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1996 Mercedes-Benz Heuliez Intruder

The Intruder was powered by a 210-horsepower 6-cylinder engine mated to a 4-speed automatic gearbox based on Mercedes-Benz mechanics. The removable hardtop and waterproof body allowed the Intruder to be used in virtually all weather conditions. Finished in both white and dark red, the Intruder was presented at Paris's 1998 Auto Show.

Is there a market for a sort of high-performance Sport Utility Coupé or Convertible? The question is timely. Lamborghini has long said they are considering a replacement for their ultra-powerful and ugly LM 001 and 002. The American Hummer finds more and more buyers among lunatic drivers, and Porsche has virtually decided to build its own higher performance version of the M Class S.U.V. Mercedes-Benz is about to launch in the U.S.A.

This is what Marc Deschamp seems to have considered or felt when deciding what sort of show-car the Heuliez Torino operations he directs should design and build for the 1996 Mondial de l'Automobile. The company is one of the many branches making for the French, strong and dynamic, Heuliez Group and a subsidiary of France Design.

This might well explain from which thinking the Heuliez Intruder comes from. Heuliez says they have looked at the concept of an all-terrain vehicle because its popularity has made it a social phenomenon in the U.S.A. and Asia, with a promising opening in Europe. For this reason, they asked their design think-tank in Turin to design the Intruder to illustrate their vision of this particular market niche.

Deschamp considers that off-road vehicles represented a species of transport of its kind and wondered why this emerging species should not develop in as many variants as traditional passengers cars have an estate, two-door, convertible, and more. He predicts that, after the current generation of trendy four-wheel-drive S.U.V. for town driving, a range of all-terrain derivatives, two-doors, convertibles, or even dual-purpose passenger vans should be expected in a few years.

One of them could well look like the two-seater, two-door, open roof convertible Heuliez presented in Paris. The Intruder has a Targa-style roof that can be lifted off by hand. The rear window is automatically operated to lower it into the rear compartment without being touched by hand. Thus the Intruder two-door saloon quickly transforms into a convertible, with the fixed rear uprights acting like a roll-bar. The bodywork can be a composite construction with some structure and body panels made of steel and other mobile parts such as the engine bonnet and the bumpers made of carbon fiber. The roof is made of glass.

Heuliez points out that "the Intruder opens up a top-of-the-range market that no four-wheel-drive in the world has yet explored. A designer car-based more on emotion than logic". Although the idea is a good one and capable of attracting the attention of Lamborghini and its rivals, it is not that new. In 1987 Nissan suggested the idea of a two-door coupé type of its S.U.V. with the Judo concept car presented at the Tokyo Motor Show. Probably too early: the market was not ready yet for it, but it is a pity that Nissan did not keep working on that brilliant concept.

At first sight, the Heuliez Intruder looks sexy and attractive. Its muscular style speaks of strength and shouts virility. Its ample wrapping curves overlap at door level, while the minimal rear overhang and the vehicle's long nose provide a rather dynamic and solid character. On the road, it has a loss of stance and makes a strong impression. It is wide and relatively compact.

It sits a bit too high on the large wheels made of 9.5 x 17 inches light-alloy wheels made in Japan by Works, with 285/60/17 Michelin tires specially designed and built for the Intruder. As much as 300 mm, ground clearance is convenient on wild off-road terrain but looks a bit too much on the tartan road and boulevards.

Yet, Intruder aims at being relatively low, thus scarifying the roof height. This delivers quite a funny feeling with the driver, and passenger seats are pretty much off the ground, and people inside the car are missing 100 mm over their heads. The trouble here is that like an old-time coupé is has a lower roof that significantly compromises interior height and driver's or passenger' comfort. Fortunately, rear vision is not direct (and miserable) but provided by prismatic rear-view mirrors courtesy of the British De Montfort company.

The style of the cockpit is consequent with the sporty character of the bodywork. Strapped into a deep bucket scat, the driver sits in a radically sporting driving position. The layout of the dashboard instruments is a glancing reference to modern aircraft design, transforming the passenger into a sort of co-driver with a degree of control over the machine.

The materials used for interior trimming offer both the refinement expected of show-car and the toughness required in off-the-road driving. Deschamp might have also considered that the theme would also provide an opportunity to promote their business with Mercedes-Benz, having chosen their G 320 off-road machine as the platform for his idea of a spectacular S.U.V. Mercedes-Benz executives would certainly pay attention to his work, even if the show-car had not the three-pointed star emblem anywhere. The grille design, although different, clearly hinted at Mercedes-Benz. After all, the Heuliez is one of those "Fuori Serie" Turinese coachbuilders who used to be famous.

Like the cars they used to build between the two world wars and the 1996 Alfa Romeo Nuvola, the Intruder is built on a bearing and fully equipped running chassis with the technique still applied to serious all-terrain vehicles for tough cross-country expedition and military purposes. The angled ladder, steel frame construction of its chassis is particularly resistant to twisting and bending. It comes with rigid axles guided by longitudinal and transverse arms together with a stabilizing bar and telescopic front shock-absorbers that ensure constant ground-holding and grip. Its transmission assembly is based on a 4-speed automatic gearbox for leisure driving with a transfer box and low gear plus three fully lockable differential inter-axle shafts for extreme off-the-road driving.

The 3.2 litre six-cylinder in-line 24-valve engine delivers 210 HP at 5,500 rpm. But what matters is its excellent torque: 300 NM at 3,750 rpm. And you can be reassured this is enough to make the Intruder a car that is fun to drive, to the trail, and to take you to the Café.

Source: Concept Car Central;

Images: Andre LE ROUX Site