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  •   Guy Baker reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    An exclusive visit to the Queen’s own collection. Hidden away at Sandringham is a certain Windsor family’s own collection of cars. Octane was granted exclusive access into the royal grounds. Words Giles Chapman // Photography Matthew Howell.

    By any measure, it must have seemed a baffling request to the craftsmen at Hooper & Co, the Royal Family's favoured coachbuilders for decades. Queen Mary had paid extraordinarily close attention to the specification of her new #Daimler-DE27 . The driver's compartment, she decreed, was too wide, compromising the dignity of the vehicle, and a more seemly front profile was demanded.

    It was 1947, and this was to be her personal car, finished in her favourite dark green and taking four months to build. The narrowing process meant the steering column had to be kinked 2.5in towards the centre, and poked out of a truncated dashboard. Widened wings also needed to be handmade. How her chauffeur felt about his custom-cramped driving posture would, of course, never be disclosed.

    Her Majesty's other requests were more fathomable. Because the 80-year-old Queen Mary had trouble bending her neck, she requested 57in of headroom, which made this the tallest car Hooper bodied after the Second World War. The drop-down bootlid revealed a bespoke picnic case, and the rear compartment was a snug of green leather and walnut, with notebook, pencil, ashtray and matchbox built into the armrest. Spring-loaded silk blinds gave privacy, although Her Royal Highness couldn't countenance life on the road without gold monograms on doors and boot. Queen Mary proudly called it her 'shopping Daimler'.

    The VIP customer proclaimed herself delighted with her 'shopping Daimler' and Queen Elizabeth II's grandmother used it almost daily until her death in 1953 .

    Although this unique limousine now belongs to the National Trust, it's found its circuitous way to a resting place at the Sandringham Estate. And it's not alone. The Queen's rural retreat in north Norfolk, at the centre of its stunning 20,0-acre estate, has an extraordinary car collection.

    Despite Sandringham Museum being open to members of the visiting public, it's largely unknown. Sandringham House first welcomed visitors in #1977 , and you can ramble through the estate's tranquil woodland free of charge all year round. But the car collection? Even the estate's website mentions only a highly polished #1939 Merryweather fire engine in the outbuildings. Yet there's much more...

    You might never have guessed that Sandringham is home to some of Britain's most important and interesting royal cars. Until, that is, #Drive-My was granted unprecedented access to this most august of classic fleets. There are usually between 20 and 25 cars hidden away there.

    When the 21-year-old Prince of Wales - later King Edward VII - was gifted Sandringham in #1862 by his mother Queen Victoria, he received an 18th Century, stucco-fronted country pile that he quickly found too cramped. The builders were soon shipped in and, by #1870 , the new main house was completed. Or, nearly. Additions were constant, including a ballroom and a guest wing, and a stable block that included carpentry and sewing schools for the estate's youngsters.

    The Prince was a dedicated techie, with a penchant for cutting-edge machinery. Hence, in #1901 , he installed an electricity generator for the house in an extension to the stable (soon obsolete when mains power reached Sandringham). Likewise, the Prince was fascinated by the earliest cars. The contemporary Lord Montagu introduced him to the motoring exhilaration in 1899 on a New Forest outing aboard his 12hp Daimler; the Prince was smitten, and ordered a 6hp Model A example for himself the following year. It had all the latest features, such as an accelerator pedal instead of a hand throttle, raked steering column, and elaborate electric ignition. Hooper & Co were entrusted with the bodywork for this first British royal car, done in four-seater mail phaeton style with separate hoods for front and back seats. A spacious new garage was soon added to Sandringham's stables to meet its needs.

    That very car is treasured here today. It's somewhat changed from its original condition - although the alterations all took place in 1902! A Mr S Letzer, the first royal chauffeur and referred to as the Prince of Wales's 'mechanician', sometimes wound it up to 20mph-plus, but it frequently overheated. Moving the radiator from the back to the front cured that but required a bulky bonnet. At about the same time, new and more comfortable tonneau bodywork was built. A frilled Surrey top was added and the pneumatic rear tyres were changed for solid ones, as the lack of a differential made them prone to peeling off.

    The lofty veteran is resplendent in paintwork of royal claret over black, picked out in a bright red that's more respectfully termed vermillion. This livery was adopted from one of Queen Victoria's horse- drawn carriages, and remains the colour scheme for the monarch's official transport today. Not that you'd necessarily spot it. The claret often looks like black from a distance and in certain light.

    This is one of the most influential single cars in British motoring history. Edward VII's enthusiasm for it quelled hostility towards cars from landowners and the gentry. Before, mass upper-crust opinion was that they were noisy and dangerous affronts to a horse-drawn world. But the moment the King adopted the new motor car, the mindset rapidly switched.

    The pairing of Daimler chassis and Hooper bodywork became the royal staple, and there are two magnificent examples of such later limos at Sandringham. The 45hp Brougham dates from 1914 and its Double Six replacement is a 1929 car. These maroon monsters were fixtures of British public life, the King easily visible behind the towering side windows. The newer car has the unusual feature of headlights that can be swivelled to the left, but both cars have the royal quirk of a black- painted radiator grille surround. A bright shiny thing on the front of the car, a rolling advert for Daimler, might have distracted attention away from the occupants of the back seat.

    By the mid-1950s, Daimler's grip on the Royal Household's patronage went limp. For two years between #1953 and #1955 , it didn't even build limousines, and Rolls-Royce stepped in, capping the flow of some 80 Daimlers over five decades with a Phantom IV Hooper Landaulette for Elizabeth II in 1954.

    The second of the Queen's official Rollers was a special Phantom V in #1961 . It was retired to Sandringham in 2002 where, in this very low-key car museum, it's the most recognisable one to most visitors.

    The #Rolls-Royce developed this car in secret under the 'Canberra' codename, to give the impression it was for the Australian Government (the Australians had followed the Royal Family's switch in allegiance to Rolls-Royce in the late 1950s). The coachwork was entrusted to Park Ward, cutting Hooper out of the loop and hastening its decision to quit coachbuilding altogether, and two near-identical examples were built.

