Wednesday 22 December 2021

Happy Christmas 2021

Now that 2021 is almost finished we can look back at another strange year. But when sticking to the Maximum Mini theme it's certainly not been a bad one. A record number of Mini based cars has been (re)discovered, bought and sold, restored, driven and raced and there is some great progress in the Le Mans Mini Marcos project, too. I can assure you 2022 will have some surprises coming.
But for now I wish all of you a happy Christmas and the best wishes for 2022. Thank you for your support and please don't forget to vote for the 'Best Find of 2021' here.

A Unipower GT in an Austrian winter landscape (Dachstein pass)
Original photograph Planai Classic, picture editing Jeroen Booij

Monday 20 December 2021

Boxing Day 1967 - with Best Wishes from Checkers

A copy of this leaflet, which I'd never seen before, was sent to me by Joost van Diën. Yes, that's the 1967 Le Mans Mini Marcos works car with its modified windscreen. It's seen here during its time with South-African racer Peter Kat, who was sponsored by Checkers - a South-African supermarket chain. Kat's first race in the Marcos took place at the Roy Hesketh circuit on Boxing Day, December 26th, in 1967. Checkers certainly seem to have had good faith in him. Kat and his c-driver Dirk Marais came 11th overall. 

Last year in July I incidentally caused a bit of a stir when I wrote about this (originally green) car and its (originally yellow) sister car, mixing them up. There was a good excuse though. It turned out that the yellow Mini Marcos had received a signature modification also: its windscreen was modified just like the one on the green car, somewhere between 19 June and 23 July 1967. A comprehensive new article with many pictures followed, which you can still read here. Meanwhile a few more pictures of the car during its Checkers sponsorship have turned up, one of them showing it in its colours (here). Keep them coming!

Peter Kat drove the ex-works 1967 Mini Marcos in South-Africa with Checkers sponsorship
Picture via Joost van Diën

Friday 17 December 2021

Le Mans Mini Marcos: Update from Pau (2)

In the world car manufacture a marriage takes place when body and drivetrain are joined and I am happy to announce that today this event will take place for the one and only 1966 Le Mans Mini Marcos in the workshop of Mini World Center in Pau. It's just a pity I can't be there and naturally there are a few complications, but I'm sure we will overcome. More to follow soon!

Le Mans Mini Marcos ready to take the drivetrain after decades of missing
Picture courtesy Philippe Quirière

And the fully refurbished front subframe ready to take the engine just earlier
Picture courtesy Philippe Quirière

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Le Mans Mini Marcos: Update from Pau (1)

I am very glad to write to you that work is progressing on the Mini Marcos' mechanicals over at Philippe Quirière's Mini World Center in Pau, France. These pictures came just in and show a bit more of what happened in the last couple of days. Car and engine will soon be joined together after all those years again. I can't wait.

The engine is ready for fitment now
Picture courtesy Philippe Quirière

The modified top of the radiator shroud 
Picture courtesy Philippe Quirière

And the radiator itself, now recored
Picture courtesy Philippe Quirière

Rear subframe had been fitted, petrol pump is there now, too
Picture courtesy Philippe Quirière

Tuesday 14 December 2021

Find of the Year 2021: the candidates

Well-well, 2021 was a remarkable year when it came to long-lost Mini based cars. With 24 exciting discoveries in sheds, barns, gardens and woods the number of Mini derivatives being rediscovered keeps on growing. It's not easy to make a top-5 with so many exiting finds. From Broadspeed GT to Magnum Spectre, and from pairs of Ranger Cubs, ABC Tricars as well as Scamp six-wheelers to the unique AC Donington.

Like last year, I found a few cars myself with Belgium proving to be excellent finding ground: there was the 1967 Cox GTM in a garage in Belgium, the sole GTM 'Euro' Coupe in a Belgian lock-up and the Ogle SX1000 which was originally sold to Belgium and had always remained there. But there was also the Guinness World Record 'blind drive' RTV in bramble bushes in England and the Dutch Barclay Mini Bug.

Now, to vote simply drop a message below or send me an e-mail if you like. The one with the most votes wins the title 'Maximum Mini Find of the Year 2021'. Over to the 5 candidates.

