Monday 31 May 2021

Dutch Biotas meet

A lovely message from Biota owner Peter Niessen: "Hi Jeroen, Our Biota is (almost) ready for the season. We carried out a couple of upgrades: new tyres (street legal slicks, also very suitable for track days) and a part-new stainless steel exhaust (previous one had too much of a vacuum sound). The Biota of my brother-in-law is now also ready and MOT-tested (it's the ex-Rob Mellaart 'Mk1½'). Enclosed a couple of pictures: when do you see two Dutch Biotas brotherly next to each other? Hopefully we can start looking forward to join a few events when the pandemic situation starts to clear up. A 50th anniversary would be a good target anyway! Kind regards, Peter"

Thanks Peter, absolutely love it! I would certainly be in for a 50th anniversary meeting - who else is..?

Two Biotas which spent all of their lives in The Netherlands: 
Peter and his brother Jos' yellow Mk1 and Steven van der Stroom's orange Mk1½ behind
Picture Peter Niessen

"When do you see two Dutch Biotas brotherly next to each other..?"
Picture Peter Niessen

Thursday 27 May 2021

Solved: Mystery Mini Estate

Another mystery solved. This pretty Estate turns out to be the work of Les Clarke, who was a 29-year-old work study engineer with the commercial division of BL at Longbridge back in 1973. That's when his car was featured in Terry Grimwood's column 'TGs Home Brew' in Car & Car Conversions magazine. 

Clarke had bought the 1964 Traveller for 100 pounds and used it some four years before the transformation started. That rear door is not a fibreglass unit as several were offered in the 1970s. No, Les took the rear end of a Mini Pick-up, welded that on the lower part of the Traveller door space and made the top opening door from a piece of heavy-duty tinted Perspex in an aluminium frame. The rear window is a heated Smith screen, the rear wiper from another Mini and with Imp bonnet stabilizers to hold it up when opened. Rear light units were indeed sourced from a BMW 2000 T. Lux. 

Inside there were re-upholstered Cooper recliners and a leathercloth covered dashboard with home-made centre console. Clarke also fitted a 1275 engine with Innocenti cam, Sprite head, lightened flywheel, tuftrided crank and high-compression pistons as well as disc brakes. Graeme Farr was the man to dig out the article. Terry Grimwood added: "Hah! You'd think I would remember. Must be an age thing!" A massive thanks to Graeme and Terry! Now, over to the next question: does it survive..?

BNP 858B was a standard 1964 Mini Traveller before Les Clarke started work on it
Picture CCC magazine via Graeme Farr

"At one time he was all set to scrap the lot and fit a non-opening screen. Luckily he persevered"
Picture CCC magazine via Graeme Farr

The lower part is from a Mini Pick-up, while the rest was fully home-made
Picture CCC magazine via Graeme Farr

Les Clarke with his special Mini Estate back in 1973. Do they survive..?
Picture CCC magazine via Graeme Farr

Wednesday 26 May 2021

More GTMs in Belgium..?

One thing often leads to another, or even a series of things. After I found this Cox GTM in Belgium, more things GTM from the same country were soon to follow. There was a Heerey GTM (here) and a GTM Coupe also (here). That last was even bound to become the start of a European GTM concessionaire in the 1980s - it wasn't meant to be.

But did I know there had been another venture for selling Heerey GTMs in Belgium? I did not until I bought some brochures recently. One of them mentions a Belgian GTM agent in Brussels - Jacques de Bres - and a coachbuilder in Lier - Carrosserie Stoelen - which supposedly built and sold these cars for Belgian customers. I think it dates back to 1969 and the prices as well as the specs are interesting and include BRT tuned engine and 5-speed gearbox. Is the car pictured left hand drive? It's hard to say.

I asked Howard Heerey, who lives in Australia now, if it did ring a bell. He wrote: "Hi Jeroen, I do recall a Belgian guy coming over to Hazel Grove and trying to work out a deal as an agent. My father was dealing with him and I remember he frightened my dad to death when they went out in our demonstrator on the wrong side of the road! I think my dad followed up with a visit to Brussels where somebody got run over and dad came home in a hurry."

