4-Car Top 10 Notorious Cars

Many cars are remembered not for what they were but for the dubious events and people they were associated with – death, murder, famous larceny and any number of unsavoury accidents. Fast cars and the rich and famous have not proven to be a good combination over the years, particularly in an age before seat belts, air bags and strict drink-driving laws. The American stars always did it with the most panache – James Dean is still the ultimate celebrity death crash victim – where as in Britain famous people tended to meet there end in more tedious vehicles: rocker Gene Vincent died in MkII Consul Taxi, Marc Bolan in a Mini Clubman. Here we present some of the some memorable – and maybe not so memorable – cars that have play their part in head-line hitting world affairs of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, a rogues gallery of automotive bit-part players who had a moment of fame in sometimes unhappy circumstances.

1. Lord Lucan: Ford Corsair
The Corsair’s association with the 1974 Lucan murder case is probably the only thing most people can remember about this most forgettable of Fords. Although he owned a Mercedes Lucan borrowed the car off his friend Michael Stoop several days before it is alleged he killed his Children’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, in the belief it was his estranged wife Veronica, in the basement of their Belgravia house. The car was found later in the channel port of Newhaven covered in bloodstains inside. In the boot was the most damning piece of evidence against Lucan – a sixteen inch long piece of lead pipe bound with surgical tape that was identical to the weapon that had been used to murder Rivett. Lucan has never been found.

2. The Great Train Robbery: Land Rovers
Although it had been suggested MkII Jaguars with their rear seats removed should be used to transport the mailbags to the robbers’ hideout in the aftermath of this most legendary of modern crimes in the end the felons used an ex-Army Austin lorry along with two Land Rovers. These vehicles, stolen from central London, had identical registration plates (BMG 757A) so as to confuse the police. The Land Rovers were discovered at the gang’s hideout at Leatherslade Farm in Buckinghamshire and one of them still exists in the hands of an enthusiast.

3. Ava Gardner: Mercedes 300SL
The film star Ava Gardner, who by her own admission was a terrible driver and often ‘over refreshed’, famously crashed her Gullwing Mercedes in Spain. She lost it on a curve, mounted an embankment and rolled it twice before coming to rest on its roof. She was pulled from the wreck by farm workers who had to take her out through the smashed windscreen as the doors wouldn’t open when the SL was inverted, for obvious reasons. Many owners subsequently carried hammers just in case they did the same thing. Ava paid tribute to the cars ‘solid steel framework’ in her autobiography. She was in good company when it came to having ‘moments’ in a Gullwing. Even Stirling Moss was wary of its handling and its propensity for unsettling lift-off oversteer thanks to the unruly camber changes of its high pivot swing axles. He crashed one into an Italian army truck laden with explosives while on a training mission for the 1955 Mille Miglia.

4 John F Kennedy: Lincoln Continental X100
This specially modified – by coachbuilders Hess and Eisenhardt – Lincoln Continental toured the world with President Kennedy. Sadly it was also the car in which he was shot in Dallas in 1963. It was a major piece of evidence in the Warren Commission’s investigation – its cracked windscreen still sits in the American National archives – but amazingly it was put back into service after a complete re-fit which included extensive bullet proofing that added a ton to its weight. Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford used the car until it was finally taken out of service and returned to its owners, Ford, in 1977 (they rented it to the White House for $500 a year). You can see it in Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

5. Albert Camus: Facel Vega FV
The Algerian writer and philosopher Albert Camus was killed when the Facel Vega Coupe in which he was travelling hit a tree in January 1960. Camus, the front seat passenger, died instantly when he was thrown through the rear screen. His publisher Michel Gallimard was driving the car and was blamed for the crash, although it seems likely that there was a mechanical fault. The unfinished manuscript of his last book, Premier Homme, was in his bag in the car but would not be published for another 35 years.

6. Sammy Davis Junior: Cadillac Convertible
Driving his Cadillac to Los Angeles in November 1954 the entertainer Sammy Davis crashed the huge convertible into on-coming traffic in an attempt to avoid a car that was making a U-turn directly in front of him. In the ensuing collision his head hit the steering wheel and he lost his left eye on a piece of ornamental chrome that was sticking out of the centre of it.

