In search of a Canadian car: The Zar of all the Windsors
How you doin’, my reading friend? That well? Great. Are we ready for another journey down the autobahn of memory? Great. Yours truly has a topic that should be reasonably interesting, and this even though said topic might not be safe to drive on an autobahn.
I found the article at the heart of our topic while perusing issues of Le Petit Journal, a weekly from Montréal, Québec, which went bye bye in January 1978. The issue we are interested in today came out 60 years ago, on 25 October 1959.
Even though yours truly was never all that fond of automobiles, I must admit to being intrigued by the vehicle in the photograph above.
And yes, the title of this article was directly inspired by a temporary exhibition which opened its doors in June 2010 at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, Ontario – a sister / brother institution of the world famous Canada Aviation and Space Museum, also located in Ottawa. Yes, yes, world famous, but the big sibling was / is pretty cool too. It hosted the aforementioned exhibition for example, In Search of the Canadian Car (Hello, EP and SB!), an online version of which can be found at
How do wish to deal with today’s topic, my reading friend? Short and sweet – and brief, you say? Your wish is my command. To a point.
In early May of 1959 some newspapers readers in the Windsor and Toronto regions of Ontario, and possibly elsewhere, came across an article about a small and new Windsor company interested in manufacturing a real sensible Canadian automobile, made in Canada by Canadians for Canadians. And no, this small and economical vehicle was not the first all-Canadian automobile. The author of the article at the heart of this week’s peroration, or whoever at the newspaper came up with that title, was mistaken – and I cannot fathom how or why such a title was used. And no again, yours truly will not be digressing today about the first all-Canadian automobile.
Incorporated in Ontario in 1959, Zar Auto of Canada Limited, and no, there was no Zar Auto in the United States or anywhere else, was headed by 4 Windsor area gentlemen:
- Leo Finnigan, president, and former founding president of National Auto Radiator Manufacturing Company of Windsor, a statement which seemed somewhat exaggerated according to the successor of this firm, today’s NARMCO Group, also of Windsor;
- Frank W. Herman, vice president and director, and former Western Ontario sales supervisor of Fiberglass of Canada Limited;
- Roger Lauzon, secretary treasurer, and former president of Sun Parlor Pool Company Limited of Windsor; and
- Howard C. Neal, chairman of the board of directors, and former sales manager of Union Gas Company Limited.
It goes without saying, and here I am, saying it anyway, that Zar Auto of Canada was / is in no way related to Zar Car Ednolichno Druzhestvo s Ogranichena Otgovornost, an automobile repair / service shop in Bulgaria very much active in 2019, but I digress.
The early May announcement came as a slightly unpleasant surprise for our 4 gentlemen whose plan it was to unveil their project only in early June, presumably when the very first prototype of the Zar Zar-Car would be ready. And no, the name did / does not roll off the tongue quite as well as Ford Mustang or Pontiac Firebird, 2 automobiles mentioned in a February 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.
How did the press hear about the Zar-Car, you ask? Well, it so happened that a Windsor alderman, Maurice Lucien Bélanger, heard about the project, made some inquiries and presented his findings at a meeting of the city council. This former teacher stated that the Greater Windsor Industrial Commission had thoroughly investigated the possibilities of Zar Auto of Canada. None of the articles yours truly has come across actually said anything about these possibilities, a failing that I find very annoying. Still, Bélanger also said that both American and European companies had shown at least some interest in Zar Auto of Canada. By comparison, companies in or near Windsor allegedly made only negligible offers.
Incidentally, Bélanger was born in Sherbrooke, Québec – yours truly’s homecity. Small world, isn’t it?
In any event, when asked to talk about Zar Auto of Canada by a journalist of the Canadian Press, the aforementioned Finnigan stated that the company hoped to have a prototype of the Zar-Car ready in June, as was said (typed?) above, and 11 automobiles built by the fall / autumn of 1960. Said prototype was hand built on the chassis of an Italian automobile, possibly a Fiat 600.
Now why the dejected look, my reading friend? Are you afraid that yours truly will launch into yet another digression, this one being on the FIAT 600? Given that you expect to be digressed to, what kind of a host would I be if I did not fulfill your expectations? I shall be brief. And yes, Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino Società Anónima (FIAT) was mentioned in March 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee.
The FIAT 600, say I, was produced by FIAT between 1955 and 1969. The Italian automobile giant produced approximately 2 695 000 of these economical yet capable 4-seat vehicles. That total probably included a number of 4 to 6 seat FIAT 600 Multiplia, a precursor of today’s multipurpose vehicles. Mind you, approximately 2 225 000 FIAT 600 were also manufactured, until 1985 or so, in Argentina, Chile, Spain, West Germany and Yugoslavia, for a grand total of approximately 4 920 000 vehicles. The many FIAT 600s assembled in Australia (?), Colombia, Malaysia and Uruguay, using parts made elsewhere, were / are included in this total.
Have you ever heard of the Ghia Jolly, my reading friend? No? Me neither. In the late 1950s and, possibly, early 1960s, FIAT delivered a number of FIAT 600s to an Italian design house. Carrozzeria Ghia Società per azioni fitted them with wicker seats and an optional fringed top. Would you believe that the Jolly was originally designed for use by people who owned yachts large enough to accommodate it? It must be nice to have money. Hello, boss, hello.
The owners of such luxury vehicles, which may or may not have owned yachts, ginormous or not, included famous movie actresses and actors like Yul Brinner, born Yuliy Borisovich Briner; Grace Patricia Kelly; Mary Pickford, born Gladys Louise Smith; and Mary Jane “Mae” West, not to mention luminaries like the Yugoslav president / dictator Josip Broz Tito and shipping magnate Aristotelis “Ari / Aristo” Onassis. Would I surprise you if I stated that West was mentioned in a May 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin thingee? But back to our story
As far as I can tell, production examples of the Zar-Car were to be powered by a small European engine, quite possibly that of the FIAT 600, which went against the words “all-Canadian” in the title of the article in Le Petit Journal, once translated, don’t you think?
