- Post is under moderationClassic Choice 300SL Gullwing Glamour and Elegance
After inheriting this beautiful 300SL Gullwing from her late husband, this owner really got into the spirit of classic Mercedes-Benz ownership. Words & Images Richard Truesdell.
Celebrity 300SL Gullwing owners included actors Clark Gable (whose example changed hands in January for $1.85m, or about £1.18m), Glenn Ford, Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis, and musicians Skitch Henderson and Don Ricardo, a leader of the famous NBC Orchestra. But it wasn’t just the men that had all the fun, women in the 1950s were also known to appreciate the styling and engineering of the 300SL, two of the most notable being actresses Sophia Loren and Zsa Zsa Gabor. In the case of Sophia Loren, Mercedes-Benz heavily publicised her connection to the flagship three-pointed star.
Move the clock forward more than 50 years after the last Gullwing rolled off the assembly line, and we find ourselves at the 2012 Gull Wing Group convention in Palm Springs, California. There, among all the perfectly restored cars and trailer queens, one Gullwing beckoned us, a silver 1955 model. It wasn’t perfect – the paint showed signs of cracking in spots – but with the doors open the interior carried a patina that told us this car was driven by an enthusiastic owner.
As we were leaning over the sill and inspecting the odometer that registered more than 100,000 miles, its owner greeted us. “Friends came over to the pool and said that you wanted to talk to me about my car. I’m Penny Akashi.” Getting the introductions out the way, we talked about her history with this very lovely 300SL Gullwing.
“My husband purchased the car in the 1960s from a man in San Pedro, which was long before I knew him,” she explains. “I became more familiar with the Mercedes after we got married and it went into our garage in the early 1980s. The car pretty much stayed there for most of the next 20 years. Every now and then my husband would just start the engine without taking the SL out.
“Eventually, he disconnected the battery, the tyres went flat and it was not driveable. He did make some minor attempts at restoring it and once had it towed to a local car show, however it just went back into the garage,” Akashi remembers. “Even though he was one of the very early members of the Gull Wing Group, the only activity I remember us participating in together was a trip to Don Ricardo’s house to see his collection of vintage cars. It was while we were there that I saw person after person drive up in their 300SL Gullwings and realised there were people who actually drove their cars. I would ask why we had a car that we didn’t drive, but I never got an answer that made sense to me – but then again, it wasn’t my car,” she adds with a smile.
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
“It was the winter of 2001 when he told me he was having the car towed to Tom Burniston’s in Long Beach, to be restored,” continues Akashi. “Over the course of three years, Tom painstakingly and meticulously restored the engine of the car and documented each step.
I would see a letter and bill from Tom occasionally, but I really didn’t have anything to do with it. I was just happy to have an extra parking spot in the garage during that time.” The work was finished in 2004, almost simultaneously with her husband’s passing. That’s when she became the owner and, with the help of her brother-in- law, went to pick it up.
After retrieving the SL, it mostly sat until 2008, except for once-a-month drives around the neighbourhood. That was when her good friend Pete Moyer asked, as a birthday present, if he could get a ride in the car. Akashi was happy to oblige, and with encouragement and support from Moyer, she started taking the Mercedes-Benz out for longer drives.
Needless to say, she was soon hooked. At this point she connected with fellow Gull Wing Group member Steve Marx, who is well known in southern Californian Gullwing circles as the owner of Marx Mercedes Service in Costa Mesa. “He encouraged me to get the engine checked out and serviced, and said we should start taking the car for ‘real’ drives,” Akashi tells us. “Freeways, the Pacific Coast Highway. Let it really go and get warmed up.”
After servicing the 300SL and giving it a clean bill of health mechanically, Marx mentioned that there was a Gull Wing Group convention coming up in Sonoma, California, up in the Bay Area east of San Francisco. “He said I should seriously think about driving up and that the members were a ‘nice bunch’. That first long trip that Pete and I took was one of the highlights of my life,” Akashi recalls fondly. “I think the most exciting part was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. I couldn’t believe that we were there in that car! Of course, the funny part was that it was getting dark and neither of us knew which knob on the dashboard was for the headlights. We must have tried them all – and one we shouldn’t have touched – before we found it!”
Working with Gullwings is never anything but pure delight. But when the owner gets into the spirit of things and dresses in period for the photoshoot – right down to the politically incorrect mink stole – it’s a real treat. We headed to the world famous Venice Beach. Now, a #Mercedes-Benz 300SL #Gullwing will draw a crowd no matter what, but when what looks like a 1950s film star gracefully gets out from behind the wheel, well, a near riot ensued! As we continued, someone even asked us what TV show Akashi was starring in, someone else wondering if this was a retro photoshoot for something like Vogue!
It was a magical experience with a remarkable owner and her iconic classic #Mercedes -Benz. For just a few, all too brief hours, it was wonderful to recreate another era where glamour and elegance were the norm, not the exception. It’s great to have the opportunity to tell, in words and photographs, the story of one very special 300SL Gullwing and its enthusiastic driver who understands the true spirit of the car. Something tells us her husband would be very proud of her.
It was getting dark and neither of us knew which knob was for the headlights, we must have tried them all!
It went into our garage in the early 1980s – it pretty much stayed there for the next 20 years.
The interior carried a patina that told us this car was driven by an enthusiastic owner.
Getting into the spirit, owner Penny Akashi is the proud custodian of this 1955 classic.
The vibrant, red leather shows gentle signs of its use.
This was the first Mercedes production car with a fuel injected engine, the three-litre straight-six developing 212bhp.
The steering wheel moves to help the.
Standing in the iconic pose, after years of inactivity, this now restored and often used classic Mercedes still turns heads. driver get in/out.
The delicate, chrome script glistens on the two-tone dashboard.
A decent boot and a spare are handy for the miles this SL enjoys.
Akashi was soon hooked and this SL is now very well used.
JUST THE FACTS / TECHNICAL DATA FILE #Mercedes-Benz-300SL-Gullwing-W198 / #Mercedes-Benz-300SL-W198 / #Mercedes-Benz-300SL / #Mercedes-Benz-W198 / #Mercedes-Benz-SL / #Mercedes-Benz-SL-W198 / #Mercedes-Benz-M198 /
Engine #M198 2,996cc 6-cyl
Power 212bhp @ 5,800rpm
Torque 203lb ft @ 4,600rpm
Transmission 4-speed manual, RWD
Top speed Up to 162mph
Fuel consumption 29.7mpg
Years produced #1954 / #1955 / #1956 / #1957
When introduced, it was a landmark car, attracting the attention of the rich and famous – as it still does today Figures for car as pictured; fuel consumption determined at ¾ of top speed (not more than 110km/h, 68mph) plus 10 per cent; top speed depends on the rear axle ratio.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationLARGE SEDAN FROM FAMILY OF €3,500 #Renault Frégate
Made 1951-1960 / #1954 #Renault-Fregate
What line, what elegance! But the image of the ship of the road was tarnished by the bad reputation of a precarious reliability and a powerful engine too little. Now is the time to rehabilitate this large sedan and improve its image.
I thought encounter some difficulties to find such a car, rare on the roads. And yet here I am dealing with a club for the less dynamic, the club Frigate France (Fregate-renault.org). Remanufacturing of spare parts, miniatures, regular outings, active forum, I even the choice of model. Before attacking the top of the basket and Transfluide, equipped with an automatic transmission and a big engine, I prefer to introduce me to the world of Frigate starting with the entry level. A Business version, with the first 2-liter engine, renowned little frisky. Appointment is taken in Seine-et-Marne, close to home, to meet the beautiful and its owner.
First impression: "My God, it's huge!" The template of Frégate is impressive, and the place easily at the top of the ladder of Renault sedans of the era. Still, this version is a bit stripped (under chrome, a bench in one piece at the front). Whatever, I feel immediately at ease at the wheel. The interior is comfortable, spacious, light, I am ready to cut the road. I would have liked to bring me more of the steering wheel a bit compared to my short legs, but it would take out the tools. I'll play in deckchair mode.
Navigating father cushy The engine easily snorts. I jumped and quickly realize that it is imperative few laps to initiate a maneuver. The turning radius is very short (5 meters), but management and the steering wheel shows heavy, almost impossible to turn off. Once past those first sweat, everything is in order. The transmission is handled with ease, although each pass of the fourth makes me change the radio station.
But by manipulating the lever fingertips, no more hitches. When accelerating, the engine is sufficiently willful and even offers some recovery in 2nd and 3rd reports. However, in circulation today, the accelerator has two positons: loose or background! And while the 4-cylinder is slowing a bit on the last report, the meter needle easily reached 100 km / h on country road, without my noticing. A treat for the ride in two as six. For safe side, there is little chance that you will run out of space.
Marre ducks so underpowered Frigate? No. At least not for the use that may make collection even on motorways. And remember that in his day, the Citroën 2CV, which were called for foul and sluggish, was only 9 bhp, 12 bhp thereafter. As for the DS19, the great rival of the frigate, she was ahead of only ten ponies. Question reliability even felt. Not a failure, not a false note of the day. The engine runs like clockwork. The 6-volt electrical circuit does not deliver strong light or a competition wiping speed, but it works. To overcome a possible failure of the wipers, a handle is hidden in the glove box ... I was curious about this car, expecting to be disappointed, so I had heard on bad terms. I was fascinated by this test.