7. Princess Grace of Monaco : Rover 3500
On September 13, 1982 Princess Grace and her daughter Princess Stephanie were involved in an accident when their Rover 3500 careened off one of the winding roads leading to Monaco. Princess Stephanie was able to get out of the car when it finally stopped rolling but suffered a few injuries. Princess Grace wasn’t so lucky. Unfortunately, the 52-year-old former Hollywood film star had suffered a very mild stroke which caused her to lose control of her vehicle. After the Rover had stopped rolling down the cliff, Grace was found unconscious. She died in hospital the next day.

8. Montgomery Clift: 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air
Montgomery Clift was a sensitive young heartthrob in the James Dean mould who by the age of thirty was one of the most sought-after talents in Hollywood who counted Elizabeth Taylor among his best friends.  It was when returning from a dinner part at Taylor’s house, driving down a steep twisty decent towards Sunset Boulevard, that he lost control of his Chevrolet on a dangerous curve and hit a telegraph pole. Clift was found slumped under steering wheel his face hideously lacerated, his jaw broken and choking on his two front teeth which had been knocked down his throat: Elizabeth Taylor saved his life by pulling them out. The doctors did what they could with his battered features but the left side of his face was frozen. Already unstable and moody his career, and his health, went into decline in an avalanche of pills and booze and he made only a handful of films before his death in 1966.

9. General Charles deGaulle; Citroen DS
On August 22nd 1962 terrorists of the OAS – the Secret Army Organisation – made an attempt on the life of the French leader President Charles deGaulle. They believed deGaulle had betrayed France by yielding Algeria to the Algerian Nationalists. As dusk fell deGaulles black Citroen DS was speeding down the Avenue de la Liberation in Paris at 70mph when 12 OAS men opened fire on the car. However, in seeing the open-fire signal too lake most of their bullets hit the Citroen from behind, bursting its tyres and causing it to go into a front-wheel skid. Some shattered the rear window as the Chauffeur Marroux held wrestled with the wheel and accelerated out of the skid, deGaulle and his wife emerged unscathed by keeping there heads down and thanks to its hydropmeumatic suspension the DS was able to limp safely to Villacoublay where a helicopter was waiting to take the deGaulles to their country retreat. These events were the basis for Frederick Forsyth’s book (and subsequent film starring Edward Fox) The Day of the Jackal.

10. Mike Hawthorn: Jaguar 3.4
In a wet and windy day in January 1959 world champion racing driver Mike Hawthorn crashed his Jaguar in a fatal accident that has never been fully explained. Driving his modified 3.4 saloon along the A3 Hoggs back Hawthorn encountered his friend Rob Walker driving his 300SL, registered ROB 2. An impromptu race ensued as the cars accelerated down the rain soaked hill together up to 100mph. Hawthorn over took the Mercedes in a left hand curve as they passed on John Coombes garage and then going into the right hander that followed the Jaguar suddenly started to slide, spun then careered backwards across the carriageway disappearing from Walkers view. It then clipped a traffic island and a truck before coming to rest wrapped around a tree as it disappeared in a cloud of mud ands water. The car was almost split in two and Hawthorn died after a couple of minutes as a result of a fractured skull.  There has been much speculation about the cause of the crash. Some said Hawthorn, who had Kidney problems and would not have made old bones, had suffered a blackout. Others that the cars diff’ had locked-up, that a brake had seized on or that some part of an alleged non-standard hand throttle had failed and allowed the engine to over speed.

more April 16 2011 at 14:57

4-Car Top 10 Bond Cars

Cars, and car chases, have been an intrinsic part of the glamour of James Bond since the film series began in 1962 with Dr No, although it was the Aston Martin DB5 that really set the ball rolling in 1964 with an arsenal of gadgets that captured the imagination of boys large and small all over the world. Nearly 40 years on you can still buy a James Bond Aston Martin. The impact of that car has proved difficult to beat and most subsequent attempts to ‘do a Bond car ‘have descended, like the films themselves, into parody.
Not all of the cars Bond has used have been up-market – 2CV’s, Renault 11’s and three-wheeled Indian taxi’s have all featured – but currently BMW seems to have the franchise. Would Ian Fleming have approved of his British agent driving a German car? I doubt it.

