Friday 28 January 2011

Cover story

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but I usually do just that. So when the Maximum Mini book was about to be finished I began to think what to put on the front. Mini derivatives, that was for sure. I had a superb shot of William Dulles' Mini Pick Up with the Le Mans Mini Marcos shell at the back that was never published before, but decided I wanted more cars in one picture.

That's when I phoned illustrator Rens Biesma with whom I worked before with great pleasure. Rens makes the most wonderful motoring related paintings, cutaway drawings and he knows his Alfa Romeos, but he liked the idea of this book too and started sketching after just one quick coffee. Some days later he came up with a drawing of the seven cars I suggested (Ogle SX1000; Broadspeed GT; Mini Marcos; Cox GTM; Deep Sanderson 301; Butterfield Musketeer and Unipower GT). I loved it. However, my publisher was convinced the book needed pictures rather then art work on its cover and that's why Rens' painting never made it. Well, here it is. Click up for more detail.

Copyright: Rens Biesma

Thursday 27 January 2011

Mystery Mini derivative (6)

Mystery Mini derivatives do not get more mysterious than this one. It was advertised simply as a Special in the early 1970's and came with 1100cc BMC engine and SU carb, pop-up head lights, Marigold paint job and was said to be only 41" high. Where? Rainham, Essex, followed by a phone number of five digits only. Who will tell what ever happened to it? I'd love to hear.

Monday 24 January 2011

Quasar's crazy cube

You might have wondered what on earth that cube on wheels is on the picture next to here. Well, boys and girls, that is the Quasar Unipower dreamt up by Vietnamese born designer Quasar Kahn and built by Unipower Drives Limited in Perivale in the late 1960's. And, yes, that is the same Unipower who came up with the Unipower GT sports cars at around the same time. They were rear engined and Mini powered too, now with 1100cc engines and automatic boxes.

They were also a serious attempt to come up with a ultra modern city car but I'm not sure if they were taken too seriously. With a lenght of 64" and a width of 66" it may have been the only car that was wider than it was long. According to Danny Chabaud of France, who has researched them better then I have, only six are known to survive. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon three of them in a barn in northern France one day! Two of them were in a very sorry state, but the third (the car on the picture with me sitting in it) was not too bad. It has been restored by now and made it to the Goodwood Revival in 2009.

However, the cube's main claim to fame came from a 1970 French film called 'Elle boit pas, elle fume pas, elle drague pas, mais... elle cause!' ('She doesn't drink, smoke or flirt, but... she talks!'), which may not fit all the Nouvelle Vague criteria, but surely must have been both nouvelle as vague in 1970. Thanks to Bart Vanreusel of Belgium I came across a movie clip recently with some of the highlights of the movie in which the little motorised greenhouse appears. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Thursday 20 January 2011

Graeme's De Joux galore

The amount of feedback that I received during the last month has been rather overwhelming. I was sent messages, pictures, movie clips, tips and tricks from just about anywhere and I am sure they will lead to great new stories of Mini derivatives of which some you won't even have heard of.

One of the more loyal followers is Graeme Farr of Wellington, New Zealand who owned dozens of Minis and Mini variants over the last decades. Among them two Mini Marcos' and one Mini Jem, two unofficial MiniSprint racers, a Terrapin plus one of those lovely De Joux GTs. He also recognized the Mystery Mini derivative number 4 and sent in some great old magazine clippings about it. The car was simply known as the 'Elf Mini Sprint' and was indeed built and raced by Robin Officer. Graeme thinks the car, or at least its body, survives too on NZ's South island and is chasing it at the very moment. So stay tuned for that.

Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy some of the pictures from Graeme's vast De Joux files. He sent me some photographs of lovely restored cars, but I must say I prefer his shots of sad looking examples, most of which he shot in the 1970's and 1980's. Awesome!

An old De Joux Mini GT, anyone? All pictures: Graeme Farr

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Mystery Mini derivative (5)

You should not always believe what people want you to believe.
So, no, this is no Ferrari. Despite the bright red paint, twin exhausts, rear spoiler and prancing horse badges. But what is it then? I am told this car is Mini based, but that's about it. All I know is that it was photographed at a Mini meeting in South Africa not too long ago. I wouldn't be surprised if it was built there, too. And whether you like the style or not, it seems a proper job. It may have been based on a Cox GTM or Heerey GTM? At leat two of these late 1960's mid engined marvels ended up there...

Definitely no Ferrari. But what is it?

