Monthly Archive "April2011"

Top 10 BMW’s

In a way the M1 is a curiosity in BMW terms because it was a race car project that took so long to develop that it was no longer competitive. BMW never went down the mid-engined route again and, although it was finally built by Baur, the styling and tubular chassis development were by Giugiaro and Lamborghini; in fact Lamborghini would have built M1had the Germans not become frustrated by the projects lack of progress.  First use in a road car of BMWs 3.5 litre twin cam/24 valve  straight six makes these well built glass fibre bodied cars surprisingly usable combined with true seventies supercar type performance.
The most potent of the E3’s (unless you factor in a handful of Alpina tuned cars) these six handsome six cylinder saloons were many ways a better buy than the E9 coupes with a stiffer shell and more sophisticated rear suspension with the same 200bhp/140mph drive train as the CSi and CSL. Refined, smartly finished and fun to drive they were among the first foreign cars to be used by UK Police forces. Although better rust proofed than the Coupes sadly very few survive.
1800 TiSA
These highly desirable 130bhp Neu Klasse saloons were pretty much race -ready off the showroom floor and were allegedly only sold to licensed racing drivers. Only 200 were built in a year and featured sports seats, five speed gearbox and four wheel disc brakes. The 120mph TiSA (SA stood for Sport Ausfuhrung) cost DM13500 and was only available in German racing silver with the option of a limited slip differential. The likes of Phil Hill, Jack Brabham and Roy Salvadori used the 1800 TiSA as road cars but they never quite matched the speed and reliability of the Lotus Cortinas in the ETC.
Perhaps the most glamorous BMW of all the 507 was conceived as an affordable sports car for importer Max Hoffman to sell to eager American buyers but turned into a piece of pricey exotica, even more expensive than the 300SL . Yet it had an impact on BMWs image as a producer of  top end cars out of all proportion to the mere 253 cars built; a ‘feel good factor’ if you like that transcends the 507s lack of commercial success. Perhaps more luxury touring than hard core sports the V8 507 was none the less a fast car and hugely desirable.
The most famous pre-war BMW and the model that established the firm’s reputation as a builder of great driver’s cars. To coax 100mph performance from a 2 litre engine was unheard of in the thirties. In fact it offered performance and general sophistication that was in advance of many sports cars well into the fifties and had an impressive competition record before and after the war. A kind of supercar of its era only 461 were built before the war ended its career but its sophisticated cross pushrod engine lived on into the early sixties in a variety of Bristol’s.
M3 (E30)
One of the great BMWs of the eighties the first of the motorsport cars based on the  smaller BMW body shell, in this case the E30 – a proper boxy Bavarian body with a utilitarian feel linking it with the 2002.In fact with its boxed flare arches and various skirts and spoilers the M3 shared only roof and bonnet with the two door three series. The basic block was still M10 2002 but with 4 valve/twin cam motorsport technology derived from the six-cylinder ‘M’ cars. Stiffer suspension, bigger 5 Series size brakes and a Getrag 5 speed box made the 2.3 litre M3 a right little goer, fondly remembered as a pre electronic era BMW with huge driver appeal. Bit of a chavvy image now perhaps but the cars racing pedigree is impeccable.
2002 TURBO
BMWs first turbocharged road car was rather miss-timed, launching at the Frankfurt show in 1973 just before the start of the fuel crisis . The 2002 turbo was probably even more aggressively performance orientated than the 3.0CSL with bulging wheel arches to contain fatter tyres (actually only 185/70 14!) deep front spoiler and lip spoiler on the boot lid. There was no front bumper but even BMW had to concede that the reversed ‘2002 turbo’ script either side of the front number plate was a bit much and soon deleted it. Great hooligans car with 170bhp and 130mph top speed although turbo lag a problem and one wonders if a 2002 Tii did most things as rapidly without the attention grabbing war paint.

Aware perhaps that standard versions of the 6 Series had gone a bit luxo-barge and where more at home crunching down golf club drives than storming Alpine passes the big coupe was a natural candidate for the ‘M’ treatment; the 24 valve twin cam M88 straight six late of the M1 pared with a mandatory 5 speed manual box. With a minimum of outward changes these looked almost as restrained as the standard 6 Series but with suitably stiffened suspension and bigger brakes and tyres the flabby feeling of lesser coupes was banished although there were no weight saving or penny pinching measures required  this being the most expensive car in the BMW range at the time outside the V12 7 Series. A V12 7 Series is worth about 20 pence today whereas the M635Csi was collectable almost from the moment it went out of production.
Based on the M roadster the flavour of this car couldn’t be further removed from the Barbie-and-Ken image of the hideous little American built BMW convertible that is happily receding quickly in the collective memory as one of BMWs rare misjudgements. The Coupe, by contrast, is an instant classic. The mini estate car styling stiffened the shell to good effect and 321bhp in such a diminutive chassis was obviously good news. A rarity (most were for America or Europe) and an unusual car from a company that rarely allows oddballs to see the light of day.
This was BMW’s next go at a turbo car after the 2002 and was a way of upping the performance of the big E23 7-Series without recourse to the fuel guzzling V12 that had been waiting in the wings when the second fuel crisis kicked off at the end of the 70s. Not the hot rod sedan Mercedes 450SEL 6.9 was but equally intriguing if you are a lover of unlikely looking 140mph plus 4 door cars. No right hookers and saddest of all we didn’t get the South African 745i with the twin-cam Motorsport straight six which, in manual form, was the fastest four door car you could buy in the eighties.

more April 16 2011 at 15:09

4-Car NSU Ro80

The NSU Ro80 is a lost cause of heroic proportions. Launched in 1967 it was a new big saloon from a company that had never made anything other than economy run-abouts and mopeds.
That would have been enough of a risk but the NSU Ro80 (‘Ro’ stood for rotary, ‘80’ the factory design number) was also the worlds first purpose-built twin rotor Wankel engined saloon.
Not only was it fast – 115mph – and super-smooth but it was beautiful too, with a futuristic and slippery five seater body that pointed the way to the best styling of the 1980s and 90s.
The list of novelties seemed endless: front wheel drive, superb power steering and four wheel disc brakes gave it top drawer handling, long travel strut suspension a comfortable, absorbent ride.
To mask the Wankel’s poor low down torque NSU specified a 3 speed semi automatic transmission that was precursor to today’s self shifters; there was no clutch pedal but instead an electric switch in the top of the gear knob that operated a vacuum system.
The car was a masterpiece but with one fatal flaw: its engine. Inadequately developed it suffered from acute wear of its rotor tip seals and after 15,000 miles (or less) owners of early models began to notice a lack of power and increased fuel consumption.
Engines became difficult to start and smoked heavily. NSU were generous with warranty claims and many cars had as many as nine new engines. Owners didn’t wave to each other but raised fingers to indicate the number of new engines they’d had…
The costs sent NSU into the arms of Volkswagen in 1969 and as word got around about the Wankel engines problems sales plummeted. Production, at a lower level, lasted until 1977 when the NSU marque died and its place on the production lines was taken by the Porsche 924.
Mention the name today and the uninitiated think you are talking about an obscure variation of an irritating female genital infection.
Those that do recall the Ro80 define it today, nearly 40 years on, less by its engine problems and more by its fabulous shape, an elegant raising wedge with a high tail and a low nose from the pen of one of the great unsung heroes of car design Claus Luthe.
The slender roof with that huge screen seems to hover above a clean sculptured body riding a long wheelbase and a wide track. It was clean, ethereal and so timeless that it almost seems to get better with the passing years rather than more dated.
It showed an astonishingly sure touch from a company that had never built a large car before. Only the chrome detailing and slender tyres seem to date the Ro80 which is still sited by numerous high profile design gurus – Bruno Sacco of Mercedes among them – as the car they would most like to have in their own portfolios.
Claus Luthe’s story is a tragic one personally – he hit the headlines in recent years for killing his alcoholic son – though his career was an undoubted success. The Ro80 made his reputation and after styling the unloved VWK70 (a kind of cheapened, simplified Ro80 with a piston engine which had been originally launched, but never produced, as an NSU K70) and the first Polo he moved to BMW in the late 70s. His first complete car was the second generation 7-Series of 1986 followed by the 8 Series coupe, the 1990 3 Series and the 1994 7-Series. But it is the Ro80 he will be best remembered for.
In ten years of production NSU hardly raised a pencil to the shape of the car apart from adding a boot handle in 1970 and new bigger rear light clusters, a different ‘Ro80’ badge and rubber faced bumpers in 1975.
Acceptance of the shape at its 1967 Frankfurt show introduction was by no means universal in an era of sharp, angular styling and when sales of cars like the Morris Minor were still in full swing.
But enlightened connoisseurs recognized the Ro80 for the masterpiece it was, a car with a timeless quality shared only with its nearest rival the Citroen DS. Ignorant of its engine problems some sections of the press called it ‘car of the decade’ and the tragedy of this prophetic saloon is that it would have been a great car even without its engine, so refined and well sorted was its handling and ride.
Much was made at the time of the cars aerodynamics, that it had been designed in a wind tunnel. The drag coefficient was 0.355; 30-40 percent lower than most modern saloons in 1967.
All things considered the 37,000 production total for the Ro80 was surprisingly healthy. The UK was a good market for the car and those examples that survived salty winter roads and dodgy Ford V4 conversions are cherished if not especially valuable.
Somehow the big NSU has avoided the designer-chic appeal of the Citroen DS and if you can find a really lovely one with a sorted engine it is unlike to command more than £5000.
I joined the ranks of Ro80 admirers in 1995. The 1974 car I bought still ranks as one of the best classics I’ve owned. I had the car, on and off, for the next ten years and clocked up 50,000 miles as my daily smoke. It commuted me across London, it streamed me down motorways and took me and my family on holiday several times. I got to the stage where I was getting in the car – a  Mexico blue example with blue cloth, alloys and a sunroof – and not even thinking that I might break down. It was almost as if it was a modern executive car, accept a lot sexier and capable of generating a lot more interest. I often returned to it with people gawping at the thing, wondering what it was or eager to tell me about how they owned one or that their dad had driven one in the 70s.
It was astonishingly reliable: all it ever did was fowl its spark plugs but it only had two of them and I became adept at swapping them over to a spare clean set I always kept in the glove box. It helped that I got to know a good specialist and a few local Ro80 boffins like Phil Blake (who still has a dozen of them two his name) but really it required very little maintenance. It had been restored at some stage but keeping the rot out of the car was a headache. The sunroof was a nightmare, blocking up with water, generating corrosion elsewhere in the car and regularly pouring two pints of cold rain water down my passenger’s neck under hard cornering.
Perhaps the cars worst crime was locking itself in second gear while we were on holiday in France one year (my fault as has I had been shifting ratios too violently) but even this did not halt its progress. Without a clutch it was easy to pull away in the middle gear and do anything up to 80mph if need be, so that’s what we did for the rest of the trip being careful not to get into situations that required reverse…
It was not a fast car in any absolute sense yet 100-110mph cruising was its comfort zone with the capability of 125 when felt the need. It was hugely stable and forgiving. Once, driving down the M1 more than a little in excess of the legal limit, I sensed something was not quite right and pulled into the next services. I’d been doing ninety on a flat left hand rear tyre.
That the Ro80 was killed off relatively young probably has as much to do with the Wankels endemic thirst and emission problems as it did reliability. The firm and the talent that created the Ro80 was absorbed into Audi.
It was left up to Mazda to develop the rotary and its perseverance with these deceptively simple, smooth, compact but still thirsty engines might yet pay off; rotary’s run better on hydrogen than any piston engine.
I often wished my Ro80 were running on hydrogen. The main downside of life with the car was its thirst: 20mpg at best but often as little as 12. It was with this in mind that eventually a pal persuaded me to part with it.
He liked the idea of it rather than using it and simply parked it on some wet grass for a couple of years. But he was sensitive and seeing my increasing distress as it gently went to seed eventually gave it back to me.
Later I sold it on again as a restoration project (with the engine still strong and healthy) to a local Stroud NSU obsessive.
He restored it and effectively gave it back to me in an internecine deal, the details of which would only bore you. Eventually it ended up in an auction and then on Ebay, where it sold for surprisingly strong money especially considering the last ‘restoration’ had involved blocking up the offending sunroof with P38 body filler.
The Ro80 might not have brought NSU much luck but that car – HYM 354N – always looked after me.

