Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Looking forwards to welcome you in the new year. I won't be here until then.
Oh - and don't forget to give the Maximum Mini Christmas puzzle a try!
Pictures and imaging: Jeroen Booij

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Beach Car - best find of 2010

Things seem to have calmed down a bit on the Beach Car that resufaced only earlier this month in Greece. After some worrying moments just after its find the car now made it - in one piece - to its new home where a thorough restoration has just been started.

Meanwhile I found out a bit more about its history. And it seems a very special history too. While the known Beach Cars were built between late 1961 and early 1963 this car's chassis number directs to at least a year earlier. Given the fact that it is based on a Riley Elf/Wolseley Hornet that makes it peculiar, as the booted Minis weren’t launched until October 1961. This one comes with a mid-1960 chassis number which has to make it an Elf or Hornet prototype that was later converted. There are some details that lead to this too, like the unusual rear lights. But the chassis number starting with 'SPL' (a prefix that was given to all prototype vehicles in Longbridge) is the clearest indication. That would make this car a prototype based on a prototype!

Still then it remains unsure whether this was the only Beach Car with a boot. Fact is that this or a similar car was used to ferry journalists around the test track at the pre-launch introduction of the Mini Cooper in July 1961 at the Vehicle Testing Ground in Chobham. This is also where some pictures of Alec Issigonis in it where made. It certainly seems plausible that it was this car, but there is no evidence yet. Issigonis' Greek background seems to have nothing to do with the fact that it ended up in Greece, as this Beach Car just happened to have been sold to a wealthy Greek who unfortunately remains unknown thus far.

According to the new owner the car's body is in a surprisingly good condition. He says the most difficult part will be to find a match for the carpets and to reupholster the pastel blue wicker seats. But by now we found out that these were made by a company named Lloyd Loom who are still in business. He's been in touch with them, so hopefully they will be able to help restoring this little gem.
Safe in its new home, the Beach Car is under restoration now

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Maximum Mini Christmas puzzle 2010

Christmas time nears. Time of mirth and melancholy and of, well, hanging around.
So why not try and crack this puzzle and win a great prize?

There are 25 rear ends of 25 Mini derivatives. But which is which?
The mission is simple: you give the full name and model designation of the cars shown on the pictures below (click up for a bigger version); the first who has them all right wins a copy of Maximum Mini 2 as soon as it is there. Don't hold your breathe though as I am working slowly (but surely) on it, and I don't think I will finish it of before Christmas next year. But patience of the Mini derivative connoisseur of 2010 will surely be rewarded in the end. Apart from earning this prestigious title, that is.

Oh! Some of the rear ends pictured are of cars that are featured in 'Maximum Mini' so a copy of that book will surely help you identifying them, but others aren't and you will have to find out what they are. Send in your answers via the comments below up until December 31 of this year. The challenge is on.

UPDATE 2 January 2011:
And they are...:
1. TiCi; 2. Biota Mk2; 3. Unipower Mk1; 4. Deep Sanderson 301; 5. Coldwell GT; 6. Landar R6; 7. AF Spider (or Alexander Fraser Spider); 8. Alto Duo (or Automotive Concepts Duo); 9. Domino HT (or Domino HardTop); 10. Jiffy Tipper (or Jiffy Pick Up); 11. Radford Mini De Ville Mk3; 12. Bulanti Mini; 13. DART (or DART reproduction); 14. Lolita Mk1; 15. Anderson Cub; 16. Stimson Mini Bug Mk2; 17. Camber GT; 18. Siva Mule; 19. Grantura Plastics Yak (or 'GP Yak' or 'Grantura Yak'); 20. ESAP Minimach GT; 21. Hustler Harrier; 22. AEM Scout; 23. Elswick Envoy; 24. Status 365; 25. Mini Jem Mk2

Monday, 20 December 2010

A winter's tale

It’s not that long ago that winters weren’t particularly cold. Or at least not in this part of the world. When it all of a sudden did start snowing, even if that was in the middle of the night, families got out to make snow men and have snow fights, only to find out that it had all gone the next morning. We just settled in thinking harsh winters were a thing of the past, blaming global warming, when it all changed in the last few years.

