1970 Manic GT
1970 Manic GT. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

Many millions of automobiles have been built in Canada, but most have been produced by subsidiaries of big established foreign manufacturers, everyone from General Motors to Volvo. Of the early all-Canadian cars, the most successful was the Russell, built in Toronto from 1905 to 1915. In the modern era, the last serious attempt was the Bricklin, and just under 3,000 of these fibreglass bodied, gull-wing door, two-seater coupes were built before the Saint John, New Brunswick plant went into receivership in 1975.

Another brave Canadian attempt was the Manic GT (named after Quebec’s Manicuagan River) built in Granby, Quebec in 1970 and 1971. It was the brainchild of a young (born in 1938) Montrealer named Jacques About.

In the late 1960s, About, an employee of Renault Canada’s public relations department, was asked to study the feasibility of importing the sporty Renault Alpine into Canada. The Alpine was a specialized sports/competition car made by an independent company (it would be absorbed by Renault in 1974), but using Renault components. Alpines were sold through Renault dealers in Europe. Although About’s survey results were positive, Renault chose not to import the Alpine.

About was so encouraged by the results of the survey, which revealed a market for such a car, that he decided to leave Renault and produce his own sports car to fill the niche he was sure he had identified. After building a version of the French GRAC racing car under licence, called the Manic GRAC, a venture that garnered some good publicity, About established Automobile Manic Inc. in 1968. It was formed to build a two-seater sports coupe called the Manic GT.

The enthusiastic and persuasive Mr. About proved adept at fund-raising, and with the backing of such heavyweights as Bombardier (snowmobiles), Steinberg (groceries), and the Governments of Canada and Quebec, he soon had capitalization of $1.5 million. A plant was acquired in Granby, Quebec, and design and production planning for the new car began. While the GRAC had been a racing car, the Manic GT was not intended for competition. It was to be a small, stylish and affordable two passenger touring car offering good performance and low fuel consumption.

About was familiar with Renault components and the company, and made a deal to use the platform and running gear of the rear-engined Renault 10 sedan as the base for the Manic. Suspension was independent all around via coil springs, steering was rack-and-pinion, and it had four-wheel disc brakes. The Renault engine was a sturdy, 1,289-cc, overhead valve four-cylinder with five main bearings. It came in three stages of tune: 65, 80 and 105 horsepower. Power reached the rear wheels through a standard four-speed, or optional five-speed manual transmission.

The Manic was a small car. Its wheelbase was 2,280 mm (89.75 in.), and overall length only 4,127 mm (162.5 in.). Its height of just 1,143 mm (45 in.) made it one of the lowest production cars. The Manic weighed a feathery 658 kg (1,450 lb), and the light weight and good aerodynamics paid off. A company brochure claimed the top speeds were 105, 120 and 135 mph respectively for the three engines. If the 135 figure was correct, it would have been one of the faster cars of its era. Fuel economy was said to be 35 to 42 mpg.

The fibreglass coupe’s styling was typical of small two-seaters of that time. The front end was rather shovel-nosed in appearance, and the rear engine meant that no grille was necessary. The over-all appearance of the Manic GT was not unlike some kit cars then on the market.

The company introduced the Manic GT at the 1969 Montreal auto show. Its $3,400 price tag, in the same neighbourhood as the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro, meant that it was up against stiff competition. Not surprisingly for a new company, financial problems soon surfaced. The company was, therefore, reorganized into Les Automobiles Manic (1970) Ltee. Unfortunately, a component supply problem also developed. According to Perry Zavitz’s book, Canadian Cars, 1946-1984, Renault’s supply of parts to Manic was unreliable and slow. Manic management even resorted to scrounging parts from Renault dealers in an effort to keep production going.

All of this was too much for the fledgling company. In spite of reportedly having solid orders on its books it could not continue. The Granby plant closed in May 1971. Total production had been only 160 Manic GTs, far below the planned first year output of 1,300.

Another valiant attempt to start and operate a successful car company had failed. Fortunately some Manic GTs have been preserved, one of them being in the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa.

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