I crack 'Tet' BEN ...
It would not take much to persuade me (a shed for storage maybe ...). I was pleasantly surprised by the maneuverability, comfort and even the engine. Yes! La Frégate is a perfect car for the ride with wife and children, at a rate of senator. I can not wait to try a Transfluide equipped Etendard engine.
12/20 of future investment
Availability of parts 10/20
At the rear, the large seat offers space and comfort. Comfortable traveling and it even has room for legs.
The engine of the first frigate is a 2-liter 4-cylinder in-line and 3 levels. It is cast, but the cylinder head made of aluminum. The side camshaft is driven by gears.
The trunk has good con u tenancy. It also benefits from a large opening, a low threshold and a perfectly flat floor.
We love the imposing stature, comfort seats, on-board space.
"We do not like the difficult adjustment of the front seat, the electric circuit 6 V."
The car is not very expensive, even in good condition. The rooms, however, are rare and often expensive. While it is generally better to buy a car in good condition, it becomes imperative for a frigate.
COAST TO restore Revise Ready to roll
Frigate (1951-1960) € 1,200 € 3,500 € 5,000
To renovate: impossible to take the road without major preparatory work.
Revise: small possible paths, but required rehabilitation.
Ready to roll: the car is capable of traveling 1,000 km without concern
INSURANCE Normal Old
In the third € 191 € 39
All risks (including fire and theft) € 277 € 81
Profile: 45 year old man living in Orleans, a 50% bonus.
Filters (air, fuel
and oil) and 4 candles € 95
Belt Accessory € 11
+ Trim cylinders
AV wheel € 450
+ Trim cylinders
AV wheel € 177
Shock AV / AR € 460
Exhaust Muffler € 120
Distribution Kit Sprockets
Clutch Kit € 478
Headlight € 135
Taillight € 75
Tyres (x 2) 400 €
* Average prices recorded on Auto4a.com,
Fregate-renault.org and Rezulteo-pneu.fr
Owner: Claude No pot a chance I always had a weakness for Renault. Child, I watched the Dauphine and 4 CV off the delivery truck, at the opposite dealer. In the early 2000s, I decide. I had a view of the Dauphine of a friend. Too late for me, it is sold before I could unsheathe. I flaps with pleasure on this Frégate in 2004, property of the same boyfriend. And since then it rolls ... Lots!
If in his time the Fregate was criticized you for lacking punch, this defect happens today unnoticed. And given the comfort on board, the authorized limit for estary road quickly reached.
TO KNOW MORE
• The Renault Frégate my father, Marc-Antoine Colin, ETAI Technical Review
• JOIN our 91, 117 and 152, ETAI Websites Club
• Fregate-renault.org GP and forums
The gearshift is nice except for the passage of the fourth, where the hand touches the car radio. In the glove box lies a crank for operating the wipers, in case of failure.
THE TECH DATA
ENGINE 4 cylinder Inline, 8S
Displacement 1996 cm3
Fiscal power 11 CV
Maximum power 65hp SAE 4000rpm
Torque 131 Nm at 2600rpm-2800rpm
Food Carbu simple body
Transmission In the rear wheels, box 4 live.
Brakes front / rear - Drums / Drums
Tyres 165 x 400
Dimensions L x W x H 4.73 x 1.73 x 1.56 m
Weight 1 150 kg
Maximum speed 135 km / h
1000 m Acceleration NC D.A.
Cons. average of 10 l / 100 km
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- Post is under moderationThe end for fluid-suspended Citroëns? #2015
Citroën’s iconic technological calling-card – the hydropnuematic suspension system – is set to be axed by its parent company Peugeot in a move to cut costs, spelling the end for a system first fitted in #1954 . The hydropneumatic suspension will exit production when the current generation of #Citroen C5 reaches the end of its lifespan.
The system combines a hydraulic pump with nitrogen-filled pneumatic spheres to create suspension that is incredibly well-damped and luxuriously supple. It is famously attributed to the survival of General Charles de Gaulle during an attempted assassination; the hydropnuematic system allowed his #Citroen-DS to be driven with two flat tyres. However, alternatives to Citroën's classic system, using computer-controlled adaptive damping, are proving more effective and cheaper to make. In light of struggling sales of the C5, Peugeot has decided to axe the system and replace it with these cheaper, more modern technologies.
The news of the hydropnuematic system's demise could be seen as badly timed as Citroën continues its push to make DS a standalone brand; the news is also unfortunately timed as it corresponds with the 60th anniversary of the original DS. The Citroen DS is arguably the car that set the tone for all future Citroën saloons, so it’s a sad day for fans of what may be the last bastion of the 'quirky' Citroën enthusiasts know and love.
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- Post is under moderationCentre of Gravity
Morris, Hillman & Austin Oxford meets Minx and Somerset. The post-war British ca r m ark et of gravity revolved around saloons such as the #Morris-Oxford , #Hillman-Minx and #Austin-Somerset , but which is best? Jon Pressnell decides. Photography Tony Baker.
These were the bread-and-butter of mid-century British motoring. The cruel would say that these three saloons are so stodgy that the word ‘porridge’ might be more appropriate. But before you sneer, each one of them was a mainstay for their manufacturer, keeping factories turning, bringing in valuable foreign exchange, and providing hundreds of thousands of motorists with no-nonsense family transport. The #Hillman Minx, #Morris Oxford Series MO and #Austin-A40 Somerset between them accounted for more than 700,000 cars, and that’s a figure at which one should not sneeze.
The three cars were similar in price when new – about £700 including Purchase Tax in #1952 – and they are closely matched in terms of accommodation and performance. Unsurprisingly, in an era when conventional engineering was king, at least as far as Britain was concerned, the mechanical configuration is also broadly the same: independent front suspension, a leaf-sprung live back axle and hydraulic drum brakes. Only the Morris has rack steering, and it also has torsionbar front suspension, rather than the coils of the Hillman and the Austin. Dampers are old-fashioned lever-arms all-round on the Somerset and the Minx, while the Oxford has lever-arms at the front and telescopics at the rear. As for construction, the Austin is built on a separate cruciform chassis while the other two have a unitary shell.
Turn to the engines, and an eyebrow might be raised at this comparison. The Hillman has a seemingly weedy 1265cc sidevalve unit that can be traced back to the first Minx of #1931 , the Oxford has a rather bigger flathead of 1476cc, and in the middle sits the only car with a halfway modern engine, the Somerset with its 1200cc pushrod unit. The Minx might only dispose of 37½bhp, but its kerb weight of 2117lb makes it a full 560lb lighter than the 42bhp Somerset. The Oxford’s plodding sidevalve, however, supposedly insisted upon by an ageing and conservative Lord Nuffield, musters a slender 41¾bhp, but has to haul along a less porky 2386lb of motor car. The bottom line is that the Minx – marginally the shortest, narrowest and lowest of the lot – has the best power-to-weight ratio. Don’t get too excited, though: none of these cars could quite hit 70mph when tested in period, and their 0-60mph times were hardly bodice-ripping.
The Minx and the Oxford were both #1948 Motor Show debutantes. The Hillman began life with its predecessor’s 1185cc unit, along with its four-speed column-change gearbox, but was otherwise all-new, with a transatlantic-tinged body designed with input from Loewy Associates – hence its vague hints of Studebaker. This Phase III Minx became the Phase IV when the 1265cc engine arrived for #1950 . It evolved up to Phase VIIIA, before being deleted in mid- #1956 .
Key changes from 1953 to 1956 were a new grille and lower bonnet line, an enlarged rear window, a 1390cc overhead-valve engine for the Phase VIII (estate and low-rent Special excepted), and ‘Gay Look’ duotones (along with standardisation of the pushrod engine) for the Phase VIIIA. There was a Carbodies-built drophead and, from the Phase VI onwards, a hardtop coupé called the Californian. Over eight seasons, a healthy 378,705 Minxes left the Rootes factory in Ryton.
The Oxford, meanwhile, was a big sister to the Issigonis Minor, and was virtually a pantograph enlargement of the smaller Morris. Originally intended to have a flat-four, as was the Minor, it was hastily given a sidevalve engine extrapolated from the overhead-cam unit of its Wolseley 4/50 sibling. There was much agonising about the Oxford in the higher reaches of the Nuffield Organisation, because it was felt that in going up a size from the preceding Ten the firm would hand the key ‘Ten-Horse’ market to the opposition. In fact, the MO acquitted itself adequately, with 160,482 made over roughly five calendar years – plus 43,600 vans and pick-ups. The only body style other than the four-door saloon and the commercials was the timber-framed Traveller, introduced in October 1952. Replaced in January #1954 by the Austin-powered Series II Oxford, the MO was barely modified during its life, other than receiving a bolder grille for #1953 .
