Monday, 1 September 2014

Marcoses meet at Euregio 2014

It had been a decade since Marcoses united for the Euregio Meeting on the continent, but yesterday the event was revived after all these years. A string of Mini Marcoses, a few big Marcoses (Mantara and GTs) and some bonus cars (Pimlicos and Quantums) gathered in Holland's south. It was a gentle awakening of the event, but sunny weather, good location and cheerful spirit turned it into an altogether good revival. 

Richard Porter and Keith Rose came over from the UK to represent the British Mini Marcos Owners Club and there were one or two surprises - Aad van Beekum's freshly restored Mk3 Mini Marcos in the first place. Aad has owned the car for 17 years, but only just finished its restoration - a mammoth task he told, as it turned out it had been rolled in a previous life and roof and other body panels were badly crazed. Aad set himself to the task of perfectioning the body and drove it in resplendid silver grey colour for the first time. Another beautifully restored car was the 1600GT with Lotus crossflow head of Remco Bruins. No Mini power here, but no doubt a stunner. 

Remarkably, Aad's Mini Marcos is another car imported from the UK, as were 4 out of 5 other Mini Marcoses on Dutch plates attending. In recent times three cars originally sold to The Netherlands moved abroad - one to Germany, one to Finland and one to Belgium. A handful of cars, originally sold to Holland, remain within the borders, so hopefully we will see these at next year's Euregio Meeting.

 Frank Morskate's Le Mans replica stands out in between all that orange and red! 
Picture Jeroen Booij

More Mini Marcoses line up - remarkably, all of them originate from the UK
Picture Jeroen Booij

No Mini power, but Ed Darwinkel's Midas looks superb in gunmetal with 13" Revos
Picture Jeroen Booij

Frank told me several people have asked him if his (Mk3) Mini Marcos is the real deal!
Picture Jeroen Booij

Surprise of the event was Aad van Beekum's Mk3 - freshly finished after a meticulous restoration
Picture Jeroen Booij

Aad owns the car for 17 years but this was the very first drive he had in it!
Picture Jeroen Booij

Pimlicos were welcome, too. Surprisingly they live just miles apart in Holland's south
Picture Jeroen Booij

Way too beautiful not to include here: Remco Bruins' 'big' Marcos with 1600 Lotus power
Picture Jeroen Booij

Successful day in The Netherlands. The idea is to do the Euregio Meeting every year now
Picture Jeroen Booij

Friday, 29 August 2014

Hrubons are everywhere in France

So you like the Hrubon Phaeton a.k.a. Schmitt, which has been featured in Maximum Mini 2? Good news then, as a whole bunch of them has come up for sale in France recently. All in good condition and low mileage and very expensive, or so it seems. But if you have the money - why not pick one up and combine it with a late Summer holiday? I have made a list of all the ones I could find, with a most unusual Mini Moke, customized by Russian/Lithuanian tuner/coachbuilder Dartz as a bonus. With its ridiculously wide wheels I'm not sure if that's really a nice driver though...

Purple with a custom red leather interior - only in Monaco. Price on request. Ad here
Picture courtesy carandclassic

Not far from it, in Cannes, there's a blue one. Asking price 10,500 Euros. Ad here
Picture courtesy leboncoin

One in BRG is located in Paris - yours for a whopping 22.000 Euros. Ad here
Picture courtesy leboncoin

This one is in satin black is in Aucamville. Still not cheap at 15,000 Euros. Ad here
Picture courtesy leboncoin

Not a Hrubon, but a customized (coachbuilt?) Moke by Dartz: 12,200 Euros. Ad here
Picture courtesy leboncoin

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Mini makes maximum money - new owner speaks

You may have noticed that a Mini Beach car made a lot of money last week during a Bonhams auction in Monterey, California. The car - estimated at $70- 90,000 - was hammered down at no less than $165,000. With the 10% auction fee on top of that, it means somebody actually paid $181,500 for it. The highest price ever for a Mini? John Reymondos, who restored the Beach Car prototype told me: "I followed the sale with great interest. It is probably the most expensive Mini sold at auction. I think only a genuine Monte Carlo winning works car can go higher, or a Beatles/Steve McQueen Cooper 'S'." In fact, a works Mini did go slightly higher in 2007 when a 1964 Cooper 'S' sold for £100,500 - $168,081 at the time. With the auction premium on top of that it came at $184,889.

