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Thursday, November 17, 2022

When plastic succeeded to soar in the automotive industry of the 1960s

WOW!! Recently there's a quirky racing cars from the 1960s attracted us while surfing the internet. After searched around the webs, we've got quite interesting facts to discuss about it. It turns out that the unique car bodywork is made of a two-piece special Cycolac thermoplastic materials mounted on a tubular steel chassis. For Your info, until the early of 1960's, mostly automobiles were made of metal, and the use of materials other than that, especially plastic, was not commonly used.
The restored AMT Piranha racing version while on its debut at the Wine Country Classic historic car races at Sears Point Raceway. (Picture from: Supercars.net)
The mentioned racing car above called the AMT Piranha, that's the most interesting of sixties racing cars that we've ever seen. Another interested things about the car was the automaker, AMT was known also the company that manufactured scale models, at the time they planned to offer the Piranha both as 1/24 scaled model and a full-size kit cars. How could be?
Workers put the finishing touches on the first CRV prototype just prior to its' debut in January 1965. (Picture from: C-We)
Originally, the car was first envisioned by Marbon Chemicals, a division of Borg-Warner who wanted to promote the Cycolac ABS plastic as the best material used to build sports cars. For this reason, they commissoned Centaur Engineering, which was long involved in the race car business to produce a car design that would be built by using a Cycolac thermoformed process.
The CRV prototype was a two-seater roadster with a wrap-around windscreen, and based on the Centaur racecar tubular frame chassis. (Picture from: C-We)
In short, with the resources of Marbon, and the expertise of Centaur, along with other partners included William M Schmidt who did the body design and Jentzen-Miller Co. who were specialists in plastic forming, the first plastic prototype was constructed in late 1964 and first displayed at the SAE convention in Detroit in January 1965. Thanks to Centaur's design not only worked for the car's body molding process, as the resulted striking styles that remained looks modern to this day.
The CRV prototype powered by a rear-mounted, 4-cylinder water-cooled engine. (Picture from: UndiscoveredClassics)
This prototype was called the CRV, (short for Cycolac Research Vehicle.) It was a two-seater roadster with a wrap-around windscreen, powered by a rear-mounted, 4-cylinder water-cooled engine, and based on the Centaur racecar tubular frame chassis. The CRV was a hit at the SAE show, so Marbon decided to take the next step to build a more powerful version and involved more intense in the racing car competitions to test the durability of the production material.
The CRV prototype was first displayed at the SAE convention in Detroit in January 1965. (Picture from: C-We)
Centaur was commissioned to build the racer and have it ready for an SCCA race at Mid-Ohio in June 1965. This was CRV-II, and Trant Jarman would be driving it on the race. It was another roadster and was built over a fiberglass chassis tub with suspension pieces attached to metal framework in the front and rear. The car was completed on time and Centaur went big time. As an incentive to finish the car on time, Marbon offered to make Centaur Engineering their Concepts Division.
Here is a rare color photo of the CRV-II when ready to hit the track with Trant Jarman behind the wheel. (Picture from: C-We)
It was powered by an air-cooled Corvair engine mounted in the rear. Bulges had to be added to the rear fenders to allow for the oversized racing tires. The car did quite well in competition and went on to win it's class in SCCA that year. Even a crash with a Jaguar during one race showed the plastic body was durable enough for everyday use.

