Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Marcello Gandini Story - Part 1

I still have to find a comprehensive collection of the works of Marcello Gandini, therefore I decided to open a new series of posts trying to cover all his beautiful creations. The secluded genial designer that arguably gave us the seventies - and the last car design revolution that we care to remember - has never been fit for celebration and even less for giving satisfaction to the press. When asked if between all these cars, there is one that he remembers in particular he said: “I do not have the habit to associate a drawing to the end result obtained. I am not bound to the success of a particular car, rather the memory of the persons that collaborated to the project and the circumstances under which they were created (...) If I think about the Lamborghini Marzal, I think of the night previous to the launch in Geneva; We had only few hours to end the work and at midnight we still had the car dismantled on the floor…. However, we succeeded in time and the following morning left with destination Geneva.Talking about the shockingly groundbreaking Lancia Stratos HF seven years after its presentation at Turin's motor show in 1970 he only ended up commenting: “The very first Stratos was designed as freely as the [Autobianchi] Runabout and reached the aim for which it was intended: to establish a bridge between Lancia and Bertone. Having established the bridge, Lancia asked us to come up with an idea for a new sports car that would go rallying in the world championships.” It sure is the most beautiful "bridge" ever made. But more about the HF when we'll come to it.
If you have any kind of familiarity with Turin, you would not be surprised about his attitude. It is a town that keeps things for itself, a town that hates showing off and is almost bothered by publicity. Things have changed much in the last ten years in the heart Turin, since Fiat released its pressure on any kind of development in town. In 1938 Fiat still had to sharp its claws on the town but a faulty royalty allowed fascism to cast its horrid shadow on the Italian peninsula. On the bright side Marcello Gandini was born, just 19 days after another design icon as Giorgetto Giugiaro and 7 months after Leonardo Fioravanti. Must have been something in the water.
The little Marcello was born son of an orchestra director, studied music and sculpture and ended up working as interior designer. Apparently had his automotive epiphany when he first saw a Cord 812. He was impressed by the sense of speed and dynamism that those lines still express today. When a friend crashed his Osca asked Marcello to pen a body for it. The young interior designer was asked a full scale drawing for the wooden body buck to be produced and he did so by sticking together on the wall many sheets from the biggest drawing pad he could find. Giovanni Raniero, the man appointed for the wooden structure harshly told him "I can understand nothing!". The young designer didn't know that the standard was to start with the left profile and presented the right instead.

In 1963 he tried to work for Bertone, but the chief designer at the time, Giugiaro, refused to work with him. Thankfully Giorgietto left the company to open his own two years later and Gandini was hired to replace him. He would have worked there for the next 14 years. As soon as he arrived he was asked to complete one of the most important cars of all time and in effect, the first supercar as we know it today. The Lamborghini Miura. The story of this car is one of the most covered in motorsport publications but it will nevertheless deserve a post of its own.

Click HERE for part 2 - The Miura

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Story - Part I

It took me some time to grasp the story of Autodelta's ultimate racing car, ten years of career plus previous development are quite a lot of work to collect and the fact that Alfa Romeo has never been precise with tracking chassis numbers made it a lot harder. Only recently I came across the final book on the matter. "Alfa Romeo Tipo 33, the development and racing history" by Peter Collins and Ed McDonough is definitely one of the best motorsport books I've ever had the pleasure to read. I freely admit most of the informations will come from or can be found in this book. I can't fully explain how good and important this book is. Go and buy it.
In 1951 Alfa Romeo decided to retire from competition in an attempt to reassure its finances, never recovered since the end of WW2. The government owned company had to abandon its glamorous pre-war style and sell vehicles in much higher numbers. So no long distance runner was produced after the 6C 3000CM. Only towards the end of the decade the possibility of a new racer became possible and the slow design process became the TZ in 1963. It was a tubular chassis with a 1600cc power-plant and a beautiful aerodynamic body from Zagato.
It would seem that its successor, the TZ2 would be the ancestor of the Tipo-33, especially because it was one of these (chassis 105.33) that was used as a test car for some variations of the Giulia engine. This would only be partially true thou, since the future engine of the first 33 will not be this engine, but a V8 designed at least ten years before. It was one of the prototypes created by Orazio Satta (responsible of racing mechanical parts from 1948 to 1977), Giampaolo Garcea and Giuseppe Busso, a compact 2-litre V8. Alfa's serious return to competition was about to begin with this engine and many different chassis. 
One of these was sent to Turin where OSI (Officine Stampaggi Industriali) turned it into the Scarabeo, in many ways a shape of the things to come. The chassis consisted of large diameter tubes linked in an innovative "H-shape" creating the fuel tank and distributing perfectly the weight of the liquid, the engine located transversally behind the driver, slightly tilted at an angle. 
The story of Tipo-33 would have probably never been legendary without a man called Carlo Chiti, but for a short story of this incredible man we'll have to wait for the next post. 