It was in the autumn of 2007 that I was on one of my jaunts in the UK to photograph a few cars for the book and talk to their owners/builders. The weather was fine but the radio in my hired vehicle forecasted blizzard-like conditions. This while I’d just made an arrangement to photograph Paul Ogle’s Fletcher GT up in Yorkshire. I arrived early and waited for Paul when the first snowflakes began to fall. By the time Paul arrived in the little green machine all of the surroundings were covered in a ferry tale white.
What to do? We parked the car under some big fir trees and waited for the snow to stop, or at least most of it. That took about an hour and Paul now didn’t have much time left before he had to go to work.

We quickly drove the Fletcher to an open spot and I jumped around it making pictures faster then I ever did. Not easy as snow started falling again, trying hard to camouflage the car. In only a few minutes time I was ready, it must have been the quickest photoshoot I ever did.  But could I use it? I thought I just might.
Back home I found two or three pictures okay, the rest of them would have been a hell of a job to touch up in Photoshop. Blast. Luckily Paul had a friend who happened to be a photographer and he sent me a stack of superb pictures when Spring was there. I never used the snowy Fletcher pics. Until now.
Picture: Jeroen Booij

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Today, 45 years ago

In February 2011 (that's another two months) it will be 45 years since Broadspeed launched their beautiful GT. That means 45 years ago now the boys in Birmingham worked hard to get the prototype Broadspeed GT ready for its launch at the 1966 Racing Car Show. This picture - from a wonderful set of 17 quality snap shots - shows what that looked like back then. I love it.
Thanks to Chris Wooden

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Formula Mini

There has always been demand for cheap means of Formula racing with open wheel single seaters. Race cars that were easy to build and maintain but good for big fun at the track. Think Formula Vee - for Volkswagen - hugely popular in Germany, or the Citroën based MEP race cars designed by Frenchman Maurice Emile Pezous.

So why was there never a Formula Mini class for the British? Well, there was. Or just about.

picture courtesy Rob Mellaart

It was actually named Formula Mini Plus, or FMP, and the idea came from Biota instigator John Houghton. Houghton had been racing in a Hot Car sponsored Midget competition with a home grown Mini based car that he'd christened 'The Black Lawnmawer' with some success. It sparked the idea for a race class with more like minded. A prototype race car was built up around a 90bhp A series engine in its Mini subframe at the front, coupled to a simple chassis with four fibreglass body sections. Things looked good for low cost racing and Houghton offered replica's for budding race drivers. But negotations with RAC Competitions Department lead to nothing and the class was banned from racing before it ever hit the tracks. This was 1971.
Picture courtesy Rob Mellaart

However, it appears that British Leyland was having a similar idea at around the same time. They approached Mini Bug designer Barry Stimson to come up with a rear engined Mini powered Formula car. But again, it never was. What exactly went wrong here remains a mystery but the BL sponsored Formula, too, never raced. I don't even think a prototype car was ever built. It's just Stimson's sketch that survives which he let me reproduce when I interviewed him a couple of years ago. Thanks Barry!

Sketch courtesy Barry Stimson

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Saga continues

Quite a few of the cars that were on my priority list when I started searching for Mini derivatives have been found by now. Some haven’t and one that keeps on haunting me is the ‘Saga’. I was beginning to wonder if the car survives at all, when I received a message about it this weekend.

Stefan Sellin from the very North of Germany writes: “What made me to write you is the Mini Saga in the chapter ‘The cars that didn’t make it’ on page 122 of your book. When I was in the UK in the mid-nineties I paid a visit to a company that had a lot of nice cars there, like a few Radfords, a Mc.Queen Woody and... the lost Saga that was offered to me for 1000 pounds. Unfortunately I did not know about the rarity of the car and did not buy it as it missed one rear light (!!!). Please find enclosed a picture of the car made on the day when I was there. I think the car was sold to Japan or Hong-Kong.”
The Saga as seen for the last time, just before being sold
Picture by Stefan Sellin 

I am not so sure the Saga ever made it to Japan or Hong Kong but at least Stefans message now points out it was sold more then once in the 1990’s. The car was built back in 1966 and the story of its birth is both quirky as funny as I have learnt by now from its designer and builder who spends his days in France now. He lost track of the car after he’d sold it in the late sixties, but would love to know if it survives too. He sent me a stack of wonderful pictures of the car from the time of his ownership. Great stuff.