Pellandini number 1. The first and only space framed Pellandini as built by Peter Pellandine in Australia was one of three Pellandinis resurfacing recently, this one with an Aussie crash repairer. (full story here)

The Ogle Mini prototype. A one-owner car for more than 50 years, this is believed to be the first Ogle Mini built. It was sold last May with the restoration starting straight away. (full story here)

The Ogle SX1000 in Belgium. Another Ogle with another unusual story. This one spent all of its life in Belgium after being sold by Mini racer Julien Vernaeve there when new (full story here)

The Deep Sanderson 301 in Mexico. This was one find I could hardly believe myself - a Deep Sanderson 301 road car in a very original state resurfaced in Mexico-City in March. (full story here)

The Nimbus Coupe prototype. The prototype that was later turned into a successful racer by Gary Shillabeer was freed from bramble bushes in rural Dorset in May. (full story here)

Monday 13 December 2021

Another book: Richard Oakes - Master of Design

If there is one kit car designer that deserves a book of his own, it's Richard Oakes. Not even Barry Stimson can match him in sheer numbers of designs. Between the early 1970s and today Oakes designed a great number of specialist- and kit cars, from the Dutton Sierra to the Deltayn Pegasus and from Tramp buggy to Nova sports car. 

And he was responsible for several Mini based cars, too. There were of course the original Midas and its later incarnations to start with as well as the Midas Gold. But also the Indespension Jiffy, the GTM Coupe plus GTM Rossa, GTM Libra and GTM Spyder, the Domino Pimlico and its variations plus the stillborn ANT III city car (which I didn't even know about).

This book is about all of them and the author Douglas Anderson, interviewed Oakes several times and even did so to his late parents. He was also given full permission to Oakes' archives, which shows. The 176-page book is full of sketches and drawings, all reproduced superbly. The texts with these illustrations are somewhat limited sometimes, but they do match the layout particularly well. I'm sure Oakes himself will agree that it looks good. 

The book's last chapter is dedicated to the latest project: the Sprite/Midget based ADO, which is being brought to life by the author himself after another Oakes design. The number of pages this ADO project receives is perhaps relatively many compared to the other vehicles described, but it may say something about the enthusiasm of the author also, whom we can only encourage in this project. Order it directly from him for £30 plus p&p via

Richard Oakes definitely deserved a book. 'Richard Oakes - Master of Design' is that
Picture Jeroen Booij

Oakes was responsible for a great number of Midas and GTM designs
Picture Jeroen Booij

Unlike his other Mini based designs, the Pimlico was still recognizable as a Mini
Picture Jeroen Booij

The Indespension Jiffy was a commercial vehicle and it was Mini based too
Picture Jeroen Booij

The author was given full access to Oakes archives with many sketches and drawings being printed
Picture Jeroen Booij

Douglas Anderson's own project, the Sprite or Midget based ADO, is another Richard Oakes design
Picture Jeroen Booij

Friday 10 December 2021

Enzo Ferrari's Mini - another picture

It's only recently that I noticed that there are more than two versions of the well-known pictures of Alec Issigonis and Enzo Ferrari with a Mini at a Shell petrol station when a third was sent over. The three pictures are clearly from the same photo shoot with just the angle of the camera being different. 

Ferrari's Mini Cooper was a bit of a coachbuilt Special with modifications in the interior and the body, with a different front light arrangement. I wrote about these before and believe they must have been the work of Pininfarina (read more about that here). Ferrari is believed to have owned more than one Mini but just survivor is known to exist today. More about that here.

Well-known picture of Alec Issigonis and Enzo Ferrari with the latter's Mini Cooper
Picture BMW Media

Perhaps not quite so well-known picture of the two men from a different angle
Picture source unknown

And a third - new one to me. Issigonis hangs on to his tie whatever the angle
Picture via David Haller

Thursday 9 December 2021

Unipower GT book is finally here

Ah, the mighty Unipower GT! So many of us are attracted to the model and so it is great that this particular Mini derivative has finally received a tome of its own describing its creation and development. The car's history is definitely worth telling as its wasn't a particularly straightforward one with ups and downs along the way, a change of ownership half-way through its production life span and some interesting racing history too. 