    Its most distinctive feature was the cover that could be slipped off the rear roof section, revealing a Perspex dome through which to admire the head of state on her travels. And this car really did go round the world - usually in its own garage on board Britannia. This three-ton behemoth would be craned delicately on and off the royal yacht and rolled carefully into its berth, into which it would just fit, thanks to specially designed demountable bumpers.

    Another Buckingham Palace workhorse with dramatic history has also come to rest at Sandringham. The #1969 Vanden Plas Princess limousine is mundane apart from one thing. In March #1974 , the car was ambushed on The Mall by a gun-toting madman intent on kidnapping its key occupant: Princess Anne. Although he shot a bodyguard, the chauffeur and two passers-by, the attempt was thwarted and she was unscathed and, indeed, unbowed. But it did reveal two worrying omissions in Royal cars: bulletproofing and radio contact with the security services - both remedied soon afterwards.

    Formality is one thing for the Windsor clan, but at certain times of the year Sandringham is all about the great outdoors. And proper shooting brakes have for decades been as regular a feature of estate life as beaters, gun dogs and hip flasks. Hooper's awe-inspiring shooting brake body on a 57hp Daimler chassis must represent a pinnacle in 1920s sporting life. It was delivered in August #1924 to George V, and an excellent day's shooting would be in prospect with 12 guns in its varnished rack. Roll-up side curtains guaranteed lungfuls of bracing Norfolk air for the ten occupants... and four-wheel brakes added welcome retardation on slippery tracks.

    Guides at Sandringham today are accustomed to the huge pull this one has on viewers. It's the paintwork. The rear section is timber- panelled but the thoroughly rural theme continues with the woody effect on scuttle, bonnet and wings. It's called a 'scumble' paintjob: the darker base layer was allowed to dry to the tacky stage and then a lighter paint colour was brushed on artfully with a toothed comb to give the woodgrain look, which was sealed in under three layers of lacquer. The stags and pheasants would never know you're lurking among the trees.

    Altogether more modest is George IV's #1951 #Ford V8 Pilot with a Garner woody body. The wheelbase was stretched by 12in and the windscreen height raised by 3in, so it was uncommonly roomy, with the gun rack on the roof. Yet another interesting modification was a floor-mounted gearlever, as the King hated column changes. Yet his untimely death in 1952 meant he barely drove it. The family kept it for sentimental reasons, and it was still burbling around the estate in the '60s.

    By then it had been joined by an upstart newcomer, a Ford Zephyr Mkll the like of which you'll see nowhere else. Hardly the most elegant of vehicles, with its hearse-like contours relieved with wood panel inserts, eight people could cram in with Prince Philip at the wheel, and it was custom-made for Sandringham shooting parties.

    Yet another category of automotive resident here is the Royal Family's personal cars from years gone by. You can see Prince Charles's 21st birthday present from his parents - a blue #MGC-GT . You can also get up close to several wonderful children's cars. We loved the Imperial 1 midget racing car, a gift for Prince Charles in #1955 from America and, with a two-stroke engine, capable of a hairy 40mph. How many scars can the heir to the throne attribute to spills in this one, we wonder? There's also an #Aston-Martin-Volante Junior that a grateful Victor Gauntlett presented to valued customer Charles in #1988 (to pass on to his sons, Princes William and Harry), and a working replica of the 007 #DB5 given to the Queen on an Aston factory visit in #1966 , as a gift for lucky toddler Prince Andrew.

    The Queen's own Rover 3.0-litre has a patina that includes small dents and a cracked windscreen. The Duke of Edinburgh's #Alvis-TD21 , meanwhile, is crammed with unusual features: Prince Philip ordered a taller windscreen, electric soft-top and a leather dashboard instead of polished walnut. #Alvis later fortified the car with five-speed gearbox, disc brake conversion and a power-boosting TE cylinder head to withstand the relentless use the Prince put it to: over 60,000 hard-driving miles to Germany and back, commuting to polo fixtures, and frequently picking up Princess Anne from school.

    These days, a Vauxhall Cresta PAis a car to admire rather than disdain, and the rare #1961 Friary wagon at Sandringham was an estate runabout. The Queen liked driving this relaxed old barge, and it carries a jocular MYT 1 personal plate. Indeed, Her Majesty pretty much started the craze for 'private plates' after receiving a #Daimler-DE27 as a gift in #1948 registered HRH 1. Who could be more appropriate for either?

    'Her Majesty started the craze for private plates with a Daimler, received as a gift and registered HRH 1’

    Space is at a premium in Sandringham's garage block. Spare capacity is taken up by interesting vehicles on loan from non-royal owners, including the ex-Earl Mountbatten #1924 #Rolls-Royce-Silver-Ghost (used by him in India during his spell as Viceroy and later Governor-General in #1947 - #1948 ). There's also a #1929 Armstrong Siddeley 30hp shooting brake originally built for George Vi's use at Balmoral.

    When the family is in residence at Christmas, though, the garage is needed for the current fleet of limousines and Range Rovers. Cars such as the #Princess , #Zephyr , #Alvis and #Rover are turfed out into heated storage nearby as the retinue of chauffeurs and security staff arrive.

    However, the old cars do not depart under their own steam. The Sandringham collection cannot be faulted for polished spotlessness, but many are non-runners and, indeed, some of the pre-war Daimlers would require much more than a mechanical overhaul to get their sleeve-valve engines purring again. Seizures are a near-certainty. The #1900 #Daimler has tackled the London-Brighton a few times but its last mechanical breakage on the #2005 event has kept it indoors ever since. Nonetheless, all these cars are preserved in a secluded atmosphere that, in itself, couldn't really be any more authentic.