As for the Somerset, it was basically a rebodying of the A40 Devon that had been launched in #1947 . A whisker over 6in longer than its predecessor, and 2in wider, it shared its doors with the bigger A70 Hereford. Roomier than the Devon, it was about 110lb heavier, but its two extra body mounts were said to contribute to a 50% increase in torsional rigidity. Current from February #1952 to October 1954, 173,306 Somersets were made.
Finished in a perky pale green and sitting on whitewall tyres, Denis Young’s Somerset is arguably the most striking of the cars, thanks to its exaggerated roly-poly profile that is almost baroquely rotund, an effect compounded by the brio of that ocean-wave wingline. Dumpy it might be, but with its broad-bottomed rear it also appears to be the biggest of the three; it’s not, the Morris being 7½in longer and 2in wider.
The interior couldn’t be considered inspiring. There’s a brown crackle-painted dash with a full set of gauges, plain door trims with carpeted bottoms, and two individual front seats set against each other to form a bench. Upholstery is in coarse leathercloth with contrasting piping, while there is rubber matting to the front and carpet to the rear. More importantly, the rear doors open wide to reveal ample legroom; a nice ‘Olde Worlde’ Austin touch is that the backs of the front seats are cut away, and in each recess there lurks a footrest.
You sit high, behind a predictably big wheel, a nautical position that seems eminently appropriate when you start driving, as the Somerset rolls and bobs like a ship in a swell. The camand- peg steering is a plus, however, being quick, at 2½ turns lock-to-lock, and with no play or untoward stickiness. The column gearchange is okay, if stiff and lacking precision. Likewise, the brakes are firm, short-travel and effective, even if they need a lean for ultimate stopping.
At 50mph the #Austin is happy enough – not that refined, but not rough, and with sufficient vim to the acceleration. This is helped by the low gearing, as was then the norm: the first three ratios seem particularly short, and you can pull away in second. Change down for a bend, and you feel a jolt if you’re casual about smoothing your way through the ’box. In all this, however, one should issue a caveat. Bought off eBay, the Somerset has been refurbished rather than ever having been fully rebuilt – all Young has done is to overhaul the brakes – so a freshly spannered example might feel crisper. That said, these Austins all suffer from over-soft front suspension.
Mike Redrup’s Phase V Minx has been in his family from 1952, when his father bought the Hillman new – having ordered it in 1946, several iterations of the model before. Redrup learnt to drive in the car, which had a respray back in the ’70s and an engine rebuild about five years ago but has never been restored.
The Minx loses out in the style war – strangely, given the input of top designer Loewy. It simply looks dull and frumpy, with no delight to any of its details. The cabin, alas, is no more tempting, with lots of exposed metallic beige paint, not least on the deep embossed door cappings. Nor does the dash warm one’s cockles, with its sparse instrumentation and two open trays. Upholstery is again plain leathercloth, but you slump lower on the seats and lean back more. Access to the rear is tighter – you winkle yourself in – but you sit upright enough to have reasonable legroom.
In fairness, some of these criticisms would be addressed by later models, which had extra chrome and brighter colour schemes. More significantly, the Minx acquits itself well on the road, making a better fist of things than the Austin. The long-stroke engine puts out 58.3lb ft of torque at 2200rpm and is peppy, and about as refined as the Somerset’s pushrod unit. Again the first three gears are low, but fourth is quite high, making for relaxed 50mph cruising. The column change is well oiled but loose and responds best to a delicate touch. Feel your way into the firstsecond plane, though, and thereafter your passage through the ’box is undemanding. The suspension is soft at the front, possibly because the only anti-roll bar is on the rear axle (it migrated to the front on the Phase VIII); as a result the Minx bobs about on poor roads, but not as much as the Somerset. As for the worm-and-nut steering, that’s free of slack and smoother in action than the Austin’s set-up. The brakes are board-firm, but work well enough, while the Minx is the only car of the three with a pull-up handbrake.
Nigel Anderson’s Oxford starts off with an advantage: it has only 33,000 miles on the clock and was rebuilt in the ’90s, after being in the family since 1956. So any observations on how it drives must be tempered by the fact that it is being compared with two unrestored cars that have loosened up over their greater mileages.
To my eyes at least, the Morris starts out with the major plus of being the most attractive of our trio. There might be bits of 1940s #Chevrolet and #Packard in its make-up, but the lines are neat and harmonious, lifted by the vee ’screen and the brightwork. Longer and wider-tracked than the Minx and Somerset, the Oxford looks more planted. There are also lots of attractive details: pull handles for the doors, a flip-up cover for the starting handle, a painted coachline on the colour-coded wheels. Particularly delightful are the little running boards, with their kickplates, that are exposed when the front doors are opened.
Inside, the brown-crackle instrument panel and gold-painted dash are more obviously styled, right down to the concealed glovebox release. The front bench means a cosier rear, but there’s plenty of legroom, with overall space being similar to the Somerset. As a standard model rather than a De Luxe, the seating is in leathercloth rather than hide – just as there are no bumper overriders, nor a heater and only one sunvisor.
Start driving the MO and the first thing to hit you is that here, at last, is a car with steering that is genuinely good. The Oxford’s rack is needle-sharp, accurate and not at all heavy; it’s delicious. Building on this, the Morris feels more poised over pockmarked Fenland roads with a shifting camber and the poor surface doesn’t throw the car about as it does the other two. The MO has firmer responses, and that extends to brakes that are more progressive plus a crisp column shift.
The sidevalve engine could reasonably be expected to be the deal-breaker, but bear in mind that it is the biggest of the three power units, and delivers its 65lb ft of torque – 3lb ft more than the Austin – at just 2000rpm, against the Somerset’s 2500rpm. Despite the usual low gearing, acceleration is not good in third, but the Morris cruises happily at 50-60mph, the engine never becoming coarse. You can also keep the car on the boil by driving it in a more spirited manner than its rivals, taking advantage of its secure handling to keep speed up through the corners.
The Oxford is in fact the only car of the three that feels to be the work of people who wanted you to enjoy driving. For that reason it stands as the easy winner of this comparison. The Hillman, meanwhile, is a thoroughly acceptable if unemotional transportation device – a sweet, easy car, with decent performance. As for the Austin, its cuddly looks will probably win over more hearts than its less-flamboyant rivals. It does the job – compromised by its suspension – with perfect adequacy, but nothing more. The advantage, sidevalve engine notwithstanding, goes to Cowley.
Thanks to the Austin Counties Car Club: www. psimmonds.org.uk; the 6/80 and MO Club: www.680mo.org.uk; the Hillman Owners Club: www. hillmanownersclub. co. uk; and Tom Clarke.
From top: well-designed cabin – glovebox button is on dash top; sidevalve unit lacks zip; pushing centre of badge releases bonnet; on the road, the Oxford outshines the other two.
‘IT’S THE ONLY ONE THAT FEELS TO BE THE WORK OF PEOPLE WANTING YOU TO ENJOY DRIVING’
Above, l-r: auxiliary dials are just fuel and amps, but only the Minx has a pull-up handbrake; improved prewar sidevalve; badge shows three spires of Coventry. “Whatever gear you’re in, it pulls well,” says Redrup.
‘REDRUP LEARNTTO DRIVE IN THE HILLMAN, WHICH HIS FATHER BOUGHT NEW IN 1952’
From top: sprung wheel and simple dash with two gloveboxes; engine has A40 Sports head, but with larger inlet valves; Flying A opens bonnet; Austin’s performance is fair, but the ride is a bit lively.
‘THE AUSTIN’S ALMOST BAROQUE PROFILE IS COMPOUNDED BY THE WAVE-LIKE WING LINE’
Morris is every inch the overgrown Minor; Minx has Studebaker touches (thanks to Loewy input); Austin cherub shares its doors with larger Hereford.
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- Post is under moderationGALE FORCE PORSCHE 911 ROAD TEST #1987 #Porsche-911-Speedster
The Speedster name is back, and with it some styling highlights from the 50s Porsche – witness the hump-back and low widescreen – which first carried the badge. But Georg Kacher is not impressed.
In time for the 25th birthday of the 911, Porsche has released a special version of this classic sports car - the Speedster. Alter the coupe, Targa, Turbo, slantnose. Club Sport and Cabriolet, this is the seventh officially available 911 metamorphosis created by chief designer Tony Lapine and crew. The Speedster was unwrapped at the Frankfurt Show in September: it will go into production at a rate of around eight units per day after the works holidays in August 1988.
The 911 Speedster is a back- to-the-roots car. It looks very much like a #1988 model, but there are still plenty of design details which evoke memories of the ’50s just as Drifters' music, hoola-hoop girls and pink iceboxes full of Coca-Cola bottles do. Not to forget James Dean, although he was killed in the Spyder and not in one of the 4822 run-of-the-mill Speedsters, which even in Carrera form did not muster more than 115 bhp. In the Porsche museum in Zuffenhausen, they still keep a vanilla yellow Speedster powered by the middle-of-the-road 1.6-litre engine. It has a low windscreen, a Bakelite triple-spoke steering wheel, a thin and tight-fitting black canvas top and beautiful brass Speedster badges on the front wings and dashboard.
