Intermeccanica - The Story of the Prancing Bull
Intermeccanica – The Story of the Prancing Bull. Click image to enlarge

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By Russell Purcell

Tucked away in a small industrial area located just off Vancouver’s False Creek is a non-descript, two-story building that houses Intermeccanica International Inc., a boutique manufacturer of specialty automobiles whose very existence is surprising given the company’s tumultuous history.

Author Andrew McCredie is well known for his impeccable writing, and his latest book, Intermeccanica – The Story of the Prancing Bull, is truly a gem. It’s obvious that the North Vancouver native took the time to carefully research the intriguing story of company founder Frank Reisner, one of the most imaginative, creative, and resilient men to ever pursue the dream of building an automotive empire.

Unfortunately, Frank passed away in 2001, but with the assistance of Reisner’s wife Paula, as well as that of their three children, the author was able to delve deep into the company’s history, tracing its beginnings back a half-century when Frank landed in Turin, Italy, and “discovered the art and science of making automobiles.”

A New Life

The story begins with the Reisner family leaving war-torn Hungary for a new start in Canada in an effort to escape the oppressive control of the Hungarian Communist Party. As a young man of 16, Frank found himself in Montreal, where after completing his high school studies he would work a variety of jobs to help finance his post-secondary education as well as his burgeoning interest in automobiles. An extended holiday in Europe with his new bride in tow ended up becoming an 18-year adventure during which Frank would be bitten by the industrialist bug and follow his passion for all things automotive. What began as a small, Turin-based venture producing speed accessories (“speed kits”) for European motor cars soon evolved into much more.

In 1960, Frank designed and constructed the IM Formula Junior, a Peugeot powered race car that represented the first car he built from the ground up. Frank’s “precise sketches and endless mathematical calculations” proved fruitful, as the car worked so well that it won the Formula Junior Canadian Championship in the following year (1961). This achievement was significant as it helped Intermeccanica establish its name in North America and beyond.

We learn that during his time in Europe Frank liked to wander the garages and paddocks at racing events to learn how competition cars were constructed. This acquired knowledge would prove beneficial in many of Frank’s future designs where strength, safety and performance had to meld with lightweight materials.

Reisner wanted Intermeccanica Automobili to build stylish performance cars that people could afford. His dream was to blend the beauty of Italian designs with the robust and proven mechanicals of American cars.

Intermeccanica - The Story of the Prancing Bull
Intermeccanica – The Story of the Prancing Bull. Click image to enlarge

As Frank established himself in Italy he carefully nurtured relationships with other auto manufacturers, parts suppliers, and designers in an effort to create the cars of his dreams. Some of the most notable include the Puch 500 inspired IMP, the Buick V8 powered Apollo 3.5 GT Coupe and Convertible, and the stylish Griffith, Italia, and Omegas.

McCredie works his way chronologically through the long list of projects tackled by Reisner and his talented crew over the near two decade period spent in Italy, and has thoughtfully included an appendix at the end of the book that lists all of the cars produced by Intermeccanica in Italy between 1959-1975.

California Dreaming

Stymied by a lack of capital and a string of failed or floundering business agreements Intermeccanica was closed by late December, 1974. Without any prospects in Europe, Reisner would relocate his family and what remained of the business to sunny Southern California where he planned to revive one of his most acclaimed designs, the Indra, but this time built using Ford-mechanicals and specifically for the U.S. market.

Intermeccanica hit another speed-bump in San Bernadino, California, when federal funding to help “reinvigorate the ailing manufacturing sector” was actually redirected by the city to develop some new industrial subdivisions instead of helping operations like Intermeccanica establish and grow in the community.

A chance visit to a used car lot sparked what would become the basis for what Intermeccanica is today, when Frank stopped to enquire about a trio of used Porsche Speedsters that were on the lot. The salesman had informed Frank that they would be “gone by the weekend” and that “he wished he could get more.” This sparked Frank’s interest and he soon began planning his next venture.

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