Friday, 11 November 2011

The big cat that doesn't want to die

About a year ago I came across the sad story of a Jaguar XK150 about to be used for a banger race (a demolition derby, for you guys on the other side of the pond). 
As legend goes some guys received a call to go pick up a old rover and they were pretty astonished to find out it wasn't a rover at all, but this very sad big cat, incomplete and neglected. Some say it was a resto project left there, some say it was left there to rot. The guys apparently tried and convince the lady that the car was obviously worth saving and they were ready to pay for it rather than demolish it. The lady didn't seem to care about having money for it, she wanted to see it scrapped and demanded the car to be cut in half on the spot, understanding the poor lads were't ready for such a vile gesture. They apparently managed to convince her that the gear they had on them wasn't big enough for the task and she had satisfaction in seeing the roof pillars chopped off. 
It would have been bad enough for the poor cat but sometimes fate is nothing but a downward spiral. The lads in fact were looking for cars to race in the banger championship.
Somehow they decided to race the poor Jag. They paint it, remove the sellable spares, weld the doors (according to some sources they were missing when they found it) and in three months they are ready to take it to the local track for the sad event.
There's a video of the race, do yourself a favour and skip to minute 1.40, the horrible music adds shame to the disgrace. 
The teenage driver apparently has been abused all over the internet and he made an effort in explaining the story before the race and afterwards in a number of forums. I kinda appreciate that but still it is a real shame and certainly a bad day for any classic cars enthusiast. 

This is what he had to say for himself: 
"Im not going to get into an argument over it, as people have tried to have an argument with me about what i did and it hasnt worked, but i will gladly answer any questions people may have. But to answer your post mate, alot of the cars i would like to own  (mk1/mk2 granadas, xj6's, p5's,p4's etc etc) are all cars i would also like to race, i see these cars raced week in week out, and have raced a few of them, the way i see it is these are cars that are not financially viable to put back on the road and instead of sending them to the scrap yard, let them go out in a blaze of glory, also, any bits that are taken off the car that arnt needed when racing it are sold to people who own road goings ones, thus, keeping there road viechles going.
To answer another question about what condition the car was in after the race, it faired pretty well , was quicker than most out there, the back got a fair bit of damage and kinked the passenger side front wing a small bit and that was it, sold the car after it was raced but dont no what happened to it as ive heard a few diffrent stories from diffrent people.
Cheers Laurence"
I was pretty sure that was the last we would have heard of that poor troubled cat, but to my amazement it appeared on ebay about a month ago! I wanted to write a post about it but personal life got on the way and I'm only resolving in writing now that the auction is long gone... without bids. 
It's moving how this troubled cat seems to resist living above any sort of abuse. Unfortunately the starting price at £4.500 was extremely optimistic, even with the internet star status that this car keeps on building up, on the other hand I wonder what would be a reasonable price to ask.
I sure hope some crazy collector will buy it one day. Not sure what I'd like him to do with it.

CCT on Malware Alarm

Google listed this website as potentially dangerous.
The issue was relative to some .jpg linked from a dodgy Russian website. The problem has been addressed and the images have been re-linked. It is perfectly safe now but unfortunately it will take weeks for Google to remove us from the alarm lists.

Thanks for your understanding.


Classic Cars Talks

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

CCT on

Automobiliac just published my post about the RM Auctions days in Battersea last month.
Click HERE to read all about it.

