Mark Bursa tells the story of Turkey's first indigenous car, a tale that still resonates today, and hunts down a rare survivor of the breed.

A modern sedan specially designed for emerging markets. A bodyshell that uses state-of-the-art materials and manufacturing techniques to produce a strong, durable vehicle that doesn't require heavy stamping presses - and is easy to repair. Off-the-shelf platform and engines and modish exterior design by a top European styling house.

Sounds like a good 21st century concept, doesn't it? The sort of thing automakers in India or China are striving to produce, and the sort of car established automakers are adding to their ranges. But it's not a Chinese car, or an Indian car. And it's not a Renault Logan or a Fiat Linea - though you're getting warm with the latter.

It's a car that was conceived forty years ago, and stayed in production for the best part of twenty years. It was the Anadol, Turkey's first indigenous car, and its origins are as unlikely as you could imagine. And while it may now be largely forgotten, the company that built it, Otosan, has survived and prospered, and plays a major role in Turkey's car industry to this day.

Indeed, Otosan's sister company Tofas is the reason I've been in Turkey - attending the launch of the Fiat Linea, which Tofas has co-developed (see separate story). Tofas is one of Koc Holding's two car-making subsidiaries. Otosan is the other, older company, set up in the late 1950s by Koc Group patriach Vehbi Koc, whose company has been the Ford distributor for Turkey since the 1920s.

In the early 1960s, Koc proposed to the Turkish government that a Turkish car brand should be established - up to that point only kit assembly operations existed in the country. It was named Anadol after the Anatoilia region of Turkey, and the name was chosen by members of the public in a national competition.

Koc sought technical assistance from Ford, but the unique aspect of the car was its fibreglass bodyshell, designed in the UK by Tom Karen, head of styling house Ogle, and built by fibreglass bodyshell specialist Reliant. The plan was approved by the Turkish Government in 1964 and production started in 1966.

Today Reliant seems an unusual choice - its image seems forever tarnished by the Robin three-wheeler. But back in the 1960s, this was not the case. Reliant already had a good reputation as a carmaker, with exciting performance cars such as the Sabre and Scimitar. And it had previous in the Middle East, having provided Israeli automaker Autocars with smart fibreglass-bodies small cars called Sussita and Carmel, with Ford Anglia running car.

The Anadol bodyshells were made in the UK and shipped to Turkey for assembly, where they were basically mounted on to the running gear and 1.2-litre engine of the contemporary Ford Cortina. Initially a two-door, a four-door model was later added, as well as bigger engines, and the basic design survived until 1984. Along the way there was also a neat coupe called the STC-16, which resembled a 1970s Datsun 240Z, and a utilitarian chassis-cab pick-up version.

The Anadol was a success - more than 100,000 were built in its 18-year run. But ultimately its success led to its demise. Ford bought into Otosan, and gradually introduced its own models, starting with the Escort in 1974. Today Otosan-Ford is the main European production base for the Ford Transit Connect light van.

The Anadol was eventually replaced by a version of the German-market Cortina Mk4 lookalike, the Taunus, introduced to compete with locally-built rivals such as Tofas-assembled Fiat Regatas and Oyak-Renault 12s, 9s and 11s. These front-drive cars were cheaper and simpler to build than the fibreglass-bodied, rear-drive Anadol, putting Otosan at a further disadvantage.

The project still has valuable lessons for today's automakers. Local branding is good, especially if you get the customers to buy in to the brand at an early stage. It's OK to use radical new technology for emerging markets, but there are risks involved, especially if that technology turns out to be something of a blind alley - like the Anadol's fibreglass bodyshell.

It's sensible to use tried-and-tested, off-the-shelf mechanical parts. But its best to choose partners that are big enough and strong enough - the moment Ford got seriously involved with Otosan, Reliant's days were numbered.

Today, Anadols are rare on Turkey's roads. The newest ones are 23 years old now, and though there is a thriving local owners' club, most of the survivors are cherished relics, dusted down at weekends for club rallies and meetings. A few pick-ups still trundle round rural areas, but sightings of Anadol sedans are rare on the streets of Istanbul.

But a few battered examples survive, and I even managed to hunt one down. The patched and crumbling late-'70s example in the phone-cam pictures accompanying this article was parked up in a village square 80km from downtown Istanbul. Living automotive history, just about hanging on. At least it won't rust away.

Mark Bursa

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