more April 16 2011 at 15:09

Lancia Flaminia Touring C&SC

In the enchanted forest of the classical Lancia the Touring bodied Flaminia convertible is still something of a sleeping princess. I’m not the first to pursue this line in a story about these rather over looked V6 Lancias that has lived so long in the shadow of the Aurelia – and I doubt I will be the last – but with fifty years now passed, and Aurelia Spider prices looking so strong (£100,000 routinely) surely the time has come to reappraise its direct successor, currently valued at say £25,000, in a new light?
Putting aside emotional, aesthetics and even technical issues there are certain basic facts about these marvellous cars that surely put them in the front line of classics that are on the cusp of ‘discovery’ – at which point they will be swept out of the reach of all but a few posing collectors who will probably never drive them.
The first thing to appreciate is the rarity of these cars. In total Lancia built more than 12,000 Flaminias but Carrozeria Touring of Milan were only responsible for 2750 of those, 1048 of which were convertibles. Although listed in the UK from 1960 to 1967 no serious attempt was made to build right handed examples (in fact there were six right hookers) and most, like the car pictured here, came in as private imports. Touring of Milan went bust in 1966 and it probably built its last Flaminia in 1964, although Lancia were still selling them a ‘new’ cars as late as 1968, which didn’t amuse some owners. They were cheerfully broken for spares in the seventies and eighties and the current survival rate is anyone’s guess although I suspect they outweigh the poor sedans. It’s funny how the rare versions of some cars in the end become the most common…
Like the Aurelia the Flaminia Convertible had an aura of glamour and sophistication that suggested the sultry decadence of  the Via Veneto or the effortless sexuality of a Marcello Mastroianni but it is all too easy to make the mistake of comparing it with brawny contemporary products of Modena or Newport Pagnell which tended to have bigger engines, much more power and a far less sophisticated chassis specification.
The Flaminia, low and svelte as its Touring bodywork appeared, was developed from Italy’s most refined and patrician saloon as daily transport for Italian professionals. It was exotic in its layout, detailing and materials – from the thermostatic shutters of its radiator to the finned alloy sump on its husky four speed transaxle – but here also was a tractable, refined car capable of 25mpg and with a pushrod, single camshaft engine that tended to stay in tune. It was a quick car in its day but it was never intended to be an alarmingly fast one in the mould of a Maserati or a Ferrari but more of a high geared long distance car that just happened to have a superbly balanced chassis and about the best brakes and steering of anything on the road at the time.
The memory of the Aurelia has always been so jealously guarded that, somehow, the Flaminia – often dismissed as merely a routine development of the earlier car, which it wasn’t – has never been allowed to find its stride as a ‘classic’. It was designed by a cold theorist called Professor Fessia rather than that intuitive romantic Vittorio Jano and with no particular racing pedigree to its name never really captured imaginations in the same way.
Yet, at the time of the saloons introduction in 1957 (the Touring GT’s followed in 1959 and 1960) it was widely accepted that Lancia had successfully taken the concept of its six cylinder, transaxle equipped flagship car to a higher level with much more refined unequal length wishbone front suspension (thus eliminating the steering shimmy associated with the traditional sliding pillar) and a V6 engine, with its forged alloy pistons and fully machined crankshaft, that was both structurally stiffer and less beset with the vibrations that are inherent in a V6. It also had a freer breathing cylinder head and an even stronger bottom end than its predecessor.
Everything about the car’s engine and drive train was assembled to an almost obsessive standard of quality that was the highest Lancia achieved post-war. The Flaminia was a product of the Pesenti era; the Cement tycoon of took control of Lancia in the mid fifties and should have been looking to rationalise the firms rambling, loss making range and chaotic factories yet he had the instincts of an enthusiast rather than a business man when it came to cars and proved unwilling to make any changes that would compromise the firm’s reputation for build quality.
The Flaminia, like the Flavia and to a lesser extent the Fulvia, was a model that seemed to subvert all attempts at turning a profit. It was perhaps too much a car of hidden refinements and subtly that was lost on all but a handful of knowledgeable connoisseurs. Other than triple Weber carbs and a bigger 146bhp 2.8 litre engine in 1962 Lancia made little attempt to up-date the Flaminia which became rather side lined as the Flavia and Fulvia ranges began to gain momentum.
In a sense Touring’s chic efforts on the Flaminia chassis, while visually satisfying, rather undermine the quality of the engineering underneath. The factory saloon and Pininfarina Coupe had nicely finished bodies but, like the Sport by Zagato the Tourings GT convertible always had the slightly insubstantial  feeling of a car that was intended to give a few seasons of pleasure for some rich hedonist before being passed on to make way for the next high performance trinket.
I’m sure anyway that the original Roman owner of David Wakefield’s 1960 convertible would be surprised to see it giving such good service almost fifty years on around the lanes of Tunbridge Wells.
‘In the 70s I had a Fulvia which I really liked’ says Wakefield, a retired chartered accountant ‘I bought the Flaminia off a local man who had it for sale but the engine was out. When I saw the engine with its finned sump and black crackle rocker box covers I was absolutely smitten and I had to have it. I had it on the road by 1981 and we took it to the 75th Anniversary meeting in Turin. I had an AC Ace at the time but now the Flaminia is my only car and I begin to see now it will see me it out. It’s very practical and reliable, although my wife is beginning to complain about getting in and out of it – but she’ll put up with it because we go on some nice trips in it.’
‘The engine and gearbox are bulletproof and I’m keeping the corrosion at bay; the only shortcoming is the brakes, particularly the original brake servo – what a disaster! – but I’ve fitted a modern remote twin circuit servo which works well.’ The Dunlop brakes are basically Jaguar in origin so there will be no problem sorting them when the time comes.
In the eighties David would take the Flaminia daily into his office in London running it on the firm for ten years. He still drives it almost every day for shopping and, once or twice a year, takes it on a continental holidays. ‘I cruise it at 80mph and I’ve never help it needs an overdrive.’
The Flaminias hood stows easily and completely out of sight revealing a wide and roomy cockpit with slender seats. There’s only a slim prop tunnel to contend with so there is plenty of foot room and despite the intrusion of the clutch bell housing the space behind the seats could certainly take a unrestrained dog. The foot pedals are of meaty dimensions and emerge from the floor boards. The wood rimmed wheel and incongruous under-dash handbrake lever is similarly man-sized. There is an austere elegance to the cabin, with its big clocks and chunky knobs of unidentified function strewn across the dash, that chimes in with the tool room feel of the Flaminia and the fact the Superleggra body, with its complex of narrow tubes over which the elegant alloy panels are hung, is the product of a firm that once built aircraft.
Turn the big black key for ignition and press it in to work the starter using just a little throttle. You can feel a slight thrum through the pedals but this V6 is silkily responsive. The flat torque curves leaves you with a sensation of effortlessness and the V6 will pull its leggy top gear quite willingly from 1500rpm and continue surging forward. There’s quite a big gap between top and the 90mph third but it is a pleasure to snick the short lever forward, a chrome shaft that emerges from the side of the prop tunnel, and send revs whipping around the un redlined dial towards 5500rpm. The V6 sounds throatily expensive under duress but never strained.
The tall tyres, the same 165x 400 Michelin X covers as a Citroen DS on rather undistinguished steel wheels, treat irregularities with a light touch of subtle contempt that makes you wonder what has happened to ride quality in modern cars. There is something similarly disdainful and well bred about the Flaminia’s effortlessly precise and largely neutral handling. It rolls just so far but no further and with that wonderfully light and direct steering and a general poise and balance that leaves you with a sensation of strength and one-ness.
Much of this can be put down to the Dedion tube, which is tied to the car by a panhard rod and cart springs, and keeps the rear tyres square to the road. The massive (and expensive to replace) sliding sleeve inner pot joints made sure the Flaminia didn’t suffer unrefined Triumph style spline lock up when accelerating hard out of corners. Also, with the outer universal joint located outside the road wheel (in other words behind the hubcap) Lancia ensured less angular movement but more travel, which was good for the ride (but not profits)
Apart from the brakes – which are now excellent – the only real problems with the Flaminia, which has been up-rated to 3C Triple Weber specification form the original single Solex, has been with sourcing the massive rear wheel bearings that need replacing about every 20 years, but David feels that the parts situation for the Flaminia now is better than when he first bought the car almost 30 years ago.
‘Because it’s an aluminium body it corrodes rather than rusts but we have kept on top of it. I’ve never really restored it, just kept it on the road. I’ve got a friend who has spent £100,000 on an Aurelia Spider but he doesn’t intend to use it…’
In a way it would be a shame if the Flaminia went the way of the Aurelia but, for me, it is looking in evitable. Traditionally the market has always taken a long time to wake up to Lancias  but I’ve got a feeling the time has come for the Flaminia convertible, probably with other fixed head versions hot on its heels. In a way I hope I’m wrong.