1. Sunbeam Alpine: Dr No
In his first outing Bond starts off modestly with a hired Sunbeam Alpine that features in a dramatic car chase along rough Jamaican mountain roads, pursued by unsavoury assassins in a pre-war Packhard hearse which doesn’t look as if its enjoying being thrown around corners too much. Inevitably it gets trashed when it careers off the road down the side of the mountain. Look out also for the ’57 Chevrolet convertible and the MkII Ford Consul taxi.

2. Derby Bentley: From Russia With Love
For Bond purists this is the best of the series and features only low key gadgets like an exploding brief case. Bond doesn’t even drive but gets chauffeured around in a Rolls Royce Silver Wraith and Ford Fairlane station wagon. What we do see briefly is the Derby Bentley (which is what he drove in the books) fitted with a radio telephone to bring it up to date.

3. Aston Martin DB5: Goldfinger and Thunderball
This car needs little introduction. Fitted with machine guns, radar, a rear bullet shield and that famous ejector seat it is still the most famous piece of hardware in the Bond armoury. In Goldfinger it expires against a brick wall after an exciting tear-up with a brace of black 220 Mercedes saloons but is revived for a brief appearance in Thunderball where it blasts baddies with a powerful jet of water in the pre-title sequence. Four were built. Two for filming and two for promotional work.

4. Toyota 2000GT: You Only Live Twice
Toyota built this convertible version of their exotic 2000GT because Connery wouldn’t fit in the coupe and, in anycase, it made filming rather easier. In the film the only gadget is a TV monitor: the Corgi version had rocket launchers. Two were made for the film: Toyota has one in its museum but the other has disappeared.

5. Aston Martin DBS: On Her Majesty’s Secret service
For the new Bond – George Lazenby – a new Aston, the DBS. The green car features mainly in the pre credit sequence and at the end of the film after Bond marries Diana Rigg who gets shot through the cars windscreen by Blofled’s female side kick from the side window of a speeding Mercedes 600. From an action point of view this is actually one of the best Bond films and Lazenby, who had only ever done chocolate commercials before getting the job, looked the part in a way the Roger Moore somehow never did. Look out for Miss Rigg’s Mercury Cougar.

6. Diamonds are Forever: Mustang Mach 1
Mustangs pop-up frequently in Bond films – early models featured in both Goldfinger and Thunderball – and here the massive Mach I shows its paces in Bonds most dramatic car chase to date out-wittingly the inept Las Vegas Police as he drives over the roofs of parked cars and goes on two wheels down a narrow back alley. There is a memorable moon buggy chase too and a brief appearance of a then new Triumph Stag. Connery returned for a 1 million-dollar fee for this one and donated the money to the Scottish National Party. Never quite got himself together to go and live in Scotland though. Funny that.

7. Lotus Esprit: The Spy Who Loved me
The Lotus Esprit and its under-water exploits are second only to the DB5 in the Bond car hall of fame. To escape a rocket-equipped Helicopter Bond – now played for laughs by bouffant Roger Moore – drives the Esprit off a pier into the sea where it transforms into a submarine at the flick of a switch and blows-up the helicopter with its own rockets.  More underwater action ensues until Bond emerges victorious on a beach full of holidaymakers. Six cars were used to film this sequence. A turbo Esprit featured in For Your eyes only in 1981. The Bond genre was in decline now: the Title song was belted-out by, er, Sheena Easton?

8. Aston Martin V8: The Living Daylights.
Moore had retired now to make way for Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton, who always looked rather embarrassed to be doing it. To give him some much needed gravitas producer Chubby Broccoli brought the Aston Martin back, not in the slender form of the DB5 but dinosaur-like V8. With its rocket launchers, spiked tyres, laser tyre slashers and ski’s it certainly came fully equipped but didn’t have the charm of the original. Something about Bond didn’t sit comfortably in the eighties and if you judge a Bond film by the artist that did the theme song, well, you’ll remember this one with a cringe: A-Ha…

9. BMW Z3:Goldeneye
BMW were more than happy to supply their effete roadster for a walk-on role in the first Bond film for six years. The car hadn’t even been released when it appeared in the film but occupied just a few minutes of screen time. More memorable is the return of the DB5 which features in a wild chase at the start of Goldeneye and serves as feel good factor to smooth the introduction of a new actor – the oily Pierce Brosnan.

