Maurice Gatsonides was born on the 14th February 1911 in Gombong on the Island of Java in the former Dutch East Indies.
Son ot the Vice Governor of the Sultanate Surakarta, he was to become one of the Netherlands best known motor racing drivers, driving at Le-Mans, in the Monte Carlo Rally – which he won in 1953 driving an English Ford Zephyr 6 saloon, the Tulip Rally, Liege-Rome-Liege and just about every other rally that was being run at the time. 150 Rally plates on a wall display tell the story and a full size replica of the Ford Zephyr 6, accurate in every detail, still exists. The original Ford Zephyr was later written-off in an accident and was never repaired.
Known as ‘Maus’ during the years of his youth, this was later changed to ‘Gatje’ by the Dutch motoring enthusiasts and to ‘Gatso’ in other parts of the world. For his abbreviated autograph he always signed 'Gatso'.
In the mid 1930’s he received a considerable inheritance from his grandparents and he opened a business in Heemstede importing Hillman cars – which he used for rallying, Skoda cars and later Riley’s which were very well received in the Netherlands. He was also the agent for Sarolea motorcycles. One mechanic and one apprentice were employed to carry out general repairs and servicing and the only other member of staff was a book-keeper.
But his overwhelming passion for motor rallies at the expense of the business saw the end on the venture in 1938 and Gatso became employed by Ford Amsterdam as a field service representative, investigating customer complaints and assessing warranty claims.
In the late 1930’s Gatso built his first car. It was a sports two seater, built on the first Ford Mercury chassis imported into Holland.
An enlarged 3.9 litre, 39bhp, V8 engine, exclusive to Mercury was fitted and the body was constructed by Schutter & Van Bakel to Gatso's requirements. It was known by the nickname ‘Kwik’ which is Dutch for ‘Mercury’.
Kwik was used in many track events and rallies with varying success, although it was usual for a fault - nearly always a simple one - to occur that forced Gatso to retire the car over and over.
In 1940 he was familiarising himself with the route of the "Dripping Cock Trial", an illegal overnight road race, when he was confronted with a truck and a tramcar coming towards him. His passenger was his fiancee, Ciska Hofhuis, later to become his wife. He decided to hit the truck, which was the lighter of the two, but the tram hit the back of Kwik and considerable damage to the car was the result. Kwik was repaired and sold, to disappear for many years.
During the years 1945 to 1950, he manufactured a small number of powerful sports cars, eight of them being based on a lowered Ford chassis at his garage/service station in Heemstede. Fitted with a 4 litre side-valve V8 engine, they were given the name Gatso 4000. Their aluminium body design, developed in a wind tunnel using a 1/10th scale wooden model, was by Gatso himself who was inspired by the styling of the specially built Liege-Rome-Liege Auto Unions of the late 1930's. This styling was to be seen on all but his first car (Kwik) and last car (Molshoop) that both had bodies of more conventional form.
The prototype car, a two-seater roadster known as a ‘Gatford’ (Gatsonides-Ford), was shown late in 1945 and was built on a pre-war chassis that had been hidden from the Germans during World War Two. In 1946 with Gatso driving, it finished second in the first post-war Alpine Rally and had success at the Leewarden airbase sports car races. However, the Ford Motor Company felt that the name ‘Gatford’was too close to ‘Matford’, its brand name in France at that time, so all subsequent cars were badged ‘Gatso’.
The Geneva Motor Show in March 1948 saw the first of what was hoped to be a forerunner of many production models. Like the Matford, it had a ‘cyclops’ third headlamp high up on the centre of the bonnet that also dipped at the same time as the two normally positioned headlights. This came about because its radiator had been lowered 6” from standard allowing the front of the car to slope away, so reducing the drag coefficient. But the carburettors situated in the centre of the ‘V’ on the V8 engine stood higher. The curving bulge that blended the headlamp into the bonnet as far as the scuttle eliminated the problem and looked as though the design had been created to become a feature of the car, at the same time giving extra lighting to assist the rather inferior lighting available at that time. Unlike the Marford, it was a close-coupled 4+4 with a Perspex cabin cover manufactured for Gatso by the Fokker Aircraft Company. This slid open like the canopy of a fighter aircraft. Unsurprisingly, the name given to the car was the ‘Aero Coupe 4000’ and it was built on a brand new Matford “13” chassis, lowered by 5” and fitted with a 4 litre V8 Mercury engine.
