G, o, g, g, o - 1959 Goggomobil Dart

Every now and then, a car comes along with a reputation built on its contribution to popular culture rather than its merits as a car. The DeLorean DMC12 is a good example. Another example came about In 1958, when Bill Buckle began assembling the German Goggomobil microcar in Australia. The Goggomobil is known for its appearance in an ad for the Yellow Pages phone book,and not much else. It did however spawn a uniquely Australian sports car, the brilliantly awful Goggomobil Dart.

Buckle Motors was founded as a car dealership in Sydney in 1927 by William "Bill" Buckle Snr. Starting with Triumph and Talbot, Buckle expanded to include Citroen, Armstrong-Siddeley and DeSoto franchises around New South Wales. In 1947, Bill Buckle Jnr took over his father's business and became a pioneer in the fibreglass sports car business. The first production Buckle was the Buckle Sports 2.5 litre, a fibreglass sports car with a Ford Zephyr engine. It was fast, expensive and a very successful hill climb car. The Dart couldn't have been much further from that.

The Buckle Sports 2.5 Litre

The Buckle Sports 2.5 Litre

Having mastered fibreglass body construction, Buckle sports cars were known for exceptional build quality, Bill’s next step was a higher volume model based around an imported chassis. In 1958, Buckle became the Australian distributor for Goggomobil, building a fibreglass version of the steel Goggomobil Coupe.

The Goggomobil was well received in Australia. In December 1958, Modern Motor magazine wrote of the coupe:

"A combination of several factors gives the Goggo its amazing manoeuvrability in local traffic. its tiny size, tight turning circle afforded by small wheels and more direct steering ratio, snappy gearbox and nippy acceleration"

The Goggomobil coupe was a fibreglass replica of its German counterpart

The Goggomobil coupe was a fibreglass replica of its German counterpart

Encouraged by the positive reviews, Buckle introduced a lightweight convertible sports car based on the Goggomobil chassis. Racing car body engineer Stan Brown was drafted in to design the body.  

The Dart’s spec sheet read like that of a motorcycle. It had a deafeningly loud Glas 293cc two stroke engine with 15hp, enough to make it to 100kmh. It also had no doors, instead the seats lifted when moved back to assist with entry and egress. The roof offered little weather protection and made it virtually impossible to get in and out of in the early doorless models. The ride was as appalling as you’d expect in a 340kg car, and there was no luggage space at all, Standing barely a metre tall, other drivers would look right over you and you looked up to their wing mirrors. 

Note the windscreen is barely higher than the bonnet of the Holden behind 

Note the windscreen is barely higher than the bonnet of the Holden behind 

Despite these flaws, the Dart was launched to rave reviews. The low weight gave it a respectable power to weight ratio of 48hp/tonne. At 1960s traffic speeds, it felt more than quick enough. Handling was good, as you’d expect for such a small car, and the steering ratio was was a quick 2.75 turns lock to lock.

The advertising pointed out that at £675, it was the cheapest “special” sports car in Australia.

"You've watched the gleaming, racing 'specials' go by, dreamed of driving one yourself ... of being the envy of all your crowd because you're a 'sports car man'.

"Stop wishing, stop dreaming, your chance is here today! The cool, clean, low slung, GOGGO DART! at lowest price ever for a 'special'."

A sports car man with a 293cc engine…

There was a faster 400cc version.  Power increased to 20hp. The power to weight ratio of 59hp/tonne was comparable to the FC Holden of the same period.

The Goggomobil was actually the only independently built car to make money in the 1950s, with 4300 coupes and 700 Darts sold. It’s run was only stopped by the Mini, which raised the small car bar significantly, killing off the microcar industry in Australia. Washing machine manufacturer Lightburn had a go with the Zeta in 1963, but only managed to sell a few hundred examples. Buckle Motors was sold to Hong Kong-based investors, and released the Buckle Monaco in 1966, a coupe based on Australian assembled versions of the Mini.

It's easy to see the appeal of a Dart. It would never be a substitute for a proper car, but it didn't have to be. It's competitors were other microcars, motorcycles, and public transport. it was about as much fun as a microcar could get, and more practical than a bike or public transport.  In late 1950s Australia, two proper cars was out of the question for most households, but for some, a Dart as the second car might have been a good solution.

A few years ago, Shannon's Insurance hired Tommy Dysart, who starred in the original Yellow Pages ad for a series of ads featuring the Goggomobil Dart. This generated a wave of nostalgia for the Dart, pushing up prices. A good one really is worth, as Dysart says, “a pretty penny”.

I'll leave you with these two ads. First is the Yellow Pages 


And now Shannons

CultureMichael MasinComment