Things seem to have calmed down a bit on the Beach Car that resufaced only earlier this month in Greece. After some worrying moments just after its find the car now made it - in one piece - to its new home where a thorough restoration has just been started.
Meanwhile I found out a bit more about its history. And it seems a very special history too. While the known Beach Cars were built between late 1961 and early 1963 this car's chassis number directs to at least a year earlier. Given the fact that it is based on a Riley Elf/Wolseley Hornet that makes it peculiar, as the booted Minis weren’t launched until October 1961. This one comes with a mid-1960 chassis number which has to make it an Elf or Hornet prototype that was later converted. There are some details that lead to this too, like the unusual rear lights. But the chassis number starting with 'SPL' (a prefix that was given to all prototype vehicles in Longbridge) is the clearest indication. That would make this car a prototype based on a prototype!
Still then it remains unsure whether this was the only Beach Car with a boot. Fact is that this or a similar car was used to ferry journalists around the test track at the pre-launch introduction of the Mini Cooper in July 1961 at the Vehicle Testing Ground in Chobham. This is also where some pictures of Alec Issigonis in it where made. It certainly seems plausible that it was this car, but there is no evidence yet. Issigonis' Greek background seems to have nothing to do with the fact that it ended up in Greece, as this Beach Car just happened to have been sold to a wealthy Greek who unfortunately remains unknown thus far.
According to the new owner the car's body is in a surprisingly good condition. He says the most difficult part will be to find a match for the carpets and to reupholster the pastel blue wicker seats. But by now we found out that these were made by a company named Lloyd Loom who are still in business. He's been in touch with them, so hopefully they will be able to help restoring this little gem.
Safe in its new home, the Beach Car is under restoration now
Christmas time nears. Time of mirth and melancholy and of, well, hanging around.
So why not try and crack this puzzle and win a great prize?
There are 25 rear ends of 25 Mini derivatives. But which is which?
The mission is simple: you give the full name and model designation of the cars shown on the pictures below (click up for a bigger version); the first who has them all right wins a copy of Maximum Mini 2 as soon as it is there. Don't hold your breathe though as I am working slowly (but surely) on it, and I don't think I will finish it of before Christmas next year. But patience of the Mini derivative connoisseur of 2010 will surely be rewarded in the end. Apart from earning this prestigious title, that is.
Oh! Some of the rear ends pictured are of cars that are featured in 'Maximum Mini' so a copy of that book will surely help you identifying them, but others aren't and you will have to find out what they are. Send in your answers via the comments below up until December 31 of this year. The challenge is on.
UPDATE 2 January 2011:
And they are...:
1. TiCi; 2. Biota Mk2; 3. Unipower Mk1; 4. Deep Sanderson 301; 5. Coldwell GT; 6. Landar R6; 7. AF Spider (or Alexander Fraser Spider); 8. Alto Duo (or Automotive Concepts Duo); 9. Domino HT (or Domino HardTop); 10. Jiffy Tipper (or Jiffy Pick Up); 11. Radford Mini De Ville Mk3; 12. Bulanti Mini; 13. DART (or DART reproduction); 14. Lolita Mk1; 15. Anderson Cub; 16. Stimson Mini Bug Mk2; 17. Camber GT; 18. Siva Mule; 19. Grantura Plastics Yak (or 'GP Yak' or 'Grantura Yak'); 20. ESAP Minimach GT; 21. Hustler Harrier; 22. AEM Scout; 23. Elswick Envoy; 24. Status 365; 25. Mini Jem Mk2
It’s not that long ago that winters weren’t particularly cold. Or at least not in this part of the world. When it all of a sudden did start snowing, even if that was in the middle of the night, families got out to make snow men and have snow fights, only to find out that it had all gone the next morning. We just settled in thinking harsh winters were a thing of the past, blaming global warming, when it all changed in the last few years.
