Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Midas to Venice (and back)

Summer is over, but we've got the memories and the pictures to look back upon. Dutchman and -woman Ruud and Thirza de Leeuw took their Midas to Italy. Ruud wrote: "We went to Venice first and then to Tuscany and just had some minor troubles. In Austria it rained so heavily that the water began to work its way to the inside, but in Italy it was so hot that even the bottles of wine opened themselves! Because of constant high speeds oil consumption went up and we had to fill her up with a total of seven litres on 4,000 kms. Unfortunately water started leaking into the cylinder head, too, and we've temporarily solved this by adding an add-on to the cooling water (it worked)." I say: well done!

Austrian rain krept inside, but there was plenty of Italian sun to let the Midas dry again
Picture Ruud de Leeuw

Ruud and Thirza own the Midas for a couple of years, but the car came only on the road in 1989
Picture Ruud de Leeuw

"In Italy it was so hot that even the bottles of wine opened themselves!"
Picture Ruud de Leeuw

1275 Engine used 7 litres of oil and water started leaking into the cylinder head...
Picture Ruud de Leeuw

...But that didn't deter Thirza and Ruud to enjoy the car and Italy to the fullest!
Picture Ruud de Leeuw

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Who coachbuilt Dame Margot's Mini?

There was some consternation lately about the sale of a Mini that was coachbuilt for the late ballet dancer Dame Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991) earlier this month. The car is an 850 Morris Mini Minor that was built in October 1961 and sold to Fonteyn and her Husband Roberto Arias, who was the Panamanian ambassador in London. '300 BXM' still retains its diplomatic CD plate under the rear number plate. In late '61 the car was sent to a London coachbuilder for paint and wicker work to be added and a change of colour is recorded in January '62 on the log book to black and yellow. Question now is who carried out the conversion? It's not unlike the mystery surrounded by Enzo Ferrari's Mini Cooper...

Bill Bell owns the unique VandenPlas Mini, which was built in April 1960 and which is believed to be the very first Mini to have been coachbuilt. He has been investigating the Margot Mini further and writes to me: "She kept it until 1972 when she moved to Panama to nurse her husband (he’s been shot and paralysed in the failed coup in Panama). The car was next given to their friend Keith Money, who was a painter, photographer and author. He owned it for the next 20 years but hardly used it. Still with a documented 25,000 miles on the clock it’s just been sold from long term storage having been used very little in the last 40 years. We have been trying to establish if Hooper (Motor services) Ltd. did the work over a year before the Sellers car. It can also have been been FLM Panelcraft who built some very special cars including a FX4 black cab with wicker work for a close friend of Margot and Roberto's: Nubar Gulbenkian."

"Either way the Sellers Hooper is a copy of this cars colour scheme and exterior look but taken to a whole different level. Any help would be very much appreciated in tracking down some early history of the car and the Hooper or Panelcraft records from the early 1960’s. It was obviously coachbuilt a good while after the VandenPlas Mini and after the Zagato Mini Gatto, but a good 12 months before the Sellers Hooper. Did Peter Sellers see Dame Margot driving her car around London and wanted the same look?"

"Len Chandler was in touch with Geoff Francis in the early 1990’s over his own wicker clad Mini. Geoff was the third generation of his family to carry out the art of coach lining and painting monograms etc and told him that the first Mini he ever applied the wicker to was the Margot Fonteyn Mini. Geoff worked from the coach houses at Buckingham Palace as a freelance. So he did all the wicker for all the major players like Panelcraft, Hooper and later Radford and W&P? Hooper where the official Royal approved coach builder for a long time before when we’re talking about, so it’s just an educated guess that Hooper where given the job and got Geoff in to do the job. But I can’t prove it yet. Geoff had a big black book of all the cars he ever did (some form of accounting book I guess) with each registration number and what he did and the cost. 300 BXM was in that book... Len and his wife sat and read that book for themselves and saw the Margot Fonteyn car in there. He can’t remember dates from over 20 years ago but he says it was in there 100%. Where that book is now is any ones guess..."

