Monday 30 November 2020

Excess all areas - right up our street

Some books are announced so long in advance that, when they finally arrive to still your hunger, they can almost only be disappointing. The very opposite goes for 'Excess all areas', the latest book by prolific writer and fan of automotive obscurity Richard Heseltine about British kit cars of the 1970s. When I heard of it only a week ago, I ordered it straight away, received it on Friday and had a lovely weekend reading it! This is a great fun book, with much more than just Mini based cars, but all right up our street in creativity, ingenuity or just plain wackiness.

Staying with the Maximum Mini-theme here, over 30 Mini variants make it to this 122-page book with some far-out fun facts I didn't know. How about William Towns' Hustler being originally made for Jensen Special Projects as a car for Third World parties? Or how about the Ranger 4 project being sold to Beirut, where the factory was 'levelled by Syrian troops during the siege of Achrafieh'? Heseltine also solves the mystery of Eartha Kitt being an alleged TiCi owner: "She was keen keen to buy a TiCi, but her manager demanded one to be supplied for free, Hill (the manufacturer-JB) declined." Best bit is the last chapter on Specials which describes some of the most obscure contraptions.

If you like this stuff, there's more good news. From the introduction: "Low-volume specialist sports cars from the likes of TVR, Lotus, Clan and Gilbern that were offered as component packages with brand new parts will appear in a subsequent volume. On a similar note, replicas from marques such as Albany and Dri-Sleeve that were sold in complete or knock-down form with new running gear don't apply here. They, too, will feature in subsequent books in what we hope will be a series spanning the entire history of the British specialist car industry." Hoorah! Order it here.

The Nova nicely sums up the madness of the '70s, but 'Excess all areas' is right up our street, too
Picture Jeroen Booij

Status and Stimson are favourites with excessive offerings all the way in the 1970s
Picture Jeroen Booij

Minette, Mini Beaver and Mini Jem give an idea of the spectrum of ideas
Picture Jeroen Booij

Friday 27 November 2020

Dutch Twini scrapped - but picture emerges

Years ago I was told about a one-off twin-engined Mini special, built in The Netherlands in the early 1970s by the late Jan Slotboom. Arch Mini enthusiast Sipke Blom was the one to tell me about it and also added that he'd owned it at one time and - to his own shame - scrapped it. He really regretted that and also for not even having a picture of it either.

But I did find out a little more, as I contacted the son-in-law of Slotboom back in 2015, who remembered it well then. He told me: "It started when we found out about rallycross in the UK, broadcast by the BBC television. We really liked it and helped to promote a similar series in The Netherlands. David van Lennep was the main promotor behind it. At first it was all very amateurish, but then there was the Dutch ace driver Jan de Rooy who had a four-wheel driven DAF."

"My father-in-law thought he could make something like that and came up with the idea of the Twini, which used two 1100 engines. It was made with the rally cross in mind and I remember we tested it on the A50 motorway here in The Netherlands, which was under construction at the time. It came with a simple aluminium body and was very fast. It did especially well in the mud, but there were always troubles to synchronize the gearboxes. My father-in-law passed away in 1991 and the Twini went on to Sipke."

Sipke Blom now contacted me again as the son of the man I spoke to, now found more on the car after all. Sipke added: "He says there are more pictures and even film footage which I hope to see soon. This photograph was taken at the Valkenswaard circuit in 1971, when the car came first in the Special class at the Dutch Rallycross championship. The two 1100 engines came with very special cylinder heads with the biggest valves I have ever seen, even in 1300 engines. Although I still very much regret to have scrapped the car, the son has now at least become really enthusiastic and I hope to see more of it soon."

Dutch Twini was built with Rallycross in mind and won the Special class in 1971
unfortunately it was scrapped later in the 1990s
Picture via Sipke Blom

The car's builder Jan Slotboom, seen here, was a real British car enthusiast
Picture via Sipke Blom

"The 1100 engines came with very special cylinder heads with the biggest valves I have ever seen"
Picture Sipke Blom

Thursday 26 November 2020

Happy Thanksgiving 2020

A happy Thanksgiving to my American readers! Maximum Mini has a loyal following with readers coming from a wide variety of countries, but the UK and the US have been well ahead of other nations since day one. With not too many Mini derivatives over in America it is perhaps a bit of a surprise to see so many viewers from the States, but you guys are most welcome. And I guess there's no better day to say thank you than today!

