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

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Mystery Mini derivative (48)

Today's Mystery Mini derivative is not exactly a variant that's ready to roll, but this chassis is clearly meant to be built up with A-series mechanicals. The subframes are there. They are joined by a round tube space frame that's been built as a single seater. It's not a Terrapin though and unfortunately there is no further information. So... who knows more on this one?

UPDATE 13:30 Alastair Brown writes: "It was on Ebay a year or 2 back. There were a couple of other pretty crappy photos, and I think it looked like a '60s F3 or early Formula Ford chopped about pretty crudely to take the Mini frames, which would have done nothing beneficial for either its structural integrity or weight. At a guess it would be for grass tracking? If memory serves me right, it was in France?"

This mystery single seater was clearly meant to be Mini based. But that's all we know
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Monday, 8 January 2018

Le Mans Mini Marcos project: a real component car

I told you I've been hoarding parts in the last couple of months! Well, today I loaded all of them in the daily driver to go to the photo studio nearby (ahem!). There I took these pictures of what the sum of them looks like. Not even all of it is in it, as wind screen, door rubbers and loom didn't look particularly well in the picture.
But most of the bits and pieces that proved so hard to find have been traced by now. Among them all five Marchal parking lights, the ultra-rare Cibie concaved headlights and that dreaded petrol filler cap that was a total mystery for such a long time. The tank itself has been restored as have the magnesium wheels, while the Sprinzel seats have now been retrimmed beautifully. Now, let's see if we manage to bolt all of them on in 2018!

A Mini Marcos is the sum of its parts. Some of them proved a real pain to track down though
Picture Jeroen Booij

Sorry, I couldn't resist to take a seat here and use the camera's self-timer
Picture Jeroen Booij

From wheels nuts to stickers - the Le Mans car comes with many obscure parts
Picture Jeroen Booij

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Stimson Scorcher survivor

Mini based vehicles keep on coming out of the woodwork, so let's start the year with a real oddity. How about a rare Stimson Scorcher three-wheeler that survives time just nicely? It is owned by Jason Betts and his Scorcher dates back to June 1977 and seems to come with all the bells and whistles of the time. The 100mph (!) three-seater comes with added motorcycle top-box and saddlebags, so it may only seat two now, though.

Is it a car? Is it a bike? Is it a lawnmower? No, it's a Stimson Scorcher
Picture Jason Betts

Front splitter was optional. And unlike this one, some Scorchers came with a bonnet too
Picture Jason Betts

Gas pedal and brake on the right, clutch on the left, handbrake in the middle
Picture Jason Betts

The Scorcher originally came with a fourth wheel at the back as a spare; this one uses saddlebags
Picture Jason Betts

Monday, 1 January 2018

Happy 2018!

May I wish you all of the best for the New Year? Some exciting projects are on their way, so who knows what we may see back on the roads or tracks in 2018? Meanwhile, Dame Margot Fonteyn's coachbuilt Mini was chosen by you as the Best Find of 2017 (only just with one more vote than the number two Brickette single seat racer from Australia), so congratulations to the new owner who purchased the car in an auction last October (and who I do not know!). This year's Christmas Puzzle saw just two players (come on guys!), with Neil Kilbane once again triumphing. Neil, let me know if you'd like another book or if I can do something else to you. By the way: do you know the answer to the tie break question..?

Maximum Mini Find of 2017: Dame Margot Fonteyn in her coachbuilt Mini. Although not sure, it is believed that Hooper carried out the conversion to the car. Who owns it now? 
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

UPDATE: Car now fully recommissioned and cleaned and bound to make it to the NEC restoration show in March this year. Owner now also known (but wishes to remain anonymous)
Picture via Bill Bell

Monday, 25 December 2017

Maximum Mini Christmas puzzle 2017

Since 2010 you can find the traditional Christmas puzzle here, so this is number 8. The theme for this year: rear ends. Below you can see a selection of 25 of them and he or she who knows the full name of all of them wins. There is a tie break question below in case more then one competitor come up with the right answers. The first who has them all right wins a copy of Maximum Mini 2 or 3. Send your answers via the comments below up until December 31 of this year. Good luck!

Tie break question: which Mini-based car was restored over the last couple of years, only to be finished in 2017, after which it was put in an exhibition and made it to several magazine articles?