Quite a few people expressed their objection. I have read several comments on forums of people writing 'Stupidity and too much money' or 'It’s official – the world has gone mad'. On the other hand, at the same auction a Ferrari 250 GTO was hammered down at $38,115,000. That's over 38,1 million dollars - exactly 210 times as much as the Mini. Pocket money for some, it seems.

So who bought the Beach Car and why? I found out by chance when last week a chap from Florida ordered my new book, which describes the Beach Car, too. When I confirmed his order he came back to me, writing: "By the way, I am the crazy person who bought the Beach Car at the auction in Monterey. Yeah, I know...crazy money. What can I say?" He, too, had read the various comments on the web and added: "It seems people are judging me fairly harshly. I don't care what they think, but I would rather not have my name associated with these sentiments." That means I can only introduce him anonymously here. But I did ask him why he paid such a lot of money for the car, though. Did he hanker for a Beach Car for all of his life? He didn't: "I fell in love with the Beach Car the moment I saw it. My home in Florida is in a small community where there are a number of Fiat Jollies and Mini Mokes, and I have been close to buying one for some time. Then along came the Mini Beach Car. I knew I had to have it!"

Without knowing the car's exact background, the auction started. The anonymous and now anxious bidder told me: "The bidding was exciting. I told my friends we were definitely taking the car home, but when I dropped out of the bidding at around $100,000 they thought I was done. I think they were relieved! When I bid again at $155,000, they nearly fainted. I knew it was a multiple of what most people think the car is worth, but a few bidders clearly thought it was worth a lot more. I had to go one more tick to $165,000, but sometimes something is rare, unique, and special. Value and price are no longer set by a consensus, but by the most enthusiastic. In this case, I was the most enthusiastic, although some will say the most foolish. That's okay. Zipping along in the Mini on a warm winter day in Florida, how do you put a value on the grins and giggles?"

He's got a point there. The task is now to try and find out more about the car's history as it 'seems blurry at best', he says, adding: "We figured out in our research before the sale that Bonhams had some of the facts wrong, but we have had a hard time separating fact from fiction." I have already volunteered to help, and so has John Reymondos now. "Thank you for being the keeper of the flame", the new owner wrote. My pleasure mate. I can only be grateful that this great little car is now in the hands of somebody who clearly sees the value of it.

The Beach car in question, seen here at a recent car show in California
Picture courtesy Robert Forbes

Some features on the car are not correct. The new owner wants to put that right
Picture source unknown

Monday, 25 August 2014

Mystery closed coupe may become reality

It's been nearly three years since I posted about Andy Downes' modified Status Minipower chassis, which came with some intriguing scale drawings from a mystery company named ABH Design Group - see the article here. Andy has now sold the project to a friend who plans to finally finish the car - hopefully as the ABH it was one day meant to become. Andy wrote: "He is planning to sprint/hillclimb it, sharing it with his suspension guru and put it on the road. I’ve given him all the information and the drawings and also your details, I will keep an eye on it and send you some updates. We have worked out how the elegant gear linkage operates, and he has a log book to register it plus a 1275cc engine and box – he’s quite excited!"

"He likes the design for the ‘closed wedge’ body and is going to see about the possibility of getting it made, although it may become too expensive and end up as a ‘roadster’. He has now already partly dismantled the Minipower but has had to remove it from his business workshop as it is distracting him from his race-preparation work. Everyone who has seen it is very excited for him so hopefully it will finally get finished in the next couple of years…"

The Status Minipower chassis dates back to 1972 but has clearly been modified, too
Picture courtesy Andy Downes

And there it goes… The new owner may put it on the road as the planned closed car 
Picture courtesy Andy Downes

Design drawings for wedged closed coupe may turn into reality after 42 years
Picture courtesy Andy Downes

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Phoenix Estate is much rarer then you'd believe

Gee, have I been looking for a proper Phoenix Estate for a long time! Eventually I found one (63 built - full feature, including interview with its creator in new book) but it didn't prove easy. Imagine my surprise when Peter Bazley dropped me a line last week, with some pictures of a Phoenix in a fantastic looking condition. He wrote: "I thought you might be interested in a couple of photos of a Phoenix. It has been re-built by the father of the present user, and is used as a daily driver by her. The photos were taken on the Manchester Minis club stand at the recent classic car show at Tatton Park. Regards, Peter" Thanks mate!

