Wednesday, 21 October 2020

The cars of Douglas Glover (3)

Over to another DGS Firecrest, built by Douglas Glover of Dublin, Ireland in the 1960s.

The first Firecrest was described here in detail recently (click here) followed by the second car, which was used for PR activities and later raced and spectacularly crashed on a hill climb in Donegal (click here). This is number three of which unfortunately not much is known. 

All I know is that 'KZE 999' is a Dublin County registration, issued somewhere between May 1963 and June 1964. The car is wearing slightly different headlights then the other two with large chrome surrounds plus spotlights. The picture below is unfortunately the only one that I have of the car.

The number 'KZE 999' belongs to DGS Firecrest number three
Picture Jeroen Booij archive, source unknown

Monday, 19 October 2020

Mystery Mini derivative (70)

A little ad from a 1974 Cars & Car Conversions magazine was sent over by Rachel Nelson, who wondered if I knew it. I don't. The car is advertised as 'Mini based Special - one of three only' but I have never come across anything similar or it must be the DART, which has perhaps some hints of this creature. The ad further states '41 inches low, less engine and box. Must go now, getting tatty so best offer secures', followed by an old London number. I can't read the registration well ('GBP 801C' perhaps?), but maybe it rings a bell to anyone here?

Mystery Mini derivative from London as seen in a 1974 ad and said to be 'one of three'
Picture Cars & Car Conversions via Rachel Nelson

DART has perhaps hints of it, but can't have anything to do with it, can it?
Picture Jeroen Booij

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Gitane GT still missing, new picture found

People keep on alerting me when Mini based cars come up for sale or when new automobilia or pictures emerge, which is great. And when a previously unknown photograph of the long-lost Gitane GT comes to the light, it's a perfect opportunity to write about that car once more. It's shown here in its second guise, as modified by Tony 'Podge' Dealey in what has to be a hill climb. This is the first picture that I see of it wearing no wire wheels. So is it earlier or later than the other photos that I have of it? Hard to say as it also came with a radiator opening in its aluminium nose in a later stage, but still used wires then.

The car was initially registered '947 GEA' but later wore the number '232 HWD'. More information is naturally more than welcome. I still hope to find the West-Bromwich-built Gitane one day. More on the beautiful GT in articles from 2011 (here), from 2015 (here) and from 2018 (here).

The Gitane GT being hill climbed with, I think, Tony 'Podge' Dealey behind the wheel
Picture Jeroen Booij archive, thanks to Scott Barrett

The elusive Gitane GT as seen in Motor magazine when it was new in 1962
Picture Motor, colourisation Jeroen Booij

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Lotus Fisher GT found! (2)

The Lotus Fisher GT is found (click here) and here is the second installment of the car's discovery, where new-owner Dan Stokes tells how he found it. Over to Dan!

"Friday 3rd October 2020. My father-in-law was round my house and told me he had been with my mother-in-law to her friend's house and seen an old car sat in the garden. They had asked what it was and the then-owner mister Burke had stated how it was something Lotus and a sort of kit car, he also just wanted it gone. From what I am told they instantly had looked at each other and said 'Dan'. Both knowing how mad I am on all sorts of vehicles and the depths I go into with them both personally and at my garage they knew this would be a car for me."

"On Monday the 5th October my mother-in-law had come round for my wife’s birthday and text me mister Burke’s number so I could arrange collecting the car from him. Which I am so glad I did. On Wednesday the 7th October at around 10:30 am, my friend Shane and I arrived at mister Burke’s house in Southampton for the first time. Having opened the gates on the driveway to allow me to examine the car, mister Burke came out and passed me a folder of paperwork - the logbook stating 'Fisher' as the make. I instantly knew the name and expected it to be a race car as I'd read about Fisher’s some time ago. There was also a few letters in the folder stating it had been raced along with some magazines. The car was clearly in a very sorry state, stacked full of parts with odd wheels, flat tyres and the screen, which just sat loosely in place."

"I asked mister Burke about his ownership and how he had come across it. He stated he'd purchased the car some 20 years before to save it from certain bad fate from a lad in his late teens in Portsmouth. He bought it with good intentions as planned to restore it to its former glory but with a very busy work life of long days along with renovating his home the years had unfortunately just passed by leaving it in the sorry state it already was."