The Porsche design squad have tried hard to impose the original Speedster theme on the 911, but the result is not as harmonious as the 1954-1959 conversion. The problem is the single-piece cover which fills the opening behind the seats. Somehow, this pvc panel does not look right: the fat black rubber seal disturbs the other-wise smooth profile, the proportions between the tall cover and the lowered windscreen are not well balanced, and the rear power bulge looks ordinary and out of character. Even at this stage. Porsche should consider changing the design.
The remaining revisions are more successful. The windscreen. whose angle is reduced by five degrees, is three inches lower than that of the 911 Cabriolet. For the Speedster, the massive body-colour windscreen frame is abandoned in favour of a thin and elegant black rim made of anodised alloy. At the eleventh hour. Porsche decided to replace the heavyweight rectangular door mirrors with a brace of ostentatiously aerodynamic devices which look like they are worth a million dollars but are about as practical as the token mirrors of a formula one racer. Inside, the Speedster features a mixture of Carrera and Club Sport trim elements. As in the Club Sport, the seats are fixed in the lowest possible position, and are not power-operated. Similarly, the electric window lifts give way to manual winders. And the useful dash-mounted heater and ventilation controls are replaced by an antiquated Beetle-style dual lever arrangement hidden between the seats. As a result of these and other weight-saving measures, the #911-Speedster - which tips the scales at 2552lb - is some 110lb lighter than the Cabriolet model.
The roots of the second generation Speedster date back to September #1982 . At that time, chairman Peter Schutz was told by his American dealers that a modern Speedster was the one still-to-be-released Porsche model all the yuppies between Vermont and Oregon were craving for. The big boss subsequently approved the development of a first prototype which was completed in March #1983 . By then, chief engineer Bott, Lapine and Bezner (the chief project engineer) had put together an exciting, good-looking and pleasantly radical machine which had only one major fault - it would never jump all the legal hurdles which over the years have been erected between Weissach and Wisconsin.
Based on one of the last SC Cabriolets, the Speedster that did not make it lacked such essential items as wipers and a proper windscreen. Instead, it boasted a trick three-part wraparound glasshouse which was only a couple of inches tall but looked great. In line with this leather-cap-goggles-and-gloves approach was the car's shallow hood cover which had commendably narrow outlines and only one subtle power bulge on the driver's side. Those who have been behind the wheel claim that this design exercise felt like a curious crossbreed of motorbike, horse, power boat and roadster - a fair description which also explains why the Speedster Mk1 had not the slightest chance of defeating unsympathetic bureaucracy.
Despite this initial defeat, the team around Friedrich Bezrer were determined not to give in. Bezner, who joined #Porsche in #1954 (the year the original Speedster was launched), ex-plains: 'Instead of fighting the rule keepers for every minute modification, we decided to do two Speedsters. Number one takes a more conformist approach. It is basically a #911 Cabriolet with a twist, and it is street-legal. Number two is the Club Sport conversion. This car has no wipers, a tiny Brooklands-type windscreen and only one seat. It costs more money, requires a little bit of extra skill and patience and is not fit for public roads. But it is a lot of fun.'
In terms of design, however, the Club Sport car is even less convincing than the standard Speedster. Among the controversial styling elements are the bulbous shape of the top panel, the token windscreen, the particularly prominent rubber seal and the crude wiper axle mounting points. Porsche maintains that one man can convert the Speedster into the Club Sport in a mere 20 minutes, but alter watching three Porsche employees at the Frankfurt Show struggle for over half an hour to get all the bits in the right place, I think I’ve decided the official timing appears somewhat optimistic.
And here is how you do it. First, take off the wipers. That's easy. Next, off comes the windscreen. That's difficult - because some of the screws are hard to get at while others are over five inches long, and because the screen is heavy and threatens to tilt once you are halfway through the removal process. Step three deals with unbolting the passenger seat, which is as effortless as it sounds. The most arduous task concerns the fitting of the big and heavy Club Sport panel which replaces the compact Speedster soft-top cover. While the full-length segment uses the same rear hinges as the short Iid, at the front it is secured to the body via the wiper axles.
To enter the Club Sport car, you can either unbolt the front end and lift the entire clamshell (tedious and time consuming), or you open the driver's door and slip in from below (looks funny, and the intervertebral discs might object), or you simply straddle the damn' thing, John Wayne fashion (looks great, but you're likely to split your trousers or do even more serious damage).
Although the Speedster is identical to any other 911 up to the beltline, the driving position is different. Even in the street legal versions, you feel almost as exposed as in a monoposto sports car. Because of the thin frame which becomes almost invisible as soon as you are facing the sun, the windscreen becomes one with the horizon. While the tinted glass still provides a certain amount of protection against the elements, it does in no way impair the stunning panoramic visibility - on a bright day, this car feels like a 3D 363 degrees cinema on wheels. Other bonuses include the improved adjustment range of the seats as well as the extra oddments space, including two lockable compartments hidden beneath the rear lid. On the debit side, you instantly notice the nonsense door mirrors (they are neither heated nor adjustable from inside the cabin) and the high rear deck which catches the wind.
The Speedster is one of these cars which calls for certain preparations by the driver. Of course, you can take it for a ride in Bermuda shorts and Polo shirt, but who can afford a midweek crisis consisting of flu. ear-ache and a stiff nock? All it takes to avoid such misery are a cap, glasses or goggles, gloves, a scarf (preferably shorter than Isadora Duncan's) as well as ear-muffs and/or ear-plugs, plus, of course, a decent sweater. Between Knightsbridge and Clapham, these ingredients may not do more than amuse bystanders and fellow motorists, but once the tempest breaks loose above 45mph, they are absolutely vital.
On the open road, the two most obvious Speedster characteristics are 'thunder' and 'hurricane'. Thunder is a decibel cocktail mixed from the chain-saw yell of the familiar flat-six and hostile accompanying noises. Hurricane stands for the draught of anything from a stiff breeze to a force 10 gale.
Apart from these two idiosyncrasies, the latest #Porsche-911 embodies all the vices and virtues its stablemates have become notorious for. It has a powerful engine which sounds better than my favourite CD. It has a surprisingly rigid chassis and a race-proven suspension which offers plenty of grip and strong roadholding. And it is built to last with quality and durability designed into every single component. But the Speedster is by no means flawless. Take, for instance, the heavy clutch, the vague and rather slow gearbox, or the very unassisted steering which is neither well balanced nor well enough damped. Look at the poor ergonomics, the bad ventilation, or the speed-sensitive heating. And consider the unsatisfactory directional stability, the car's susceptibility to crosswinds and the tricky handling in the tightrope demarcation zone between wow! and ohmigawd!
Fact is though that, as with all 911s, the fascination will eventually outweigh the flaws, The 911 is a challenging car, and although there are now plenty of rivals which offer better handling, better roadholding, more comfort or even more power, it is this challenge of mastering the rear-engined monster which makes you come back time after time. If Porsche had positioned the new Speedster in the same niche of the model hierarchy as the #1954 original, it would have been much easier to excuse the weak design and the drawbacks which result from it. But instead of making this most basic 911 also the least expensive, the Zulfenhausen management nave decided to price it at the same level as - or even above - the 911 Cabriolet. And that is hard to justify because the Speedster is a less complete car than its brethren. It is neither as well equipped nor as competent as the Cabriolet. It is no better as a driving machine than the baseline coupe. And it is not even particularly exciting for a poseur, since the eye-catching Club Sport version is not street legal. Are you perhaps going to think this one over again, Mr Schutz?
Interior of Speedster has elements of 911 Cabriolet and new Club Sport coupe. Scat adjusters and windows manual, to save weight. Hunchback pvc cover does not integrate well, covers solt-top. Mirrors daft.
Speedster based on normal 911, engine and rest of mechanicals are Identical. Styling changes Include shallower windscreen, rear pvc lid. Normal Speedster model - not Speedster Club Sport-is shown. Dash same as 911’s.
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- Post is under moderationFORMULA ONE 2015 PREVIEW
Pre-season testing reveals analogies with the past. The more things change... Maurice Hamilton is a veteran motor racing journalist. Here he compares the latest news from Formula 1’s winter testing programme with past events - and finds surprising similarities.
They call it the Winter Grand Prix. That's #Formula-1 slang for the uncertainty of pre-season predictions and promises that emerge from winter testing. It becomes scathing F1 vernacular when confident assurances are then crushed by the reality of going racing: as in #Ron-Dennis , boss of McLaren, telling Ferrari they may have won the #1990 Winter Grand Prix but not the important one that followed.
This was a scornful reference to the Italian team dominating pre-season testing, only to go to the first race in Phoenix and have one car leak hydraulic fluid into the oil and the other expire in a blaze of embarrassment when the clutch exploded, fractured an oil line, caused a flash fire and seized the engine. McLaren, low-key in testing, had simply turned up in Arizona, claimed pole and won the United States Grand Prix. The important one.
Is a similar collapse of Mercedes, the early favourite, imminent in 2015? Will #Ferrari have learned lessons from previous false dawns if they attempt to win another Winter Grand Prix? Will McLaren win any race, never mind the first one in Melbourne on 15 March? In all three cases, the answer is: 'highly unlikely'.