The book's author is Gerry Hulford, a man who knows the marque. Hulford is a Unipower owner since 1971 and owned several GTs since. He knows many of the car's owners too and runs the Unipower GT Owners Club & Register. He has been thinking about writing a book for years - and here it is in 172 pages and illustrated with many photographs. "In 1976", he writes in the preface "I was fortunate enough to purchase all the surviving factory paperwork, drawings, parts lists, documentation and production records." So the book promises a real must-have for us aficionados.

And it does share some in-depth information. And while there are lots of pictures, too, I was disappointed though by the small number of previously unseen ones, which might be expected from the preface. Most of them are well-known with better quality ones available and I also recognized several of my sourced from this very website! And there's something else. I am not a great adept of chassis number listing, which Bugatti and Ferrari owners can't seem to live without these days. Well, chassis numerology seems to have penetrated deeply into this book with Hulford using these numbers throughout. That doesn't make this an easy read, you really need to concentrate. 

The inclusion of a production register in the back of the book is welcome and fascinating, though, listing all cars produced by chassis number. Some years ago I sorted my own Unipower GT files and had to decide that the car's chassis numbers were the way to go. Perhaps the devil is in the detail by my own list doesn't always match this one. This may say something about my own numerology, but I'm not sure!

So, yes, this is a book which tells you an awful lot about the great Unipower GT and it will get you through the Christmas days but don't expect a light-hearted read. It's available from the club website here at 39.95 GBP plus p&p (and import fees when you live outside the UK like me). 

Finally there is a book dedicated to the great Unipower GT
Picture Jeroen Booij

It does tell the in-depth story of the creation of the car, spread over 172 pages 
Picture Jeroen Booij

Piers Forrester brought the glamour to the Unipower marque when he took over production
Picture Jeroen Booij

Gerry Hulford's own and well-known racer gets much of the attention here!
Picture Jeroen Booij

More racers are described in the chapter on racing, including the lightweight cars
Picture Jeroen Booij

Fascinating is the production register of cars in the back of the book
Picture Jeroen Booij

Monday 6 December 2021

Meet the 1963 MiniSprint

You and I know the MiniSprint as the Neville Trickett Mini-variant with its low roof- and waistline, built from 1965-on. But did you know that two years earlier another MiniSprint had been there? Or, well, the idea for one? I didn't. Reader Kees Plugboer sent in an article from a 1963 magazine which mentions the car as an idea by a certain John M. Hill of Wednesbury, Staffordshire. The article also mentions "What we are doing is passing on a rumour for precisely what it's worth, together with some thoughts of our own."

It goes on: "The car is roofless, with a low laminated glass shield replacing the original screen and fixed side windows cut to give an uninterrupted line, racing car style. Low heavily bolstered hug'n'hold individual seats for the driver and one passenger replace the rather skimpy standard items, and a carefully shaped steel tonneau welded-in where the back seat used to be makes the entire tail-section even stiffer then it used to be."

"So you're sceptical. So you think the MiniSprint, even if it exists at BMC, will join the Issigonis beach car in the prototype garage as a one-off diversionary doodle? Frankly, so do we. But even if a production version never reaches your friendly Morris dealer, we see nothing tos stop you doing the job."

And indeed, I do believe that some cars like John M. Hill's MiniSprint did materialize, the creations by Paul Banham and Dierk Mengers spring to mind, but I wonder if there were any of them dating back to the 1960s also? Feel free to share what you know.

The MiniSprint, as thought up by John M. Hill in 1963 - 2 years before Neville Trickett's MiniSprint
Picture Small Car magazine, via Kees Plugboer

Unlike Trickett's MiniSprint this one came as a roadster or speedster. Well, I don't think it came...
Picture Small Car magazine, via Kees Plugboer

Friday 3 December 2021

Peel Viking's original owner gets in touch

Here is a bit of a 'longread', perhaps quite suitable for the weekend? I love it when the history of a car is unraveled and Mike Athay made my day when he contacted me from Canada with some most interesting remarks about the Peel Vikings on the Isle of Man and one car in particular (from this article). He wrote: 

"Hello Jeroen, I am in receipt of your postings about various Mini projects and find these very interesting - I was unaware that there were so many different models based on the Mini. 
The article I received this morning was of particular interest because I was the person who built the car registered RET680J. This conflicts with the third paragraph of the article which indicates that the car was originally registered MAN70P - this is not true!"

