Friday 29 August 2014

Hrubons are everywhere in France

So you like the Hrubon Phaeton a.k.a. Schmitt, which has been featured in Maximum Mini 2? Good news then, as a whole bunch of them has come up for sale in France recently. All in good condition and low mileage and very expensive, or so it seems. But if you have the money - why not pick one up and combine it with a late Summer holiday? I have made a list of all the ones I could find, with a most unusual Mini Moke, customized by Russian/Lithuanian tuner/coachbuilder Dartz as a bonus. With its ridiculously wide wheels I'm not sure if that's really a nice driver though...

Purple with a custom red leather interior - only in Monaco. Price on request. Ad here
Picture courtesy carandclassic

Not far from it, in Cannes, there's a blue one. Asking price 10,500 Euros. Ad here
Picture courtesy leboncoin

One in BRG is located in Paris - yours for a whopping 22.000 Euros. Ad here
Picture courtesy leboncoin

This one is in satin black is in Aucamville. Still not cheap at 15,000 Euros. Ad here
Picture courtesy leboncoin

Not a Hrubon, but a customized (coachbuilt?) Moke by Dartz: 12,200 Euros. Ad here
Picture courtesy leboncoin

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Mini makes maximum money - new owner speaks

You may have noticed that a Mini Beach car made a lot of money last week during a Bonhams auction in Monterey, California. The car - estimated at $70- 90,000 - was hammered down at no less than $165,000. With the 10% auction fee on top of that, it means somebody actually paid $181,500 for it. The highest price ever for a Mini? John Reymondos, who restored the Beach Car prototype told me: "I followed the sale with great interest. It is probably the most expensive Mini sold at auction. I think only a genuine Monte Carlo winning works car can go higher, or a Beatles/Steve McQueen Cooper 'S'." In fact, a works Mini did go slightly higher in 2007 when a 1964 Cooper 'S' sold for £100,500 - $168,081 at the time. With the auction premium on top of that it came at $184,889.

Quite a few people expressed their objection. I have read several comments on forums of people writing 'Stupidity and too much money' or 'It’s official – the world has gone mad'. On the other hand, at the same auction a Ferrari 250 GTO was hammered down at $38,115,000. That's over 38,1 million dollars - exactly 210 times as much as the Mini. Pocket money for some, it seems.

So who bought the Beach Car and why? I found out by chance when last week a chap from Florida ordered my new book, which describes the Beach Car, too. When I confirmed his order he came back to me, writing: "By the way, I am the crazy person who bought the Beach Car at the auction in Monterey. Yeah, I know...crazy money. What can I say?" He, too, had read the various comments on the web and added: "It seems people are judging me fairly harshly. I don't care what they think, but I would rather not have my name associated with these sentiments." That means I can only introduce him anonymously here. But I did ask him why he paid such a lot of money for the car, though. Did he hanker for a Beach Car for all of his life? He didn't: "I fell in love with the Beach Car the moment I saw it. My home in Florida is in a small community where there are a number of Fiat Jollies and Mini Mokes, and I have been close to buying one for some time. Then along came the Mini Beach Car. I knew I had to have it!"

Without knowing the car's exact background, the auction started. The anonymous and now anxious bidder told me: "The bidding was exciting. I told my friends we were definitely taking the car home, but when I dropped out of the bidding at around $100,000 they thought I was done. I think they were relieved! When I bid again at $155,000, they nearly fainted. I knew it was a multiple of what most people think the car is worth, but a few bidders clearly thought it was worth a lot more. I had to go one more tick to $165,000, but sometimes something is rare, unique, and special. Value and price are no longer set by a consensus, but by the most enthusiastic. In this case, I was the most enthusiastic, although some will say the most foolish. That's okay. Zipping along in the Mini on a warm winter day in Florida, how do you put a value on the grins and giggles?"

He's got a point there. The task is now to try and find out more about the car's history as it 'seems blurry at best', he says, adding: "We figured out in our research before the sale that Bonhams had some of the facts wrong, but we have had a hard time separating fact from fiction." I have already volunteered to help, and so has John Reymondos now. "Thank you for being the keeper of the flame", the new owner wrote. My pleasure mate. I can only be grateful that this great little car is now in the hands of somebody who clearly sees the value of it.

The Beach car in question, seen here at a recent car show in California
Picture courtesy Robert Forbes

Some features on the car are not correct. The new owner wants to put that right
Picture source unknown

Monday 25 August 2014

Mystery closed coupe may become reality

It's been nearly three years since I posted about Andy Downes' modified Status Minipower chassis, which came with some intriguing scale drawings from a mystery company named ABH Design Group - see the article here. Andy has now sold the project to a friend who plans to finally finish the car - hopefully as the ABH it was one day meant to become. Andy wrote: "He is planning to sprint/hillclimb it, sharing it with his suspension guru and put it on the road. I’ve given him all the information and the drawings and also your details, I will keep an eye on it and send you some updates. We have worked out how the elegant gear linkage operates, and he has a log book to register it plus a 1275cc engine and box – he’s quite excited!"