Sold/number built             1960-64/1048
Construction             Alloy body on tubular steel frame
Engine                V6  2458cc
Max power                140bhp @ 5600rpm
Max torque                150Ib/ft @ 3600rpm
Transmission            4 speed manual in-unit with differential
Suspension front            Unequal length wishbones and coil springs
Suspension rear            Half elliptic springs, Dedion tube
Steering                worm and sector
Brakes                Dunlop solid disc 11.5 in front and 12 in rear
0-60                    10.5 secs
Top speed                118mph +
MPG                    18-25mpg
Price new                £3787
Price now                 £25,000

more April 16 2011 at 15:08

4-Car Ladybird Books

The Ladybird Book of Motorcars, infrequent reviews in full colour of what was latest in motoring around the world, were my literary introduction to cars. In the early nineteen seventies there was limited child orientated information available for kids with a thirst for automotive knowledge. Grown up magazines seemed grey and indigestible at 7 years old and all you could find in the library where worthy general works about ‘Transport’.  These slim hard-backed Ladybird volumes acknowledged an innocent enthusiasm for the world of cars that probably wouldn’t be acceptable today not only because modern parents might perceive them as nasty, smelly things that are choking the planet (or that run you over) but also because many children no longer see our four wheeled friends as especially exotic, rating them slightly above the family fridge in the charisma stakes: not so surprising given the dreary fridge-like vehicles people drive these days. Cars were moving into the realms of the consumer durable in my early seventies childhood but thanks to my Ladybird books I felt I could name almost everything on the road and everything, from the latest Vauxhall Viva to a rarely glimpsed Silver Shadow, was intrinsically interesting.
I went from Ladybird books to reading CAR magazine, via The Daily Mail Motorshow Review, and managed to largely miss out on the dryness of the Observers series.
The format of the books, published in Ladybirds ‘recognition’, where comfortingly familiar: 72 of the worlds most interesting cars arranged in order of size and usually starting with a Reliant Regal. The first book of cars was 1960 (a rare edition) revised in 1961 and 1963 and thereafter refreshed every two or three years. The last one was published in 1972, six being published in total always priced at 2/6 or, in the case of the post decimalisation 1972 edition, 15p.
Curiously they would sometimes feature cars that were no longer in production – the Lancia Aurelia B20 featured in the 1960 edition but had not been sold new for two years – and a handful of real oddballs; the chances of spotting, say, an Allard of a Frazer Nash Continental were pretty slim but they spiced up the cross section of family saloons, sports cars and exotica.
The charm of the books, which you can still find in second hand shops or the web (see ) was and remains the beautiful pictures; some taken from brochure shots but retouched to make them look as if they have been painted.
The descriptions of the cars were obviously written to appeal to kids but didn’t talk down. They pointed out the rarities, gave you some basic facts (top speed, length, number of seats) and a depiction of the cars badge. The cross section of models was broad with no bias towards British cars, taking a typically Ladybird even handed view of the world and all its wonders; they weren’t even rude about American cars which were always described in terms of their luxury and ‘effortless travel.’
In fact American cars feature quite heavily across the series showing how they were a much more prominent part of the British motoring landscape thirty or forty years ago, where there was a thirst for their glamour in an England that was still a bit austere and black-and-white when the first Ladybird Book of cars appeared.
I think I got my first bit of anorak information out of a Ladybird book of cars: the Volga diesel, I learned, had the engine out of a Land Rover. I can remember having a heated argument with a lad at school about how a Maserati Mistral couldn’t possibly be better than an Aston Martin DB6 – it wasn’t British! As well as these mini car catalogues there was the Ladybird The story of the Motorcar, a general automotive history taking readers through to the early sixties and a happy world of Mini Coopers, E-Types and Silver Clouds. Even though I no longer have the books the depictions are forever imprinted, the E-Type shown passing through the gates of a grand house with a Daimler Dart going the other way, the cheerful enthusiast drivers greeting each other.
Other car related Ladybird editions included the How it works Series (no kid gives a crap how anything works anymore, they just expect it to work) and Tootles the Taxi which seemed dated even at the time, depicting fifties vehicles – Tony the tractor, Archie the Ambulance – Stumbles the steam-roller, Larry the lorry, Co-Co the caravan, Minnie the milk-float etc – with slightly disturbing faces and accompanied by rhymes.
Lady books in general terms were a sort of kids guide to the world, fairly serious but not too dry. They exuded optimism, decency and innocence but from my early 70s perspective seemed to come from an era that was passing. The depictions of adults all had wore baggy fifties clothes and had plastered down oily short-back-and-sides hair, the women sensibly bouffant and mumsy. Covering austerity Britain through to strife ridden early seventies the classic Ladybird series was aimed at the middle classes and portrayed them in a favourable light. I liked their lashings-of ginger beer world but never felt quite part of it; I was more a dandelion and burdock man.
The Books – there seemed to be hundreds of them – covered noble subjects like ‘The Public services’ (whatever happened to that idea?) and were designed to make kids think what a ‘lovely’ world they lived in; they wouldn’t be cynical enough for modern children.
One early series was called ‘With Uncle Mac’; the very sound of that title seems sinister to our modern ears, looking for perverts around every corner although amusingly one of his titles was called ‘Uncle Mac in the slammer’…
Other subjects in the ‘recognition’ series included trains, planes and the Ladybird book of commercial vehicles. A friend remains traumatised, at the age of 45, by the fact that his copy of this rare edition still bears his father’s a gruesome bloody footprint; it seems his dad kept a meat chest freezer in the bedroom and it dripped blood onto the floor, hence the foot print. A meat freezer in the bedroom? Don’t ask.
Being a somewhat anal kinda guy (as he would admit himself) this particular pal kept all his other Ladybird books in perfect condition but mine were defaced (I liked ‘redesigning’ the cars in felt tip) and ultimately discarded.
I learned to read on Ladybirds Peter and Jane series, a brother and sister of the never-had-it-so-good years who’s dad drove a two tone Zephyr Six, a car you never saw on the road by the time I was reading the books. Perhaps mindful of such things the publishers gave the books a seventies makeover and made Peter look like Donny Osmond. As if to emphasise how cutting edge the new look 70s Peter and Jane were one high street scene featured an orange NSU Ro80.
Ladybird books after 1972 changed somehow in format and feel, a bit like when, around the same time, Dinky and Corgi models lost the rubber tyres and went on to those cheap looking (and no doubt cheaper to make) whizz wheels or new cars started appearing with ugly reflective yellow/white number plates. It was as if everybody had suddenly got lazy, didn’t care anymore about what things looked like. I can clearly recall feeling like this yet didn’t have the means to put it into words; as if a time just before I could remember back to be happier, sunnier safer and less shoddy.
Considering Loughborough’s greatest export got me thinking about David Carey. He illustrated and wrote the Book of Motorcars editions and others in the ‘recognition’ series.
His real name E.C.Borst-Smith – the Rover Car Company’s Assistant Publicity Manager during the 1960s and into the 1970s.
He was known as Carey (his second Christian name) and David is thought to have been his son’s name. He headed the small department and wrote copy for Rover brochures.
‘He was very private’ says Roger Brown who worked with the great man at Rover in the early seventies ‘ immaculately turned out in tweed suits, bespectacled, and smoked a pipe – one got the impression that he would have been far happier to still be in his Rover P4 days – when he could wear his hat when driving. We all knew he did the Ladybird books as a ‘foreigner’ ’ 
 One of Rogers fondest memories of Carey was when one of Rovers printers turned up with a proof for a new Rover 3500 Showroom Poster showing the cars as part of a sophisticated champagne picnic by a derelict country house. ‘The advertising agency supplied couples were in evening dress – the lady’s being particularly revealing’ says Roger ‘ We’d checked the poster proof with the printer for colour, register, etc. and I then fetched Carey for his final approval.’
‘ A nod from him to the printer, a quick scan of the proof, a suck on his pipe, and with his trademark green-inked fountain pen a circle drawn round the impressive breasts of one of the female models, and a comment written in the margin. He turned on his heels and returned to his office with not a word said.’
The printer’s instruction?
“Ease the cleavage”!