It was in the autumn of 2007 that I was on one of my jaunts in the UK to photograph a few cars for the book and talk to their owners/builders. The weather was fine but the radio in my hired vehicle forecasted blizzard-like conditions. This while I’d just made an arrangement to photograph Paul Ogle’s Fletcher GT up in Yorkshire. I arrived early and waited for Paul when the first snowflakes began to fall. By the time Paul arrived in the little green machine all of the surroundings were covered in a ferry tale white.
What to do? We parked the car under some big fir trees and waited for the snow to stop, or at least most of it. That took about an hour and Paul now didn’t have much time left before he had to go to work.
We quickly drove the Fletcher to an open spot and I jumped around it making pictures faster then I ever did. Not easy as snow started falling again, trying hard to camouflage the car. In only a few minutes time I was ready, it must have been the quickest photoshoot I ever did. But could I use it? I thought I just might.
Back home I found two or three pictures okay, the rest of them would have been a hell of a job to touch up in Photoshop. Blast. Luckily Paul had a friend who happened to be a photographer and he sent me a stack of superb pictures when Spring was there. I never used the snowy Fletcher pics. Until now.
In February 2011 (that's another two months) it will be 45 years since Broadspeed launched their beautiful GT. That means 45 years ago now the boys in Birmingham worked hard to get the prototype Broadspeed GT ready for its launch at the 1966 Racing Car Show. This picture - from a wonderful set of 17 quality snap shots - shows what that looked like back then. I love it.
There has always been demand for cheap means of Formula racing with open wheel single seaters. Race cars that were easy to build and maintain but good for big fun at the track. Think Formula Vee - for Volkswagen - hugely popular in Germany, or the Citroën based MEP race cars designed by Frenchman Maurice Emile Pezous.
So why was there never a Formula Mini class for the British? Well, there was. Or just about.
picture courtesy Rob Mellaart
It was actually named Formula Mini Plus, or FMP, and the idea came from Biota instigator John Houghton. Houghton had been racing in a Hot Car sponsored Midget competition with a home grown Mini based car that he'd christened 'The Black Lawnmawer' with some success. It sparked the idea for a race class with more like minded. A prototype race car was built up around a 90bhp A series engine in its Mini subframe at the front, coupled to a simple chassis with four fibreglass body sections. Things looked good for low cost racing and Houghton offered replica's for budding race drivers. But negotations with RAC Competitions Department lead to nothing and the class was banned from racing before it ever hit the tracks. This was 1971.
Picture courtesy Rob Mellaart
However, it appears that British Leyland was having a similar idea at around the same time. They approached Mini Bug designer Barry Stimson to come up with a rear engined Mini powered Formula car. But again, it never was. What exactly went wrong here remains a mystery but the BL sponsored Formula, too, never raced. I don't even think a prototype car was ever built. It's just Stimson's sketch that survives which he let me reproduce when I interviewed him a couple of years ago. Thanks Barry!
Quite a few of the cars that were on my priority list when I started searching for Mini derivatives have been found by now. Some haven’t and one that keeps on haunting me is the ‘Saga’. I was beginning to wonder if the car survives at all, when I received a message about it this weekend.
Stefan Sellin from the very North of Germany writes: “What made me to write you is the Mini Saga in the chapter ‘The cars that didn’t make it’ on page 122 of your book. When I was in the UK in the mid-nineties I paid a visit to a company that had a lot of nice cars there, like a few Radfords, a Mc.Queen Woody and... the lost Saga that was offered to me for 1000 pounds. Unfortunately I did not know about the rarity of the car and did not buy it as it missed one rear light (!!!). Please find enclosed a picture of the car made on the day when I was there. I think the car was sold to Japan or Hong-Kong.”
The Saga as seen for the last time, just before being sold
Picture Stefan Sellin
I am not so sure the Saga ever made it to Japan or Hong Kong but at least Stefans message now points out it was sold more then once in the 1990’s. The car was built back in 1966 and the story of its birth is both quirky as funny as I have learnt by now from its designer and builder who spends his days in France now. He lost track of the car after he’d sold it in the late sixties, but would love to know if it survives too. He sent me a stack of wonderful pictures of the car from the time of his ownership. Great stuff.