"He likes the design for the ‘closed wedge’ body and is going to see about the possibility of getting it made, although it may become too expensive and end up as a ‘roadster’. He has now already partly dismantled the Minipower but has had to remove it from his business workshop as it is distracting him from his race-preparation work. Everyone who has seen it is very excited for him so hopefully it will finally get finished in the next couple of years…"

The Status Minipower chassis dates back to 1972 but has clearly been modified, too
Picture courtesy Andy Downes

And there it goes… The new owner may put it on the road as the planned closed car 
Picture courtesy Andy Downes

Design drawings for wedged closed coupe may turn into reality after 42 years
Picture courtesy Andy Downes

Thursday 21 August 2014

Phoenix Estate is much rarer then you'd believe

Gee, have I been looking for a proper Phoenix Estate for a long time! Eventually I found one (63 built - full feature, including interview with its creator in new book) but it didn't prove easy. Imagine my surprise when Peter Bazley dropped me a line last week, with some pictures of a Phoenix in a fantastic looking condition. He wrote: "I thought you might be interested in a couple of photos of a Phoenix. It has been re-built by the father of the present user, and is used as a daily driver by her. The photos were taken on the Manchester Minis club stand at the recent classic car show at Tatton Park. Regards, Peter" Thanks mate!

Restored Phoenix is a rare car, especially in this condition. It's a daily driver, too
Picture courtesy Peter Bazley

Phoenix really is a clever car. And believe it or not: the design is by Richard Oakes!
Picture courtesy Peter Bazley

Tuesday 19 August 2014

The tale of the Mini powered Méan Sonora (3)

Some two years ago I tried to find out the whereabouts of a Mini powered Méan Sonora, built in an old Belgian castle. Despite ending up for a closed door when visiting the actual place, I found out something. I published the car's story in two articles - read part 1 here, part 2 here. But the question remained: What happened to the car. I wrote: "Perhaps somebody here will be able to tell?"

Now, we're almost two years ahead but that somebody has finally called in. It's Louis Lempereur who knew of the car for many years but only just managed to rescue it. He wrote the third part of a fascinating story and I am privileged to share it with you. This is what he wrote:

"I was born in Liège, Belgium in 1946 and when student, used to meet Jacques d'Heur, founder of Méan, in cafés downtown. Elie Boone, a friend from Brussels, owned a Méan Sonora since 1984. The car was waiting restoration in his garage. Having known Jacques, I was interested to buy this car, but despite several requests, Elie did not want to sell it. But at our early meeting last january, surprisingly, he told me the car was available. And so, we made the deal."

The car as it was in 1984, Here in Elie Boone's garden
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

This picture also dates back to 1984. The Mini engine is just visible
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

"This car had a Mini engine while most Sonoras were built with Cortina or Renault engines. I did not know about any Méan with a Mini engine and so I attempted some research on the internet and found the Maximum Mini reports. I could not believe what I was reading! Promising a special car for a show and forgetting about it, then building one in five days, the story is so typical for Jacques!"

"While looking more carefully at the pictures from the Maximum Mini site and those I got from Elie, I could say the car from the site is the one I found. The tyres are the same, also the steering wheel, the little radiator (not from a Mini ) next to the engine… The car sits very high on its wheels because the gearbox linkage runs, unprotected, under the chassis. Some parts of the body still have the original silver colour. It was really nice to see pictures from my car when it was new at the Méan 'factory'!" Thanks to the Maximum Mini report, I also learned about Daniel Dodeur, who I knew before as we ran the 2CV 24H race at Spa together in 2007. He now runs the Méan register. See their web site for more info here"

"When the car arrived home, I could see the very bad state it was in. The chassis was completely rotten and needed replacement. While searching for a local company to rebuild it, I met with several people who had worked with Jacques while they were young. Always a happy experience! Some of them worked as students during their holidays and were not really qualified for the job, which explains some of the bad workmanship. While cleaning the Mini subframe I found it was badly repaired probably because the donor Mini purchased in the scrap yard was damaged! The subframe is also mounted tilted in the chassis - for some specific reason or due to emergency?"

The Mini powered Méan Sonora as Louis bought it earlier this year - all complete...
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

… but chassis is well-rotten and needs lots of work. The right men have been found now
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

Welding appears to have been done in a hurry - well, the car was built in 5 days...
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

The interior seems surprisingly well kept and original - note Mini key fob!
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

The Méan's full reconstruction has now started - this is just prior to taking it apart
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

"Searching for good parts, I ended up having dismounted the car completely. I am now heading for a complete reconstruction. On the Mean website, there is a picture of a Sonora taken in Monaco. My target is to go there with my car and take the same picture. But that will be another story!" Keep us posted Louis, you are a star contender for Find of the Year!

