Thursday, 21 August 2014

Phoenix Estate is much rarer then you'd believe

Gee, have I been looking for a proper Phoenix Estate for a long time! Eventually I found one (63 built - full feature, including interview with its creator in new book) but it didn't prove easy. Imagine my surprise when Peter Bailey dropped me a line last week, with some pictures of a Phoenix in a fantastic looking condition. He wrote: "I thought you might be interested in a couple of photos of a Phoenix. It has been re-built by the father of the present user, and is used as a daily driver by her. The photos were taken on the Manchester Minis club stand at the recent classic car show at Tatton Park. Regards, Peter" Thanks mate!

Restored Phoenix is a rare car, especially in this condition. It's a daily driver, too
Picture courtesy Peter Bailey

Phoenix really is a clever car. And believe it or not: the design is by Richard Oakes!
Picture courtesy Peter Bailey

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The tale of the Mini powered Méan Sonora (3)

Some two years ago I tried to find out the whereabouts of a Mini powered Méan Sonora, built in an old Belgian castle. Despite ending up for a closed door when visiting the actual place, I found out something. I published the car's story in two articles - read part 1 here, part 2 here. But the question remained: What happened to the car. I wrote: "Perhaps somebody here will be able to tell?"

Now, we're almost two years ahead but that somebody has finally called in. It's Louis Lempereur who knew of the car for 30 years but only just managed to rescue it. He wrote the third part of a fascinating story and I am privileged to share it with you. This is what he wrote:

"I was born in Liège, Belgium in 1946 and when student, used to meet Jacques d'Heur, founder of Méan, in cafés downtown. Elie Boone, a friend from Brussels, owned a Méan Sonora since 1984. The car was waiting restoration in his garage. Having known Jacques, I was interested to buy this car, but despite several requests, Elie did not want to sell it. But at our early meeting last january, surprisingly, he told me the car was available. And so, we made the deal."

The car as Louis knew it. Derelict in Elie Boone's garden in 1984
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

This picture also dates back to 1984. The Mini engine is just visible
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

"This car had a Mini engine while most Sonoras were built with Cortina or Renault engines. I did not know about any Méan with a Mini engine and so I attempted some research on the internet and found the Maximum Mini reports. I could not believe what I was reading! Promising a special car for a show and forgetting about it, then building one in five days, the story is so typical for Jacques!"

"While looking more carefully at the pictures from the Maximum Mini site and those I got from Elie, I could say the car from the site is the one I found. The tyres are the same, also the steering wheel, the little radiator (not from a Mini ) next to the engine… The car sits very high on its wheels because the gearbox linkage runs, unprotected, under the chassis. Some parts of the body still have the original silver colour. It was really nice to see pictures from my car when it was new at the Méan 'factory'!" Thanks to the Maximum Mini report, I also learned about Daniel Dodeur, who I knew before as we ran the 2CV 24H race at Spa together in 2007. He now runs the Méan register. See their web site for more info here"

"When the car arrived home, I could see the very bad state it was in. The chassis was completely rotten and needed replacement. While searching for a local company to rebuild it, I met with several people who had worked with Jacques while they were young. Always a happy experience! Some of them worked as students during their holidays and were not really qualified for the job, which explains some of the bad workmanship. While cleaning the Mini subframe I found it was badly repaired probably because the donor Mini purchased in the scrap yard was damaged! The subframe is also mounted tilted in the chassis - for some specific reason or due to emergency?"

The Mini powered Méan Sonora as Louis bought it earlier this year - all complete...
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

… but chassis is well-rotten and needs lots of work. The right men have been found now
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

Welding appears to have been done in a hurry - well, the car was built in 5 days...
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

The interior seems surprisingly well kept and original - note Mini key fob!
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

The Méan's full reconstruction has now started - this is just prior to taking it apart
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

"Searching for good parts, I ended up having dismounted the car completely. I am now heading for a complete reconstruction. On the Mean website, there is a picture of a Sonora taken in Monaco. My target is to go there with my car and take the same picture. But that will be another story!" Keep us posted Louis, you are a star contender for Find of the Year!

