For years, William Towns just sat on the idea of building his own car. To begin with, he had his hands full designing vehicles for other carmakers. But he also didn’t think his own design would even sell. He later proved himself wrong, to an extent, when he produced and sold the Hustler line of kit cars, perhaps one of the most diverse line of vehicles ever built, with a six-wheeled version cropping up for auction this month.
Just a few years after Syd Mead’s Sentinel design appeared in the pages of the books and portfolios that U.S. Steel published in the early Sixties, auto designers in the U.S., Europe, Japan, and even Australia began to include in their own vehicles the folded-paper/rectilinear wedge style that the Sentinel pioneered. This wedge era produced a number of concept and supercars for the next decade and a half, among them the Bizzarrini Manta, the Lancia Stratos HF Zero, the Lamborghini Countach, and the Citroën Karin.
One of those designers, William Towns, had already worked more than a decade in the auto design business in Britain by the time the wedge style tsunami’d through the profession. The former seat designer had some success penning entire cars, including the curvy Rover-BRM gas-turbine Le Mans entry and the Aston Martin DBS, but delved wholeheartedly into the rectilinear style sometime just before or around 1970.
While with Aston Martin, he designed the long-lasting Lagonda, one of the wedgiest of wedge cars to enter production, and the Bulldog concept car with its perfectly horizontal beltline. However, another couple of cars he designed during this period ended up having far greater influence on his later designs. The Guyson E12 – reminiscent of a squashed third-generation Chevrolet Camaro – provided early experience working with fiberglass as well as some early designs on offering his design directly to the public; the Minissima, a proposed replacement for the Mini, demonstrated how the rectilinear design language could be scaled down to compact or subcompact car proportions and gave Towns direct involvement with Mini mechanicals; and the Microdot showed how vast expanses of (flat, angled) glass could replace doors and open up even the smallest of cars.
So after leaving Aston Martin in 1977 and setting up his own design studio, Interstyl, Towns decided to take those lessons and combine them into one car, the Hustler. Bodied in fiberglass, it used square box-steel frame sections to connect front and rear Mini subframes. The large and flat side glass served as doors. Not a compound curve in sight.
Though he first showed it publicly in late 1978, he later told Autocar that he “didn’t think the car was a commercial proposition.” Instead, it served more to direct attention to Interstyl. However, after a number of outside parties (One of them Jensen, reportedly) tried to buy the rights to the design or put it into production, by 1981 he decided to go ahead and produce it himself as a kit, offered straight out of his Interstyl offices at Stretton-on-Fosse in Gloucestershire.
And he didn’t stop at just one version. Due to the extensibility of fiberglass, he whipped up no less than 15 different models, not counting the nautical Hustler In Wood. The original, dubbed the 4, soon found a litter-mate in the 6, so called for the second Mini axle in the rear. The more powerful Huntsman, based on the Austin Metro, also came in four- or six-wheeled versions, as did the stripped-down Hellcat, the MPV Holiday, and the Force with its more conventional fiberglass doors. The Sport and Sprint were two-seaters, a convertible and a couple, respectively, while the Harrier – like a later evolution of the Minissima – was designed to accommodate a wheelchair via a drop-down door in the rear. Then there were the one-offs, including the Rag Top and the Highlander, a six-wheeler that Towns himself stuffed full of Jaguar V-12.
According to Autocar, on top of all that (literally), Towns planned an optional roof that could turn into a boat for the six-wheeled versions and he partnered with Argo to place Hustler bodies atop the Canadian company’s eight-wheeled utility vehicles most often seen in the back pages of Popular Mechanics.
In all, Towns built a few hundred Hustlers by the mid-Eighties. Amid his design contracts for other companies, Towns considered building another couple of cars but neither got off the ground to the extend the Hustler did.
The Hustler that Bonhams will offer as part of its inaugural MPH auction, serial number A257 359794, is a six-wheeled version of the Huntsman. Bonhams estimates that it will sell for £4,000 to £8,000, or about $4,900 to $9,700. As uncommon as Hustlers are, at least two have sold at public auction in recent years, including another Huntsman 6 that sold in 2014 for £11,500 and a wood-bodied 6 that sold in 2016 for £15,120.
The Bonhams MPH auction, an effort by the auction house to attract younger collectors with more modern and less expensive vehicles, will take place September 26 at Bicester Heritage. For more information, visit Bonhams.com.