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  Momo Mirage

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Country of origin:United States
Produced from:1971 - 1972
Numbers built:6
Introduced at:1972 New York Auto Show
Designed by:Gene Garfinkle for Carrozzeria Frua
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:May 19, 2009
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Click here to download printer friendly version"An international thoroughbred, designed to combine the unique qualities of innovation, superior craftsmanship, high performance and ultimate comfort in a luxury four passenger coupe." This was the original 1972 sales brochure description of the 'Momo Mirage' launched that year at the New York Auto Show. It continues: "With an emphasis on refinement and sound engineering principles, the Momo international design team has spent over two years developing and testing the Marque I." For a sales brochure, this description was remarkably accurate. Unfortunately the market and economic situation changed dramatically and only a handful examples were built.

The ambitious project was the result of the dream of two men; Alfredo Momo and Peter S. Kalikow. The former was Briggs Cunningham's old team manager and Jaguar's representative in New York, while the latter was a young real-estate developer with a strong passion for sports cars. In 1967 Kalikow considered buying the then new Aston Martin DBS and asked Momo for advise. Not impressed by the handling characteristics, he suggested a thorough test-drive before buying the car. The test-drive revealed that Momo had been right and no order was placed. It did lead to discussions between the two on what would make for a proper Grand Touring car.

Many of us will have had similar conversations but few us have followed it up with actions. The two men had come to the conclusion that there was a market for a two-door luxury four-seater coupe that would be the mix of Rolls-Royce's luxury and Ferrari's performance. Among the requirements were elegant, understated lines, great ride, high performance, four seats, sufficient boot space and above all a high quality fit and finish. Kalikow would provide the funding while Momo would lend his, more exotic sounding, name. Momo also brought in his wealth of experience and his long lists of contacts.

The first order of business was to source an engine that would provide plenty of power and would still meet the ever stricter emission standards. An American V8 was the most obvious choice and through Momo's friendship with General Motors' Bill Mitchell an engine deal was quickly secured for the new 350ci 'LT-1'. From the factory, it came equipped with a single 'Quadrajet' Carburetor that did not look very exciting. To add some prestige to the engine bay a Lucas Fuel Injection system was tried but it never worked quite right. The second car was fitted with four Webers, which looked and worked a whole lot better than the original Rochester Carburetor.

For the chassis and body Momo convinced Kalikow to turn to Italy. With the help of two draughtsmen and an engineer, and with the permission of his employer Maserati, Giulio Alfieri designed a straightforward platform chassis. For the construction of the chassis Vittorio Stanguellini, of Formula Junior fame, was hired. The front double wishbone suspension was sourced at Jaguar and was identical to that used on the Mk II. The rear suspension followed the same principle but was designed specifically for the new car. Another British ingredient in this international project were the Girling discs brakes, fitted front and back.

Several of Italy's famous 'carrozzerias', including Pininfarina, were approached but in the end Pietro Frua offered the best deal to build the Momo's body. A highly talented American designer by the name of Gene Garfinkle was asked to pen the elegant lines. He worked in Raymond Loewy's design studio but jumped at the opportunity to work together with Frua on the Momo project. In the Summer of 1970, Garfinkle was in Italy working on the first scale model. The final result resembled combined elegant Italian lines with typical American cues like the large radiator. Many of Frua's later cars would follow this design.

As the first car was assembled in 1971 the dream of Kalikow and Momo finally started taking shape. The lengthy genesis had ensured that the high standards set beforehand could be met. The prototype featured the 'standard' LT-1 engine with Quadrajet Carburetor and a Hydramatic 3-speed automatic gearbox that was also provided by General Motors. Painted dark metallic red, the first Momo Mirage was completed in the summer. Shortly after Road & Track's Pete Coltrin tested the car and he wrote a very complementary review for the magazine's September 1971 issues, which featured the Momo on the cover.

In December of 1971 the prototype was shipped to the United States and shortly after displayed at the New York Auto Show. The reception was very positive and Kalikow ordered the parts for the first batch of 25 cars. Next off the line was the production prototype, which sported the Weber equipped V8 and a five-speed manual gearbox. Then everything fell apart; the dollar exchange rate dropped and due to social unrest in Italy many of the suppliers were forced to double their prices. At this point Frua and Stanguellini charged a combined total of $20,000 for their efforts even though the Momo Mirage had a target price of $12,900.

Shortly after Kalikow pulled the plug on the $500,000 project, which had gone from fun to torture in a very short time. By this time Kalikow had taken delivery of two complete cars and parts for another three cars. One of these was a complete shell without running, whereas the other two were barely assembled. A sixth car was also paid for but remained in Italy. Everything related to the project was stored and Kalikow returned to his father's real-estate business. Instead of simply saying "I told you so," Kalikow's father offered this sympathetic remark: "I have been in the real-estate business my whole life and never missed a meal. There are lots of the people in the car business that can't make that statement."

Kalikow did not turn his back at sports cars and used his hard-earned real-estate fortune to assemble a highly impressive collection of award winning Ferraris. Although he was well known in the car collector world, his earlier venture was all but forgotten. That was until the prototype was dusted off for a feature in Classic & Sports Car magazine in 2005. Four years later the never before seen production prototype was fully restored and shown at the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este. Kalikow enjoyed driving and showing the car so much that he may try to finish the third car.

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  Article Image gallery (24) 00102 Specifications User Comments (3)