Daihatsu Fellow Buggy

I'm not much for the beach, a point I expressed way back last(!) April when discussing the Ferrari 365 GTC/4 Beach Car by Felber. I'm not much for sand in general—buggies are cool, though—so it's surprising to me that I even find these sorts of vehicles fascinating.

Here's a list of the beach cars featured in 2014:

You may notice, as I have, that there are no Japanese beach cars yet on this list—a tremendous oversight I hope to now correct. 

As a genre, beach cars (or, properly, recreational off-roaders) are some of the least useful vehicles on the planet. Before Jeeps and Land Rovers became luxurious and well-made, driving off-road for fun almost always meant you'd be thrashing around in a fibreglass bodied open top machine. For a family's second or third car, why not? 

Simple to maintain, simple to repair, and simple to operate, the Volkswagen Beetle-based Meyers Manx was one of the first but far from the last to define the genre. This is an era where people drove for fun and often had basic mechanical knowledge and repair skills. It's also an era when new car warranties were nearly unheard of, most coachbuilders were still in operation, and fibreglass had been established as a viable way to make a car body.

Japan's genre of light automobiles, kei jidōshida, is an area where you'd almost expect there to be more beach car-type vehicles, but besides the well-known (original) forward control Honda Vamos (it looks like a Pinzgauer that's taken too many happy pills), there are only a few others.

I think it's because the automobile has always been a sort of luxury item in Japan; with tightly controlled regulations on who can own vehicles (including providing proof you have a place to park it), expensive licensing requirements, fuel prices, stiff taxes, and difficult insurance, it's no wonder that recreational vehicles are few and far between on the small island nation.

In fact, just producing cars in Japan is difficult—but automakers quickly found a solution: limitless trim levels. With a tightly-controlled market, mechanical differences between vehicles are less important—the important bit is in capturing a certain group of customers within that market. While the massive variety of kei jidōshida may seem to ape the General Motors model of planned obsolescence, the small batches of slightly differently trimmed kei are often conceived for a group of customers.

With little space and money to develop massive factories to build different models (not to mention engines and transmissions), Japanese automakers often remixed platforms, parts, trim pieces, and engines to create the variety their customers demanded. (Now you have some idea as to why there are 23,308 different trims of the Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R in Gran Turismo.) 

Even though Daihatsu is said to have made about 100 Fellow Buggy models, few survive today.

Designed as a sort of halo car for the new-for-1970 Fellow Max range of kei cars, the Buggy joined the range of a 2-door coupe, 2-door sedan, and 4-door sedan…as an interloper. It wasn't an actual Fellow, instead based on the more rugged (and rear, not front-drive) Hijet chassis. Featuring a 356cc 2-cylinder two-stroke engine with about 23 horsepower, the 440 kg (970 lbs) Fellow Buggy would have been sprightly off-road but hardly a rocket ship. 

Like most other buggies of the era, the Fellow Buggy employed a fibre-reinforced plastic body. Unlike most other buggies of the era, it offered a limited accessories catalogue in order to improve its capabilities…or at least just its looks. With the top up it may look like the Gerber Baby with a hat on, but the little Daihatsu cuts a surprisingly sleek look with the windshield folded and top down.

Finding its brochure at Ninja Garage (link below) should give you a nice dose of car candy to start the day…er…year… WasabiCars on YouTube also has a great walkaround of it…