"Although the car had sat outside mister Burke's already full garage, he had kept it covered as best he could. He also asked me to clear an Austin Metro and has since very kindly offered to sell me his own late mothers 1951 Ford Prefect which I really look forward to also getting back together. The Fisher's true origin was unknown to him though. He was aware that the vehicle's engine was from a Mini and there was some sort of Lotus base. It seems he was not aware it was the race car she once proudly stood as. The steering wheel was inscribed 'Lotus Fisher GT'. We used brother straps attached to the rear frame and a winch to begin removing the car. Initially, none of the wheels turned, however, tapping each wheel with a hammer eventually freed them, making it easier to load onto the recovery vehicle. (One of the track rod ends was detached, so caution was needed as the car, at times, had a mind of its own). The nose cone was detached, which made loading easier."

"Once on the recovery vehicle, it was simply a matter of replacing the nose cone, the loose windscreen, seat and other ancillary parts, all of which were secured using ratchet straps. When we got back to my garage, Aldsworth Garage Ltd. in Aldsworth near Emsworth in West Sussex (click here for details), we wasted no time on unloading her and getting her into the spray booth so in the warm and dry."

"Later that day we emptied the Fisher out, cleared up the rotten wood that laid on the aluminium floors and found that mister Burke had beemn 100% correct in stating most of the original parts were with it inside. The lights, a number plate and even four wheels nut covers with an 'F' for 'Fisher' on! Once the car was empty, we tried to turn the engine with a ratchet and socket. To all our complete surprise after what has probably been over 30 years sitting it turned and had compression."

"Obviously it will need a full rebuild but it was a great start. We googled the words 'Lotus Fisher GT' from the steering wheel and found the article ‘The many faces of the Fisher’ written by yourself, which clearly shows my car's registration number and pictures of the car's build and being raced etc., which is what led me to contact you. I have since been in contact with other people regarding the car also but have stated nobody is to post about it including any pictures I have taken. As it was your article that led me to finding what she truest is, I wish for you to be the one to write about her fist. From your pictures I was shocked the car isn’t in a lot worse condition to be honest and that mainly she is complete still holding the Lotus parts you show. I would like it on record although I truly am extremely grateful that Mister Burke was so kind as to gift me the Lotus Fisher GT and I fully intend to get it back and road going. He is the person who is responsible for saving this iconic car when I was just a teen myself. I have already been asked by various people if the car is for sale and I must state it currently is not. But I am happy for people to contact me at my email Best regards, Dan Stokes."

Most parts are there. Registration 'ASG 182B' is still on the car and will be in Dan's name soon
Picture Dan Stokes

Lotus Elite boot lid seen here - with the same number - before the Mini engine was placed
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

The Lotus Elite used to build the Fisher GT outside Jack Fisher's garage in Canning Street, Edinburgh, Scotland. The car next to it is a Lotus 12 that was owned by Fisher at the same time
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

The car's inside during its build. Were the original Elite bucket seats retained?
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

I'm not sure wether this is a detail of the Elite's frame or the Fisher made space frame when just being built, this must be the car's rear I reckon
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

This photograph was taken at the East Fortune Airfield Sprint in May '64. Fisher came 5th overall

ASG 182B as the Fisher GT. Dan would love to know the car's original colours. He's found traces of green, anyone who knows more? Note flared arches here
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Action shot made in the mid-1960s. Jack Fisher sprinted and hill climbed the GT
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Canning Street in Edinburgh where the car was built. Seen here in March 2018
Picture Alastair Brown

Dan made a little walkaround movie of the Fisher GT as it sits in his workshop today
Video Dan Stokes

Monday, 12 October 2020

Lotus Fisher GT found! (1)

In the last few weeks I received some great messages about long-lost Mini based cars being found. The one I got from Dan Stokes ticks all the boxes of mystery and intrigue, originality and desirability. 

It started with an e-mail from Dan a week ago, when he wrote: "Hello Sir, I found your most interesting article regarding the Lotus Fisher GT attached (see it here). I rescued this car today with registration 'ASG 182B' and am looking to restore it to its former glory. Would you happen to have any further pictures? Or details as I’d love to get it just as it was when raced. Also would you be interested in pictures from the restoration process?"

