Sunday, 30 June 2013

Radford's crazy Carabus

Some months ago I received an interesting message from Emilio Seoane from Spain. Emilio owns no less than three Authi Minis, but that was not the reason for getting in touch. He wrote: "Hi Jeroen. I have a Mini-related question for you (not quite a Mini-conversion, but you'll see). Years ago Readers' Digest magazine published an article on the Mini. I think it was in 1969 (maybe June, July or August). When I was a kid I read the Spanish translation (published in Argentina); they mentioned that someone had commisioned a coachbuilder to build a luxury conversion of a bus into a big camper with its own garage... and you guessed it: the car in the garage was a Mini, which would be used as a 'tender' for local trips. Have you ever heard of this particular set of vehicles? Have they survived? Any information? I think Radford (or Crayford?) get mentioned in the article as the coachbuilder in question, but I may be wrong. Somehow I have the idea it was a London-style double-decker bus, but can't say for sure. I would love to hear from your and your thoughts about this matter." Now that was one cool lead. Unfortunately I didn't know anything about it at all. But that was just a matter of time. In fact, I found out more this weekend. Quite a lot more.

The 'Transcontinental Carabus Mk2' was indeed built by Harold Radford Coachbuilders Limited as early as in 1965. It was based on an AEC Reliance bus and came - among many, many more gadgets - with power assisted steering and brakes, a 6-speed synchromesh gearbox, hydraulically operated passenger lift, electric windows with mosquito blinds and sunblinds, double aircraft type seats - fully adjustable and rotating, stereo radio, record player and tape recorder, electric stove with oven and top grille, sink with hot and cold water, a dishwasher, two refrigerators, two toilets, a shower, settees which opened out into two bunks, a roller sun canopy extending over the length of the vehicle, a hydraulic platform high enough to enable one to look over the roof for photography and another platform to raise a Mini, folding from a back door. It came at £25,000 in 1965 and I wonder if Radford ever sold one. (a Mk1 perhaps?). My friends at British Pathe have a lovely little movie about it - in full technicolor (click here). 

Now, the Mini that can be seen with and in the Carabus is painted in the same colour and wears a twin registration number (the bus is FWA 99C; the Mini FWA 98C). There's also a sign on the rear saying 'Disabled driver - no hand signals'. But the really interesting bit is that it is a rare hatchback conversion - I reckon one that was carried out by Radford's too, who had the opening tailgate plus folding rear backseat on offer for £360 in 1966. Not too many survivors are known, and with 1965 as the year of launching the Carabus this one has to be one very early conversion, too. According to the DVLA database the Carabus in question is no longer with us. The Mini, however, can still be found in their files. It is registered as a Morris Cooper S of 1965 which was still on the road in 1985 - in black. Anyone out here who knows where it is now?

The Carabus was based on an AEC Reliance bus and came at a whopping £ 25,000
Jeroen Booij archive
Stop please. The Mini is a coachbuilt Morris Cooper S with rare hatchback conversion
Jeroen Booij archive
Coachbuilt Mini and coachbuilt bus are nicely colour coded. Honolulu Blue I think. 
Picture courtesy British Pathe
This rare Mini was on the road until 1985, and is currently registered as being black
Picture courtesy British Pathe

Hatchback is probably a Radford conversion, too. It has to be one of the earliest
Jeroen Booij archive

Friday, 28 June 2013

Spoiler alert

We've seen spoiler sets and body kits on plenty of Mini derivatives. Unipowers, MayasMini MarcosesOgles and even a DeJoux didn't escape to the hands of the add-on scene. But on a Foers Nomad? That was new to me. This one is currently for sale and the seller states it is unique. Apparantly lots of work was carried out on it recently by Minispeed in Byfleet, but it's unknown whether they were responsible for the unusual arches and spoilers. The owner says it is one of only 600 Nomads ever made since 1969, but John Foers didn't start building them anytime before 1977 and didn't build quite as many. In fact, he confirmed to me the total number built is 164. This one is on 1969 plates though and certainly looks to be the only one of its kind. See the ad here. Thanks Małgorzata Czaja for the tip!

A Foers Nomad but not as we know it. Anyone who recognizes the body kit?
Picture courtesy ebay.co.uk 
It looks like a nice example though. The engine is a 1275 of 1995-vintage
Picture courtesy ebay.co.uk


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Mystery Mini derivative (34)

Did you see the Jimini 2 on eBay last week? Perhaps not as it only made a very brief appearance and was sold for the asking price right after it got on there. No surprise as it looked to be in excellent order and seemed cheap to me at 1,500 GBP. It had a good story, too. According to the seller "it was built in 1982 from a Mini pickup and first registered for the road in 1984. The owner used the car for two summers and then locked it away in his garage for 26 years until July 2012 when I acquired it. Apart from the upgrades and recommissioning, it is exactly as I bought it, including some 26 year old dust!" Who bought it?

