The 1976 Autozodiaco All-Cars Charly is your weird car moment of zen

Seventies Italian microcar can be yours for only $12,500

Welcome to the future, circa 1974. Photo credit: motoeXotica
May we introduce you to the blue wedge pictured above -- the incongruously named Charly, the brainchild of Italianate dune buggy purveyors Autozodiaco. Which, like all the world's greatest companies -- Honda, Ferrari, et al. -- leapt from the singular vision of one man: the exotically named Mario Zodiaco, who saw Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair and was immediately inspired to build dune buggies. Zodiaco journeyed to California, the spiritual and literal home of the dune buggy, as soon as he could. When he returned to his native Bologna he brought one back. Traffic stopped -- in 1968, the Italians had never seen such a sleek, curvaceous machine!

Well, maybe they had. But the dream was well on its way for young Zodiaco. Autozodiaco built, among other things, a road-going buggy called the Damaca that resembled a targa-topped bar of soap cut to resemble a child's rendering of a Pantera -- which was indeed penned by Pantera designer Tom Tjaarda, in case you're looking for that Malaise-riffic Six Degrees of Separation. It built a knobby-tired motorcycle called the Moto Zodiaco Tuareg that was more capable than a Volkswagen product of a similar name. It built a Beetle-based Manx-lookalike buggy called the Deserter, also sold as the Jumper. Truth in advertising. Which doesn't explain why its microcar, which we can presume this is, was known as the “Charly.”

Does it look like a Charly? People tell me I'm more of a Samantha, but deep down inside I've always been a Carrie. In other countries it was called the “Snuggy,” evidently for its comforting, wraparound nature as well as its pseudo-ironic fashion sensibilities. Autozodiaco created the design, then promptly sold it to a concern called, simply, All-Cars, which churned these from its Pianoro factory from 1974 to 1985. Like so many historical microcar oddities, just one survives -- one freakishly well-preserved example from someone who we can only assume has a stack of receipts taller than his divorce paperwork.

Looking like the unholy union of a Manfrotto tripod, a Bond Bug, and a dreidel, its Rhapsody in Blue fiberglass body contains, for a start, a steering wheel presumably ripped from a spezzatura-laden Jegs catalog, mounted to the right -- though it could have just been as easily mounted in the center for all of your McLaren F1 fantasies. Somewhere out there, a Pullman R46 Eighth Avenue Express subway car is missing a bench seat. Stickshifts and safetybelts, bucket seats have all got to go. Mouse-fur upholstery covers the doors, thin and tinny like a Chinese-made snare drum. Who wants to bet that wiper blade was a $120 “Convenience Package”? Remember, living small isn't just a lifestyle, it's an obsession. Best hope your Expedition-driving cohorts don't catch you making faces at them through the pentagonal side windows, both designed and installed by an enthusiastic 12-year-old with a keen eye for this car business, the cute lil' tyke.

This 1976 example won an award somewhere and is “without a doubt, the nicest all original Charly in existence,” which is kind of like having the nicest toenails of all your girlfriend's exes: nice on paper but dubious in practicality. It's only got 161 kilometers on the metaphorical clock, 160 of those presumably driven in terror. In some states you'd be able to register this as a motorcycle, or an electric bicycle, or a Shriner parade car. There's a 49cc Moto Morini engine mounted in back somewhere, which might actually be the most reliable Italian powerplant ever made. It smokes just like its Camel counterpart. (We would have preferred Nazionlis or Modianos.) Is it faster in motion, or standing still? Remember, a 49cc two-stroke that fits in the palm of your hand might top out at, say, a brisk walking pace, but don't forget that the Earth moves around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour. So, uh, there's that.

More than likely it is the same car that sold at the prestigious Mecum auction in October as part of a buy one, get one free deal -- ok, for $5,250, to someone who may want to remain nameless. Now, you can buy it from an entirely different auction for $12,500. Just think -- in an alternate universe, this is what Colin Chapman is building instead of bug-eyed sports cars. We say that's worth the $12,500 purchase price, which is “optimistic” at best but still cheaper than a Scion IQ. Go on, take a gamble: click that Buy It Now button and park it next to your GMC Jimmy, or if you're of the European bent, your Opel Adam.


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