The CRV-III was the third prototype build by Centaur, but was not a complete car. It was built for crash testing. Needless to say, plastic cars do not afford a great amount of protection. During the test, the car was demolished and the driver would have been impailed by the stock Corvair steering column that had been used. This was changed to a partially collapsible Toronado steering column on all later cars.
The CRV-IV was the first coupe version, featured with the gullwing door tops and Porsche grilles in the rear deck. (Picture from: C-We)
The next step was to build a more practical, street version of the car, so CRV-IV was build in February 1966. It can be identified by the bullet-shaped mirrors mounted on the front fenders, and featured with a full windshield and coupe roof. The doors opened in the conventional method, but the side windows were part of the roof and opened "gullwing" style. Again, it is powered by a Corvair engine and featured two Porsche rear grilles in the top of the rear deck to aid cooling. The gas tank was a cylindrical fiberglass affair that was mounted to the chassis on the passenger side, just in front of the rear wheel.
The CRV-IV was build in February 1966. It can be identified by the bullet-shaped mirrors mounted on the front fenders, and featured with a full windshield and coupe roof. (Picture from: ClassicCarCatalogue)
While the second coupe known as the CRV-V, was built a short time later, and can be identified by the rectangular mirrors mounted on the doors. Both cars were immediately sent overseas to promote the use of plastic at Marbon's foreign production facilities. It is not confirmed if either car was ever returned to the USA.
The CRV-V was built a shortly after the CRV IV, and it can be identified by the rectangular mirrors mounted on the doors. (Picture from: ClassicCarCatalogue)
It was never Marbon Chemical's intention to manufacture cars, but merely to create a market for their plastic products. They hoped that someone else wants to take over production of the CRV so they could sold the parts only. Then along came AMT (Aluminum Model Toys) Corporation of Troy, Michigan, was known a major car model manufacturer at that time. As mentioned above, they were looking for ways to promote their model products and offering a plastic-bodied specialty real car as well. 
Besides the well known dragster version, AMT built and sponsored a sports racing version of the Piranha. It was driven in various events by Dick Carbajal. (Picture from: C-We)
They had previously hired California famous car builder named Gene Winfield (who also known had connections in Hollywood movie indystries) as a design consultant and parts designer for their model kits, later he was offered the job as head of the new AMT division based in Phoenix, that would build the plastic sports car and other full-size versions of cars they produced. Well, due to the Winfield's connection in Hollywood, so that indirectly allows AMT got some kind another outlet for specialty cars for TV and movies. For example, in the new TV series titled "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." at the time he suggested using the Piranha, and thus the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." car became the most well known ones.
The AMT Piranha had appeared in several episodes of the new TV series titled "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." back in the 1960s. (Picture from: Car4Starters)
Shortly after that AMT purchased the rights from Marbon to build the plastic-made car, and agreed to purchase the plastic bodies and fiberglass chassis from them. Originally AMT planned to build 50 cars a year, and to promote the new venture, AMT decided to build both a drag racing and sports racing version named the AMT Piranha. The dragster version was build and competed the drag racing circuit in 1967 and was a big hit. It was one of the first rear-engined weird looking cars that almost cracked the 200 mph barrier. At the time, the sports car was built and campaigned by veteran driver Dick Carbijal.
The AMT Piranha of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." was longer than its standard sibling. (Picture from: Car4Starters)
Soon, AMT started to build the street versions of the 1967 Piranha. Its looks change from the original CRV design included an extended roofline, small hinged hatches in the side windows, and optional "Gurney bubbles" in the roof for more head room. AMT had planned to offer the Piranha for sale to the public for around $5,000. Unfortunately, due to the high cost of building each car by hand and obtaining the Corvair engines and parts from GM, it cost AMT well over that amount to finish each car.
This Marbon's promo shot compares the new Formacar to their earlier CRV model, it appears the car is actually one of the AMT Piranhas. (Picture from: C-We)
After about four streetcars were completed, and GM announced, they were cease the engine shipment very soon, led the arrangement between AMT and Marbon broken apart. AMT turned over the four unsold Piranha coupes and all the extra parts to Marbon, then parted ways. AMT continued to produce other specialty cars and props for customers (including the Star Trek shuttlecraft) for some time, but closed its special division office in Phoenix by 1969.
This car surfaced in Pennsylvania in running condition, it has CRV logos on the body, but an AMT roofline and also featured with the square headlights are being replaced during the restoration. (Picture from: C-We)
Meanwhile Marbon stripped off the AMT plates on the finished Piranhas, added CRV logos to the bodies, and distributed them for display at various company facilities, including their HQ in Washington. Some of these cars eventually found their way into private hands. It is also possible that another car or two was assembled from the extra parts returned from AMT. Not for long, Marbon did find another customer, a kit car company located in Lincoln, Nebraska for the CRV. The Cycolac bodies were sold as bolt-ons for the VW chassis, and available in both coupes and roadsters. Eventually, the company made molds of the body and produced a modified version in fiberglass. 
Italian coachbuilder OSI built a stylized version of the CRV featured with the clear headlight covers, air scoop in hood, and bulge in trunk area. (Picture from: Carrozzieri-Italiani)
Furthermore Marbon Chemical had created a second generation plastic vehicle called Formacar. A new design had been created, building on the successful testing of the CRV program. One prototype was built and the concept almost sold to American Motors, but there were problems with the new plastic chassis that ultimately killed it. Meanwhile, Centaur went on to design and produce chairs, boats, campers, and other items made from Cycolac, but Marbon eventually changed their focus and closed the doors of their Concepts division and the assets and fixtures were auctioned off. Rumor has it that CRV parts and/or cars were sold at the auction. 
The Italian stylized version of the CRV by OSI powered by a Renault Alpine 8/10 1108 Gordini vertical inline 4 cylinder engine. (Picture from: Carrozzieri-Italiani)
At least 12 CRV's and Piranha's were built. The three special AMT Piranhas (U.N.C.L.E. car, Carbajal racer, and dragster) all reside in California. While the CRV designer, Dann Deaver, acquired one unit Piranha for himself, and after his death the car remains in his family in Michigan. The remains of a Piranha is owned by a gentleman in Indiana, but the car was butchered by its' previous owner when he planned to mount it on a tubular chassis with a Capri 6-cylinder engine placed in the front. Another car has surfaced in Pennsylvania with CRV markings, but has Piranha sports roof. This may be the car that was on display at Marbon's HQ in West Virginia, and said the car is currently being restored. That is a total of seven cars that are known to still exist. 
The OSI CRV possibly rebuilt by the Italian coachbuilder after one of CRV V prototype car was almost completely damaged in an accident during its tour in Europe. (Picture from: Carrozzieri-Italiani)
Meanwhile there're rumors that either Toyota or Honda have a CRV in a museum in Japan, and another one additional car was built overseas by the Italian coachbuilder OSI S.p.A. As quoted of Carrozzieri-Italiani, this could be happened, after one of CRV V prototype car was almost completely damaged in an accident during its tour in Europe, as compensate the Italian coachbuilder to Marbon. The car appeared in typical Italian styled, and is based on running gear from a Renault Alpine 8/10 1108 Gordini which is a vertical inline 4 cylinder engine. Unfortunetely, to this day its' whereabouts unknown.
In June 2006, the restored Carbijal's AMT Piranha racer made its' debut at the Wine Country Classic historic car races at Sears Point Raceway. This will no doubt renew some interest in these forgotten of the American landmark cars. *** [EKA | FROM VARIOUS SOURCES | SUPERCARS.NET | UNDISCOVEREDCLASSICS | HEMMINGS | C-WE | FIBERCLASSIC.ORG | CARROZZIERI-ITALIANI | CLASSICCARCATALOGUE ]
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