Manufactured in South Africa, the Wagener Special was designed by Phillip Wagener in June 1970 and took just 18 months to build from start to finish. It has the chassis and suspension from a Lotus Elan for excellent handling characteristics and is powered by a 118bhp 1600cc Alfa Romeo engine coupled to a five-speed manual gearbox. The body was crafted using aluminium to the creator's specifications, making it lightweight.
After Phillip's passing in 2010, the Wagener Special was sold to a well-known classic car enthusiast and historic racer from Cape Town. Since taking ownership, the only mechanical adjustment made to the Special was a bespoke exhaust system designed by the owner.
In October 2019, this car completed the 10-day Yangtze River Delta classic car rally in China.
Due to its rarity and specifications, it has caught the eye of the media and has featured in numerous publications, including in a past issue of Classic Car Africa. An excerpt of that story follows below:
Seeing the Wagener up close is a chance to appreciate just how good that railways apprenticeship must have been and how much of a natural aptitude Phillip clearly had for working with metal. Particularly when it came to clothing his creation, as it’s the Maserati Ghibli-like lines of this coupé that are so compelling when you first lay eyes on it.
There’s a delicious delicacy in the styling that comes thanks to the subtlety of its curves and the crisp detailing to its edges, particularly around the front and rear – along with the distinct waistline. That’s all testimony to the quality of the construction; the panel gaps are beautifully consistent, and great care was taken to extend that precision to details such as the window frames, which were custom-made from scratch and finished to fit flush with the bodywork. The car also appears entirely symmetrical, which is admirable given that there’s no mention of forming the panels over a wooden buck in the traditional coach-building manner.
On the road the Wagener has the handling, and indeed performance, to match its exotic looks. That’s no surprise really, given that it’s based on a largely unaltered chassis from an Elan (a car that’s almost a benchmark on the handling front), but the Wagener’s longer wheelbase does soften the Elan’s usual exceptionally crisp manners. The added weight of metal versus fibreglass on the Wagener probably has a hand in that although – again according to TECHNICAR – that’s only 90lbs, which is impressive considering the car’s added length and the switch in construction material. Where it differs noticeably from the Elan, however, is in the charisma generated by the Alfa engine, which offers better mid-range torque and less throaty backchat than the more highly-strung Lotus unit.
Power-wise its similar (118bhp), but that’s after Phillip rebuilt the all-aluminium four-pot to Sprint specification at the time. Its performance is also enhanced with a bespoke free-flow exhaust system to Dave’s design, which ends in a pair of centrally located tailpipes at the back. Like so many other details on the car, that adds to the Wagener’s thoroughbred feel. A thoroughbred that looks convincing enough to be mistaken for something out of a studio at Pininfarina or Bertone in the early 1970s. Only with the handling of a British icon and the build quality of something German.