Monday, 17 January 2022

The cars of Alexander Fraser: Lion buses and more

Over to the third (and last for now) installment about Alexander 'Sandy' Fraser's vehicles, with some more great inventiveness from Lincolnshire. For Frazer didn't just build the AF Spider (click here) and Grand Prix (click here), there was quite a lot more. It started with a fire engine loosely based on a 1934 vehicle and built for children's rides. I don't have any pictures of that, but I understand it was used for many years "And to the best of my knowledge it is still doing just that!", Sandy told me in 2009. Who knows it goes even on today? 

The fire engine was followed by a steam engine but things become of interest here with the build of a 1928 Hants & Dorset Leyland Lion PLSC3 single deck bus, made by Fraser in an approximate 5/8 scale. This was powered by a Mini engine and used as the Fraser's family transport for a number of years! Taking it out with the family must have been something and it proved to be such a hit that several more similar vehicles were made. The next four were open topped Leyland G-type double deckers of which Fraser had used a picture as the only reference. There was also a model of the B-type double decker as built by the London General Omnibus Company in 1910. A hybrid of the two types of buses followed, too.

But there was also a WW1 RAF Leyland truck and this came in a slightly larger scale then the previous 5/8 projects. Last in line was a duo of miniature AEC Matadors. Sandy said: "Quite a small scale, but boy, could they pull! This was down to a 1275cc Mini type engine, very low gearing and 4-wheel drive" Yes - four-wheel-drive! I'd love to see how that worked. 

Last but perhaps not least I've had some comments about the picture credits used in my previous Alexander Fraser articles, and hope to have amended these now to anyone's approval. I must add though that back in 2009, when I visited Sandy Fraser to photograph one of his cars and interview him for Maximum Mini 2, he was kind enough to let me copy much of his own files and photographs and so that is how they came into my possession. It goes for the pictures copied in below too.

This gives you a good idea about the size of these buses - that's Sandy Fraser with the 
Leyland Lion single decker - the Fraser's family car at the time!
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

There's the basis for it under construction, with the Mini engine clearly visible 
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Next step: frame looks about ready to be clad with an aluminium body. Test drive first!
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

And the finished product: the 1928 Hants & Dorset Leyland Lion PLSC3 single deck bus...
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

...But now in an approximate scale of 5/8th. Detailing is superb and it is road registered
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Mind you: this was the Fraser's family car for a few years in the 1980s!
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Imagine being brought to school in this! That's Fraser with two of his three children and dog
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

And there was more to follow. Lion Omnibus on the left and AEC Matador in the middle, I think
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

I think this is one of two AEC Matador miniatures built by Fraser. Mini powered and 4WD!
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

And this is the 1910 London General Omnibus Company B-type double decker  
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

And why not tow one Mini based miniature bus with the other?
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Two of Sandy's buses made it to television also. I think this was for Blue Peter?
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

And he kept on inventing. This February 1982 clipping mentions his invention of the automatic petrol pump key, which may well have been the very start of unattended petrol stations 
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Sandy Fraser was a truly lovely man and a fantastic engineer also
Picture Jeroen Booij

Thursday, 13 January 2022

Eat this! The Mini powered Opel prototype

Now this is an unusual story! It's about an Opel that was originally planned to be built in Romania under dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu's reign after a 675 million dollar investment in a new factory that would produce 150.000 of these cars a year. That's a weird story on its own. But how about the prototype being powered by a Mini drivetrain..?