Restored Phoenix is a rare car, especially in this condition. It's a daily driver, too
Picture courtesy Peter Bazley

Phoenix really is a clever car. And believe it or not: the design is by Richard Oakes!
Picture courtesy Peter Bazley

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The tale of the Mini powered Méan Sonora (3)

Some two years ago I tried to find out the whereabouts of a Mini powered Méan Sonora, built in an old Belgian castle. Despite ending up for a closed door when visiting the actual place, I found out something. I published the car's story in two articles - read part 1 here, part 2 here. But the question remained: What happened to the car. I wrote: "Perhaps somebody here will be able to tell?"

Now, we're almost two years ahead but that somebody has finally called in. It's Louis Lempereur who knew of the car for 30 years but only just managed to rescue it. He wrote the third part of a fascinating story and I am privileged to share it with you. This is what he wrote:

"I was born in Liège, Belgium in 1946 and when student, used to meet Jacques d'Heur, founder of Méan, in cafés downtown. Elie Boone, a friend from Brussels, owned a Méan Sonora since 1984. The car was waiting restoration in his garage. Having known Jacques, I was interested to buy this car, but despite several requests, Elie did not want to sell it. But at our early meeting last january, surprisingly, he told me the car was available. And so, we made the deal."

The car as Louis knew it. Derelict in Elie Boone's garden in 1984
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

This picture also dates back to 1984. The Mini engine is just visible
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

"This car had a Mini engine while most Sonoras were built with Cortina or Renault engines. I did not know about any Méan with a Mini engine and so I attempted some research on the internet and found the Maximum Mini reports. I could not believe what I was reading! Promising a special car for a show and forgetting about it, then building one in five days, the story is so typical for Jacques!"

"While looking more carefully at the pictures from the Maximum Mini site and those I got from Elie, I could say the car from the site is the one I found. The tyres are the same, also the steering wheel, the little radiator (not from a Mini ) next to the engine… The car sits very high on its wheels because the gearbox linkage runs, unprotected, under the chassis. Some parts of the body still have the original silver colour. It was really nice to see pictures from my car when it was new at the Méan 'factory'!" Thanks to the Maximum Mini report, I also learned about Daniel Dodeur, who I knew before as we ran the 2CV 24H race at Spa together in 2007. He now runs the Méan register. See their web site for more info here"

"When the car arrived home, I could see the very bad state it was in. The chassis was completely rotten and needed replacement. While searching for a local company to rebuild it, I met with several people who had worked with Jacques while they were young. Always a happy experience! Some of them worked as students during their holidays and were not really qualified for the job, which explains some of the bad workmanship. While cleaning the Mini subframe I found it was badly repaired probably because the donor Mini purchased in the scrap yard was damaged! The subframe is also mounted tilted in the chassis - for some specific reason or due to emergency?"

The Mini powered Méan Sonora as Louis bought it earlier this year - all complete...
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

… but chassis is well-rotten and needs lots of work. The right men have been found now
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

Welding appears to have been done in a hurry - well, the car was built in 5 days...
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

The interior seems surprisingly well kept and original - note Mini key fob!
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

The Méan's full reconstruction has now started - this is just prior to taking it apart
Picture courtesy Louis Lempereur

"Searching for good parts, I ended up having dismounted the car completely. I am now heading for a complete reconstruction. On the Mean website, there is a picture of a Sonora taken in Monaco. My target is to go there with my car and take the same picture. But that will be another story!" Keep us posted Louis, you are a star contender for Find of the Year!

Picture of Méan Sonora in Monaco has inspired Louis to go there once finished
Picture courtesy Mean Motor Engineering

What a spot! Taken during the Monaco Grand Prix of - we think - 1969
Picture courtesy  Mean Motor Engineering

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Minimach GT launch pictures emerge

Last week, I received a wonderful message from Francesco Gasparini of Italy. Francesco is a Maximum Mini fan with a soft spot for that unusual Italian Unipower GT clone - the ESAP Minimach GT. In fact, he was there with his father when the car was launched in 1968 and had lunch with all the people involved. He always kept the original press kit with its official pictures in it that he was handed over that day, and now sent over some copies of them - I'd never seen these before.