"I’m sure no deal was ever done and we never gave anybody the manufacturing rights. Maybe their plan was to buy kits and build them into complete cars? I did take a complete GTM to Finland for a guy who was going to agent them in Helsinki. He had Hanno Mikkola lined up to promote it. I left the GTM there - never got paid and had to pay to get it back. So no joy with agents and they really were a distraction which didn’t help the course at all. C'est la vie! Cheers, Howard."

I'd love to hear if Jacques de Bres or Carrosserie Stoelen ever did manage to build or sell any cars in the Low Countries though. As always your comments will be much appreciated.

This 1969 Heerey GTM brochure from Belgium is different from the ones I knew
Picture Jeroen Booij

British variant from the same period seen behind it here
Picture Jeroen Booij

Belgian agent is Jacques de Bres of Brussels, manufacturer is Carrosserie Stoelen of Lier
Picture Jeroen Booij

Three versions were offered for sale. Specs include BRT tuning and 5-speed 'box
Picture Jeroen Booij

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Nimbus Coupe prototype freed from the brambles

Report from the bramble bushes in Somerset. Remember this find of a Nimbus Coupe formerly a prototype car and later raced by Gary Shillabeer? Well, it has finally been freed from the brambles by Simon Denman. He wrote: "Hi Jeroen. I can tell you my late father was best mates with Gary Shillabeer and that’s who he got it from.  I honestly can’t remember much about when dad got it from Gary, but I seem to remember some tension between my mum and dad when he bought it - hence why it was probably left in the orchard with the initial plan of waiting til mum calmed down!"

"Sadly Gary recently died too so I can’t ask him. I’m trying to find the other open top kit car which might be in brambles too which must have come from Gary at about the same time. I’m pretty sure I know where the front clam is - as for the main middle but I’m not sure my memory is it was bought from Gary at the same time and I think the main tub was green and the front clam was primer grey, it might of had scalloped sides but I haven’t seen it since I was a kid. We are clearing up the farm and are selling it all, so the Nimbus will be up for sale. I have also got a lot of other bits including a series bits - none of which I believe came from the Nimbus though. It would appear there is much of a Mini in pieces in one of the sheds! Including a complete 850 lump and Mk1 boot lid etc! I will be in touch with photos of what I can find of the other one. If you know anyone interested in the Nimbus feel free to point them my way before I stick it on eBay. Speak soon, Simon."

It sounds as if the open car could be that other Ian Shearer design - the Boxer Sprint. But then Ian told me years ago there was just one made (this one), so it has to be something else..? We'll see when Simon finds it, I reckon. In the meantime, let me know if you are interested in the Nimbus Coupe and I'll get you in touch with Simon.

That's the Nimbus Coupe prototype as it was raced by Gary Shillabeer in the mid-1980s
Picture Simon Denman

But Q304 NYA was also the car used at the Nimbus Coupe's press launch back in 1984
Picture Simon Denman

Shortly after the launch it must have been bought by Shillabeer and transformed into this
Picture Simon Denman

Shillabeer campaigned it briefly before it disappeared only to turn up last year
Picture Simon Denman

The car will need lots of work, interior seems to have been stripped also 
Picture Simon Denman

Last on the road in 1986 means it has been on the road (and track) for two years only
Picture Simon Denman

There used to be an engine built by Avonbar Racing fitted, but the engine bay is empty now
Picture Simon Denman

The car in its heyday, raced in 1984 at Cadwell Park with Shillabeer behind the wheel
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

While earlier that year it was used at the press launch in East-Sussex, seen here
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Friday 21 May 2021

ESC's Edgar Salwegter speaks (2)

Following yesterday's discussion with Edgar Salwegter of ESC (here), I was eager to find out which of the Status Minipowers had been the one that made it over to New Zealand. Edgar recalled it was red and was seen in a book. There had been two red Minipowers in a number of publications, wearing the registrations 'PNG 433M' and 'VCL 738K'. We found out it was the latter, as seen in Peter Filby's 'Amazing Mini'.

Edgar bought the car in The Netherlands, took only the chassis to New Zealand and... scrapped the body! Edgar: "Then it became the white ESC in NZ. At least you know what happened to it. I will try and find out what happened with the next chassis in the jig."

A couple of days later he came back: "Hi Jeroen, I spoke to Angus Fogg and he has the jig for the chassis, but he does not know where the spare chassis went to. We have an all-Brits and Euro car show this weekend I will have a look and see for any new things pop up in the mini section. Angus also said he has had a few e-mails from you before."