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Christmas 2017

Tomorrow you'll find the traditional Christmas puzzle on this page, but for now I already wish you all the best for Christmas and a happy New Year. Thank you for your support in the last year and don't forget to vote for the 'Best Find of 2017'. Happy Christmas!

Imaging Jeroen Booij

Friday, 22 December 2017

Maximum Mini forum now closed

A message from a managing point of view: the Maximum Mini Forum is now closed. Some years ago, the idea was to make this the social area for passionate debate about anything Maximum Mini and anything about Mini based cars. There have indeed been some very informative and entertaining posts in the last couple of years. Some cars have been offered for sale and have been sold through the forum and informations were interchanged. However, the forum was used less and less. By now social media represents the place to have such conversations. You can contact Maximum Mini via Facebook here.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Sekura Mini now being restored

When you have read Maximum Mini 2 you may remember the one-off Sekura Mini, that half-Danish half-Scottish sports car from the imaginative Ray Innes. I visited Ray and his wife Moira in Scotland in 2011 and had a lovely time with them, with Ray telling me about his time with Sekura, but also with Ogle and Radford coachbuilders. However, I did not get the chance to photograph the Sekura Mini properly as it was stored at a farm yard under piles of rubbish...

Fast forward six years and the car is rescued from its hiding place. Ole Pedersen of Denmark contacted me about it. He knows the car found its way back to his home country once more as it is now being restored by Hans Pedersen, who worked for Sekura when it was built. Ole copied a write-up (originally in Danish), which he translated and I enclose some quotes from it here:

"In 1983, the Randers company Sekura A/S manufactured a sports car, the Sekura Mini, to demonstrate to customers what the company could do. Sekura A/S - Today Sekura Cabins A/S - manufactures cabs for tractors - and the small sports car also has more common features with a tractor - how strange that may sound: a fairly angular design characterizes the car that became designed by Scottsman Ray Innes. The car only managed to drive around 200 kilometers on a trip back and forth to Jyllandsringen, where it was presented to the press. Then it disappeared. Until the car enthusiast Hans Pedersen came to buy the Randers car many years later. Pedersen: 'Initially I asked to borrow the car to an exhibition. But it turned out that the transport costs back and forth would be too expensive. And so, instead, I asked if I could buy the car. Ray Innes would just sleep on - but we got a deal made up so I could bring the car back to Denmark.'"

Pedersen plans now to fully restore it and take the car once again to Sekura to show it. Some of the employees at the company will still remember it. He also plans to show his special sports car at a big annual classic car meeting in Denmark in February next year. I love that it's been cared for, and don't think it could have found a better home.

That's how the Sekura Mini came out of its Scottish hibernation where it stood so many years
Picture Hans Pedersen

And that's the chassis in the process of being restored. Car should be ready soon by now
Picture Hans Pedersen

Early 1979 sketch by Scottish draughtsman Ray Innes, who designed it
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

An early model of the car, photographed in Ray's garden back not too long after the idea came about
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

The car being constructed in Ray's studio. Body is ready to be fitted, like all the mechanicals
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Bonnet on, seat in, car is taking shape here. Ray had good memories of building it
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Ray Innes back in 1983 with the finished result in front of his studio
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

And... Ray in 2011 in the same studio, still keen to draw!
Picture Jeroen Booij

Friday, 15 December 2017

Dave and the Barford 'S' Mini Special

This is what I do it for. Three and a half years ago I wrote for the first time about a 1968/1969 Special, built by one DJ Barford of Peterborough (here), a car which had made it to Hot Car magazine in 1969. I concluded with: "So, DJ, if you ever happen to find these pages do let us know what happened to yourself and your groovy special!"

Now, some months ago Dave Barford did just that after his daughter had found the article. He promised me to send over some of the details if he was able to recollect them, too. Today I received a big manilla enveloppe with a tremendous amount of information. Dave, 22 at the time he built the car, wrote up the whole story in a beautiful hand written letter of 12 pages, illustrated with design drawings from his memory and over 35 separate old photographs with it. He writes: "Trying to find all the pictures from 50 years ago was very difficult, I even had to reprint some from old negatives that I found - the originals have disappeared over the years. I have tried to write a first-hand account of how I built the Special, but please feel free to adjust, modify, rewrite or alter as you feel fit!" Dave, you made my day. I will read your accounts this coming Christmas holidays. Thank you so much.

More to follow soon.

Left to right, Dave's first wife, his mum and DJ himself in 1969. The gull winged Barford Mini Special in the background
Picture courtesy Dave Barford