My German colleague Frank B. Meyer found out about this fascinating tale, researched it, interviewed some of the people involved and got it published. I read it and simply had to drop Frank a line the other day. He was kind enough to send me the only remaining picture of the prototype and allowed me to quote from his article, especially from the now 84-year old former chief design at Opel George Gallion. Gallion worked in Rüsselsheim under Alexander Cunningham - the big Opel boss at the time and designed several milestone cars such as the original Manta and Monza. And then there was this Mini based prototype, meant to persuade the Romanians in investing hundreds of millions in a new factory. Gallion about building it in the early 1970s: "We bought a scrap Mini for 200 German Marks or something like that. We got rid of all of the body parts and fabricated a new car around the Mini's chassis. It did run and drive, as we drove it around the place." One of his colleagues dared taking it up to the headquarters to the great GM-boss of the time: Bob Lutz. Gallion: "Lutz was kind of impressed, but what we really needed was a go from Detroit. And Cunningham knew that chances were small that they would get that. Gallion: "To impress the GM bosses we had an advertisement agency make some sort of promotional little film about this compact Opel. Cunningham would show it upon his next Detroit visit, together with 1:5 and 1:1 models, saying "The boys in Rüsselsheim have been playing around with this idea". And so it went. Cunningham showed them all to his superiors in Detroit. Gallion: "And, bingo! They loved the idea and gave us the green light!". And so Opel's team was sent to Romania in the winter of 1975 or 1976, met a governmental delegation in one of Ceaușescu's hunting castles, drank lots of slivovitsj brandy and were accompanied by a long-legged 'tour guide' named Natascha who turned out to be a spy. But nothing more was heard from Romania after the trip and the whole Romanian project was eventually canned. Opel didn't give up though and many years later, the car did see production: it had become the original Opel Corsa, built in a new factory in Spain.
A small footnote came from Frank B. Meyer when he sent the image: "Dear Jeroen, the history of the image is a little complicated: it's a screenshot from the film that Opel people produced in order to convince GM to build a small car. George Gallion had the film at home; Lutz Keiss, a journalist, borrowed it, took the screenshots – fortunately, because Keiss told me that the film was later destroyed during a flood in his basement. Stay safe and curious!" Thank you very much Frank!

This is the Mini powered Opel prototype, built for the planned Romanian Opel factory. The picture is a screenshot from original film footage that is lost forever
Archiv George Gallion

Opel man George Gallion with one of his designs: the 1975 Opel Manta GT/E
Picture Opel PR

UPDATE 14 January 2022: One keen reader knows of another picture of this car on the world wide web, which I have copied in below. It's not very clear but does give another good view on the car with the Mini engine visible. The source is a website about the Opel Corsa A-series' history, click here

Another picture of the prototype, found on a website dedicated to the Opel Corsa

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

The cars of Alexander 'Sandy' Fraser: AF Grand Prix

Over to the next step in Alexander 'Sandy' Fraser's career as a motor manufacturer. After the AF Spider (click here) came the AF Grand Prix. That car was built in the same spirit but slightly differently designed and more cost-effectively made, making it also cheaper in price. Where the Spider had been offered for £850, the Grand Prix came at £650. 

Fraser: "I did not redesign the new car very much. It was just a matter of keeping the costs down by making a few subtle alterations. I was really trying to aim for a younger type of market than before. Previously it was really a rich man's fun car". The most notable changes were the round cycle wings, the rounded-off back, a different hood design and a bench seat rather than two separate bucket seats.

Sandy told me he made four Grand Prix three-wheelers plus one four-wheeler variant. The second three-wheeler was a customer-built car and he told: "It was the quickest car that I built, with 0-60 timed at just over 5 seconds. According to the owner 9000 rpm in top was achieved once just to see what it would do. This corresponds to 156 mph at which the airflow was said to be 'most uncomfortable'!" Now, let's have a look at the cars that I have found pictures of. I'd love to hear from you if you own any of these, or the one that I seem to have missed out on.

YTL 37L - AF Grand Prix - Green

NMR 179R  - AF Grand Prix - Blue

CMR 266V - AF Grand Prix - Red

CMR 267V - AF Grand Prix 4-wheeler - Maroon

Sandy Fraser with daughter and three of the five AF Grand Prix' he built, the 4-wheeler at the back. This lovely image reminds me very much of Roald Dahl's great story 'Danny the Champion of the World'
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

May 1972: the AF Grand Prix is launched and makes it to the local press
Picture Jeroen Booij archive 

Nine years later Sandy was still offering them, as this March 1980 clipping proves
Picture Jeroen Booij archive 

Motor test drove the AF Spider in July 1971 when Sandy told them about his plans for the AF Grand Prix. The magazine's artist Brian Hatton then made this drawing
Picture The Motor / Jeroen Booij archive

This is the AF Grand Prix brochure car, seen with garage plate '157 DD'
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

YTL 37L - AF Grand Prix. Is this also the brochure car / demonstrator?
Picture Peter Frost

NMR 179R - another AF Grand Prix, originally blue, later blue and black
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

CMR 166V - Cooper 'S' powered AF Grand Prix, beautifully finished in red
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

CMR 267V - the only AF Grand Prix with four wheels
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

The cars of Alexander 'Sandy' Fraser: AF Spider

I noticed I haven't written much about the crazy contraptions built by Alexander 'Sandy' Fraser here, so why not catch up on that. These three-wheelers were very much built in the best tradition of cottage car manufacture by a truly lovely and slightly eccentric man. That ticks all the boxes for Maximum Mini, doesn't it? I thought I'd make an overview of what he built and I should start with his first model, the AF Spider and its predecessor called AB1, which was also the prototype for the Spider. This AB1 was built by Sandy in his kitchen and used privately. It came with a Shorrock supercharged MG 1300 engine and later received a race-tuned Cooper engine.

