Thursday, 19 November 2020

Maximum Mini - Find of the Decade

2020 has been a remarkable year so far. And not just for virus-reasons, but also for finding back forlorn Mini based cars. Up until now more remarkable cars have made it to the finds list on here then ever before, with a few more stories of discoveries coming up soon. As tradition dictates we'll have the now-established 'Find of the Year' election here in December. 

But how about the last decade? Many more Mini derivatives were found through the years, and I thought it would be nice to list the 'Find of the Year' winners of the last 10 years here again. What's more: which one do you consider to be the best out of these? In other words: what will be the Maximum Mini Find of the Decade? You decide. Send your answers below in the comments, or reach me through any other way you like. 

2010 - The Beach Car prototype found in a Greece scrapyard. More here

2011 - The unspoilt Cox GTM found in a Cheshire garage. More here 

2012 - The mystery Maya GT found in a Kent garden. More here

2013 - The Mini Jaba found in a Spanish scrapyard. More here

2014 - The Mean Sonora BMC found in a Belgian garden. More here

2015 - The Landar R7 found in a lock-up in Germany. More here

2016 - The 1966 Le Mans Mini Marcos found in Portugal. More here

2017 - Dame Margot Fonteyn's coachbuilt Mini found in the UK. More here

2018 - The Peel Viking 'Dutch demonstrator' in a German barn. More here

2019 - Project X found in an Australian lock-up. More here

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Dutch demonstrator Biota - history unraveled (3)

Over to the final episode in the Biota's history. For now at least, as the car is now reunited with the son of the car's original builder René Sontrop after 49 years! (parts 1 and 2 here and here)

I bought the car only two weeks ago from the widow of the man who'd owned it considerably longer: 36 years. From the correspondence that came with it I could make up he'd become the Biota's owner in september 1984 when the odometer read 'just about 5,000 kms'. Unfortunately I do not know where he got it from, so there is a gap between 1973 when the Sontrop family sold the car and moved to France and september '84. In a letter dated January 1987 the previous owner wrote: "In the short period that I drove the car, its acceleration and top speed really struck me. I easily passed the 170 km/h limit at one time." He also added that work on the car's restoration had started, planning to finish all that in July or August 1987. I think it never happened as the car looked as if it hadn't been touched for decades. A family member conformed this, too. New parts which he mentions in his letters were still with the Biota in a number of boxes. 

René Sontrop was one of the first to contact me when I published the news of the car's rediscovery on Maximum Mini last week, and it soon became clear that he was eager to buy back his dad's old car and restore it. René had been looking at another Biota Mk1 restoration project in the UK some time ago but found that car needed too much work, whilst not having a family link like this one. And so we made a deal and he came over from France to pick it up yesterday.

Although I was sad to see it go, it was fantastic to reunite René with it after 49 years. A bit of a throwback to 2018 also, when Peel Viking-builder Ben Konst was reunited with that other Dutch demonstrator! (here). René brought me some more Prescott Hill Ltd. brochures and also told me that his dad had great difficulties in selling TVRs in The Netherlands, although at the Amsterdam Motor Show there had been one famous Dutchman very much interested in a Vixen: football star Johan Cruijff. But there had been two cars which had his interest and eventually he chose for the second option: the Datsun 240Z. René's dad decided he didn't want to put more effort in TVRs and fully focused on the Biota, of which he sold five in The Netherlands and another few in other European countries. René is now planning a full restoration of the old Dutch demonstrator and has promised to keep me posted. 

Reunited after 49 years: René has now bought the Biota built by his dad
Picture Jeroen Booij

Although I was sorry to see it go, I'm sure it is in the best possible hands now
Picture Jeroen Booij

Some of the correspondence that came with the Biota, which included a floppy disc...
Picture Jeroen Booij

Registration paperwork confirms it had just one owner for the last 36 years. But there is still a gap in the history between 1973 and september 1984
Picture Jeroen Booij

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Dutch demonstrator Biota - history unraveled (2)

More history of the orange Biota Mk1 known as the Dutch Demonstrator Biota! 
(original post of it's discovery here and history part 1 here).

