Rad Van Time With the 1998 Citroën Berlingo Calao, by Sbarro


Today’s Rare Ride started off as a standard and rather uninteresting Citroën Berlingo van, and was then thoroughly edited by Sbarro into a windsurfing-oriented beach vehicle.

It’s a lot to process, visually speaking.

The Berlingo went on sale for the 1997 model year, alongside its twin the Peugeot Partner. Two body styles were available in the Berlingo’s first generation, a small panel van with four or five doors, and a five-door “leisure activity vehicle,” which is the European name for a short-wheelbase van like the Ford Transit Connect.

Power was provided via a range of inline-four engines that ranged in size from 1.4 to 2.0 liters. There were a few EV examples too, sold as the Berlingo Electrique. In very European fashion, all vans were equipped with a five-speed manual transmission. Tidy in its dimensions, the Berlingo was just 162.8 inches long. To put that in perspective, Berlingo was a full 21 inches shorter than the second generation Chevy Cruze.

The Berlingo and Partner lived a very long time in their first generation, with singular facelift for 2003. Sales of the first-gen continued in Europe through 2013, and continue on in Argentina today. They just love the ancient Berlingo.

Shortly after its release, Italian car designer Franco Sbarro dreamed up a funky concept version of the Berlingo for a very specific audience: Windsurfers. His Swiss company, Sbarro, set to work and reimagined the Berlingo almost entirely. Gone were the doors and roof, the former replaced by hollowed-out panels to hold windsurfing boards and accouterments. The roof was changed to a connected roll bar setup and added a roof rack to hold additional equipment. Up to six windsurfers were seated on its teal and banana-colored seats; the rear cargo area provided two additional jump seats.

The exterior continued the teal/banana color scheme, and up front a decorative silver plastic brush guard was fitted for extra off-road sand adventure vibes. At the back, a drop-down tailgate wore the same perforated aesthetic as the brush guard. With no roof and no windows beyond the windshield, a windy driving experience was assured by the Calao.

The very Nineties Calao ended up in the hands of Peugeot-Citroën, at their Adventure Museum. PSA decided to thin their collection in 2020 and sold the Calao without registration and a disclaimer about its lack of regular use. That wasn’t a joke, as in 2020 the Calao had accumulated just 363 kilometers. It sold for $26,000.

[Images: Sbarro]

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