We’ve covered a number of small French utility vehicles, like the Citroen Mehari, Renault Rodeo 5 and Rodeo 6, and touched on some others in the process. It’s debatable as to the degree of influence the Jeep had on them, as off-road capable vehicles in Europe preceded it, such as the VW Kūbelwagen and Schwimmwagen. The British Mini-Moke can rightfully claim to be a pioneer in the field, with its FWD and lightweight body.
But there’s no doubt as to the stylistic inspiration of the Dallas. We’ve heard about the long-running battle between FCA/Jeep and Mahindra’s Roxor, over copyright infringement because the Roxor looks too much like a Jeep. Mahindra lost in 2020, and has to redesign the Roxor. Meanwhile, this blatant Jeep Mini-me was built in France for over fifteen years. And I never heard about it until just now. Maybe FCA didn’t either? But then the Dallas was never sold in the US.
When I went to find information on it, there was very little in English. But I found a French site, and thanks to Google Translate, I will relay its somewhat curious story.
The history of the Dallas is interesting on many points. The original model is the work of Jean-Claude Hrubon, an automobile enthusiast and an important player in the automotive world, since he was, among other things, an Austin dealer. He tried to prepare a car to participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 1960s without success. Instead, he embarked on the design of small leisure cars, his first work was the Phaëton, made on a Mini basis and reminiscent of the Mini Moke (above). He then moved on to his own creation, a Jeep replica made on a Renault 4 chassis, called the Dallas.
The Dallas was presented in December 1981, but little happened until it was shown again at the Paris Motor Show in October 1982. It was based on a shortened Renault 4 chassis, and had a steel body. The FWD Dallas was expensive, at 35,000 francs, or 6,000 francs more than the R4L GTL, and the optional AWD version, based on the Renault Sinpar AWD R4, was a lofty 55,000 francs.
In 1983, the ex-singer Frank Alamo, whose real name was Jean-François Grandin, was looking for a replacement for his Citroen Mehari and stumbled upon a Dallas and contacted Hrubon to buy two of them. But instead, Grandin bought the whole company for 1.5 million francs, due to the firm being in a financial crisis. Grandin came from a family of industrialists, makers of the famous Grandin Televisions, and was passionate about cars. This is how Jean-François Grandin came to head a factory located in Neuilly-sur-Seine with five employees.
Grandin also had, thanks to his family, a factory specializing in plastic materials, which allowed him to replace the steel body for one made of polyester plastic, resulting in lower weight and cost of production. The polyester body was claimed to be more durable than the ABS body of the Mehari. These Dallas can be recognized by their front grille with nine blades against seven in the original.
Since the Renault 4 was heading towards the end of its career, Grandin decided to design a new bespoke chassis for the Dallas, made of hot-dip galvanized steel, the assembly of which was subcontracted with the company Alko. As for the mechanicals, Grandin traded in the Renault engines for ones by Peugeot, using the XY8 from the Peugeot 104, a 1360cc four.
A shot of the interior.
These new Grandin Dallas were marketed from 1987. Little by little, the Dallas evolved; in 1991, it now had the TU4S engine of the Peugeot 205, as well as the 1.7 L Diesel XUD. This largely new Dallas accompanied a restyling of the body, identifiable by the bent grille.
The Dallas continued to evolve over the years to offer ever more comfort and a better finish. In 1995, Grandin attacked the utility market with the pick-up version of the Dallas, named Vescovato. There were more changes, including a newer Peugeot 106 drive train and front suspension, redesigned dashboard, and other details. The following year (1996) Grandin decided to sell his company in order to go on tour with his stage name. The company would survive him for just two years before going bankrupt, after a little less than 5,000 units were produced.
CC Citroen Mehari: Plastic Frenchtastic T87
CC Austin Mini-Moke R.Kim
The interior seems like a poor design for an open-air vehicle. The driver’s feet are in a tub that will get wet and stay wet. Maybe there’s a drain, but it’s not visible in the picture.
Too many grille slots on the Dallas for FCA to be able to generate a case, they look even more pathetic than the vehicles they produce over the case with Mahindra,
This Dallas looks like quite a handy little car and yet another vehicle with a PSA powertrain.
I caught the number of grill slats as well, but note that the photo of the first (metal-bodied?) version shows seven slats. Perhaps pressure from Jeep, or just awareness of the issue, prompted Grandin to make the change for the molded bodywork. The revised, slanted front end certainly looks modeled after the YJ Wrangler.
I never thought I would reacquainted with this automotive oddity. I was quite familiar with that vehicle when I lived in Dallas (yeah, no kidding) during the 1980s.
My classmate’s father was a not-so-successful entrepreneur during the 1980s, trying the different ventures and investments. He wanted to invest in the import company based in Los Angeles but asked me to look over the sales brochure and investment prospectus.
I made a list of what her father ought to discuss with the executives. Halfway through the list, he realised the proposal was too dodgy and fraught with lot of uncertainties or obscure answers. The company hadn’t done any engineering and certification works to meet the US regulations: I pointed out that it would take about 18–36 months on average and could cost millions of dollars alone. The question of who’s responsible for the product liability and warranty as well as the launch plan went unanswered. The company didn’t have the alternative design for the front end since I mentioned the potential copyright issue. Her father decided against the investment and thanked me for the consulting.
A couple of years later, Yugo went on sale in the US. Her father had a good look at how much it involved to get Yugo federalised, how much it cost, and how long it took to do so as well as building the distribution centres and network along with lining up the sales centres. More he read about it, more grateful he didn’t waste money on the foolish venture.
As Arial is to Helvetica, the Dallas is to a real Jeep.
It’s the Mona Lisa “Paris” model.