more April 16 2011 at 15:07

Flavia Zagato and Vignale

The Lancia Flavia, fifty years old this year, was probably the most refined middleweight Italian car of its time. In saloon form its boxy shape came to define Lancia four-door motoring in the sixties although it was never the commercial success the firm had hoped for.
Carlo Pesenti, the Italian cement tycoon who owned Lancia from the late fifties, only committed to the huge investment the all new Flavia represented on the basis of Fiats assurances that it would leave the market open and not produce its own saloon of similar size. He was mightily disappointed therefore when Fiat introduced its 1800/2100 range.
The Flavia was a beautifully made, beautiful riding car but always rather expensive for its performance. These were over-weight cars with a rather pedestrian image compared to the contemporary Alfa Romeos yet the Flavia had many technically novelties like an ultra smooth horizontally opposed all aluminium 4 cylinder engine (that could removed for servicing, along with its four speed gearbox, merely by unbolting the sub frame) split circuit disc brakes and, later, fuel injection.
The Flavia, the second of the three ‘F’ cars designed by Professor Antonio Fessia, was big brother to the much more successful V4 Fulvia with which it shared its basic suspension (a curious but effective blend of leaf springs and, at the front, double wishbones) and, like the Fulvia, it had front wheel drive. In deed the Flavia was the first Italian production car to be front-driven. In true Lancia fashion the Flavia, named after a road leading into Rome, was over engineered and it is unlikely that the firm ever turned much of a profit on it.
Head-to-head with cheaper, glossier Fiats and Alfas it was an expensive car and Lancia sought to extend its appeal with low volume models that would give the range a more performance orientated image. Pininfarinas Coupe version was a fully productionised steel bodied model built in its thousand and is, in fact, a more familiar representative of the Flavia range than the saloon in the UK market (it lived on into the Fiat era as Flavia 2000 and then 2000/2000HF coupe). However Lancia offered two short lived but even more exotic variants of the original 815 Series Flavia range bodied by Zagato and Vignale; the former was a closed 2+2 with perhaps the most unusual styling Zagato ever offered on a catalogued car. The latter, styled by Giovanni Michelotti on behalf of Vignale, was an elegantly sober convertible with the rare distinction of offering four real seats. Symptomatic of Lancias confusing model structure in the 60s (Fiat pruned it dramatically after 1969) the Flavia Sport and Convertible are the rarest and most collectable of the Flavia range.
The Convertible appeared first at the Turin show in 1962. It shared steel wheels, ‘D’ shaped rear lights and its combined speedo/rev counter instrument pod with the Flavia saloon and there was a family resemblance around its pouting grille to the other models in the range.  The hood tucked neatly out of the way flush in its well behind the rear seats and the Vignale looked particularly good with the optional steel hardtop fitted.
The Vignale Flavia, steel bodied, was a restrained design with a certain resemblance to the Maserati Sebring. It was based on the shorter coupe type floor pan and came at first with the 1500 engine up-rated to twin carburettors giving 90bhp and miserable low-down torque but many were modified using the 88mm cylinder liners to boost the capacity to 1727cc. This was known as the variante 1005 and it shifted the torque up to 103Ib/ft at 3000rpm whereas before there was only 85Ib/ft at 4500rpm.
The Zagato bodied Sport joined the Flavia family early in 1963, the brief from Lancia being that the car should be lighter and more slippery through the air than the standard coupe.
It was certainly lighter (by 100kg) and although there is no data on its aerodynamics Elio Zagatos eye for a wind cheating shape was well honed, although the car would have spent little if any time in a wind tunnel. Ercole Spada was tasked with drawing the shape and came up with possibly Zagatos most eccentric looking production car with a low nose, rounded sides a deeply curved windscreen and rear side windows that extended well into the roofline to give those in the rear (the Sport was a tight four seater) more light. The first few cars had semi-enclosed rear wheels but most Flavia Zagatos had conventional wheel arches. The rear window opened electrically just a few inches; on the move the difference in air pressure on the outside meant the gap acted as an air extractor for the cabin.
Technically Lancia provided Zagato with the same fabricated floor pan as was delivered to Vignale. Engine developments ran parallel with the Coupe and Vignale but when the factory 1.8 litre engine appeared in late 1963 Sports were delivered with a special twin carburettor 100bhp engine with a high lift camshaft whereas the Vignale (and PF Coupe) had the same 92bhp engine as the saloon. The rarest of these cars are the Kugelfischer fuel injected versions (there were 32 inezione 1.8 Flavia Sports and 43 convertibles) but they only had a couple of extra bhp and less torque so the benefit was derived in quietness better consumption.
The Convertible and Sport Flavias were listed until 1967, although production likely stopped rather earlier. In Britain in 1966 they listed at £2686 for the Vignale and £2736 for the Zagato which pitched them well above natural rivals like the Porsche 356, never mind the much faster Jaguar E-Type. Such comparisons likely meant nothing to the people who bought these cars. They were aimed at the discerning rich who wanted to drive something distinctive and whom price was largely irrelevant.
For most people they were probably quick enough in any case: Autocar squeezed 115mph out of its road test Flavia Zagato in 1965, an impressive figure for a 1.8 litre car 45 years ago. Of 726 Zagatos produced 25 are thought to have been imported into the UK. British import figures for the Vignale are not known but are likely to be of a similar order. In total 1601 were built.
It is always tempting to make comparisons with  certain Alfa Romeos when talking about sixties Lancias but really the Flavia, even when fitted with two door bodywork, is more of a relaxed touring car than a sports car. The flat four engine is smooth and flexible but doesn’t have the appealingly crisp throttle response of its little brother the Fulvia V4.
Dave Gee’s Flavia convertible, restored 9 years ago, has been up-rated to twin Solex carburettors and still requires a little fine tuning. Even so it pulls willingly from low revs and starts to go well beyond 3000rpm with that distinctive flat-four exhaust throb. The interior with its broad plastic trimmed front seats is austere in the typical Lancia fashion. There’s only a small transmission hump from which long, robust looking gear lever emerges. It has a narrow gate and light, precise movement with third a particularly handy ratio that takes you from 15 to nearly 80mph.
You sit lower in the Zagato facing the same wood-rimmed steering wheel and instrument pack. Many functions are worked off unmarked piano key style switchgear on the centre of the facia. It feels a shade livelier with strong, smooth torque but as in the Vignale the four speed gearbox, its lever seeming to emerge near horizontally from the centre console, has a precise, quiet and refined action combined with a smooth, progressive clutch. Both Flavias waft along easily at motorway speeds, the Zagato on very little throttle indicating that it is probably is as slippery as it looks, with great stability.  The saloon variant of the Flavia was one of the best-riding cars around in its day and the Zagato and Vignale bodied cars inherit much of its well damped smoothness but they are noisier. Power steering only became available on the 2 litre Flavias so the earlier cars make do with low geared steering that seems slightly ponderous at low speeds but feels quite positive when you go faster. They corner in an effortless way suggestive of much younger cars with little roll, modest understeer and no tug at the steering. Lancia had motorsport ambitions for the Zagato bodied version and the semi official HF Squdra Corsa team ran six of them in 1964 and 1965 in rallies, hill climbs and touring car events. Its best result was an outright win in the 1965 Coupes des Alpes but by then the much lighter and more nimble Fulvia coupe was on the way to take over as Lancia’s official rally weapon.
The arrival of the 819 series Flavias in 1967 signalled the end for these rare coach built variants as Lancia, haemorrhaging money, sought to rationalise its range. The firm’s relationship with Zagato continued with the much more conventionally attractive Fulvia Sport which became the coachbuilder’s best selling model ever. Vignale had no further connection with Lancia and were absorbed in Ghia.
In good order both these models, after decades in the doldrums, bring quite good money. At £10,000 or more the Vignale has an appeal as a rare Italian four seater open car, while the Zagato is a love-it-or-hate-it acquired taste that can command up to £20,000 now. They are enigmatic examples of Lancias brave engineering solutions and its need to offer variety in its last period of independence.

815 BERLINA 1960-67
The original Flavia. Very refined but undeniably ugly. Came original as 1500, supplemented by 1800 and 1800 injected versions. Good column change, sometimes with bench front seat. Rust prone and very rare now.

Pretty, practical 2+2 coupe with steel body, similar in profile to Ferrari 250GTE.  The first ones were 1.5 litre with twin carburettors but from 1963 1.8 litre with single carburettor was standardised in this body with the (rare) option, from 1965, of Kugelfischer fuel injection. Always four speed floor change.