Picture of Méan Sonora in Monaco has inspired Louis to go there once finished
Picture courtesy Mean Motor Engineering

What a spot! Taken during the Monaco Grand Prix of - we think - 1969
Picture courtesy  Mean Motor Engineering


Thursday, 14 August 2014

Minimach GT launch pictures emerge

Last week, I received a wonderful message from Francesco Gasparini of Italy. Francesco is a Maximum Mini fan with a soft spot for that unusual Italian Unipower GT clone - the ESAP Minimach GT. In fact, he was there with his father when the car was launched in 1968 and had lunch with all the people involved. He always kept the original press kit with its official pictures in it that he was handed over that day, and now sent over some copies of them - I'd never seen these before.

I saw the car back in 2007 and interviewed the daughter of Gianfranco Paduan, who designed the Minimach and built it before he was being kept from marketing it by both Universal Power Drives as well as the Italian authorities - a fascinating story. I understand from Francesco that the car is still in the hands of the same owner as it was back at the time, but it's awaiting restoration right now. Thanks very much Francesco, for sharing your pictures and stories!

Lunchtime  during the official Minimach launch. Francesco and his dad on the right
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Press pack of 1968 Minimach GT - 'For the gentlemen invited'
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

One of the official press pictures - note double springs for tough road conditions (e.g. Targa Florio)
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Rectangular headlights were one of many modifications from the basic Unipower design
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Left hand driven but no gear lever in the door sill; Minimach had ordinary gear lever
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Note sweeping lines over the car's totally new body. Rear is completely different, too
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

More period shots of vanished Landar R7

Roger Simpson has some more information and pictures on the Landar R7 that was owned by Frank Aston in the early 1970s - previously described here as 'The Landar that disappeared' - see here. And he is happy to share it, too. He wrote: "Please find pictures of the Landar R7 Driven by Derek Lloyd at Shelsley Walsh in the early 1970s. One picture is of the start and the other is taken at the bottom 'S' of the hill. Derek drove this car at Shelsley, Loton, Prescott and Curborough for about 3 seasons. This is the Frank Aston car which was modified over the seasons by Derek Lloyd. Regards, Roger."

That Landar R7 again, driven in anger. Now indeed at Shelsley Walsh
Picture courtesy Roger Simpson

The car was owned by Frank Aston, then by Derek Lloyd who races it here
Picture courtesy Roger Simpson

Friday, 1 August 2014

Eddie Collins shares some anecdotes

A while ago, I got in touch with Eddie Collins. What John Cooper was for the Mini’s performance, Eddie Collins was for its sheer opulence and celebrity appeal since he became the managing director of Radford coachbuilders and later for Wood & Pickett. I asked him to do an interview and so we met on a sunny day to dig out some tales about coachbuilt Minis.

About his first visit to Radford's Hammersmith workshop as a young apprentice: “I saw a magic world there, filled with all the cars I’d read about. I remember they’d just finished the motor show, so there was a lot going on at the time. They had the Mini De Ville there and a very, very nice Ford based car they’d built for Stirling Moss. There had been Rolls-Royces with cocktail cabinets and all sorts of uprates before, there had been shooting brakes and one-off coupes. But the new owners saw it as a way to start a new venture in a different class. And the Mini was the car they went for.”

About The Beatles: “I’d heard of them but they did nothing to me. Apart from traditional Irish music I was more into Rock ‘n Roll. But I knew Brian Epstein, who was their manager, and we teamed up. I remember them as four geeky guys, but we started building a car for George Harrison and he was a real car enthusiast. It was good fortune as it took off from there.”

