Thursday 28 February 2013

Video: challenging a big Ferrari in 1967

I wrote about the Cox GTM of Dagobert Swensson racing at the Bengtsfors Ring some time ago (click here). Now it appears not to be the only Mini based sports car competing in Sweden against much more powerful machinery. On 16 September 1967 there was an early Mk3 Mini Marcos, driven by Bo Elmhorn and challenging the bigger cars on the Roskilde Ring, including Björn Bellander's Ferrari. And not without merit! Gosh, does this chap fly with his little Marcos, trying to pass Bellander from the inside! Together with Pico Troberg, Elmhorn was the Swedish importer for the Mini Marcos and I understand that his red little racer survives in the USA today. Check out the great period film footage here. Thanks again to Peter Camping!

Update: Roskilde Ring was and is in Denmark, thanks Dennis Overgaard Nielsen! (and shame on me).

Start grid with Elmhorn's Mini Marcos behind the Ferrari of Bellander in the middle
Picture courtesy Björn Bellander

Elmhorn's Mini Marcos flies over the Roskilde Ring, seriously trying to beat the big guns
Picture courtesy Björn Bellander

Together with Pico Troberg, Bo Elmhorn was responsible for Mini Marcoses in Sweden
Picture courtesy Björn Bellander

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Unipower at Le Mans - a grand update

Le Mans' 24 hour race may seem far away, but avid Unipower fan Gerry Hulford kicks off the new season with lots more background information about Unipower's Le Mans entry of 1969, after having read this article. He wrote: "Hi Jeroen, Having read your blog, I thought I'd just clarify a point or two. The car that went to the test day at Le Mans in March 1969 was car number 53 and is the car I own. The car that went to qualify before the race in June 1969 was number 47 and was a lightweight version hence the different race number as this was a different chassis number. The car had a very thin fibreglass body strengthened by carbonfibre strands laid across the fibreglass (I saw it with Piers Forester when I visited the Works in May of 1969). Carbonfibre cloth was not available in those days as this was a very new material. The car had the large headlight fitted in the front as they had found the standard lights lacking in the March test. You will see this in the photo of the car being fuelled by works manager Nick Ouroussoff (6th picture in article mentioned above here). The car failed to qualify due to Stanley Robertson not being fast enough, much to the annoyance of Piers Forester. This car then went on to race at 16th Gran Premio Mugello on the 27th July 1969 with race number 35 finishing 46th having qualified 41st. You will see in the photo I sent you that the hole for the additional headlight has been repaired as it was not needed."

"The Le Mans race deal with Stanley Robertson was that he would also buy the car, so the car then was raced afterwards at the Nurburgring 500 kms on the 7th September 1969 by Stanley Robertson finishing 9th in Class, still running the 1293cc Cooper 'S' engine. On the 17th May 1970 Stanley Robertson went to Spa where he and John Blanckley qualified 35th but failed to finish. On the 31st May 1970 Stanley and John went to the Nurburgring 1000kms where they qualified 54th and finished 32nd still with the 1293cc engine. Shortly after this Stanley fitted a 1600cc Ford FVA engine and on the 19th July 1970 ran at the Grand Prix Mugello but failed to finish due to gearbox failure. On the 18th September 1970 Stanley ran the car with the Ford FVA in the Nurburgring Sports, Prototypes and Can-Am race where the car was badly crashed, writing-off the chassis. The engine and what parts could be salvaged were removed and the rest disposed of at the circuit. The engine then found its way into a SAR, which Stanley raced at Croft in the UK and then the Nurburgring 500kms on the 5th August 1971 where he and John finished 2nd."