    VISIT SANDRINGHAM MUSEUM www. sandringhamestate. co. uk/visiting-sandringham/
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  •   Matt Petrie reacted to this post about 4 years ago


    Let’s face it, we all like an underdog, especially here in Britain. I suppose you can apply the idea of an underdog to motor vehicles. Without wanting to anthropomorphise inanimate motor cars, human beings have had a long and illogical relationship with their motors. A car is a strong reflection of its owner’s personality and position in society and there is no brand stronger than a motor vehicle. #Audi , #Bentley , #BMW , #Ferrari , #Mercedes-Benz , #Jaguar , #Porsche , #Rolls-Royce and so on spend a fortune burnishing their brand credentials and it works. Aston Martin was recently the coolest brand in Britain, ahead of #Apple , #Nike and #Rolex .

    People very seldom just purchase a ‘car’. They buy a product that reflects themselves. As the doyen of advertising David Ogilvy said: ‘You have to decide what "image" you want for your brand. Image means personality.
    Products, like people, have personalities.’ Sure, people buy cars based on price, but the mid-market 3-Series has long outsold the perfectly good #Ford-Mondeo - because it has a BMW badge on the front. And why do so many urban dwellers want a 4x4?

    Because a soft-roader is a lot cooler than a sensible saloon.

    Of course, those of us who are ‘into’ classic or historic cars have a real attachment: we actually love our old cars, which is faintly ridiculous, though also great fun and rewarding. Apart from the engineering and performance, classic car types are acutely aware about what their cars say about them. Both an E-type Jaguar and Mini are cool icons of the 1960s but are totally different, only having the fact that they are motor vehicles with four wheels in common, unlike a Morgan three-wheeler. Classic cars offer a wide canvas for tweedy types and Teddy Boys alike.

    But because classic car enthusiasts actually have a bond with their cars, they can see beyond just the brand image in a way drivers of modern cars don’t. Of course, modern cars are built to hammer down endless motorways and sit in traffic, whereas classics are for enjoyment. That’s why many classic car owners will often have an underdog in their garage along with a more recognised classic. As well as his C-type Jaguar and #Rolls-Royce-Silver-Ghost , the late Alan Clark MP also enjoyed A #Citroen-2CV and a #VW-Beetle (the latter admittedly with a #Porsche-356 engine shoehorned into the rear).

    Americans call these ‘trinket’ cars. Fiat 500 Jollys used to be trinkets but, now that owners of superyachts want them as tenders, they are priced like expensive jewels. I’m sure, like me, you have a soft spot for the automotive underdog, a classic that is not about the smart badge on the bonnet. The first time I drove a classic Mini I was shocked at how good it was on a tight road. It made the Porsche 356 I was driving at the time seem a bit numb. And years ago my father had an immaculate #Lancia-Aurelia-B20GT . To be fair it was the last of the line, a heavy sixth-series example. But when I raced him in my boxy, four-door #Alfa-Romeo-Giulia saloon, I’d blow his (two) doors off every time.

    As a member of the #Drive-My team I’m fortunate to get to drive some pretty impressive pieces of kit. And it is interesting to see quite how good some cars are - often the underdogs - and quite how lousy some of the supposed great classics can be. My good friend Ray Jones of Sydney, Australia, invited me to take part in the #Mille-Miglia with him in #1999 . We were to drive his #Chrysler-75 .

    Some in the vintage world look down on these Americans. Halfway through, #Bentley specialist Stanley Mann wandered over. ‘What sort of supercharger do you have fitted to the Chrysler?’ he asked (we’d overtaken his vintage Bentley a number of times). Ray opened the bonnet. Its two huge SUs and banana-branch exhaust header would have given your average VSCC scrute heart failure but there was no blower. Stanley was amazed. And the #Chrysler had excellent, original hydraulic brakes.

    In 2007, deputy editor Mark Dixon and I competed in the #Mille-Migila in a bog-standard #Triumph-TR2 , mustering just about 90bhp. Not powerful, but it handled well. In the mountains this light car was ace because of its overdrive gearbox, which operated on second, third and top. The #Triumph really annoyed a number of drivers of heavy Mercedes-Benz Gullwings with their wide-ratio gearing. Up the steep mountain roads we indulged in some of the most impertinent overtaking ever.

    Yes, it was a proper underdog.


    Robert grew up with classic cars, and has owned a #Lancia-Aurelia-B20GT , Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Porsche 356C. He currently uses his properly sorted #1955 #Jaguar-XK140 as his daily driver, and is a founding editor of this magazine.
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  • Looked around the handsome interior and wistfully thought about the beauty of it all, stroking the finely textured instrument binnacle and absorbing the general ambience of well-being. Then I turned on the ignition: with a fine whine that eloquently spoke of high technology, the starter-motor engaged the flywheel. Like an animal stirring, the entire car powered-up and we were good to go. I was soon on a clear stretch of road in gloriously misty-sunny daylight.


    On a good day in the right mood, there are few experiences better than driving a great car in a romantic location. Since the road was empty, I had an enjoyable time attacking the corners on the epic coast road from Lourinha to Peniche: juggling with braking points, tum-in, clipping apexes, gear selection. Feeling forces load-up and then disperse in a series of exciting peaks and dips. Truly, a delicious sort of erotic intercourse with a machine.

    What was the car? A dirt-cheap Hyundai rental I had picked up from Lisbon’s Portela airport. I doubt I could have worked this road faster - or more comfortably – in a #Porsche-917 .

    Like childbirth and bringing up children, no-one ever tells you the raw truth about classic cars. It’s a survival characteristic. If we were realistic about the pain of parturition and the fatigue (not to mention wince-inducing expense) involved in childcare and education, human reproduction would promptly cease. Civilisation would end. And with classic cars, if we spoke the truth, or, at least, faced the facts, we would be out of business. But we don’t. We bash on. If we were cold-eyed realists, we would have Hyundais. We are, instead, romantics.

    But my experience of driving or owning classic cars has been universally dismal. The fact that I am still enjoyably engaged with them is evidence of man’s laughable folly, of the triumph of blind hope over cruel experience. I remember a glorious-looking #1955 #Thunderbird in rural Illinois: steering so vague that there appeared to be no mechanical connections involved whatsoever. Certainly, spinning the wheel did not influence the car's direction. And the crude 120bhp lump could scarcely stir the prehistoric two-speed automatic... which was just as well, as the car had no brakes. Or the little #Fiat-Nuova-Cinquecento I bought for my wife. Ineffably cute, certainly, but it was like owning a sick pet: adorable, but tragic. It could not be made to move.