About the Wood & Pickett Mini Margrave they built for Linda McCartney: "That car was fairly strange. She wanted a ‘snogging seat’ in it, so what we did was make some sort of bench. She wanted it in a very light metallic purply paint, I remember it was called ‘Commanchee’, with a light leather with black velvet facings. It was great.”

If you want to read the complete story, you'll have to buy Mini Magazine, which published it in their current Summer issue.

Eddie Collins, 75 years young now, spritely and full of great tales 
Picture Jeroen Booij

The very first Radford Mini 'Magnifique', seen here at the 1963 London Motor Show
Picture courtesy Eddie Collins

The Radford Carabus and it's colour coded Mini hatchback were described here before
Picture courtesy Eddie Collins

A press moment with Mike 'The Monkees' Nesmith and his Radford Mini (more here)
Picture courtesy Eddie Collins

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Reader's cars: Chris' Townscars little and large

Chris Thomas, who runs the magazine for the Register of Unusual Microcars appears to be a fan of Mini based cars, too. He wrote to me about the soft spot he has for William Towns' creations: "I had liked the look of the Aston Martin Lagonda, but it was well out of my price range. But a Hustler perhaps not. I could understand his design logic and liked what I saw. He was my kind of car designer. Being tall I always had problems finding small cars that fitted me. I remember going to the 1974 Motor show and going onto each stand and trying the drivers seat. It was the same routine. Wait my turn, get in, run the seat right back, lower the seat if it could, and then raise the steering column if it could, and then set the seat back angle if it could. In the total show only two cars allowed me to sit in the right position, that allowed me to touch my knees together under the steering wheel, and one was the latest Hustler. By this time I had a Renault 5, which for short journeys was okay, but after a drive down to Italy I got out looking like a gorilla that had just swung in through the trees. Never again would I drive with my knees around my ears, hunched under a low roof. One day at work I spotted in the local paper a Hustler for sale. I rang, and after work dashed down to look at it. Immediately, I recognised it as being the Hustler from the motor show back in 1974. I had to have it."

"When I got it home I went over it with a keen eye discovering all those little impracticalities that do not matter on a show car, like the door locks did not work, and it was almost impossible to get into the back seats, and getting into reverse gear was difficult as the drivers seat was too wide, and so the list went on. With my rudimentary skills, learnt in school metalwork classes, I managed to make them work after a fashion. Once on the road I discovered why the last owner wished to sell it. On tight corners and roundabouts, it would suddenly learch sideways in the opposite direction to that you wanted to travel in. Very disconcerting. I soon worked out that the Hydrolastic suspension at the rear was connected across the car rather than front to back. So as the load on the off side wheels went up, so it pumped the fluid across to the near side wheels so pushing that side up further, making it feel like it was about to roll over. By reconnecting the fluid connections together on each side, it now handled very well.
I took it to several car shows, and had some fun driving there and back. Cars would slow down on the motorways for a good look, and the kids in the back would change from bored to smiling and give a big thumbs up, or a wave. I even has a Ferrari F40 owner slow down and have a good look. It is not often you turn a Ferrari owners head."

Chris' Hustler Huntsman 6. No doubt it's a William Towns design in all its glory
Picture courtesy Chris Thomas


"Our local garage owner, who had MOT'd my Hustler a few times, told me there was another one like this on a farm near by, and the owner wanted to sell it. I shot down after work to see it and found it was not a Hustler but an Elswick Envoy, but not just any Elswick, it wore chassis number 1. I had to have it. Having fallen in love with all William Towns designed, to let this one go would be a sin. The story goes that a bunch of friends had bought the Elswick for a friend who was about to retire, and thought it would be fun to present him with an invalid carriage at his birthday party, and this was the only one for sale at the time. On the day of the retirement party it was driven into his back garden and given to him, to much hilarity amongst the inebriated friends. The new owner promptly tried to drive it around his garden using the hand controls, and very nearly crashed it. By this time his mood was rather tired and emotional, and he gave the car back to the so called friends and the party died. The rejected present sat for a few weeks before I heard about it."