"So the actual Le Mans qualifying car is no more. The car in Belgium for sale by Automobiles Vanderveken as the 'Le Mans' car is in fact the 'Janspeed' car (see here and here for the ad) that never went near Le Mans and to my knowledge only ever raced in the UK. I have spoken to the proprietor of Automobile Vanderveken, however he still likes to believe the 'provenance' with which he bought the car... I hope the aforementioned provides some clarity as to a small part of the Unipower story. Many thanks again for giving the Unipower the publicity that you have. Kind regards, Gerry"
That's much appreciated, so thank you Gerry! Meanwhile, Nick Garris sent in another two great pictures of both 'Le Mans Unipowers' taken during testing and qualifying in '69, see below and thanks to you, too!

Le Mans test day on 30 March 1969. Unipower's works car (nr. 53) flies along the pit street
Picture via Nick Garris

Le Mans qualifying, June 1969. A different Unipower works car (nr. 47) on just about the same spot
It never made it to the 24-hour race and was written off on 18 September 1970 wearing a Ford engine
Picture via Nick Garris

Monday 25 February 2013

Mystery Mini derivative (30)

Another mysterious Mini based car came to the light while searching for something completely different, last weekend. And it's an intriguing one. Clearly based on an early Mini, perhaps even a 1958 prototype, or an early Van, it's quite heavily modified. The rear is much rounded off, the doors have been cut, the handles lowered, and with what seems to be a Sprite windscreen fitted on the front scuttle must have been altered, too. Interestingly, it was trialed as early as in 1961, by which time the earliest Mini derivative (Butterfield Musketeer - the Deep Sanderson 301 prototype was under construction) hadn't even been made public. 
There is some more information from the magazine (Autosport) in which I found the snippet. The car is called Odnik and was trialed by a man named Jack O'Donoghue who won his class during a Hewison Trophy qualifying trial on 16 December 1961 - supposedly the second trial O'Donoghue tackled with his Mini special. I believe the registration number 'CZA 333' to be Irish but am sure somebody over here will be able to confirm that.

UPDATE 21 September 2017: More pictures found. Here.

UPDATE 8 January 2019: Original sketch found. More here.

Very early Irish (?) Mini based roadster 'Odnik' was trialed by Jack O'Donoghue
Picture courtesy Autosport magazine

Thursday 21 February 2013

NCF avant la lettre: the WM Special

Okay, enough about the well-known and sought after Mini derivatives now. I've been writing about Unipowers, Broadspeeds, Mini Marcoses and Ogles so much lately that it's about time for something from the other end of the spectrum. The really obscure stuff. So how about a prototype from England's North-East, which I'm pretty sure you've never heard of? Meet the WM Special, built by Mike Findeisen and his son Nick in Bishop Auckland, county Durham in 1981/1982. You may have heard of the Findeisens, though, as they came up with the NCF Blitz in later years. A Mini based buggy they will still build for you. But the WM was their first Mini motorised creature, named after Whittington Mill - the actual place where the thing was built.

Starting point for the special was a rotten Mini that was found in a field nearby and bought for 20 pounds. It appeared to have good subframes, though, and a steel frame with four longintudinal members was made, upon which these subframes were bolted. An aluminium body followed and the Findeisens admitted it wasn't the prettiest, but as it was purely intended as a testbed this didn't really matter to them. Once the car was finished and thoroughly testdriven over the rough farm roads (loosing the battery frequently!) the two men turned to the Vehicle Licensing Office nearby (run by a local policeman) and were given a brand new 'W' registration. Total costs for designing, developing, building and licensing the car: 520 pounds.

By this time the Findeisens unveiled their plans to turn their prototype into production as a 2+2. Kit Car magazine caught up with them and wrote: "It's the forerunner of a new line of kit cars. Most of the lessons learned from the WM are now tucked up in a much more exciting and attractive car, of which an early preliminary styling sketch is shown here. An aluminium bodied, fixed head coupe. The new car features 2+2 seating and uses a Mini front subframe with 1300 A-series power. Estimated price at which people will be able to buy the aluminium and steel body/chassis unit is about 1000 pounds, and the launch date is set for June."