Monday, 24 October 2011

RM Auctions, London - the night before

Tonight on the way home I couldn't resist and had to go and take a look at the parking lot of the Enterprise in Battersea Park. Tomorrow RM will open the gates to this year's auction there and I will offer plenty of coverage for this blog. It was one of the most glorious parking lots I've ever seen. I've been waiting for the Ferrari Pinin Concept, the Alfa Romeo 33/TT/3, the Lamborghini Miura SV or the Alfa 1900c SS to show up but had to leave before they arrived. I still had my 45 minutes of silence and solitude with the Bizzarrini 5300 Gt Strada, the Ferrari 250GT LWB Berlinetta and the Lister "Knobbly". Can't wait for tomorrow and wednesday.
In the meantime just enjoy the pictures I quickly shot with my phone. 
Click HERE to access the full catalog of the auction.

Jensen Interceptor, Reborn and Future Regret

Looks like Browns Lane in Coventry is going to host again history of English motor culture or at least another attempt.

CPP, a British specialist automotive group, has been appointed by Jensen’s owners, Healey Sports Cars Switzerland Ltd, to engineer, develop and build the all new Interceptor. The car will apparently be a full aluminium body and will presented officially in late 2012. The first customers thou can't expect to park it in their driveway before 2014, any many things can change by then.
The first images are at least encouraging, the "forte" of the lines seems to be updated but preserved and seems to be more than the usual "lower the car and put 21" low profile rims on it", even if they actually put 21" rims on it. The legend of the Interceptor tell also stories of dreadful fuel consumption dictated by the scary 6.2 and 7.2 V8 and this is a detail that I see less and less appropriate in a world where hybrid racers are about to approach the 24h of Le Mans.
The intriguing aspect is that a brand new aluminium chassis is a perfect chance to solve the "barge like" handling of the original car, another legendary aspect of this British icon.

This isn't the first attempt to update the Jensen, the Interceptor R hit the market few years ago, but the asking price puts the car in a closed niche of enthusiasts with more money than sense, really. The old shell is completely stripped and rebuilt, engine, suspensions, brakes and transmission updated to what seems a corvette swap. The result is far from being a track day car or a performance GT and only love could make you ignore the much better cars available for a fraction of the price.

So while waiting for the end of 2012 to have a clearer idea of what will truly be on offer, the best way to go seems looking for a real deal and try to stay away from money pits projects.
A quick search brought me this example for sale in Cheshire. The sentence "body needs attention" sounds alarming but the price tag of "£4.000 or sensible offers" sounds reasonable enough to be worth a visit in person. It seems material for a Future Regret.
Sure is a far cry from the most desirable "FF" with its first time full 4WD ever seen on a production car, anti lock brakes and traction control. Only 320 of these were ever built and I haven't seen one of those for sale at reasonable price for years.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Michelotti Jaguar D-type

I was very nicely surprised to find a picture of Michelotti's D-type between D.C.'s pictures a couple of weeks ago (ref. to the older post HERE) because is one of the "unlucky" specials that never had the attention it deserved.
It all started with XKD 513, a Jaguar D-Type short nose sold to the French Equipe Los Amigos for the 1957 Le Mans. Painted in the patriotic French Blue Livery it was taken by the duo Lucas-Brousselet to third place overall, in a glorious year for Jaguar (scoring and unrepeated 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th). Recording the average of 110.17mph was enough to leave in the dust a fierce opposition of Maserati, Aston Martin and Ferrari.
The car was then equipped with a new 3litre engine to comply with 1958's regulation and registered its new entry for the French endurance with Jean-Marie Brousselet and Andre Guelfi. At 10PM, after many storms washed the track over and over, Brousselet lost control in the Dunlop bridge. The oncoming Bruce Kessler  on his NART Ferrari could not avoid the collision with the blue D-type already overturned.
Brousselet was dead.

The main section of the remaining car was put into storage until 1960, when Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti bought it and took it to Turin for a styling exercise. The new design sat on the undamaged original chassis and was completed in time for 1963 Geneva Motor Show where it won first place.

