Imagine you were to spend a year in Paris. What kind of car would you buy? Probably one that’s small and practical, like a Renault Twingo. If you wanted something a little bit nicer you’d step up to a MINI Hardtop. A Clubman if you have kids and a dog, but anything bigger would be a hassle to live with in such a big, crowded city.
The same applies to classic cars, which is why you still see plenty of rear-engined Fiat 500s in the French capital. But, there’s at least one rebel enthusiast who bucks the small car trend by driving a Sovamag TC10 on a regular basis.
What the hell is a Sovamag TC10? I’m glad you asked.
SOVAM was a little-known French automaker. The name means SOciété des Véhicules André Morin, which loosely translates to “André Morin’s car company.” In the 1960s, SOVAM built a small, Renault-powered coupe in the vein of the Alpine A110 and the Matra Djet. It wasn’t nearly as popular as Morin had hoped, so SOVAM exited the automotive industry when production of its sports car ended. Less than 150 examples were built. The company turned its attention to manufacturing airport tractors and rolling walkways — seriously.
The Sovamag TC10 came to life when SOVAM was commissioned to develop an off-roader for the French army during the 1980s. Why a small company that hadn’t built a car in decades was chosen over, say, Renault or Peugeot is anyone’s guess. Styling and aerodynamics were not a priority; pure function-over-form design is all that was expected. Tall and the boxy, the TC10 would give a wind tunnel engineer panic attacks for weeks on end. And yet, it had a look of its own. It wasn’t yet another clone of the Land Rover Defender or the Jeep Willys.
Several variants of the TC10 were built, including one with a hard top and a pickup model that could be fitted with serious fire-power (e.g., a 20mm cannon) behind the cab. Early models came with Peugeot’s 2.5-liter Indenor diesel engine, which made just 70 horsepower. Starting in 1992, the TC10 was upgraded with a 2.8-liter four-cylinder diesel borrowed from the Iveco parts bin. It generated 101 horsepower at 3,600 rpm but a stout 177 pound-feet of torque at 1,900 rpm. Iveco power allowed it to hit a top speed of 80 mph (130 km/h).
What mattered most to the army was off-road prowess, and the TC10 delivered. It had a 53-degree approach angle, a 44-degree departure angle, and it could drive through about 24 inches (60 centimeters) of water. All variants came with a five-speed manual transmission and four-wheel drive, but the early Peugeot-powered models like the one pictured below weren’t fitted with power steering.
The Sovamag was never offered to the general public. It was primarily used by the French air force, so most of the production run was shipped to bases all around the globe. A small handful remained in France, where they usually helped fire fighters reach mountainous areas. Few were built and fewer remain, especially because a good chunk of the TC10s that were exported never made it back to France.