But June 1982 passed and not much happened. The Findeisens decided the kit car scene offered far too many sports cars in the early 1980s and thus decided to concentrate on something thoroughly different. The terrain vehicle became their thing. And the Ford based NCF Diamond was their first car in 1984, not without success. It was followed by the Mini based buggy NCF Blitz, which Nick is building to this very day, along with Land Rover Discovery based and Suzuki Vitara based vehicles. There's even an owner's club. Nick says he has no idea if the WM Special still exists, and neither has any pictures or other stuff of it left. He does remember one 2+2 version was built, though, but again has no idea if it could still exist and has nothing to prov its existed either. Now, you know I'm in for a surprise, so if you do happen to know more about it...

Galvanised steel tubes were used to build the chassis, while the body was all aluminium
Picture via Peter Camping/Kit Car magazine

Out on a test drive in Englands rural North East. The dog had to do as a passenger
Picture via Peter Camping/Kit Car magazine
850cc Mini engine and 12" Hilman Imp wheels. It did 80+mph and 40-45 mpg
Picture via Peter Camping/Kit Car magazine

Not the prettiest, but strong and durable and showed what could be done on a limited budget
Picture via Peter Camping/Kit Car magazine

Painted and ready to go with a brand new 'W' registration in 1982. Does it survive?
Picture via Peter Camping/Kit Car magazine

This is a styling sketch for the 2+2 production version. One was supposedly built
Picture via Peter Camping/Kit Car magazine

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Restoring the multi-colour Broadspeed GTS

I've been writing about some Broadspeed conversions in Australia lately, and to my delight I received a message from Jono Morris, who'd read it, too. Jono bought the original Broadspeed GTS that was built by Brian Foley in Australia and was dubbed 'Australias fastest Mini' for several years in the late 1960s. (a replica of it is still for sale). Jono is a huge Mini enthusiast and is currently restoring the Aussie GTS. And while stripping its body he came across several layers of history.

He wrote: "I had the front panel replaced and as you can see it is painted in etch primer. The door skins which are thin alloy were straightened out and etch primed at the same time. Back at my factory, I undertook an archaeological dig, and carefully sanded away layers of paint to see if I could find any of the original green. You can see that there was a layer of white gelcoat over the fiber glass then grey undercoat and the Castrol racing green that the car was raced in, then when Brian Foley sold it, it was painted white (a layer of grey under coat below), then yellow, then black, then yellow again, black again, then purple, then undercoat, light blue, undercoat and the current green. So it has had a few paint jobs over the years! At least I have found enough of the original green to get a good colour match. I think I will keep these patches under the tail lights as they are, and fit the tail lights over so that I don’t lose the original colour and the layers that show its history."

Jono is in touch with the car's builder Brian Foley, too: "I am yet to show him the restoration, but I will certainly be showing him the finished article and asking him to take it for a drive. Foley lives down south a fair way but Bill Buckle (of Buckle Monaco-fame-JB) lives very close to me, and I cross paths with him quite often as we share more common interests. He is a great bloke and dropped into my work today to show me his new addition to the back of his transporter that he uses to take his Gogomobile Dart to the shows. He also came in to inspect the progress on the Broadspeed. He was interested to look at how he dealt with his conversion compared to the Broadspeed!"
Thanks Jono for that, there's more to follow soon, so keep an eye on these pages.

The original Brian Foley Broadspeed GTS is now under restoration in Australia
Picture courtsy Jono Morris
Aluminium door skins have been carefully restored. Oh, and that's a Ferrari 275 GTB
Picture courtsy Jono Morris
White, green, white, yellow, black, yellow, black, purple, light blue, green and several undercoats!
Picture courtsy Jono Morris
Sideways to victory... Jono is eager to retain as much of the car's origins as possible
Picture courtsy Jono Morris

Monday 18 February 2013

Jack Kaines and the Ecurie de Dez

I love a good story. And if it has something Mini based sqeezed in, I'll love it even more. So when Geoff Cartridge emailed me some time ago he made my day. Geoff's story was not just about one very rare (of 5 made) Australian built Mini Coupes, known as Ecurie de Dez 2+2 (more here) - it also seemed to have all the ingredients for a witty Tom Sharpe novel. 

