Monday, 18 November 2019

Boxer Sprint project now offered for sale

Due to the unexpected death of Ian Shearer (obituary here), his family has decided to sell his much beloved and last project car - the original 1986 Boxer Sprint prototype. The Boxer was a lightweight spyder version of the Nimbus Coupe that Shearer designed a couple of years earlier. The car’s fiberglass body tub was moulded as a single piece with some areas strengthened with Kevlar. The clamshell bonnet hinged forwards and the engine cover flipped the other way for easy access. Brakes, steering column and pedals came from the Mini donor, with the rectangular headlights sourced from VW’s Scirocco. A wiring loom was made for the car, but according to Shearer a modified Imp loom could be used, too. Kitcars and Specials magazine wrote in September 1986: “The Boxer Sprint is designed to be either a club racer and/or a second road car, and as such it makes no pretence of being a refined everyday vehicle. Although, having said that, it will be seen that it has the potential to be made as practical as any two seat sports car.” Still, no more production cars were made, with only the prototype being registered. Shearer found it back on a farm in Kent in 2017 (see here) and started a comprehensive restoration.

Unfortunately he never got 'round to finish that and the whole project is now for sale. It's not just the car itself, fully registered as a 'Nimbus Sprint' with full V5 logbook and all the paperwork. But it also comes with the original moulds, two engines and a whole load of bits and pieces. Ian's son Will: "The car comes with all other items required to get it on the road. There will also be a lot of materials that I am happy for the buyer to have too - things like GRP mat, microfibre filler additives, resins, and hardeners/catalysts. Also, the odd tool that I have no use for, there is a cylinder honing tool for example; basically I'd be happy for anyone buying to rummage through and take what they feel is useful to them. I have taken some photos of all the stuff that will be sold with the Boxer. Everything appears to be complete though it is spread all over! Dad was never one for being organized!"

See the full ad here.

A cover star in September 1986: the Boxer Sprint prototype before being registered
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

These are the moulds for the monocoque shell and clamshell front, included in the sale
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Designer Ian Shearer found the car back in 2017 and started a comprehensive redesign
Picture Will Shearer

Due to Shearer's unexpected death, the whole project is now offered for sale
Picture Will Shearer

Included also: one of two engines - this is a modified A-series
Picture Will Shearer

Friday, 15 November 2019

Fairley Spoke was driven by The Beach Boys

I made a remarkable discovery yesterday when reader, Ogle SX1000 owner and big Beach Boys fan Guy Loveridge contacted me about his favourite band. Did I know the Beach Boys used a Mini Moke when they toured in the UK in november 1966? I knew that as I had seen promotional pictures. Mind you, this was not the 'Mini Surfer' Moke, made by George Barris for The Beach Boys in the US (click here), but a car used for promotion in the UK - probably a BMC demonstrator. Guy found out there were two Mokes used, both green with yellow lettering, and he also found out their registrations after having seen a documentary titled 'The Beach Boys - The Swinging Sixties'. The cars were registered 'LUV 918D' and 'HOA 124D'. Guy wrote: "Of course now I MUST find them and own one if I can!" Did I know anything about them?

When I noticed the second registration number I first hesitated, but then recognized it as the registration on the infamous 'Fairley Spoke'. This was the supercharged Moke raced by former fighter pilot, Tomorrow’s World presenter and BBC race commentator Raymond Baxter, together with his friend Reg Phillips, Chairman of James Fairley Steels of Birmingham, and an avid racer himself. I always thought they took a brand new Moke to build the racer, but apparently they didn't and used a demonstrator instead. A demonstrator that had just been used by The Beach Boys!

Up until the late-1960s the Fairley Spoke made appearances at many sprints and hill climbs with either Phillips, Baxter, or Baxter’s son Graham behind the wheel. It was repainted in orange over cream and further modified several times. In the 1980s the car received a full restoration and it was seen at the Mini’s 30th anniversary party at Silverstone. But by the time both Baxter (2006) as well as Phillips (2008) had passed away, the supercharged Moke had found its way to a Germany, where it was restored once more and now received a 1340cc unit and dark marine colour.