Of course I was interested. But knowing something about the history of the cars built by Jack Fisher of Edinburgh, Scotland, I was quite sure Dan's find was for the Fisher GT's (Lotus derived) body alone. This as I'd found out that the car had been modified into the Fisher Spyder throughout the years. How wrong I was! 

I exchanged information with Dan and sent him a couple of historical images. When he dropped me another line, now adding some photographs of his find. And, boy, I was in for a grand surprise! There was no doubt that the car was still intact, up to its original space frame, body made from a Lotus Elite with Lotus 23-nose section and even its Mini engine placed at the back. Wow! 

And so I took another deep breath to see what I'd missed in my earlier researches. Work on the Fisher GT was started as early as in 1959, with a very early 850 Mini engine and a Lotus Elite body shell cut in half in an accident as starting points. Jack Fisher had built a space frame picking up existing door pillars and windscreen tubing. He'd kept the Lotus Elite's boot intact, with the space frame made into that, to have the Mini engine fitted. A Lotus 23 nose was modified to fit and Sprite wheels & drum brake assembly were used to put the car on its wheels. When finished it was sprinted and hillclimbed in a number of events in Scotland and northern England, after which the engine was changed twice. First to a 1000 with an MG head, then again to a 1071 Cooper 'S'. Later a new space frame was constructed using Lotus 23 suspension, discs, wider wheels but still using the 1071 engine while a new body was also made now using Lotus 23 nose and the body centre section of the ex-Ecurie Ecosse Tojeiro. I think it must have been at this point that the original Fisher GT was not actually modified but put aside with the new car replacing it. The Fisher GT in its second guise was later modified into the Fisher Spyder, which I photographed with its then-owner Peter Speakman in 2011. Speakman had a great file of the car and had done thorough researches on it. He also believed his car was a development of the original car 'ASG 182B'. We were both wrong.

I now understand from Dan that the original GT was sold to Southampton in 1981 with it just being tucked away. It hasn't been moved in the last 30 years or so and it was there that Dan found it. There is a lot more to tell, as Dan wrote in detail the whole story of its discovery and even sent me a video of the car in his workshop. Together with more historical pictures of the car, I'll keep these for tomorrow, though, as this article would become too long. So enjoy the pictures of Dan's fantastic find for now and watch this space tomorrow for more!

UPDATE 13 October 2020. Second installment with video here.

Yes. That really is the original Fisher GT or Lotus Fisher GT. It survives!
Picture Dan Stokes

The car hasn't moved in the last 30 years or so and languished in Southampton since 1981
It uses a Lotus Elite body on a spaceframe made by Jack Fisher of Edinburgh
Picture Dan Stokes

It's complete right up to its interior and 'Fisher Lotus GT' steering wheel
Picture Dan Stokes

With the he Lotus 23 sourced nose off, the suspension, petrol tank and radiator are exposed
Picture Dan Stokes

This is a photograph of the car during its built in 1963 or '64. Note that not too much has changed
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

The engine in the spaceframe behind the seats. Still a Mini but I'm not sure if that's the 1071 Cooper 'S' engine it was last known to have? Anyone? (UPDATE: confirmed to be an 'S' engine-JB)
Picture Dan Stokes

And again back in 1963-64. By that time it was still using an 850 engine, and a very early one too
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Finished and ready to race somewhere in the 1960s, it was definitely a very low car
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

In action somewhere in the 1960s. Jack Fisher raced, sprinted and hill climbed the car 
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Beautiful action shot. The Fisher GT was one of the last cars I'd believed to have survived!
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Mystery Mini derivative (69) - MM Coachbuilt Mini? UPDATED

Dikki Nener contacted me about a mysterious coachbuilt Mini that has come up for sale recently. It looks not unlike a Wood & Picket Mini Margrave, but must have been built by a different converter. There is a badge on the car of 'MM Coachtrimmers of Watford', but this doesn't ring any bells here. There's the one-off MM Mini Land Rover and the Mini Mouse with its 'MM' badging (see Maximum Mini 3 for both), but these seem very unlikely to link to this car if you ask me.

