Tuesday 29 July 2014

Reader's cars: Chris' Townscars little and large

Chris Thomas, who runs the magazine for the Register of Unusual Microcars appears to be a fan of Mini based cars, too. He wrote to me about the soft spot he has for William Towns' creations: "I had liked the look of the Aston Martin Lagonda, but it was well out of my price range. But a Hustler perhaps not. I could understand his design logic and liked what I saw. He was my kind of car designer. Being tall I always had problems finding small cars that fitted me. I remember going to the 1974 Motor show and going onto each stand and trying the drivers seat. It was the same routine. Wait my turn, get in, run the seat right back, lower the seat if it could, and then raise the steering column if it could, and then set the seat back angle if it could. In the total show only two cars allowed me to sit in the right position, that allowed me to touch my knees together under the steering wheel, and one was the latest Hustler. By this time I had a Renault 5, which for short journeys was okay, but after a drive down to Italy I got out looking like a gorilla that had just swung in through the trees. Never again would I drive with my knees around my ears, hunched under a low roof. One day at work I spotted in the local paper a Hustler for sale. I rang, and after work dashed down to look at it. Immediately, I recognised it as being the Hustler from the motor show back in 1974. I had to have it."

"When I got it home I went over it with a keen eye discovering all those little impracticalities that do not matter on a show car, like the door locks did not work, and it was almost impossible to get into the back seats, and getting into reverse gear was difficult as the drivers seat was too wide, and so the list went on. With my rudimentary skills, learnt in school metalwork classes, I managed to make them work after a fashion. Once on the road I discovered why the last owner wished to sell it. On tight corners and roundabouts, it would suddenly learch sideways in the opposite direction to that you wanted to travel in. Very disconcerting. I soon worked out that the Hydrolastic suspension at the rear was connected across the car rather than front to back. So as the load on the off side wheels went up, so it pumped the fluid across to the near side wheels so pushing that side up further, making it feel like it was about to roll over. By reconnecting the fluid connections together on each side, it now handled very well.
I took it to several car shows, and had some fun driving there and back. Cars would slow down on the motorways for a good look, and the kids in the back would change from bored to smiling and give a big thumbs up, or a wave. I even has a Ferrari F40 owner slow down and have a good look. It is not often you turn a Ferrari owners head."

Chris' Hustler Huntsman 6. No doubt it's a William Towns design in all its glory
Picture courtesy Chris Thomas

"Our local garage owner, who had MOT'd my Hustler a few times, told me there was another one like this on a farm near by, and the owner wanted to sell it. I shot down after work to see it and found it was not a Hustler but an Elswick Envoy, but not just any Elswick, it wore chassis number 1. I had to have it. Having fallen in love with all William Towns designed, to let this one go would be a sin. The story goes that a bunch of friends had bought the Elswick for a friend who was about to retire, and thought it would be fun to present him with an invalid carriage at his birthday party, and this was the only one for sale at the time. On the day of the retirement party it was driven into his back garden and given to him, to much hilarity amongst the inebriated friends. The new owner promptly tried to drive it around his garden using the hand controls, and very nearly crashed it. By this time his mood was rather tired and emotional, and he gave the car back to the so called friends and the party died. The rejected present sat for a few weeks before I heard about it."

"When the trailer arrived at my house with the Elswick onboard, I bravely reversed it off, and proceeded to manoeuvre it onto my driveway. Having never used hand controls before, I found it a major challenge. I have driven motorbikes and scooters, mopeds and automatics, but an Elswick with hand controls was one step beyond what my brain could cope with. With some pushing from neighbours we parked it, and I set about working out what would need doing to it. The main rusty item was all the rear suspension, which was a mini rear subframe with the middle removed, and a thick steel plate welded onto the bottom. All the Mini subframe part had rusted badly. So it all had to come out and a new mini subframe modified and welded to the thick steel plate, hot zinc sprayed and then immersed in a bath of Hammerite paint. All done and re-installed, next was the bodywork, grinding out the cracks and reinforcing the back, filling and sanding ready for a respray. That was until I looked at the rear door and realised water had seeped in, and the metal reinforcement inside that the window frame it was welded to, was all rusty and would all need replacing and bonding in. At that point I decided it may be better to buy a new rear door from a scraped Elswick. Could I find one? No! Since that day it has sat hand in hand with the Hustler under a big tarpaulin on my driveway."

