Race cars designed to do one very specific thing very well are usually fun, in some way. Dragsters, F1 cars, track beasts like the Ariel Atom, cars made to race for pinks at streetlights like the Hellcat, they all have that certain assured quality of something that knows what it was made to do. That may be why this crazy-ass thing, named Otto Kross I, caught my eye. It’s the only car I can think of specifically made to win at autocrossing.
I saw this ad for the Otto Kross I as I was flipping through a July 1969 issue of Road & Track that makes up part of the pile of rags and paper I use for my sleeping litter. The ad caught my eye not so much for the bold tagline of
“stuff one of these around the track and TAKE HOME A TROPHY”
and not even because the car shares a first name with my son, but mostly because I saw it uses a Corvair engine, mounted in the middle. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of another mid-engine car that uses a Corvair engine, but I’m not too surprised.
Volkswagen air-cooled kit car builders and tinkerers (including some big ones, like a little outfit called Porsche) have known that you can flip a VW flat-four backwards and reverse the guts of the transaxle to make a mid-mounted drivetrain; I suspect the same method is used here.
There’s shockingly little information around about the hilariously and goofily-named Otto Kross I, with everything I know about it coming from a pair of old ads—the internet seems pretty untainted by any other Otto Kross lore.
The company that made this thing, Hiatt Motor Company’s Autocraft division, also made a number of VW-based Meyers Manx-type fiberglass dune buggies, with names like Sidewinder and Escapade. The ad lists an Oregon address, but the most information I found about the company seems to be a Canadian counterpart, which was described by a commenter on The Samba, whose father ran Autocraft Canada:
So Autocraft Canada was on Vickers Way in Richmond B.C. from approx. 1968-1973. The molds and company rights were purchased from Portland Ore. from Hiatt Motors who went broke as a result of over expenditure of advertising $$. (lots of ads in Hot Rod magazine etc. ) John Kent bought the firm and moved it to Canada where he lived at the time and partnered with expert fiberglass craftsman Bob Preston...
These Sidewinder 1 was a little less money and more similar lines to the Meyers Manx and the Sidewinder 2 was promoted as the “Streetable One” with autocross capabilities. It was loosely designed after the Mako Shark corvette lines (think 69 Sting ray) with the long sloping nose. ...
The cars had one drawback for builders that were not careful. To save money in reducing inventories they were prewired with harnesses molded within the fiberglass, there were 2 separate harnesses for either a VW or for a few lucky builders of Corvair powerplants. If the unused extra harness was not carefully removed they had a tendency to fall down and land on the extractors and cause engine fires. (Don’t ask me how I know this or why I always carry a fire extinguisher)
Autocraft Canada would have continued past 1973 except that donor bugs were getting harder to find and the business partnership was not as strong when things slowed as it needed to be.
That doesn’t mention the Otto Kross I, though it does suggest they had experience with Corvair-powered buggies.
The Otto Kross design looks similar to the Sidewinder, but not exactly. It doesn’t use a Beetle pan, instead having its own tube frame chassis, with adjustable suspension that I can’t see well enough in any of these pictures to know if it’s derived from VW torsion bars, Corvair bits, or something else. Taillights and other bits look like the usual dune buggy/VW parts bin stuff of the era.
It must have been pretty good, based on how confident the company was that this thing would win Autocross events.
A light, mid-engined dune buggy-like car with Corvair levels of power (think 120-150 horsepower or so, most likely?) probably would have kicked significant ass in late ‘60s and early ‘70s autocrossing.
The Otto Kross I is still very much a mystery to me, so by writing this I’m sort of hoping someone will crawl out of their pile of autocrossing trophies to tell me, yes, they have one, and it’s amazing. Or terrible. I’ll take anything, really—I just want to know more about Otto the amazing autocrosser.