Here's what he wrote: "The late Jack Kaines who was co-founder of the Birdwood Mill Museum, now the National Motor Museum, had an Ecurie de Dez for maybe a year. It was of course British Racing Green, which went with Jack's pretensions to Being British. Jack's car had an insignia painted on both front doors, the crest of the Proctor family who he apparently was related to. Jack was, he claimed, a former Spitfire pilot for the RAF or RAAF. He was a very large man when he was in his late 60's and he probably weighed close to 18 stone (250lbs). He had a round florid face, glasses and an outrageous handlebar moustache. Whisky and blonde floozies seemed to be his companions when his 'grandmother' was not looking. He and his wife would drive from their home in Aldgate a place called "RottingDean" to Birdwood and when they stopped the car would rise markedly as he and his 'grandmother', as he used to call her, got out. I cannot be sure what happened finally to the car. It was a treasure from its magnesium alloy wheels to its lights and interior. One thing is for sure, Jack wrecked the underside of the car when he went too fast and drove into a creek bed."

Meanwhile, I have tried to get in touch again with Geoff, but unfortunately to no avail. I'll keep trying, but perhaps there's somebody else out here, reading this, and able to throw a light on mister Jack Kaines and his rare Ecurie de Dez 'Mini Coupe'? I'm surely not the only one liking a good story?

A place called RottingDean, an eccentric Anglophile Down Under and a lost Ecurie de Dez in BRG... all classic ingredients for a good read, if you ask me.
Illustration: Jeroen Booij

Thursday 14 February 2013

Where is Dagobert's Cox?

The first picture below is an all-time favourite. It shows Swedish racer Dagobert Swensson in his Cox GTM at the Bengtsfors Ring, also known as Dalslands Ring, in Sweden as early as March 1967. And I am not the only one liking it. Reader Peter Camping, enthusiastic as ever, wrote: "Personally I think this is one great image indeed. The tiny little Cox with number 4, the much bigger Ferrari 750 Monza of Björn Bellander with number 5 and in between them Elwa-Buick (not Elva - no typo!) of Jan Bellander with number 49". That makes it not the only Cox racing a Ferrari, see another one here!

But meanwhile, another two pictures taken at the same start grid from different angles have turned up. Peter came up with the colour one, showing only a corner of the Cox - yellow in colour as it seems. And with it some more information from the Ferrari's driver. Translated from Swedish it said: "Once we drove a SSF-race at the Bengtsfors Ring. It was a wonderful day and the sun was shining. Jan's new car Elwa Buick had already showed up at Skarpnäck and had drived away from everybody. The resistance was my Ferrari, Dagobert Swensson in Cox Mini and some Lotus Sevens. The race went this way. I took the start mostly due to that the Elwa was high geared in it's Porsche gearbox. I gave what I could in my Monza but realized soon that he could easily follow me. After the curve before start he drove me over as easy as nothing. It's a hard feeling to realize. It's like to be pushed down and having no strength left to make resist. The other cars first Janne Agrén were way behind." Now that's what I call atmosphere. I'm sure there's plenty more information about the Elwa-Buick special and much modded Ferrari to be found. But how about Dagobert's Cox?

UPDATE 20 April 2020: the car is found! More here

On your marks. Ferrari 750 Monza, Elwa-Buick and Cox GTM at Bengtsfors Ring in '67
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

And go! Dagobert Swensson's Cox definitely is a very early car. Does it survive?
Picture courtesy Björn Bellander 

Colour picture only shows a tiny bit of the Cox GTM - it's yellow, or so it seems
Picture courtesy Björn Bellander

