I think I’ve expressed before how much I love finding cars I’ve never heard of before. Chasing that joy, however, is a bit like being a junkie — getting the feeling at first is easy, but it gets harder and harder as time goes on. This car, today, is some hardcore car-junkie goods — wildly strange, obscure, and oddly appealing. I’m so high on it right now.

The car is called the Joseso, and it’s a 50’s-era Argentinian attempt at an affordable people’s car. It wasn’t the runaway best-seller the makers hoped for, but it’s not some exotic one-off either — about 200 of these were made.

Here’s the story — or at least what I think the story is through the roboty filter of Google Translate. In 1950s Argentina, there was starting to be some interest in growing their nascent domestic motor industry. At the same time in Europe, automakers were recovering and adapting to the new, resource-strained population as they rebuilt from the war. This was the crucible that produced microcars and people’s cars like the Iso/BMW Isetta, the Messerschmitt KR200, the 2CV, the Beetle and eventually the Fiat 600 and 500.

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Most of the microcars were designed to be simple to produce and incredibly cheap to run, both of which were ideal criteria for getting a car industry started in Argentina. An Argentinian entrepreneur named Jose Maria Rodriguez was inspired by this new batch of practical, humble microcars, and decided to develop a vehicle of his own, for the people of Argentina.

His first rough prototype was crude aluminum 8.2HP microcar that could be picked up by two people. It wasn’t particularily impressive, but it was enough to get Rodriguez some press attention, and from there, some potential investors.

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Rodriguez set about to design and build a more advanced vehicle, and by 1959 he had something ready to show the Argentine Autombile Club. He called the car the Joseso, his childhood nickname, and this new prototype seemed far more promising.

Powered by a 520cc Villers engine making all of 10HP, the Joseso had a top speed of about 40 MPH — reasonable enough for a small, general-use city car, and certainly on par with many of the microcars (and even some bigger cars, like the 2CV) in Europe at the time.

The design of the Joseso is really interesting, I think, since it’s clearly distilled from several notable microcars. To me, I think it most resembles a BMW 600, which came out in 1957 and was a sort of grown-up Isetta, but with one big difference. The Joseso avoids the BMW 600’s most controversial design element, the Isetta-style front-mounted door, and instead opts for a pair of conventional (well, suicide) doors at the sides.

Those seem to be the only openings in the Joseso’s fiberglass (some sources just say ‘plastic’ but I think it’s fiberglass) body, with no trunk opening or anything like that. The 520cc engine was mounted sort of mid/rear, with the rear seat displaced to one side a bit to accommodate the engine.

It’s also a bit like a two-door Fiat 600 Multipla, as well, with its cab-over, one-box design, though it is much less flexible than the slightly larger Multipla, which had more doors, more seats, and seemingly foldable everything in the interior. The Joseso also had an interesting and a little odd front-end treatment, with an odd little curvy panel containing the headlights and some sort of air intake — it seems almost ‘50s American-inspired in its curvy Baroqueness, which isn’t surprising, since American cars were status symbols at the time. The little Joseso also sported some pretty substantial bumper guards and overriders that look a lot like what VW used on their American-market Beetles in the 50s and 60s.

All told, it’s not a bad design for an ultra-cheap city car, and I suspect it could have done quite well to bring motoring to a large underserved chunk of the Argentinian population of the era — sadly, stupid politics intervened to keep even this modest dream from being realized.

The government-backed Micro Auto Industry Argentina Group, SA (IAMA SA) was interested, and promised Rodriguez two plants to build the little car. Only one plant ever became active, and various political pressures and mismanagements meant that the governmental support never arrived, and as a result of being left sort of high and dry, only 200 cars were ever completed.

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Today, the surviving cars are extremely rare, but there do seem to be a few good ones around. I think they seem like charming-almost contenders in the global microcar family, and it seems a shame they never got an actual chance.

Oh well. I’m still just happy to know they exist.

Contact the author at jason@jalopnik.com.

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