Of course there is nothing mysterious about the Jimini. However, it's military appearance made me think of a true mystery Mini derivative. Other than that it is called a 'Mini Jeep' I do not know anything about that one. It looks pretty much home grown with its boxy shapes, odd proportions and ill-fitting roof but I'm quite sure I have seen another in yellow. Could it ever have been commercialised?


Excellent Jimini 2 looked like new. It sold last week for 1,500 GBP. A steal if you ask me
Picture courtesy ebay.co.uk

It made me think of this 'Mini Jeep'. It may look home-grown but I think more were made 
Picture Jeroen Booij archive


Monday, 24 June 2013

freshly finished Mini Marcos Mk1 goes to auction

A desirable early Mini Marcos will make it to the market in another month time. The car in question has just been built - and in this case it actually was for the very first time! The unused blue shell was purchased some years ago by Rory McMath of Marcos Heritage after being found in a Chester barn. It had never been registered and had never been messed with, so all the right Mk1 features were still left intact. It took McMath and his team a while to turn it into a roadworthy car, but now it is finally finished in a light blue colour and ready to go with 848cc engine. The car will be auctioned by H&H on the 24 of July, and is estimated to make £ 12,000 - 14,000. See the full description here.

Mk1 Mini Marcos as it was found (top) and as it was finished recently (below)
Picture Jeroen Booij (top); Marcos Heritage (bottom)

All the right features for a Mk1 car, including the extruding petrol filler cap and 'notched' arches
Picture Jeroen Booij (left); Marcos Heritage (right)

Friday, 21 June 2013

Looking for Le Mans' works mechanic (1)

It's Le Mans 24-hours this weekend again, and I have a feeling Audi may buy win the title again. No news there, so let's go back to Le Mans chequered past once again, trying to dig up some more information from the golden days of Minis at Le Mans.

One thing that intrigued me for ages was a name that was on the left hand side wing of the 1967 Mini Marcos works racer. In fact there were four names, of which three are well-known as the car's drivers (Jem Marsh, Chris Lawrence and Tim Lalonde). But below these a mechanic was named, too, and I wondered who that could be. Unfortunately there appeared to be not one photo clear enough to figure out. And so, when Sparks came with a model of the car I was eager to buy it. These models are so detailed - I was convinced it would have the name written out on it's tiny 1:43 scale wing. And it had. When I put a magnifier on it I could make out 'Max Frentlin'. Great! Or was it? It didn't help a thing and I couldn't find any lead to a mechanic named Frentlin at all. Blast.

But then came my friend Alexander Trimmel from Vienna. Alexander had an original picture of the car in the paddock. A picture I'd only seen in a small format, printed in a French newspaper before. But this one was big, and all four names could be read clearly from it. Alexander made my day. Marsh, Lawrence and Lalonde, were there. As was the mechanic's name - not 'Max Frentlin' but 'Mike Treutlein'. I'm sure that, like me, Sparks' model makers were unable to identify it from the pictures known and thus made up a name that looked like the one that could vagualy be seen in these photograps.

Anyway: now that I knew the mecahanic's name, it was a matter of finding out if mister Treutlein was still about. To cut a long story short - he was. When in the UK some weeks ago I found him on an old airfield in Bedfordshire, where he still works on cars to this day. Classic cars now. Mike turned out to be a very nice man. What he told me? That's for the next time.

Well-known picture of the car at speed. But mechanic's name was impossible to be read from it
Picture Jeroen Booij archive
There it was in a 1:43 scale: 'Max Frentlin'. But Sparks made that name up and was wrong
Picture Jeroen Booij
This picture from a French paper eventually lead to the clue when the original photograph was found
Picture Jeroen Booij archive
We've got him. Not Max Frentlin, but Mike Treutlein. Thanks to Alexander Trimmel
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

'Brian Epstein Mini' resurfaces (UPDATED: not Epstein!)