If you enjoy what I do here on Maximum Mini and would like to help me continue, then I would very much appreciate a donation towards keeping this blog going. Click here

Thanksgiving greetings from your Maximum Mini host!
Original picture: H. Armstrong Roberts, imaging Jeroen Booij

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Buckle Monaco wins 'Best Restoration' title

When I heard about a Buckle Monaco being superbly restored in Australia recently, I was eager to learn more and got in touch with the car's owner David Wallis. David was kind enough to tell me all about the car's restoration, which won a first place for best restoration recently. Over to him:

"Hi Jeroen, I have put the following together for your blog. The photos show the car as I purchased it, then at the paint and panel shop with the rest being the car as completed. The car is a Mini Monaco, based on a 1962 850 and modified by Bill Buckle Auto Conversions in Sydney, Australia around 1966 / 67. Bill went on to receive the Order of Australia in 2014 for his service to the motor vehicle industry as a designer and retailer. I purchased the car in early 2014 after a chance encounter with a guy at a local Jaguar show. I had driven to the show in my Twini (and he sent me a few pictures of that, too, a real cracker of a car!-JB) and we started chatting about Mini’s in the car park. He commented that a relation of his had an unusual Mini which he thought was a Monaco. This had my attention, and the car was in my possession some three months later. It had been sitting in a shed in a nearby town since 1980."

"I traced the cars history back to a fellow in Queensland who reportedly purchased it from Bill Buckle in 1970. Between 1970 and 1980 there were several owners, a few modifications and some dodgy panel repairs. After purchasing the car I commenced a full nut and bolt restoration, with the aim being to get the car back to the original Monaco condition including a few period performance tweaks. As there were no official records on the Monaco’s produced, the main guide for the rebuild was a range of magazine articles and adds from 1966. First job was to strip the body down ready for grit blasting and etch primer. After this was two years at the paint and panel shop where all rust and dents were removed culminating in a bare metal respray."

"It then took me around four years to put the car back together. This included detailing all components, rebuilding the engine (1275) and gear box with a few performance components including twin SUs, re-upholstering the interior which included the lowered inclined front seats and rebuilding the Cooper 'S' brakes and all suspension. I also hand fabricated a new walnut burl dash facia utilizing the original Broadspeed style upper pad. This incorporated Mk1 Cooper S gauges, along with other classic Smiths instruments. I carried out the majority of the work, with the exception of the paint and panel, purchasing parts from many countries including Australia, France, America, Canada, Portugal, England and Malta. The restoration was completed in October 2020, for its debut showing at Minis at the Mill, an annual show for Minis held at the National Motor Museum in Birdwood, South Australia. The show, organised by The Modified Mini Car Club of SA attracted around 120 cars, were we received 1st place for the best restoration."

That seems totally deserved, thank you for sharing all this David! It is very good to know these cars are being cherished. Another Buckle Monaco, owned by the Lucas family of New South Wales, was restored over a long period of time and won another restoration award two years ago. Click here for that.

Beautiful Buckle. The car's nut and bolt restoration was completed in October 2020
Picture David Wallis

 This is what it looked like in 2014. David: "It had been sitting in a shed since 1980"
Picture David Wallis

The car had seen several owners, a few modifications and some dodgy panel repairs
Picture David Wallis

David stripped it completely, grit blast and etch primered the body before going to the panel shop
Picture David Wallis

Interior was fully re-upholstered with hand made walnut burl dash facia utilizing the 
original Broadspeed style upper pad
Picture David Wallis

David: "I carried out the majority of the work, with the exception of the paint and panels"
Picture David Wallis

He rebuilt the 1275 engine and gear box with a few performance components including twin SUs
Picture David Wallis

Thursday 19 November 2020

Maximum Mini - Find of the Decade

2020 has been a remarkable year so far. And not just for virus-reasons, but also for finding back forlorn Mini based cars. Up until now more remarkable cars have made it to the finds list on here then ever before, with a few more stories of discoveries coming up soon. As tradition dictates we'll have the now-established 'Find of the Year' election here in December. 

But how about the last decade? Many more Mini derivatives were found through the years, and I thought it would be nice to list the 'Find of the Year' winners of the last 10 years here again. What's more: which one do you consider to be the best out of these? In other words: what will be the Maximum Mini Find of the Decade? You decide. Send your answers below in the comments, or reach me through any other way you like. 

UPDATE 2 January 2021: It's official - the Le Mans Mini Marcos is the Maximum Mini Find of the Decade. Thanks to all who brought in their vote.

