Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Silcoates Ascender and Mini Mouse mysteries found

Time for some mystery and intrigue, as this is a strange story about some cars, which even the original builder cannot fully explain!

When you've read Maximum Mini 3 you may remember the Cream Cracker, the Silcoates Ascender and the Silcoates Blue Car - all three cars built for the BP Buildacar design competition in the 1980s by students of Silcoates prep school in Yorkshire and all under the guidance of teacher Les Brown.

Well... The Ascender was taken over by one of the students and used regularly by him until recently when he decided to sell it. I got in touch with Les some years ago, he told me some great tales and sent me some great photographs. One of them showed the Ascender at the Silcoates school where it was joined by the 'Mini Mouse'. Not a Mini derivative, but another one of Les' fun projects. He wrote: "The Mini Mouse used racing go-kart parts with a Mini-style fibreglass body. The engine came from a 125cc Honda Spacey scooter, electric start, water cooled, full working electrics etc. Appeared on TV several times, terrific fun with power slides possible at the touch of the throttle. Too much fun, in fact it was stolen from out of it's garage." It was not included in any of the books, as it is of course not a Mini derivative, but I liked the little thing anyway.

Over to last summer when I visited Peter and Paul at Seventies Car Restorations, who are working on my Marcos and who also showed me some of their own projects. When Peter told me he had an Ascender in the garden, you bet I was interested. I knew supposedly just one was made - the yellow and black one. But Peter's example was red. And when he showed it to me it certainly seemed he was right about it being an Ascender! How was that possible? Things got even stranger when Paul took me to his place the next day to show one of his projects when under a tarpaulin came the body of... a Mini Mouse! Now, what was that?

I contacted Les Brown, writing: "I believed there was just one Ascender made, but to my own unbelief I bumped into another (unfinished) one last August. Only to bump into the shell of a Mini Mouse the next day on another address! Can you believe this? I’m sure you’ll know more about them?"

Les came back to me with the following: "Hi Jeroen. This is a strange. Well, I'm not sure I DO know what's going on! I built a Mini trike around 1975 from a 1962 Cooper that had rusted past economic repair at that time - 653 UMA. I kept as much as I could of the original Mini, and the car couldn't believe its luck when completed! All that weight gone, just 3 wheels to turn, and it absolutely flew! The red car looks substantially what I had done, though it still had a Mini floor pan originally. I sold it around 1990 to one of the students who had worked on the cars and I knew he decided to 'improve' on certain aspects of the design that he didn't approve of. My chassis was not symmetrical as I used a standard Mini rear arm, which meant the tubes were offset to follow the new load paths as far as possible. He started to make a new (symmetric) chassis which looked very heavy to me, but I thought the whole lot had been abandoned and scrapped years ago. I certainly made the front end that you see, and possibly some of the surviving chassis is mine also. Just to avoid confusion, I painted them all different colours, and the one we knew as "Ascender" was essentially a development of the red car. It does still exist and was down around the Devon area in the last 12 months, though this also had now lost the original '653 UMA'."

"The other is even more puzzling. The 'Mouse' worked very well also, though it had to be narrowed a little from the original racing go-Kart spec. But it still went like stink, and I suspect it would have blown off most full-sized Minis with its 12bhp Honda engine. Is this one still around? It clearly looks to have been moulded from the original shell, and I had once thought myself of selling such items. But it isn't the original, which was moulded using some blue pigment that we had lying around at the time. The interesting thing here - I sold the Mouse to another of the students but it was subsequently stolen from his garage! So, the crucial thing is, did he take a mould off BEFORE it disappeared or is it the work of someone else? The originals of each car were in the Huddersfield/Wakefield area.
The Mini was something that just cried out for a kit - are you up to speed on the made-in-Chile examples? They aren't really kits at all, but I couldn't leave them, or the GRP MG 1300s out of the book either. Wouldn't mind one now, actually..."

I've brought Les in touch with Peter and Paul, but if anyone can shed more light on this matter here...

Silcoates prep school, early 1980s. The Mini Mouse on the left, the Ascender on the right
Picture Les Brown / Jeroen Booij archive

And that's the Silcoates Ascender more recently, when it was offered for sale
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Original registration '653 UMA' is gone, but there is no doubt this is the real deal
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

But then we found this... Supposedly a forerunner that was believed to have been scrapped
Picture Jeroen Booij

It was probably the car built by Brown in '76 using a Mini Cooper powertrain
Picture Jeroen Booij

And then this! The stolen Mini Mouse produced some offspring, or so it seemed
Picture Jeroen Booij

It seems never to have been finished. But was it made before or after the Mouse got stolen?
Picture Jeroen Booij

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