Dame Margot Fonteyn with her Morris Mini. The conversion dates back to late 1961 / early '62
Picture courtesy Keith Money via Bill Bell

Margot in the passenger seat in February 1964. Note that the interior was hardly changed
Picture Dove/Getty 

The car as it is now. Still very original and with just 25,000 documented miles on the clock
Picture Bill Bell

It is a very early coachbuilt Mini and even outdates the Peter Sellers Minis by Hooper and Radford
Picture Bill Bell

Original paint colour is still visible everywhere in the interior. Dame Margot was a small lady!
Picture Bill Bell

This Austin FX4 taxi cab was coachbuilt by FLM Panelcraft for Nubar Gulbenkian, a friend of Dame Margot. Were they the ones who did her Mini, too? Or was it Hooper?
Picture Bonhams auctioneers

Friday, 13 October 2017

Little Red Booster, the space framed Elf

I promised a little update on the Philip Oram Riley Special, also known as the Little Red Booster, that was bought by Scotsman Kevin Murray earlier this year (see here). I found an article on the car in an old issue of Auto Performance magazine and another written by the car's builder himself on the MiniSpares website. Welshman Oram bought the car in 1974 as a standard Mk1 Elf (for 55 pounds) but started modifying it immediately. Several engines went in, from 850 to Austin 1100, and MG 1100 rebored to 1150. Oram: "We toured Scotland in it, went on honeymoon to Cornwall, went camping in it all over the UK I finally insured it in my own name as it was in my Dads name for years. I also took it over to the 1980 Le Mans race and toured Brittany.

In the early 1980’s rust was eating its way into the body and so Oram decided it needed work and so started to drastically modify it as a fast road car with... a spaceframe. Most of the steel body was retained although the front was treated to a fibreglass flip front with impressive 4" bulge. The arches were widened with an equally impressive 5" flares all-round and the boot lid was now fibreglass, too. Now a short stroke 1298cc race engine was used to drive it and when finished after some 18 months, it was for the first time used for a hillclimb or sprint event every now and then. Oram: "I looked at 1430cc engines but I knew I needed a lot more power to be competitive. I wanted to supercharge the car but it was working out too expensive so the chap who sold me the short stroke engine managed to get me a lot of the turbo parts from British Leyland and from the racing Metro Turbos that Tony Pond raced in the BTCC’s. Turbo, head, block, dog box etc... I first ran the car at Pembrey and got my first award: a 3rd in class…I was chuffed to say the least as the car was still running low boost. We then fitted a 15lb actuator plus a bleed off valve for even more boost and the car really took off, literally it was a real handful as it could spin its wheels in any gear on road tyres... 'The Little Red Booster' was born. It was given that name by a fellow competitor. We had a great summer racing and I won a several events and famously beat a SWB ex works Audi Quattro Sport in Gurston Down’s 100th meeting by a 100th of a second."

However, when the regulations changed in 1991, the Elf could no longer race and was taken off the road and stored in Oram's garage. He then started a family, raced different cars (among them a Cox GTM) and almost sold the Little Red Booster. Almost. It stood there for years and years until the plan came to rebuild it with a very different engine. Oram started modifying the space frame, but that's when Kevin came in and took it home to Scotland. What's next? I'll give you another update when there's news.

There's no doubt Philip drove the car in anger! Still road legal here
Picture courtesy MiniSpares

Turbo charged Elf became soon known as 'Little Red Booster'
Picture Brian Davage

2500 hours of work went into rebuilding a standard 1963 Mk1 Riley Elf into this
Picture Brian Davage

Cover star of Auto Performance magazine in 1981
Picture Jeroen Booij

Flip front hid 1298cc engine, good for 125-130bhp at the flywheel
Picture courtesy Minispares

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Le Mans Mini Marcos: wheels and much more

Time for a little update on the Le Mans Mini Marcos project. I spent the last couple of months mainly on tracking down parts for the car, some of which proved very difficult. To start with the wheels, I managed to track another ultra-rare set. Working from an ever-growing photographic database, I found out that monsieur Hrubon and his little team probably used three sets of wheels at Le Mans, one of them being early magnesium Minilites, the other two ultra-rare magnesiums made by Deep Sanderson man Chris Lawrence and his mate John Pearce (of later JAP Magna fame) in 1964. They are slightly different from the later magnesium Tec-Del Minilites, although you have to know. I think Lawrence and Pearce may well have sold the design to them. How many sets they cast back in '64 is also unknown, but there cannot have been many. Two, three, four perhaps? The Deep Sanderson 301 Le Mans entry used them in 1964 (not during tests and not in '63 when they ran on steels) but the only (kind of) current pictures of these wheels that I knew of could be seen on a Unipower GT that's in Japan. That was all. Now, as I wrote before Philippe Quirriere found what has to be the original set of my car back in his vast stock, but I recently got hold of another set! Mini racer Bob Bennetts contacted me months ago that he had a set of four, too. It took some time to negotiate with Bob, but eventually we managed to make a deal and I picked up the wheels last August in the UK. By this time they are fully refurbished and shod with the correct Dunlop Racing tyres, ready to roll.