I did track down the subsequent owner too who had it until 1993, but unfortunately he, too, doesn’t know more of its whereabouts after he sold it. He only recalls it went to a man in the Northampton area who intended to restore it to its former glory. Sadly, the trial ends there. Now that it does seem it has been sold at least once more, it may throw a new light on this never ending saga. Stay tuned. Or better: drop me a line when you know where the Saga could be.
A message from Greece yesterday evening with both good as bad news. A very happy new owner tells me he managed to buy the Beach Car I wrote about yesterday. That's the great bit. However, there is a sting in the tail, as he tells me: "Unfortunately I have bought the car as 'spare parts' and will not be able to register it for road use. Furthermore, this really hurts, in order to take it away from the scrap yard I have to cut the car in half (roof and floor). I am both happy to find it as furious at the system and the Greek laws for having to cut up a rare car." Now isn't that totally incredible? In fact, it is a great shame as this is such a historically valuable Mini, or derivative. When the car gets cut up in two it might never be the same again.
Do let me know if you have a good idea to save this time machine from the flame cutter.
UPDATE 16 December: Hoorah! The car is saved from the flame cutter and restoration has just been started. The now even happier owner: "The body metal is in excellent condition. It must have been stored for ages somewhere warm and dry. The most difficult part will be to find a match for the carpets and to reupholster the wicker seats."
The Mini based Beach Car is a rare sight these days. I know of very few that survive in the world, one in sunny California, one in Canada, another in Monte Carlo and one in the UK. But these are all cars based on the ordinary Mini saloon.
However, at least one Wolseley Hornet or Riley Elf was converted into a Beach Car too.
Like the others, it was styled by BMC's Dick Burzi and got its approval by Alec Issigonis - that's him on the picture in the car.
The Beach Car went into limited production in Longbridge and according to Peter Filby less then 20 were made in total. Nick Rogers, who is a bit of an expert on these rare little beasts believes there may have been even less then that. But however many there were, an extremely rare Hornet/Elf based one has just resurfaced in Greece. Could it be the same car that Issigonis was photographed in?
The more obscure cars are; the more I tend to like them. Well, not all, but for Mini derivatives that certainly goes. And the Australian Bulanti Mini definitely fits the bill.
The car was dreamt up by Brian Rawlings who had previously worked for other cottage car manufacturers Down Under but came up with his own Mini based sporty in 1971. The aluminium bodied prototype was featured in my book (as photographed by Craig Watson of Autofan fame), and can also be seen in this youtube movie.
However the production cars that followed came with a fibreglass body. 'Production' may be a bit of an exaggeration though, as manufacture was limited to only two more Bulantis! I particularly like Rawlings reasons for that as he was quoted: "It was just too much trouble. All the fiddly things like getting the noise down, doing the electrics and upholstery and one bloke wanting ashtrays in it, get you down." That's character.
But strangely I have never seen current pictures of the other two cars. One of these was being registered 'BAL 551' on New South Wales plates and featured in a couple of Australian magazines of the day. I spent a small fortune on Sports Car World magazines (it's particularly the postage to Europe that makes it hefty) but couldn't find any information on the third car. Who knows if these crazy little Aussies survive?
The Japanese like Mini derivatives. And I like the Japanese.
But what on earth could these sporty twins be?
They were spotted at a Mini event on Fuji Speedway a couple of years ago and I suspect them to be Mini based too.
Of all the Mini derivatives, the Mini Marcos might just be the best known. Often tagged one of world's uglier cars it never the less found plenty of takers, and over the last four decades more then 1500 were sold.
However, one Mini Marcos is rarer then the other and with 143 built the Mk1, from the earliest day of the Mini Marcos long life, definitely is the rarest of them all. It doesn't happen too often then that these cars are found, but Mini Marcos fan Gert-Jan Westerveld of The Netherlands just did so. He knew of the car that was raced by Dutch 'ART' (Algemeen Racing Team) in the late sixties and early seventies at the Zandvoort track but was told the car probably didn't survive. However, when he happened to come across a Dutch registration number for a Mk1, it triggered a search.
