Friday 30 May 2014

Ace art from Japan

I got in touch with Chitoshi Tamura from Japan recently and - without knowing it - I have been a fan of his work for a longer time. Under the name 'Smokey' (to his hero John 'Smokey' Rhodes), Chitoshi actually is the man who makes fantastic artwork for classic Mini magazines such as Mini Plus and Street Mini in Japan and MiniWorld in the UK. His style is crisp and simple and I often find the more basic his drawings are - the better they work out. See his blog for some great examples. The good thing is that he is into Mini derivatives, too, and below you find a few examples of Mini based sports cars he drew. Keep up the great work! 

Picture courtesy Chitoshi Tamura

Picture courtesy Chitoshi Tamura

Picture courtesy Chitoshi Tamura

Picture courtesy Chitoshi Tamura

Wednesday 28 May 2014

The Unipowers that didn't make it to Blyton Park (2)

When you consider the Unipower we looked at last time (click here) was probably the last GT ever to leave UWF's (‘Unger Weld-Forrester’) factory premises, it's nice to see the very opposite now. Not just because of its condition but in the first place because this, boys and girls, actually is the very first production Unipower GT built. It wears chassis number 766-1, which is believed to stand for the number 1 car made in July 1966.

The car was bought in the late 1980s by Tim Carpenter as a bit of a basket case and he spent a few years on its full restoration. He wrote to me: "It’s been sitting in my mum’s garage for the last 20 years, fully restored by me and now I’m deciding what to do with it. I could make some minor mods to render it a practical drive, make major modifications to improve the performance all round as a road car." You'll understand I was rather curious to see the car and was not disappointed when I finally got to meet up with Tim and the earliest of Unipowers earlier this month.

Tim is quite a perfectionist and the standard of the car's restoration is very high with beautiful bodywork in its original colour. When Tim acquired it it had big wheels under 'mashed up' wheel arches which he had to restore and he also had to prefabricate the dashboard. Tim also fitted bigger rectangular rear lights from the Vauxhall Viva HA during restoration.

Believe it or not but Tim drove the car for just over 450 miles since restoring it. Something went wrong with the engine he rebuilt and he never came to put it right… Do we like it? I do!

This is the very first production Unipower built by Universal Power Drives in 1966
Picture Jeroen Booij / Maximum Mini

Rear lights are non-original items and come from a Vauxhall rather than Singer Gazelle
Picture Jeroen Booij / Maximum Mini

But the standard of the finish is actually very high and the car looks fantastic
Picture Jeroen Booij / Maximum Mini

Interior too, is good. Tim refabricated the dashboard and fitted stainless sill plates
Picture Jeroen Booij / Maximum Mini

Only trouble now is the rebuilt 1400 engine which doesn't run at the moment
Picture Jeroen Booij / Maximum Mini

That's Tim with his Unipower earlier this month. A cracking car indeed
Picture Jeroen Booij / Maximum Mini

Friday 23 May 2014

Moke roadster is a Sydney school project

A couple unusual Mini Moke based vehicles have come by here in the past, from racers to movie cars, but nothing prepared me for the clipping that Miguel Plano sent me last week. It came from the Sydney Morning Herald of September 1967 and mentions a Moke based oddity unlike anything else.

The article says the following: "A vehicle made of 'thrown away' parts is proving one of the biggest attractions at the Sydney International Motor Show. It is a specially built-up Mini Moke, on the stand of the Vehicle Trades School of the Sydney Technical College. The Moke is one of five completely wrecked vehicles made to look new by branches of the college at Sydney, Gymea, Granville, Canberra and Lismore. The Moke is the brainchild of Gymea teacher-in-charge, Mr Graham Wilkinson, who bought the wrecked Moke for 180 dollars and adapted the latest American designs brought back by a friend, a Qantas pilot, Mr Ed. Johnson. Other parts are a 1964 Holden front guard, a 1963 bonnet, four HD model guards made into two, plus four Falcon tail-lights. All these panels were damaged and thrown out as useless by panelbeaters in the Gymea area. The Moke will be auctioned after the show and interested buyers can list their names at the College stand"

What do you think? I think it's a cracker and would love to find out more. Could it still be surviving? The men on the picture are apprentice Richard Widak and a teacher, Mr Jeff Richardson. Let me know if you know them, or when you know more about this intriguing school project.

Moke based creature was built by Sydney Technical College students in 1967
Picture courtesy Sydney Morning Herald

Wednesday 21 May 2014

The Unipowers that didn't make it to Blyton Park (1)

Okay. We were expecting some Unipower GTs at the Blyton Park event but things didn't work out exactly as hoped for. Fortunately I was able to pay some of these cars and their owners a visit prior to the event, and so I can now present to you at least some of the Unipowers that didn't make it...

First in line was Nick's car, of which he is only the second owner. In his own words: "The first owner was a Scottish lady whose reason for selling was 'the car is too fast'. I bought it from Monty & Ward of Edenbridge (see ad below-JB). They had about three for sale, including a body shell, and couldn't understand why I was the only enquirey from an Ex & Mart ad. I didn't tell them that it was listed under 'Austin 7 spares' for reasons known only to the printer, in case he changed his mind about selling."