I saw the car back in 2007 and interviewed the daughter of Gianfranco Paduan, who designed the Minimach and built it before he was being kept from marketing it by both Universal Power Drives as well as the Italian authorities - a fascinating story. I understand from Francesco that the car is still in the hands of the same owner as it was back at the time, but it's awaiting restoration right now. Thanks very much Francesco, for sharing your pictures and stories!

Lunchtime  during the official Minimach launch. Francesco and his dad on the right
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Press pack of 1968 Minimach GT - 'For the gentlemen invited'
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

One of the official press pictures - note double springs for tough road conditions (e.g. Targa Florio)
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Rectangular headlights were one of many modifications from the basic Unipower design
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Left hand driven but no gear lever in the door sill; Minimach had ordinary gear lever
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Note sweeping lines over the car's totally new body. Rear is completely different, too
Picture courtesy Francesco Gasparini 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

More period shots of vanished Landar R7

Roger Simpson has some more information and pictures on the Landar R7 that was owned by Frank Aston in the early 1970s - previously described here as 'The Landar that disappeared' - see here. And he is happy to share it, too. He wrote: "Please find pictures of the Landar R7 Driven by Derek Lloyd at Shelsley Walsh in the early 1970s. One picture is of the start and the other is taken at the bottom 'S' of the hill. Derek drove this car at Shelsley, Loton, Prescott and Curborough for about 3 seasons. This is the Frank Aston car which was modified over the seasons by Derek Lloyd. Regards, Roger."

That Landar R7 again, driven in anger. Now indeed at Shelsley Walsh
Picture courtesy Roger Simpson

The car was owned by Frank Aston, then by Derek Lloyd who races it here
Picture courtesy Roger Simpson

Friday, 1 August 2014

Eddie Collins shares some anecdotes

A while ago, I got in touch with Eddie Collins. What John Cooper was for the Mini’s performance, Eddie Collins was for its sheer opulence and celebrity appeal since he became the managing director of Radford coachbuilders and later for Wood & Pickett. I asked him to do an interview and so we met on a sunny day to dig out some tales about coachbuilt Minis.

About his first visit to Radford's Hammersmith workshop as a young apprentice: “I saw a magic world there, filled with all the cars I’d read about. I remember they’d just finished the motor show, so there was a lot going on at the time. They had the Mini De Ville there and a very, very nice Ford based car they’d built for Stirling Moss. There had been Rolls-Royces with cocktail cabinets and all sorts of uprates before, there had been shooting brakes and one-off coupes. But the new owners saw it as a way to start a new venture in a different class. And the Mini was the car they went for.”

About The Beatles: “I’d heard of them but they did nothing to me. Apart from traditional Irish music I was more into Rock ‘n Roll. But I knew Brian Epstein, who was their manager, and we teamed up. I remember them as four geeky guys, but we started building a car for George Harrison and he was a real car enthusiast. It was good fortune as it took off from there.”

About the Wood & Pickett Mini Margrave they built for Linda McCartney: "That car was fairly strange. She wanted a ‘snogging seat’ in it, so what we did was make some sort of bench. She wanted it in a very light metallic purply paint, I remember it was called ‘Commanchee’, with a light leather with black velvet facings. It was great.”

If you want to read the complete story, you'll have to buy Mini Magazine, which published it in their current Summer issue.

Eddie Collins, 75 years young now, spritely and full of great tales 
Picture Jeroen Booij

The very first Radford Mini 'Magnifique', seen here at the 1963 London Motor Show
Picture courtesy Eddie Collins

The Radford Carabus and it's colour coded Mini hatchback were described here before
Picture courtesy Eddie Collins

A press moment with Mike 'The Monkees' Nesmith and his Radford Mini (more here)
Picture courtesy Eddie Collins

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Reader's cars: Chris' Townscars little and large

Chris Thomas, who runs the magazine for the Register of Unusual Microcars appears to be a fan of Mini based cars, too. He wrote to me about the soft spot he has for William Towns' creations: "I had liked the look of the Aston Martin Lagonda, but it was well out of my price range. But a Hustler perhaps not. I could understand his design logic and liked what I saw. He was my kind of car designer. Being tall I always had problems finding small cars that fitted me. I remember going to the 1974 Motor show and going onto each stand and trying the drivers seat. It was the same routine. Wait my turn, get in, run the seat right back, lower the seat if it could, and then raise the steering column if it could, and then set the seat back angle if it could. In the total show only two cars allowed me to sit in the right position, that allowed me to touch my knees together under the steering wheel, and one was the latest Hustler. By this time I had a Renault 5, which for short journeys was okay, but after a drive down to Italy I got out looking like a gorilla that had just swung in through the trees. Never again would I drive with my knees around my ears, hunched under a low roof. One day at work I spotted in the local paper a Hustler for sale. I rang, and after work dashed down to look at it. Immediately, I recognised it as being the Hustler from the motor show back in 1974. I had to have it."

