Sunday 28 December 2008

The Inter autoscooter
The Inter is one of those microcars that appears to have very little known history , to my knowledge no factory records exist which is strange for a car that made it to production, in fact more is know about some microcars that only reached the prototype stage!
However these few facts are known for sure. It was AEMS that funded the car but it was SNCAN the aircraft builders of Lyonn who were commissioned to build the autoscooter, this was in 1953 and it is generally thought that the Inter would be a competitor for the Messerschmitt KR175 with which it shares very little in common apart from its aviation origins.
There is much conflicting and confusing sales literature from its time of launch, it would appear that the car was still being designed as this was going to print.The body of the prototype displayed at the 1953 Paris Salon was different and in my view more attractive than the car that actually came off the production line a year later.
One source describes the car as having a fourstroke engine although all the production vehicles were fitted with the Ydral 175cc two stroke motor, either the L49 bitube [twin port] or the later AJ55. One thing is very clear though, the body was definatly not designed around a pre selected power unit , quite the opposite in fact as the Ydral fan housing had to be paired away to enable it to be shoehorned into place and thus avoid contact with the rear swing arm assembly.
What else do we know for sure about this 1950's oddball? we know that production started in late 1954 and carried on until 1956 and the story goes that other cars were assembled later to order from parts. Approximately 300 cars were produced.
This is where the facts end and the rumours and deductions begin! Now the car has some very unusual design features, notably the folding undercarriage for reducing the overall width of the vehicle so as to enable ease of storage. Although this is by far the feature most associated with the Inter the truth of the matter is that only the first few cars had this facility and that the feature was dropped soon after production started. The early cars had a lever on the front bulkhead that when moved released the two half axle locking pins allowing the wheels and axles to be swung forwards and because the axles and track rods formed a parallelogram the wheels and mudguards stayed forwards facing. My current Inter was the fifth car off the line and so has the remains of this mechanism in place although because I have fitted the Inter hydraulic brakes system from a later car with fixed copper brake lines it was not practical to rebuild mine as a "folder".
The second peculiar feature that all Inters have is the Westinghouse Gyrostarter, this is a six volt starting device that predates the twelve volt siba/bosch dynastart as used on all the later bubblecars. The gyrostarter is an electric motor that has a flywheel and clutch mechanism. Once a lever inside the car is pulled up the motor slowly turns the flywheel until it picks up sufficient speed , then the lever is slammed down resulting in the momentum being transfered to the crankshaft via its built in clutch thus starting the engine. Once the engine starts the gyrostarter reverts to dynamo mode.This device is one of the Inters weaknesses and many Inters have been rendered useless by a broken gyrostarter. Also, because the device is only powered by a small motorcycle battery, if ones Inter was reluctant to start, by the third or fourth attempt the battery would be as flat as a pancake! Although my particular car is a good starter I took the precaution of fitting one of the excellent Optima 6 volt spiral technology batteries under the passenger seat.
As you can imagine, Ydral motors were not happy with the fact that they had spent considerable money tooling up to allow their motors to accept the gyrostarter only to be rewarded with all the inherent problems and weaknesses that the device afforded. The story goes that Ydral motors sued Westinghouse as a result.
The third quirky feature of the marque worth mentioning is that the steering is operated by a bicycle chain! The chain and its two adjusting rods cross over to form a figure eight that in turn links to a rack and pinion underneath the car, this is so typical of the aviation controls of the period!
The nieman rings or rubber band suspension used on Inters is also odd to most of us but the system is shared by other famous microcars such as the Klienschnittger and the Isetta vellum.
Mr Claud le Bihan of France is somewhat of an Inter aficionado, some time ago he came into contact with a man who worked at the SNCAN air base, Claud asked him if he knew anything of the little three wheeled cars that were once produced there, the man informed him that two Inters had been retained and kept for use as airbase runabouts and had only been broken up and destroyed a few month earlier, this was in the nineteen eighties! The man later knocked on Claude's door and presented him with a box containing an ydral engine saying " I managed to save this for you"! What a tragedy that the two cars had survived in use for all those years only to be destroyed at the hands of there makers!
Some people have been quick to say that SNCAN never made what the brochure called and pictured as the Torpedo version of the Inter, this is an open cockpit car with an aeroscreen much like the Messerschmitt sport, at this moment in time nobody can prove one way or the other. I also jumped to an incorrect conclusion recently about a couple of cars that had come to light , these are two Inters that have full width front wings just like messerschmitts that span from the body to the outer edge of the front wheels, not like the separate mud guards that turn with the wheels as per the standard model. I concluded that the cars had been modified and had not been made that way originally, my correction came from Claude who had seen one of the cars decades earlier in the original factory paint and thus argued that the factory had experimented with all sorts of variations.
There is one thing that all Inter owners agree on and that is that no two Inters are the same! The variations of detailing appear to be endless. I love these car!
My currently owned car is a 1954 Torpedo and is the second one I have restored, the first being in the ownership of the Bruce Weiner museum. I hope to be showing the Torpedo at some rallies this year , feel free to take a look and have a chat.
I would like to thank Gilles Perez, Rhona Bell, Donald and Claude le Bihan, Terry Clark and Competition Fabrications of Attleborough for there help with my restoration and the preparation of this article.
I have learned that it pays not to be too dogmatic in approaching the matter of microcar history hence I more than welcome any corrections anyone has to offer.