For the Spider's full story and the involvement of F1 team manager and extraordinary 'barn find hunter' avant la lettre Colin Crabbe you need to read Maximum Mini 2. But Crabbe was the man to encourage Fraser to market his cars. He was, of course, a well-known figure in motoring media circles also, so it was perhaps no surprise that the AF Spider made it to the mainstream motoring magazines such as Motor and Autocar. 

When I visited Sandy Fraser to photograph his own Spider and interview him about the cars he told me most of his records had disappeared but he was kind enough to make a list from memory, which he said wasn't very good. But he told me :"I am 99.9% certain that there were 12 three-wheelers and 1 four-wheeler" He thought that were seven AF Spiders including 'AB1', the last one made from left-overs slightly later. With Sandy's list and the pictures that I have I found the following six Spiders, so it looks there is one missing: 

RTL 61J - 'AB1' or AF Spider prototype - Wood

UCT 41K - AF Spider - Blank aluminium & wood

SFL 256K - AF Spider - Blank aluminium & wood

LMP 868K - AF Spider - Red

WMD 982M - AF Spider - Yellow

96845 H (Australian plate) - AF Spider - Green

UPDATE 12 January 2022: And here is part 2 about the AF Grand Prix.

RTL 61J - AB1 or AF Spider prototype with the Shorrock supercharger
Picture Peter Frost

UCT 41K - the AF Spider of Colin Crabbe, here with his father and a friend
Picture Colin Crabbe

SFL 256K - AF Spider. Different car or same as above with a different number?
Picture H&H Auctioneers

While this is the AF Spider brochure car. The same also?
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

LMP 868K - AF Spider
Picture Peter Frost

WMD 982M - AF Spider
Picture Jeroen Booij

96854 H - AF Spider in Australia. More about it here
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Monday, 10 January 2022

Mystery Mini derivative (79)

Mike Brown alerted me about a picture he'd found on a Facebook page atypically named 'Sitting there Rotting on a Driveway'. And although the picture in question shows a vehicle that's not exactly on a driveway - it surely sits and rots! The chap who took the picture, Jamie Parnill, has no idea what it is but Mike added: "This looks like it might be Mini based". And I think he is right, too. 

But what on earth is it? The windscreen looks flat but much of the rest of the glasshouse (Perspex?) is curved. Could it have been made for a movie..? In that case somebody will surely recognize it.

UPDATE 12 January 2022: Perhaps not Mini based after all? Nick Beaumont wrote: "Wheels look wrong for a Mini". Paul Wylde thinks it may well be Reliant Kitten based and he dropped me a picture of a Kitten chassis, which does look similar. He added: "I think they have relocated the fuel tank and dropped the chassis down a bit at the back to lower the rear door access". He's got a good point there. Opinions are divided as a Reliant restorer that I know isn't quite so sure though...

Mini based? Looks like it. But the whens, whos, wheres and especially the whys are unknown
Picture Jamie Parnill

Friday, 7 January 2022

Biota article gives some new insights

A whole string of articles on Mini based (sports) cars has been seen in print in the last few months and TKC magazine's Biota feature is the last in line. This is a particularly interesting article of seven pages with some great detail and insights. Several of the pictures used have never been seen in print before also, so this is a must-have for the Biota enthusiast.

TKC's always friendly editor Steve Hole, who penned the piece himself, was kind enough to offer a £1 discount on postage for Maximum Mini readers regardless of where they are based. For the UK people that means free postage. Go to this link and use the discount code MAXMINI to order the magazine with the discount. Thanks Steve, keep up the good work!

7-Page article gives some new insights and photos that have not been seen before
Picture Jeroen Booij

January/February 2022 issue is the one to look out for, or order it direct online
Picture Jeroen Booij

Never seen before: John Houghton holding the demonstrator's bonnet on the left, 
Bill Needham seated on the right on the Autospeed show in January 1968
Picture TKC archive

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Hooper Moke seen in public for the first time

Not too many Mini Mokes were coachbuilt, but a very special example has now been seen in the public for the first time since it was built in 1967. We've seen the Wood & Pickett 'Beach Buggy', which was later turned into the famous Prisoner Moke, and there were the Pavesi Mokes coachbuilt in Italy as well as a few cars made for movies. But I never knew that Hooper & Co made one too. Paul Brown is the man to know as he just became the lucky owner of the 1967 car seen below.