819 FLAVIA BERLINA 1967-70
Handsome restyle made the four door Flavia look bigger and more impressive with a far more attractive dashboard. Column or (more usually) floor change, still four speed. Refined high speed cruisers which continued to be offered with the 1500 engine on the home market but we got 1800, 1800 injection and a late 2 litre Flavia 2000 model with or without injection. The injection cars had power steering.
820 FLAVIA 2000 LX 1970-71
Very short lived interim model with up-dated Girling (rather than Dunlop) brakes with separate drum for handbrake, improved gearbox.
820 2000 BERLINA 1971-74
Completely redesigned Flavia for the seventies, all 2 litres with bigger valves for improved torque and a Bosch fuel injected version boosting power from 115 to 125bhp to give the Flavia concept the power it always deserved. Plushly appointed with velour trim and ‘retro’ wooden facia. Early cars four speed but most five speed with dog leg first. Injection models have electric windows, all versions have power steering.
820 FLAVIA 2000 COUPE 1969-71
Restyled Pininfarina coupe four speed, usually with power steering and a few with kugelfischer mechanical injection. Dunlop brakes. Nicely detailed, huge boot and great touring car. Only the carburettor version came to the UK.

820 2000 & 2000HF COUPE
Last of the Pininfarina Coupes with rubber faced bumpers, alloy wheels and usually five-speed. HF was the Bosch fuel injected car with matt black grille and body stripes plus electric front windows.
This was the forward control light commercial chassis based on the Flavia completely with slightly detuned flat-four engine and disc brakes, making it surely the most advanced pick-up on the market. However it was expensive and proved rather fragile. Around 3000 built.

more April 16 2011 at 15:05

Chopper – The Birth of an Icon

It’s now forty years since Raleigh unleashed the Chopper on the previously staid world of British push bikes. Before the Chopper kid’s bikes were wholesome spindly contraptions for spiffing trips into the countryside with a saddle bag stuffed with ginger beer and spam sandwiches. It was just a smaller version of whatever your dad rode.
The Chopper, by contrast, was tough and urban; a fashion accessory styled after the ‘chopped’ Californian muscle bikes with their ‘ape hanger’ handle bars. Something about the Chopper’s powerful looking wedge design and psychedelic colour schemes chimed-in with the counter cultural mood of the times; when the first Chopper bikes were sold in British shops at Christmas 1969 Easy Rider was still fresh in the minds of the older brothers and sisters of potential Chopper owners.
The bike became an instant and a passionate object of desire for kids aged 7 to 12 or even older. All over the country parents were being pestered to lob out £32 on this revolutionary bicycle with its chunky, odd sized tyres (16 inch front, 20 inch rear) macho Sturmany-Archer three-speed central stick-shift (like a car) and fat banana-shaped saddle.
The fact that the health and safety brigade were getting in a stew about the Choppers safety issues only added to the frisson of excitement around the bike for most kids. Because the centre of gravity of the thing was so aft, and the saddle so long, it was possible  – by sitting well back – to get the front wheel in the air – a positive point in its favour as far as most leery wheelie-pulling owners were concerned. Similarly the patented seat design seemed to invite the possibility of giving pals a ‘backie’ with negative effects on the Choppers already questionable stability. Again – what’s not to like?
400,000 had been sold by the time Raleigh introduced a MkII version in 1972 and an icon of nineteen seventies childhood was born. It resonates across the decades more powerfully than the lucky bag, the space hopper or lusting after Jenny Hanley off Magpie.  If you are aged between 40 and 50 and reading this magazine you either had a Chopper or wanted one.
I was lucky enough to get a MkII Chopper (in Ultra violet) for my 9th birthday. It was heavy, slow and didn’t stop or corner very well but I loved it. Here was a rugged thing you could mistreat with no apparent ill effects and, to me, it was always more of a car than a motorcycle substitute with that automatic gearbox style selector.
Being a MkII mine had the shorter seat with the universally ignored warning strap (‘THIS BICYCLE IS NOT DESIGNED TO CARRY PASSENGERS’) non-adjustable handle bars and a ‘T’ shaped  gear lever designed to be marginally less damaging to tender young goolies than the rounded knob of the original.
The Chopper was more closely aligned with automotive design than I realised at the time. Raleigh of Nottingham, Britain biggest cycle makers, had been struggling to make big in-roads into the American ‘muscle bike’ market, – dominated by home grown Schwinn Stingray – since the mid sixties but its Rodeo model had failed to capture imaginations. So they approached Tom Karen’s Ogle Design for fresh ideas.
‘One day the marketing director of Raleigh came to see me at Ogle’ says Tom ‘He explained that they wanted to compete with the American Schwinn with its big handle bars. I decided straight away that it had to have a big wheel and a small wheel – it symbolises power coming from the back, like a dragster. I thought it could afford to have a straight frame and some other features like the fake rear disc brake and springs.’
‘There was a lovely guy working at the office called Jimmy English. He was very intuitive and I got him to do the first sketches. That was 1967, I think. I only gave Raleigh a few options – possibly four drawings which I have photographs of. They came back and said the engineers don’t like having a big wheel and a small wheel on the production line. I was really crestfallen because I was sure that was the answer. I think they must have read that and the big wheel stayed. Then we did some big drawings. At some point they became afraid that the Banana shaped Schwinn seat was in danger of being infringed so we prototyped a different saddle and I had that big reflector put in the back. It was developed around the same time as the Bond Bug and the Scimitar GTE. I was happy with the design and it had a great image. Raleigh developed all the subsequent versions of the Chopper themselves.’
‘The dark side of the story was that years later I heard that Raleigh claimed that its technical director had designed the Chopper on the back of an envelope while he was flying around the states. I tackled them about that and eventually got someone to admit that the story was invented by the marketing department.’
Despite being offered in many more exotic U.S versions – five and ten speed and even a girl’s variant less cross bar – on the American market the Chopper was swapped by the local competition. In the UK a variety of special editions attempted to maintain its appeal through the 70s and it even spawned baby versions (the Chipper and the Tomahawk for annoying siblings) but only the basic bike made money. Production ran through to 1982 but by that time the once lusted-after Chopper had become distinctly un-cool thing to be seen on. I put mine away in 1980 and never rode it again.
I don’t know what happened to mine but I wish I still had it, because the Chopper has long since pulled out of that tacky period to become highly collectable item. Tom Karen has a MkII Chopper which was restored for him by the Chopper Club in his front room.  Even he admits that this, the coolest bike ever, is a triumph of style over function.
‘I don’t think you would finish a stage of the Tour De France on one. It would kill you.’