René Sontrop, son of the car's builder and Dutch Biota-importer Jan Sontrop continues: "When the car was finished it was driven for quite some time on FH-plates (Dutch garage plates-JB). My dad constantly altered and improved it. Initially it used an 850 Mini engine but my dad later managed to find a Cooper 1000 for it and fitted that, which was quite an improvement. The handling of the car was superb and so much better than a TVR, which was imported by my father also, or even a Lotus 7. And my dad knew well how to drive it."

What exactly happened with the car after that is still a bit of a mystery. René: "We emigrated to France in 1973 when I was 15 and my dad sold all of his stuff in The Netherlands. He set up 'Atelier Sontrop' as a workshop and restoration company for prewar cars. I took over in the 1980s and moved to Jaguars mainly, even running a Jaguar-dealership in 1999. My father passed away eleven years ago now and my mother just three weeks ago. He was a real go-getter and did everything to sell these kit cars - he'd really fallen in love with them and used his orange car as a daily driver at the time. It brought him everywhere in Europe to promote the Biota brand. He sold one or two cars in Belgium through a garage called Francis Gueibe and I know he also tried to sell them in France, but was put off there as they wanted to crash test them first. I believe he also sold a few of them to Norway or Denmark." More research needed here.

So, is that it? It isn't boys and girls. This tale will have a surprise ending. That's up next.

Finished: the Dutch demonstrator is ready to be used as a promotional vehicle throughout Europe 
Picture courtesy René Sontrop

The promotional B&W pictures came to me through Biota owner Peter Niessen. Note garage plates
Picture courtesy Peter Niessen

Prescott Hill Ltd. became more than a Dutch Biota concessionaire. Sontrop senior used his demonstrator through Europe to promote the Biota brand
Picture courtesy Peter Niessen

René Sontrop recalls: "He was a real go-getter and did everything to sell these kit cars - he'd really fallen in love with them and used his orange car as a daily driver
Picture courtesy Peter Niessen

When it was finished it drove for quite some time on FH-plates - Dutch garage plates
Picture courtesy Peter Niessen

Initially it had an 850 Mini engine but later a Cooper 1000 was sourced and fitted
Picture courtesy Peter Niessen

"The handling of the car was superb and much better than a TVR or even a Lotus 7"
Picture courtesy Peter Niessen

The Dutch registration '17-30-RL' was issued in July 1971 and is still on it today
Picture courtesy Rob Mellaart

Sontrop took it everywhere in Europe for promotion. One or two cars were sold to Belgium through the dealership of Francis Gueibe
Picture courtesy René Sontrop

Monday, 16 November 2020

Dutch demonstrator Biota - history unraveled (1)

Since I posted about the little orange Biota Mk1, also known as the Dutch Demonstrator Biota here last week (click!), I have received a number of lovely messages from people who know more about the car. Fellow Dutchmen Olivier Bos (who found the Prisoner Moke in 2011) and Rob Mellaart (who had his work experience at Biota's factory as a youngster), sent me some photographs and documents. But best of all was to get in contact with René Sontrop from France. René is the son of Dutch TVR and Biota-importer Jan Sontrop, who'd set up Prescott Hill Ltd. in The Netherlands in the earliest of 1970s and who would become a very keen promotor of the Biota brand on the continent. Prescott Hill Ltd. also brought the Biota to the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1971.

René told me: "Personally I never really fell for the Biota, but the green metallic demonstrator of John Houghton that we borrowed for our display at the 1971 show, brought lots of interest to our stand. It was very busy at our place there during the whole show period. I was 14 years old at the time and dreamed more about a Mini Cooper or Mini Moke, though."

He also recalls a drive in John Houghton's demonstrator 'YWT 65G': "John Houghton was a particular man with a little beard. I was allowed to join him in the Biota demonstrator from the Amsterdam Motor show back to our home in Woudenberg, which was a nice souvenir to me. That green car was a real beauty, and since he was a racer it had several racing features." 

Houghton returned to Woudenberg soon after the show to bring over the first two Biota bodies to The Netherlands: these were my orange car that was going to be build up as Prescott Hill Ltd's demonstrator and the yellow car that's been owned by Pieter and Jos Niessen for such a long time now (see Maximum Mini 1). Below is a nice selection of photographs, and there's more to follow in a next article.

