Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What Is The Ultimate Mod Car?


WARNING: If you just did a Google search looking for what could be the coolest "mod" (ie modification) for your souped up ride, you're in the wrong place. If the words, style, mohair, Soul, RnB, allnighter, Lambretta, bespoke, all have meaning, you have managed to steer away from those thousands of online searches offering advice on how to become this guy.


If you're a true Modernist at heart, look no further, you're in the right place. If you're already a loyal reader of the Parka Avenue blog, then you have just proven, once again, that you have impeccable taste.

Now that being said, we are here to determine what is the preferred mode of transportation for the Mod travelling on 4 wheels. Vespa or Lambretta has been associated with Mods for decades now, that's a given. You think "Mod" and images of a fishtail caped crusader zooming around town on his 2-stroke Italian steed with Green Onions as the soundtrack in the background. You don't automatically picture him (or her) driving a car.

We are about to change that. The reason why Mods are not closely tied to cars is simple. We all got into the scene as teenagers, no matter when you entered the movement and cars were simply out of our price range. But we all did aspire that one day we were going to drive a head turner.

So here is my selection. Some choices are more obvious then others but I will make a case for every one. They'll be grouped in different categories.  If you feel that one should have made the list, let us know in the comment section bellow or leave a comment on the Parka Avenue Facebook page. 

You won't see any recent models in this post for the same reason you won't see me discuss the latest Vespa model. It doesn't mean a contemporary vehicle wouldn't make for a perfect Mod car.

1) The obvious choices

It's British. It's compact. It's stylish and it's affordable. For the Mod that wanted to graduate from a 2-wheel vehicle to a 4-wheel, the Austin Mini Cooper was a choice for many. In 1964, the base model would set you back £590 when compared to £215 for a top of the line 1965 Lambretta GT200 or £214 for a Vespa SS180.


Interesting fact, the Mini was manufactured under license in Italy by Innocenti, the producer of the Lambretta.

Notice the Lambretta lurking in the back
Next, little less obvious as a choice, would be the Vespa car. In fact, the Vespa 400 is quite rare. But one thing that might please the Mod crowd is that you can customize your Vespa 400 with a variety of aftermarket accessories.




Even if the Vespa 400 was the brainchild of Corradino D'Ascanio, the designer of the Vespa scooter  and that it was engineered completely in Italy by Piaggio, the assembly was done by ACMA, a French company, in their factory of Fourchambault, south of Paris.


The last year of production for the Vespa car was 1961 so it might not have been on any Mod's radar at that time.


Pull on the front grill and voila! the battery.
In direct competition for the Vespa car and the Mini would be the Fiat 500. It's Italian. Need I say more?


The Fiat 600 had a rear mounted engine unlike its cousin the Fiat 500.


The Fiat assembly line with the 600 following the Multipla.


2) The micro-car phenomenon

I don't know of any Mod that actually rode a micro-car back in the day but that won't deter me from including this category. I just love those darn little things! Most of them have scooter engines under their hood and they have the added bonus of keeping your suit dry in bad weather.



The micro-car craze started in the 50s so it's understandable that your forward thinking Modernist wouldn't look backwards for his transportation needs. But if you look at the 21st century Mod, I don't know many that praise the merits of the latest Vespa models either. And if you're looking to make a statement and turn some heads, it's hard to deny the appeal of those tiny machines.


Logic dictates that if you want to graduate from a scooter to a car, the next step up should be the Scootacar!


For the uninitiated, it's hard to believe the Isetta was made, from 1955 to 1962, by BMW. But it was. I find the quirky bubble, with the whole front end that hinges outwards to let you in, quite fascinating and charming.




Road test of an Isetta Velam in 1960
And how about this car for the Trojan Skinheads? Not manly enough? The Trojan 200 was manufactured from 1960 to 1965 by the German company Heinkel. Trojan was originally a British company but it was sold in 1959 just before this car was introduced. Very similar to the Isetta in the looks department, Heinkel also produced the powerful Heinkel Tourist scooter.





Speaking of German engineering, the Messerschmitt KR200 has a certain cult following and putting your hands on one today will set you back a pretty penny. You have to love a car that you enter like you would a WWII Spitfire. Even the steering wheel is reminiscent of an aircraft.



The Reliant Regal is another one of those eccentric three-wheelers produced in the UK. Come to think of it, maybe it's not the coolest ride on the block.



The name Bond may be associated with the coolest secret agent on the planet but the car of the same name might be a different story.


3) Drive like a Super Spy:

While we're on the subject of James Bond, I don't know of a single Mod that hasn't dreamed of walking in the fine Italian shoes of an international secret agent. And when you're not walking, why not be behind the wheel of one of these iconic rides.