    The E-type, I found, handled like a rowing-boat. And the #Citroen-DS ? This astonishing car inspired Roland Barthes' wonderful line about design being ‘the best messenger of a world above that of nature’ - yet recently its wheezing, cumbersome demeanour made me yearn for something new. precise and Korean.

    But this, of course, has nothing to do with it. Complaining that (most) classic cars do not work well is like moaning that you can’t put Sevres porcelain in the dishwasher, that Rembrandt is low- res, Shakespeare can't do jivetalk. Abbey Road has crude stereo separation and Jack Kerouac took drugs. The whole point of any classic - in any medium or genre - is that it transcends the ordinary and defies rational criticism.

    For more than 30 years I have been fielding questions about 'classic design’. My response? Any classic has to have an ambiguous relationship with time: it must speak of the age that created it. but also be beyond the basic cycles of fashion. And classics must tell a story, evoking a mystique beyond the here-and- now. Additionally, they establish a type: true classics have neither precedents nor successors. They are magnificently singular. And. of course, desirable.
    I think the essence of a classic car is the way it excites desire, an anticipation of pleasures to come. Look at that #Lancia-B24 or that #Lotus-XV and you start an imaginative, rather than a real, journey. In a sense, desire is the opposite of nostalgia because nostalgia looks backwards while desire projects yearnings into the future. It does not matter if the experience of driving or owning a classic is often compromised, a classic speaks to a higher level of psychological engagement.

    As with people, flaws and mistakes make cars interesting. The baseball sage Yogi Berra said if the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be. The Hyundai is perfect, yet isn’t desirable. The #Thunderbird , #Jaguar , #Cinquecento and #DS are comedically imperfect, but I want one of each. Sometimes I think the only certain thing about human preference is its total lack of rationality. Thank God. Otherwise, we really would all be in Hyundais.
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  • One last time. Frazer Nash last competed at Le Mans in 1959 – in this car. Time for Tony Dron to test it on track at Gooodwood.

    The gentleman driver #John-Dashwood invited the accomplished club driver #Bill-Wilks to share a Frazer Nash in the 1959 Le Mans 24 Hours. They'd heard about a Frazer Nash with a #BMW-V8 engine but, as no such thing was suitable, Dashwood bought this 1955 Le Mans Coupe from the Frazer Nash makers, AFN Ltd.

    But hang on - the name Dashwood rings loud bells in any Englishman's mind. Was this John Dashwood related to the infamous rake of West Wycombe, Sir Francis Dashwood, who founded the notorious Hellfire Club of the 1750s? Yes, indeed, he was of that ilk.

    These are arcane matters but the Dashwood baronetcy of West Wycombe is the Premier Baronetcy in the Baronetage of Great Britain. As a younger son in that line, the Dashwood who owned this car in 1959 had no title. He was just plain John and, also unlike his colourful 18th Century forebear, he appears to have led a thoroughly respectable, indeed blameless life - Eton, Oxford, 'something in the City', a nice house in Surrey, a successful marriage and two children - an all-round good chap, for sure.

    After driving their car recently at Goodwood, I set about tracing Dashwood and Wilks but 55 years after the event it was not easy. In John Dashwood's case it was impossible but I did eventually track down his son, Tom, who gave me the sad news that his father had passed away in December 2013.

    Bill Wilks, however, was eventually found - thanks to the 'VSCC mafia'. He's 80 now, obviously fit and happily retired in Dorset, but in 1959 he was 25 and had already made a name for himself as a quick man in Frazer Nash cars.
    'Actually', Bill told me, 'I had just packed it all in because I was getting married and taking out a mortgage but then John asked me to join him at Le Mans and I thought, why not?' Dashwood, who was Five years older than Bill, had chosen well. Young Wilks wasn't just quick, he was also a proper engineer who recalled doing a lot of work on the car himself, putting it as right as he could before they set off for Le Mans, where the ACO had accepted them as first reserve.

    The four-year-old Frazer Nash was hardly going to set the pace at Le Mans in 1959, to be frank, and Gregor Grant's Autosport race report stated: 'With the non- appearance of the Conrero Alfa Romeos, all reserves were called in, including the veteran Frazer Nash of Dashwood and Wilks.' Bill was well aware of that but, hey, you don't turn down a drive at Le Mans lightly.

    Dashwood's aim was to take part in a good sporting spirit Even so, they reckoned the old Coupe might still be quick enough in its class - and its large fuel tank would ensure long stints between pit-stops. AFN's standard tanks varied from 14 to 25 gallons, with a 5 ½ -gallon auxiliary tank available.

    Rumours that they added an extra fuel tank from an Austin Seven set off my personal bullshit sensor. No, Bill Wilks explained that they raised the fuel capacity to about 18 gallons by adding an auxiliary tank of about two gallons: 'I am absolutely certain it was not an Austin Seven tank - I made it!'

    Its pace on the long Mulsanne straight in qualifying wasn't bad - pulling 6000rpm in top, which equated to 140mph with the 3.54:1 final drive they had fitted. At that speed, the kink in the straight should have presented no worries but Bill remembers getting a big shock there.

    'I looked at that kink and thought, no problem, I can take this on full noise - easy!' As he turned in, the rear suspension jacked itself up, the car took a great lurch and Bill was looking into the trees. 'I thought it was Judgement Day - I really thought that was it.' But he held it and, back at the pits, investigated the alarming handling problem.

    Excessive body roll was expected in those cars and earlier, back at the Isleworth factory, the legendary Harry Olrog of AFN had altered this Coupe's rear suspension, creating a Panhard rod arrangement. What Bill recalls now, very clearly, is that the real problem was not that but dodgy dampers. On closer inspection, they had been modified in a curious way, presumably to stiffen them up. 'I think I found some pieces of wood inside but, anyway, I put them aside and found a better set from a supplier in the paddock - Armstrongs, I think they were, but, whatever, they were much better.'