Update 27 January 2011: No news about the actual mystery, but another picture did surface at the Mini Marcos club's website. It was taken back in 1989 in Johannesburg when it seemed rather unfinished, was on 10" wheels and came without bumpers, Ferrari badges and front opening lid. May I say it had an altogether better look back then? Click here to decide for yourself.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Virtual Broadspeed GTS

I have never had much up with computer games. But now that the Broadspeed GTS is about to make it to the virtual world I may be tempted to give 'GT Legends' a try. One of its creators, Lasse Kärkkäinen of Finland, sent me an enthusiastic message about it:

"While the original GT Legends game featured the Austin Mini Cooper S for FIA TC-65 classification, my friends and I were annoyed that none of the faster GT Mini variants were featured. Not even Mini Marcos cars that were racing in FIA Historics in 2004. As I am a Mini freak and have been modding racing game physics over a decade, I started searching all possible information I could come up about the ultimate Broadspeed Mini. After finding basics on how much the GTS differs from the standard Cooper S, I started work on the car's physics."

"Now, about 2 months later, the car seems to be close to its release. Lots of real car information has been found during development. The car features a 1366cc A-series engine (120bhp/140Nm) with redline at 7800rpm and homologated short ratio 4-speed gearbox. Weight is reduced from the original Mini's 650kg to 490kg. Weight distribution and center of gravity have been altered with half of the car being GRP. All of this makes it pretty close what it should be, at least on top speed and acceleration seems to be what Broadspeed claimed for GTS: it reaches 140mph at the Mulsanne straight." There is a preview on youtube, click here to see it.

So what's next? "Well", says Lasse, "They have started modelling the Mini Marcos. We'll see when it gets finished."
A drive in the real thing. Picture: Jeroen Booij

Monday 17 January 2011

Was the 1966 Le Mans Mini Marcos stolen, or was it not?

This weekend I was flicking through the 1967 London Racing Car Show programme book when my eye fell on a picture of the Mini Marcos that made fame in the 1966 Le Mans 24-hour race. As you know that’s the French built and French entered car that is said to have been stolen right after the race, in Paris. Legend has it that the most famous of Mini derivatives never re-appreared. Or has it?
Oh yes, it has. And I have now found evidence.

I’m sure I had seen it before in the programme book mentioned, but never realised it was on actual display on the Racing Car Show too. Nor did I ever associate the car with the date of the show, ‘cause this is where the strange bit comes in: the show was held from January 4-14, 1967. Hang on, that’s over half a year after its legendary Le Mans outing on June 18 and 19 in 1966 and its presumed theft.

But perhaps the programme book was printed many months in advance and didn’t the Mini Marcos really appear on show in the end? Not so, as I have been looking for a picture of it on display in London, and found it. Never mind the prominent BRM racing car in the picture, it is the little yellow and blue Mini Marcos behind it that is of interest to me here.
Was the car maybe stolen from the Racing Car Show of January 1967 instead of in Paris?
Or was it stolen after the Racing Car Show, perhaps in Paris?
Was it stolen elsewhere?
Wasn’t it stolen at all?
Questions, questions, questions…

UPDATE 28 January 2011
According to Enguerrand Lecesne from France the car was indeed stolen, but much later: It was on display in 67 at April practice, 24 h Le Mans (next to the strange Hrubon car),
then raced 1000 km Paris 67 (Swietlik-Rives)
then Hillclimbs in Corsica in 68 with new owner,
then rally near Nice (a new owner who took off the big radiator, still owning it)
Back to Paris in 73 (still with big fuel tank)
Stolen Autumn 75.

UPDATE 9 December 2016
The car has been found! Click here

Thursday 13 January 2011

Where is Mobi-One?

Now what have we got here?

It is Mobi-One, an 1100cc engined Mini based vehicle created by Maurice (Morris) Bishop in 1968 that came with four wheel steering! And British Pathe have a lovely little clip on the car, with Bishop demonstrating it: "It has a ten foot turning circle and can virtually park on a postage stamp".

But where is the car now? I found out it was owned by Mike Wilsdon in the 1990's. Wilsdon ran a small transport museum just opposite Kew Garden's entrance then, but the museum is gone and I cannot find a trace of the man. And how about Bishop? The clip is said to have been filmed in Langley. Does anyone know if mister Bishop is still there? He may have actually built the 1275cc Mobi-Two that is mentioned in the video... (click on picture to view clip)

UPDATE 29 August 2011: The car itself remains unfound, but its creator calls in! Click here
UPDATE 22 September 2011: Much more news from Mobi-One's creator. Click here

UPDATE 2 JULY 2019: The car is found! Click here.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Pricewatch Unipower GT (2)

Every now and then people offer me a car for sale, ask me if I know of a certain model on the private market or see if I can sell a car for them. But to my own despair I am a terrible car sales man. I have a great nose for vehicles that seem only to sell with huge losses. What a pity, as I have had plenty of chances to do the very opposite. Only take a look at the prices of Unipower GTs for sale of, say, twenty years ago to see what could have been.
Question is what these cars are worth today. Since I finished the Maximum Mini book quite a few Unipower GTs were offered for sale, of which some have sold. The average asking price lies around the 30,000 pound mark, but do these prices get actually paid too? Hardly. The yellow Mk1 that was featured in the book too was offered for sale for at least two years. It is a stunning car that was beautifully restored, but never made its 32,995 asking price. It was sold last year for 27,500. Still a hefty price but not the sum people tend to believe they are worth. In fact the other cars offered for sale on the British and European markets are not in such a pristine condition, and so they should be worth less then 27,500. The only exception will be the white car that by now will just be finished from a thorough restoration.