It left Guy disappointed. He wrote: "Shame it has been 'ruined' - I would restore it to 100% 1966 Beach Boy specification!" I am not totally sure about that as I also like the Fairley Spoke provenance, also. Guy added: "I love the Fairley's history, too, but just wish it was not at the expense of a chunk of Beach Boys history! Wonder if the German owner would be thrilled/excited or annoyed to find out?" All I know is that the car was sold about a year ago to a new German owner. Feel free to drop me a line if that's you. Now. Let's see if anybody knows more about LUV 918D...

Two known publicity photos of The Beach Boys in London in a Mini Moke
Pictures Jeroen Booij archive

Reader Guy Loveridge found out there were actually two and they were registered 'LUV 918D' and 'HOA 124D'. That last number certainly seemed familiar to me...
Pictures Guy Loveridge from the documentary 'The Beach Boys - The Swinging Sixties'

Here is HOA 124D in the late 1960s, by which time it had been raced succesfully for a a couple of years by Raymond Baxter and Reg Phillips and was known as the Fairley Spoke
Pictures Jeroen Booij archive

And a couple of years ago in Germany. Does the current owner know about its Beach Boys history?
Pictures Jeroen Booij archive

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Le Mans '66 - now in a theatre near you

Of all the races in the world the 24-hours of Le Mans may well be the best known. And of all the 24-hour races at Le Mans, held since 1923, the 1966 edition is perhaps considered as the best of them all. Why? Well, mainly due to the fact that Ford of America, of all marques, managed to beat the mighty Ferrari of Italy, which seemed simply invincible at the time. It's a story often told and clearly one worthy of a movie. In fact that movie has now been made. Yesterday evening it premiered in Europe and tomorrow it will be all over in theatres in the USA also, featuring Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale as Ken Miles in lead roles.

Is there any place in the movie for a tiny little 1289cc Mini Marcos that found its way into the real race back in '66? I haven't seen it yet, but I don't think so. But you and I know that this little racer, run by a miniature team of enthusiasts became the darling of the crowds, was nicknamed 'La Puce Bleu' and came home at an incredible 15th overall in between these monsters of power, speed and fortune. Are you going? I am!

Le Mans '66 is known in the US as Ford vs. Ferrari - that's what it's about
Picture 20th Century Fox

But the real race wasn't just about Ford and Ferrari. At least not for me!
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

This little fellow was, in my view, the most heroic car of the 1966 24-hours of Le Mans!
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

The trailer of Le Mans '66 certainly looks promising
Video 20th Century Fox / Youtube

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Beach Car emerges on Helmut Newton picture

An interesting picture, made by the famous photographer Helmut Newton has disclosed the possible existence of another Mini Beach Car. The picture in question was found by Carol Quiniou who stumbled upon it in an old 1964 issue of the French magazine 'Adam' in which it is part of a series with cars and girls. Modeling with the Beach Car is Swedish-French actress Marika Green.

Beach Car prototype owner John Reymondos was surprised as he, too, never saw any other evidence of a red car. John also noted the seats, which seem to be different to the ones in the cars he knows of: "Normally the material looks more like the Fiat Jolly style seats. And the side covers inside are missing. All handles look legit though. Great research - now we need to find the car!"

Marika Green in a Mini Beach Car in 1964. Does this car survive?
Picture Helmut Newton for Adam magazine, via Carol Quiniou

Monday, 11 November 2019

Keith Lain passes away at 77

I don't intend this to become an in memoriam website, but a number of people involved with Mini based cars have passed recently. Keith Lain is another one of them now, since he died recently and was buried on November 1st. Lain was a former Lotus employee (he worked for Team Lotus at Cheshunt from 1963-onwards) who was one of the members of the club mysteriously known as the ‘Group of 69’ who quitted work at Lotus at the same time and started a variety of projects on their own. Lain worked from a converted farm workshop in Wymondham close to Norfolk, where he also started Minus Cars in the early 1980s.

Lain had played a part in the creation of the Lotuses Europa, Elan Plus 2 and Esprit, but later helped Brian Luff to develop the Status Minipower and Status 365, as he helped Paul Hausauer with the Clan Crusader. Together with Brian Luff he also designed the full fibreglass bodied Status Mini Minus. And when Luff moved to Jersey, he gave the job to Lain. This is where Minus Cars started. Under that banner Lain further developed and manufactured the Minus Mini and the later Minus Maxi, but he also did lots of work for others. He had a hand in the Gilbern Invader Mk4 prototype and in the Lotus Seven S4, he manufactured the last 300 body shells for the Lotus Europa and for some of the John Player Special F1 cars as he was also involved with the development of the Ford powered Strada 4/88, which was made in Saxmundham, Suffolk. Lain became 77 years old. Unfortunately I never met him, although I once made it to his place, unannounced I must admit. This after having found out there were two villages with the same name and with me searching in the wrong way too long to no avail. When I'd finally made it to the right place I learned that Lain had just left off to London.