That's right. I'd contacted Angus before about one car in New-Zealand in particular, which I had labeled as a Minipower also (this one) and showed Edgar the pictures, too. He replied: "It does look like a Status chassis from the pictures, looking at the top arm and chassis. The chassis was ahead of its time back than, with the inboard suspension. But we can rule it out as an ESC." That makes two Status Minipower-related mysteries in New Zealand. Who knows more about them..?

'VCL 738K' was a Status Minipower demonstrator that was used for a number of publications
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Peter Filby famously drove it for several of his articles, but it was also seen in a brochure
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Here it is when it was owned by Edgar - just before the body was sent to the scrappers..!
Picture courtesy Edgar Salwegter

The chassis was re-used in the first ESC, now with an aluminium body
Picture courtesy Edgar Salwegter

The wherabouts of the car remain unknown today. Do you know where it is..?
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Thursday 20 May 2021

ESC's Edgar Salwegter speaks (1)

If you have Maximum Mini 3 you may have read about a car named ESC. I have always been intrigued by it, not only because it was built by a fellow-Dutchman who'd moved to New Zealand back in the 1980s, but also because it was believed to be built on an existing Status Minipower. It wasn't until recently that I finally got in touch with Edgar, who is still involved with cars over in New Zealand. He wrote:

"Hi Jeroen, Yes I am that Edgar. I started at Donkervoort, than built the Lotus Seven in NZ - only 2 of them. Then built ESC Mk1 what was the Status I brought to NZ from The Netherlands. Mk2 was a Lotus Seven chassis with a Holden 6-cylinder, Mk3 was a small race car built from scratch with a Suzuki 1300 GT engine and had a lot of racing fun, Mk4 was the Ferrari 333 body with a front engine Honda S2000 with what I won the North Island endurace champion ship in 2005. I also built a few MB6 McLaren replicas. went to Aus 2006 for a few years back to NZ 2014, now selling performance parts at FPP Speedshop. Ik speak Nederlands fluent, just find it hard to write."

There's no doubt that the Mk1 ESC was the one I was eager to learn more about, and Edgar was kind enough to answer all my questions. He added: "I made a jig for the Status and made one chassis and sold that to Richard Gray. I have now heard the jigs were sold to Angus Fogg who has raced Minis all his life and is a famous racing driver in New Zealand. I do know him well and I gave him the original Status badge I had kept all those years. The Status I bought, was the one that had a photo in a kit car book from the UK, but I don't have that book any more. I will try and dig up some old pictures as I gave them all to Angus."

We did find out which Status car it was in the end, as I learned what exactly happened to it. There is more to follow soon.

THE New-Zealand-built ESC Mk1 used a Status Minipower as its base
Picture courtesy Edgar Salwegter 

Seen here from the back without the aluminium body but with the Mini engine in place
Picture courtesy Edgar Salwegter 

Plans to make more cars followed. Here's a brand new chassis for one
Picture courtesy Edgar Salwegter 

It still shares many similarities of that of the Status Minipower but remained a one-off
Picture courtesy Edgar Salwegter 

Edgar did manage to market his cars in NZ newspapers. 
"I build all my cars to the European standards I learned at Donkervoort"
Picture courtesy Edgar Salwegter 

Aluminium bodied Mk1 ESC - for Edgar Salwegter Cars - remained a one-off
Picture courtesy Edgar Salwegter 

Monday 17 May 2021

Barclay Mini Bug resurfaces after 45 years

A Dutch Barclay Mini Bug (that's a Stimson built under a license in The Netherlands) appears to have been hidden from the public eye since 45 years. The car was bought second-hand in 1972 by Giel Brouwer from the man who'd originally build it. Giel still owns it, although there's an unusual story attached to the car.

He told me: "My dad had a large US campervan at the time, some eight metres in length. He took that for a holiday to Marbella in Spain. I was in for some fun and wanted to bring a boat or a scooter or something else along. I did manage to find a speedboat but then I bumped into this buggy also, pretty local too. I made a construction on a twin-axle trailer so that both the speedboat as well as the buggy with the windscreen hinged forwards, could be towed behind the camper. It was quite something."

