William Towns was a smart man and a great car designer. Known mostly for the 1976-1990 Aston Martin Lagonda, an immense wedge upon which idiots hurl insults.
Today, in the right light, in the right colour and at the right angles it still looks like a concept car. What's important to me is that Towns had an idea and pulled Aston Martin into the future. He created change.
if you're interested in someone whose daily driver is essentially a mid-70s concept car… read on.
Before his stint at Aston Martin and the Hustler kit car he created the Townscar.
Based on Mini mechanicals and seen as a replacement—or at least smaller version of—the Mini, it could fit four people but was shorter in length so that it could be parked end-on to the curb.
This was important because the car had only one door, at the rear. After buying the plans from Towns, British Leyland christened it Minissima at the 1973 London Motor Show. Positive reaction meant it was evaluated by engineers, who said, according to aronline.co.uk:
- British authorities said it was unsafe after a crash because of its single door left no other exit
- The overall construction of the vehicle was dangerous
- Little to no luggage space
- Only ventilation was a small window at the rear
- Extremely hot inside thanks to the large windows
So how did it end up becoming a vehicle for disabled drivers who are otherwise confined to an electric wheelchair?
The designs were acquired by industrial parts maker GKN Stanley, who adapted the vehicle for disabled drivers. There were a few other changes, notably, sliding side windows!
Plans were sold, again, to Elswick, a bicycle manufacturer. They get the credit because they built around 20 examples.
This orange car is the most famous one.
Formerly owned by artist driving enthusiast Nancy Willis, it was the subject of her 2007 documentary, Elegy for the Elswick Envoy. Watch it. It's only 24 minutes and it's a touching story.
If you're expecting Grand Prix, you'll be disappointed. But if you're interested in someone whose daily driver is essentially a mid-70s concept car…
It'd be a challenge for me! For an independent woman with ever-worsening muscular dystrophy to drive it for 25 years…astonishing.
What about the Hustler, though, or the other specialized vehicle that helped kill off the Elswick Envoy?
That's a story for another day.