(first posted 7/1/2013) July 1st is Canada Day which is always a good time to get a bit patriotic. If the words “Canadian” and “sports car” were used together, most car buffs would probably immediately think of Malcolm Bricklin’s SV-1, which was assembled in Saint John, New Brunswick. But oddly enough, the Bricklin SV-1 wasn’t officially sold in Canada, since it was always intended for the US market. Bricklin production was located in Canada strictly because of government subsidies more than anything else. There was, however, an earlier sports car that was designed and produced by Canadians, and this one was only sold in Canada.
It is the Manic (pronounced man-eek) GT produced in Quebec. The man behind the Manic GT was Jacques About (pronounced Ah-boo) who had previously worked for Renault Canada in the public relations department. The idea of producing his own car came about after a Renault Canada study into the possibility of importing and selling the Alpine (a sports car based on Renault bits) in Renault dealerships. Although the report was very positive, Renault Canada decided not to go ahead with selling the Alpine, leaving the market niche open.
About was confident enough that he left his job at Renault Canada and formed Automobile Manic Inc. in 1968 to develop the car with money raised from various private and government sources. The new car was quickly developed, heavily based on Renault underpinnings and components, and debuted in 1969 at the Montreal auto show.
The Manic had a fiberglass body and used a Renault 8 chassis and running gear. This gave it independent suspension all around, four wheel disc brakes plus rack and pinion steering. The rear water cooled Renault 1,289cc engine was offered in various stages of tune with outputs of 65hp, 80hp and 105hp. The higher power engines were tuned in France by Autobleu and featured such upgrades as headers and Weber carburetors. Weighing in at only 1,450lbs the Manic GT was a quick car, especially by the standards of the day. A four speed manual was standard with a five speed optional. Depending on gearing and engine options selected top speed could be as high as 135mph. The Renault underpinnings allowed the Manics to be sold and serviced at select Renault dealers.
The styling was supposed to be European in the front and more American in the rear, so the whole would be much like Canada at the time; a mix of the two. The front definitely bore a resemblance to the Lotus Europa with maybe a bit of Opel GT mixed in. It was a very low car standing only 45 inches tall. The Renault parts bin even provided a fair amount of the trim, most obviously the rear tail lights. Bucket seats, separate Jager gauges and a three-spoke steering wheel completed the interior.
While the Renault connections proved invaluable for quickly launching the Manic, they soon came to be a major liability. With a full order book despite the $3400 price tag (about the same as a Camaro or Mustang but less than a Lotus Europa)m Manic was unable to source parts consistently and in a timely manner. Part of the issue was Renault was phasing out the rear engined cars like the 8, so many cars were left idly in factory while some small part was tracked down. Manic had to even source parts from various international Renault distributors to finish its cars. Investors pulled the plug on production in 1971 after only 160 complete examples were made. There were also several incomplete cars that were sold as part of the bankruptcy proceedings.
The longevity of the cars themselves were again struck a blow by the Renault underpinnings. With its rear engine, the Manic made for a fine winter car but the heavy use of road salt in Eastern Canada where almost all the cars were sold caused the frame to rust out in short order. Unfortunately the frame and body were bonded together rather than bolted which make any restoration attempt much more complex. Few survivors remain, but it is an important milestone as one of the last production cars designed and built in Canada.