Gatso 1500 - roadster body - manufactured in 1949
Cars from the make Gatso may be very unfamiliar but this Dutch company does manufacture products that are very common, especially to those who like to drive fast. People that have had an unpleasant encounter with the widely dispersed Gatso speed trap camera's will be surprised to learn that a forerunner of this company once made sportscars and that the man who established the company was a well-known racing driver.
Maurice (Maus) Gatsonides was born in 1911 in Indonesia, at the time a Dutch colony. As a youngster he joined his family in Holland and soon was rapt with aviation. He tried to join the airforce as a pilot but failed the selection and settled for a job as a flight engineer for an airline. Another passion of his was car racing and after a number of accidents with airplanes and a handsome inheritance he decided to start out on his own with a car dealership. Around the same time he started to participate in road races, driving the British brands he sold in his dealership.
He turned out to be a successful competitor who mixed talent with a shrewd interpretation of rules and regulations and knew how to make that work to his advantage. His most notable achievements before the second World War were winning the Barclay's cup at the 1937 Monte Carlo Rally and a top seven finish in the gruelling Liège-Rome-Liège Rally that same year. Unfortunately his competition efforts took their toll on his business which suffered from neglect and draining funds to pay for racing. This lead to a bankruptcy in 1938 but Gatsonides wasn't taken aback. He turned to the Dutch branch of Ford who hired him as a mechanic and a factory racing driver. And so he continued taking part in all sorts of international events like before but now somebody else picked up the tab.
Still, this wasn't enough for Gatsonides. He dreamed of constructing cars of his own. A first step was taken in 1938 with a Mercury based special which was dubbed "Kwik" (the Dutch word for mercury, sounding very similar to "quick"), a sleek roadster with tuned 3,9-litre V8 engine created in Gatsonides' new workshop. In retrospect this was the first Gatso and it was unveiled and raced at the inaugural Zandvoort "Grand Prix" in 1939, at the time a street circuit near the North Sea shore. It did not finish due to a engine malfunction but it proved to be fast. Later that year it fared better in the Liège-Rome-Liège Rally where it finished 14th.
The War cut the career of the Kwik short and Gatsonides turned to the manufacture of gas generators for cars, needed to replace the fuel that was requisitioned by the occupying forces. This proved to be rather lucrative and made it possible for Gatsonides to start for himself again after the War. At first his new garage specialized in restoring the cars that were hid during the occupation but soon Gatsonides was able to continue realizing his dream to construct cars. A new model was introduced in 1946 as the Gatford. Based on a 1938 Ford V8 chassis but fitted with a 124 hp tuned 4-litre Mercury engine it was quite a striking sight: a roadster much lower and better streamlined than the Kwik with a third headlight placed on the bonnet. That last idiosyncrasy was sort of a solution for matching space for the carburettors on top of the engine to a low streamlined front. The Gatford was meant to be commercialized but only one was build. Amongst its racing spoils were a 2nd place in the 1946 Alpine Rally and a 3rd place at the 1947 Lisbon Rally, piloted by Gatsonides himself of course. Before long Ford objected to the name of the car which was too similar to Matford, the name name for Ford products made in France, so Gatford became Gatso.
A more serious attempt by Gatsonides to start up car production came in 1948 when the Gatso 4000 range was introduced. It was a line of sportscars similar to the earlier Gatford with futuristic streamlined bodies drawn by well-known Dutch artist Jan Apetz. The cars were, ironically, based on the Matford 13 chassis and again fitted with the 4-litre Mercury V8. A number of aluminum bodies were available; most notably the Aero Coupe with its jet fighter style sliding canopy made by Fokker Aircraft which attracted no less than 200 orders from the US. Others styles were a 2-seater roadster, a 2-seater fixed head coupe, an odd looking 2+2 coupe nick-named the "molehill" and a 6-seater DeLuxe convertible which was considerably larger than the other models. Still, essentially the Gatso was a shoestring operation and while the reception was favorable and the order book well filled Gatsonides was in no position to establish production on a commercial scale. Only a few Gatso 4000 cars trickled out of the workshop between 1948 and 1950 and all were sold at a loss.
Even so, Gatso showed a new model in 1949: the 1500 roadster. This time the car was based on the shortened chassis and the engine of the straight 6-cylinder Fiat 1500 with overhead camshafts. It looked much the same as the 4000 roadster but without the bulky front end thanks to the smaller engine. The resulting low, slight lines of the car lead to it being called "Platje", meaning something like "Flatty" in English. Another unique feature of the 1500 were its lightweight alloy wheels, which were specially made in France.
The end for Gatso came in 1950 with another bankruptcy. Total production amounted to only 11 cars, including the Kwik and the Gatford, which makes Gatso cars extremely rare. Only 3 of these exist today; the Kwik and the 1500 roadster reside in Holland and a 4000 roadster seems to be extant in South Africa. The rest, most of which were extensively raced, were demolished or have met with an unknown fate.
After the bankruptcy Gatsonides was employed by Ford UK as a technical advisor and rally driver. International recognition came at last in 1953 when he won the Monte Carlo Rally for Ford with the Zephyr. He kept racing cars until 1968 and was a famous public figure in Holland and abroad which kept the memory of the almost mythical Gatso cars alive even though hardly anyone had seen one for real.
So what could be the link of all this to the dreaded Gatso speed trap camera's? Well, for rallying purposes Gatsonides had devised some chrono- and odometer equipment so that average speed and such could be easily registered and calculated, which was quite an advantage in rallying in those days. There was a lot of interest in these tools and this made Gatsonides start a company once again in 1958, this time called Gatsometer and finally successful. Time- and speed measuring equipment became the specialty of the company, including for instance the timing plates swimmers tap after completing their distance. The story goes that Gatsonides at one time became annoyed by unjust speeding tickets caused by imprecise measuring methods by the police. So he invented a system with two rubber hoses that were placed at a specified distance apart from each other across the road. The hoses acted as sensors and the exact time was measured between crossing the first and then the second hose by the wheels of a passing car. That time and the distance between the hoses were combined which lead to the actual speed of the car.
Obviously this system was well received by the law enforcement authorities and this success ultimately lead to Gatso being one of the leading manufacturers of speed and traffic control equipment.
For more info about Gatso cars and their creator you can check out the Gatso Sports Cars site (parts in Dutch and English).
© André Ritzinger, Amsterdam, Holland