Normally when I want to show you a car I believe you’ve never heard of, I limit myself to one car. Not today. Today I’d like to introduce you to two fascinating cars from the same company, the Australian kit and production car maker Bolwell. I chose these two cars, the Nagari and Ikara, because I’m not sure there’s a better spread of beautiful to ugly in the lineups of any other carmaker.
Bolwell is an interesting carmaker; they’re still around, but the company was restarted in 2008—I want to talk more about what they were doing back in their original incarnation, from 1962 to 1979.
Bolwell started out as a kit car maker, and produced a series of attractive kit cars, usually using Holden components. Like the Star Wars movies, they began numbering with number four, making kit cars from the Mk IV through the Mk VII.
When they got to Mk VIII in 1970, though, things were different. The Mk VIII car got a name, Nagari, the aboriginal word for “flowing,” and was actually built by the factory.
The Nagari was a very pure and capable sports car with a backbone chassis, light fiberglass bodywork, and a big Ford 302 or 351 cube V8. It was raced a great deal in the Australia Sports Car Championship, and won the Tourist Trophy in 1975.
For the purposes of this story, though, I want to focus on the Nagari’s styling. It’s an absolutely classic sports car look, long hood, short deck proportions and flowing likes like Ferraris or Jaguars or even Corvettes and Datsun 240Zs of that era. It’s like a distillation of some of the best of early 1970s sports car design in one car.
I think it’s a lovely car with a timeless look. Bolwell eventually made about 100 coupés and 18 convertible Nagaris before production stopped in 1974.
Okay, so, keep that lovely autocreature in mind as you look at Bolwell’s next creation, the Bolwell Ikara of 1979:
Now, don’t get me wrong—I actually love the look of the Ikara as well, but I love it because it’s so damn ugly. Unashamedly, boldly ugly. It’s so awkward that it comes all the way around to being pretty cool, I think.
The tagline for the car is pretty amazing, too:
Weirdly, it sort of seems right.
The name “Ikara” means “throwing stick,” an aboriginal hunting weapon sort of like a boomerang, but with a straight flight path instead of curved.
The Ikara was a kit car and was designed to be something like a modern MG TC—a true, no-bullshit minimalist sports car, designed as a reaction against the overdone, heavy, and boring “committee cars” Bolwell saw most other major manufacturers producing.
The Ikara was designed for all the pure sportscar ideals: great handling, quick, light, satisfying to drive, and so on.
The Ikara used a Volkswagen Golf 1600 cc inline-four, mounted transversely behind the driver. The entire engine and transaxle were used, so they used the independent suspension from the Golf’s front on the Ikara’s rear, and used Holden Gemini front suspension bits.
The car seems like an absolute blast to drive, and the styling seems to have been the byproduct of getting the car they wanted as opposed to any actual styling goals.
The car weighs an incredibly light 1322 lbs, a number they reached when they
“... trimmed off all surface fat and the surprise is that we managed it without sacrificing the aspects of comfort and functional body styling we were so determined to maintain.”
“Functional body styling” is pretty charitable. The thing looks like a robotic frog with a severe underbite. The back manages to be awkward as well, with the spare tire held vertically in a strange, unsettling reminder of a Lincoln Continental.
The Ikara is sort of like a late ‘70s/early ‘80s Ariel Atom, where the Nagani feels sort of like a Dino or Miura, maybe.
I’m just really taken by these two cars as a pair, from the same carmaker, but with such dramatically different looks. They’re both fascinating cars in their own right, but their aesthetic differences are so striking that it makes me want to propose a new scale of automotive design beauty: the Bolwell Scale.
If a car is lovely, you could say it’s eight Nigaris on the Bolwell scale, or maybe if it’s sorta homely, it’s just hitting about four Ikaras. Finally, we’ll have a standardized way to talk about automotive beauty! Give it a try!