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Quasar Cars (1965-2011) lore and designs thread


#1

This is my thread for my little marque of Automation cars, which I call Quasar. It’s supposed to start around 1965 and end around 2010 in the wake of the 2008 economic crash and years of declining competitiveness. But before we get to 1965, we must get ~the lore~ out of the way. So let’s get started!

The story of Quasar Cars, Inc. can be traced all the way back to the early 1930s with German-Jewish aircraft engineer Ariel Lieberman (1903-1977). Lieberman was fascinated by fuel injection, a then-new and unproven technology associated mostly with the Levavasseur 8V aircraft engine of the World War I era and certain Swedish truck engine designs. These engines were unreliable, vastly more expensive than carbureted designs, and the Swedish Hesselman design also boasted terrible compression and even worse emissions, but in theory fuel injection could be enormously superior to carburetion in performance, refinement, and economy. Lieberman’s company Lieberman Aero-Werke (LAW) then sold a variety of light aero engines largely for export, as the aircraft industry was heavily restricted by the Treaty of Versailles. Lieberman, together with LAW’s engineering chief Hans Mandel, designed a new fuel injection system designed as a retrofit to LAW’s popular LA40 inline-six aero engine. Unlike previous systems which injected fuel directly into the cylinder, Lieberman’s system placed the injector near the intake port, which made the system simpler, more robust, and much cheaper to build. However, the port injected LA40E (Einspritzung) engine only reached the prototype stage when the newly elected Nazi Party government issued the Reichstag Fire Decree in March 1933, giving them essentially complete control of Germany.

With anti-Semitic hysteria sweeping through Germany and German democracy now officially dead, Lieberman destroyed the prototype and all of the tooling for the LA40E, abandoned LAW and fled Germany for Switzerland on April 14, 1933, taking most of LAW’s engineering documents with him. LAW’s remaining assets were expropriated and handed over to Daimler-Benz, while Lieberman restarted his engine works as Lieberman Motor-Werke (LMW) in Bern in early 1934, this time focusing on twin-cylinder motorcycles, as he no longer had the resources to build large, multi-cylinder aero engines. LMW’s first machine was the LMW Walküre motorcycle, introduced in October 1934, with a carbureted 500cc engine followed shortly thereafter by the Walküre 500E with Lieberman’s port fuel injection system, modified for road use. While the 500E was expensive and temperamental, it was praised by the motorcycle press for its fuel economy, throttle response, and smooth running and ultimately over 90,000 500E bikes would be sold. However, disaster struck again in 1938 when Germany annexed Austria with the assent of the Western Allies. Combined with rumors escaping Germany of mass killings, riots, and secret prison camps, the news meant to Lieberman that no place in Europe was safe for Jews and he had to move again. In the summer of 1938, LMW was liquidated except, again, for its engineering documents, and Lieberman fled to the United States, this time for good.

During the late 1930s, Lieberman presented his port fuel injection system to the Western Allied governments, as well as major aerospace companies like Douglas, Rolls-Royce, and Packard, but was turned down by all of them, and his Walküre motorcycle, relaunched as the LMW Valkyrie 500i in the US, was a slow seller in the United States. During the Second World War, LMW closed and Lieberman went to work for Packard as an engineer, while his eldest son Elijah (1926-1946) joined the United States Army and participated in the Normandy invasion through the end of World War II before losing control during a joyride of a captured Tatra luxury car. Three days after V-J Day, Lieberman quit Packard along with three other Packard engineers to form Gordon-Jensen-Lieberman-Voigt (GJLV) with the four’s collected savings and a $3.5 million loan. Lieberman’s business partners, especially Cameron Voigt (1910-1983), were impressed by his port injection design, which he had revised several times during the war by modifying a late production Valkyrie in his garage. Voigt in particular was interested in adapting it for auto racing; Lieberman was skeptical, wishing to resume production of small, ultra-efficient motorcycles, and furthermore he had little love for cars and even less after the death of his beloved Eli driving a car far faster than he knew how to handle. The other three argued that motorcycles had little future in Europe and even less in the United States and that the only way forward after the war was with cars.