    Apart from that, the car had gone well and Dashwood wisely nominated his more experienced co-driver to start the race. There was some concern over whether the brakes would last - some say that it had roadgoing cast- iron drums, though Bill insists that it had Al-Fin racing brakes - 'But they still weren't any good!' he adds.

    Three hours into the 24, Bill came in to hand over to John. T told him to be careful because the brakes had gone but I had some sort of premonition as he drove off - I felt something was about to go wrong.

    It did. The overheated brakes really were finished and John Dashwood did not complete one lap. At Amage comer the car buried itself in the mound of sand on the exit, where, as Bill recalls, it remained until the end of the race.

    Dashwood was devastated, feeling he had let everybody down but you have to feel sympathy for the poor chap - it was really very bad luck.

    Legend has it that the gearbox casing was split in Dashwood's effort to slow down before hitting the sand. Bill says that's wrong: 'Reverse gear did break in John's efforts to back out of the sand after the race. The steering was slightly damaged but they managed to patch things up enough to drive it back to England.

    So ended the last appearance of a Frazer Nash in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Ten years earlier, in 1949, Norman Culpan and 'Aldy Aldington had finished in a blaze of glory, third overall in a Frazer Nash High Speed model, but that was to remain the finest hour of Frazer Nash in the 24 Hours. What concerns us now, however, is how the remarkable Le Mans Coupe of the later years came into being at all.

    Since taking over AFN Ltd in the late 1920s, the Aldington brothers, led by the dynamic HJ 'Aid/ Aldington, had made heroic efforts to become big players in the high-performance motoring world. They had made the best of the fabulous chain-driven sports car designed by the company's founder, Archie Frazer-Nash - the man has the hyphen but the cars don't - but they always lacked the capital to become truly independent manufacturers.

    That was overcome in the 1930s by a strong link with BMW. When the German company proceeded to design the world's most advanced sports cars, business boomed at AFN. The efficient Aldingtons were well-organised importers, with workshops and a talented team enabling them do far more than merely service the cars they brought in. They made parts and bodywork, modifying cars as required and marketing them as Frazer Nash-BMWs. They worked extremely well with the BMW management and engineers, who were right behind them, and things, you might say, were going great guns in the first months of #1939 .

    When the world then came crashing down, AFN Ltd switched to war work. As peace returned in #1945 , they wasted no time in returning to high-performance cars. Had it been possible, the link with BMW would have been resumed immediately but German industry needed time to recover and, anyway, British buyers weren't that keen on German products just then.

    Controversially, Aldy Aldington did retrieve some useful items from Germany at the end of the war, but that has probably been misinterpreted. He wanted to resume his business links with the German engineers that he admired so much but, in a radically changed world, he simply couldn't.

    Instead, he looked for a link with a large British company. After unhappy meetings with leaders in the Midlands motor industry came to nothing, an agreement was signed between AFN and the Bristol Aeroplane Company to develop new post-war high-performance cars from the legacy of BMW's advanced pre-war models.

    That should have provided the industrial muscle Aldy needed but the relationship was doomed. A relatively small business in the motor trade, led by a quick-thinking and impatient visionary, could not work with a large corporation accustomed to the different engineering ethics of the aeronautical industry.

    They soon fell out and AFN Ltd went its own way, retaining an agreement for a supply of the new #1971 cc straight-six Bristol engines, which were based on BMW's pre-war engine and ideal for the new models that AFN planned to produce.
    The basics of the post-war #Frazer #Nash had been laid down by AFN's John Perrett, who designed a two-seater sports car based closely on the front end of a #BMW-327 , with transverse-leaf suspension and lower wishbones, and the rear end of a BMW 326, with longitudinal torsion bar suspension and a live axle located mainly by an A-bracket. The main frame was based on the tubular chassis of the #BMW-328 .

    Aldy then managed to recruit a superstar: Fritz Fiedler who, as the chief designer of BMW cars from #1932 , had been behind all the great BMW sports cars of that decade. Arriving at Isleworth in #1947 , Fiedler took on the development of the post-war Frazer Nash chassis, suspension, body design and construction and also part of the work on the Bristol engine. A mild-mannered genius, he was a very well liked at AFN, if gently amused when they called him 'Doctor' Fiedler.

    Fiedler returned to BMW after three years, having made a huge contribution to AFN's early post-war success. He went on to influence BMW's return to prominence, which was secured by the time he retired and continues to this day.
    In 1952, a revised #Frazer-Nash chassis was inspired partly by race driver Ken Wharton's wish for a single- seater Frazer #Nash-F2 car but also by a desire to produce a simpler chassis that was cheaper and easier to make.

    By 1953, Aldy knew that the adventure as a manufacturer was all but over for AFN. It had been a glorious effort, resulting in some wonderful thoroughbred cars. The Le Mans Replica, a copy of the High Speed model that finished third in the 24 Hours, was and remains a truly great classic. Other superb post-war Frazer Nash models emerged from AFN but the enterprise lacked sufficient scale. The quality of the cars went without question and the few that they could make sold well despite being very expensive.

    In the mid-1950s, AFN Ltd became the official importer of Porsche cars, a move that was destined to transform the company into a much bigger, very different business - #Porsche Cars Great Britain Ltd.

    Only nine Le Mans Coupes were made in all and the first of them, driven by Ken Wharton and HA Mitchell, took a fine class win and 13th overall in the #1953 Le Mans 24 Hours. By then the Le Mans regulations demanded enclosed wheels and encouraged coupe bodywork. AFN's Le Mans Coupe was therefore developed from the open two-seater Targa Florio model.

    This particular Coupe was originally sold as a road car to Mrs Kathleen 'Kitty' Maurice (nee Gorst, later Mrs Thomas) in April 1955, and it had a well-documented engine change early in its existence. Kitty Maurice was a keen motorist and, as the landowner of Castle Combe, she had made the conversion of the wartime airfield into a motor racing circuit possible. She soon sold the car to a Dr Mawe, who used it in club competitions in #1956 before selling it back to #AFN late in 1957, where it remained until John Dashwood bought it in March 1959.

