stolen…by the investor, who'd scratched off the serial numbers and tried to sell it under his own company, Auto Mirage—after taking the workshops and sales contacts. Zodiac hid outside his former partner's house, photographed the buggy in the garage, and on the evidence the police seized and returned the prototype to its rightful owner.
- Now penniless and without an investor, Zodiac is saved by an angel: the Fiat tuner Giannini. Giannini produces enough buggies in Rome for Zodiac to move production into his own facilities in Pianoro, near Bologna. All-Cars AutoZodiaco is in business.
What to do next? Call up Tom Tjaarda, designer of the De Tomaso Pantera, and ask him to style your next buggy, the Damaca.
Damaca was so named after a competition held in Italy's motorsport magazine, Autosprint. The winner would get…a buggy. "Da" and "ma" came from Magdalene and "ca" from Carlo Palermo, the man who'd suggested the name. Maybe Magdalene was Carlo's girlfriend!
Powered by either a 1500 or 1600cc Volkswagen engine, the Damaca is unique in its styling—much more road-ready and complete than other buggies. The engine was fully covered, the tires were (somewhat) enclosed, and there were a number of options available to customize it to taste.
Performance? Top speed of 155 km/h (96 mph) and fuel consumption of 8.5 L/100km (27 US mpg) meant it was affordable to run and warm enough that owners could enjoy driving quickly.
Priced at $1,798,000 lire in 1972, the Damaca was roughly $3000 Usd.—about $17,000 Usd. today.
After producing a few other vehicles—including an off-road motorcycle—the All-Cars AutoZodiaco was sold in 1974.
What did this former construction worker do after the saga ended? He bought a sailboat and wandered around the world, eventually landing in Panama for a number of years.
Not a bad outcome…not bad at all.