These days, the Internet can take one down many rabbit holes. We go down automotive-related rabbit holes around these parts. Why choose this particular car? All will be explained. An old magazine article and a childhood die-cast model for inspiration, add the Internet, and away we go.
There is such a thing as a knowledge tree, in which the awareness or understanding of a thing can link to other things, creating a matrix of information, all of which is related to each other. The Bertone Canguro has been a seldom-seen and elusive beast over the decades, and that is important to our story. The Canguro (Italian for “kangaroo”) tale has many twists and turns, despite it being about the solitary example that was built in the mid-1960’s, which made a big splash, dropped out of sight, and eventually reappeared out of nowhere. These story threads involve Bertone, Pininfarina, Zagato, Alfa Romeo, Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Chevy Corvair, Road & Track magazine, an amateur car collector, a professional car collector, abandonment, disappearance, resurrection, and a $35 transaction. Sit back, and enjoy the shaggy dog story. There are enough tangled threads here to inspire further discovery in all sorts of directions.
The tale begins with the introduction of the Alfa Romeo Giulia TI in 1962, a nimble sporty sedan, bearing a 1,570cc dual overhead cam 4 cylinder engine yielding 92 horsepower. This was the first in a long series of Alfa sports sedans of the 1960s and 1970s. Soon after the introduction of the Giulia TI came the Giulia TI Super, of which about 500 were produced in 1962 and 1963. The TI Super carried an uprated engine, bearing twin sidedraft carburetors instead of the single downdraft carburetor of the TI, among other improvements. This homologation special yielded 112 horsepower, which set the stage for further racing developments.
Alfa Romeo was government-backed at the time, so the building of race cars was a politically delicate matter. It was decided to set up a quasi-independent race car-oriented manufacturing enterprise, labeled Autodelta. Alfa and Ferrari engineer Carlo Chiti was put in charge of the operation.
In the meantime, it had been decided to build a tube-frame race car around the 112 horsepower engine of the TI Super, and to farm out the bodywork to Zagato. Thus was born the Giulia TZ, unveiled at the 1962 Turin Auto Show. Alfa Romeo was quite busy in 1962! “TZ” stood for “Tubolare Zagato”, incorporating both a description of the chassis construction and also of the author of the body design in the designation. Just over 100 aluminum-bodied Alfa TZs were built between 1962 and 1964, as 100 were needed to move the car from the “prototype” racing category to the “production” column. The 112 horsepower engine was standard in the TZ, but uprated engine variants delivered up to 160 horsepower, in a car weighing in at about 1,460 lb. The car was small, with an 86.6 inch wheelbase, and it stood 47.2 inches high.
The second-generation fiberglass-bodied TZ2 was introduced on the Zagato stand at the 1964 Turin Auto Show. It revealed a serious reworking of the TZ, shortening and widening the car, while keeping the same 86.6 inch wheelbase. The height of the car was reduced considerably, to only 40.2 inches, and the weight was dropped to 1,370 lb. An uprated engine of 170 horsepower was installed, which would later show up in the road car-based GTA racer. The engine sported a dry-sump lubrication system (in part to lower the engine in the engine bay) and remained slightly tilted, as it was in the original TZ, to better fit in the available space. Roughly nine to twelve examples of the TZ2 were built in 1965, and the car had a successful but brief racing career in the “prototype” class.
All the elements were now in place to generate the Bertone Canguro. But I do need to stop for a moment and explain that you will see “roughly”, “about”, and “believed to be” used as qualifiers through much of this web of stories. Many elements of the tale are informed conjecture, and have been teased from hidden or incomplete information. Alfa Romeo and Zagato were not particularly robust record-keepers back in the day, so serial numbers and car counts were often approximations. Especially when it came to race cars, one-offs and “specials”, there was no substitute for checking under the hood to see what the actual specifications might have been, no matter what the records, such as they were, might have indicated.
First up is the “donor car” for the Canguro. The Bertone creation was built at the time of changeover between the TZ and the TZ2. The chassis layout and low, tilted engine suggest TZ2. The Chassis serial number suggests late-series TZ. But as the Canguro has not been available to put under careful scrutiny, no one is quite sure whether the base is TZ or TZ2, as the car was a bit cobbled up as a “one-off” to begin with. One clue might have been why the Canguro was possibly built in the first place. The TZ was a streetable race car, in the manner of a somewhat less powerful, arguably less attractive, and downsized Ferrari 250 GTO. But the TZ2 was all-out race car, and only nominally streetable. At the end of the day, we will see that the Canguro was not much more of a street-compatible car than the TZ2 was, due to the extreme proportions and small size of the thing.
