Guanci SSJ1 - GT body - manufactured in 1979
In what's becoming sort of a small series about limited production sportscars this month features the car with probably the most limited production ever: the Guanci SSJ1. The main difference between production cars and kit-cars, customs or specials is that a production car is developed from scratch. It isn't based on an existing chassis or derived from modifying an other car. Obviously this process is considerably more expensive and can only by economically viable if a number of identical cars are manufactured and sold. This was what was planned for the Guanci; when it was introduced at the Chicago Autoshow in 1979 it was announced that 50 cars annually would be made. Unfortunately things turned out rather different.
Some think that the Guanci was based on the Pontiac Fiero, some say it was made by DeTomaso in Italy but this is all incorrect. This attractive sportscar was the brainchild of John Guanci, a businessman from Chicago in the USA. During the 1970s Italian sportscars were quite the fashion amongst flashy, wealthy young men in the US while, with the possible exception of the Chevrolet Corvette, there was nothing made in the same class locally. John Guanci felt he could enter that gap with an American car that was equal to or even superior to the greatest European sportscars.
He had no background nor experience in the automotive field and in order to reach his goal he relied on experts. The development of the new car started in 1977. A very rigid monocoque steel and aluminum chassis was made by Bob McKee, who had previously built CanAm racing cars and the Howmet turbine powered racing car. Engineering and suspension was the responsibility of Dick Kleber, well-known for his work on the mythic Vector sportscar, he devised the mid-engined configuration with transversely placed V8 behind the seats and transaxle transmission for the car. The styling was done by Mike Williams who had worked for Chrysler and Jeep and was clearly inspired by the contemporary wedge-shaped designs of Giugiaro and Pininfarina. Still, his design was original in its own right, placed in a distinctive American context and particularly impressed by having near perfect proportions. Main reason why people think the Guanci was a kit-car was its one piece glass fibre body made by Steve Norcross of Dragonfly Cars, who also made the NTM race car. While this material is light and the one-piece construction gave it considerable strength it did not compare favorably with the fancy aluminum body panels crafted by the Italian competition.
Somewhere in this Alessandro de Tomaso, best known for the quite similar Ford V8 powered DeTomaso Pantera, was also involved as an advisor. It's not clear what his role was exactly but his name gave some credibility to the project. The car featured high quality components like a stainless steel streamlined floorpan, independent suspension with nickel cadmium plated stressed steel components, aluminum triangles in front, spherical rod ends coated with Teflon and, of course, disc brakes on all wheels. Remarkably the interior featured digital instrumentation, quite a novelty at the time. This was somewhat offset by the use of a standard 5.7 litre L82 Corvette V8 engine and other mass produced components, most notably the Oldsmobile Toronado based automatic transmission. But in all it was a well thought-through design that functioned well and had no problem being homologated as a street legal car.
It took until 1979 before the car was ready to be unveiled. At its introduction at the Chicago Auto Show two cars were shown, complete with a hefty price tag of US$ 54,000 which was the equivalent of about 10 Ford Mustangs. The model was named SSJ1, indicating super sport John (Guanci) number 1, and a GT badge was added to stress that the car was not an all-out performance car but was equally at home at cruising comfortably at a high speed. There was a lot of publicity around this car and it appeared in a number of magazines and various shows. While one car was sold immediately after its introduction, the car shown here with Vin# 2800001, the company was in trouble at the same time. One of its main financial backers had died and finding additional funds proved almost impossible since gas guzzling V8 powered cars were considered a dying breed by then. And so production of the Guanci SSJ1 ended after just two cars; the other car, a red one, is still owned by John Guanci.
There was however sort of a post script to this project. In the early 1980s a third car was constructed, powered by a turbo-charged 3.8-litre V6 engine with 185 hp and a maximum speed of 220 kph. It was shown around 1981 and marketed for US$ 63,000 while planned production was lowered to 15 cars annually. Apparently there were no takers and the third, silver colored, Guanci with V6 turbo engine was truly the last of its kind. Possibly it was this car that was responsible for the myth that the Guanci was a Pontiac Fiero based kit-car, since the Fiero had also a V6 behind the seats. But that model only appeared in 1984, some 3 years after the last Guanci.
John Guanci resumed his other business after his brief adventure as a car manufacturer, having enriched the world by three attractive sports cars. Because of the amount of publicity the SSJ1 enjoyed at the end of the 1970 and the beginning of the 1980s it isn't as obscure as you might imagine for a car produced only 3 times and thanks to its looks and the good built quality it's quite highly valued. But the chance to encounter one is limited to those near John Guanci in the USA or to the one privately owned in Holland. How is that for exclusivity?http://www.ritzsite.nl/Archive/1012.htm