more April 16 2011 at 15:04

BMW 2500 and 2800

The 1968 E3 saloons represented the beginning of second phase of BMWs post-war rebirth. Extensively market researched but just three years in the making they marked the return of BMW to the big car class after a gap of five years. In the meantime the Bavarian Motor Works had reinvented itself as Europe’s foremost purveyor of sporty rationalism for the middle classes and there was no longer a place for the bulk and pomposity that had characterised the long defunct Baroque Angel saloons that had sold in such modest volumes.
The 1970s where fast approaching with a whole new set of expectations and challenges. This was to be an athlete of a car for increasingly busy and fast moving roads of Europe and the last BMW to be built by the engineers, now in their late fifties and early sixties, who had been the architects of the firm’s resurgence since the end of the war. Any new luxury BMW had to reflect the youthful vigour of this fast growing company while still being an engineering-led design and the most fun to drive car in its class with, as Patrick Bedard of Car and Driver commented in 1968 ‘An air of precision shared by no other sedan in the world.’
Here was a luxury saloon that could at last square-up to arch rival Mercedes. With its 4 cylinder saloons it almost seemed as if the Bavarians had directly avoided taking on Daimler Benz if at all possible and even the 2500/2800 cars seemed to straddle a careful middle ground between the large and medium sized Benz saloons. the relatively compact E3 body was eight inches longer overall than the 2000 saloon with a 6 inches longer in its wheelbase. In its dimensions shadowed the ‘new generation’ W114 Mercedes introduced at the beginning of 1968, yet in their luxury and performance aspirations they seemed more closely aligned with the bigger V8 engined cars from Stuttgart.
BMW sold 36,000 E3 units in the first full year of production, proving that formula was right and causing Mercedes to look to its rather pedestrian image. Now in its 41st year the E3 saloons defined an approach to building big saloons that is still embodied in the current 7-Series even if an original 2500 or 2800 saloon – weighing in at a mere 3000Ibs and measuring just 185 inches long – would be dwarfed by the current flagship Beemer.
Although they successfully translated the lively character of the 4 cylinder cars into a bigger more luxurious 5 seater body the E3 sedans were more than just up-rated new class saloons. The engineering formula was similar but the reworked and refined to make a range of big cars – roomier, quieter and faster than their four cylinder brethren – that were easily amongst the best available, particularly if you favoured driver appeal over the ultimate in refinement. Some even called it the best saloon in the world among a whole raft of hopeful new Euro luxury cars that appeared in the late sixties; brave but slow-selling efforts from the likes of Fiat and Opel in the form of the 130 and Diplomat showed how buyers were unwilling to embrace mass market badges on their luxury cars no matter how well contrived the product. The Jaguar XJ was perhaps the nearest rival, a quieter softer car than the BMW that was a gracefully feline in appearance as the BMW was a classically angular European modernist with its tall glass house assertive quad headlamp nose.
The shape, with its Corvair-like belt line and high seating position, is attributed to Wilhelm Hoftmeister who managed to capture the flavour of the smaller cars in a more handsome and broad shouldered saloon with a fairly short bonnet, large doors and a deep and usefully shaped boot. The E3 was the first BMW to feature the tool kit mounted on the inside of the boot lid, an idea attributed to North American importer Max Hoffman.
The E3 still looked contemporary nine years later when the first 7-Series replaced it .The E3 set the styling agenda for the 5-Series and seemed to defy all attempts at up-dating it; apart from waist trim, blacked out nose grilles and the option of a longer wheelbase the 2500/2800/3.0/3.3 body changed very little through to 1977 and must be deemed a more enduring design than the slab-sided 7-Series.
The bonnet hinged forward to reveal a handsome detailed new power house running on twin Zenith carburettors. It was Alex Von Falkenhausen’s single overhead camshaft straight six engine – code named M52 – that gave the E3 sedans the edge over their rivals. For their size these were extraordinarily potent and clean running engines (important with new American emissions laws in the offing) but also very refined. There was no better ‘six’ in the world and the M52 in its various forms had a 20 year career ahead of it.
Canted over 30 degrees to keep the bonnet line low their free and efficient top-end breathing, thanks to tri spherical combustion chambers, was perfectly matched to a well balanced bottom end with 7 main bearings and 12 counterweights on the crank. They revved so freely and smoothly that a rev limiter was fitted in the distributor cap. The 150bhp 2500 was good for 118mph in manual form, the 170bhp 2800 124mph but driven sanely both versions were utterly docile and flexible, not to mention thrifty to the tune of 25mpg.  They were based around the architecture of the 4 cylinder engines but shared no major components.
Similarly while the design of the suspension had a familiar ring to it – classically BMW Macpherson struts at the front, semi trailing arms and coils at the rear – there were detail refinements like anti- dive geometry and Macpherson type spring/damper units on the back rather than separate coils and shock absorbers. These were the first BMWs with four wheel disc brakes all round (by ATE with dual servos)  although the rotors were solid not vented – they didn’t arrive until the 3 litre E3s of the early seventies – and the first to offer the option of factory power steering, although tinkering with castor angles had produced manual steering that was acceptably light.
The E3 saloons sold in healthy numbers in the UK despite huge prices but they now seem to be approaching extinction, particularly the early cars like the 2800 saloon pictured here, kindly provided by BMW Mobile Tradition. In fact the 2800 was always quite rare in the UK because E3 sales didn’t get into their stride until the arrival of the 3 litre models in 1971, the bigger engined car usurping the 2800 in the UK although it continued in Europe where cars under 2.8 litres tended to pay much lower road tax.
Handsome on its optional alloy wheels (as fitted as standard to the E9 CS Coupes)  and fragrant inside with its soft leather seats (a rare option – cloth or plastic was more usual) the thing that strikes you about the 2800 E3 when you climb inside is the commanding driving position and then the refreshing airy feel of the cabin with those deep windows and slim roof pillars. The doors, with modest manual windows, feel light and easy to close. Everything about the cabin is neatly finished; perhaps clinical but certainly well wrought in its choice of tasteful materials and clear, rational design. The handsome instrument binnacle was as modern as it got in 1968 and marked the beginning of BMWs obsession with well planned ergonomics yet the facia doesn’t bombard you with information or confuse you with the number of buttons and switches. Most of what you need is on column stalks.
Forging out into Munich traffic from the airport the 2800 saloon feels instantly authoritative. It seems substantial but not large, solid but by no means heavy, supple in its ride but reassuringly firm with no rattles from its body. It is a cliché to say that the engine is jewel – but it is. It can go from discreet limousine to throaty sports car at the flick of a wrist and the drop of a foot, mixing refined and creamy flexibility with the ability to surge round to its rev limiter at 6500rpm with a turbine hum of expensive sophistication.
The acceleration remains commanding, particularly from 3000rpm upwards, as the 2800 squats on its semi trailing arms and sprints away. I’ve never been a big fan of automatic BMWs and the ZF three speed used in the early E3s was not the best; but luckily this 2800 was a manual. The ZF gearbox is a delight to slice around its gate and has ratios just right for making the most of the acceleration although top is a bit on the low side for the ultimate in relaxed cruising; a five speed gearbox was a rare option.
The large slim rimmed steering wheel is pleasant to the touch though unnecessarily large but that does not disguise the fact that the 2800 goes where you point it accurately and with relatively little understeer and not much roll. There were geometry compromises in the semi trailing arm rear suspension so that those who looking for lurid power slides will find them quite readily – as they would in almost any 1970s BMW-  but otherwise the 2800 is alert, gentlemanly and well groomed in all it does.
While I can understand the appeal of a 2002 and am a devoted fan of the CS Coupes with their gorgeous looks and detailing I think it’s a shame the big six cylinder saloons, once the best cars of their type in the world, have been so over looked. I’ve owned two of them in my time and passed on the opportunity a couple of years ago of rescuing a sound 3.0Si, the fuel injected E3 poster boy. I’m still feeling guilty but if another one comes up I promise I’ll save it. Somebody has to.