Nevertheless, it was decided in 1964 to give both Bertone and Pininfarina a shot at designing a streetable show car based on the TZ/TZ2 platform. Two tubular chassis were pulled from inventory. Bertone got chassis number 750101, and Pininfarina got chassis number 750114. One conjecture is that the chassis were blindly pulled from inventory, without paying attention to any chassis number sequence or order. Such was how things were done at Autodelta, back in the day, according to stories that have been told.
Up-and-coming stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro led the team at Bertone that designed the Canguro. The extremely low height of the TZ2 was emulated, at 41 inches high for the Canguro, and the car both picked up some of the basic design cues of the TZ, including a rendition of the “Kamm tail”, but also headed off into a distinct, highly organic and flowing set of complex curves and shapes. The overall impression, while it was an iteration of the rather universal “two-seat fastback” theme, also established some basic organic styling cues and proportions seen later in such cars as the Lamborghini Miura (also a Bertone design, though not from Giugiaro’s pen), if one squints very hard. By the ‘70s, angularity (which Bertone, and, separately, Giugiaro, bought into in a big way) ruled the roost. But for a few years, classic flowing styling was the sports car design name of the game.
The size compromise dictated a few styling elements. The seats were extremely low, to maximize the available headroom. Door windows and the windshield rolled a bit into the roof, in part to aid in otherwise very limited visibility. The windshield was one of the first known examples of bonding (gluing) the windshield to the frame, without metal or rubber framing elements.
The car itself was introduced at the 1964 Paris Motor Show. I will let the styling speak for itself, in the included photos. It is interesting to me that the car can look very lean and lithe from some angles, but bulbous from others. Like the early Cisitalia, it is difficult to discern the size of the car from photos, but it is very small. The Canguro is almost exactly 12 feet long, and 41 inches high. For comparison purposes, a rubber-bumpered MG Midget is about three inches shorter in overall length and seven inches taller than the Canguro.
The Alfa “quadrifoglio” on each side pillar was actually a cutout for interior ventilation. The series of “slots” on the front flanks will show up again on other cars, including some Alfa Romeos.
The Pininfarina TZ-based show car has a different look, but it is, like the Canguro, unmistakably mid-1960s to early-1970s.
The Canguro, though a fully built-out, running car, was still treated as a show car, and it was not given the usual road tests. Road & Track did offer a write-up of the car, reproduced below. At the time of publication, the Canguro had not been fully approved or turned down for series production, so the article could be considered as a sort of “test run” for whether there was a real market for street versions of the thing. As an aside, one should try to find a ‘60s R&T to look through, cover to cover. Remember that there was almost no coverage of racing or race cars in most places, and car information, in general, was almost nonexistent outside of car magazines and books. To open up a copy of a ‘60s R&T is to introduce yourself to a whole world that was otherwise invisible. Paul has been publishing R&T road tests, but one needs the whole magazine in one’s hand, in order to get the “feel” of the era. From cheesy ads, to classifieds for Gullwing Mercs at $5k a pop and Abarths and vintage Bentleys for a grand to a few grand a piece, the magazine (any issue of the period) is a real trip down memory lane. The June ‘65 issue, with the Canguro on the cover, has a nice overview of Bertone’s design work to date, a capsule bio of Dan Gurney, who had yet to burst out of sports car racing into wider fame, and a road test of the Alfa Giulia TI, a distant relative of the Canguro. The “centerfold”, printed on heavy paper stock for removal from the magazine and mounting on a wall, was a photo of a Ford GT40 at full tilt.
Keep in mind that Alfa Romeo and Autodelta had the TZ2 in house for racing duties, and the Canguro styling would have been a huge aerodynamic compromise for racing, versus the TZ2. In the end, a lack of capacity for quick volume production of “tubolare” frames, along with Alfa Romeo’s corporate decision to invest heavily into sedan racing instead, meant that the Canguro turned out to be a one-off. It was a regular in the show car circuit, but soon disappeared.