"Over the years my confidence, eyesight, and patience with car repairs, have all waned. I became more involved with microcars and editing Rumcar News, running my own small company, and trying to loose weight. Now is the time to admit to myself that I will never drive them again, and it would be better for everybody if I sell them to somebody with the skills and passion for them. I did at one time toy with converting the Hustler into an electric car, installing the batteries between the four rear wheels, and mounting the electric motor where the Metro engine is, and adding as many PV panels to the upper part of the body as possible. Being as the panels are all flat, that should not have been too difficult. But like everything else it stayed as an idea. Now that I am in my dotage, I may need an invalid carriage one day. So should I keep the Elswick? No! I will just get my wife to drive me everywhere."

And his Elswick Envoy, wearing chassis number 1. He may be tempted to sell...
Picture courtesy Chris Thomas

Monday 28 July 2014

Utilities flood fun market

There's a hoard of Mini based utilities currently flooding the market with plenty of fun cars on offer. Let's have a look at some of the cars advertised here.

A nice Scamp Mk1 with no reserve in Crook, county Durham. Ad here

Expensive but supposedly fully restored Andersen Cub in Feltham. Ad here

Advertised as a Moke prototype, but in fact a nice DIY-built registered 'VOO 965'. Ad here

A Hustler Huntsman 6 - looks to be the best I have seen on pictures. Ad here

A Mini based Jeep, probably a one-off but it could be a Lambert, too. Ad here

An NCF Blitz for the true mudplugger in Suffolk. Ad here. Bonus one in Hull here

Ranger Pick-up in good condition. From Romford - where it was built! Ad here

Unusual Scamp Mk1 with added a-posts and boot, seen here before too. Ad here

Monday 21 July 2014

Mini Beach Car makes it to auction

With only fourteen made the chances of bumping upon a Mini based Beach car are limited, but visitors of the Quail Lodge in California will see one on 15th of August this year, when one of them comes up for auction. According to Bonhams auctioneers' description 13 of the Beach cars were left hand driven and 'went to destinations in the United States, where they would serve as dealer and distributor promotional vehicles to promote the North American introduction of the new Mini'. Thirteen seems a bit of an exaggeration to me but fact is that this one came that way. It was used for promotion by San Francisco based Austin concessionaire Kjell Qvale. He kept it at his ranch and had it painted dark green at one stage before giving it to a friend named Keith Simon at around 2000. Simon started a restoration before selling it to Robert Forbes in 2007. It's now in its original Surf Blue once more. Unfortunately the original wicker seats, made by Lloyd Loom of Spalding have disappeared and have ben replaced by standard Mini seats with wickeresque fabric. Beach car owner John Reymondos wrote to me: "From personal experience, they are not comfortable at all, so that might be the reason…" He had Lloyd Loom made new ones for his car a couple of years ago, so they may do that again for this one - if you have the money left. The estimate is a whopping $70 - 90,000. That's £41 - 53,000. Worth it or completely over the top?

This Beach Car spent most of its life at a ranch in California, not on a beach
Picture courtesy Bonhams Auctions

With under 12,000 miles on the clock it looks superb in a very 1960s shade of blue
Picture courtesy Bonhams Auctions

Unfortunately the original Lloyd Loom wicker seats are not there anymore
Picture courtesy Bonhams Auctions

The engine is the original 850 although the unsynchronized 1st gear has been replaced
Picture courtesy Bonhams Auctions

I believe this is the car prior to being repainted in its original Surf Blue colour
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Thursday 17 July 2014

Minis at Le Mans (in 2014)

Hang on, Le Mans Classic was there, last weekend. And there were three Mini based cars competing in  this year's endurance race. The white/blue Mini Marcos from France that was seen there in the last two years made it to the La Sarthe track once more. Another Belgian Mini Marcos was there now, too. I'm not too sure about the first one being a 1965 car (it was entered as being such), but I'm positive about the Belgian car not being of that vintage. It was supposed to be so, never the less. French authorities - do your homework, I would say.

The Marcoses finished 48th and 59th in their class respectively. Last but not least was the Deep Sanderson 301 entered in Class 3 by a British team of Robi Bernberg and Paul Ugo. This is the car that made it to the real Le mans race in both 1963 as 1964, making this year's return a 50th anniversary!  Despite a very good start it slowed down considerably later in the event, eventually finishing 55th in class. I'm not sure if it was as fast as back in '64 but at least it managed to make it to the finish line in one piece unlike 50 years ago!

Great car, great picture. French Mini Marcos thunders along Mulsanne straight
Picture courtesy Facebook.com/formnfunction

Another Mini Marcos, this one from Belgium. That's definitely not a 1965 car
Picture courtesy Tim Scott / Sports Car Digest 

Deep Sanderson 301 - 50 Years have passed since this exact car ran at this exact place
Picture courtesy Ian Summerill 

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Mini - histoires inédites

Fortunately I am not the only person making books. My French colleague Enguerrand Lecesne is doing the same, focussing on racing Minis in France mainly. His latest book 'Mini - histories inédites' (Mini-untold stories) has just been published and I received my copy this week. It does mention some Mini derivatives and so it clearly deserves a place here. The book is divided into 4 sections (Drivers, Tuners, 'All Genres', and Pictures) and it's the third part that appeals most to me. Here you will find stuff about racing Minis and derivatives in all sorts of races - again mainly French.