They immediately set about conceiving a design; in their jubilant postwar optimism they conceived of a “world car”, a practical and efficient family car using as many of the new technologies developed during World War II as possible, a car with no links whatsoever to the world of the past (though, ironically, their design had many links to Hans Ledwinka, the engineer behind the Tatra 77 that killed Lieberman’s son). It was to have a monocoque construction and overhead camshafts like an aircraft, and room enough to be acceptable to American families within a footprint small enough to navigate crowded European cities. The only concession to the old ways was its engine placement, which was against the firewall in the old Panhard layout as Lieberman was strongly against a rear engine layout (the Tatra 77 having been rear-engined), but power was routed to the front wheels like the Citroën Traction Avant for better agility and traction in poor weather. The car was still tall and narrow like a pre-war small car but with much more room inside, as the bodywork now extended outward to completely envelop the rear wheels, reducing the fenders to ornamental rudiments. The wide-body design also allowed for a double wishbone suspension similar to that of the front of the Traction Avant to be used both front and rear, eliminating the axle altogether. At the heart of it all was a 1.2 liter inline four engine using Lieberman’s port fuel injection system. The initial proposed dual overhead cams, like a World War II military aero engine, were simplified to a single cam, but even still the engine shamed any contemporary economy car engine, rated at 60 horsepower at 4900 rpm and 26-40 miles per gallon depending on driving conditions; this was likely quite generous due to the SAE gross rating standard used, with the actual crank horsepower being estimated at 45-50. However, the sheer vigor of the engine, brought about by its fuel injection, made the car much quicker and more sporting than its numbers suggested. The engine was easily capable of revving to 6000 and beyond, but a fuel cutoff was added to the injection system that engaged at 5000 rpm to discourage waste of fuel.


The only known photograph of WS1200 remaining, taken by a US government employee at GJLV’s headquarters in California.

The prototype, designated WS1200, was demonstrated privately on October 13, 1947 to members of the Truman administration as well as representatives of the British government, in order to secure funds for mass production. While all who tested WS1200 agreed that it was nimble, efficient, comfortable, and a pleasure to drive, and it was stable at highway speeds all the way up to its maximum of 86 mph, its radical technology made it far more expensive to build than leftover “people’s car” designs like the Volkswagen and Citroën 2CV; the Truman government estimated that a mass produced version of WS1200 would cost at least as much to build as a full-sized Chevrolet or Ford. GJLV pointed out that costs could be reduced greatly over time through economies of scale as long as losses could be funded for a few years, but neither government were interested. WS1200’s engine also had a fairly wide bore and short stroke (though still more undersquare than was the custom in America), increasing its tax horsepower in many European countries and making it even more unaffordable there. In addition to cost, the Americans and British were suspicious of the French-derived drivetrain technology, and the aggressively rounded, almost tubular design that provided WS1200 with its ample interior reminded many of the inspectors of a slug or a larva. The future of WS1200, and the company, seemed bleak.

At the same time, the victorious Allies were busy enacting the Morgenthau Plan, entailing the stripping of Germany’s industrial and economic assets and their disbursal to firms in Allied countries. GJLV initially sought the KdF-Wagen plant in Wolfsburg that would later produce the Volkswagen Beetle, but the plant was handed over to the British instead, saving the Volkswagen—all four founders considered the Volkswagen inferior to WS1200, but Lieberman most of all because of its Nazi Party origins and its engineering resemblance to the Tatra 77. Instead, GJLV received a Daimler-Benz plant in Hamburg. The plant had been badly damaged by the firebombing of 1943, but Wehrmacht veterans were forced to clean and repair the factory by the occupation government and machine tools were confiscated from BMW, DKW, Messerschmitt, and other companies and installed in the factory. Now GJLV had a factory that could mass produce WS1200 without the help of the Allied governments, but they also faced the prospect of marketing an unusual and expensive car in war-ravaged central Europe. WS1200 was put on a boat from GJLV’s headquarters in Sacramento, California to Germany to be re-engineered into a new car for the new market. For WS1200 to survive, it would have to change.


#2

WS1200 arrived in Hamburg on January 8, 1948, whereupon GJLV’s engineers immediately set about modifying the car for its new market. Without public sector funding, WS1200 would be far more expensive than originally planned, and its rivals were now not utilitarian family cars like the Volkswagen but powerful new cars soon to come of Mercedes-Benz, and other upmarket manufacturers, with engines of 1.5 liters or more, against which, even with all of its advanced technology, WS1200 seemed inadequate. However, its handling and high-speed stability gave it potential in competition. During a board meeting, co-founder Tom Gordon (1888-1981) proposed retooling WS1200 into a luxury sports sedan in the style of the rumored Alfa Romeo 1900, retuning the engine for far more power and perhaps even adding double overhead cams, with Voigt enthusiastically concurring. Lieberman was still adamant against racing the car, and was more concerned with lowering its tax horsepower and increasing its fuel economy to make it more affordable. He also pointed out the engineering time and cost of completely changing course on the car’s priorities. Over several hours, a compromise would be hammered out: Lieberman would get his way on the engine but an official motorsports division, answering directly to Cameron Voigt, would be founded to advance the car’s reputation and refine its engineering. A name was also decided: the car was to be called the Eli 1200, named after Lieberman’s deceased son.