more April 16 2011 at 15:03


The fortunes of BMW’s 3.0 CSL E9 coupes are on the up. Stealthily yet rapidly prices have been hardening, lifting the fortunes of these classic lightweight homologation specials into a whole new league. The car you see here is up for sale at £50,000.
Perhaps that’s as it should be. Here, after all, is a road going derivative of one of the all time great saloon racers, the very essence of performance image that defined BMW in the nineteen seventies.
With spoilers, fins, fat arches and lurid paint schemes these were the cars that dominated European Touring Car Racing driven by the likes of Hans Stuck, Chris Amon, Ronnie Peterson and Derek Bell and fielded by a youthful organisation that could not countenance failure. The CSL’s battled in epic style with the works Ford Capri’s and went on winning – fielded by the Alpina and others – long after the E9 Coupe had been superseded by the flabbier and much less pretty six series.
BMW made an impressive 30,000 E9 6 cylinder CS coupes but the CSL – L for leicht or light – accounts for just 1265 of those (built in three distinct series) between 1971 and 1975, so they have rarity on their side too.
But really: Fifty grand for a 3.0 CSL? Yes, it’s true. In fact they make more than that in Europe if they are nut-and-bolt restorations and the ‘batmobile’ 3.2 CSLs have been £100,000 plus for a while now. That’s Ferrari Dino money, but then these cars were pitched squarely in Ferrari Dino territory when new, with fully comparable performance.
Egged on by private tuners it was new recruit from Ford Jochen Neerpasch who persuaded BMW to homologate a lighter built CS Coupe shell from Karmann as the obvious route to victory against the more nimble Capri’s.
‘They were a very serious but a young up-and coming team, great fun to work with’ says Derek Bell who’s career with the Alpina CSL was foreshortened by the fuel crisis ‘and the cars were magnificent, so much power from a non-turbo straight- six…they were certainly the greatest BMWs I ever raced.’
The first road going CSL’s were stripped out 3.0CS coupes built of thinner steel and with aluminium doors, bonnet and boot lid.  Manual side windows in thinner glass plus minimal sound deadening and rust protection further pared the weight. 169 were built, all left handed with the Scheel bucket seats, glass fibre bumpers (weighing in at just 5.5Ibs) and chrome arch extensions to keep the wider 7 in wheels legal.
August 1972 brought engine bored to 3003cc to get the CSL into the over 3 litre class. The canted over single overhead camshaft straight six was injected now and it was in this form that the 200bhp CSL came to Britain in October 1972, complete with standard CS/CSi bumpers and most of the luxury items reinstated. 500 of these UK market ‘City Pack’ cars were sold here, briefly ousting right hand drive versions of the CSi.
There’s an interesting story behind those 500 UK CSLs. When the factory showed their distributors the CSL most of the importers gave the car the thumbs down. The interior was seen as too basic, the bodywork too flimsy and vulnerable. Not even the charm of recently hired Bob Lutz could persuade them to take the CSL on.
It was Tony Hille of BMW Concessionaires in the UK who stepped into the breach. He agreed to take on the entire unsold CSL build schedule subject to some nifty pricing support. In the end the British BMW importers sold more than all of the rest of Europe including the German home market combined. A special sales team was instated just to market the CSL through special events which sometimes took the form of disorderly lunches and photo shoots. By hook or by crook they sold the cars.
Richard Hollis was working for BMW GB at the time. ‘Just about everyone and their granny had a CSL as their company car- aged 23 or 24, I had two on the trot! My best personal memory is of racing a V12 E type coupe along the M4 past Marlborough and down the long hill towards Swindon. The CSL had the V12 well beaten – simply because the performance was so much better balanced to the road handling of the car.’
Richard recalls Ronnie Peterson turning up in his company CSL.  ‘He was on his way to  Silverstone – whether for the British GP or an ETC race has been lost in the mists of time – and the car had a slight hesitation and had been passed to the technical training school to look at. Once they had sorted it – he took the instructors involved up the old A2 towards Canterbury past the Lydden Hill circuit. They came back speechless because his driving was so completely fluid and effortless at speeds which none of them could have contemplated on this  twisting road  – even in a car like the CSL.’
The final 206bhp CSLs with the bored out 3153cc engine were all left handed with a selection of remarkable spoilers and aerofoils, the rear one packed in the boot when the cars were delivered in Germany where local traffic laws deemed it illegal.
Derek Bell owned one as his road car ‘I remember being out with Jochen Neerspach in Munich in this CSL and saying to him ‘this is a fantastic car –Id love one’ and he said ‘You can buy this one off me!’ Obviously I got a good discount.I drove it all over Europe to race meetings; I remember taking it skiing and getting stuck in the snow…I had a run in with the law too: a copper thought I was going too fast on some sweeps and turns near my home. He caught me up, rather breathless…in the end it was just a chat and the usual “Well Derek please keep your speed for the track” I had it a couple of years but I can’t remember what happened to it. I wish I still had it…’
Lucas at Four Star Classics, 15 minutes south of Guildford, furnished us with this right-hooker CSL, one of the 500 ‘City Pack’ cars that sold in the UK for a notoriously hefty £7400 in 1973 – several hundred pounds more than an 911 RS Touring just to put things into perspective. Ten years later my mother was smoking around Manchester in a £1500 3.0CSL complete with classic inner wing corrosion – these Karmann built Coupes can out-rot almost anything Italian – so I’m well acquainted with these cars, although I’ve never really had a good drive in one. This was my chance to put that right; a trip to Crickhowell on a bright day at the beginning of winter.
Despite its aggressive image the CSL is a relaxed, gentlemanly car. Inside, with the long heavy frameless doors closed you can enjoy what is to me one of the great BMW cabins, so gloriously airy and light with its deep glass area and slim line roof pillars. The elegant swathe of facia wood flows into the door cant rails and extensive chrome details around the window frames hint at the hand finishing that Karmann gave all the E9 coupes; the hooded binnacle shrouding the four pleasingly calibrated instruments is a template for all subsequent Bavarian ergonomic rationalism. It has a lighter less Teutonic feel than equivalent Mercedes coupes. There’s no radio but I’m certain they usually came with one. The Scheel bucket seats, special to the CSL, have no rake adjustment but embrace the trunk of your body impressively with those deep side bolsters; they must be half the weight of the sumptuous CS and CSi chairs. You tend to feel as if you are sat rather low with the chunky spokes of the Momo wheel hiding important fuel and temperature information. The straight six has a rhythmic hunting idle and there’s a gentle chatter from the four speed gearbox in the lower ratios but generally the CSL earns high marks for docility and refinement as you guide it through traffic. It has a broad shouldered, square jawed presence yet it is far from being a large or intimidating and other traffic simply has nowhere to hide because there’s just so much glass.
The power windows are as majestically slow in action as I remember them, the ride rather better; the 195/70 tyres paw gently at bumps with surprising refinement. The long throttle travel and similarly lengthy clutch action make the first few pull-offs rather hesitant but you soon get the flavour for smooth progress in the CSL. Under the bonnet the straight six looks somewhat lost under the Bosch injection inlet manifolds that turn incoming gases through 90 degrees and answer to a ‘brain box’ that lives under the passenger seat.  It’s as sweet as can be, pulling the CSL’s 22 mph per 1000rpm top effortlessly from 1500 rpm or punching out to 6000rpm with a howl of silky sophistication in first and second.
In town the CSL flows effortlessly with modern traffic, attracting admiring looks from all quarters; school kids point, women smile, men nod appreciatively as you hum past in that typically tail down/nose up stance flaunting your tiger stripes and glinting wheel arch extensions.
Out on the M4 your natural place is the outside lane. The CSL sits square and steady, the only irritants being wind noise around the quarter lights and the rubber sealing strip between the side glasses.
Tiring of the motorway I come off a junction early and take B-road as the light begins to go; it’s a nice mixture of sprinting straights and sweeping curves at the foot of the Berkshire Downs that show the muscular CSL in a pleasing light. The engine has a silky un-burstable feeling, stronger beyond 3000rpm and good for well over 6000rpm although somehow 5000 always seems enough. You don’t miss the fifth gear as the spacing is good with ample brawn to fill the gaps, with 100mph in third. In fact the light, precise action of the stubby gear lever is one of the delights of the CSL even if the clutch is a little on the meaty side. In the seventies it’s my impression that very few fast, large engined high-torque cars had pleasing manual gear boxes unless you had the money to buy a genuine exotic. Like good steering a great gearbox is an essential ingredient of a great driver’s car. In fact, not that many full blown Italian exotics had steering that was any better than the CSL. It is not a revelation in accuracy or 911 style feedback but more importantly is consistent with the cars wholesome, straightforward character, filtering out spurious messages somewhere within the hydraulics of the power assistance without feeling floaty or flabby or attempting to complete relieve of the effort of steering the CSL which  incidentally has a remarkably good turning circle.
From Gloucester our destination is 50 miles of A40. Nothing special, but enough to show off the brawny sophistication of the CSL once again as we peel through half a dozen roundabouts, pushing through gentle understeer to pleasant neutrality, hoofing the long travel throttle down as a piece of twin track opens up. You hardly notice the Scheel seats pinching your torso, but you do register that the CSL leans just a bit, plunges a little on its strut front suspension and squats at the back as the torque splays the semi trailing arms and you squirt away. The sound, that metallic hum that speaks of the lusty refinement that somehow links the E9 with the classic BMWs of the thirties, takes me back to the early eighties and our Fjord Blue CSL (chassis number 2285158) accelerating away from our house with its rubber air splitters on the front wings, its chin and boot spoilers.
Even at the time I thought these were gilding the lily, for the E9 is easily one of the best looking post-war BMWs. It has a slender grace and athletic poise that no subsequent BMW has come anywhere near recapturing. That the E9 Karmann built coupes were inspired by the Bertone 3200CS is obvious but exactly who drew the 2000CS and then had the artistic genius to face lift it in the 2800CS is uncertain; BMW are unwilling to be clear on this point themselves but I doubt it was Wilhelm Hoftmeister, who seems to have been someone who signed-off shapes rather than working them up himself. ‘To my eye the E9 Coupe is the finest BMW of them all.’ Says Stephen Bailey ‘it has that magical mixture of feminine elegance and masculine presence which, I think, characterises all great cars.  And here is every element of the long-running BMW design language: whether observed in the breach or the observation, every subsequent BMW has owed something to this car.’
Couldn’t agree more. In fact if Im honest I’m not that fussed about the whole CSL thing – I’m a sucker for a standard 3.0CSi – but it is the lightweight car that carries the weight of mythology and romance; here is a stripped down racer-for-the road, a homologation special that projected the BMW performance message around the world.  With that pedigree the upward fortunes of this seventies BMW glamour car are probably yet to see their peak; the good news is that for the brave enthusiast there are still a surprising number of reasonably priced project CSL’s out there that previously would have been economic suicide to restore; today with even ‘ordinary’ non ‘Batmobile’ lightweight coupes being advertised for £50,000, they suddenly make a lot more sense.

more April 16 2011 at 15:02

Alain Delon California Spider

As the smouldering essence of everything that was chic in European cinema in the nineteen sixties it should come as no surprise that Alain Delon once owned, or might have owned, open Ferrari 250 Spyder California. Let me explain…
Even in the early sixties the link between Ferrari and the world of European film making was strongly established with enthusiastic owners like Roberto Rossellini, Brigit Bardot and Roger Vadim. John Frankenheimer, who filmed the classic motor racing drama Grand Prix, was another celebrity owner.
In America – the market this model was conceived for – the California Spyder is most closely associated with James Coburn. Alain Delon, delivering brooding sexuality through a thick smog of Gitane fumes, was really in a different league; lean, dark and devastatingly handsome he worked with great directors like Visconti, Goddard and Antonioni who recognised that, like his French Jean Paul Belmondo (much less pretty and with a cigarette eternally hanging from his top lip) Mr Delon could really act.
Having said that his CV throws up relatively few classics, Plien Soleil (the first and best version of The Talented Mr Ripley, filmed in 1959) and Borsalino (a high-grossing film that played to the French obsession with gangsters) being the two high points.
Off screen he was romantically linked with Romy Schneider – who starred with him in La Piscine alongside a Maserati Ghibli Spider – Nico and many other beautiful actresses that no doubt looked good in the passenger seat of a Ferrari.
Born in a suburb of Paris in 1935 Delon worked as a porter and a waiter before he was discovered, at the Cannes Film Festival, by David O Selznick in the late fifties. However, he determined early on that his future lay in French cinema and he made relatively few English language films. One such was The Yellow Rolls Royce in 1964 where he starred alongside Shirley McClain (and many others) in the story of a Rolls Royce Phantom and its colourful ownership history. An off-set publicity still shows Delon squiring Shirley McClain around the Riviera in a short wheelbase Spyder California registered 4452 on Monaco plates.
As I said at the beginning there is no record of Delon having owned a Spyder California yet he was photographed behind the wheel of this example on at least two more occasions. Here he is sat behind the wheel in a tweed jacket and slacks, hiding behind trademark dark glasses. There’s a stop watch mounted on the transmission hump and he’s doing a pretty effortless job of looking like he owns the car.
The third shot gives us a few more clues. It shows him sharing the cockpit with Jane Fonda with whom he was making a film at the time called Joy House. Two years later he featured with her in Histories Extraordinaires, a curious three part production directed by Louis Malle, Frederico Fellini and Jane Fonda’s then husband Roger Vadim. It was made in 1967, a year before Jane Fonda hit the big time in Barbarella. Interestingly in the segment directed by Fellini (Louis Malle directed Alain Delon’s part) an ageing American actor is persuaded to play a role in Vatican-funded film production by the promise of a new Ferrari as part of his fee!
The Vadim connection is interesting because he did own a California Spyder and famously lived in Saint Tropez, not a million miles away from Monte Carlo. In his memoir Don’t Tell Dad Peter Fonda recalls being driven around the Riviera in the Spyder with Vadim and his sister Jane, who was usually sat on his lap. One night after a good meal they were returning to Vadim’s house at Plage Tahiti when Vadim suddenly turned the wheel hard to the right crushing the bodywork against the wall.
There’s a theory that Delon owned a 250 Pininfarina Cabriolet but I can find no evidence of this, visual or otherwise. Another theory says that the Spyder California in the pictures is either chassis 3021 – sold new to the fast-living author Francoise Segan (who was actually much more famous for driving Jaguars) or chassis 3095, allegedly once owned by the playboy industrialist Gunter Sachs who is perhaps most famous for being married to Bridgit Bardot.
So even if he didn’t own the car Mr Delon’s Riviera jet-set friends were pretty relaxed about letting him drive around quite a lot. Whatever the truth is it’s a very cool picture.

