I N T E R M E C C A N I C A H I S T O R Y
Quotations in this section are courtesy of Andrew McCredie’s book The Story of the Prancing Bull which recounts the rich history of sports car manufacturer, Intermeccanica.
McCredie, Andrew. The Story of the Prancing Bull. England: Veloce Publishing Limited, 2010.
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Building One Custom Dream at a Time
Frank, a Hungarian-born Canadian, and Paula Reisner, a Czech-born Canadian were a perfect match. Their extraordinary dreams resulted in unique automobiles for the connoisseur market. Their company, Intermeccanica, is known world-wide for its custom cars. Their road to success was bumpy, but they overcame every adversity, ultimately transforming their setbacks into creative opportunities.
This remarkable story started “from the sale of the VW-based Devin Body Special back in Montreal, [when] Frank Reisner finally went into the car business. A small and humble company that would have a marked impact on the global sports car business was born” (p 23, McCredie, The Story of the Prancing Bull).
Arriving in Turin in 1959, the first place Paula and Frank called home was their FIAT 500. The pair camped in the hills outside the city. There they managed to envision their first sales catalogue and name the company.
Paula recalls, “One of the Turin companies was Italmeccanica, producing engine parts for FIATs. On a trip to Turin from Novara we stopped at a railroad crossing in Chiasso, just outside of Turin, when Frank thought to modify Italmeccanica to Intermeccanica, and the name was found” (p 23, McCredie).
The first project was making speed equipment kits including dual throat carburetors, intake manifolds, high performance cams and oil filters. Adding to the Intermeccanica catalogue, a full line of free-flow exhaust systems were developed in conjunction with an Italian tube company.
Selling particularly well in South Africa and North America, Intermeccanica was approached by a Formula Junior racer importer from the US, who requested that a racing car be designed and built for the Formula Junior Races. One of these was built and loaded onto a plane to the United States.
Upon the arrival of the Italian sports car, Chicago newspapers were plastered with headlines praising the car stating that the race car “had been officially timed at more than 140 miles per hour over the famed Monza track in Italy” (p 23, McCredie).
Now that Intermeccanica “had conquered building a race car it was time Intermeccanica really got into the car business . . . [as the future] wasn’t in building race cars, but rather in constructing unique-bodied, hand-assembled road cars with running gear supplied by major automakers” (p 32, McCredie).
This spawned a new project, the InterMeccanica Puch, or IMP. The car competed on Nurburgring, a 22km circuit in Germany.
When “the checkered flag fell, the Intermeccanica entries caused an even bigger stir when one won the 500cc class outright” (p 38, McCredie), beating out the favourite in the race.
The favourite entry was owned by another race car maker, Carlo Abarth, who was also based in Turin. After Intermeccanica won the race against one of Abarth’s creations, Carlo Abarth lobbied FIAT to no longer allow Steyr Puch to sell chassis to Intermeccanica, ending the IMP project.
The combination of Frank’s love of “the small cars that zipped around Turin” and his belief that a car with a “handcrafted Italian body could do very well in the United States, especially in the car-obsessed Southwest” (p 41, McCredie) resulted in a new dream: the Apollo.
This car’s distinct features were unlike anything on the market. The Apollo would take advantage of the “clean-cut kids of the fifties [that] used music, fashion and automobiles to set themselves apart from their square parents” (p 41, McCredie).
In 1962 a prototype Apollo was built, becoming the soul focus of Intermeccanica, and winning awards such as the best in show at the New York Auto show.
Unknown to Frank, the company that Intermeccanica had partnered with was heading for bankruptcy. Through this difficulty, Intermeccanica drew inspiration. The Apollo “would be the key to unlock their next great sports car building adventure” (p 52, McCredie), resulting in the creation of the Griffith. A new generation of style, this masterpiece excited every car lover with its promised power and speed.
This work of art was started in conjunction with Jack Griffith: “The car had its formal coming-out party at the 1966 New York Auto Show, and as with the Apollo a couple of years earlier, the initial press reports were glowing” (p 59, McCredie). The Griffith was fresh and innovative with a sleek body and powerful drive.
Unknown to Intermeccanica, Jack Griffith’s company was in financial difficulties and a new partner, Steve Wilder, decided to take over the project. Calling the car the Omega, Wilder had them assembled in North Carolina.
Frank developed a new classic that was based on the original Griffith bearing the name Torino — later
re-branded as the Italia.
This highly successful vehicle caught the eyes of discerning car lovers. The “Italia was the perfect name for the elegant, sexy sports car, and one North American consumers would immediately” fall in love with (page 80, McCredie).
The first Italias were shipped to the US for sale in 1968, and by March of the same year Intermeccanica had sold more than 40 Italias to the United States. Over time, almost 400 Italias were sold in North America and Germany.
After being commissioned by Opel, a General Motors subsidiary, Intermeccanica embarked on a very exciting new project:
The Indra was presented at the Geneva Automobile show and was a runaway success.
Following this, the Indra was presented at the New York auto show resulting in many orders. But the most important thing to come out of this show was the establishment of distribution for the Indra in the United States.
General Motors suddenly decided to stop supplying Chevrolet engines and Opel parts to Intermeccanica. This was devastating and resulted in a ban on selling the car in Opel dealerships in Germany, with disastrous effects for Intermeccanica.
This disaster set the company on a new path and the family moved to California in 1975. There was a used sports car dealership Frank drove by near San Diego where beautiful old Porsche 356 Speedsters were for sale, filling his mind with possibilities.
The replicas soon took over as the keynote car for Intermeccanica. A replica was developed into a prototype, resulting in a partnership between Frank Reisner and Tony Baumgartner to build replicas in California.
Through this partnership Automobili Intermeccancia was formed resulting in the creation of the first ever replica 356 Speedster. During this partnership approximately 600 replicas were produced. Tony Baumgartner later bought Frank’s share in Automobili Intermeccanica allowing Frank to create another successful dream car: the Roadster RS model. The combination of the new design and the fact that an old Montreal distributor from the Italia days had re-located to Vancouver, brought the Reisner family and Intermeccanica back to Canada.
Today Intermeccanica produces the Roadster [“D”], and the [“S”] models in Vancouver. They are unique in producing [an “S”] model with roll-up side windows. Intermeccanica offers many engine choices, including traditional air-cooled or water-cooled engines, and also sell custom builds powered by 911 engines and equipped with 911 running gear.
The company has succeeded in remaining true to a stunning original design and at the same time producing a fully modern car, but always according to their customer’s wishes.