The car remained in Michelotti's hands until the end of the decade, when it was sold to Richard Carter and exported to the United States. Many sources state that the car was there used to raise money for an undisclosed Church, taken around on a trailer. In 1973 Andrew Gortway took this rare beauty out of that misery but didn't have good plans for it. He knew in fact what the original chassis was and asked Lynx Engineering to revert it to D-type specs. Thankfully the delicate Italian coachwork was not scrapped and it was equipped with the mechanics of a 4.2 E-Type (20 KOG).
It is not clear what happened to the car next, but it is likely to have remained in the U.K. with Bill Lake for another decade the least. This would be confirmed by D.C.'s picture, even if unfortunately he is not able to give any further detail about what he did on the car and when.
Michelotti's D-Type reappeared in France, where Roland Urban, the new owner, apparently managed to rejoin the car with some parts originally given to the Lynx replica. In 1999 the car was sold to Spain and it's not clear when it appeared for sale (and sold) on
Some sources report the car being now in Switzerland but what is confirmed is that Williams-Welding in Oxford reverted it to the original light metallic blue of when it was first exhibited at the Geneva car show back in 1963.
It is a very delicate dress for the D-Type chassis, gracefully balanced towards the rear axle in favour of  a long and clean bonnet. The dashboard is frankly not up to the standard but the tail is a very happy interpretation of the Grand Tourer of the early sixties. It's easy to spot in the rear arches hints for the future Triumph Fury and the consequent Spitfire, whether the front will be a starting point for the OSI 1200 S Sport. In the following image Giovanni Michelotti is holding a preliminary model for this very car, and the similarity is quite obvious.

on the edge of disaster

Ford Escort MKII
1976 circa

Monday, 17 October 2011

D.C.'s workshop, English Motorsport Heritage

When my friend Simon asked me to get a day off work to go and see the state of his Frogeye Sprite's restoration I didn't have to think twice.
He took me to a dusty shed lost in the English countryside where we were welcomed by an amazing character cleaning his hands with a dirty cloth. In the yard I could already see beautiful spares left there to rot, few "sleeping" projects and a Giulia SS that has clearly been there to long. I lift the merciful plastic that covers it only to find the frame rusted way beyond repair. The car is basically collapsed in the middle. A real, sad shame. 

DC - "Oh, you saw the Alfa, huh? Nothing else can be done for that one, I'm afraid. The owner left it here about fifteen years ago. He did pay for the job to be started but then disappeared. I kept it inside for five or six years, but then I had to put it there. Beautiful car that was, I'll have to sell the few salvageable spares one of these days".

I knew that the visit to his workshop would have been worth a day off work but didn't expect such a start.
CCT - "I would like to take some pictures and write a feature for my blog, would you mind that?"
DC - "Take all the pictures you want, ask me all you want to know but please don't mention my name or say where I am. I've been trying to retire for the last 12 years and I keep on receiving projects. I had enough, mate. Really had enough."

He lets me into the office for a cup of tea and while he updates Simon on the latest about his Sprite I take a look around. It's exactly how I pictured it, maybe even better. He is now sitting at his huge desk with feet on the table, in front of him spare parts catalogs, bills, few dirty mugs and a tin of biscuits. On the walls a staggering amount of pictures collapsing in the frames or curled by the years. He clearly loves his job but it all also shows he had enough and he's been ready to "let go" for a number of years already. 
On the left a big panel collects 80 yellowed pictures. In that alone there could be material for a year of this blog. The beautiful D-type Michelotti sticks out. He remembers working on the car "about twenty years ago, nice car that was". Will tell the amazing story of this car in a separate post.

On the opposite wall a healthy number of XK's and E-types didn't distract me too much form finding the nose of a 512BB LM peeping in a picture.
DC - "I didn't do much on that car, the body was damaged on its way to England and I've been asked to fixed it. I reckon I did a very good job on that."
I wonder if the owner ever found out...

We then walk inside the workshop and a funny grin stuck to my face. It was just as expected. A dusty and chaotic mass of spares was framing projects of all sorts. A Jaguar Mark 2 guarded a Fiat X1/9 under a dusty plastic cover the same way an old pussycat would guard a wounded kitten, a 1939 Aston and a 1936 HRG  seemed ready to leave any minute now, the usual (and still sexy) group of MGs, chassis and engine of a pre war Cadillac than I can hardly figure on the road ever again.