10. BMW Z8: The world is Not enough.
More crass product placement for BMW with its new flagship retro roadster the Z8 which, again, was still only a prototype when the film was being made. The cars used in the film were actually highly accurate replicas based on Chevrolet powered Cobra kit cars built in the UK!

more April 16 2011 at 14:56

4-Car Rare Estates

Estates are cool. Estates are hip. Estates, so the pundits tell us, are the next big thing, set to usurp the bloated MPV as the middle class lifestyle vehicle of choice. Not just any old estate mind. 21st century estate must be trim and athletic, have the right badge and exude all the right healthy life style values. Voluminous carrying capacity is a mere side issue with this new strain of sporty life style estates, aimed squarely at thirty something types in denim shirts who want a car that looks as composed in the office carpark as it does with a couple of mountain bikes on the roof.
In the fifties, sixties and early seventies we used to know where we stood with estates. They were nothing to do with happy smiley people and their happy, smiley offspring enjoying their ‘Leisure time’. Estates – European estates that is – were either austere and basic (they came thatched and half-timbered or were nothing more sophisticated than vans with the side panels sniped out) or they were posh and hand made, produced by a cottage industry of coachbuilders. The English did this especially well, with firms like Friary, Farnham and Crayford producing specialist load carriers based on mainstream big saloons expensively and in small numbers. The manufacturers were happy to farm the work out because the volumes weren’t big enough for them to make money out of.
Rare estates is something of a loose brief embracing some truly exotic examples of the breed – like the Aston DB5 – and some which are ostensibly humdrum but, in their way, are no less fascinating like the Austin 3 litre. Some are one-offs that deserved a better fate – the Lancia Oligiata is a prime example – others were produced in a small series and probably got no better than they deserved.

1. 1965 Aston Martin DB5 Shooting Break
Sir David Brown built a dozen DB5 estate cars for himself and his landed gentry mates to use when pursuing country sports on their private estates. The story goes that in September 1965 DB called a board meeting and brought his Labrador dog. He plonked him on the boardroom table and said ‘build me something he can sit in’. Coachbuilders Harold Rafdord of Hammersmith, West London, converted the cars. His men simply took tinsnips to the Astons alloy roof and blended in a new panel that extended backwards to a one piece rear door, hinged across the roof.
The suspension was firmed-up at the back but otherwise the cars were mechanically stock, non-Vantage DB5s running triple SU’s.
Vantage or not these were the fastest load carriers in the world in their day, not that a DB5 shooting brake ever carried ‘loads’ as such: a pair of cocked Purdey’s, some dead game and an old copy of Country life were the heaviest items these cars would ever have to haul.
Curiously the last DB5 Shooting Brakes were not delivered until May 1967, by which time the DB6 had been in production for almost 2 years.

2. 1982 Lynx Eventer
The job of building an ultimate up-market shooting break that would be a worthy successor to the Aston eventually fell to Jaguar specialists Lynx who, in 1982, came up with the XJ-S Eventer.
The ugly buttresses of the factory coupe swapped at last for a long graceful roof and an exquisitely shaped tapering rear side window styled by Chris Keith Lucas of Lynx. Pininfarina couldn’t have done it better and the car struck an immediate cord not only with the country house set. Rather than being an impractical 2+2 the XJ-S was now a useful four seater, with much better over-the-shoulder vision. It was such an obvious conversion you can only wonder why Jaguar didn’t do it themselves.
The Eventers werebuilt on a custom made jig. A pressed-out ripple-free one-piece roof was added and the rear bulkhead was moved back, giving an extra 3.5 inches of legroom in the rear.
On the early cars the tailgate was adapted from the Citroen Ami Estate’s, which must be rarer in the UK now than an Eventer. As well as having a tendency towards rot they also featured exposed hinges, which weren’t quite the thing on such an up-market machine. Around 65 Eventers were built, 47 right hand drive and 16 left hookers, all but three V12s. Poalo Gucci put his name to a special version of the Eventer that must rate as the ultimate in flash: semi precious stones around the gear shift which had a solid silver knob, fitted suitcases, a leather bound logbook and solid silver ignition keys. Hmmm, tasty.
The price? £100,000 in 1990, although the car remained a one-off after the Gucci family lawyers claimed that Poalo Gucci had no right to use his name to endorse the product.