So, where did the Canguro go? As a clue, let’s look at that broader Bertone article in R&T. There is a photo of an otherwise unidentified rear-engined “Testudo”. Bertone coyly indicates that the car is for “an important but unnamed client”. Only later did we come to know that the Testudo was Corvair-based. Did the Ralph Nader-led kerfluffle about the Corvair, published in late 1965, kill off a production version of the Testudo? We will probably never know. The timing of everything seems about right.
The Testudo does play into our Canguro story in another way. The Canguro disappeared because it was wrecked, during a publicity filming sequence at the Monza racetrack. When the Testudo was auctioned off, many years later, a disclosure was made that it had suffered significant rear-end damage that had been repaired. It came out, over time, that the Canguro had run into the back of the Testudo at speed, damaging the Testudo and destroying the front end of the Canguro. What was left of our subject car was then parked outside, behind the Bertone shops, stripped of most of its mechanicals, and with a tarp thrown over it. It sat there for years. Missing everything but the frame forward of the firewall, and with the windshield absent and most of the interior stripped, it was left out to rot.
Enter Gary Schmidt, variously identified as either a German journalist or an American service member stationed in Germany. He was apparently an amateur automotive sleuth, searching for and buying cheap, interesting old cars. At one point, he was rumored to have a small collection of automotive oddities, but with sketchy and incomplete paperwork and suspect serial numbers on some of his cars. In any case, he was aware that the Canguro had once existed, but that it had dropped out of sight, so he traced it to the back lot at Bertone. Rumor has it that he negotiated the purchase of the remains of the car, in about 1971, for the equivalent of $35.
Being of modest means and with various interests including multiple cars, he never got together the time, talent, and capital to properly restore the car. Rumor has it that a wealthy Japanese car collector, who also was aware of the Canguro, in turn tracked down Gary Schmidt, and then negotiated to purchase the car from Gary in the mid 1990’s. The Japanese car collector, Shiro Kosaka, had the car meticulously restored, and he unveiled the car at the Villa d’Este car show, on the shore of Lake Como in northern Italy, in 2005. The car took “best of show”, and the photo at the top of this page is from the event. Sadly, Gary Schmidt died in 2003, so he never got to see the complete resurrection of the car he had likely saved from oblivion.
In another twist of fate, the Pininfarina show car version of the TZ still exists as well, and Mr. Kosaka owns that car too. It was revealed in 2010. The two show cars have lived on together, as a pair, all these decades later.
Design details from the Canguro showed up in all sorts of places. The series of parallel horizontal slots appeared again on the Alfa Montreal, also a Bertone design. The clearest “copy” of the Canguro was the similar Australian-produced Bolwell Nagari of the late 1960s into the early 1970s. Judge for yourself. The basic fastback shape shows up again and again in many cars, but the small and real-world impractical Canguro is arguably the purest and most beautiful rendition of the form. At times, the Alfa grill hung on the front of it can be distracting jewelry of sorts, but that is how the car was originally put together. To me, it is the only element of the car that is less than perfect. As a side treat, those round taillights on the Canguro are the same ones that have shown up on so many cars, including the TZ2, the Lancia Stratos, and a number of ordinary Fiat sedans.
As a coda, recall that I mentioned a die-cast car at the top of this article. That is the car I found on my first trip to Disneyland, about 1966 or so. My sister and I were each allowed to pick one item from the gift shops to take home. I spied an unidentified swoopy red fastback thing, and that was it. A die-cast model of what turned out to be the Canguro, as my Disneyland souvenir. Sadly, I have not seen it in years, and, looking around, I cannot find it. That’s not like me, I keep track of my stuff. But, like the real car back in the day, it has inexplicably dropped out of sight. The irony, one can cut it with a knife. From internet research, I find that it was produced by Mercury Toys, an Italian die-cast car manufacturer, in 1:43 scale. The doors and clamshell hood opened, and it was painted in the richest, most vibrant deep red I have ever seen on a die-cast model.
So, a die-cast model car for a starting point, a magazine article for background, and the Internet. One can really go to interesting places when one has the proper inspiration, and the access to good information sources.
“Design details from the Canguro showed up in all sorts of places.”
The 1972 Dodge Charger Rallye was what immediately sprang to mind when I saw those front fender ‘slots’.