But the Watford link may prove to be more revealing, since NJC Car Conversions Ltd. were also based in Watford, and the NJC Mini they built also had many similarities to the W&P Mini Margraves. Dikki said: "Yes I was just thinking the same, but there seem to be a lot of trimmers around the Watford area even now... But maybe it was pre-NJC and made by one of the founders? It looks to have been commissioned by H.R. Owen through Heron, which was also owned by HRO."

A rusty rolling shell with some of its interior still in place - the Mini is worse for wear as it sits now. But it comes with a few photographs taken in its heydays in the mid-1970s when it looked very distinct. The car came deseamed with an ivory coloured fabric roof, widened arches, Champagne coloured paint and a lavish interior in what looks to be ivory leather, walnut veneer and brown velvet. The finishing of the fabric roof is not unlike that used on NJC's Minis either...

Who knows more about this interesting car..? Updated below

Mystery coachbuilt and Heron-supplied Mini looked like this in the mid-1970s. Not a W&P
Picture Mike Elwell

Front breaths Wood & Pickett but it's not that. Badging says 'MM coachtrimmers of Watford'
Picture Mike Elwell

Not quite so lavish at the moment although it must be a very rewarding project
Picture via Dikki Nener

Champagne colour seems nowhere to be found now. Interior is partly there
Picture via Dikki Nener

MM Coachtrimmers Watford. Who were they? Is there a link to NJC Car Conversions Ltd.?
Picture via Dikki Nener

Lavish interior is clearly different to that of Wood & Pickett, but also to NJC Minis
Picture Mike Elwell

Ivory leather, brown piping, walnut veneer and brown velvet. This was not everyday's Mini
Picture Mike Elwell

Note similar finishing of fabric roof on c-pillar of NJC Mini (left) and mysterious MM Mini
Pictures Jeroen Booij archive / Mike Elwell

UPDATE 8 October 2020
A very comprehensive answer from Mike Elwell, who owned the car until recently:
"MM Coach Trimmers was a firm in Watford consisting of Maurice Macdonald, ex-foreman at Wood & Pickett's and an ex-Harold Radford/Hooper Motors employee. It must be remembered that Wood & Pickett like other firms farmed work out and this could have been the case with this car unless it went to MM much later. Wood & Pickett did not make all the Minis the same and did whatever the customer asked for, and these type of seats (may be Ford Capri) and dash have appeared in other W&P Minis. It was said that this Mini may have been converted to match the 1st owner's dad's Rolls-Royce hence the bulky seats and the Willow Gold paintwork. The steel arches, sunroof, twin headlamp grille and quarter lights/electric windows are all conversion by Wood and Pickett. The HR Owen (Heron) connection may be comes from the second owner (a fashion designer) and the third owner (a member of a very famous group at the time) which was leased to him by HR Owen's. The Mini was returned to Owen's because of none payment, and purchased by one of their employees for his wife (a plate on the car show the dates it was at HR Owen's). It is nice to see the photos credited to Dikki Nener which are owned by me and taken by me on our drive in the late 1980’s when I owned it till it was sold a few weeks ago. Disappointed last owner, Mike Elwell"

I have now credited these pictures to Mike.

Monday, 5 October 2020

The Hustler of Happy Valley

Don't ask how a Hustler ends up in Happy Valley, Oregon but it just did! And it's not the first exotic Mini based creature that turns up there, in Jeremy Thorpe's little corner of the USA also known as Jet Motors. He's had this Ranger Cub in the past, as well as this Mini Marcos and how about this cracking Pavesi Mini..? 

The Hustler 4 is still British registered on a 1965 Morris Mini base, but comes without its mechanicals. It looks to be a clean example though and very much like Williams Towns must have intended it to be. So... perhaps a well suited and straightforward project for somebody with a wrecked Mini available or enough parts to build it up. But then I'm sure Jeremy will also be able to build it for you if you haven't got the spares. See the ad here.

Possibly the only Hustler in the whole of the USA..? Now for sale in Oregon
Picture Jeremy Thorpe

It comes without mechanicals though, so a handy man/woman is needed
Picture Jeremy Thorpe

It would be great to see it back on the road - a perfect winter 2020-project?
Picture Jeremy Thorpe

Interior looks clean in all its simplicity. Note 1100 odometer in dashboard
Picture Jeremy Thorpe

These MGB seats don't look too large for the Hustler's spacious interior
Picture Jeremy Thorpe

Registration may also be a big plus for a project car like this..?
Picture Jeremy Thorpe

That's what it looked like in the brochure, with wheels. Pretty similar!
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Friday, 2 October 2020

American mystery racer remains a great mystery

Its is over eight years ago since I posted this message about an American racer totally shrouded in mystery. Unfortunately the code remains uncracked so far and the car made it to Maximum Mini 3 simply as 'American mystery racer'. 