Picture of Méan Sonora in Monaco has inspired Louis to go there once finished
Picture courtesy Mean Motor Engineering

What a spot! Taken during the Monaco Grand Prix of - we think - 1969
Picture courtesy  Mean Motor Engineering

Thursday 14 August 2014

Minimach GT launch pictures emerge

Last week, I received a wonderful message from Francesco Gasparini of Italy. Francesco is a Maximum Mini fan with a soft spot for that unusual Italian Unipower GT clone - the ESAP Minimach GT. In fact, he was there with his father when the car was launched in 1968 and had lunch with all the people involved. He always kept the original press kit with its official pictures in it that he was handed over that day, and now sent over some copies of them - I'd never seen these before.

I saw the car back in 2007 and interviewed the daughter of Gianfranco Paduan, who designed the Minimach and built it before he was being kept from marketing it by both Universal Power Drives as well as the Italian authorities - a fascinating story. I understand from Francesco that the car is still in the hands of the same owner as it was back at the time, but it's awaiting restoration right now. Thanks very much Francesco, for sharing your pictures and stories!

Lunchtime  during the official Minimach launch. Francesco and his dad on the right
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Press pack of 1968 Minimach GT - 'For the gentlemen invited'
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

One of the official press pictures - note double springs for tough road conditions (e.g. Targa Florio)
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Rectangular headlights were one of many modifications from the basic Unipower design
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Left hand driven but no gear lever in the door sill; Minimach had ordinary gear lever
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Note sweeping lines over the car's totally new body. Rear is completely different, too
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Tuesday 5 August 2014

More period shots of vanished Landar R7 (UPDATE: R6?)

Roger Simpson has some more information and pictures on the Landar R7 that was owned by Frank Aston in the early 1970s - previously described here as 'The Landar that disappeared' - see here. And he is happy to share it, too. He wrote: "Please find pictures of the Landar R7 Driven by Derek Lloyd at Shelsley Walsh in the early 1970s. One picture is of the start and the other is taken at the bottom 'S' of the hill. Derek drove this car at Shelsley, Loton, Prescott and Curborough for about 3 seasons. This is the Frank Aston car which was modified over the seasons by Derek Lloyd. Regards, Roger."

Or is it not? An anonymous reader comments: "Looks more like an R6 than an R7 judging by the curved door profile." He's right. And the same goes for the car's nose, which seems more rounded than that of the R7 either."

That Landar R7 again, driven in anger. Now indeed at Shelsley Walsh
Picture courtesy Roger Simpson

The car was owned by Frank Aston, then by Derek Lloyd who races it here
Picture courtesy Roger Simpson

Friday 1 August 2014

Eddie Collins shares some anecdotes

A while ago, I got in touch with Eddie Collins. What John Cooper was for the Mini’s performance, Eddie Collins was for its sheer opulence and celebrity appeal since he became the managing director of Radford coachbuilders and later for Wood & Pickett. I asked him to do an interview and so we met on a sunny day to dig out some tales about coachbuilt Minis.

About his first visit to Radford's Hammersmith workshop as a young apprentice: “I saw a magic world there, filled with all the cars I’d read about. I remember they’d just finished the motor show, so there was a lot going on at the time. They had the Mini De Ville there and a very, very nice Ford based car they’d built for Stirling Moss. There had been Rolls-Royces with cocktail cabinets and all sorts of uprates before, there had been shooting brakes and one-off coupes. But the new owners saw it as a way to start a new venture in a different class. And the Mini was the car they went for.”

About The Beatles: “I’d heard of them but they did nothing to me. Apart from traditional Irish music I was more into Rock ‘n Roll. But I knew Brian Epstein, who was their manager, and we teamed up. I remember them as four geeky guys, but we started building a car for George Harrison and he was a real car enthusiast. It was good fortune as it took off from there.”

About the Wood & Pickett Mini Margrave they built for Linda McCartney: "That car was fairly strange. She wanted a ‘snogging seat’ in it, so what we did was make some sort of bench. She wanted it in a very light metallic purply paint, I remember it was called ‘Commanchee’, with a light leather with black velvet facings. It was great.”

If you want to read the complete story, you'll have to buy Mini Magazine, which published it in their current Summer issue.

Eddie Collins, 75 years young now, spritely and full of great tales 
Picture Jeroen Booij

The very first Radford Mini 'Magnifique', seen here at the 1963 London Motor Show
Picture courtesy Eddie Collins

The Radford Carabus and it's colour coded Mini hatchback were described here before
Picture courtesy Eddie Collins

A press moment with Mike 'The Monkees' Nesmith and his Radford Mini (more here)
Picture courtesy Eddie Collins