"I purchased the body directly from Peel Engineering in late 1969, early 1970 - can’t remember the exact date. I rented a small truck to drive from Rotherham where I lived, to Liverpool, to where the body was shipped from the Isle of Man. I believe this was probably the last body they built before production ceased."

"I also bought a write-off mini from an insurance company from which I salvaged many of the parts needed for the build. The body came with fibreglass doors but missing the window frames so these were salvaged from the write-off and installed on the Peel. I also modified the hood - sorry, bonnet - by adding brackets underneath at the front to eliminate the need for hinges and to improve the appearance and air-streaming. This also meant that the panel could be very easily removed for better access to the engine compartment. The complete body was then taken to a body shop to be professionally sprayed “flame” colour. Meanwhile, I was able to procure some Cooper ’S’ drive shafts and a Cooper ’S’ gearbox. Because Mini sub-frames had a habit of rusting away, I opted to use new ones; the rear I modified slightly by closing all the openings and drenching the inside with oil. I also modified the rear trailing arms by installing grease nipples to ensure the inner bushing could be adequately lubricated. I opted to install a brand new 1100cc engine. The exhaust was a Fothergill which at the time came with a 1 year warranty - it lasted just 13 months!"

"Rather than an SU carb, I installed a Reece-Fish which gave excellent economy and performance. However, because this was installed behind the engine, and right above the exhaust manifold, I did not consider the optional heater would be necessary - wrong! With the damp conditions in the UK, when the temperature dropped below around 5˚C, owing to the high vacuum at the intake a large ball of ice would form on the carb, thereby creating a rich mixture and the engine would stop. It was then necessary to wait until the heat from the exhaust had melted the ice and one could continue one's journey! I later learned that the guy who bought the vehicle when I emigrated to Canada in 1977, ultimately replaced the Reece-Fish with twin SU’s."

"Instead of the traditional positioning of the radiator at the side, I visited the local scrap yard - may times actually - and was able to get a radiator from a Triumph Spitfire which I installed in front of the engine (thinking of ‘ram’ effect cooling ) together with an electric fan. I later discovered that the ram effect was inadequate and consequently modified the body to incorporate the rectangular air scoop."

"One of the other ’toys’ I installed was a fly-off handbrake. This was quite amusing when I took the vehicle on the skid-pan at the Manchester bus garage. I forgot to warn the instructor about the handbrake and he was not familiar with such a device. As we were going into a bend and he applied the handbrake to force a skid - with his thumb holding down the button - the brake locked on and he panicked! It was certainly a test of my skills to continue to control the vehicle whilst telling him to let go the brake so that I could release the button!"

"Prior to the introduction of the Mini, there were several 'Specials' based on earlier production vehicles which used a traditional U-channel chassis. Indeed, a friend of mine purchased such a vehicle. That particular vehicle - and I suspect such was the case with many other similar projects, the inside was never completed! The body was attached to the chassis, a couple of seats and a steering wheel installed and that was it, the vehicle was ready for the road. I was determined that this was not to be the case with my car. I spent numerous hours furnishing the inside with materials I purchased from a local upholsterer, whose main business was repairing bus seats which had been slashed by the hooligans who made use of that form of transport. Indeed, this gentleman was of great help to me as he not only allowed me to use his equipment but also showed me the tricks to achieve professional results in making the rear seat; for the front, I installed Corbeau GT4 seats."

"During the 9 months it took me to build this car, I was subscribed to Car & Car Conversions magazine which at the time was holding local heats for a national concours d’elegance, the final of which was to be held in Blackpool, in September, 1970. As my vehicle was not ready for any of the qualifying heats, I wrote to the magazine explaining the situation and was then allowed to compete at the final event. I was very pride to be awarded third place in my category, behind two Lotus Europa’s, though I thought this a little unfair as assembly of a Europa kit could be done in a weekend, compared with the time it had taken for the building of my car."