A new engine was built based on the design of the original prototype, but with a narrower bore and longer stroke, with the bore spacing left unchanged to permit an enlargement of the engine in the future. This put it in the 7CV tax bracket in France, putting the Eli neatly between economy cars such as the Renault 4CV and luxury cars like the Citroën Traction Avant, which was taxed at 11CV or higher. Power was rated according to the European DIN system at 47 bhp at 5200 rpm; a major drop on paper but due to the difference between SAE gross and DIN horsepower at the time, the difference was barely noticeable. Fuel economy was affected by the engine having to work harder due to its narrow bore, but still better than most cars of similar performance. The interior was heavily upgraded with finer materials and more gauges, including a tachometer, while the front seats gained winglike bolsters, inspired by a Ferrari 125 Voigt saw up close at a sports car race, to hold driver and passenger in place during hard cornering, but with a cutout on the door side to allow easier entry and exit. The styling was also changed, with slightly less curvature to the fenders and higher mounted headlamps.

Perhaps the most important change, though, was a contract with Michelin to produce radial tires specifically for the Eli 1200. Radial tires had been recently introduced on the 1948 Citroën 2CV and their stiff sidewalls and much stronger lateral grip than traditional cross-ply tires further enhanced the car’s agility. In road tests on winding mountain passes many hairpins could be traversed simply by turning in hard and applying throttle, and the front tires would simply dig in and pull the back of the car around, as opposed to the spinout that would occur if the same technique was applied in a rear-wheel-drive car. The tires were, however, louder and harsher than contemporary cross-ply tires and whitewall cross-ply tires would also be offered as a comfort option until the 1954 model year, when cross-ply tires were discontinued permanently. The cornering forces the car could generate, combined with its lack of anti-roll bars, would make the Eli 1200 lean alarmingly in hard turns, but the sidewalls did not flex and the car remained stable.


A restored 1950 Eli 1200. This car does not have side mirrors, which were a $38 option.

The Eli 1200 was unveiled at the 1949 Geneva Motor Show with a starting price of $3,060; 20,000 orders were placed even though the factory wouldn’t begin production for two months. Three prototypes, a sedan, coupe, and wagon (“Estate”), were brought out for the press to drive at a local racetrack and on public roads; Autocar described the Eli 1200 as “without a doubt the best-handling car we’ve ever driven…capable of terrifying, maddening speeds through mountain passes than in a normal car would be barely faster than a walk…the rear stays put regardless of cracks, ruts, or patches in the road surface”. Its fuel economy, interior room, and overall practicality were also roundly praised. The first Eli 1200s for model year 1950 began to reach customers in September, with some customers having to wait even longer as production was initially far behind demand.

While the Eli 1200 was not fast, it was surprisingly quick off the line, capable of accelerating to 60 miles per hour in 23.4 seconds. This in addition to its handling made it immediately popular as a rally car; and despite the first-year cars’ tendency to slip timing belts, it quickly established itself as a strong competitor in rally. Privateers placed seventh in the 1950 Rally of Liége, thirteenth in the 1950 Mille Miglia, and second in the 1951 Monte Carlo Rally, just barely defeated by Jean Trévoux’s larger, faster Hotchkiss Grégoire. The latter driver, Emil van Stavern, also turned out to be a talented engineer who had modified his own car for more power, and was quickly hired onto GJLV’s motorsports division. The racing color of van Stavern’s homeland, orange, which his Eli bore during the Monte Carlo rally, would become the livery for the Eli factory rally team. Even Lieberman was impressed by the Eli 1200’s motorsports success and potential.

The base price of the Eli 1200 dropped to $2,950 in 1951 and $2,675 in 1952 as factory production ramped up, reaching 80,000 cars a year by 1953. The car was marketed from 1951 on as “the incredible little sedan that thinks it’s a sports car”, and German motorists nicknamed the car the Steinbock (“Mountain Goat”) for its agility, responsiveness, and traction. Its rack-and-pinion steering, while very quick and precise, was completely unsassisted and earned the car another, less flattering name: Bewegungswagen (“Strength-Training Car”), due to the effort involved in turning the wheel.

Coming next: 1950 road test of the Eli 1200