D.C. has been very busy lately to put back on the road a Gwynne 180px, apparently a present of an extremely cool parent to his/her daughter. A very cute bath tube shaped design and a single door on one side. He just finished setting up the leather seats, hand stitched by an old friend of his, retired after a whole life in Aston Martin.

Finally, in a room of its own at the bottom of the workshop, Simon's Frogeye sits on a cart. As many other projects, he came in for a dent and ended up in a nut and bolt restoration that lasted over five years. It's not road worthy yet, but it sure looks amazing. Take a look for yourself.

It's really hard not to tell about other fascinating details of D.C.'s life, but a promise is a promise. If for any reason you think you need to contact him please enquire and I will ask for his consent. 

Monday, 19 September 2011

24h Hours of Le Mans, June 15/16 1963

From the original 189 applications for entry the A.C.O. selected a most promising field, but pre-race withdrawals (most notably of all the American cars, Chevrolet Sting Ray Corvettes and Chaparrals, and of the works Abarths the A.S.A.s and the new Osca) removed much of the piston-engined novelty.

Even with all the reserves admitted, the smallest field (48+1) for several years started. Ferrari was once again the marque to beat, a formidable task as 11 factory and private cars represented the Scuderia, four 4.9 330LM open and coupe Prototypes, three open 3.0 250Ps and four 3.0 GTOs (one a 330LM/GTO hybrid). Their large-car opposition included only two full teams, neither of them full-time: Briggs Cunningham's three lightweight competition E-type Jaguars and the Aston Martins, a 4.0 215 Prototype, a private and two works DB4GTs.
One new sound on the circuit was the beat of American Ford V-8s, installed in two A.C. Cobras as "slow" (about 160 m.p.h. maximum) as the Jaguars on the Straight, and a rear-engined Lola G.T. Prototype, which started despite its late arrival for scrutineering and the extensive modifications subsequently required. A 3.8 Lister-Jaguar and the modified (simplified rear suspension and 5.0 V-8 engine) Type 151 of Maserati-France completed the "big" entry. A lone M.G.B. faced four 2.0 Porsches, two Prototype flat-8s and to 2000GS fours. Two Sunbeam Alpines and a 1.6 Alfa Romeo made up the next class; two Lotus Elites and two Alfa Romeo Giulia GZS the 1300c.c. class. Rene Bonnet and an Austin Healey formed the 1150-c.c. class.
A Deep Sanderson joined three elongated but pretty 1 litre Alpines and two elongated Bonnets. Two smaller Bonnets,  two Fiat-Abarths and a scruffy DKW Special made up the "conventional" field. Finally, racing with the others but only against the clock to average 93.2 m.p.h. as a formula equating its power unit with piston engines could not be agreed, was the Rover-B.R.M. gas turbine car, the first so powered to run in a classic road race and naturally a centre of interest. Breaking with tradition it was flagged-off individually from a facing-direction-of-race not tail-to-pit position.
The field got away cleanly on a hot afternoon. At the end of the first lap Simon in the Maserati boomed past in the lead and during the opening stages, he fought off the Ferraris of Parkes, Surtees and Rodriguez. The new Aston Martin, after an excellent start, fell back slightly but kept in touch with the leaders. But troubles came early. The DKW completed only one hesitant lap, a Fiat-Abarth two, while a Lotus and the M.G. embedded themselves in the Mulsanne sand,  while a DB4GT made a pit stop. Then Masson rolled his Bonnet down the centre of the approach to the Esses in front of the tight leading group which was about to lap him. They all avoided the wreck but Phil Hill, fifth in the Aston Martin 215, hit fragments of the Bonnet and also incurred transmission damage which ultimately caused his retirement.
In their pursuit of Simon, Rodriguez and Surtees broke the lap record again and again, Surtees finally cutting four seconds off the existing record while the average for the first two hours was only fractionally under 200 km/h. The big Maserati gained a few laps respite during the first Ferrari stops but slowed during the third hour and went out with transmission failure.