I have a 1/43rd Canguro that I did hang on to, Politoys not Mercury, that I suspect I got during my second diecast car phase in late junior high/early high school, maybe around 1969 or ‘70. It’s a metallic red that is not really right for this car.
Politoys may have bought the moulds from Mercury. The timing seems right. In looking at on-line references to Mercury’s offerings, the Canguro doesn’t often come up. It may have been a poor seller for them.
When one researches plastic model kits and die-casts, one finds the production moulds often being sold from one outfit to another over time. Many of these companies, despite broad product lines and fancy packaging and catalogues, are actually rather small, relatively shoestring operations.
I wondered about that but there are quite a few differences between the two. The Politoys has no fuel filler nor any sign of a witness line from an inserted hole, the wheels, and side vents are noticeably different. And, the underside casting is quite different too, with different engine and exhaust details. I also researched Mercury a bit when I posted about my own 1/43rd Maserati 3500 by Mercury recently, and both the Politoys and Mercury brands have very detailed Wikipedia posts that describe them as competitors and make no mention of any collaboration.
If there are detail differences, then I am sure they are different projects in the first place.
I am sure the people at Hot Wheels and Matchbox have the numbers, but I wonder how many sales of the little cars are due to familiarity, in that the real thing is either parked in the parking lot outside the store, or in the garage at home.
I did notice that the highest comment numbers on my COAL postings were typically either popular cars that many others have owned and driven, or once popular cars that have rarely or never been talked about on CC (Mazda RX2 and RX7). My point being that unusual or rarely seen cars simply don’t seem to gather mindspace in either CC responses or possibly in die-cast car sales.
I can’t speak to the Politoys version of the Canguro, but the Mercury version is neither very common nor particularly valuable (the old Matchbox/Hot Wheels/select Corgi extreme price inflation on EBay has seemed to mostly not have found it’s way into other brands of die-cast models).
Hello Dutch 1960,
“…highest comment numbers on my COAL postings were typically either popular cars … or once popular cars that have rarely or never been talked about on CC (Mazda RX2 and RX7)…”
I kind of agree and probably represent that remark.
For one thing, any comment about an area of cars of which I am not well informed would probably not be a well considered comment. I do sometimes ask questions, but most posts here at CC are very well researched and detailed.
I find this post on the Alfa Canguro fascinating and educational and the only response from me that might be technically relevant is that it looks [to me] like a 1967 Toyota 2000GT.
Years ago I ventured a comment in which I asked something about two-stroke diesels (I know nothing about diesels) and I recall an “abruptly” worded reply berating me for my lack of knowledge of diesels.
Anyway, I do not consider myself a delicate wall flower, but after that experience I pulled back from writing comments. Strangely, I went over all my past comments to see if I had been overly sensitive and could not find it.
RLPlaut, I know that feeling. I initially worried about getting details wrong, but rather than getting too obsessive about it, I try to confirm all the things I say, and then move on. I expect to get something wrong, but I also expect the corrections to have some semblance of grace, which is what the commenters around here generally exhibit. The snarky comment also stands out when the rest of the threads are generally polite, and it can be written off as having been made by someone who “isn’t with the program”.
Without climbing on my soapbox (too much), our world needs more grace and consideration of others when people speak out. I like to participate in this site, as much as possible, because not only is the subject matter like catnip to me, but also because it sets such a good example (most of the time) of how people should treat each other in discussion and conversation.
The Canguro certainly didn’t establish the swoopy two-seat Fastback design, but it is one of my favorite iterations of it. The Toyota 2000GT is another good one, and there are so many more. I think it is interesting how similar design elements and details are shared across cars, and, yet, each is distinct and has its own “look”. Kind of like human faces and bodies.
Popular or once-popular cars draw out the experiences people have had with them, or around them. A rare bird like today’s subject car doesn’t get that segment of the CC comments. Speaking of which, I would love to see the Canguro in person. Even though I spend a lot of time with “tiny” cars, I am sure I would be shocked with how small it actually is in person. Something like the Toyota 2000GT would likely visually dwarf it in every dimension.
It seems incredible that the Canguro only preceded the Carabo by four years. Gandini is a genius.
And Gandini’s brilliant Carabo (pictured) followed his Lamborghini Miura by three years. Things used to evolve and move along very fast, and go in bold different directions much more quickly and extravagantly.
