PETER ROBINSON'S Classic Wheels

EPIC TALES FROM OUR ARCHIVES

Peter Robinson

FIRST PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 1983

A dream car come true

ONLY NOW, ALMOST 34 YEARS AFTER THE SENSATIONAL ONE-OFF MIRELLA GRACED THE NOVEMBER 1983 WHEELS COVER, HAVE WE DISCOVERED THAT THERE WAS AN EMBRYONIC PLAN FOR FORD AUSTRALIA TO BUILD THE CAR.

As technical editor Mike McCarthy’s exclusive story revealed, Mirella was the self-built creation of Dr Michael Clancy, who just happened to be the brother-in-law of Ford designer Clive Potter.

What we didn’t know then was that so impressed were Potter’s colleagues at Ford by the Mirella TS230 that a small faction within product planning plotted for Ford Australia to build the mid-engine coupe as a low-volume project. Their idea was to insert a Ford Telstar drivetrain in place of the then-readily available (but turbocharged) Leyland Austin Tasman/Kimberley in-line six and for Mazda to send Ford CKD packs of the Mazda component parts that would be used in any production interpretation. There was even a plan to unveil the Ford version at the Geneva show, probably in 1984.

In the end, of course, nothing came of the project. But search the web (allcarindex.com) and you’ll even find a photograph of the Mirella in Ford’s Broadmeadows design studio.

Peter Fry, once a senior Ford Australia product planner, remembers: “The basic design was pretty good – and the prototype a very commendable effort. Building one advanced special like that is a tremendous achievement; but properly developing it and putting it into production would have been an enormous task – something rarely achieved by anyone other than those bespoke supercars at $1 million plus.”

Clancy, an inveterate inventor and car enthusiast, first built a special – a Mercedes SS look-alike powered by a Ford V8 – in 1966. His second came in 1970, a front-engine coupe with Austin Hydrolastic suspension and first a Chrysler 225 and later a Hemi 265 engine.

In the late 1970s, he fashioned a larger Fiat X1-9-like mid-engine coupe. This meant a transverse-mounted engine, a space-frame with fibreglass panels, wishbone front suspension and brakes from a Toyota MkII, Datsun 240Z rear struts and drum brakes, a Peugeot 404’s rack-and-pinion steering and even an air conditioner. It was built on a short 2286mm wheelbase (just long enough to house Clancy’s tall frame), and was just 3955mm long and 1117mm high.

Enter Clive Potter who styled the still-gorgeous body.

Clancy saw Potter’s full-scale tape drawing and declared: “I told Clive that that was it. We wouldn’t bother making a model. I wanted to be making the real thing.”

The body cleverly incorporates a Citroen CX windscreen, with an Alfa Romeo GTV front ’screen as the rear window.

The doors pivot from the windscreen pillars and swing up and forward when they’re opened, à la Lamborghini Countach.

The Mirella, beautifully finished and constructed, remains a tribute to the perseverance and passion of Clancy and the design creativity of Potter.

“ONE’S FIRST SIGHT OF THE MIRELLA TRIGGERS A JOLT OF RAW DISBELIEF” – MIKE McCARTHY, 1983

ALSO IN WHEELS, November 1983

We scoop Holden’s four-door Gemini replacement; first test of front-drive Sigma; radar detectors compared; Honda Civic takes on Europe; Porsche 956 Le Mans exclusive drive; Robbo says Citroën will retain its identity because of its unique styling; a guide to convertibles; Australian post-war cars of 1950-55.

Men on a mission

After a stellar design career at Ford – split by a short period on contract to Toyota Australia – Clive Potter has retired to his 85-acre farm just north of Hanging Rock, Victoria. Potter is best remembered as the designer of the beautiful EA Falcon (left), internally considered at the time to be the best-looking big Ford in decades.

Dr Michael Clancy, the enthusiast who created the mid-engine coupe, still owns the Mirella (now with around 30,000km on the odo). It’s still road registered, though at the moment not a runner.

He’s currently slowly building a turbocharged Mazda 13B rotary engine to replace the 2.0- litre turbo Lancia Beta engine that now sits transversely behind the Mirella’s cockpit.

THE WAY IT WAS

8 ’ 3

A step for womankind

The second space shuttle, Challenger, makes a successful maiden voyage. Astronaut Sally Ride, 32, becomes the first US woman in space.

Vinyl’s dead, dude

The compact disc (CD) revolution starts with the format’s introduction into Europe and North America. Vinyl records begin a steep decline.

Cold war warms up

On August 30, South Korean flight 007, a Boeing 747 bound for Seoul, allegedly strays into Soviet airspace and is shot down by an SU-15 fighter; all 269 aboard are killed.

Next issue

Midnight Express: pulling an all-nighter in the Ferrari 456 GT

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