When the Daihatsu DeTomaso Turbo Charade first appeared at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1982
, there were more than a few chuckles from various motoring journalists and writers - surely this was a "concept only" toy car that would never make it into serious production.
But it not only went into production, it also managed to make it to Australian shores! What was even more amazing was the little car's ability to turn heads, and startle traffic at the lights with uncharacteristic off-line performance. The term "pocket-rocket" is sometimes bandied about too freely these days, but when describing the DeTomaso Turbo Charade the description fits well.
In fact, the only thing that prevented huge sales was the import quota, as Daihatsu were able to sell just as many as they could import. By bolting a RHI CB60 turbocharger to the Daihatsu's diminutive 993cc engine, the engineers were able to wring another 25 horsepower out of the engine, boosting output to 50 kW compared with the standard cars 40 odd.
The added power translated to spectacular straight line performance, without sacrificing the engine's tractability. You didn't need to rev the guts out of the Charade, the power being (noticeably) available in the low rev range, running progressively and smoothly to the cars peak cruising speed in fifth gear. And because it was so progressive, this helped greatly improve the car's safety performance margins.
The engine hit peak power at around 5500 rpm,
and from that point out to the maximum 6000rpm the boost tailed off. For those game enough to take it out to the maximum in top, Daihatsu's speed graphs showed a maximum of 190 km/h was possible - however we have not been able to prove if anyone actually obtained that speed.
And while we consider 190 to be a little optimistic, the car did pull a very easy and comfortable 160 km/h (approx 100mph), not too shabby for a 993cc 3 cylinder car in 1984. When the dust had settled, there were few that had driven the car that would leave the experience unimpressed.
Unpretentious and almost the perfect "sleeper", the fitment of a turbo allowed the Charade to cruise effortlessly all day at the legal limit, with enough power in reserve to allow comfortable overtaking. It was a credible achievement from an engine less than 1 liter in size.
To spot the De Tomaso Charade from lesser G11's (although we would imagine there are very few if any on the roads today) look for large and loud gold wheels that look more like what a Meccano model would be sporting.