Wednesday 13 February 2013

JAP Engineering returns

Good news for fans of period accesories, now that JA Pearce Engineering is given a new lease of life by enthusiast Roger Butt. Roger decided to put the famous JAP Magna wheel back in production and the first new alloy and magnesium wheels have by now been cast. The reason for posting it here is not just because quite a few Mini based cars were fitted with JAP Magna wheels in their heyday - there is a strong link to the Deep Sanderson marque, too, as John Pearce originally was sub contracted by Christopher Lawrence to build the Deep Sanderson 301s. And he must have been quite a charachter, living in a caravan with his dogs, which supposedly frightened everybody off. Richard Heseltine wrote to me a while ago: "Chris Lawrence told me a great story about JA Pearce who was contracted to make the kits; something to do with him being a getaway driver for a notorious East London villain. He was also arrested many years later for smuggling rare birds' eggs!"

Anyway: this man originally developed the Magna wheel for dragsters and racing cars – often in outrageous widths. And by the mid-1960s, the word had spread and demand for a roadgoing equivalent prompted the company to launch the Magna road wheel at the ’64 Racing Car Show. The wheels were available in 10in to 15in diameters, and 5in to 10in widths, for both bolt-on and centre-lock fittings. The centre-lock version often used a signature three-eared knock-off spinner, like on some of the Wood & Pickett Minis. In addition to the wheels, Roger now plans to reintroduce some of JAP Engineering's other products, too, including racing mirrors and steering wheels. See his website here for more information.

This photograph shows JA Pearce Engineering's stand at the Racing Car Show of - I think - 1967. Note Magna wheels at the back plus Deep Sanderson 301 behind big Marcos (click up for bigger)
Picture courtesy Guy Loveridge

Back to the 1960s with a brand new JAP Magna wheel in the process of making
Picture courtesy Roger Butt

Monday 11 February 2013

Tracing the Dutch Vikings

The car on the picture below is of course a Peel Viking Sport GT, sometimes also refered to as Viking Mini Sport or Viking Minisport GT. The thing is that it is one of supposedly five that were built up in The Netherlands by the Konst brothers between 1967 and 1968. Last week I came across more information about these cars, among which brochures and a few pictures. Question is: do any of these cars survive? Unfortunately the Konst brothers have lost touch with the cars and their owners but rumour has it that at least one of the cars still exists. Who knows more..?

A Dutch Viking. Note Mk1 Cosmics and extra air outtake. Registration is not valid anymore
Picture archive Jeroen Booij

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Those daring Biota ads...

With plenty of fresh (or actually smelly) old magazines in I had fun flicking through the yellowed pages the last few nights. I found lots of new material, too. Great stuff, weird stuff, all Mini based of course. What may have struck me most were some Biota advertisements - cooler than most others. And not just about their well-known fun car. To keep their men busy they produced more than just that, as these ads show. I have copied some of them here for your enjoyment. 

A Mini is just a Mini. So why not revamp it with a Biota nose section..? I don't think many were sold
Picture Jeroen Booij archives

But there's a 'tempting tail' available, too. As there's an ergonomic dash - sorry: functional office
Picture Jeroen Booij archives

Stay ahead with the Biota squad. Range includes the (stillborn?) Biota Mod left (see here)
Picture Jeroen Booij archives

Hang on, how about a wonderful Biota riverside fishing basket? 
Picture Jeroen Booij archives

Or a Deluxe Camper at 58 pounds only? Imagine towing it with a Biota...
Picture Jeroen Booij archives

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Thundering Twini

I love this shot of the Deep Sanderson 105 'Twinni' in action. It's from the April 1964 issue of Sportscar magazine which covered that year's racing season start at Mallory Park on March 8. The image was sent in by Status Minipower owner and enthusiast Andy Downs and the original caption reads: "Chris Lawrence had to work twice as hard as anyone else on the grid - he had two engines to start! He was kept pretty busy at the wheel, too, when the Deep Sanderson came to the twisty bits. Brave chap!" Brave indeed. The actual car is still for sale, see the ad on these pages here.

3-2-1- and go! Tiny Deep Sanderson 'Twini' in between the big bangers
Picture source: Sportscar magazine