The car it eventually lead to turned out to be the ART car. Apart from a new paint job in eclectic blue (originally it had been white with a signature green stripe) the baby Marcos appears to be in a remarkably original state. According to Westerveld its original engine with period Arden 8-port head and double 45 Webers is still there. Also the dashboard and home made rollbar survive, as do the 1969 homologation papers.
Back in its early days the car was raced by an enthusiast named Hans Castelijn. It seems that he did not road register it untill 1972, by which time the ART was dissolved. Two years later the Marcos' registration was sorn while Castelijn passed away more recently. What happened to the car in between these two periods is still somehat unclear but Westerveld hopes to brighten that up in the near future too. We might just see it back on the Zandvoort track in that same near future...
Hat tip to Gert-Jan Westerveld!
UPDATE 28 February 2012: More pictures now here (click)
Campy science-fiction fans must go mad for Doppelgänger; a 1969 British SF-flick that may be better known as 'Journey to the Far Side of the Sun' to our American friends. Or it may not. Click for the incredibly corny trailer here to see what I mean.
It's all about a hidden planet, a space ship, a hero and a villain. Nothing new there. What makes it interesting though is that a couple of most unusual vehicles were made for the movie in the UK by a company that was aptly named Space Models. Two of these cars came with six wheels, had ever so futuristic looking wraparound wind screens and were based on, oh yes, the Mini Moke.
Some years later the cars were slightly modified, painted blue and used for more science-fiction fun as they appeared in the television series UFO too. By now they were given a name too: SHADO Jeeps, and from what I understand is that these space oddities survive. I'd love to see them in real!
UPDATE 2 may 2012. Andy V. wrote: "Just read your piece about the Doppelganger / Shado movie Mokes - the signature on the original artwork is that of the late Derek Meddings, who produced other, more famous movie cars - most notably FAB 1, the pink, six-wheeled Rolls-Royce from Thunderbirds and also James Bond's Lotus Esprit submarine car from the 007 picture 'the Spy Who Loved Me'. I look forward to an update on the 'other' Prisoner Moke."
Last week I wrote about several persons directly involved with designing and building Mini derivatives, who'd all passed away since my book came out last year. Sad news, yes, but I felt it deserved a place here never the less.
However, Paul from New Zealand, e-mailed me to note I'd forgotten about one such person: Ferris De Joux. And I'm sad to say he is darn' right. Ferris De Joux passed away on May 30th 2009 in his native New Zealand at the age of 73.
De Joux, from Auckland, had been fiddling with the idea of building a Mini based 2+2 coupe, which he called 'a Mini in a Bermuda jacket' himself, ever since the mid sixties but it took him untill the early seventies before it arrived. About twenty were built. De Joux built several more sporty cars before the Mini GT of which a Jaguar powered Ferrari intrigued me most.
De Joux died while he was in the process of restoring one of his own De Joux Mini GT's. About 90% of the work was done and the finishing off will now be carried out by Peter Benbrook who has plans to race the little GT. A great tribute, I'd say.
I have always liked to note similarities between two different products of one and the same designer, especially when they are of a very different kind but unmistakably use similar ideas.
So for me, it doesn't get much better then the Brian Luff designed and Mini powered Status 365. The styling of the car was carried out by John Frayling, like Luff an ex-Lotus man who'd been working on several Lotuses before he started off as a freelancer.
In fact, the Lotus Elite 'Type 75' that came out in 1974 and of which the wedgy hatchback styling was credited to Oliver Winterbottom was one of the projects Frayling had worked on, too.
And it shows. Like the Elite, the Status came out in 1974 and there was absolutely no doubt about its influence. In fact, it looked like a dwarfed Elite in just about anything. Just have a good look at the details, it's great fun. The Lotus was slightly more successful though as Luff sold just 38 Statuses 365 between 1974 and 1981 while Lotus built over 2,500 Elites. They are both unusual cars now that you do not see often. I photographed the Status 365 in Cornwall in 2007.