2010 - The Beach Car prototype found in a Greece scrapyard. More here

2011 - The unspoilt Cox GTM found in a Cheshire garage. More here 

2012 - The mystery Maya GT found in a Kent garden. More here

2013 - The Mini Jaba found in a Spanish scrapyard. More here

2014 - The Mean Sonora BMC found in a Belgian garden. More here

2015 - The Landar R7 found in a lock-up in Germany. More here

2016 - The 1966 Le Mans Mini Marcos found in Portugal. More here

2017 - Dame Margot Fonteyn's coachbuilt Mini found in the UK. More here

2018 - The Peel Viking 'Dutch demonstrator' in a German barn. More here

2019 - Project X found in an Australian lock-up. More here

Wednesday 18 November 2020

Dutch demonstrator Biota - history unraveled (3)

Over to the final episode in the Biota's history. For now at least, as the car is now reunited with the son of the car's original builder René Sontrop after 49 years! (parts 1 and 2 here and here)

I bought the car only two weeks ago from the widow of the man who'd owned it considerably longer: 36 years. From the correspondence that came with it I could make up he'd become the Biota's owner in september 1984 when the odometer read 'just about 5,000 kms'. Unfortunately I do not know where he got it from, so there is a gap between 1973 when the Sontrop family sold the car and moved to France and september '84. In a letter dated January 1987 the previous owner wrote: "In the short period that I drove the car, its acceleration and top speed really struck me. I easily passed the 170 km/h limit at one time." He also added that work on the car's restoration had started, planning to finish all that in July or August 1987. I think it never happened as the car looked as if it hadn't been touched for decades. A family member conformed this, too. New parts which he mentions in his letters were still with the Biota in a number of boxes. 

René Sontrop was one of the first to contact me when I published the news of the car's rediscovery on Maximum Mini last week, and it soon became clear that he was eager to buy back his dad's old car and restore it. René had been looking at another Biota Mk1 restoration project in the UK some time ago but found that car needed too much work, whilst not having a family link like this one. And so we made a deal and he came over from France to pick it up yesterday.

Although I was sad to see it go, it was fantastic to reunite René with it after 49 years. A bit of a throwback to 2018 also, when Peel Viking-builder Ben Konst was reunited with that other Dutch demonstrator! (here). René brought me some more Prescott Hill Ltd. brochures and also told me that his dad had great difficulties in selling TVRs in The Netherlands, although at the Amsterdam Motor Show there had been one famous Dutchman very much interested in a Vixen: football star Johan Cruijff. But there had been two cars which had his interest and eventually he chose for the second option: the Datsun 240Z. René's dad decided he didn't want to put more effort in TVRs and fully focused on the Biota, of which he sold five in The Netherlands and another few in other European countries. René is now planning a full restoration of the old Dutch demonstrator and has promised to keep me posted. 

UPDATE 1 October 2021: Restoration completed! Click here.

Reunited after 49 years: René has now bought the Biota built by his dad
Picture Jeroen Booij

Although I was sorry to see it go, I'm sure it is in the best possible hands now
Picture Jeroen Booij

Some of the correspondence that came with the Biota, which included a floppy disc...
Picture Jeroen Booij

Registration paperwork confirms it had just one owner for the last 36 years. But there is still a gap in the history between 1973 and september 1984
Picture Jeroen Booij

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Dutch demonstrator Biota - history unraveled (2)

More history of the orange Biota Mk1 known as the Dutch Demonstrator Biota! 
(original post of it's discovery here and history part 1 here).

René Sontrop, son of the car's builder and Dutch Biota-importer Jan Sontrop continues: "When the car was finished it was driven for quite some time on FH-plates (Dutch garage plates-JB). My dad constantly altered and improved it. Initially it used an 850 Mini engine but my dad later managed to find a Cooper 1000 for it and fitted that, which was quite an improvement. The handling of the car was superb and so much better than a TVR, which was imported by my father also, or even a Lotus 7. And my dad knew well how to drive it."

What exactly happened with the car after that is still a bit of a mystery. René: "We emigrated to France in 1973 when I was 15 and my dad sold all of his stuff in The Netherlands. He set up 'Atelier Sontrop' as a workshop and restoration company for prewar cars. I took over in the 1980s and moved to Jaguars mainly, even running a Jaguar-dealership in 1999. My father passed away eleven years ago now and my mother just three weeks ago. He was a real go-getter and did everything to sell these kit cars - he'd really fallen in love with them and used his orange car as a daily driver at the time. It brought him everywhere in Europe to promote the Biota brand. He sold one or two cars in Belgium through a garage called Francis Gueibe and I know he also tried to sell them in France, but was put off there as they wanted to crash test them first. I believe he also sold a few of them to Norway or Denmark." More research needed here.

So, is that it? It isn't boys and girls. This tale will have a surprise ending. That's up next.