In Japan, where I know of nine Unipowers (that's at least 12% of total Unipower production!), prices seem to lie around the 5,000,000 Yen mark. That's almost 39,000 GBP and thus quite a bit more. But do these cars really sell for that money? Both the red Mk1 that made 4,700,000 Yen as the yellow Mk2 that made 5,000,000 were offered for sale less then a year after they were sold. And so it seems the cars there just rotate from dealer to dealer.

So is it impossible to become the owner of a Unipower GT for say 5,000 GBP these days? It isn't. I have heard a story of a Unipower GT that was dicovered in a Berkshire garden last year. It alledgedly stood there for twenty-odd years and the eccentric geezer owning it had to get rid of it. He is said to have believed it was a Mini Marcos. It must have been in a terrible state, but as long as you are good with a spanner and a welder you should be able to restore it to it's full late 1960's glory for a fraction of current asking prices.

Monday 10 January 2011

Pricewatch Unipower GT (1)

One of my great hobbies is flicking through old magazines. For the stories, that is. But old advertisements are such a nice bonus that I cannot resist browsing these too. Call me an anorak but I love tracing the gems in between them. For the sheer if-only idea. The ads that I compiled below are from various motoring magazines and range from the late 1970's to the early 1990's (click up for bigger). What they have in common is that they all feature a Unipower GT for sale. As you can see, prices vary from 1,500 GBP to 4,750 GBP.
I don't think you will be able to purchase a Unipower GT for that sort of money today. In fact, several of the low-slung GT's were sold for multitudes of these prices since I finished the Maximum Mini book, and several others are still for sale. I made an overview on their current prices that I will show tomorrow in the Unipower GT pricewatch part 2. Stay tuned.

Thursday 6 January 2011

Radford's wicked wicker job

Look out for this month's Octane magazine for a cover story that features two special Radford Mini de Villes. One is George Harrison's well-known psychedelic ride, the other Peter Sellers' least as infamous early conversion. The one that made it to the Pink Panther movie of which I have now forgotten the name.
Picture: Octane

I wondered for a long time how they actually did the wicker job on the car's sides, and earlier this year I finally found out when I photographed the car in the dealer that currently offers it for sale (for a price I wouldn't dare mentioning). I always believed the wicker pattern was painted on the shiny black piano paint finish, but it wasn't. The chaps at Radford took actual wicker that they sanded on both sides just long enough until it was a paper thin layer and varnished it (click up picture for the detail). That must have been one job! But that's what could be expected from the London coachbuilders, naturally.

Picture: Jeroen Booij

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Fantastic photograph found

Look what I just found on the internet. It's a picture of the 1964 Le Mans 24-hour race start.
There are plenty of these to be found with all the big names in the big cars of back then. Graham Hill, Jo Bonnier and John Surtees in their Ferraris 330, Innes Ireland in a 250 GTO and Dan Gurney in a Shelby Cobra Daytona. But these are so well known, I don't really care.
Picture: HagertyKnowsClassics

But look at this picture. It's the little green car with number 42 that makes me smile. Yes, that's the Deep Sanderson 301 driven by Christopher Lawrence and Gordon Spice that year. The Downton tuned 1295cc engined car fell out after four hours of racing, but it was reputedly clocked at an incredible 158.6 mp/h at the Mulsanne straight with Spice behind the wheel. Strangely I have not many pictures of this particular car in this particular race. Contrary to the Deep Sanderson entries for Le Mans in 1963, with numbers 40 and 44.

In his autobiography Lawrence himself writes: "One of the best scenes in Steve McQueen's film 'Le Mans' is the one of the start. The total silence, the heart beats rising in tempo as the second hand of the clock climbs towards the top, the flutter of the flag, the patter of all the running feet in their racing boots, followed by the bedlam of 54 racing engines starting up and setting off for the Dunlop Bridge and the Esses is all magnificent filming, and really captured the moment just as it really was."

Well, this is then. See him running towards his car in short sleeves, what a grand shot!

Monday 3 January 2011

Mystery Mini derivative (4)

Let's start the new year with yet another mystery Mini derivative.
What do we know about this one? Not too little actually.

It was supposedly based on a Riley Elf and built up as a racing car with 1100cc engine, 45 Weber and fully rose-jointed and adjustable suspension. A chap named Robin Officer from New Zealand did that or was at least involved. That's also were the car was built and raced, mainly at Teretonga race track.
Question now is: who knows more about this mean little machine?

UPDATE: click here