"Sadly, other than two cuttings from local newspapers which did an article on the project, I have no pictures of the construction of the vehicle as this occurred long before the advent of digital photography. Any pictures I did have were unfortunately lost during a house move 21 years ago. In retrospect, I am very sorry that I did not keep the vehicle but I guess at the time, the cost to have shipped it to Canada was way beyond my available spare change. However, it’s good to know it is still around. Mike Athay"

Isn't that great? I was of course very curious to the newspaper clippings Mike mentioned, and with the help from Catherine Semerjian of Nerses Photo Studio in Ontario, Canada, some superb scans were finally made and flashed over. They tell us that Mike ordered the shell in november 1969 but "Beacuse of some trouble with the steel tubing used on the steel frames delivery was delayed and it was in March 1970 that Michael first saw the shell." Furtheremore it mentions: "A vast array of switches on the dashboard reveals that there is a burglar alarm system, a hazard warning light system, manual as well as automatic reversing lights, a special parking light system, which does not allow you to start the car until it is switched off, triple or single note air horns, headlamp flasher and a few spare ones that have yet to be connected to interior lights etc. Mike estimates all this has cost him just over 900 - but for this he has a luxurious new car that is unusual, will travel at 80 mph all day without turning a hair, and regularly turns in just over 41 mpg. So he has comfortable, fast but economical motoring - what more does anyone want?"

I have contacted the car's current owner Stephen Callow, too. There is more to follow as Stephen has been in touch since with both me as with Mike, which leads to more interesting remarks. Stay tuned.

That's Mike Athay with the Peel Viking 'RET 680J' just finished in the local newspaper
Picture courtesy Mike Athay / Worksop Trader

And another just earlier clipping, as kindly scanned on behalf of Mike 
Picture courtesy Mike Athay / Worksop Trader

This picture of the car was found by Stephen Callow only recently
Picture source unknown

Tuesday 30 November 2021

Le Mans Mini Marcos: the build begins

Boy, has it been a long time since I wrote an update on the Le Mans Mini Marcos project. I could tell you all about the reasons for the delay but let's not worry about that here. Fact is that more happened in the last week then in the 18 months or so preceding it. 

Together with my friend and fellow Mini Marcos owner Joost van Diën I went to Pau in south-west France to deliver the now painted shell to the chaps at Mini World Center. You may remember that I had chosen this particular company, run by Philippe Quirière, to build the car's engine and suspension since Philippe had both the knowledge and the experience to do so. But apart from that he also had a number of original parts of this very car after having taken over the stock of French garagiste extraordinaire José Albertini. Albertini, at his turn, owned the Marcos back in 1970.

So off we went to Pau in the Pyrenées-Atlantique not far from the Spanish border. The plan was to have the subframes and engine fitted there and set up the engine, too, as well as have it dyno'd before loading it in the trailer once again and bring it back after a week of hard work. Joost and I hired an apartment nearby to spend the week as mechanic-assistants, so we were ready for it. Philippe was not so sure if it could be done in the time given but we thought we'd give it a try at least since the car needed to be brought over anyway. To make another long story short - we didn't make it. But Philippe and the Mini World Center team will finish the job in the winter, with regular updates promised to be flashed over, and the car will come home after that. We did have a good time though and I learned a lot more about the car's technical insights. Philippe and his father Gérard are as eager as I am to get all the details right and I brought my file with old pictures of the car, which proved to be invaluable at some stages. Let's have a look at some of the pictures that I took in the week.

Engine bay and dashboard needed a lick of paint first, so once Joost and I arrived at Mini World Center in Pau we started with masking the car once again
Picture Jeroen Booij

That's Philippe's father Gérard Quirière with the spray gun applying the primer coat. Gérard worked for BMC since the mid-1960s and has all the experience you can wish for. And he is a absolute top bloke on top of that
Picture Jeroen Booij

And that's what the dash looks like with the primer still wet. We deliberately did not fill most of the holes and scratches as these are well visible on the only good picture that I have of the car's interior
Picture Jeroen Booij

All the painstakingly searched together parts for the car's engine at the work bench at Mini World Center, nearly ready to be assembled. This is some of the best stuff you could get in 1966
Picture Jeroen Booij