Mercedes, the reigning champions, set out their store by completing a mammoth 157 laps during the opening day of pre-season testing. It was an overwhelming display of reliability and confidence in a session when the McLaren- Honda managed just six stuttering laps of the Jerez track. Ferrari, meanwhile, was quickest - but only by half a second during a one-off lap in-between the red car spending more time in the garage than on the circuit.
Here, in a matter of hours, you had a likely template for the 'important Grands Prix' to be played out between March and November in 19 locations around the globe.
Mercedes are on a roll. This happens in F1 as surely as #Bernie-Ecclestone makes money out of anything that moves - or stands still long enough to be hustled. Successful exploitation of major technical changes means the team that does best initially usually remains ahead until either the rest eventually sort themselves out or the formula changes once more. Witness the run by Ferrari at the turn of the millennium, or McLaren and Honda in the mid-80s, or crafty Jack #Brabham using the simple Oldsmobile-based Repco V8 to see in the arrival of the 3-litre formula in #1966 .
And so it was with Mercedes when they started 2014 better prepared than anyone else for what has been the biggest technical change for decades. The rest have been trying to catch up ever since. 2015 promises to be no different.
We shouldn't be surprised. The engines may be designed and built in an immaculate facility in the village of Brixworth, Northants, the chassis may be manufactured 45 minutes south in Brackley, but the car is a Mercedes from the signature three-pointed star on the nose to the signatures on cheques issued in Stuttgart. The pace and location of the company's F1 technology may have changed but the Mercedes ethos and domination remains exactly as it was 60 years ago when the Silver Arrows travelled from Germany each race weekend to wipe the floor with Ferrari, Maserati and the rest.
When the Mercedes-Benz Rennabteilung first arrived in the paddock in 1954, the steamroller effect was exactly as you saw last year. They had thought of everything, Stirling Moss marvelling over a spare windshield emerging from the bodywork in the likely event of the original being smashed by a stone. Having engaged first gear and let out the clutch halfway through #1954 , Mercedes left the rest in its wake the following season and would surely have continued to do so had the #1955 #Le-Mans disaster, when more than 80 spectators were killed, not forced premature closure of the racing department.
Optimistic observers will tell you things are different in 2015. The rules have been relaxed slightly in that the engine manufacturers - Mercedes, #Renault , #Ferrari and Honda - can make changes to their power units as the season progresses rather than remain stuck with their mistakes once the racing gets under way. The removal of the freeze is not such a massive thaw, since the block, crankcase, cylinder spacing and inlet systems must remain untouched. Wriggle-room will allow an element of catch-up, but those hoping for a change at the front of the field forget that the newfound freedom also allows Mercedes to improve on a near-perfect product.
Talk of the rest clawing back the 70bhp advantage enjoyed by the silver cars last year has already been dashed by Mercedes allegedly having found another 60bhp during the winter. Standby for another tense fight as #Lewis-Hamilton defends his crown from #Nico-Rosberg , while the rest play a supporting role.
That said, no amount of self-assured punditry such as this will prevent Mercedes glancing over its shoulder, uncertain of how much improvement has been made elsewhere. The obvious place to look is #Williams-F1 , given that Sir Frank's team is using the same Mercedes engine. If anyone is likely to be poised to pick up the scraps knocked off the table by a squabbling World Champion and his team-mate, it's this British F1 icon.
More uncertain will be progress at Ferrari, mainly because the #Maranello team has a long way to come after a shambolic year, even by its previous colourful standards. Alonso's departure to McLaren with a year to run on his Ferrari contract is just the start and easier to understand than #Sebastian-Vettel 's move from #Red-Bull as the Spaniard's replacement.
Carried along by the inevitable aura of Ferrari's history, #Vettel has attacked his new role with great vigour, rushing back from the first test in Spain to spend more time in the simulator. Even if this ultimately does not produce the required performance, it will take Vettel's mind off the pain experienced when blown away by #Daniel-Ricciardo last year.
The smiling Australian assassin's three confident wins were a highlight of #2014 , not least because they were the only break in the #Mercedes monopoly. Whether or not #Red-Bull-Renault can go further depends on Renault's shake-out of an organisation previously top dog for four years but humbled in #2014 by being a day late and many horsepower short.
McLaren had no such excuse since fighting for fifth in the championship with Force India (a team with half the budget and resources) was exacerbated by having the benefit of a Mercedes power unit. #McLaren-Honda have switched to #Honda , the return of the Japanese firm evoking memories of a previous liaison...
Judging by modest predictions for the early races, McLaren recognises it's a dangerous game to look back on a glorious past and link it with an uncertain future. Much has been made of Honda's last move to #McLaren in #1988 when the combination won 15 of the season's 16 races. But things were very different then.
There was no serious competition to speak of and Honda had already gained experience of the turbo game through a championship won with Williams and #Nelson-Piquet the previous year. Comparing today's complex hybrid energy retention formula with that simple V6 turbo is like comparing an electric typewriter with an Apple Mac.
McLaren scarcely bothered with pre-season testing in 1988. The #MP4/4 , arguably the sleekest #F1 car of the past 50 years, turned up at Imola late one afternoon a few days before the first race, Ayrton Senna climbed on board and the brand-new car smashed the lap record straight out of the truck. It was only fading light that forced the excited Brazilian to stop.
In the first #2015 test last February, Alonso and Button counted themselves lucky if they got started, electrical and engine-related problems restricting them to 12 laps in the first half of the four-day test. The essential process of fine-tuning the handling slid further and further down a schedule governed by a massive but not unexpected work list.
Mercedes, meanwhile, not only covered two Grand Prix distances in the first day but also demonstrated its state of readiness by cheekily rehearsing no fewer than 17 pit stops. In 2014, several teams had barely managed one before the first race was upon them.
Pre-season testing has been limited to three four-day sessions. In the 1970s and 1980s, the mechanics and drivers considered themselves lucky if they got four days off during the winter. A tyre war meant the likes of #Goodyear , #Michelin and #Dunlop would pay teams to test endlessly in the heat of Brazil or South Africa (long-haul venues ruled out today because of the need to cut costs).
It was not unknown for a mechanic to pack his bags in January, test for five weeks in Rio, have a short break in Brazil and then cross the border for the first race in Argentina before returning to Brazil for Round Two. It was the same in South Africa, when the opening race of the season was staged at Kyalami on the outskirts of Johannesburg, Formula 1 teams taking up permanent residency in the nearby Kyalami Ranch.
The mileage clocked up was so extensive that lap times scarcely mattered. The only time news wires carried a story from F1 testing was when someone crashed and was, at best, badly injured. The motor racing world more or less forgot about this relentless slog in the sunshine.
How different things are today with the advent of social media. Websites and Twitter carry coverage of every lap and every driver's waking moment. Sky TV digs diligently for stories to fill a summary each evening. When an unofficial highlight of the first week in Jerez was a distant shot of a spectating #Niki-Lauda having a pee in the undergrowth, you begin to understand how difficult it is to extract anything interesting from drivers and officials who almost seem reluctant to give their name. Their aim is to dig deep into the box of optimistic soundbites while refusing to comment on their state of competitiveness - mainly because they don't honestly know. Or if they do, they're not saying.
Lap times are the only black-and-white evidence of what is going on, but even these assume a permanent shade of grey. It is pointless to Tweet, as one website did, that #Pastor-Maldonado has just done his best time on his 43rd lap in the #Lotus-Mercedes . Such information is utterly meaningless. #Pirelli – F1's sole supplier - brought four different types of dry-weather tyre, ranging from Supersoft to Hard, plus one that warmed up quickly (to save time in the cool conditions) but will not be raced. Maldonado's time depended on which tyre he was using, the engine mode, how much fuel was on board and whether he was on a long run or simply going for the short-term glory of a quick time.
The latter may seem a pointless exercise at such an early stage but, when you're trying to attract a sponsor, a decent headline or two does not go amiss, particularly since the cars are not weighed (unlike race weekends, when regular checks will prevent anyone running beneath the 702kg minimum). Hence the raising of a cynical eyebrow or two when #Sauber - who failed to score a single point in 2014 - was among the fastest in the first week.
Being kind, the Swiss team uses a Ferrari engine and it was reasonable to suggest that the surprising performance was due to a much- needed improvement in the driveability of the heavily revised Italian V6, particularly when Vettel and #Kimi-Raikkonen put Ferrari at the top of the time sheets. But then this was, after all, the opening week of the Winter Grand Prix.
'Senna climbed on board and the brand-new car smashed the lap record straight out of the truck’
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- Post is under moderationOSCA 1600GT. What Maserati’s founding brothers did next. Size doesn’t always matter.
This tiny Italian concern built a tiny number of tiny cars - but its founders are among the giants of Italian motoring lore. Words Richard Heseltine. Photography Mark Dixon.
Great changes tend to have great side effects. For Italian carrozzerie, the 1950s and early '60s represented a period of tumultuous upheaval as grandees of the movement expanded out of all recognition. Traditional coachbuilding gradually made way for mass-manufacture as the likes of #Bertone , #Pininfarina and #Zagato became subcontractors to major players. Touring of Milan was among their number, the difference being that adapting to new circumstances and chasing volume would prove to be its undoing.