Finished: the Dutch demonstrator is ready to be used as a promotional vehicle throughout Europe 
Picture courtesy René Sontrop

The promotional B&W pictures came to me through Biota owner Peter Niessen. Note garage plates
Picture courtesy Peter Niessen

Prescott Hill Ltd. became more than a Dutch Biota concessionaire. Sontrop senior used his demonstrator through Europe to promote the Biota brand
Picture courtesy Peter Niessen

René Sontrop recalls: "He was a real go-getter and did everything to sell these kit cars - he'd really fallen in love with them and used his orange car as a daily driver
Picture courtesy Peter Niessen

When it was finished it drove for quite some time on FH-plates - Dutch garage plates
Picture courtesy Peter Niessen

Initially it had an 850 Mini engine but later a Cooper 1000 was sourced and fitted
Picture courtesy Peter Niessen

"The handling of the car was superb and much better than a TVR or even a Lotus 7"
Picture courtesy Peter Niessen

The Dutch registration '17-30-RL' was issued in July 1971 and is still on it today
Picture courtesy Rob Mellaart

Sontrop took it everywhere in Europe for promotion. One or two cars were sold to Belgium through the dealership of Francis Gueibe
Picture courtesy René Sontrop

Monday 16 November 2020

Dutch demonstrator Biota - history unraveled (1)

Since I posted about the little orange Biota Mk1, also known as the Dutch Demonstrator Biota here last week (click!), I have received a number of lovely messages from people who know more about the car. Fellow Dutchmen Olivier Bos (who found the Prisoner Moke in 2011) and Rob Mellaart (who had his work experience at Biota's factory as a youngster), sent me some photographs and documents. But best of all was to get in contact with René Sontrop from France. René is the son of Dutch TVR and Biota-importer Jan Sontrop, who'd set up Prescott Hill Ltd. in The Netherlands in the earliest of 1970s and who would become a very keen promotor of the Biota brand on the continent. Prescott Hill Ltd. also brought the Biota to the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1971.

René told me: "Personally I never really fell for the Biota, but the green metallic demonstrator of John Houghton that we borrowed for our display at the 1971 show, brought lots of interest to our stand. It was very busy at our place there during the whole show period. I was 14 years old at the time and dreamed more about a Mini Cooper or Mini Moke, though."

He also recalls a drive in John Houghton's demonstrator 'YWT 65G': "John Houghton was a particular man with a little beard. I was allowed to join him in the Biota demonstrator from the Amsterdam Motor show back to our home in Woudenberg, which was a nice souvenir to me. That green car was a real beauty, and since he was a racer it had several racing features." 

Houghton returned to Woudenberg soon after the show to bring over the first two Biota bodies to The Netherlands: these were my orange car that was going to be build up as Prescott Hill Ltd's demonstrator and the yellow car that's been owned by Pieter and Jos Niessen for such a long time now (see Maximum Mini 1). Below is a nice selection of photographs, and there's more to follow in a next article.

Prescott Hill Ltd. were the Dutch TVR and Biota importer, this was their display at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1971
Picture courtesy René Sontrop

Left to right: Prescott Hill's founder Jan Sontrop, his son René Sontrop plus mechanics Ben and Yves Paul, seen at the Amsterdam show with the UK demonstrator
Picture courtesy René Sontrop

Dutch ad dated March 1971: 'The Biota Mini Sportscar - The huge succes of the RAI'. 
Kits were available from 3.000 guilders
Picture Jeroen Booij archive 

British ad dated April 1971, which also mentions Biota at the Amsterdam Motor Show 
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

René Sontrop: "I was allowed to join Houghton from the Amsterdam Motor show back to our home in Woudenberg, which was a nice souvenir. René is the boy on the right
Picture courtesy Peter Niessen

Next, John Houghton makes it over to Woudenberg to deliver the first two bodies to Prescott Hill Ltd's workshop. My car on top, the yellow one now owned by Peter & Jos Niessen's below
Picture courtesy René Sontrop

 These were the first two Biotas to be exported. Sontrop became a keen promotor of the Biota brand

 The 'Dutch demonstrator' half way in its build in early 1971. Note Delahaye beside!
Picture courtesy Rene Sontrop

 Finished and with promotional text on it. Prescott Hill's workshop premises in the back
Picture courtesy Rene Sontrop

June 1971: the Dutch demonstrator is seen here for the first time in a magazine ad
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

 Brochures and correspondence between Prescott Hill Ltd. and John Houghton as owned by Olivier Bos
Picture courtesy Olivier Bos

The Biota brochure made by Prescott Hill Ltd. 
Note statement 'Importer for the European Economic Community' below
Picture Jeroen Booij archive