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Show Cars Week--Porsche Tapiro

I first wrote about the Porsche Tapiro, a 1970 Georgetto Giugiaro show car, in my post last year on "Cars of the Future" from the period 1967-73.

Gull wings in stereo!The Tapiro is my favorite of all the cars mentioned in that post, and (in my never-to-be-humble opinion) is right up there with the BMW M1, DeLorean, and the Lotus Esprit as one of the greatest works in the mighty Sr. Giugiaro's portfolio. Until I started on this post, though, I didn't realize how historically significant the Tapiro really is. The few paragraphs I wrote last year just don't do this car justice.

What I did not realize before researching this post was that the Tapiro was only the fourth show car designed by Georgetto Giugiaro, and the first fully-realized expression of his signature "folded paper" style which became so influential in the 1970s. The Scirocco, DeLorean, Esprit, Impulse, M1, and even more pedestrian designs such as the Rabbit--all of them can trace at least part of their design ancestry to the Tapiro.

This is a style that never goes out of style. The Tapiro's design still looks like twenty minutes into the future, even though it's old enough to be having a midlife crisis. You could plop the Tapiro (if you had one, that is) down in the middle of the 2013 Cleveland Auto Show, tell everyone it's an experimental prototype hybrid, and anybody who didn't already know what it was would believe you.

The Tapiro was built on the chassis of a Porsche 914/6, the air superiority version of the 914, with a Porsche 911's flat-six in the engine bay. This particular flat six was bored out to 2.4 litres, producing 220 horsepower. In a car this size, that kind of power makes for some serious motivation. The top The man and his dream....speed has been variously reported as either 143 or 152 MPH, which is to say, it was indeed as fast as it looked.

The suspension was dead stock, however. The mid-engined 914 was already one of the sweetest handling cars of the age, and as they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Apart from the running gear, there wasn't a whole lot of 914 left in the Tapiro when Giugiaro got done with it. "Tapiro" is the Italian name for the tapir, a pig-like animal with a long prehensile snout. Though not particularly porcine by any stretch, the Tapiro certainly had a long snout. From the sharp, wedged prow the hood flowed smoothly to the base of the windshield, which was set at an angle only a degree or two more vertical than the hood. The roofline--a mere 44 inches off the road--tapered down ever so slightly from the windshield to the high "Kammback" tail. The tail was so high, relative to where the driver's head would be, that it was necessary to make the upper half of the rear fascia a window so there would be at least some hope of rear visibility. That arrangement has since been used on other Kammback-ed vehicles such as the second-generation CRX and the Aztek/Rezvendous, and it is one of the signature styling cues of the Prius

This shot also shows the tandem gull-wing hatches to good effect.I haven't been able to find an official published drag coefficient for the Tapiro, and I don't know if it was ever tested in a wind tunnel, but it looks like it should have scored a nice low number, somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.30.

Note the small arrows showing the airflow through the roof ducting.The Tapiro's flashiest styling element was the gull-wing door arrangement. The passenger doors, with their dramatic wrap-around windows, lifted up for ease of entry, hinged to the center rib of the roof. The compartment under the hood was barely big enough to hold the spare tire, so additional cargo space was provided behind the passenger companrtment, above the engine bay.  This was accessed through another set of glass gull-wing doors, and the floor of the cargo area could be removed to get at the engine. The center roof rib also contained air ducts for the passenger companrment and, in combination with the B- and C-pillars, formed a rather stiff and strong roll cage.

They don't make "booth babes" like that anymore.The Tapiro was exhibited on the European car show circuit in 1970-71, and was one of the featured exhibits at the 1971 Los Angeles Imported Automobile and Sports Car Show, appearing on the cover of the show program.

This is what 1971 looked like.Though commissioned only as a high-visibility show car, the Tapiro was fully functional, and capable of being mass-produced. It didn't go into production, sad to say, but the car at least avoided being cut up, as so many show cars are, and got to live something of a normal life. In 1972, after its car show days had ended, the Tapiro was sold to a Spanish executive who used it as his daily driver. It spent eight years on the highways and byways of the Iberian peninsula, and one hopes the owner got it out on the twisties and had fun with it from time to time.

Unfortunately, it came to a sad end. In 1980, the car was firebombed by a group of people, variously described as "anarchists," "terrorists," "union militants," "obnoxious jerks," or "Philistines with no appreciation for great works of art," who claimed to have some grievance against the owner and/or his company which justified the vandalism in their narrow little minds. Whatever prison term they got, it was too short.

The unrestored remains of the car are in the possession of an Italian museum. To judge from the photo, it could be at least cosmetically restored, but it would take a lot of work.

The closest you will ever get to driving a Porsche Tapiro today is a freeware add-on that a fan programmed for the Need For Speed videogame franchise.

Still, one can at least dream of an alternate universe where gleaming new mass-produced Tapiri graced the showrooms of Porsche dealerships in the 1970s, for sale at surprisingly affordable prices.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

The illustrations are contemporary publicity photos obtained from the auto enthusiast blog "Along for the Ride," lotusespritturbo.com, and PorschePurist.com.

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I'm pretty sure I had a Matchbox (or Hotwheels) of this. Talk about 80s styling ahead of its time!

I bet you must have had a helluva time trying to decide which pics to use for the post, as they're all beautiful.

I didn't know the remains of the car still existed. The fact that it does puts an optimistic smile on my face.

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