In #1961 , Touring bodied only two OSCA 1600GTs, but the parallels between marque and coachbuilder are apposite. OSCA had struck a deal with a major brand that should have acted as a protective cloak for a company that was habitually underfinanced. Yet OSCA failed to see out the decade.
Italian motoring lore is littered with fallen acronyms and few ever matched OSCA for sonority and brevity. Strictly speaking, it should be OSCAFM, but the last two consonants were dropped on account that it was impossible to pronounce. Yet it's the 'FM' bit that matters, for it stood for Fratelli Maserati. You see, for a decade or so, 'real' Maseratis were OSCAs.
The fratelli were Ernesto, Bindo and Ettore, who had sold the marque that bore their name to #Adolfo-Orsi in #1937 , five years after sibling and guiding light Alfieri perished in a racing accident. Retained under contract for a further ten years, a decade that was said to have been less than amicable, the brothers left #Modena the moment the agreement expired. They regrouped and set up shop in a disused part of the original Maserati factory in their home town of Bologna to build small-displacement racing cars. Orsi retained the rights to their surname, so the brothers contrived the alias Officine Specializzate per la Costruzione di Automobili - Fratelli Maserati SpA.
With Ernesto as designer, Ettore the artisan and Bindo running the show, the trio introduced their first model, the MT4 (Maserati Type 4), in 1948. This skimpy device was aimed at the 1100cc category that was popular on the home front. OSCA was soon at the sharp end of the tiddler class; often in contention for outright wins, too, attracting such stars as Gigi Villoresi, Felice Bonetto and Luigi Faglioli. After an embarrassing foray into #Formula-1 (and F2), the brothers stuck to sports cars thereafter, the highlight being outright victory in the #1954 Sebring 12 Hours for Stirling Moss and Bill Lloyd aboard their MF4 1450 barchetta.
By the dawn of the 1960s, it was a different story: OSCA was ill-equipped to bat away competition from the emergent British garagistas. There was some light on the horizon, however, as the firm's 1.5-litre twin-cam engine, as used for that Sebring win, had attracted the attention of Fiat. The Turin giant was looking to create a competitor for the sporting Alfa Romeo Giuliettas, and approached OSCA with a view to using the alloy-headed four in its proposed 1500 model. The brothers were receptive to the overture, but OSCA was in no position to produce the engine on an industrial scale given the amount of machining, honing and laborious fettling required per unit. Fiat was undeterred: a deal was struck whereby it would manufacture the engines in volume and supply them back to OSCA.
In a roundabout way, this led to OSCA producing proper road cars as opposed to street-legal racing cars. This began with an approach from an existing customer who requested a small gran turismo, the resultant Tipo 1600GT becoming a catalogue model after it broke cover at the #1960 Turin motor show. The work of ever-creative pen-for-hire Giovanni #Michelotti , the prototype was dramatically - some might say controversially - styled, but it struck a chord. Beneath the square-rigged skin, this new strain featured the proven four-cylinder allied to a five-speed gearbox, mounted in a tubular ladderframe chassis. Suspension was all independent by double wishbones and coils, and there were Girling disc brakes front and rear.
Predictably, numerous styling houses treated the 1600GT as a blank canvas, with Zagato's pretty take on the theme proving the most popular. Offered in various states of tune from 95 to 140bhp in twin-plug GTS spec, a full-house 710kg (down from 817) version was added to the line-up in 1963 with dramatic - some might say ugly - #Zagato coachwork. Only one was made. That same year saw the Maserati brothers sell out to the Agusta motorcycle/helicopter combine, and 1600GT production ended.
The new regime instigated new models in time for the #1964 Turin motor show. The 1600TC (Trave Centrale) featured a backbone chassis (hence the name) and 'shock-proof' glassfibre body, but it failed to find favour. Same for the 1050 Coupe and its Spider sibling, which were based on #Fiat 850 platforms. The final ignominy heaped on this once-respected marque was the bizarre MV1700 - which featured 1.7-litre #Ford-V4 power and open or closed bodywork moulded by boatbuilder Corbetta. In 1967 it was all over. Tooling was destroyed, as were remaining spares.
That wasn't quite the end of the story. The name was revived in #1999 using Japanese finance, yet the Ercole Spada-styled, #Subaru flat-four-powered 2500GT (or Dromos) remained unique. To many, the 1600GT remains the last true OSCA, yet precise production figures are a source of debate. Chassis numbers started at 001 and ended at 00127, of which Zagato bodied 98 (with three subtly different body styles), Fissore 24 (three of them convertibles), Touring a pair, Morelli just the one and Boneschi a trio of angular coupes. The problem is, some historians believe there are gaps in the chassis log and that the actual figure is closer to a mere 66 cars.
Either way, the 1600GT is uncommon in any of its many flavours. 'Our' car was first seen on the OSCA stand at the #1961 Turin motor show, Road & Tracks Henry Manney III going so far as to describe its outline as being 'pleasant'. He went on to ponder the likelihood of it entering series production as a standalone variant. No chance: Touring had bigger fisher to fry.
That same year saw Touring's principal Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni entertain George Carless, the ironically named general manager of the Rootes Group's newly established Italian headquarters. This led to an agreement whereby Touring would open a facility big enough to accommodate production lines. Britain was outside the European Common Market at the time, so it made sense to have a manufacturing site within the EC's borders. Sunbeam Alpine and Hillman Super Minx models would be assembled there, with Touring tailoring niche models.
Touring had contracts with other manufacturers, but they were pared back in preparation for the manufacture of 10,000 Rootes products a year. Rootes then got cold feet and Touring employees went on strike in 1963. The firm's Nova Milanese factor}’ was never used to its full capacity - not even close - and it lurched into receivership in March 1964. There were attempts to turn around its fortunes: a batch of 400 Hillmans was assembled in short order from CKD kits, along with 100 Sunbeams. There was also the stop-start construction of #Lamborghini-350GT and #Alfa-Romeo Giulia GTC bodies. A year later, Touring was given the task of repainting a thousand unsold #Lancia Flaminias that had remained on the company's books. There were other orders, but none that could possibly return the company to prosperity. By late 1967, the game was over.
It was a sad end for a carrozzeria that had produced a slide-show succession of design icons spanning several decades. Following its Turin showing in #1961 , chassis 0014 was sold to a trader in Genoa who moved it on the following year to a woman from Pasaro. She retained the car for 50 years before selling it to a dealer in Bergamo. It was acquired by arch-collector Corrado Lopresto in 2012. He is at pains to point out that the car hasn't been restored so much as titivated. It was mechanically overhauled, while the bodywork is largely original. The 1600GT has, however, been returned to its original colour, having been painted in a lighter shade of green early in its life. It has since gone on to win several concours prizes on more than one continent, most recently at the #2014 Warren Classic.
Photographs don't really lend a sense of scale: the OSCA is barely 3900mm long, 1497mm wide and approximately 1200mm high. As such, there's an art to getting into it that doesn't involve you banging your noggin against the delicate ally skin. What's more, it's worth the effort. The cabin trim, from doorcards to carpeting, is all original, having merely been cleaned. The body-coloured dash is fronted by an attractive alloy-spoked wheel, its array of Jaeger instruments bearing the legend 'Fratelli Maserati Bologna' at their bases. The speedo runs to 200km/h, the revcounter to 8000rpm. There's no redline.
Prior experience of OSCAs informs you that they're unhappy in traffic, not least because of the high-profile cams, yet this example is wonderfully well-mannered, if noisy. That rather goes with the territory - but what a noise. There's little urge below around 2000rpm but, once free of hectoring commuters and on less congested roads on the outskirts of Milan, the 1600GT comes into its own. It thrives on revs, becoming increasingly choral past 5000rpm. It feels like a thoroughbred engine, and it is precisely that. While Fiat made ample use of the OSCA unit, it supplied the blocks to OSCA unmachined. These in turn were honed and modified to the point that there were significant differences, not least increased oil flow to the journals, the use of special pistons and so on. Its competition heritage is palpable. It crackles with energy.
The in-house gearshift is close-coupled to the point that it's all-too-easy to fluff a change and move from first to fourth but, with familiarity, it's delightfully precise. The steering, too, is light but accurate with it. You guide the #OSCA with smooth, minimal input rather than sawing at the wheel. Turn-in is crisp, and there's little discernible weight transfer. The ride is a little unyielding, but even the briefest of sorties is an immersive experience. It's a wonderful car, and one with bags of character.
Whether success eluded the #1600GT or it eluded success is a moot point. It's a step above most small-series sports cars of the day, one that was capable of sub-8 second 0-60mph times, depending on state of tune. What's more, it had an enviable competition pedigree and wore distinctive outlines conjured by some of the more celebrated styling houses of the day. If not quite its final curtain, this was OSCA's last triumph.
THANKS TO Corrado Lopresto, his son Duccio, and Massimo Delbo.
Car #1961 #OSCA-1600GT
ENGINE 1568cc four-cylinder, DOHC, twin Weber 38DCOE carburettors
POWER 115bhp @ 6800rpm
TORQUE 105lb ft @ 4800rpm
TRANSMISSION Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
STEERING Rack and pinion
Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.
Rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers.
PERFORMANCE Top speed 118mph
'This ear was first seen on the OSCA stand at the 1961 Turin motor show’
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- Post is under moderationWITH ALL DUE RESPECT #1953 FERRARI 375MM PININ FARINA SPIDER
The legendary Phil Hill used to race this glorious Ferrari barchetta - which is why a perfect cosmetic restoration would have been a sin Dale Drinnon was seduced from the start.
For a moment I freeze mere inches from the driver's door in a paralysing wave of angst. Then I do my umpteenth re-check for protruding zipper pulls and ballpoint pens in hip pockets, and slip delicately into the cockpit. Brushing a belt buckle against a sparkling new restoration would be nightmare enough; leaving the slightest mark on this car, though, smacks of tearing the flyleaf on a Guttenberg Bible, and my stomach goes fluttery at the mere thought that mine could be the foot that Anally crumbles the antique clutch pedal rubber, or that my fingers erase the last traces of Phil Hill's DNA from the shifter knob.
This is, after all, more than a rare, milestone, racing Ferrari. It's the singular unrestored #375MM known to remain, a veritable time capsule of 1950s international motor sport, and maybe it really does deserve to be atop a museum pedestal, protected from defilement by un worthies like me. Even after the soothing little pre-launch rituals have been performed, the switches are switched, the fuel pump has pumped, the throttle is half-depressed precisely so, it takes an act of deliberate will to reach out and stab the starter button.
The V12 whoops to life like I've zapped it with a cattle prod. It isn't the high, lilting, operatic kind of V12 whoop, either; it's a big- bore kind that begins as deep, guttural growl and builds to raw berserker bellow. WHOOP. As though all those decades locked away, still and silent, have only made it meaner and rowdier, less a saintly Lazarus returned divinely from the dead than a psycho-killer busted out of prison and utterly boiling over to kick ass and take names. Suddenly I'm not so much worried about the car; hell no, I'm worried about my own hide.
Which probably isn't a bad approach for any of the 375-series sports racers, unsullied time capsule or not. Combining the biggest racing engines Enzo Ferrari would produce before the Can-Am and his lifelong indifference to the science of handling ('I build engines,' went an infamous Enzo-ism, 'and attach wheels to them'), along with his conviction that disc brakes were nothing but British voodoo, they were powerful, direct, and elemental, and not to be taken lightly.
They were also quite effective. Like the 340-series sport preceding it in 1950, the 375 was based on the normally aspirated #Aurelio-Lampredi #Formula-1 V12 that replaced Gioacchino Colombo's much smaller supercharged version. In the case of the 340, it was a 4.1-litre worth 280 horsepower; in 1953, however, Ferrari started fitting two-seaters with the 4.5 (recently legislated out of the monoposto World Drivers' Championship - waste not, want not) making some 340bhp.
Designated the 375MM - for ' #Mille-Miglia ', of course - and usually in closed Pinin Farina bodywork similar to that of (or, in fact, often inherited from) a #340MM , the new car won two of the three victories that secured #Enzo-Ferrari the inaugural World Sportscar Championship. #Ferrari repeated the title in #1954 with help from the 375MM and the 375MM Plus, a 4.9-litre variant with only four additional horses. In the meantime, however, Ferrari announced a special run of 4.5-litre customer 375MM Pinin Farina Spiders. In 1953, for any serious privateer, that immediately became the Big Gun.
And wealthy American amateur Bill Spear was pretty serious. Besides winning the 1953 SCCA overall drivers' championship in a 340 America, he had taken seventh at Le Mans that year for Briggs Cunningham (and during his time earned multiple top-five finishes at both Le Mans and Sebring), where a 340/375 Berlinetta set fastest lap and gave Jaguar's C-types everything they could handle until the clutch went south. Spear came home to the States, suitably impressed, and duly ordered one of the sexy new PF Spiders.
He would receive the car on these pages, Chassis 0382AM, completed in December 1953 and arriving at Luigi Chinetti Motors in New York on New Year's Eve. It was the ninth and final copy from the official batch of 4.5 customer Spiders (although 26 of the 375MM series were reportedly built in total). To break it in properly, Spear entered the car that March in the USA's longest, toughest event - the 12 Hours of Sebring - with frequent collaborator Phil Hill as co-driver.
They made a good team, battling at the front with the fierce #Lancia D24s right from the start, and Spear was leading when a differential problem sidelined them on lap 60. Over the balance of 1954, he ran a busy nine-race domestic schedule with 0382, winning four, coming second twice, and claiming a still- standing track record on the last of the legendary Watkins Glen public road courses. He finished second in season points, behind only the even wealthier Jim Kimberly - in another 375MM Pinin Farina Spider.
For #1955 Spear moved to a #Maserati 300S, less powerful but friendlier, which placed him third at Sebring, and he sold the Ferrari on. It thereafter followed the usual ageing race-car syndrome of owner changes, alternating track and road use, and slow decline, but stayed in SCCA 'new car' racing for a surprisingly long while, until #1966 . In #1972 it finally passed from motoring author and historic racer Joel Finn to John B 'Ian' Gunn, who gave 0382 its last competitive outing, finishing fourth at the #1973 Watkins Glen Vintage GP. He then parked the car in his garage, with tired brakes, a baulky gearbox and general exhaustion.
It stayed there untouched for more than 36 years. But don't assume 0382 was forgotten. Gunn, an eminent physicist specialising in electronics (you're likely near a Gunn Diode even as we speak) as well as a motorcycle racer and collector, and a compulsive home mechanic and machinist, apparently just decided bike racing was more fun, and restoring cars for cosmetic reasons wasn't his style. Nonetheless he loved the Ferrari, and refused to sell it. Upon his death in 2008, those wonky brakes were probably still on his to-do list; it was simply a very long list.
Fortunately, Andreas Mohringer, the well- known Austrian enthusiast of classic racing machinery, has a similar aversion to restoration for restoration's sake. He bought the car from the Gunn family in March 2010 and immediately sent it to Paul Russell and Company, of Essex, Massachusetts, to be mechanically re-commissioned, and left in gloriously age-ripened, as-raced for 19 unpampered years, unrestored condition.
He made an excellent choice of shops; Paul Russell and his colleagues, including those whose jobs don't directly involve the hands-on technical disciplines, conduct their world-class restoration facility in the manner you'd expect from a world-class medical practice - with conscientious deliberation and great concern. The prime directive of this project was in fact, as Paul likes to say, 'the traditional physician's credo: first, do no Harm.'
Given the established mission statement of minimum-possible intervention, that meant considerable patience and commensurate forethought. The engine was pulled, for example, and the cylinders oil-soaked for a week before it was even turned over by hand, and then supplied externally with full oil flow and pressure on a test stand before being spun on the starter.
In spite of the caution, compression was good and so was valve action, so the cylinder heads were never removed. Likewise, the timing chain proved acceptable, but the tensioner was marginal, so a replacement was made for the spacer Ian Gunn had machined in the '70s to address the same problem.
As always, a plethora of little things threw up their roadblocks, too. Removing the lids of old Webers for rebuilding is never straightforward; they're invariably stuck solid, and any attempt at prying them off ruins both the brittle aluminium and the gaskets underneath; in this case, they were no longer available. Standard procedure calls for a gentle sideways hammer tap - which yielded absolutely nothing. The solution, technician Bob Lapane told me, was ultimately 'heat and cold cycles... lots and lots of them'.
‘It’s a genuine delight up to 95%, but in those last five ticks it’ll swing around like a bad habit’
The issue of replacement or refurbishment on an individual component, however, sometimes came down to 'correct for period', and the period chosen was the car's latter SCCA years. Therefore the American brake master cylinder fitted by Gunn right after the 1973 historic race was ditched for original equipment, while the seat covers, looking suspiciously like ski boat items but visible in early-60s photographs, were removed by upholsterer Richard Barnes, painstakingly cleaned, re-stitched, and reinstalled. Even the period tyres, so fossilised they could support the car without air pressure, were re-used, at least for the unveiling at Pebble Beach.
In the end, hardly anything was replaced outright except pure expendables such as clutch friction material. Walking around the car at Russell and Co it looks every inch its battle-scared original self, down to the slightly askew jaw-line leftover from pouncing atop a Formula Junior racer in 1966, the incident that changed SCCA philosophy on which cars should share a track together. On the bulkhead behind the driver's seat a splatter of ancient scrutineering stickers remain; the seat itself is so 1954-close to the steering wheel that it's hard to believe the amply proportioned Bill Spear could have squeezed himself in.
Being medium of build, however, and not of the straight-arm driving school, I'm relieved to find it suits me perfectly. It's also comforting to sit so high in the cockpit, with a clear, reassuring view. Although not really comforting enough to keep my mind off the story of a previous owner I won't name who allegedly looped this sucker on his debut drive. Twice. Before getting out of the car park.