Last weekend, while flicking through the latest issue of Classic and Sports Car magazine in my arm chair, I stumbled across Trevor Taylor's obituary. Taylor, who passed away on September the 27th, is mostly remembered for his Formula One exploits for Cooper, Lotus and Shannon between 1959 and 1966. However, he did more then just that. As a matter of fact, he had one very special Mini derivative made to race throughout the mid-sixties: the low slung Aurora. For many years I believed the Aurora did not exist anymore and it was not featured in 'Maximum Mini'. That is untill I spoke to guy who knew somebody with a friend... It turned out the car survived and together with its current owner I rolled it from the barn in Southern England where it was stored so many years. That was about a year ago, so look out for it in the next Maximum Mini book. That makes me think: when I did the first book, I was lucky to speak to many people who originally designed or built the cars that I wrote about, and some of them have now passed away too. Cyril Cannell, designer of the Mini-based Peel Viking Sport, died on October 19, 2008 in Peel on the Isle of Man's west coast.Allan Staniforth, who was responsible for both the Mini based Terrapin as the Sarcon Scarab passed away on May 2, 2009, and Ralph Broad, the man who came up with the Broadspeed GT died this year in September. Sadly Taylor now followed them and I shall not be able to ask him personally about his days in the Aurora. May he rest in peace.
Yesterday I wrote about another Ogle SX1000 for sale and coincidentally I received post that same day from Ogle's ex-boss Tom Karen, who ran Ogle Design for 37 years and in that period designed all sorts of vehicles from the Reliant Scimitar to the Raleigh Chopper bike.
In fact, he has taken up the idea of clustering some of his stories into a book and did just so in 'Ogle & The Bug'. It isn't a real book, more a booklet, but the style is great as it must be a Karen design too. Simple and a bit cheaky.
There is not much information on the Ogle SX1000 or the earlier SX250 (the SX1000 was the last car that David Ogle designed himself before he got killed in one in a traffic accident), but there is some fascinating other stuff. I especially like the stories about Karen's early days in England when he started modifying his first car - a £50 Austin 7 that he gave a rather crude but intriguing new body, and a three-wheeler called the Vimp "A corny combination of Imp and Vamp". Cool is also the new three-wheeler Karen is working on, Christened STS, for 'Smarter then Smart' - you'll have to admit the man is good in making up catchy names.
There are only 47 pages, and the majority of them is dedicated to the Bond Bug that Karen calls 'My pet project', still then it's a steal at only £5.99 plus postage. Buy it directly from the man himself here
Only a month or two ago, a white Ogle SX1000 - one of 69 built - appeared on eBay in the south US.
It did not sell, but for those interested, another lhd example now appeared in New Mexico by a seller who appears to have owned the little coupe no less then 45 years. It comes in striking gunmetal grey and looks rather splendid.
Bidders, go here.
Metal flake paint and ultra wide wheels; I have always liked Beach buggies. But, hey, they are Beetle based aren't they? Well, there is an exception to that rule and it came from that master of obscure contraptions Neville Trickett. He was responsible for the MiniSprint as for so many other unusual, quirky or plain weird cars. In fact, he is one of my heroes.
Trickett designed and built the Siva Buggy in 1970 but I think he must have been fed up soon as he sold the rights of building and selling the thing to a company named Skyspeed, who simply renamed the creature the Skyspeed-Siva Buggy. However, for me, things get even more interesting when in the next buy-out a company named Euromotor took over the rights of production and sales. That is because, unlike Trickett's company and unlike Skyspeed, Euromotor was not based in the UK, but in The Netherlands. In fact, they were in Amsterdam, which happens to be my home town.
The trouble is that Euromotor's premises were destroyed in a 1976 fire, devouring the original moulds of the Buggy too after a total of 94 cars was built. Or so I am told. Every trace of Euromotor seems to have disappeared after that. Frustratingly I have never been able to find out more about the company. I do not even know where exactly in Amsterdam they were situated.
