Giocattolo inspires my Mazda ‘toy’ – a 323

For around 3 years in the late 1980s, a factory at Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast was making a supercar – despite many spanners in the works. It was called Giocattolo – the Italian word for toy.

Giocattolo Motori Pty Ltd was founded in 1986 by former IT consultant and De Tomaso fan/dealer Paul Halstead. His dream was to turn a mid-engined V6 Alfa Romeo rallying prototype – an Alfasud Sprint 6C – into a reality, after Alfa abandoned the idea.

Source: facebook.com/Giocattolosupercar

Spanner 1: Alfa wouldn’t supply him with bodies or engines. So Halstead bought fully finished Sprint cars to take apart and convert. Then, with Busso V6s not plentiful, HSV teamed up with Giocattolo and supplied Holden V8s. Kevlar was used to add ‘lightness’.

Spanner 2: Customs duty and taxes on the imported ZF transaxle from West Germany were huge – as in tens of thousands of dollars – then you can add to the business model high 80s interest rates and the economy at the time.

Despite all that, 15 cars were built before investors pulled the plug. The Giocattolo was launched at Lakeside Raceway, just north of Brisbane, by Aussie 1980 F1 world champion Alan Jones. One was destroyed in a fatal crash at Eastern Creek in 2001.

Read the full Giocattolo story here on Top Gear

In the late 80s there were newspaper articles about this supercar – either on the establishment of the factory, or its fight to survive. I recall seeing the Giocattolo in the Courier-Mail, because the picture featured one styling move that stuck with me: painting the wiper arms the white colour of the body. I can’t find this particular photo on the internet, but it would be in the newspaper archives.

At the time, I owned a white car – and I desperately wanted to give it a different look. It was a 1981 Mazda 323 hatchback.

Same car, but not mine. Source: Grays

I wanted to personalise my 1.5 litre 4-cylinder 323 because my dad owned the exact same car, in the same colour – but a 1982 model. The only difference was mine had a blue interior, and his was brown.

He bought it for me around 1989, because he wanted to help. I’d just driven my rust-riddled 1977 Toyota Corolla to the local car dealer, looking to trade my first car in on something. However, the prices were a bit steep for a uni student working part-time (who’d blown over $3,000 a year or so before on the cursed Corolla). I had to get to uni, but my dad had followed me down and had free time, so he promised to look after my need for new wheels.

Before I left, I saw the Mazda in the lot for around $8,000 and moved on, due to the price and its similarity to dad’s car. I did admire an early 80s Mitsubishi Colt (similar to this one I later owned) because it was priced lower and had the ‘split’ gearbox, with power and economy shifts offering 8 speeds. I was interested in automotive quirks, even then.

I bussed home from uni late in the day, and dad said he’d chipped in to buy me a car. I was hugely thrilled, saying “the Colt hatch?”. He shook his head and revealed that he’d bought the Mazda 323, because it was a familiar model and “we all know how good they are”.

They were good – spritely performance, a simple and clever interior, plus the hatch and fold-down rear seats (behind which I snuck into the local drive-in one night, with someone else driving). However, a young man trying to make his way in the world doesn’t really want to be a carbon copy of his dad.

So, when I saw the Giocattolo’s all-white presentation, I decided to paint the wiper arms on my 323, along with the grille (a trend I’d seen on other cars). White spray paint was bought, along with some tape to mask off the MAZDA badge on the grille.

The result looked a lot better than this artist’s (?) impression:

“Artist’s impression” using Grays pic

There was more I could have painted body colour, if I had the money/expertise (like mirrors and bumpers) – but these two augmentations were easily and cheaply accomplished.

Apart from needing rear wheel bearings and having extractors installed for some reason, the Mazda cost very little to maintain. I did find the forward-hinged bonnet annoying. Also annoying was the driver who ran into the car’s back bumper, when I stopped before an intersection (in the rain) to make way for an ambulance. She was uninsured, but paid for the repair – in instalments.

Despite my yearning for individuality, just a few months after buying my 323, dad sold his to buy a Toyota Land Cruiser – a “country vehicle” which had many problems, and prompted suspicion that it had been caught in the Charleville floods of 1990.

By the end of 1991, I’d saved some more money, noticed some surface rust starting on the doors of the 323, and also noticed its oil consumption rising a little. It was time to shop for another car!

New Year’s Eve 1991 is when I made that purchase: a 1989 Daihatsu Charade TS 3-cylinder.

However, the painted Mazda wasn’t done with me yet; a few years later, I was visiting Moorooka on Brisbane’s southside and noticed a white 323 in the shop carpark. It was mine, and stood out because it still had the Giocattolo-inspired styling, some years after the ‘toy’ factory closed. There were 15 Giocattolos made in Caloundra – but only 1 rattle can ’81 Mazda in Cleveland.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: “Cut and shut”: crash repairs in days gone by | Classic and Clunker

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