    Its next owner was the well-known racing driver and Gerrards Cross-based specialist motor trader Roy Bloxam, who fitted disc brakes and other mods such as a #ZF limited-slip differential. He took second in class and tenth overall in the 1960 Autosport Production Sports Car Championship.

    Its many owners in the half-century since then have generally cared for it well and it remains remarkably original. At the end of the 1960s, an owner in Malvern had the #Panhard rod removed and an A-bracket restored, taking the rear suspension back to its original specification. By 1963, its original green had been changed to wine red but its Swedish owner in the 1970s, Ake Andersson, had it painted blue. Early this century the colour was changed again, going back to a shade of green close to its original colour.

    One owner, though which one isn't known, changed it back to drum brakes - aluminium at the front and iron at the rear. The FLA papers issued for it in 19% show this had been done by then. And, about 12 years ago, a Laycock overdrive was Fitted - a type that would have been available when the car was new. With the standard final drive, an overdrive transforms the car, especially for normal road use - and it might even be about right were somebody to take it back to Le Mans to run it in the Gassic.

    It is obviously eligible for top events such as that and the Mille Miglia but would also be ideal for great open- road driving events, such as the Colorado Grand, which it has done twice in more recent times.

    My instant reaction on driving it at Goodwood is that it feels like a superb roadgoing sports car, even today - and it's certainly quick enough to outperform most modem traffic. By racing car standards it Is heavy - it was weighed at 2079lb (943kg) by the Le Mans scrutineers in 1959 - but against most of today's road cars it's a featherweight with a formidable power-to-weight ratio.

    This car's obviously high value, of course, is largely the result of its genuine Le Mans history, so the normal preference of Frazer Nash fans for the open cars definitely docs not apply here. There's a lovely period feel to the small, high-quality tan interior but tall prospective owners should note that it is best suited to shorter drivers - the seat had to be completely removed for me and I sat on the carpet to drive it.

    Even so, it was a pleasure to power it round the Goodwood circuit, where it felt quicker than I had expected. The handling was a bit skittish at first and I went back into the pits after just one lap to have the dampers adjusted. They had been on the hardest setting but, with them suitably softened, the car was much better.

    It's a stable car at speed, a true thoroughbred of the old school in some ways - years of sound engineering and the black art of 'chassis-sorting' created a confidence- inspiring machine with sensitive steering. On the straight, it runs true but there is always the feeling that it's ever ready to tackle the next comer. It turns in well and immediately adopts a superbly neutral angle of drift, which the driver can make a little bit more or less pronounced almost by merely thinking about it. The famous Bristol engine is a delight and, in my short run, the brakes were fine - as we know, it takes three hours to knock them out!

    This delightful post-war sports car has a great story to tell - the next chapter of which begins after its sale by Bonhams at Goodwood in March.

    THANKS TO Tony Bancroft. Blakenoy Motorsport. Tom Dashwood, the #Frazer-Nash Car Club and Archives. Goodwood Motor Circuit, Richard Procter, James Trigwell, and Bill Wilks. Bonhams is selling the car at the #Goodwood 73rd Members' Meeting on 21 March.

    Car #1955 #Frazer-Nash-Le-Mans-Coupe
    ENGINE 1971cc six-cylinder, OHV, three #Solex downdraught carburettors
    POWER 142bhp 5750rpm
    TRANSMISSION Four-speed #Borg-Warner manual, rear-wheel drive
    STEERING Rack and pinion
    Front: independent, transverse leaf spring, lower wishbones, telescopic dampers.
    Rear: live axle located by A-bracket, longitudinal torsion bars, telescopic dampers.
    BRAKES Drums
    WEIGHT 963kg (2079lb - as weighed by #Le-Mans scrutineers, #1959 )
    PERFORMANCE Top speed 140mph claimed at Le Mans. 1959. 0-60mph c8sec

    Above, left and right Closed bodywork was developed from the open-top Targa Florio - only nine coupes were made: power comes from a #BMW- derived triple-carb straight-six.


    Left. Surprisingly civilised inside for a Le Mans entrant, though it lacks headroom for the taller driver. Tony Dron had to remove the seat and sit on the floor...

    Above. With 142bhp from its 2.0-litre straight-six and a (scrutineered) kerbweight of 943kg, the Frazer Nash was capable of 140mph on the Mulsanne straight.
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  • The Amazing #Volkswagen /// MARCH #1955 ///

    What Started as Hitler’s Fraudulent People’s Car, In a Plant Bombed Out by the War, Now Leads All Auto Production Outside the U.S. at 180,000 Yearly /// By KLAUS KALLMORGEN

    Yankee production methods are turning out 835 cars daily at the vast rebuilt Volkswagen plant in Germany. Here's one day's output rolling off the assembly line.

    The pre-war Volkswagen was launched with much waving of Nazi banners as Hitler proudly announced the German “People’s Car” with promises that never came true. About 300,000 citizens invested 25 million pounds in this dream, and Hitler built only 210 cars before turning the plant over to his war machine.

    Today’s car is a vastly improved version which outsells all other cars in five European countries, and which is fast capturing new export markets for Germany. Heinz Nordhoff, 55-year-old boss, says with satisfaction: “A few years ago British and French manufacturers were saying we didn’t have a chance. Today Morris in Britain and Renault in France are producing about 400 cars a day. We’re making 835.”

    Only six years ago the Volkswagen works was just another fragment of war wreckage.

    The vast plant in #Wolfsburg , 100 miles west of Berlin, had been largely destroyed by Allied bombing. Six thousand employees were spending most of their time clearing rubble. In 1945 they produced only 713 vehicles. Authorities in the British zone offered what was left of the factories to anyone who would take it away. Not even the Russians were interested, and their zone was only 10 miles away.

    Nordhoff had trained with the German subsidiary of General Motors, the Adam Opel A.G. and became chief of its lorry production plant, biggest in Europe, during the war. Because he had held this position, he was forbidden to do any job other than manual labour in the American zone where he lived. The British urged him to take over reorganization of the Volkswagen and he reluctantly agreed.