Prescott Hill Ltd. were the Dutch TVR and Biota importer, this was their display at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1971
Picture courtesy René Sontrop

Left to right: Prescott Hill's founder Jan Sontrop, his son René Sontrop plus mechanics Ben and Yves Paul, seen at the Amsterdam show with the UK demonstrator
Picture courtesy René Sontrop

Dutch ad dated March 1971: 'The Biota Mini Sportscar - The huge succes of the RAI'. 
Kits were available from 3.000 guilders
Picture Jeroen Booij archive 

British ad dated April 1971, which also mentions Biota at the Amsterdam Motor Show 
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

René Sontrop: "I was allowed to join Houghton from the Amsterdam Motor show back to our home in Woudenberg, which was a nice souvenir. René is the boy on the right
Picture courtesy Peter Niessen

Next, John Houghton makes it over to Woudenberg to deliver the first two bodies to Prescott Hill Ltd's workshop. My car on top, the yellow one now owned by Peter & Jos Niessen's below
Picture courtesy René Sontrop

 These were the first two Biotas to be exported. Sontrop became a keen promotor of the Biota brand

 The 'Dutch demonstrator' half way in its build in early 1971. Note Delahaye beside!
Picture courtesy Rene Sontrop

 Finished and with promotional text on it. Prescott Hill's workshop premises in the back
Picture courtesy Rene Sontrop

June 1971: the Dutch demonstrator is seen here for the first time in a magazine ad
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

 Brochures and correspondence between Prescott Hill Ltd. and John Houghton as owned by Olivier Bos
Picture courtesy Olivier Bos

The Biota brochure made by Prescott Hill Ltd. 
Note statement 'Importer for the European Economic Community' below
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Friday, 13 November 2020

Deep Sanderson 'Twini' at the drag strip

Ever-enthusiastic fellow-Biota owner Tim Harber sent me some material related to the illusive Deep Sanderson 105 'Twini' or 'Twinny'. What struck me most was a clipping from a 1972 issue of Cars & Car Conversions magazine that was new to me. It's an interview with Irishman James 'Jim' Gavin, who worked for Chris Lawrence in the mid-1960s and famously sprinted the Twini at the British International Dragfests at Church Fenton in 1964 and at Woodvale in 1965.

From the article: "Jim came to England and worked for Chris Lawrence, the Deep Sanderson man, whose brilliance and ideas and driving was wasted by accidents and financial disaster. Jim found fun in everything at LawrenceTune, but most of all in a racing TwinnyMini single seater. Jim doesn't say wether it went round corners, as he used it only for dragging. In 1964 when the first Great Britain versus America contests were held. "The car would do the 1/4 mile in 11.43 and at the end of the run would be pulling 115-118 mph. It earned me some money, and this was very handy when we started SuperSport." The car was lying around partly built, using four tubes tying the two subframes together, and the whole thing was run with 10" wheels. The two engine craze rather faded away after John Cooper had an awful smash on the Kingston bypass in a saloon twinny. The LawrenceTune car used two Downton 1071Ss, and possibly the arrival of the 1275S saved any more disasters."

What's more: Tim also sent a link to some film footage of these dragfests, in which Jim Gavin can be seen briefly in action with the Twini - see below and go to around 3:10 for the Deep Sanderson. What struck me here is that the car looks to be green. I have a few black and white pics of the Twini at the drag strip, but always thought it to be red. It was red with a black stripe when I photographed it for Maximum Mini 1, back in 2007, with absolutely no clues of any green paint on the body.

Irishman Jim Gavin at work on the Deep Sanderson 105, which used two Downton 1071 engines
Picture Cars & Car Conversions, via Tim Harber

Gavin at the wheel of the Twini during one of the Sydney Allard-organized 'Dragfests'
Picture jeroen Booij archive

Gavin said: "It earned me some money, and this was very handy when we started SuperSport"
Picture jeroen Booij archive

"The car used two Downton 1071Ss, and possibly the arrival of the 1275S saved any more disasters"
Picture jeroen Booij archive

Gavin was quoted to do the 1/4 mile in 11.43 at 115-118 mph - this clipping says it did 13.18 at 109 mph
Still pretty impressive for the Twini though
Picture jeroen Booij archive

As found in 2007 - the Deep Sanderson 105 was red then, with no traces of any green paint
Picture Jeroen Booij

Unseen film footage by Nick Pettitt shows it in action on the drag strip when it was green
Video courtesy Youtube / Nick Pettitt

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Coombs' coachbuilt Mini de Ville

One very interesting article was dug up for me by reader Peter Camping. It's a piece from a 1969 issue of Motoring News and is about a coachbuilt Mini that was totally new to me. The car was built by none other then John Coombs, who succesfully ran a Jaguar dealership in Guildford at the time, and who was involved in Formula One and racing Jags also.

