Story and photo by Bill Vance

1997 Intermeccanica Porsche Speedster replica
1997 Intermeccanica Porsche Speedster replica. Click image to enlarge

Vancouver-based Intermeccanica International Inc., was Frank Reisner’s brainchild, a family business and a labour of love. Until his death in October, 2001, Frank was president, his wife Paula secretary-treasurer, and son Henry vice-president. Henry is now president. Intermeccanica builds replicas of 1950s Porsches and Second World War Volkswagen Kubelwagens.

Frank Reisner came to Canada from Hungary with his parents as a boy, and graduated from the University of Michigan in chemical engineering. A paint industry job led him into the automobile business.

A nostalgic 1959 European tour with Czech-born Paula started an automotive odyssey spanning three countries and over four decades. Frank found Italy a delight for a would-be car builder with its skilled metal formers, fabricating shops, design studios and component suppliers. They stayed to pursue a dream, and a three month visit became 17 years.

Frank established Construzione Automobili Intermeccanica in Turin in 1959 to make such parts as special manifolds, high performance camshafts and Stebro exhausts for cars like Renaults and Simcas.

He had soon built a rear-engine Formula Junior racer, followed by 21 little 500 cc aluminum, rear-engine, two-seater, high performance (160 km/h) coupes called IMPs (Inter Meccanica Puch), based on a Steyr-Daimler-Puch model.

With Intermeccanica’s quality reputation established, their next car, the Apollo, really launched Frank into car building. Intermeccanica built the Apollo’s sleek, two-passenger grand touring coupe and convertible bodies and shipped them to the U.S. where they were fitted with Buick aluminum V-8 engines. An Apollo received the Best of Show award at the 1965 New York auto show.

The U.S. firm failed, so Frank began completing his cars in Italy, using Ford V-8s and running gear. He called them Italias, and by 1970 Intermeccanica had built more than 500.

Along the way Intermeccanica also built many special low-production and one-off projects. Three Intermeccanica cars were displayed at the 1969 New York auto show.

Intermeccanica’s next customer, GM’s German subsidiary, Opel, commissioned Frank to produce a version of the Italia fitted with Opel Diplomat running gear and a 5.7-litre Chevrolet V-8. Called the Indra, they produced 125 coupes and convertibles between 1971 and ’74 before GM developed its own version. Intermeccanica’s former German distributor, Erich Bitter, marketed it as the Bitter CD, and it was indeed a bitter pill for Frank.

Frank’s future looked dim until he was lured to California by the City of San Bernardino which offered to finance his production of a speciality car. Two Ford engined prototype Indras were shipped, a deal was consummated, and Intermeccanica moved tooling and cars to California in 1975.

Within a month of Frank’s arrival with his wife and three children, the financing evaporated. Undefeated, Reisner and a Santa Ana, California, businessman formed Automobili Intermeccanica to produce 1955-’58 Porsche Speedster replicas based on a prototype that Frank developed. Between 1976 and ’79 some 600 were produced, and then his partner bought out Frank’s half interest.

Still enthralled by Porsches, Frank developed a replica of the 1959 356A Convertible D. Urged by his former Montreal Italia importer, now in Vancouver, Frank came to Vancouver in 1981 and formed Intermeccanica International Inc. to build replicas.

Early Canadian Intermeccanica Porsche replicas used shortened Volkswagen Beetle floorpans with a sub-frame added. Frank designed a stiffer tubular steel frame, providing a sturdier platform for the body and torsion-bar, trailing-arm suspension. Using shorter torsion bars moved the engine/transaxle 75 mm forward for improved weight distribution and better handling than the original Porsche.

The company now builds replicas of Convertible Ds, and 1955-’58 Speedster replicas, as well as Volkswagen Kubelwagens, the Second World War German “Jeep.” Frank began Keubelwagen production at the request of his Japanese distributor because, as Frank said, “The Japanese market is very important to us.”

The high quality, one-piece fibreglass body resists cracking, creaking and flexing, and attaching it to the chassis with aircraft quality rivets produces a very rigid fibreglass-steel monocoque.

Volkswagen air cooled, horizontally-opposed, overhead valve four cylinder engines from Brazil or Mexico are used in several sizes and horsepowers to power the Roadsters and Kubelwagens.

Annual production out of the 7,500 square foot plant is about 25 vehicles. Eight regular staffers, plus some contract workers, do everything except moulding the body and final painting. All are built to order, with approximately 75 percent exported to the U.S.

Because Transport Canada rigorously applies the Motor Vehicle Safety Act to the tiny company, Intermeccanica can’t sell its cars outside B.C. in Canada, although it can sell in all U.S. states and many countries around the world. Prices for the Intermeccanica start at $41,000, and go up depending on options.

While many hopefuls have tried to start a car company and failed, Frank Reisner succeeded. Although total production wouldn’t match one day at General Motors, Frank’s enterprising spirit, uncompromising engineering, and drive and determination produced a legacy of wonderful specialty cars.

Those jewel-like Intermeccanica Roadsters roll out of the little Vancouver factory, and into the hands of appreciative buyers around the world, except, of course, in most of Canada.

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