From what Paul has been told the car was built for Sir Gerald Glover, a solicitor, property developer and racehorse breeder who only used the car sparsely and on his own land in Northamptonshire. The car's odometer has just crossed the 7,150 miles mark in almost 55 years! 
The Hooper link comes from Sir Gerald's property development business since he supposedly owned the land in London upon which the factory for Hooper & Co was built. This association led to him asking Hooper to add the additional coachwork, special paint job in his racing stable's colours and sign writing on the Moke. After Glover's death in 1986 the car went to his wife and moved to another family member upon her death in 1995. Still in family ownership it was fully restored in 2011.

Paul has become the first non-Glover family member to own this very special Moke and he told me he had to buy it in a rush due to the fact of its rarity. He also added: "It’s not been out in the public eye since it was built. I have asked for the last owner to write down anything she knows about the car so it may take a while." Well, congratulations Paul. What a way to start the year!

'TRP 185F' is a 1967 Moke that was coachbuilt by Hooper & Co. Surely unique?
Picture Castle Classic Cars

Hooper added substantially more bodywork to the car including tiny doors
Picture Castle Classic Cars

The car comes with three tiny doors, only the left rear side doesn't have one
Note Cosmic Mk1 wheels front and Mk2s at the back
Picture Castle Classic Cars 

Added dashboard still comes with just one meter, but now two glove boxes!
Picture Castle Classic Cars

Engine was the only part that was not rebuilt during restoration of 2011
Picture Castle Classic Cars

You'll find quite a few Hooper badges on this car
Picture Castle Classic Cars

These must have been the comfiest seats available that could fit the Moke cabin
Picture Castle Classic Cars

I am assuming this was the flag used by Sir Gerald Glover for his racing stable
Picture Castle Classic Cars

Sunday, 2 January 2022

Happy 2022 - Deep Sanderson is Find of the Year 2021

Happy New Year! 

We have a winner here: the Deep Sanderson 301 found in Mexico-City last year received the most votes for the Maximum Mini Find of the Year contest, so congratulations to its finder Henry Davis and owner Victor Milke. 

Victor is a happy man: "Dear Jeroen: Happy new year! May it be a great one! Thanks for the results on the poll. I am glad the car community has an interesting project to restore... and eventually I will get to my task. The idea still is to restore it as a regular driver, not a racer. So far, only gathering a few parts. I bought a steering wheel that could work on it and switches and small bits so far. Best wishes! Victor"

Maximum Mini Find of the Year 2021: the Deep Sanderson 301 of Mexico-City
Picture courtesy Victor Milke

The car was unearthed from its long-term hiding place in March last year
Picture courtesy Victor Milke

Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Happy Christmas 2021

Now that 2021 is almost finished we can look back at another strange year. But when sticking to the Maximum Mini theme it's certainly not been a bad one. A record number of Mini based cars has been (re)discovered, bought and sold, restored, driven and raced and there is some great progress in the Le Mans Mini Marcos project, too. I can assure you 2022 will have some surprises coming.
But for now I wish all of you a happy Christmas and the best wishes for 2022. Thank you for your support and please don't forget to vote for the 'Best Find of 2021' here.

A Unipower GT in an Austrian winter landscape (Dachstein pass)
Original photograph Planai Classic, picture editing Jeroen Booij

Monday, 20 December 2021

Boxing Day 1967 - with Best Wishes from Checkers

A copy of this leaflet, which I'd never seen before, was sent to me by Joost van Diën. Yes, that's the 1967 Le Mans Mini Marcos works car with its modified windscreen. It's seen here during its time with South-African racer Peter Kat, who was sponsored by Checkers - a South-African supermarket chain. Kat's first race in the Marcos took place at the Roy Hesketh circuit on Boxing Day, December 26th, in 1967. Checkers certainly seem to have had good faith in him. Kat and his c-driver Dirk Marais came 11th overall. 

Last year in July I incidentally caused a bit of a stir when I wrote about this (originally green) car and its (originally yellow) sister car, mixing them up. There was a good excuse though. It turned out that the yellow Mini Marcos had received a signature modification also: its windscreen was modified just like the one on the green car, somewhere between 19 June and 23 July 1967. A comprehensive new article with many pictures followed, which you can still read here. Meanwhile a few more pictures of the car during its Checkers sponsorship have turned up, one of them showing it in its colours (here). Keep them coming!

Peter Kat drove the ex-works 1967 Mini Marcos in South-Africa with Checkers sponsorship
Picture via Joost van Diën