At the top of the list is no other than 007. The Austin Martin DB5 was once dubbed "the most famous car in the world" and was introduced in 1964 for the first time in Goldfinger. In fact, the one seen in the movie (registration BMT 216A) was the prototype for the model.


If you're well connected, you can have yours retrofitted with rocket launchers, machines guns and other various gadgets. It's very helpful when you're being chased by nasty Rockers on motorcycles.



I'll go ahead and say it even if I risk loosing a few readers: Roger Moore has always been one of my favorite James Bond's. But I think I like him even more as Simon Templar in The Saint. I certainly wouldn't mind having his 1962 Volvo P1800 coupe parked in my driveway.


The car you see in the TV series was actually Roger Moore's personal car. Originally, the producers of The Saint were looking to have a Jaguar XK-E as Templar's car but when they approached the company, Jaguar thought the sales of the car were doing well enough that they didn't need the added exposure.


The Lotus Elan was elevated to cult status when it was driven by character Emma Peel, played by Diana Rigg, in The Avengers TV series. Two models were used for the shooting of the series, a white Lotus Elan S2 for the black & white  episodes in 1966 and this powder blue convertible Lotus Elan S3 for the color episodes aired in 1967.


If you want to put your hands on the car seen in the Man from U.N.C.L.E., aka the Piranha, you might find it difficult because it was basically a one-of-a-kind. The AMT corporation of Troy, Michigan hired Hollywood customizer Gene Winfield to come up with a plastic-bodied vehicule to be mounted on a Corvair engine. Winfield also designed the Star Trek shuttlecraft.



At one point AMT had planned on offering the Piranha to the grand public but the cost of making the car surpassed the list price of $5000.

4) Back to the future:

Speaking of cars that we would love to take for a spin, these are the tales of the cars that never made it to the showroom floor. They all have one thing in common. They look like they came from the distant future. And that, for a Mod, is good enough to make the list.

The 1961 Ford Gyron probably has as much to do with your Lambretta than the car you're currently driving. Believe it or not, this concept car only has 2 wheels and is stabilized by a gyroscope.




Holy horsepower Batman! If this 1955 Lincoln Futura reminds you of Bruce Wayne's Sunday ride, you would be correct. In 1966, George Barris modified this concept car for the Batman TV series. Unlike many concept cars of the period, this one was fully operational.


GM unveiled its gas turbine powered Firebird IV at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Don't plan on doing a test drive anytime soon, it was never operational.


The Autobianchi Rundabout was presented for the first time at the Turin Motor Show in 1969. The design was inspired by speedboats of the era. Notice that the headlamps are placed on the rollbar.


5) What dreams are made of:

Concept cars are great but let's be realistic, we'll never drive one. In this last category, you'll find cars that were out of reach for the average teenager but that you could conceivably own, one day, if you stopped buying records, clothes and got rid of your entire scooter collection.

Don Draper has said it, it's the most beautiful car in the world. I have to agree. The Jaguar XK-E is one splendid hunk of metal. Notoriously unreliable, it was more tempermentable due to the advanced mechanics of the time than actual flaws in the design. It's a high performance car after all. A Volkswagen Beetle engine it didn't have.



The 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL, also known as the Gullwing was the fastest production car of its time. Forget about selling your scooter collection, you need to cash in your stash of gold bullions to get a hold of one these babies because they usually go for seven figures.


Last but not least, another Italian masterpiece, the 1965 Ferrari GT330. If it was good enough for being John Lennon's first car than it's good enough for me. The definition of class, power and elegance. Nothing over the top but the type of vehicle that requires that you slip in those lambskin driving gloves and wear a nice silk scarf to drive. In fact, you can include the whole 1960s GT class in the lot. I'm not difficult.


John Lennon's first car sold for £359 900 at auction in 2013.

Of course many other cars could have made the list: the Sunbeam Alpine like the one driven by Bond in Dr. No, Steve McQueen's 1968 Ford Mustang GT in Bullitt, the MGB Roadster, the Alpha Romeo Spider, the Lancia Fluvia, etc. I had to stop at some point. Feel free to point out the ones that were left out in the comments section.

In case you're wondering what my first car was, let me tell you. I've owned 3 cars in my life. Two of them were 70s Volkswagen Beetles. You wouldn't expect a dedicated Mod to have driven the ultimate symbol of the Hippy movement but I did. And I loved every minute of it.


3 comments:

  1. Good post. What do you think Mods would ride/drive in 2016, if it was a brand new scene? Perhaps Ducati Monsters and Alfa Romeo Mitos? Would be an interesting debate!

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    Replies
    1. Good question. I can't come up with an answer. I feel the era of iconic, innovative cars are sadly over.

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  2. I can't believe there's no mention of the Innocenti Spider: http://www.innocentispider.co.uk/

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