If you’re into tiny hatchbacks and Italian sports cars with Ford V8s, in 1980s Japan you could get a car combining both of these worlds. The Daihatsu Charade De Tomaso melded the work of Toyota’s compact car subsidiary and the Argentinian-Italian car builder into one machine. At the Tokyo Auto Salon this year, Daihatsu brought a fine example of this rare oddity, and put it front and center at its booth.
Of all the Japanese carmakers digging deep into their histories right now, Daihatsu is arguably doing it the best. Its star concepts at the Tokyo Motor Show were both inspired by iconic models in its past (even if it brought the wrong one). For the Tokyo Auto Salon, its Daihatsu Charade De Tomaso caught a lot of attention, and Daihatsu even dressed up a modern day Boon hatchback like it.
The pairing of Daihatsu and De Tomaso may seem like an strange one, but there’s an explanation for the partnership. In 1976, De Tomaso, manufacturer of cars like the Pantera and Mangusta, bought Innocenti, the Italian maker of compact cars. However, De Tomaso lacked the funds to develop a new small displacement engine for them. After searching for a suitable supplier, De Tomaso ended up partnering in 1981 with Daihatsu, who provided 1.0-liter turbo 3-cylinder engines for Innocenti.
The two then collaborated on a hot hatch that combined the Charade’s 1.0-liter turbo engine with De Tomaso’s exotic Italian flavor. Based on the first-generation Daihatsu Charade, the concept was displayed at the 1981 Tokyo Motor Show and received a lot of attention from Japanese showgoers enthralled by its Italian flair.
A production version wouldn’t go on sale until January 1984, after the previous year’s introduction of the second-generation Charade. It was decked out in the finest Italian fashion, like Campagnolo magnesium wheels, Pirelli P8 tires, and a Momo steering wheel. Its two-tone High-Speed Red with black lower half and white lettering was inspired by the graphic scheme of the De Tomaso Pantera itself.
Alejandro De Tomaso is said to have designed the body kit, which featured an integrated front spoiler, side skirts, and dual tailpipe (non-De Tomaso Charade Turbos had only a single tailpipe). Notably, its side protection molding was substantial, and the exclusive rear spoiler surrounded most of the hatch and C-pillars.
The turbo 1.0-liter engine made 80PS and 87 lb-ft of torque and was mated to a 5-speed transmission. The entire car weighed just 1,520 pounds. Though the hero color was the two-tone red and black, a gray-on-black version was also offered. A special edition De Tomaso Bianca version was also sold, limited to 600 produced in white-on-gray two-tone.
At the time of its release, Alessandro De Tomaso wrote a letter addressing buyers of the Charade that bore his name. It is translated below from Japanese:
Dear Japanese people,
I began working on full-fledged carmaking since the late 1950s. Based on valuable experiences gained as a racing driver until then, it has inflated a big dream to create ingenious vehicles.
In my opinion the car I aimed for was “Grand Turismo”. A car with remarkable acceleration performance, fast, safe, yet with outstanding road holding ability, and styling that reflects my image. It has become my creation philosophy without changing even now.
When I first saw the Charade, I received a strong impression that it is a car that is very compact.
However, it seemed that it would be fine if enthusiast elements were added. Charade De Tomaso Turbo somewhat confidently delivers a car that could fully embody my thoughts.
I am convinced that this car born out of Japan’s high automotive engineering technology and Italian industrial design will surely satisfy all Japanese users, especially car enthusiasts and young people.
Alessandro de Tomasso
To be continued…
In case you missed it, more 2018 Tokyo Auto Salon can be found with spotlights on the Endless Hino Contessa, Alaska-to-Chile Toyota Land Cruiser, Toyota’s Gazoo Racing booth, the TOM’s KP47 Starlet, Banzai Sports Sunny Truck, Nissan and Mitsubishi’s booths, cars of woman-run tuning shop L-Tide, Yokohama’s reproduction tires for kyusha, Liberty Walk’s Advan-livery Hakosuka, and Honda’s retro-inspired hatchback.