Apart from a prototype built in 1958
, production of the Ascort TSV 1300 started in January, 1959
– with the intention that the company would be able to build one a week. Mechanically it was based on the VW Beetle, plus some Porsche components and Okrasa performance modifications. The idea was to have all spares available locally, and enable any VW-Porsche service centre to do the servicing. It surprised many punters who judged it on their misinformed preconceptions of what a kit car on VW underpinnings would be like. It was not a backyard special – rather it was a beautifully finished vehicle that matched Europe's best in quality, finish and performance. No effort or expense was spared – simply put, the Ascort was genuinely special.
The Ascort was the brainchild of the managing director of Continental Coachwork Pty. Ltd. (formed to produce the car), Mirek Craney . History records Craney as a shy but very likeable fellow, highly-clued-up plastics and a brilliant engineer. He emigrated from Czechoslovakia to Australia in 1950 and settled in Sydney. A perfectionist, he is said to have not only driven those around him, but even himself, crazy with frustration until the quality of the job in hand was absolutely perfect. The original TSV 1300 prototype was developed in plaster-of-paris mould stage, and would then go on to reach roadworthy status.
Using a slightly modified VW chassis with a Karrnann-Ghia anti-sway bar at the front, the Ascort TSV 1300 was powered by an engine of basically VW origin, converted with Okrasa and Porsche parts to give a capacity of 1300 c.c. and an output, of 54 b.h.p. at 4300 rpm. The conversion included (among other things) a special heavy-duty chromium-steel high-performance crankshaft, two light-alloy cylinder heads
giving 7.5 to 1 compression, special valve gear and manifolds, two Solex-Porsche dual-choke carburettors, and a set of special cylinder barrels and pistons. The VW engine was never a high rpm unit, but you could safely take the modified donk to 5200 rpm and, it was said, even beyond. We have no figures as to a top speed for the car, but if 5200rpm could be achieved that would mean a speed in excess of 100 mph.
Bodywise the Ascort was, simply put, beautiful. If it were in the showroom today we would definitely add it to our short list of cars that would find a spot in the Unique Cars and Parts
garage. Craney began by taking the Karmann-Ghia VW as basis of his design - but he introduced so many changes that there was hardly any resemblance left. In every respect the Ascort was so much better than the car on which it was based. In looks, in comfort, in performance, the Ascort was miles ahead. Perhaps the comparison is not being fair to the Karmann, which used a stock-standard VW motor of only 36 b.h.p. The Ascort's body, made of fibreglass with polyester and epoxy resins, had a double shell throughout of prestressed construction, with a light steel tubular frame bonded in and mounted on a 11-inch rubber seal. It may have looked like a two-seater from outside, but it seated four very comfortably.
The wide, forward-hinged doors had wind-up windows – which again goes to show how much better this was than most other small volume kit car types. There was a pair scuttle intakes which helped the ventilation. The rear engine lid contained two air-scoops for efficient cooling and swung on concealed hinges, as did the front luggage compartment lid, which was unlocked via a cable-operated from inside the car. Fuel capacity is a generous 16 gallons, carried in two 8-gallon (metal) tanks moulded into the rear-seat armrests and filled via one outside filler. Luggage space was incredibly roomy for a vehicle of this type; although the compartment housed the spare wheel and battery
, you could fit a full sized suitcase and still have room for a pair of golf bags. The horizontally-mounted spare wheel, recessed into the floor of the compartment, was placed so that the rear of the tyre
rested against the front torsion-bar housing. The spare would thus serve as a shock-absorber in the event of a head-on collision.
To ensure reasonable headroom for rear-seat passengers, fibreglass bucket seats at the rear were moulded into the box-section of the frame on each side of the gearbox. Engine accessibility was even better than that of the VW or Porsche. The engine well was designed to form a full box-section in the rear, meeting the motor cover-plates through a foam rubber strip. Two steel roll bars were moulded into the roof, and the reinfoced dashboard section followed the windscreen pillars upwards and across the top of the screen, forming a fibreglass tube encasing a steel tubular core right around the screen. Simply put, the design afforded strength beyond what most other cars of the era offered.
Ahead of its Time
The front seats were a semi-bucket type, and had fabricated steel frames and fibreglass squabs, well covered with foam rubber. They were adjustable both for rake and fore-and-aft movement, and could be dropped flat, although we are unsure what purpose this would have served. Maybe we are getting too old. The Lucas tail-light assemblies were of the Aston Martin DB3 type, and incorporated stop, parking, direction and reversing lights. Bosch headlights and indicators were mounted above the front bumper bar, fog and spot lights below it. Both front and rear bumpers were tremendously strong, being fully closed fibreglass sections. The rear bar had a drawn steel tube bonded into it in such a way as to transmit any impact from behind to the two stressed rear box sections.
Ahead of its time by decades, the Ascort did away with unnecessary chrome-work. It was only used on the door handles and head and tail-light rims, nowhere else. Web sites claim there are between 7 and 12 of the original 19 still in existence in Australia, and perhaps a one overseas. Whatever the number, these cars are highly collectable and will only continue to grow in value.