So I'm supremely, agonisingly circumspect in the initial stages and, quite happily, the car responds in kind. Mild-mannered might be a misnomer; it certainly is civilised, though, and well beyond my expectations so long as it's treated with respect. The car can be launched neatly on reasonable revs, although it loads up quickly if asked to labour long below 4000rpm, and a fair dose of raucous throttle- blipping is necessary to keep the carbs clear. (A pity, that. Ahem.)
Clutch take-up is smooth and dead easy; the brakes have a high, hard pedal, pull up evenly and in an acceptable distance on light-to- medium demand, and with four-wheel drums and 340bhp, I have no intention whatsoever of demanding anything more.
The transmission requires some getting used to; on inspection at Paul Russell, the synchros were found to be naught but shrapnel in the bottom of the casing and, since a concours deadline was looming, the internals were shimmed to compensate and it was reassembled as a crash 'box. That said, it still shifts better than some that were designed unsynchronised from the get-go.
Above. The 375MM #Pinin-Farina Spider ( #Pininfarina )looks delicate and pretty, especially from this angle, yet it was tough and brawny enough to compete in the demanding Sebring 12 Hours.
With a measure of low-speed acquaintance safely under my belt, I become progressively braver, and it's easy to see how you could quickly become over-confident with 0382. Whereas the #340MM was constantly nervous and everyone knew it, too many to their mortal detriment, the #Ferrari-375MM is much like a Lancia Stratos or early #Porsche-911 : a genuine delight up to 95%, but in those last five ticks it'll swing around like a bad habit if you're unready or unable. Power oversteer must come to it as naturally as whacking an unwary gazelle comes to a hungry lioness, and with roughly equal warning.
But true to Mr Ferrari's promises, there is nothing at all wrong with this engine. Every start is on the button, as long as you remember to half-crack the Webers; power and response are smooth and instant, and despite my prudent regard for age and provenance - no, honestly - it flings me down the road with a heart-pounding satisfaction. It's loud, macho and incredibly seductive, and soon I'm thinking, well, hey, the owner uses this regularly at events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Bahamas Speed Week, surely it couldn't hurt to have one, good, full-on charge through the gears...
Then, from a sky that scant seconds earlier had appeared completely innocent, a faint sneer of raindrops litters the windscreen; unbidden, my right foot lifts in amazingly direct proportion to the puckering I experience elsewhere about my anatomy.
I immediately turn around, revs barely above tickover, and crawl back to base. There's brave, dear reader, and there's plain old crazy, and, sometimes, you've really got to recognise the difference.
THANKS TO Paul Russell and Company, www. paulrussell. com.
Right. The great Phil Hill once sat behind this wheel and the Ferrari scored four race victories in its maiden season; triple-carb 4.5-litre V12 puts out 340bhp.
Right. Any imperfections that were evident in this gorgeous car’s (now) 62-year-old bodywork at the end of its unusually long racing career are still present - and correct.
Car 1953 #Ferrari-375MM-Pininfarina-Spider
ENGINE 4522cc V12, SOHC perbank, three four-barrel #Weber 40 IF/4C carburettors
POWER 340bhp @ 7000rpm
TORQUE 300lb ft @ 4300rpm
TRANSMISSION Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
STEERING Worm and sector
Front: double wishbones, transverse leaf spring, Houdaille dampers.
Rear: live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, trailing arms, Houdaille dampers.
PERFORMANCE Top speed 170mph. 0-60mph 5.5 sec (est)
'This is more than a milestone racing Ferrari. It’s the singular unrestored 375MM known to remain'
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- Post is under moderation#Lotus-Elan
Name Jim and Carole Jackson
Ages 65 and 64
First classic #MG TF
Dream classic #Frazer-Nash #Le-Mans Replica
Favourite driving song I wanna be a rock star Nickelback
Best drive Hanoi to Saigon on 2014 International Jeep Rally
“No Sarah, we can’t afford to buy you a horse and, no, I don’t believe that all the other girls in your class have one. You can have a horse when I get a #Lotus Elan.” She was about 10 then, now 32 and, luckily, she has forgotten, so shhh! We bought our #1967 S3 S/E in #2004 .
Why an Elan? Funnily enough, on the #2013 London to Lisbon rally, a bloke with an MGB asked that very question. I fixed him with a steely glare and asked him why he’d bought that shirt. The real answer, setting aside the rationale that it’s the best car for the money by a huge factor, is just human nature. We all have an affection for a marque from our past: maybe a car we’ve owned, or an uncle’s, maybe a neighbour’s, even Emma Peel’s! In my case, after the inevitable Mini as a first car then a #1954 MG TF that was 14 years old, I moved upmarket, or so I thought, with a second-hand #MGB .
It just seemed lacking in character after the TF so, once I’d studied various classic tomes and, after six months’ frantically saving, I spent even more money on an older car, an S1 Elan. It was in dubious condition and, despite the high regard that early Elans are now held in, it was a bit past its best. But it was still explosive. I could suddenly see what all the fuss was about.
Two years later, I traded up to an S3 – in an unusual 1960s colour – then a used Sprint in my favourite monotone Lagoon Blue. In #1973 , just before purchase tax was abolished, I bought my first new car, another Sprint in the same lovely colour, in kit form. We didn’t build it in time to go to the pub on Sunday lunchtime, not that Sunday – nor the next – but I was hooked, and still am. And if you aren’t you should be. Gordon Murray, Jay Leno, me... we all have that in common (but nothing else). Then marriage, kids, the need for furniture, food and so on meant that I was Elanless for 30 years. Still horseless, we’re just loving our Elan and are lucky in that we have plenty of good friends nearby who also own old cars so we often go off together on rallies, tours or just outings where one of us has organised an interesting tulip route or whatever. Then there’s Goodwood or the Silverstone Classic. Buying the Elan was one of the best things that we’ve ever done: it’s an interest that you can share with, or escape from, your wife (not me, of course) and you go to places that you wouldn’t otherwise have done.
We’ve made firm friends with likeminded people from ordinary blokes to Lords and Ladies. I was gratified a couple of years ago as I looked around an eclectic, and somewhat expensive, entry on an event and realised that there wasn’t another car that I’d rather own.
We’ve done a little over 60,000 miles in the 10 years that we’ve had the Lotus – from Ireland to the Czech Republic, and Sweden to Italy, on various tours. We’ve taken part in 18 competitive rallies where the car has been a huge success, unlike the crew – which hasn’t.
Our most notable result was the team prize on the Three Castles a few years ago. We formed a team with a rally-prepped DB5 and a DB4 GT (the people you meet, eh?) on condition that I could name the team ‘Two Astons and a Fast Car.’
The S/E has been no less or more reliable than any other vehicle from the ’60s. Last year, on the London to Lisbon, plus a week in Portugal, we did 4100 miles door to door with no issues whatsoever.
Hang on, what’s this on eBay: a 1973 Lotus Elan Sprint in monotone Lagoon Blue? The registration? CRA 536L? It’s our bloomin’ car. Well, it is now… again. It had been off the road for 34 years and has covered just 51,000 miles. In the ’90s, the chassis was replaced, the running gear rebuilt and the bodywork restored by Mick Miller. Now the overhaul has been completed and the car recommissioned by Neil and Ken Myers. It’s just stunning, almost too good to use, but that would be silly.
We’re keeping the S3 for longer events or rallies – we’re just back from the Classic Europe (with classiccarjourneys. co. uk) – and cherishing the Sprint for special occasions. The trouble is, every journey in an Elan is special.
Spectacular Alpine backdrop near Interlaken, Switzerland en route to Lauterbrunnen on the Classic Europe tour.
#Elan excels at Knockhill on Scottish Malts Much-used S3 at start of Silvretta Classic.
On way to team prize, Three Castles 2011.
The Jacksons with newly reacquired Sprint.
‘We’ve done 60,000 miles in the 10 years we’ve had it – from Ireland to the Czech Republic, Sweden to Italy’.
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- Post is under moderationBonhams set to auction ex-Works #Ferrari 375. The star of Bonhams’ #Goodwood Festival of Speed sale in June is set to be a Ferrari 375-Plus, one of five Works cars built to contest the #1954 Sports Car Championship. The car was revealed with dimmed-light and fanfare theatrics at a special reception at Bonhams’ London headquarters earlier this month.
Chassis 0384AM posted DNFs for the #Mille-Miglia , #Targo-Floria and #Le-Mans in 1954, but the car finally came good at Silverstone in the hands of Jose Froilan Gonzales, winning the Daily Express Trophy. Greater success came once the car passed into private hands for the #1955 US racing season, where it posted four outright wins.
Following fire damage at the #1957 Cuban GP the car changed hands again but spent 28 years stored in the backwoods of Ohio, from where the partially dismantled car was stolen, minus the engine, which had previously been removed. In the late Eighties the still unrestored remains were bought by Belgian Ferrari importer Jacques Swaters, who commissioned a restoration in Italy using a new engine block and much new panelwork. However, the remains of the original body are included in the sale, and Bonhams expects the next owner may want to repatriate as much of this as possible with the car. Recently it has also been reunited with the original engine.
The 375-Plus will be offered with no reserve. Jose Foilan Gonzales takes the #Ferrari-375 to first place at #Silverstone in 1954.
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