It could be around the corner, you know.
Not too long ago GTM Cars advertised their cars as 'Unspoilt Sports Cars'. A great slogan.
Funnily, you don't see many unspoilt early GTMs around. I know just a handful of Cox- and Heerey GTMs of the late 1960's that have not been kitted out with wide arches and low splitters.
Do you know any?
I love magazines. Motoring magazines. Old motoring magazines, and have far too many.
Hot Car is a favourite publication as it wrote a lot about unusual and DIY-built stuff of the sixties and seventies, when wrecked Minis were cheaper then chips.
One of the more obscure cars that made it to the hallowed pages of that mag was a mean looking Mini derivative with the incredible name 'Bufi Mowog' that came with twin engines and was meant to terrorize autocross. In fact it even made it to the October 1968 cover of the mag under the telling heading 'Twin-engine Terror'. According to Hot Car the mean looking chariot was built in three years time in Barnt Green near Birmingham by "Rally Champion Tony Fisher and Dave Butterworth. 'Fi' for Fisher, 'Bu' for Butterworth and Mowog for all those BMC parts."
The four wheel driven car was powered by a 1071 Cooper S engine from "a works prepared Alpine rally car" at the front and a blown 1100 with automatic transmission at the rear. It must have been a pretty scary machine to drive but reputedly it did dominate the Nationbal Autocross championship during the season.
The strange thing is that it never reappeared after its Hot Car claim to fame. Was it wrecked? Could well be. But it could just as well have been driven into a shed after its late sixties autocross victories.
Could Barnt Green still be hiding its outlandish automotive secret?
There still are a few mysteries to be unraveled around the Broadspeed GT: the pretty fast back Mini GT that was built by Ralph Broad. It is believed Broad built 28 between 1966 and 1968 but survivors are rarely seen. For 'Maximum Mini' I photographed one in Japan, and I have only seen two others.
Broad, who passed away in september, is said to have had more orders for the GT, but when his racing team switched from Minis to Escorts, BMC was not amused and immediately stopped the colaboration, killing off the pretty fast back.
Now, of the 28 GT’s built quite a few were reputedly exported to Spain. According to one trustworthty source: "Most of the built cars went to Spain, where a Barcelona distributor had created a keen market." I have heard the figure of 16 several times but, strangely, have never heard of a single Broadspeed GT surviving in Spain.
I did find a few advertisements in 1967 Spanish newspapers where a company named 'Automovile Nadal' of Mallorca and another named 'Auto Paris' sold them. Their spelling is rather corny; one calls the car 'Broaspeed'; the other 'Broatepeet'!
Earlier this year I went over to Kent to meet up with Bob Egginton. Bob is a nice bloke who built all sorts of vehicles from the 1970's on, most of them race bred. But I was mainly interested in his two 1980's Mini based exploits: the Hobo and the Minim. The first appeared to have been documented fairly well and when Bob took me to an old mate for lunch who'd appeared to have kept a Hobo in his garage for decades, he made my day.
However, the Minim seems to be more mysterious. Bob never kept any records but thinks he made six. He now sends me a stack of pictures every now and then when he comes across some more while cleaning out old drawers. Great stuff.
It does make me wonder what happened to these Minims. I have never seen one and never came across pictures other then the ones used for publicity in the eighties.
Before I met up with Bob there was an unfinished Minim for sale though, but I have no idea what happened to that car. It would be nice to catch up with its new owner.
Interesting cars keep on popping up on eBay lately. When you are in the market for one of the well known Mini derivatives you can buy it today, whether it is an Ogle SX1000, a Unipower GT, a Mini Marcos or Mini Jem, it's there in various conditions. I cannot remember a time when more were offered for sale at one time.
Who can tell me more about this car?
It is supposedly named Mini Gnat, and, according to the DVLA, it was registered in june 1991, only to be sorn in december the next year. The ad is from an old magazine; the number is not working anymore.
UPDATE 29 October 2020: Mystery solved after 10 years. Click here.