Coachbuilt Minis may have the strange habit to vanish but every now and then one does resurface. Reader Pete Flanagan (who sends in fascinating nuggets regularly) just briefed me about his latest find. He wrote: "I discovered an interesting Radford Mini in a barn a while ago and after some research it transpires that the car was once owned by Brian Epstein. Brian's company ordered the car (a red 998 Cooper) from Car Mart of Ealing in September 1965 and between that date and late 1966 when it was passed on to George Harrison's brother Peter, it was converted by Radford to a Mini de Ville GT. Peter Harrison kept the car until 1971, shortly before he moved down to London with his wife to help look after George's estate. Despite extensive research on Beatles Minis I have found no proof that Epstein ever used the Mini nor any of the Beatles but it's probably as close to a Beatles Mini as you can get without actually being one!" Well, well, thanks again Pete! A bit more about the Beatles Minis here, and John Lennon's (still missing...) in particular here. Oh! And if you want to own Pete's discovery, registered FGO 592C, have a look here.

UPDATE 28 June 2013: There is some news on the car, again via Pete: "After further research it transpires that it's unlikely that Epstein ever personally owned this Radford because according to Pauline Harrison she and Peter ordered the car from Earls Court Motor Show and it was merely purchased through Epstein's company at a discounted price, as many other non-Beatles associated cars were. They bought it new and probably didn't change the name on the logbook until some months later. The car is ex-Peter Harrison via Brian Epstein Automobiles to be completely correct but obviously Epstein's indirect association with it is being milked to the max by the auction house to fluff up the value ! There is no proof anywhere that this car was ever owned by Epstein himself and Pauline is sure he never did." Thanks again pal!

UPDATE 1 July 2013: Despite the dubious claim, the car did sell at auction with the hammer coming down at £22,000. That is approximately £26,000 including the buyers premium. The car is going to be restored.

Reappearing Radford is linked with The Beatles - somehow. Interior comes in 'Surf Blue'!
Picture courtesy Pete Flanagan

TransXL's less famous Mini powered racer

Looking up some pictures of the infamous TransXL Mini Marcos lately (the 390kgs lightweight car that won the Modsport championship twice and also set four land speed records under TransXL sponsorship) - I came across this fascinating shot of the car with TransXL boss Jack Napper and his wife Beryl, together with an unknown couple; the Mini Marcos, plus behind them the Mini powered TransXL Davrian Mk7. I'd almost forgotten about that one, while it definitely is a very fascinating car, too. 
From what I understand is that TransXL's talented driver Steven Roberts took the 1460 cc engine from his famous Mini Marcos (a Mk3) and bolted it into a brand new 1979 Davrian Mk7. He continued to raced it under TransXL sponsorship from 1980 to 1984 and entered nearly a hundred races in it during that time. Strangely, and contrary to Robert's earlier Marcos, I do not have too much documentation about it. All the historical pictures that I did find in the files are reproduced below, plus one shot of the car as it is now, owned by the wonderful Chris Griffiths. Chris bought it in 1989 to become its 4th owner. It has never been road registered and has only ever had an A-series engine fitted. These days it still comes with a 1460, now with split 48 DCOE's and a Jack Knight 5-speed gearbox and limited slip diff. Both historically as currently a fantastic car.


Jack and Beryl Napper with unknown couple in between them. Plus both TransXL race cars
Picture Jeroen Booij archive
The TransXL Davrian where it could be seen most of the time when not racing: in the paddock 
Picture Jeroen Booij archive
Steve Roberts was succesful with the Davrian, but became famous racing his Mini Marcos
Picture Jeroen Booij archive
The car as it is today, still with 1460 Mini power, here being unloaded by Chris Griffiths
Picture Jeroen Booij

Monday, 17 June 2013

Rallying a Cox GTM

We've seen an odd rally car come by here (click) - here's another. Yep, that's a Cox GTM rallied in the mid-1970s by Tim and Nick Porter. Hang on, it could be a Heerey GTM, too, I'm not sure. Anyway: the Porter's weren't doing bad with their little Gran Turismo Mini, coming fifth overall in the Somerset Stages rally in 1977. The car came with a 1293cc engine with inclined valves and head of around 130 bhp. It used a straight cut gearbox with drop gears and was bought in Edinburgh where it had previously been rallycrossed..! Oh! And the good news is that it survives to this day.