First thing I thought of when I saw the lead photo:
Good spot – 3 years later or thereabouts….
An Italian kangaroo.
THE most beautiful car ever, even prettier than my other favorites, the Ferrari 250 GTO Lusso, the Cobra Daytona and the Porsche 904. I fell hard for this car when R&T delivered it to my mailbox in the Spring of 1965 and still haven’t gotten over it.
I’ve tried to follow the story of the car since then, but haven’t done as good a job as Dutch 1960 did in this story. Thanks for the further details and the updates on this truly amazing machine.
Thank you. Doing these sorts of articles pushes me to fill in my own knowledge gaps, as part of putting the postings together. The internet is a wonderful tool for filling in the gaps, once one narrows down what one is looking for.
I also have a 1/43 Canguro – the red Mercury. I have not seen the Politoys but would have bought it if I’d seen one.
I agree that the castings are different. There were a lot of competitive Italian diecast producers; the models were good but rarely excellent (like German Schuco or French Solido). But only the Italian models covered odd stuff like the Canguro.
Politoys had two main Italian competitors – Mercury and Mebetoys. Mebetoys eventually was acquired by Mattel. Politoys castings later devolved to Polistil models. Those were quite crude with silly colors. Another 1/43 Italian diecast manufacturer of this era was Edil; I have only a very few of their models and do not know anything about them but the quality was on par with Politoys and Mercury.
Politoys were easy to find in the USA. The other brands took effort.
Yes, a Canguro looks right in resale red. Never thought about the relationship between Canguro and 2000GT but a very valid point has been made.
Thanks for the deep dive on a car I’ve always appreciated but lacked more in depth history on.
The Bolwell Nagari is a curious choice to include here. It came out in 1970, some 6 years after the Canguru. It looks like one of many dozens of “kit” cars of that era, reflecting a mish-mash of lots of cars that were built in that long six years in between. By 1970, that look was very generic and already out of date. And it’s subjective, but it doesn’t actually look much like the Canguru. Many specific and key details are quite different. yes, it looks more like the Canguru than a Chevy Impala, but then so did all of those Fiberfab kits and gobs of others.
Yes, the Bolwell was perhaps an odd choice, but I felt it, more than others, most consciously stole the theme of their entire car from the Canguro. Bolwell took a pleasant enough but very generic fastback shape, and then festooned it with some Canguro details, such as the slots on the flanks. The Cromodora wheels on this example appeared to be an obvious rip-off as well. IMO they tried to make the generic into the specific, by cribbing details. It ended up a mish-mash of sorts, but, without the Canguro details, it would not be much of anything at all. Other cars incorporated bits of the Canguro here and there, but added the cribbed details to their car’s own distinctive design iteration. The Alfa Montreal is a classic example of that.
As a side note, I think the Alfa TZ2 is an unsung hero here. Basically similar to the Canguro, but different in all specific aspects (it was separately designed, at roughly the same time as the Canguro, on a mostly common mechanical platform), it is also a design to die for. It is more a purpose-driven race car rather than a show car, but the lines and proportions do not give away how diminutive the car actually is. To be able to package a DOHC four cylinder engine, mostly upright, in the front end of such a small body envelope, of that proportion, is a phenomenal job. The side profile photo, especially, deserves space as wall art. Drop dead gorgeous, in my book, and it gives the side profile of the Ferrari 250 GTO a run for its money. Yet another iteration of the small fastback, and sharing some design details with the Canguro, but not looking like they cribbed from each other.
Though I didn’t go too far into it in the article, the Bolwell (and the Toyota 2000GT, for that matter) demonstrates that, in the real world, the Canguro couldn’t exist. Provide useful interior space (which the Canguro didn’t come close to offering), and the lines of the car get distorted. Try to keep everything in proportion, and the car quickly gets very big. Nip and tuck to find a good compromise, and you will have a good looking car of reasonable size, but it won’t be a Canguro. As beautiful as it is, the Canguro is an automotive freak of sorts.
I’d have been tempted to name various British kit cars – notably the Marcos and perhaps the late 1960s TVRs with the wrapover rear window – as imitators
bravo and grazie
Yo! All aboard the Marsupial Express.
This takes the award for coolest car with dorkiest name.