I did track down the subsequent owner too who had it until 1993, but unfortunately he, too, doesn’t know more of its whereabouts after he sold it. He only recalls it went to a man in the Northampton area who intended to restore it to its former glory. Sadly, the trial ends there. Now that it does seem it has been sold at least once more, it may throw a new light on this never ending saga. Stay tuned. Or better: drop me a line when you know where the Saga could be.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Beach Car commotion

A message from Greece yesterday evening with both good as bad news.
A very happy new owner tells me he managed to buy the Beach Car I wrote about yesterday. That's the great bit.
However, there is a sting in the tail, as he tells me: "Unfortunately I have bought the car as 'spare parts' and will not be able to register it for road use. Furthermore, this really hurts, in order to take it away from the scrap yard I have to cut the car in half (roof and floor). I am both happy to find it as furious at the system and the Greek laws for having to cut up a rare car."
Now isn't that totally incredible? In fact, it is a great shame as this is such a historically valuable Mini, or derivative. When the car gets cut up in two it might never be the same again.


Do let me know if you have a good idea to save this time machine from the flame cutter.


UPDATE 16 December:
Hoorah! The car is saved from the flame cutter and restoration has just been started. The now even happier owner: "The body metal is in excellent condition. It must have been stored for ages somewhere warm and dry. The most difficult part will be to find a match for the carpets and to reupholster the wicker seats."

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The ultimate Beach Car survives!

Oh! I wish I found this one myself!

The Mini based Beach Car is a rare sight these days. I know of very few that survive in the world, one in sunny California, one in Canada, another in Monte Carlo and one in the UK. But these are all cars based on the ordinary Mini saloon.
However, at least one Wolseley Hornet or Riley Elf was converted into a Beach Car too.
Like the others, it was styled by BMC's Dick Burzi and got its approval by Alec Issigonis - that's him on the picture in the car.

The Beach Car went into limited production in Longbridge and according to Peter Filby less then 20 were made in total. Nick Rogers, who is a bit of an expert on these rare little beasts believes there may have been even less then that. But however many there were, an extremely rare Hornet/Elf based one has just resurfaced in Greece. Could it be the same car that Issigonis was photographed in?

Monday, 6 December 2010

Australian rarity

The more obscure cars are; the more I tend to like them. Well, not all, but for Mini derivatives that certainly goes. And the Australian Bulanti Mini definitely fits the bill.
The car was dreamt up by Brian Rawlings who had previously worked for other cottage car manufacturers Down Under but came up with his own Mini based sporty in 1971. The aluminium bodied prototype was featured in my book (as photographed by Craig Watson of Autofan fame), and can also be seen in this youtube movie.
However the production cars that followed came with a fibreglass body. 'Production' may be a bit of an exaggeration though, as manufacture was limited to only two more Bulantis! I particularly like Rawlings reasons for that as he was quoted: "It was just too much trouble. All the fiddly things like getting the noise down, doing the electrics and upholstery and one bloke wanting ashtrays in it, get you down." That's character.

But strangely I have never seen current pictures of the other two cars. One of these was being registered 'BAL 551' on New South Wales plates and featured in a couple of Australian magazines of the day. I spent a small fortune on Sports Car World magazines (it's particularly the postage to Europe that makes it hefty) but couldn't find any information on the third car. Who knows if these crazy little Aussies survive?
                                                             'BAL 551' in its heyday

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Mystery Mini derivative (3)

The Japanese like Mini derivatives. And I like the Japanese.
But what on earth could these sporty twins be?
They were spotted at a Mini event on Fuji Speedway a couple of years ago and I suspect them to be Mini based too.