Ferraris now commanded the race. The gearbox trouble which had already put the Hansgen-Pabst Jaguar out slowed the Salvadori-Richards sister car. Just past 8 PM the engine of Bruce McLaren's Aston Martin let go distributing a generous quantity of oil in the fast corner just after Hunaudières. First to hit the oil was Roy Salvadori in the Briggs Cunningham entered Lightweight Jaguar E-Type. Salvadori lost control, briefly regained it but then ran onto the grass and spun. He hit the bank backwards and, with his seatbelt undone as he had been having problems with it, he was ejected though the rear Perspex window onto the back. The car caught fire but was quickly extinguished and Roy survived miraculously with just cuts and heavy bruising. Next to arrive at the scene was 'Franc' (Jacques Dewes) in the Aston-Martin DB4 GTZ. He spun but managed to avoid hitting anything though the René Bonnet Aérodjet LM6 of Jean-Pierre Manzon crashed whilst trying to avoid him. Manzon was thrown out when his car rolled leaving the hapless Christian 'Bino' Heins with few options. In avoiding Manzon, who was lying on the track, he hit the oil and spun, hitting the LM6 and a lamp-post. The Alpine-Renault burst into flames with Christian trapped inside. The fire-fighters struggled with the fire out as they tried to get Bino out of the car. He was taken to hospital but was declared dead on arrival. A post mortem revealed that he had probably died almost instantly from head injuries.
The Surtees-Mairesse 250P extended its lead through the evening and at midnight had completed 117 laps averaging 197.6 km/h. It was followed by Bandini-Scarfiotti (250P, 116 laps), Rodriguez-Penske and Gurney-Hall (N.A.R.T. 4.0 330LMs, 112 laps) the former about to retire with an oil leak, and the surviving Aston Martin (Kirnberley-Schlesser, 112 laps). Meanwhile, the unobtrusively consistent Rover-B.R.M. had covered 103 laps and was as fast as most cars through, for example, the Esses, thus dismissing pre-race suspicions that it might be a mobile roadblock.
The Aston Martin climbed to third before retiring in the early morning, turning the Barth-Linge Porsche in seventh place into the first non-Ferrari and the Grossmann-Cunningham Jaguar, eighth, the highest British car.
Speeds fell considerably as the Sarthe mist lay thick on the circuit. The Lola lost over two hours with gearbox trouble, returned to the race but soon rolled in the Esses as the gearbox selector failed again. Car after car had fallen out so that by 9 a.m. there were only 17 runners. 8 Ferraris, 2 Bonnets, a single A.C., the M.G., an Alpine, a Porsche, a Sunbeam and a Lotus. The remaining Jaguar was stationary at its pits while its front (mangled when Grossmann took the escape road at Mulsanne after a pin in the brake pedal linkage snapped), was rebuilt with cannibalized parts. At 18 hours the average speed of the leading Ferrari was 196.3 km/h but at 10.40 a.m., immediately after a refuelling stop, it caught fire and Mairesse spun it in the Esses before abandoning. But still six Ferraris led with remarkably few small cars left to impede their progress, and the Rover-B.R.M. was (unofficially) eighth. The Porsche had slipped several places after losing a wheel.
By 1.40 p.m. on Sunday the gas turbine car had completed its target distance. Of the big cars only the Gregory-Piper Ferrari, which had been in the sand at Mulsanne, really hurried to regain lost places as the race ran out. Ferrari won as expected but the extent of their victory could hardly have been forecast. Their demonstration of speed and endurance was the more outstanding because of the failures of other marques. 5 out of 11 Ferraris retired, only three of them with mechanical derangements. They equalled the Bentley and Alfa Romeo record of four wins in a row quite apart from gaining their seventh victory. The winning car covered more than 4,500 km. for the first time, took the Index of Performance award away from the small cars for the first time since 1950 (the Beltoise-Bobrowski Bonnet was a lowly seventh), and was second to the Bonnet in the Thermal Efficiency classification. It was also the first all-Italian-car and drivers-victory at Le Mans.
The first basically-new car in road racing for decades and attempted forerunner of a new era that still has to come, the Rover-B.R.M. performed superbly and would have won any Le Mans 24-hour Race before 1957. Graham Hill, Ginther and the mechanics were greeted by the loudest cheers of all at the conclusion of a triumphant demonstration.

(source of information: "the LE MANS 24-Hour Race", by David Hodges, Temple Press Books, 1963, London)