After the holiday trip Giel used the Barclay Bug for another two or three years, when he put it in storage. But there things went wrong. A friend, who had been eager to take the Bug over from Giel, suddenly saw it at the local trailer camp. Giel: "He was kind of pissed off, thinking I'd sold it to someone else. But when I told him I hadn't, we didn't know how quick we needed to go and have a look at my storage. There had clearly been broken into. And the car was gone. We found it in the trailer camp where they'd hastily blown it over in a metallic blue paint. The police wanted to have nothing to do with it and so we went there with a few friends and took it back. I decided to take it apart then as I wanted to restore it and repaint it back to its original orange, but it never happened.

And so today the car comes in crates and boxes, but is believed to be complete. Giel may be tempted to sell it but only for the right price and preferably together with a Mini he's had for equally long. He says there should also be pictures - somewhere - of the motor caravan with the twin-axle trailer behind with the Bug and speedboat on that. I'd love to see those, too.

Holiday in Spain 1970s-style. Barclay Mini Bug was stolen after return to The Netherlands
Picture Giel Brouwer

And found back like this in a trailer camp nearby, hastily blown over in metallic blue
Picture courtesy Olivier Bos

That was 45 years ago. Despite plans to revamp it, it hasn't moved a wheel in all those years
Picture courtesy Olivier Bos

It's a Barclay Mini Bug on its Dutch registration, but oddly comes with a Stimson Mini Bug bonnet
Picture courtesy Olivier Bos

Engine is a standard 850 of 1967-vintage. Rusty and dusty, it will need work, oh yes
Picture courtesy Olivier Bos

Simple dashboard blown over in blue metallic, too, but the Bug is still fully complete
Picture courtesy Olivier Bos

Windscreen still there in its original orange hue. It was modified to fit with speedboat on trailer
Picture courtesy Olivier Bos

Friday 14 May 2021

Ogle prototype resurfaces - not for the faint-hearted

An Ogle SX1000 that was a bit of a mystery to me for many years has now resurfaced. I was made aware of the car when I was sent a picture of it back in 2013. The car was then spotted when its elderly owner, mister Colin Wells, went to a parts shop and a Maximum Mini reader saw him and had a little word. Wells kept the car for the next few years, owning it for more than 50 years in total. But being now almost 90 years old he stopped driving and so the time had come for him to part with it. Two weeks ago a new owner was found in great Mini enthusiast Andy Varnam.

I'd already noticed that the car's front as well as it's rear lights had been changed, and there were some other unusual things, too. These changes were mostly made by mister Wells who seems to have kept the car on the road on a shoestring. But this Ogle is a bit of a special one anyway as it appears to be chassis XPT1 - that has to be for Experimental Prototype number 1. Together with an even earlier second prototype that makes it Ogle history. 

There's no doubt the car is overdue for a major restoration, though, and in the two weeks that Andy now owns it he certainly hasn't taken half measures. By this time he's separated body and chassis - or what is left of that. Mister Wells, at some point, decided to sandwich the original steel (Mini) floor between layers of fibreglass matting underneath and inside. That may have kept the Ogle together, but when taken apart the remaining floor turned into dust! No problem for Andy, he says, who's cracking on with the restoration at a pace you won't believe. Once a new floor is fitted he is hoping to build it up this summer again and aims for September to have the car ready! He's keeping the 998 engine it came with, which was rebuilt not too many miles ago. Keep up the great enthusiasm Andy!

This very tired Ogle Mini - used as an everyday car for over 50 years - is in fact a prototype
Picture courtesy Andy Varnam

Andy Varnam took it over from Colin Wells, who is now approaching 90 and stopped driving
Picture courtesy Andy Varnam

This is the picture I was sent in 2013. Note changed rear light clusters and modified front
Picture Richard Hawcroft 

Here in Andy's garage, the modified front is better visible here. Restoration about to be started
Picture courtesy Andy Varnam

Andy started with taking it apart two weeks ago, the rear lights one of the first things to go
Picture courtesy Andy Varnam

And it didn't stop there. Over the years loads of modifications had been carried out on this car
Picture courtesy Andy Varnam

But the most revealing job came when the body was separated from the chassis...
Picture courtesy Andy Varnam

The original steel floor, sandwiched between fibreglass matting, was non-existent anymore. Just dust!
Picture courtesy Andy Varnam

Front subframe is still held with bits of the chassis. Andy will keep the 998 engine
Picture courtesy Andy Varnam

Tuesday 11 May 2021

Mystery Mini derivative (76)

A lovely message from Gary Axon raises some questions: "Hallo Jeroen, Far too long, no see or speak. Just a quick note to share an unusual Mini estate I came across earlier, modified with the rear lamp section of a BMW 2000 'Neue Klasse.' This is a new one on me, and I just wondered if you have ever seen it before, and if so, if you might know anything more about it (such as who modified it, when, where, and so on)? Thanks. Take care, and hopefully see you sometime soon. Kind regards, Gary."