The rear subframe is ready for fitment and is placed under the shell here. Gérard and Joost give a hand
Picture Jeroen Booij

And it is fitted. Note that the massive Le Mans petrol tank of 79 litres capacity is also at its place here
Picture Jeroen Booij

Philippe in his office working on the engine. He has spent umpteen hours on it (and much of the money originally set aside to send my children to college!) 
Picture Jeroen Booij

The team at Mini World Center with left to right: Gérard, Joost, Philippe, Nicolas, Damien and me
Picture David Barrere

Engine bay now waiting for the front subframe with engine. Some of the electrics and brake parts have been installed as have the chassis plates been re-fitted
Picture Jeroen Booij

Engine getting closer but still not there. There are so many details here and as far as we have been able to verify them from old letters, articles, papers from the Automobile Club de l'Ouest and historical pictures they all all correct for the time
Picture Jeroen Booij

Gérard with the early Mini side radiator, another rarity. This after he'd spent days on puzzling how the car's original front radiator and oil cooler had been fitted. We found out in the end!
Picture Jeroen Booij

The shroud for the side radiator needs modification since the Marcos' front is too low to have it fitted without altering. We worked mostly from old pictures of the car's build in early 1966 as well as from detail pics from Joost's Mk1 car here
Picture Jeroen Booij

Et à bientôt mon ami! (see you soon again buddy!)
Picture Jeroen Booij

And as a bonus: a little 'walkaround' video from France
Video: Jeroen Booij

Friday 26 November 2021

Jidéhem knew his Minis

When you are Belgian or French you will know the work of comic artist Jidéhem. The characters he invented made it to Spirou magazine every week and were loved by many. In the 1960s and 1970s a number of spin-off publications appeared, one of them being Starter, which was all about cars. I found that a few Mini derivatives made it to the publication and wanted to share these here. They were a fun way of illustrating motoring reports in the magazine. I would love to learn there are more. Do let me know when you know of any others.

Jidéhem's Starter in a Mini Jem GT
Picture from Starter magazine

And in an Ogle SX1000
Picture from Starter magazine

And even in a Quasar Unipower
Picture from Starter magazine

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Biota restoration in Belgium

Rene Sontrop from France and the brothers Peter & Jos Niessen from The Netherlands aren't the only Biota owners on this side of Europe. Peter Morley is another. He lives in Belgium and has had his car for a very long time. I hadn't heard from him for years so thought it was time to drop him a line. A number of messages about the now beautifully restored 'Dutch demonstrator' followed. Peter wrote: 

"Hi Jeroen, it’s nice that the one you found went back to the original family. I heard from someone who had mine at one time, but when I told him how much I’d spent on it he lost interest! Interesting that it was left hand drive but I shouldn’t be surprised because Minis are so easy to convert. And it has a chassis plate, mine just has an aluminium tag that they stamped, presumably in the second year they could afford some chassis plates! I will send you some photos of mine – soon (I promised a friend photos of something next week over a month ago and he’s still waiting!). Best wishes Peter"

I didn't have to wait long though as they arrived shortly afterwards: "Hi Jeroen, I was just rearranging the garage and took some quick photos of the Biota. I had some expensive trips to Minispares etc. and bought most of the mechanical parts. I also found parts like new rear light lenses and chrome surrounds and windscreen pillars. And there’s a rebuilt set of Speedwell instruments that I’m thinking of fitting. Pretty much everything is there it is just a case of getting stuck into and assembling everything. When I saw the Coldwell manifold I had to have it – of course there aren’t many people who will know the connection. Last time I saw Bill Needham I told him I had a Biota and he just said 'Why?'! Best wishes, Peter."

Peter's Biota is an early car, chassis number 6, and is under restoration for years now
Picture Peter Morley

It's still on its British plate 'OJL 1H' but the car has been in Belgium for many years now
Picture Peter Morley

Peter has a rebuilt set of Speedwell instruments that he's thinking of fitting
Picture Peter Morley

Although it once had an 850, the engine now is a tweaked 1275. Note the Coldwell manifold! 
Picture Peter Morley