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Unusual cars with interesting histories

Why was the Perana Z1 abandoned?

Perana Z1

The Perana Z1 was an interesting idea. Get a car designed by top Italian designers Zagato, have it built in South Africa and then ship it to the United States for an American muscle engine to be fitted. Then sell it, not for supercar money, but for as little as €50,000, or US$70,000 at the time. It has to be a winner!

The name came from a series of high-performance cars manufactured in South Africa during the 1960s and 1970s. The car was to be manufactured by a company called Hi Tech Automotive of Port Elisabeth in South Africa; they produce short runs of complete rolling chassis, which are then exported. The buyers and then free to fit their own choice of engine.

Using the latest technology Zagato managed to design the car in just four months and what a good-looking sports car it was. Performance wasn't bad either. Fitted with a Chevrolet 6.2 litre V8 engine it was said to have red-hot acceleration and be capable of going from a standing start to 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds and although the top speed figure has never been released 185mph has been hinted at.

This was a two seater, lightweight coupe; the engine sat at the front and drove the rear wheels which is often the best configuration for good road handling. The lightweight fibreglass body sat on a tubular steel chassis; perhaps a harken back to the days of Colin Chapman and his Lotus cars. To keep costs to minimum drivers' aids were noticeable by their absence but the car still had Bilstein shock absorbers, Brembo brakes and motorsport seats by Recaro. How did they propose to do it for the price?

Sadly, they didn't. When the car was ready for production in 2011 the world had entered an economic downturn and only an estimated seven of the cars ever came out of the South African factory. the car was eventually rebadged by AC Cars as the AC 378 GT Zagato at a more realistic price of about US$142,000 but it seems that less than half a dozen more were sold.

So why did it fail? It was a good looking car with a blistering performance. Did it really enter the market at the wrong time, during a time of economic gloom? Was Zagato reluctant to be involved with a car selling at such a low price? Did Hi Tech Automotive have other more lucrative projects to work on? Or did they all just lose interest? Search me. It does seem a shame though.

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