Keith Lain in the early 1980s, with one of his Minus Maxis
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Keith Lain was involved in a number of Mini based cars, the Status Minipower being the first
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

And followed by the Status 365, dreamt up by Lain's friend, fellow-former Lotus employee and 'Group of '69' member Brian Luff
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

The Minus Mini was initially known as the Status Mini Minus, before Lain took over production
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

The Minus Maxi was next and was fully developed by Lain's Minus Cars of Wymondham
Picture Jeroen Booij

Friday, 8 November 2019

Unipower at the Motor show - 1969 & 2019

When it was new, the Unipower GT was a frequent visitor of motor shows, with the last works appearance in October 1969 when the Mk2 version was on display at the Earl's Court Motor Show in London. There is a lovely little promotional film by British Pathé, which I don't think I have ever included here before (Unipower from 1:26). The narrator: "The Unipower GT can be purchased in kit form for as little as 375 pounds or complete at up to 1,500 pounds. The fibreglass body incorporates a right hand gear shift."

Now, just over 50 years later, there is no doubt that the Unipower is a real classic and therefore it earns its place at the Classic Motor show in Birmingham. No less than three cars are on display this weekend: Tim Carpenter's chassis number 1, Gerry Hulford's racer plus Keith Hamer's car that has turned out to be the prototype as it was seen at the 1966 Racing car Show in London. I hope to be able to write a little more on that soon.

October 1969 - Unipower GT at the Earls Copurt Motor Show in London
Video British Pathé

November 2019 - Unipower GTs at the Classic Motor Show in Birmingham
Picture Pete Flanagan

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Ian Shearer passes away at 71

It is with great sadness that I learned about the sudden death of Ian Shearer today. Ian was the designer of the Mini powered Nimbus Coupe and Boxer Sprint cars and was an enormous enthusiast of anything Maximum Mini. His wife Hilary wrote:

"Dear Jeroen, Ian sadly died very suddenly and unexpectedly last Monday 28 October. This has absolutely devastated us. We have decided on a personal committal with just us and then we are going to have a celebration of his life early next year on or around his 72nd birthday, we feel if we did anything now we would not do him justice he achieved so much and we want to share that at a happier time and we know that’s what he would have wanted."

A good decision no doubt as Ian was a rather special man. His life was filled with cars and I remember very well that I tried to track him down for years - with no success- when all of a sudden he found me and contacted me from France, where he'd moved to many years earlier. That was a great surprise and ever since that day Ian was an enthusiast of everything I wrote. He often dropped a line after having read my latest scribblings, giving his unique point of view on them - always very optimistic and helpful. 

He also kept me updated on his projects. Ian had managed to buy back his Boxer prototype two and a half years ago after a long process of finding it (which almost even included a helicopter search) and difficult negotiations (full story here). He was very eager to get that car back on the road. In order to restore it, he had just sold another of his projects through this website a week before his passing (here). Days before his death he wrote: "Now I have made the decision to let the Nimbus Sprint go, I feel more relaxed about the work I am doing on the Boxer, I'm sure you are finding the same as me about the cost of rebuilding a powerful 'A' series, wow!"
May you rest in peace Ian. It was a privilege to know you.

Ian Shearer was positive and kind. Here at Blyton Park in 2015 with Wil Ker's Nimbus Coupe
Picture Jeroen Booij

Ian with the prototype Nimbus Coupe in 1983. Very proud indeed!
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

A rare picture taken during the official launch of the Nimbus Coupe in 1984
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Production of Nimbus Coupe body shells in 1984. Note the remarkably flat floor
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Ian's Boxer Sprint prototype was found back almost three years ago on a farm in Kent
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

The search was painstaking and Ian almost booked a helicopter flight to find it. Picking it up here
Picture Jeroen Booij archive