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 Austin Mini-Moke R.Kim