See that crazy-looking car in that photo up there? The one that looks kind of like an English Tudor-style home, with the exposed, dark timbers? The one being lounged upon by those crazy leisure-suited teens who look like maybe they’re in their mid-’30s? That car is based on a car I’m sure you’ve heard of, and, I’m going to guess, not one you’d expect. I’m going to tell you all about it, but I’m going to make you click to find out, because what is this, a charity?
This re-working of the dignified, boxy, very adult 142 into this strange, angular, RWD beast puts it very much in the Fun Car category, a now mostly-extinct genre of car where a carmaker would strip down a mass-market model (usually an economy car) to make something sort-of-off-road capable but a hell of a lot of fun. Think Volkswagen Beetle to VW Thing, BMC Mini to Mini Moke, or Citroën 2CV to the Mehari.
The Sommer Joker was similar to this, though unusual in that the donor car was much more up-market than these things usually were, and also a little more unusual in that this was a dealer’s project, not a factory one.
In this sense it’s sort of like a Meyers Manx, but not a kit, because you could buy these right from the dealer, fully assembled. The dealer in question was the well-respected but still little-known in America Volvo dealer, the Danish Volvo legend Ole Sommer.
Sommer was an importer of Jaguars and then Volvos, and even started his own auto museum in Denmark. Unlike most dealers, Sommer also experimented with building some of unique Volvo-based specials of his own, like the Joker.
The Joker seems to have been inspired by a trip to Southern California in the late 1960s, where Sommer would have very likely encountered Meyers Manxes and other VW-based kit cars and dune buggies.
Taking the general concept back with him to Denmark, Sommer looked at the Volvo 142 and saw an unlikely but very viable basis for a beach car.
The B20 engine was pretty bulletproof, and made about 90 horsepower with one SU carb—a twin-carb version was also available that would kick that power up to around 115, both very respectable numbers for the era.
Sommer pushed the engine rearward a bit for better weight distribution and handling, and drastically simplified the rear suspension to just use basic leaf springs.
The whole body was, of course, removed, with only the headlight units remaining, and the rest of the body was built with that very visible angle-iron frame, with the gaps filled in with yellow fiberglass panels. The end result was a car that weighed over 400 pounds less than the original 142, so I bet they were relatively peppy feeling.
The proportions, with the low greenhouse and tabletop-flat roof definitely have some ‘60s show rod influences, and while I’m not sure they’d really have been that great off-road, they sure look fun to me.
It seems only seven were actually built, but for such a low-volume car the Joker seems to have an outsized presence in Danish car culture. There’s pictures of it being shown in shopping centers when it was first available, and it was also featured prominently in a 1975 movie, Familien Gyldenkål, where it gets to be in a sort of car chase:
I really have no idea what else is going on here, other than that dude gave up a briefcase to escape and jump a lot of fences, and neither the cabbie nor the Joker-driver seem happy to see what I think is a cop?
It seems that in Denmark these were often compared to traditional farmhouses, being called the “half-timbered” car. I’m still sort of amazed at how well-known these seem to be, based on inferences from Sommer’s obituaries and other articles, and I’m also amazed that these cost almost as much as a full 142, which I’m sure limited the appeal of them to the young, carefree imagined target market.
So, if your dream has always been to drive on a beach in a premium Scandinavian car that looks like Danish farmhouse and is almost as aerodynamic, know that dream is (very remotely) achievable.
(thanks for sending this in, Jo!)