    Nordhoff began by sleeping in one of the empty offices. He adopted a “get tough” policy with the workers and told them that the 400 man-hours which they were taking to produce one car must be cut to 100 (it has been done). At the same time, he organized the building of new homes (4,000 have been completed) and gave his men an extra meal per day.

    The car itself was branded by its appearance of stark austerity. The power was low, and the engine had a life of only 10,000 miles. Nordhoff brought in new experts who redesigned every vital component, working on the original pre-war designs of Porsche, (who made his reputation at the other extreme from the mass-produced Volkswagen, building handmade sports cars).

    The new car was quieter and more powerful, and had hydraulic brakes and shock absorbers. Soon, models with luxury touches were introduced.

    There was still a sellers’ market, and Nordhoff brought the pressure of consumer demand into psychological play in the works. Every finished car was delivered immediately, but there were always big stocks of materials standing ready for use, a constant urge to the workers to produce faster. Production in 1949 was more than double that of 1948; the 1950 figure doubled 1949’s again.

    As more cars were sold abroad, foreign countries introduced new restrictions on imports. Nordhoff countered by setting up assembly plants in Ireland, South Africa, Belgium, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand. With a third production line coming into operation at Wolfsburg, his immediate target is over 1,000 cars a day.

    The #Heinz-Nordhoff was the second son of a banker, who moved his family from Hildesheim to Berlin when his bank failed. Heinz trained as an industrial engineer, and served as a private in the first World War. He gained his most important experience working for Opel, when he had the opportunity to visit America and learn American sales and production methods on the spot. Today he still does much travelling, and last year in Africa bagged two lions.
    One of his problems is the question of ownership- of the Volkswagen company, which is under the custody of the German Government. Some of the optimists who put their money into Hitler’s Volkswagen have gone to law to get their money back; a court ruling that they have a legitimate claim is now the subject of an appeal by the company to the Supreme Court.

    Nordhoff, never a member of the Nazi Party himself, feels that people who invested in the #Nazi-Reich should not profit from it. He thinks as little of Germany’s political past as he thought of the original model Volkswagen.

    Bringing a new spirit into relations between management and labour, he is author of a profit-sharing plan which is being adopted by others. He is strongly in favour of Germany’s “codetermination” system, whereby labour representatives sit on boards of companies in certain industries.

    Over 200,000 of the half million Volkswagens which have been produced since 1945 have been exported to over 100 countries. This represents vigorous competition for the world’s biggest car exporting country, Britain. And Britain can see the results of Germany’s phenomenal recovery in a dozen other export fields.

    One of the reasons for Germany’s success may well be the tax concessions which the Government, until recently, granted to exporting companies. Now that this system has ceased to operate, the struggle is on even terms. There are many lessons for Britain in Germany’s industry, with its capacity for hard work at all levels, its ingenuity in design, and in its policy of hard selling. But Britain can still point to Germany’s low living standard, and to the fact that the German economy does not yet have to bear the heavy load of defense production. The German living standard is 15% below Britain’s, while wages are more than proportionally lower. As a result, Germany is not consuming enough goods and so not encouraging mutual trade, which is the main strength of the Western countries. (Only 412 of Volkswagen’s 20,000 employees drive the cars which they produce!) In its new prosperity, Germany will have to meet these responsibilities.

    Proudly lined up are the 27 men who have a shore in building each Volkswagen.
    Just one clay's output from the revived auto plant, leading all European makes.
    Aerial view of Volkswagen works where 20,000 men and women are now employed.
    The works were heavily bombed during the last war and were 60 per cent destroyed.
    Hitler stands next to Prof. #Porsche who designed Volkswagen, later built sports cars.
    Heinz Nordhoff is boss of the Volkswagen works. Not a Nazi, he trained in U.S.
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  • It’s fun to watch the various permutations that our hobby goes through. When I first got into classic cars, the idea was to have almost over-restored, Pebble Beach-type cars with perfect chrome; there were guys with tweezers literally pulling blades of grass from out between the tyre treads so the car was way better than it ever came out of the factory.

    And then the next phase was accurate restoration, where the car looked as it was when it left the factory. If the body was brush painted and varnished originally, then that’s what the owner did and you could see the brush marks in the paint.

    Then the next thing to come along was the preservation class - cars that were completely original, which had not been modified or updated in any way. Then came this preoccupation with barn finds. I never realised there were so many barns in the world.

    The latest thing to come along is the ‘Derelict’. This is where you take a car, preferably something built between #1934 and about #1953 , and preferably American - and you keep the exterior looking as it is: rusted hood, torn upholstery, scratched glass, whatever. But underneath you put in something sophisticated like an Art Morrison chassis, Brembo disc brakes, modern running gear, decent sound system...

    This latest trend was started by a guy named Jonathan Ward. Jonathan’s come to my garage with a number of his vehicles - the first one he had was a #1952 #Chrysler-Town-and-Country with a DeSoto front-end and a modern 425bhp 6.1-litre Hemi engine with the gearbox to match. It had modern disc brakes and could do burnouts all day long.

    Jonathan usually starts with a car that is a complete wreck. I’ve just finished driving his latest creation - a #1948-Buick-Super-Convertible - that has the drivetrain from the Corvette ZR1. This car has something like 640bhp and it goes like the new Dodge Hellcat. I mean, it’s hilarious. You get on a windy road, behind a modern 911, and you’re chasing him with this 1948 Buick. I could see the driver’s eyes in the rear-view mirror going: ‘What is going on? What planet are we on here?’

    Maybe if the 911 driver knew that the Derelict costs $300,000, he might feel a little better.

    There are some people who say: ‘Oh, you’ve ruined the car.’ But most of these projects start with cars that are too far gone to save anyway. That’s sort of the point of Derelicts. And you take something that nobody else wants and is completely undesirable. You know, it’s like when you go to New York City or London and you see women who are wearing all their jewellery and rings but they’ve got a ratty old coat over it, or a scarf round their neck - that’s kind of the idea behind it. You don’t want to draw too much attention to the car, except for when you put your foot down and go around the corner.