"When the trailer arrived at my house with the Elswick onboard, I bravely reversed it off, and proceeded to manoeuvre it onto my driveway. Having never used hand controls before, I found it a major challenge. I have driven motorbikes and scooters, mopeds and automatics, but an Elswick with hand controls was one step beyond what my brain could cope with. With some pushing from neighbours we parked it, and I set about working out what would need doing to it. The main rusty item was all the rear suspension, which was a mini rear subframe with the middle removed, and a thick steel plate welded onto the bottom. All the Mini subframe part had rusted badly. So it all had to come out and a new mini subframe modified and welded to the thick steel plate, hot zinc sprayed and then immersed in a bath of Hammerite paint. All done and re-installed, next was the bodywork, grinding out the cracks and reinforcing the back, filling and sanding ready for a respray. That was until I looked at the rear door and realised water had seeped in, and the metal reinforcement inside that the window frame it was welded to, was all rusty and would all need replacing and bonding in. At that point I decided it may be better to buy a new rear door from a scraped Elswick. Could I find one? No! Since that day it has sat hand in hand with the Hustler under a big tarpaulin on my driveway."

"Over the years my confidence, eyesight, and patience with car repairs, have all waned. I became more involved with microcars and editing Rumcar News, running my own small company, and trying to loose weight. Now is the time to admit to myself that I will never drive them again, and it would be better for everybody if I sell them to somebody with the skills and passion for them. I did at one time toy with converting the Hustler into an electric car, installing the batteries between the four rear wheels, and mounting the electric motor where the Metro engine is, and adding as many PV panels to the upper part of the body as possible. Being as the panels are all flat, that should not have been too difficult. But like everything else it stayed as an idea. Now that I am in my dotage, I may need an invalid carriage one day. So should I keep the Elswick? No! I will just get my wife to drive me everywhere."

And his Elswick Envoy, wearing chassis number 1. He may be tempted to sell...
Picture courtesy Chris Thomas

Monday, 28 July 2014

Utilities flood fun market

There's a hoard of Mini based utilities currently flooding the market with plenty of fun cars on offer. Let's have a look at some of the cars advertised here.

A nice Scamp Mk1 with no reserve in Crook, county Durham. Ad here

Expensive but supposedly fully restored Andersen Cub in Feltham. Ad here

Advertised as a Moke prototype, but in fact a nice DIY-built registered 'VOO 965'. Ad here

A Hustler Huntsman 6 - looks to be the best I have seen on pictures. Ad here

A Mini based Jeep, probably a one-off but it could be a Lambert, too. Ad here

An NCF Blitz for the true mudplugger in Suffolk. Ad here. Bonus one in Hull here

Ranger Pick-up in good condition. From Romford - where it was built! Ad here

Unusual Scamp Mk1 with added a-posts and boot, seen here before too. Ad here

Monday, 21 July 2014

Mini Beach Car makes it to auction

With only fourteen made the chances of bumping upon a Mini based Beach car are limited, but visitors of the Quail Lodge in California will see one on 15th of August this year, when one of them comes up for auction. According to Bonhams auctioneers' description 13 of the Beach cars were left hand driven and 'went to destinations in the United States, where they would serve as dealer and distributor promotional vehicles to promote the North American introduction of the new Mini'. Thirteen seems a bit of an exaggeration to me but fact is that this one came that way. It was used for promotion by San Francisco based Austin concessionaire Kjell Qvale. He kept it at his ranch and had it painted dark green at one stage before giving it to a friend named Keith Simon at around 2000. Simon started a restoration before selling it to Robert Forbes in 2007. It's now in its original Surf Blue once more. Unfortunately the original wicker seats, made by Lloyd Loom of Spalding have disappeared and have ben replaced by standard Mini seats with wickeresque fabric. Beach car owner John Reymondos wrote to me: "From personal experience, they are not comfortable at all, so that might be the reason…" He had Lloyd Loom made new ones for his car a couple of years ago, so they may do that again for this one - if you have the money left. The estimate is a whopping $70 - 90,000. That's £41 - 53,000. Worth it or completely over the top?