"When I got it home I went over it with a keen eye discovering all those little impracticalities that do not matter on a show car, like the door locks did not work, and it was almost impossible to get into the back seats, and getting into reverse gear was difficult as the drivers seat was too wide, and so the list went on. With my rudimentary skills, learnt in school metalwork classes, I managed to make them work after a fashion. Once on the road I discovered why the last owner wished to sell it. On tight corners and roundabouts, it would suddenly learch sideways in the opposite direction to that you wanted to travel in. Very disconcerting. I soon worked out that the Hydrolastic suspension at the rear was connected across the car rather than front to back. So as the load on the off side wheels went up, so it pumped the fluid across to the near side wheels so pushing that side up further, making it feel like it was about to roll over. By reconnecting the fluid connections together on each side, it now handled very well.
I took it to several car shows, and had some fun driving there and back. Cars would slow down on the motorways for a good look, and the kids in the back would change from bored to smiling and give a big thumbs up, or a wave. I even has a Ferrari F40 owner slow down and have a good look. It is not often you turn a Ferrari owners head."

Chris' Hustler Huntsman 6. No doubt it's a William Towns design in all its glory
Picture courtesy Chris Thomas

"Our local garage owner, who had MOT'd my Hustler a few times, told me there was another one like this on a farm near by, and the owner wanted to sell it. I shot down after work to see it and found it was not a Hustler but an Elswick Envoy, but not just any Elswick, it wore chassis number 1. I had to have it. Having fallen in love with all William Towns designed, to let this one go would be a sin. The story goes that a bunch of friends had bought the Elswick for a friend who was about to retire, and thought it would be fun to present him with an invalid carriage at his birthday party, and this was the only one for sale at the time. On the day of the retirement party it was driven into his back garden and given to him, to much hilarity amongst the inebriated friends. The new owner promptly tried to drive it around his garden using the hand controls, and very nearly crashed it. By this time his mood was rather tired and emotional, and he gave the car back to the so called friends and the party died. The rejected present sat for a few weeks before I heard about it."

"When the trailer arrived at my house with the Elswick onboard, I bravely reversed it off, and proceeded to manoeuvre it onto my driveway. Having never used hand controls before, I found it a major challenge. I have driven motorbikes and scooters, mopeds and automatics, but an Elswick with hand controls was one step beyond what my brain could cope with. With some pushing from neighbours we parked it, and I set about working out what would need doing to it. The main rusty item was all the rear suspension, which was a mini rear subframe with the middle removed, and a thick steel plate welded onto the bottom. All the Mini subframe part had rusted badly. So it all had to come out and a new mini subframe modified and welded to the thick steel plate, hot zinc sprayed and then immersed in a bath of Hammerite paint. All done and re-installed, next was the bodywork, grinding out the cracks and reinforcing the back, filling and sanding ready for a respray. That was until I looked at the rear door and realised water had seeped in, and the metal reinforcement inside that the window frame it was welded to, was all rusty and would all need replacing and bonding in. At that point I decided it may be better to buy a new rear door from a scraped Elswick. Could I find one? No! Since that day it has sat hand in hand with the Hustler under a big tarpaulin on my driveway."

"Over the years my confidence, eyesight, and patience with car repairs, have all waned. I became more involved with microcars and editing Rumcar News, running my own small company, and trying to loose weight. Now is the time to admit to myself that I will never drive them again, and it would be better for everybody if I sell them to somebody with the skills and passion for them. I did at one time toy with converting the Hustler into an electric car, installing the batteries between the four rear wheels, and mounting the electric motor where the Metro engine is, and adding as many PV panels to the upper part of the body as possible. Being as the panels are all flat, that should not have been too difficult. But like everything else it stayed as an idea. Now that I am in my dotage, I may need an invalid carriage one day. So should I keep the Elswick? No! I will just get my wife to drive me everywhere."

And his Elswick Envoy, wearing chassis number 1. He may be tempted to sell...
Picture courtesy Chris Thomas