Oh, and there is much, much more. I now also have complete sticker sets as worn at Le Mans, not one but two of the correct Sprinzel Rallye 2 seats, the five Marchal parking lights needed, which are very hard to find if you don't want to spend 200 pounds each on them and even the ultra-rare fuel filler cap that was a mystery for such a long time! I'll make more pictures soon.

The wheels on my wagon, set 1: Lawrence/Pearce made magnesium wheels in white
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Set 2: the same Lawrence/Pearce made wheels, but now with the outer rim unpainted
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Set 3: the early magnesium Tec-Del Minilites in black used at the rear
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

This set of the 1964 Lawrence/Pearce wheels turned up recently. They are fully refurbished now
Picture Jeroen Booij

Seen here in similar colour scheme, as used on the 1964 Deep Sanderson 301 at Le Mans. 
This set may well be the same one as seen above..?
Picture Jeroen Booij archive 

This Unipower GT wears them at the front, too. The car is in Japan now. If you have ever come across these wheels yourself, please let me know
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Friday, 6 October 2017

Barclay Mini Bug resurfaces

Visitors of the Maximum Mini display at the IMM 2016 in Belgium may remember a bright orange Barclay Mini Bug. This is a rare version of the Stimson Mini Bug built under a license in Holland (more here) and I thought it could well be the only survivor. Well, it isn't. The owner of the orange car, Andre de Wit, has now found another! It's not much more then a bare shell, but Andre says a full build/restoration is planned never the less. He tells me: "The guy, at one stage, had two of them together with his father. One of these had become so detoriated as it stood outside for most of its life that they decided to scrap it. This one does have a registration number and comes with all the necessary parts." Isn't that just great? Thanks Andre!

The Barclay Mini Bug, a Stimson Mini Bug built under a license in Holland
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Andre's Barclay at the Maximum Mini display in 2016, together with Schmitt and Twinny Scamp
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

That's Andre with his ultra rare Barclay that he restored over a period of time. His first!
Picture Jeroen Booij

And that's the second example he now has! It's just a bare shell, but all the parts to turn it into a car are there. What's more: it comes with a Dutch registration number, too
Picture Andre de Wit

Moulded-in Barclay Mini Bug name in his first car leaves no doubt about its Dutch origins
Picture Jeroen Booij

...and the same name in the second car. Previous owner even had another but scrapped that
Picture Andre de Wit

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Fireball Midget moulds survive

An interesting find on world's best known auction website last week: the moulds for the Fireball Midget were offered for sale from Somerset. The Midget was a Mini based racing car intended for British Midget racing, popular in the late 1960s. It used a tubular frame with a Mini front subframe bolted in at the back. Kits were sold at 295 GBP, an extra 100 pounds gave you a complete car. From the brochure: "A 'works' Fireball will be entered for the majority of races during 1969, so the work's representatives will be on hand in the paddock at the race meetings to give any type of help that customers may require." I have no idea how many Fireballs were built in the end, but I have never seen one myself.

This front and rear body mould for the Fireball Midget are believed to be the original set
Picture Ebay.co.uk

It came with 'molds for the original padded, stitched and shaped seat covers for this classic car'
Picture Ebay.co.uk

The seller also offered one set of body parts, made from the moulds. They sold, too
Picture Ebay.co.uk


Rare photograph of the Fireball Midget. I would love to learn a bit more about it
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

New books from France and New Zealand

Enguerrand Lecesne, the French author of 'Mini Cooper et 'S' de la serie a la competition' and 'Mini histories inedited', has just come up with a new title: 'Mini Toute l'histoire'. And as the title suggests it is a book that covers the Mini in all its aspects. From the very early prototype stage to the last car off the line in 2000. It's not alone in covering this subject as others have made books chock full of any aspect of the Mini before, but it has to be the first in French. That it is virtually impossible to describe all aspects of the Mini is of course no news. Such a vast subject simply cannot even be covered on the 192 pages that Lecesne uses for it. Other then his earlier books, which focussed more on the French market and its drivers, this one simply is more general. One of its chapters is dedicated to Mini derivatives, though, telling the story of 33 of them in brief. And some have a nice slice of French history attached to them. My car is in it, too! The book is beautifully presented and available direct from the publisher ETAI here.