Rallying a Cox GTM, here at a stage at the Cricket St. Thomas estate in 1977
Picture courtesy gtmdrivers.com
Over the bridge and straight left. Thundering along country lanes was never cooler
Picture courtesy gtmdrivers.com
'YRM 675 J' survives to this day. Not sure if it is a Cox or Heerey GTM though
Picture courtesy ebay.co.uk
Arches were seriously widened. Please do not put a motorbike engine in it
Picture courtesy ebay.co.uk

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Good looking could-have-been: the MG Wasp

Avid readers know I squeeze in an 1100 based car here every now and than as there have been some groovy designs based on these cars, too. Remember this one? Or this one here? And how about this? Time for another one now: the MG Wasp. If that's a model you have never heard of - don't worry. In fact the Wasp was a project car by American motoring magazine Sports Car Graphic in 1964, which I don't think ever got finished. The idea was to follow the car's built in a series of articles, starting in February 1964. It was followed up in the next month's issue but faded into obscurity after that. A tubular chassis was made though and was supposed to carry a standard and mid-mounted 1100 engine plus one very good looking body. The idea was to start up a small production line and sell them for 3,000 dollars. I don't think it ever got that far, but it would be nice if someone knew for sure...

The 1100 based MG Wasp by sports Car Graphic. Did it only exist on paper?
Picture courtesy Sports Car Graphic magazine
Cutaway drawing shows chassis and suspension nicely. Plus 1100 A-series
Picture courtesy Sports Car Graphic magazine

MG Wasp was supposed to have an 85" wheelbase, 43.6" height and weight of 900lbs
Picture courtesy Sports Car Graphic magazine

Monday, 10 June 2013

The third Australian Mini Coupe

You may have heard of the Buckle Monaco - a fastback version of the good old Mini that was built in Brookvale, Australia between 1966 and 1967. And there was the Ecurie de Dez, too, a car of a similar coupe concept and also Australian, this time built in Salisbury South bewteen 1969 and 1970. Two cars alike. Would there be place for a third? It seems like someone at least thought so. I never found out more about the exploits of 'Automotive Refabrication Pty. Ltd.', other then the 1967 ad which you can see here. But I came across another picture of what I believe to be the same car more recently. The remarkable thing is that, like Buckle, this company was based in Brookvale, too. As a matter of fact it was just around the corner from Bill Buckle's workshop, or so Google Maps learned me. So was it a competitor who believed he could get a piece of the pie, too? Perhaps even an ex-Buckle employee who started on his own? Or was it somebody who decided to carry on with the project in 1967 after Buckle finished it..?

Not Buckle Monaco nor Ecurie de Dez. This is a third Australian Mini Coupe
Picture courtesy Australian Hot Rod magazine

Air vents in c-post and boot with no number plate recess distinguishes it easily from others
picture courtesy oldholden.com

Friday, 7 June 2013

Please keep these cars alive!

In the last few weeks I have come across some sad advertisements. Advertisements for rare cars, or what was left of them. There was one for a Phoenix (the rare all-fibreglass estate designed by ex-Lotus man Paul Hausauer), one of an Elswick Envoy (the Mini based disabled car that was born out of a William Towns - of Aston Martin fame - concept) plus one of a mystery Moke lookalike, probably a one-off.
What all of these had in common is that I'd seen them before - these particular ones I mean. And all of them not too long ago and in a considerable better shape. I'm fearing their mechanicals were robbed to provide a far duller standard Mini with them. A bloody shame if you ask me. Please stop killing these rare Mini derivatives!

Rare Phoenix Estate looked to be in a show condition only a few years ago
But look at it now. All that's left is a shell for which so far there are no takers
Mystery Moke lookalike like it appeared in 2011. It needed work but was complete
Somebody put an awfull lot of work in it, but this is all that is left of it now 

Nice Elswick Envoy. The paint had faded but it was all complete and running
Together with a sister car it was offered last week in a totally derelict state

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Unipower on road and track

Do we need an excuse to post another period picture of a Unipower GT? Of course we don't. In fact, I came across two cool shots of the 'Mini Miura' recently, so why not post both of them? First is supposedly taken in London in 1966. The car clearly is a works demonstrator, with its UPD 1000 registration, and I understand the photographer snapping it is a famous one, too. Who can confirm this? Secondly, there is the photograph of a car in action. This one was taken during the 6-hour race of Barcelona in April 1968. The car was raced there by Jaime De Agustin and Esteban Barrachina who'd both did the 6-hour race in a Mini Cooper the previous year. Unfortunately they didn't finish the GT. Could it be same car that was later raced in and around Barcelona by local boy Miquel Brunells (click)?

London 1966. Universal Power Drive's demonstrator is posing willingly for famous snapper
Picture: Press Association Images
Two years later, a sister car is driven hard in the Spanish 6-hour race in Barcelona
Picture courtesy Manolo Serrano Caso