France’s Undying Admiration for the Willys Jeep Knows No Bounds
By Andy Bannister
France and the United States are two nations that don’t always see eye to eye, but if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then much could be made of France’s fascination with the design of the original Willys Jeep.
One of the stranger offerings unveiled at last month’s Paris Motor Show was the Izis, a Willys tribute made by a company with the unlikely title of Wallyscar. It will be officially on sale at the beginning of 2009.
Looking like a scaled down and slightly-more-contemporary interpretation of the American original, it is a plastic-panelled body-on-chassis off-roader, with a 75bhp Peugeot 1.4 litre engine. Features mirroring the wartime Jeep include a fold-flat windscreen.
The Izis is actually a serious proposition, designed to fill a small but historically significant gap in the European market for no-frills leisure or beach cars, once exemplified by models like the Citroën Méhari and the Austin Mini-Moke. It has a no-rust plastic body and could be just the thing down on France’s Mediterranean coast.
The car has no roof, and as a consequence has has nothing in the way of interior trim that can be spoiled by rain, such as carpet and soft trim. It rinses off with a hose so is undoubtedly a practical proposition.
Hire companies looking for transport for holidaymakers in beach resorts are likely to be a key market. As well as the conventionally-engined version, an all-electric model is also in the pipeline.
The marque name underlines the car’s Willys inspiration, although if the promised exports to the UK and the Republic of Ireland take place the importers might be wise to find a less ridiculous name.
It’s unlikely many English-speaking buyers will be enraptured by the thought of being seen at the wheel of something called a Wallyscar (or should that be Wally’s Car?).
Strictly speaking, the Izis isn’t French at all, as production is undertaken in the North African state of Tunisia, part of the former French sphere of influence in the Maghreb. So, well done to the Tunisians for joining the ranks of the world’s car makers.
Originally based on a humble Renault 4, this odd little vehicle brought the rugged styling of Jeep’s finest to Paris and the rest of France, as well as a number of other European countries.
Around 5,000 were built, with later models featuring mechanical components from a variety of front-wheel-drive Peugeot products. The Grandin remains something of a cult car and still has a strong following to this day.
The Wallycar and Grandin aren’t the only vehicles to take advantage of this peculiarly gallic obsession with the style – if not necessarily the performance and ability – of an American icon.
Manufactured as an example of the strange “quadricyle” vehicles common in that country, the Scarlette comes in various versions and can be driven by 16-year-olds with a motorcycle licence. Their style will be somewhat cramped, however, by the fact that its top speed is only around 30mph.
A (slightly) faster version is also available for those qualified to drive a proper car, although for anyone who has driven a normal sized vehicle it is likely to feel distinctly as if they are at the wheel of a child’s toy, or alternatively a golf cart.
In a neat squaring of this particularly strange circle, Americans might even get the chance to sample the Scarlette for themselves, with recent talk of local assembly in Century, Florida, by a company called Project Green Leaf.
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