Asardo Type 1500 AR-S

After the few American sports cars featured in the last week—but especially the TASCO Prototype@carfolio on Twitter suggested I feature this car, the Asardo Type 1500 AR-S. I'd been saving it for a rainy day, I suppose, or at least for when I'd been able to gather more information on the car.

For the Alfa Romeo enthusiasts among you, the story may be familiar…

At the 1959 New York Auto Show, a small New Jersey-based carmaker exhibited this, the Asardo Type 1599 AR-S. An Austrian immigrant and machine shop owner named Helmut Schlosser was behind the design, which mated a very stiff, almost Mercedes-Benz 300 SL 'Gullwing'-like tube frame chassis to a hopped-up Alfa Romeo-sourced engine, with a swoopy fibreglass body on top.

It was unlike anything else at the show, and even today, the car has angles that make me wish we were talking about the 2015 Asardo model range, rather than an enterprise that failed after just a single example was built.

Asardo stood for American Special Automotive Research and Development Organization, a name that doesn't quite roll off the tongue as easily as Lexus. With a weight of just 680 kg (1500 lb) and a bored-out 1,300-cc Giulietta 4-cylinder engine with 135 horsepower, performance was strong. Top speed? A blistering 217 km/h (135 mph).

Built as a knowledgeable enthusiast's sports car, with no formal automotive engineering experience, the car is remarkably compelling, even today. Schlosser used production car components where necessary, including door mechanisms from the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.

Trouble with the project began when Schlosser's backers wanted the car delivered without an engine, like other fibreglass sports cars were at the time. He disagreed, wanting instead to develop the car as a production-ready machine, with the hope of selling hundreds. With a price some ~$1,800 above that of a Porsche 356, it was perhaps an optimistic price point for an unknown and largely untested car. 

Once his backers dropped out after realizing Schlosser wouldn't budge on offering the car without an engine, in 1960 he left to find an interested party…in Europe.

That didn't work, so came back to the U.S. with the car later in 1960, returning to Europe again in 1961. A family illness brought him back to Europe, where his luck, sadly, didn't improve: Schlosser ended up in the hospital…after being hit by a car! 

In late 1961, he returned with a plan—and financing. A team led by Schlosser and SCCA racer Charlie Kolb replaced the 4-cylinder Alfa Romeo engine with a 3.5-litre Buick V8 engine. The little Asardo was now a "3500 GM-S" and had—in 1965(!)—a zero-to-100 km/h (62 mph) time of 4.8 seconds. The feat was accomplished using only second gear, in a bid to protect the small Alfa Romeo rear differential that was a carryover from the earlier specification.

Even speed couldn't keep the project going, and the car was sold…and sold…and sold again. The last few years have seen the car bounce around Europe and North America, with collectors eagerly trading the car—many of you will no doubt recognize the red brick wall that's a trademark of so many Fantasy Junction listings.

Today, the car is back to its original specification and is still running and being reviewed by curious automotive publications. If anyone knows who owns the car, I wouldn't mind a quick trip around the block in it…