This Beach Car spent most of its life at a ranch in California, not on a beach
Picture courtesy Bonhams Auctions

With under 12,000 miles on the clock it looks superb in a very 1960s shade of blue
Picture courtesy Bonhams Auctions

Unfortunately the original Lloyd Loom wicker seats are not there anymore
Picture courtesy Bonhams Auctions

The engine is the original 850 although the unsynchronized 1st gear has been replaced
Picture courtesy Bonhams Auctions

I believe this is the car prior to being repainted in its original Surf Blue colour
Picture Jeroen Booij archive


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Minis at Le Mans (in 2014)

Hang on, Le Mans Classic was there, last weekend. And there were three Mini based cars competing in  this year's endurance race. The white/blue Mini Marcos from France that was seen there in the last two years made it to the La Sarthe track once more. Another Belgian Mini Marcos was there now, too. I'm not too sure about the first one being a 1965 car (it was entered as being such), but I'm positive about the Belgian car not being of that vintage. It was supposed to be so, never the less. French authorities - do your homework, I would say.

The Marcoses finished 48th and 59th in their class respectively. Last but not least was the Deep Sanderson 301 entered in Class 3 by a British team of Robi Bernberg and Paul Ugo. This is the car that made it to the real Le mans race in both 1963 as 1964, making this year's return a 50th anniversary!  Despite a very good start it slowed down considerably later in the event, eventually finishing 55th in class. I'm not sure if it was as fast as back in '64 but at least it managed to make it to the finish line in one piece unlike 50 years ago!

Great car, great picture. French Mini Marcos thunders along Mulsanne straight
Picture courtesy Facebook.com/formnfunction

Another Mini Marcos, this one from Belgium. That's definitely not a 1965 car
Picture courtesy Tim Scott / Sports Car Digest 

Deep Sanderson 301 - 50 Years have passed since this exact car ran at this exact place
Picture courtesy Ian Summerill 



Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Mini - histoires inédites

Fortunately I am not the only person making books. My French colleague Enguerrand Lecesne is doing the same, focussing on racing Minis in France mainly. His latest book 'Mini - histories inédites' (Mini-untold stories) has just been published and I received my copy this week. It does mention some Mini derivatives and so it clearly deserves a place here. The book is divided into 4 sections (Drivers, Tuners, 'All Genres', and Pictures) and it's the third part that appeals most to me. Here you will find stuff about racing Minis and derivatives in all sorts of races - again mainly French.

Lecesne has been trying hard to find out more about the long-lost and reputedly stolen Le Mans Mini Marcos (more here). And despite having no clue where it ended up, some new information plus a few pictures, has made it to the book. Apparently the car was rallied later in its life and also used to go on a camping holiday by its last owner! Another Mini Marcos mentioned is a car that was entered in the 1000 kms of Paris in 1966, as driven by Claude Swietlik and Adam Potocki and finishing 17th there, just before the Le mans car which was also entered and came home 18th. Where would that be now?

Other interesting stories include the Targa Florio 'Twini', a much-campaigned French MiniSprint GTR and several French DIY-Sprints. Broadspeed is described in the Tuners-section. The GT gets just a brief mention but an unknown picture (to me) of John Fitzpatrick racing it at Mallory Park compensates for that. That sums this book pretty much up - the amount of (French) pictures is pretty amazing and if you wouldn't even understand what's written about them, you'll love the period atmosphere they ooze. Available at 39.90 Euros plus P&P from the publisher.

208 pages and crammed with period pictures - this book is another milestone 

French Mini Marcoses galore - Lecesne just keeps on chasing these cars