It caused a sensation everywhere that it went and always, people wanted to put their fingers on it, so Gatso devised a system that gave a slight electric shock when it was touched. It cured the problem. Unfortunately, the Perspex cover generated considerable heat in the car when it was closed and unbearable noise when it was opened slightly. Another disappointment was that the car became expensive because the cover accounted for a quarter of the total cost to produce or replace.
But the Geneva show had amazing results and orders far outstripped the financial capabilities of the modest Gatso business.
The proposed founding of the ‘Gatso Car Company Incorporated’ and the sale of 500 shares in the company never materialised and was finally abandoned.
After being used by Gatso’s wife Ciska in national rallies and concours events the Aero coupe was later sold to their good friend and many times Gatso’s rally co-driver Klass Barendregt who replaced the Perspex canopy with a cloth top and ran it, together with the original Gatford and a Gatso fixed head coupe.
In 1949, the Gatso 1500 sports two-seater was built using a modified Fiat 1 ½ litre chassis and a small in-line six Fiat engine. It was low and wide and was soon given the nickname ‘Platje’ (Flatty) by Zandvoort crowds. In 1949, Gatso driving ‘Flatty’ lapped the Zandvoort circuit at 63.7 mph average speed to take the speed/endurance 1 hour record for 1 ½ litre cars, while Klass Barendregt drove the Aero coupe on the same day, at an average speed of 65.4 mph to establish a new 1 hour record in the unlimited category.
Unfortunately, the Aero coupe was wrecked during an off-road event and subsequently, it and the other V8 cars disappeared.
‘Flatty’ was Gatso’s personal transport for some time, but it was eventually sold and was fully restored in its original pearlescent orange paintwork in 1991 by Dutch classic car enthusiast Joop Bruggerman of Vessem.
In 1950, the fastest Gatso to date was built. It was a low-built 2+2 fixed-head coupe nicknamed ‘Molshoop’ (Molehill) due to its design and was built with the intention to win the 1950 Liege-Rome-Liege rally, but was let down by a failed cylinderhead gasket. The Gatso Company was declared bankrupt during this rally and the financial problems had to be handled by Gatso’s wife Ciska.
On the return from the rally, ‘Molshoop’ was sold to Klass Bernaards, a haulage contractor from South Netherland for very little money. At the time of the bankruptcy, the eighth and last Ford based car the ‘Gatso 4000 Luxe’ was being built to the order of Dr. Polano, a well known personality in Hague society. A car of normal height, but with extended Ford Mercury chassis and fitted with a Mercury V8 engine. It was a full six-seater convertible with bodywork by coachbuilders Boonakker and Maurice and had an electrically operated fully retractable soft top.
‘Kwik’ was recovered from the barn of a breakers yard near the Hague in early 1994, where it had stood for more than 35 years. It required complete restoration, although it has already changed hands again since that time and its current whereabouts is once again a mystery! ‘Platje’ and ‘Kwik’ are the only two known surviving Gatso cars.
Maurice Gatsonides died on the 20th November 1998. He was a motoring legend. Unfortunately, apart from Holland, it isn’t the great motoring achievements that he is remembered for. Those were virtually forgotten when he introduced the GATSO speed cameras to the world and the already financially abused motorists were again ‘taken for a ride’ with this new ‘toy’. Designed to help cut down speeding accidents, it has blighted the name of a great man and caused more bad feeling towards the Authorities than ever anyone could have imagined.
Source: Reg J. Prosser