The remarkable thing about Nick's car is that it could well be the very last Unipower GT in line. Nick: "Monty told me that mine was the last car made, being pushed out of one end whilst the recievers came in the other end. Its a nice story if nothing else." Apart from the very late registration number ('H' - 1969 or 1970) the car does also have quite a few details which make it different from other late (Mk2) cars, and Nick believes it was unfinished when it left the factory. Nick: "For example it had three glass windows and one Perspex. It has no front badge, no door locks as both handles are Austin 1100 passenger door handles. It also has no final coat on the paintwork and even when polished seems very 'flat' looking. The boot has no lid and there was not a front grill. The rev counter was not connected and the heater holes had not been blanked off Also it has different rear shock absorber top mountings to other Mk2 Unipowers." But the strangest thing of all is that Nick has never found a chassis number on the frame or elsewhere on the car.

Nick used the car as a daily driver for a couple of years and parked it in his barn in 1977. It has detoriated over the years but he is now thinking of a restoration. Now, wouldn't it be great to see this car in its former glory at a future event?

UPDATE 28 August 2023: No sign from Nick, but the car has been found back in a barn Click here.

That's Nick with the Unipower GT he parked in his barn back in 1977
Picture Jeroen Booij / Maximum Mini

Correct steering wheel, seats and signature gear lever are all there. Dashboard is not original
Picture Jeroen Booij / Maximum Mini

The engine is a 1275 Cooper and hasn't run for 37 years, needing full restoration now
Picture Jeroen Booij / Maximum Mini

Mk2 Unipower badge at the rear. Paint job never received a final coat, says Nick 
Picture Jeroen Booij / Maximum Mini

'RFS 479H' is a Scottish registration as the first owner was a lady from Scotland
Picture Jeroen Booij / Maximum Mini

No chassis plate here, but the tank is still there. Snails have come in, somehow...
Picture Jeroen Booij / Maximum Mini

Monty & Ward were trading Unipower GTs back in the late 1960s and early 1970s
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Friday 16 May 2014

The Christopher Mini is alive

Remember this one? The Mini based Lotus Seven lookalike known as the Christopher Mini made it to these pages in January 2013. It was built in the early 1990s by Mike Christopher of GT Developments in Poole and shown on a Bristol show in November 1991. Jim King wrote me a message saying he'd seen it at a fuel satiation on the A38/B4008 junction near Gloucester and was pretty surprised about its appearance there.

Jim: "As an ex-Mini owner and an owner of one of the first Domino Pimlicos, I recognised the wheels and the bonnet suggested an A series. I chatted very briefly with the owner who told me it was a one-off made in Poole and he bought it in 1995 - I got the idea that he wanted to pass it on to an enthusiast? Didn't get a name or address, but he drove south on the A38 after filling up…" Now, if the owner would indeed like to sell it, why not get in touch..?

Based on a 1970 Morris Mini 1000 - this appears to be the only Christopher Mini in existence
Picture courtesy Jim King 
 The roof construction is pretty odd with a Targa bar leading to a closed rear with buttresses
Picture courtesy Jim King 

Thursday 8 May 2014

Blyton beano - what a great day!

The first Mk1 Performance / Maximum Mini Action Day, held last weekend at Blyton Park in Lincolnshire, was a great success with a thriving Maximum Mini display attracting people throughout the day. In alphabetical order these owners and their cars made it to our stand:

Andrew Barrass - Cox GTM ('Find of the Year 2011')
Derek Wilkins - Cox GTM (ex-Car & Car Conversions racer)
Nick Wilkins - Biota Mk2
Paul Ogle - Fletcher GT (ex-works racer)
Peter Camping - Midas Gold roadster
Peter Skitt - Mini Marcos Mk1 (not on picture)
Richard Hawcroft - GTM Coupe
Rolf Roozeboom - Domino Pimlico
Stuart Poole - Cox GTM (voted the event's 'Best Mini Variant')
Wil Ker - Nimbus Coupe

Thanks guys!

I was expecting some more cars to come over but unfortunately we had to do without a Maya, Stimson, Camber, Broadspeed, Ogle, Aurora and not a single Unipower, although some of the owners did make it over without their cars. Also, I did pay a visit to some Unipower GT owners on the days prior to the event, so you will be able to see their cars and read a bit more about them soon here.

Apart from the Maximum Mini display there was a nice selection of MiniSprints opposite us, and I reckon the very first Sprint, still registered VPR 470 and the car that Stirling Moss originally demonstrated at Brands Hatch, was one of the bigger surprises. It was brought over from sunny California after a meticulous restoration job and looked fantastic.

Also, I met up with a lot of you guys I'd previously just been in touch with through email conversation or on the telephone, and it was very good seeing you all in person. There were some surprises, too. Paul Fleetwood showed me some pictures from his Ogle SX1000 files I'd never seen before, Leon Daniels - all the way from South-Africa - came up with some great stories about the Mead Special and I bumped into ABC man Trevor Powell (here in flared trousers), too, who'd brought over one of his British Vita racers to the event. Mark Needham had some terrific news about a Coldwell GT that may be finished for next year's event and then a chap from Devon offered me to collect a Ranger Pick Up which he owned for 26 years - please get in touch as I forgot to write down your details! Last but not least Richy Hawcroft gave me a passenger ride in his freshly restored GTM, and boy, did it go well. We did have a little spin during one of our laps, footage of which you can see here - also proof I did not scream like a little girl as Richy told everyone! Although a very relaxed atmosphere there were cars on the track throughout the day, giving it some serious stick. My brother, who is a professional filmer, accompanied me during the day and will be making a nice little video, which will end up here, too.

There will be a sequel next year, hopefully with a similar quality in cars and crowd but perhaps even bigger and better, although not too big as the small-scale structure clearly was one of this event's stronger points. See you there next year.

No less then 3 Coxes, a Fletcher, Nimbus, GTM, Biota, Midas plus Domino
Picture: Jeroen Booij