Lecesne has been trying hard to find out more about the long-lost and reputedly stolen Le Mans Mini Marcos (more here). And despite having no clue where it ended up, some new information plus a few pictures, has made it to the book. Apparently the car was rallied later in its life and also used to go on a camping holiday by its last owner! Another Mini Marcos mentioned is a car that was entered in the 1000 kms of Paris in 1966, as driven by Claude Swietlik and Adam Potocki and finishing 17th there, just before the Le mans car which was also entered and came home 18th. Where would that be now?

Other interesting stories include the Targa Florio 'Twini', a much-campaigned French MiniSprint GTR and several French DIY-Sprints. Broadspeed is described in the Tuners-section. The GT gets just a brief mention but an unknown picture (to me) of John Fitzpatrick racing it at Mallory Park compensates for that. That sums this book pretty much up - the amount of (French) pictures is pretty amazing and if you wouldn't even understand what's written about them, you'll love the period atmosphere they ooze. Available at 39.90 Euros plus P&P from the publisher.

208 pages and crammed with period pictures - this book is another milestone 

French Mini Marcoses galore - Lecesne just keeps on chasing these cars

Friday 4 July 2014

Postman Pat's car exists - and is Mini based

Ha, this is a good one! A real-life Postman Pat car based on good old Mini mechanicals. It was supposedly built for a landlord as an advertising vehicle some 25 years ago but has only been used for a couple of years. The seller says: "Complete with a few engine parts missing but could be got back on road again with some work. Many long hours were spent on this project and it seems a shame to send it to the vehicle graveyard." Good point. See the advertisement here. It's based in Cullompton, Devon, which looks like a real-life Postman Pat village to me, too...

Postman Pat exists… or at least his car does. It was road legal, too…
Picture courtesy ebay.co.uk

Cars do not become more boxy than this. Not too much space for parcels though...
Picture courtesy ebay.co.uk

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Maximum Mini 2 is here!

The original Maximum Mini (still available from me, too) and the brand new volume 2
Picture Jeroen Booij

I won't bore you with the troubles to get hold of some of the pictures and many of the people to interview in the past 5 years, the lay-out difficulties, the many file-adjustments needed, unexpected bills from printers, hick-ups at the port customs, more unexpected bills, transport logistics and storage problems - Maximum Mini 2 is here!

And you can simply buy it direct from me by going here (click).

You will also find a few sample pages there. In total the book counts 128 pages and is similar in shape and size to the original Maximum Mini book. It comes with over 500 pictures that have not been seen in print before, while much of the information was cobbled together by interviewing the designers and builders first hand. Oh - none of the cars in this new book has been featured in the first volume.

The full list of cars that have made it to a chapter:

ABC Tricar • ABS Freestyle • AEM Scout • AF Spider & Grand Prix • Alto Duo • Andersen Cub • ASD Hobo • ASD Minim • Aurora BMC • Autocom Mini Buggy • Beach Car / Riviera Buggy • Brookwell Trifid • Camarotta • Codford Mini • Crayford Mini Sprint • Elswick Envoy • Fisher Spyder • Foers Nomad • Gecko • GP Yak • Greenwood Mini ‘sidecar’ • GTM Rossa • Hrubon Phaeton / Schmitt • Hustler 4 • Hustler 6 • IGM Minbug • Jackson Sportster • Jiffy • Jimini & Jimini 2 • Lawther GT • Libra Magnum • Magenta • Martini Mini ASC • Metron • Mini Beaver • Mini Mare • Minissima • Minus Maxi • Mosquito / Triad • New Era Mini • NJC Mini • Phoenix • Quasar-Unipower City car • Radford Mini De Ville • Ranger Cub • Roles XS-3 Road-star • RTV • Saga • Scamp Mk1 • Scamp Mk2 / Mk3 • Sekura Mini • Siva Mule • Status Sabot • Stewart & Ardern MiniSprint • Stimson Scorcher • Stimson Trek • TXC Tracer • Whitby Mini-Warrior • Wildgoose • Wood & Pickett Mini Margrave

If you want your book signed or if you like me to dedicate it to a loved one, just let me know and I will be happy to scribble something in your copy.

It's not very often that I get into a car myself! Here in the utterly exciting Fisher Spyder
Picture Peter Speakman

And more 'Making of Maximum Mini 2'. This is the ABC Tricar that took me so long to find
Picture Roy Kirkham