Mini Toute l'Histoire by Enguerrand Lecesne, available now
Picture Jeroen Booij

The book covers a chapter on Mini derivatives, too. Here Marcos, Jem and Deep Sanderson
Picture Jeroen Booij

And more… Biota, ABC, Aurora, Landar, Status, ERA, Midas…
Picture Jeroen Booij

It's the first book that mentions the survival of the Le Mans Mini Marcos! Lecesne also (re)searched the car for years
Picture Jeroen Booij


Meanwhile, I had also received not one but two books from New Zealand author Patrick Harlow, not brand new ones but ever so fascinating. Patrick focuses totally on New Zealand cars and wrote these two books about them. 'Alternative Drivestyles' covers a grand amount of New Zealand custom built cars, and features anything from Lotus Seven-clones to fantastic DIY-creations named Urba-Car, Tri-Via, Brownie's Joy and Four-B-Two. Not much Mini-based cars in here, though. That's the territory of Harlow's 'New Zealand Manufactured Cars'. A vast 307 pages encyclopedia covering just about anything on wheels made in New Zealand with the idea of being marketed and sold. That means a comprehensive history on the cars of Ferris De Joux (fascinating) but also full stories on the Magnum Spectre (Harlow owned one of them), the little-known Everson Cherub, the Ibis and RD Wasp. This is a reference work unlike any others.

Alternative Drivestyles - New Zealanders have some great DIY skills
Picture Jeroen Booij

New Zealand Manufactured Cars - this is more of an encyclopedia
Picture Jeroen Booij

Mini de Joux - the story of Ferris de Joux' Mini GT is told in detail
Picture Jeroen Booij

As for the Magnum Spectre. Harlow owned one of the two cars made for a while
Picture Jeroen Booij

Monday, 2 October 2017

New images of ART Mini Marcos

Thanks to some of you, I can now share some more pictures of the Dutch Mk1 Mini Marcos that was raced by Hans Casteleyn of the ART ('Algemeen Racing Team') in the late 1960s and earliest of 1970s. This car was seen at Zandvoort and Welschap regularly and was damaged during a race in September 1968. Puzzling the pieces together I now understand it was repaired and repainted in its ART livery with green stripe. As you may remember the car survives to this day (in blue - see here). Two or three months ago I was contacted by the son of Hans Casteleyn, who told me he was eager to buy it back but I do not know if he succeeded. I'd love to hear from you again!

This is Hans Casteleyn's Mini Marcos at an early stage. No flared front arches yet and no ART stickers
Picture Henk van Zalinge (?)/ Jeroen Booij archive

This is no doubt the same car, also seen here at Zandvoort circuit in August 1968
Picture Racehistorie.nl

Oops. Car number 14 is involved in an accident, just like the Henk Nieuwenhuis Mini Special (13)
Picture Autovisie / Jeroen Booij archive

But it's repaired and this is how we know it. Flared arches and broad green stripe over its body
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

And we now have a colour photograph, too! Taken in the pit street of, again, Zandvoort in '69
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

It wore number 4 during a series of races at Zandvoort in 1969, while it used '44' for the next season
Picture Rob Petersen

Another great colour image. Car ran a 1293cc engine with eight-port Arden head
Picture Racehistorie.nl

In the paddock at Zandvoort, joined by another ART Mini plus an Opel Kadett coupe
Picture Racehistorie.nl

The ART team proudly showing their carriages. Opel and the Mini Marcos plus two Formula cars
Picture Racehistorie.nl

And again, seen here at the Racing Car Show in Amsterdam in May 1969 joined by others
Picture Racehistorie.nl

The car is road registered in 1972 and believed to have been used on a daily basis for some time
Picture courtesy Gert-Jan Westerveld / Jeroen Booij archive

I found this ad in an old issue of Hot Car magazine. Casteleyn's son even remembered the telephone number quoted (which I have blurred here)!
Picture Jeroen Booij archive


That pit street colour image seemed familiar to me. Then I suddenly knew. The resemblances of this picture of my own car, taken in April 1966 during Le Mans tests are pretty amazing!
Pictures Jeroen Booij archive