This technical detail was not what caught yours truly’s roving eye, however. The Zar-Car, say I, had a fibreglass body. And no, it was not the first automobile with such a body. The Chevrolet Corvette, for example, was introduced in 1953, and even that classic sports car was not the first production automobile with a fibreglass body. This honour seemingly belonged to the Glasspar G2, another American sports car, introduced in 1951 but made in very, very, very small numbers.
In Canada, the honour of being first belonged to the La Dawri Cavalier, yet another sport car, introduced in 1956 but made in very, very, very small numbers. This being said (typed?), La Dawri Coachcraft Incorporated moved to the United States in 1957 where it became, at some point in the 1960s, one of the most important manufacturer of fibreglass sports car bodies in the world, but I digress. Sorry.
At this point, I feel the need to point out that the horizontal fins at the rear of the Zar-Car looked / look dangerous. A child who ran into one of these things could get hurt.
The launch of the Zar-Car brought to fruition a dream Finnigan had lived with since the mid-1930s, if not slightly before, when he was a teenager. As production and assembly of the world famous Ford Model A automobile came to a halt, in 1931 or slightly later, in the United States, United Kingdom, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Japan, Germany, Canada, Australia and Argentina, he began to think about building a small and affordable automobile in Canada.
A journalist with Le Petit Journal by the name of Arthur Prévost went to Windsor in October 1959 to talk to Finnigan and other members of the management team of Zar Auto of Canada. Yours truly believes that this journalist was / is the Arthur Prévost who wrote the articles at the heart of 2 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee published in July 2018 and May 2019, the ones entitled
- The brother from another Buckingham, and
- The Moon is one of the most relaxing resorts in the Universe. Call us, today, for a free information pamphlet!
Would you believe I had not noticed the presence of Prévost before completing the original version of this text? But back to our story.
While in Windsor, Prévost learned that a few additional automobiles had been completed, which might have been true – or not. A Zar-Car had travelled almost 34 000 kilometres (about 21 000 miles) on (Ontario?) roads in 1959 to see if everything worked properly.
Finnigan held great hopes for the Zar-Car. Initially, Zar Auto of Canada would produce 50 automobiles per day. This number would double with the introduction of a second production line. According to the aforementioned Lauzon, it was very probable that this second line would be located in Québec.
Finnigan eventually hoped to produce 3 different models of Zar-Cars: a 4 or 5 seat vehicle, possibly the initial model; a sports vehicle; and an as yet undetermined type of vehicle. Fuel efficient and relatively inexpensive, the Zar-Car had much to offer.
Finnigan was especially proud of his automobile’s monocoque fibreglass body, which was so robust that one could whack it with a sledgehammer without damaging it in any way, shape or form. Mind you, said body was also rustproof.
Oddly enough, Finnigan said to Prévost that it was high time Canada became an automobile producing country. After all, said he, countries like the Netherlands and Sweden with a joint population of about 18 million people each had an automobile industry, whereas Canada, with 17 million inhabitants, including 5.5 million souls in Ontario, did not.
Such a statement was / is indeed strange given the long-time presence on Canadian soil of firms like Chrysler Corporation of Canada Limited, Ford Motor Company of Canada Limited and General Motors of Canada Limited (GMC), the subsidiaries of American automobile manufacturing giants Chrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation (GM).
Yours truly cannot believe that Finnigan was trying to mislead Prévost that badly, or that the latter completely misunderstood what the former was saying. Finnigan may have thought that the automobiles made in Canada by Chrysler Corporation of Canada, Ford Motor Company of Canada and GMC were mere local versions of American automobiles, whereas the Zar-Car was an original design. I can only admit to being very puzzled by the content of Prévost’s article.
As we both know, the American and Canadian automobile manufacturing firms mentioned above were mentioned in various issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee:
- Chrysler Corporation, in January, February and March 2019 issues,
- Chrysler Corporation of Canada, in a March 2019 issue,
- Ford Motor Company, in some issues since December 2018,
- Ford Motor Company of Canada, in a December 2018 issue,
- GM, in some issues since March 2018, and
- GMC, in November 2018, February 2019 and April 2019 issues.
Being the automobile expert that you are, my reading friend, you will of course know that Chrysler is now part of FIAT Chrysler Automobiles Naamloze Vennootschap. Yes, that FIAT. Small world, isn’t it?
Zar Auto of Canada pretty went under the radar after the fall / autumn of 1959. By the middle of 1960, the Zar-Car had yet to go into production. By then, it looked as if it would be powered by a British engine. Interestingly enough, the (very?) limited interest expressed by Windsor area companies and / or investors may have led the management of Zar Auto of Canada to move to an as yet undetermined location in Québec. It is possible that Finnigan sold the company before that move. Rumours to the effect that GM or GMC took over Zar Auto of Canada could not / cannot be confirmed.
This long forgotten Canadian company seemingly went out of business around 1960-61, or a tad later.
Yours truly was not able to find out what Herman, Lauzon and Neal did after this date. Sadly, Finnigan died in September 1962. He was 54 years old.
A thought if I may. One has to wonder if the aforementioned Canada Science and Technology Museum might wish to consider the possibility of giving some thought to the idea of acquiring what could well be the last surviving Zar-Car, if not the only one ever made. All right, all right, the preservation of a Zar-Car might not be of outstanding significance or national importance after all. Why not a La Dawri Cavalier then? Just sayin’.