I’m not a bit ashamed to admit that I used to absolutely love Noddy stories. I am a bit ashamed to admit that I loved them until I was 11, when they were all given away because it was presumed that obviously I wouldn’t love them anymore.
The main reason I loved Noddy was because he drove a beautiful red and yellow vintage car, which I suspect had a terrific lot to do with the fact that I adore vintage cars to this day. Countless times I gazed at it on the pages, and wished, as only a five-year-old can, that I could have it.
The funny thing is, I haven’t suddenly realised that such a desire was childish and stupid and ridiculous and unrealistic. Instead I’ve realised it’s actually possible. Noddy’s car is a real car.
Though you probably haven’t heard of it.
Alfredo Vignale worked at Farina, which is now known as Pininfarina – if that still isn’t ringing any bells, you are a fool and a Philistine – at age 17, and in 1948 he branched out on his own and started Carozzeria Vignale.
Carozzeria Vignale did what all coachbuilders did - designed and built the bodywork for Maseratis and Fiats and many other good things. Vignale also did the Jensen Interceptor, and I know what you’re going to say – no, Touring did that. And yes, Touring drew the Interceptor but Jensen suddenly bought the design off them, and then took it to Vignale.
At any rate, in 1967 he took a Fiat 500 and gave it a small, toylike roadster look, and called it the Vignale Gamine. Some people thought it looked odd and ugly, but it doesn't. The Nissan Murano looks odd and ugly. The Gamine looked cute.
People also mocked and continue to mock it for being very slow. Of course it was slow. It was built off a Fiat 500 and had a Fiat 500 motor (I consider everything under 4 cylinders a motor). There is no way that anything built on a Fiat 500 is going to be fast, unless there is a witch involved. Or Abarth, but many think they use witches.
So I don’t understand that, but I can understand why people were shocked that a car that was based on a Fiat 500 cost so much for the time. The reason was that the Gamine had specially coach-built bodywork, but obviously if you didn’t like the bodywork you weren’t impressed. Very few were sold, and things went so terribly wrong that in 1971, Carozzeria Vignale collapsed.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Vignale’s facilities were sold off to DeTomaso, who then used them to make the stunning Pantera. Unfortunately though, Alfredo was killed in a car accident hours after he signed the papers.
But before you blame the Gamine, which I like very much, it’s worth noting that of everything Vignale ever did, it’s possibly the most memorable. Because even though nobody wanted it, it was suddenly realised that it was actually Noddy’s car. I will not accept that as the reason nobody wanted it, by the way.
Enid Blyton had already written the last Noddy book four years earlier, and Beck had illustrated it, so Noddy’s car wasn’t based on the Gamine. Nor did Vignale ever claim to have been inspired by Noddy’s car, so it’s probably coincidental. They are different.
But even Enid Blyton’s company considered the Gamine as Noddy’s car. They actually bought one. Painted in yellow with red wings, “NOD 513” is considered the true Noddy car, and it went under the hammer for quite a bit at Silverstone in 2013.
So you can't have that one. But there is absolutely nothing stopping anyone from buying a Gamine and painting it yellow and red and fitting a parp-parp horn themselves. In fact, I may have a new dream car.
To give children a laugh, that is. Haha. Ahem.
If you are secretly interested, here's one up for sale.
Photo credit: motor1, Silverstone