Meanwhile, however, I have been in regular touch with the car's current owner Steve Steeb of Michigan, and last week Steve flashed over a number of new detail pictures. From his messages: "Jeroen, I am the current owner of the blue Mini variant sports racer on page 96 of Maximum Mini 3 book. I have had no luck trying to identify it. I contacted a number of Vintage Racing people and a lot of Mini Cooper racers but have struck out. I was talking to a person at a local car show about my 1963 Austin Mini Cooper (997) and he sent me info on your books and suggested I check in with you. I wonder if anyone has ever offered you more information on the car I have."

"I'm not convinced it has ever been completed due to the lack of wiring and brake lines. On the other hand - it is so complete that I think it more likely someone took it apart to paint the frame or something and never put it back together. And pay no attention to the 997 engine /transmission that is sitting in place. That did not come with the car, it is a spare that I bought for my very original 1963 Mini Cooper. I have had a few people contact me that want to put a motorcycle engine in it but I am afraid it is some rare part of Mini history and had best not allow it to be butchered (Hoorah! - JB). I will continue to keep it for a while and continue to try and find a bit more information so I can restore it or let it slip away."

I also wondered how Steve got hold of the car and this is his answer: "A friend of mine who was an awesome welder had it; he said he took it in exchange for a bunch of welding he did for some guys. He had raced motorcycles in his younger days and I think he was looking for something to get him back on the track that was a little safer than bikes! He knew I had Mini stuff and had raced a Bugeye Sprite in my younger days. He had made a new oil tank for the dry sump for my Lola and asked me to help him assemble it and help him find missing parts (like an engine assembly). I loaned him my spare 997 just so he could see if it fitted - it did! About then he was diagnosed with cancer and got really sick and died. When he was first diagnosed he told me to come and get it and we would get to work on it so he could race it one day. But then he quickly got really sick and just before he died he told me to keep it and think of him if I ever got it together and raced it. So like my Mini Cooper - here's another car with a story and some personal history. I'm not sure if I am up to assembling it and getting it race ready with all the other projects I have but..."

Quite a story, isn't it? It would be really good to find the car's missing history in order to motivate Steve to restore it, so if you recognize the car, please do drop me a line. 

UPDATE 14:30. Louis Lempereur, who is restoring the sole Mini powered Mean Sonora (click here), writes: "Hi Jeroen. This is a very strange car. I wonder about the huge rear wheels. About my Méan Mini, someone from the club told me it was "the Méan which could not run in fourth gear". Indeed, it was fitted with 13" wheels and big tyres. This was too much for the original 850 engine made for 10" wheels and small tyres! Now I have a 1275cc and many short gear ratios are available from the UK, so handling the bigger wheels should be no problem. So, I wonder why and how this racer was fitted with such huge wheels. Thanks for your mails! Louis."

Steve's American mystery sports racer with (some of) its body parts...
Picture Steve Steeb

...And without. The car's spaceframe chassis looks to be well made
Picture Steve Steeb

Was the car ever assembled? Perhaps not. Does anyone recognize that body?
Picture Steve Steeb

Elva has been suggested but it doesn't seem to be that. Massive tyres fit only just
Picture Steve Steeb

Rear suspension. Home made or borrowed from another manufacturer?
Picture Steve Steeb

Mini engine that is currently placed is a spare 997 from Steve's Mini Cooper
Picture Steve Steeb

Front suspension uses some Mini bits, too
Picture Steve Steeb

It seems only logical that this car was built to use Mini power as the engine fits right in
Picture Steve Steeb

Gear lever is placed on the right hand side, not unlike the Unipower GT
Picture Steve Steeb

Radiator and petrol tank that came with the car
Picture Steve Steeb

More (aluminium) bits that belong to the car's bodywork. It's all there
Picture Steve Steeb