more April 16 2011 at 15:01

4-Car Top 10 TV Cars

Glamorous and interesting cars have always added to the pace, action and the sense of location of TV as well as being a succinct way of communicating the personality of the character driving the cars on screen. Nobody understood this better than ITC. This company, headed by the late Lord Grade, produced easily the most memorable action series of the sixties and seventies. It is best known for The Saint – featuring Roger Moore and the white Volvo P1800 – but ITC created an endless stream of one-hour programmes that cashed-in on the public taste for international intrigue, espionage and glamorous locations in the wake of the James Bond phenomena. Under the guidance of the shrewd, Montecristo puffing Lew Grade – surely the ultimate post-war showbiz impresario – the company was hugely successful: so much so that by the early 70’s their were only two countries in the world that were not running ITC programmes. The shows were often made on a tight budget because much of the money was spent paying the stars: Patrick McGoohan was the highest-paid man on television in the sixties.
Lots of stock footage was used: one particular scene showing a white MkI Jaguar careering off a cliff was used several times over in different series from the The Saint to Randall and Hopkirk Deceased. Despite the glamorous international feel of the shows scenes were rarely shot on location. The Pinewood back-lot stood in for everywhere you could imagine and like many of the bit part actors the same cars popped up again and again in different shows. Such evidence of penny pinching is now all part of the genre’s charm for the true connoisseur.
So settle back for our tribute to the motorised co-stars that still inhabit the collective imagination of a whole generation brought up on sixties and seventies television.

1. The Saint: Volvo P1800
Legend has it that Jaguar turned ITC down when they asked for a white E-Type to use its new one-hour Series – Browns Lane didn’t need the publicity – so Grade turned to Volvo who were eager to supply a P1800. The raffish Swede blended perfectly with Moore’s stylishly cut suites and well-groomed looks and the car became one of the symbols of the series: if you were a kid at the time you probably had the Corgi model. Moore liked the car – which at that stage was being produced in the UK by Jensen – so much that he bought one for his own use. The on-screen numberplate – ST1 – was a fake incidentally. The car featured in most of the episodes although Moore occasionally drove more exotic cars when the script demanded it.

2. Thunderbirds: FAB 1
Thunderbirds was the most memorable of the Gerry Anderson puppet series that he produced for ITC. The Thunderbirds were the futuristic craft used by International Rescue, a secret organisation headed by former astronaut Geoff Tracey on a secret Island base. Lady Penelope was Geoff’s London agent who used a pink, nuclear powered six wheeled Rolls Royce (for once Rolls Royce were in full agreement with the use of their trademark) registered FAB 1. The car driven with great skill by her Chauffeur Parker (‘ yuss me Lady’) who was able to deploy a vast armoury of weapons which included missiles and machine guns. If need be FAB 1 was able to water ski too. Fabulously styled FAB 1 became a hugely successful Dinky model and is one of the symbols of a sixties and early seventies childhood. One full size version was built in glassfibre but, sadly, was not nuclear powered: it was based on a six wheeler Bedford coach.

3. The Prisoner: Lotus Super Seven
The green and yellow Lotus Seven featured extensively in the opening credits of the Prisoner, the cult series devised by former Danger Man star Patrick McGoohan. The Prisoner was definitely a cut-above the normal cops and robbers ITC fare, telling the story of a former government agent who is kept imprisoned in a secret village on an Island because he won’t tell the authorities why he resigned. He refuses to conform to the rules of the ‘community’ and each episode plays out the battle of wits between McGoohan (the actor who turned-down the chance to play James Bond three times) and his captors. An E-Type, an Elan and a Lotus Cortina star in various episodes but the only other really memorable vehicles are the white Mini Mokes that the villagers use as taxi’s.

4. The Baron: Jensen CV8
The Baron, John Mannering, was an international crime fighter in the world of fine art and antiques. A Texan living in London he drove a light brown Jensen CV8 – registered BAR 1 – which featured extensively in the opening credits and in many of the 30 fifty minute colour episodes that were screened in 1966 and 67.The car was particularly swish in featuring a radio telephone.  Star of the show was the red haired American actor Steve Forrest (who in the seventies turned up in the American series SWAT) with Sue Lloyd as his side kick, fresh from The Icpress File and yet to feature in Cross Roads. She occasionally drove an MG 1100 or a Daf.

5. Man in a Suitcase: Hillman Imp
American actor Richard Bradford played McGill (we never knew his first name) in this 1967 series about a wrongly discredited CIA man turned bounty hunter willing to take on any job that paid him $500 a day plus expenses. His work took him around Britain and Europe and even as far as Africa with a battered leather suitcase as his only friend. The hunched Bradford was only 30 at time but his grey quiff made him much look older. He looked an incongruous figure in the light green Hillman Imp that was his regular transport, although he sometimes used a MkIII Zephyr. With an eternal roll-up in the side of his mouth he got beat-up most weeks and was never able to form relationships with his female co-stars because the script demanded that he moved on in the quest to clear his name. Laterly Bradford popped-up as Cagney’s father in Cagney and Lacey and seems to specialise these days in fat, corrupt Irish-American cops.

6. The Persuaders: Aston DBS and Ferrari Dino
The Persuaders featured Roger Moore and Tony Curtis as playboy crime fighters Lord Brett Sinclair and American entrepreneur Danny Wilde. Brett Sinclair drove an Aston (which appeared to be a V8 but was actually a straight six on V8 alloys) with the false registration number BS 1. Danny Wild used a red, left hand drive Ferrari 206 Dino which was, apparently, horrendously unreliable. The cars were intrinsic to the glamorous international appeal of the show (the opening episode features an exciting race between the two cars on Riviera roads) which would have gone down a storm in the states if it hadn’t clashed with Mission Impossible. Each episode cost £100,000 to make and looked rather more lavish than was usual with ITC – there was some attempt to shoot on location rather than the Pinewood back lot, at least in the initial episodes. This slipped later. In a scene that is supposed to be a French motorway you can see, if you look closely, that the film has simply been flipped: the number plates on all the cars are back-to-front!

7. Department S: Lancia Fulvia Coupe
Department S was an Interpol branch that specialised in unsolvable crimes, headed by the wonderfully effete Jason King (see below). Among his glamorous young operatives was Annabel Hurst – played by Rosemary Nichols – who drove a white Lancia Fulvia Coupe. This car, registered UBY 96F – featured in several other ITC series. Her colleague Stewart Sullivan – played by Joel Fabiani – drove a Series II E-Type roadster. 28 colour episodes were produced between 1969 and 1970 to the usual formula of supposed exotic locations, glamorised violence and implausible plots.

8. Jason King: Bentley Continental
This was a follow-on series for Peter Wyngarde, the Australian actor who played the hunky, spunky Jason King. King was a thriller writer who solved crimes as if he was writing the plot of one of his books. As usual the scripts took the character all over the world but when the action moved to swinging London King would be seen swishing around in his Bentley Continental. With his flamboyant clothes and trendy moustache Wyngarde was quite a heartthrob yet cut such a slender, effete figure that the fight scenes always seemed rather unlikely. Jason King wasn’t the success Department S had been and in anycase Wyngarde’s career was cut short by an incident in a gentleman’s lavatory. The character was parodied by The Comic Strip in the late eighties as ‘Jason Bentley’.

9. Joe 90
This was another Gerry Anderson puppet series produced in 1968. Joe 90 was a small boy who was provided with amazing powers when he wore a pair of special glasses developed by his scientist father. With the help of ‘Uncle Sam’ Joe helped protect to world from aggressors when he went out on secret missions in his amazing jet powered car. Although the puppetry was more sophisticated than it had been on Thunderbirds Joe 90 never captured kids imaginations in the same way but Joes car – which was a successful Dinky model – was certainly dramatic and was seen to fly rather more often than it drove on land. Uncle sams car was a rather swish two door coupe with a hooped bootlid spoiler.

10. Return of the Saint
Return of the Saint, made in 1978 and starring the rather less imposing Ian Ogilvy as the perfectly coiffeur crime-fighter, featured a white 4-speed manual V12 XJ-S as Simon Templer’s wheels. Jaguar jumped at the chance this time round and the car featured prominently in the opening titles of the show or parked outside Templer’s London mews house. A second attempt to revive the character in the late eighties featured a Jensen Interceptor but neither had the charm of the original sixties series. What became of Ian Ogilvy?

more April 16 2011 at 15:00

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