I've drawn a blank as I, too, have never seen this one before and don't know anything about it. Is it registed 'BNP 858B'? That would make it a 1964 car, which could fit in with the flat roof of the early vans and estates. Or is it 'BNP 858S', which is mated to a Leyland Cars vehicle of 998cc capacity and 1977 vintage..? Anyone out here who knows more about it?

UPDATE 13 May 2021: Jens Lillelund writes: "The rear lights are from a 1967 BMW, so it must have been built from '67 on." Clever! What's more: both Eddie Fitzgerald as Graeme Farr recognized the car, which was supposedly featured in a magazine article in the 1970s. Graeme: "I have seen it before. Either in Hot Car or in Terry Grimwood's column 'TG's Home Brew' in Cars & Car Conversions, I would say around 1970.  I'm sure it had a cool custom interior too with either Corbeau eyelets or Rover 2000 leather seats." I managed to ask Terry Grimwood himself, who replied swiftly: "Sorry Jeroen, I have no recollection of that particular car. Rather nice though." And so the search goes on. Graeme and Eddie will see if they can find back the article.

UPDATE 27 May 2021: Found! Click here

Unusually converted Mini Estate or Van looks very attractive
Picture courtesy Gary Axon

Monday 10 May 2021

Ted Laban Special auctioned after more than 50 years

Professional car designers coming up with Mini based vehicles? There are a few that I know of. Rolls-Royce and Bentley chief designer Graham Hull made this one in his spare time, Duesenberg, Ford, Tucker, Cord and Chrysler designer Alex Tremulis was heavily involved in this wacky creature, while this contraption was supposedly made by a Porsche designer. And another exciting Mini derivative can now be added to the list. 

Some three years ago I received a message from Penny Lockwood. Penny's father in law had just passed away and she was looking for a new home for his Elswick Envoy. It didn't take too long to find that, but in corresponding with Penny it soon turned out that her late father in law, Ted Laban, was a most interesting man. She wrote: He was a car designer, mainly chassis design and had a very interesting career. He was a Coventry man and worked for Jaguar and Reliant. He took early retirement when Jaguar was taken over by Ford but continued to work for a while on other projects. In retirement, he worked on the chassis designs for LTI (London Taxis International) including the wheelchair ramp. He also worked on designing a unique Bentley capable of 200mph for the Sultan of Brunei, of which only 6 were ever built. And for Gibbs he designed an amphibious car suspension that lifted the wheels in true James Bond fashion, enabling it to achieve waterborne speeds of 35kts. He also undertook work for FF Developments, a company started by Harry Ferguson of tractor fame and concentrating on four-wheel drive systems. So as you say an interesting man!"

The real surprise was another Mini based car he'd designed back in the 1960s. Penny wrote: "You might also be interested to know that my father in law had an old yellow Mini where he'd converted the back using fibreglass. The Mini was a 1962 Mini Van before my father in law converted it as part of his HND apprenticeship programme with Jaguar. His concept was to create a car which could be parked end-on into a regular street parking space. A Smartcar before its time! The conversion involved fibreglass, which at the time was apparently pioneering! I thought I'd just let you know that we are now selling his converted Mini at the Earlswood Classic Car auction on 11th June."

Previously registered '131 FOX', the Mini Van looks to be in a great condition and I hope it will go to a good new home. Thanks Penny for getting touch and all the best of luck with the sale!

Reliant, Jaguar and Ferguson designer Ted Laban made this Mini in his apprenticeship
Picture courtesy Penny Lockwood

The idea was that it could be parked end-on into a regular street parking space
Picture courtesy Penny Lockwood

Based on a 1962 Mini Van, the car has been in the Laban family for over 50 years
Picture courtesy Penny Lockwood

But... it is off to a new home soon as it will be auctioned in June
Picture courtesy Penny Lockwood