    I’ve got a #1955 #Mercedes-Benz-Gullwing . When I bought it the engine and transmission were not in the car; it had been left sitting outside. And I thought: let’s just get it running perfectly. So we went through the motor, transmission, did the brakes, put everything back in the car and started driving it. And to my surprise people loved it; they actually loved it more than the restored car because it had so much patina and they loved the fact that I wasn’t afraid to use it.

    Taking Jonathan’s lead, I think I will do my own Derelict. I had someone call me up saying his wife ‘wants this crap out of the drive’. He had this #1957 Plymouth two-door wagon... just a rust-bucket, but it has potential. And I thought to myself, well how great - if we keep the body like it is and just put all my money in the drivetrain. So I’m thinking of putting a Hellcat drivetrain in, something like that - should be a lot of fun. With an eight-speed transmission, it will be hilarious.

    I think Derelicts will have longevity because they’re the modern interpretation of the Rat Rod. Here in Los Angeles back in the '40s and '50s, Hot Rods became Rat Rods because guys got their parts from junkyards.

    I would go to Hot Rod shows around Los Angeles and I would see brand new Hot Rods that were made to look like Rat Rods. They’d have three blackwall tyres and one whitewall. You know... and they’d be old bias-ply tyres with a lot of tread missing. They wanted it to look like it had been made on a shoestring.

    Dolly Parton had a great line in her act, about how ‘It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.’ Derelicts are the same.

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  • I have always been fascinated by automotive history or stories that have been lost in my lifetime. For instance, did you know there’s a Firebird with a Ferrari engine in it? Bill Mitchell was the heir to #General-Motors design legend Harley Earl, and himself designer of such icons as the Stingray and Camaro. Pontiac was kind of GM’s performance division, with cars such as the GTO and the Firebird, and Bill wanted to impress upon his engineers some of the overhead-cam engines being developed in Europe at that time. So what he did was call his friend, Enzo Ferrari, and ask him to ship over a motor. And Ferrari did! #Pontiac-Firebird

    Bill put it in a concept car called the Pegasus, based on a #1970 Firebird. It had sort of a #Testa-Rossa -looking front end - based on a rendering by Gerry Palmer - which was going to be the new Camaro. But when Bill saw the renderings he incorporated it into the Pegasus.

    That wasn’t the end of the story, though. Bill complained about the lack of performance with the automatic transmission fitted in the Pegasus, so he got back on the phone to Ferrari, who agreed to send him something else.
    That ‘something else’ turned out to be a competition motor out of a Daytona. It was sent to Luigi Chinetti, who was running #NART in Connecticut, and he put the competition motor into the Pegasus, got rid of the auto 'box and replaced it with a five-speed manual.

    The part I find fascinating is that Bill could call up Ferrari and say, ‘Hey listen, send me a motor; I want to put it in a Pontiac.’ And it’s no problem. Obviously it was a different time - GM was a huge multi-national corporation and Ferrari was pretty much a small outfit, even as late as 1970. Can you imagine that happening today? There was a lot more camaraderie back then.

    He took a lot of heat from GM for building a Pontiac powered by a Ferrari, and was forbidden from showing the vehicle at any event that was put on by GM. But Bill felt that with his Pegasus, #Pontiac was given the impetus to develop its engines. Bill loved this thing, so he worked out an agreement with GM to lease the vehicle for a dollar. The agreement stated that when Bill died the Pegasus would be returned to GM in the condition in which it had left.

    I think he fancied himself as a bit of a racer, and while running the Pegasus around Road America he crashed into a bridge. But the bridge he crashed into was the Bill Mitchell Bridge, named in his honour. He’s probably the only guy to design a car and race it and crash it into a bridge named after him. The crash was hushed up and the car was loaded onto a truck and taken back to Detroit. Luckily Bill was not hurt, and he never mentioned it. He held up his end of the bargain by having the car restored back to the way he got it before he died in #1988 .


    I am one of the few people who have driven the car. In essence it is just like a Ferrari; it had four-wheel disc brakes. Ferraris of the period still had live axles and leaf springs, as did the Firebird. And with the five-speed transmission and the Ferrari gauges, it really was a lot like driving a Ferrari. All the power was at the top end, and it had a fantastic sound. I put quite a few miles on it.

    I think the #Pegasus showed the Pontiac and GM engineers what a real sporty engine was like. The Ferrari was about three litres and American engines were around seven litres-it got them thinking about what a little engine can do. Don’t forget, in 1970 if you were a car enthusiast you knew what a Ferrari was, but if you weren’t really a car person, it was some exotic thing. The fact that the GM engineers spelled it wrong on the crate tells it all - when the engine was sent to GM, someone wrote on it 'FARARI ENGINE, ITALIA’.

    I saw the original crate that the engine arrived in. I opened it - it hadn’t been opened for about 35 years - and in there was the original engine. It was the one that was taken out and replaced with the Daytona version, and it was just thrown in there, with pulleys and motor mounts and what have you. What is that engine worth today? Hundreds of thousands of dollars, probably.

    So why did #Ferrari send the engine to #GM ? We always think of Enzo as being a bit of a recluse yet, don’t forget, in the 1950s he gave Henry Ford a Ferrari. And Henry Ford gave him a #1955 #T-Bird . #Enzo-Ferrari actually came to Detroit and walked through the Corvette studio. I never knew that. So Enzo was actively courting suitors and meeting car designers, giving people engines and transmissions.

    ‘Try that in your car and see how you like it...' Bill Mitchell did, and he liked it a lot. Sadly, GM was not so enthused.

    Car #1971 #Pontiac-Firebird-Pegasus-Concept


    Comedian and talk show legend Jay Leno is one of the most famous entertainers in the USA. He is also a true petrolhead, with a massive collection of cars and bikes (see www. jaylenosgarage. com). Jay was speaking with Jeremy Hart.
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