The Mini was built on request of one of Coombs' wealthy customers and, boy, it was lavish! Based on a 1275 Cooper 'S', the list of modifications and add-ons is sheer endless. The body was deseamed and received a low rear screen cut from that of an MGB, modified rear side screens, heated windscreen, a hand made grille, flared arches, louvred bonnet and Mercedes headlights. Door locks came with push-button openers, overriders from a Riley Elf while the standard Cooper 'S' wheels were cadmium plated. The car was painted in Roman purple cellulose paint.

The inside was hardly less remarkable. It received seats from a Porsche 911, a fold-down rear seat, pile carpets, polka dot cloth rooflining, full-width leather covered dashboard with Jaguar gauges and tumbler switches, Aeroflow fresh air vents from a Ford Corsair, HMV radio and 8-track Dyna Sound stereo tape deck with three speakers, heavily modified heater and demister, collapsible umbrella in the passenger door and violet light in the glove box compartment. Total costs reportedly came at £2,450.

The car remained a one-off, was named Mini De Ville - like Radford called theirs - and was registered '3 EXW'. Could it survive..? 

The Coombs Mini De Ville was built as a one-off in 1969 by John Coombs
Picture Motoring News, courtesy Henk A. Hazelaar

3 EXW indeed must have been pretty much the ultimate in Minis. The list of mods is amazing
Picture Motoring News, courtesy Henk A. Hazelaar

And it doesn't stop on the outside. Interior boasts many more lavish luxuries
Picture Motoring News, courtesy Henk A. Hazelaar

Could this Mini de Ville, made by the famous John Coombs of Guildford, survive?
Picture Motoring News, courtesy Henk A. Hazelaar

Monday, 9 November 2020

Original 'Dutch demonstrator' Biota found

When I found out recently that the missing first Biota imported to The Netherlands in 1971 resurfaced, I was very eager to see it. The car had been long lost and I soon learned that its second owner, who had it since 1984, had passed away. I decided to drive over to the place where it was and took my trailer with me - just in case! 

What I found was an incredibly original car which had hardly been touched for ages. It does need full recommissioning but is fully complete and has hardly changed from the day when it was new. Dutch Biota-owners Peter and Jos Niessen knew more about the car and sent me a lovely set of original publicity pictures, showing the very car when it was just finished. There's more paperwork with it as well as boxes full of spare parts. The Dutch registration papers are in my name now, too, so this certainly is a worthy project. 

I really fell in love with this little orange fellow, but already have my hands full on the Le Mans Mini Marcos, so I'm not sure yet if I am the right person to keep it and put it back on the road. Please let me know if you are interested in this great car and who knows we may come to an agreement...

UPDATE 16 November: More on the car's history here in part 1

The first Biota to be imported to The Netherlands has now resurfaced and it is incredibly original
Picture Jeroen Booij

The car has had one owner since 1984, who passed away earlier this year
Picture Jeroen Booij

The original registration is now in my name, too. I am the third owner since new in 1971
Picture Jeroen Booij

A restoration was once started but never finished. The car has always been dry stored
Picture Jeroen Booij

Bonnet is very easy to take off and simplifies work on the mechanicals considerably
Rear has been damaged at one point but was restored properly, needing only a respray
Picture Jeroen Booij

Originally the car came with a Cooper 1000 engine, but it has been replaced with 1100 at one stage
Picture Jeroen Booij

Original Mamba wheels and rear suspension have been fully refurbished yet. Unused Avon tyres haven't been available for ages though
Picture Jeroen Booij

Interior comes with Biota's signature 'clam seats' and cast alloy steering wheel boss
Picture Jeroen Booij

Houghton Coldwell chassis plate indicates it is the 15th Biota built. 'L' for left hand drive
Picture Jeroen Booij

Badges are slightly battered but still there. Several Biota's miss them and you won't find these
Picture Jeroen Booij