3. 1963 Vanden Plas 3 Litre  Estate
When you’ve got a large estate then a large estate is always useful, which is why H.M the Queen ordered this ‘countryman’ conversion on a Vanden Plas 3 litre saloon in 1963. With its split tail gate, folding seats and big load area it was perfect for a trip down to stables at Balmoral, which was where this car, finished in bottle green, saw the most use. An automatic with grey leather it had special attachments for fitting angling equipment to the roof. Only one other 3 litre Countryman appears to have been made for Sir Leonard Lord, the boss of BMC.
The Queen put in another order in 1966 for a 4 Litre R version but, rumour has it, this was written-off by one of the Royals at Balmoral and now languishes in a secret location. But does the 3-litre still exist? We’d love to know….

4. 1980 Jaguar Avon Stevens Estate
Avon – who more famously built a drophead versions of Jaguars Series II XJ Coupe – turned the graceful Series III XJ into an estate in the early eighties. The top of the body from B-post back was removed and the upper part of the tail gate was from a Renault 5. It would have set you back £6500 on top of the price of an XJ saloon and looked rather hearse-like the rear but was, allegedly, beautifully made. Certainly second-hand examples of the handful that were built are snapped-up quickly. The rear seats didn’t fold totally flat and the fuel tanks intruded into the load space so practicality was limited.
Much more interesting was the MkII County estate.  In the late fifties Jaguar works drivers Duncan Hamilton and Mike Hawthorn hatched the idea of producing an estate version of the Jaguar 3.4 saloon. They brought in racing artist Roy Nockholds to advise on the styling but before any cars were built Hawthorn was killed in a car accident and the project was halted. When the MkII Jaguar was announced in 1959 the idea gained new impetus and a single car was built by the coachbuilders Jones Brothers, based on the 3.8 litre version of the new MkII. Jaguar acquired the car and used it as a service barge following the works race and rally cars around Europe. It was a surprisingly harmonious looking vehicle which was sold into the trade in the sixties and ended up in America in the late seventies. It has now been restored (very unsympathetically considering its historic importance with vulgar modern seats and the like) and lives in Holland.

5. 1967 Rover P6 Estate
Rovers advanced ‘P6’ 2000 saloon was always a little short on luggage space so the Panelcraft converted estates were a sensible enough idea. Around 160 were built between 1969 and 1975, mostly based on the more powerful V8 engined 3500 model and sold exclusively by two London based Rover dealers who could carry out the £700 conversion on either a new P6 or your existing car. The Panelcraft estates were approved by Rover who agreed to honour original warranties. The roof of the car – badged the Estoura – was made in aluminium to save weight while the rear door utilised part of the original saloon bootlid. The rear seats were thinner backed than the original so that they could be folded to give a flat loading space. The fuel tank was now under the floor for the same reason. There was talk of an factory built SD1 based estate and, in fact two prototypes were produced – one for evaluation and one for BL chairman Michael Edwards to use as his personal transport. Both survive in museum collections.

6. 1966 Mercedes ‘Fintail’ estate
Today estates are a staple part of Mercedes mid-sized range but, in the sixties – and indeed throughout most of the seventies – estate versions of Benz saloons were built by outside firms. Initially companies Binz and Miesen built ambulances and the occasional civilian estate car on  190/190D and 200/200D ‘Fintail’ rolling chassis supplied by Mercedes. Then, in 1966, the Belgian company IMA introduced the Universal which could be ordered through Mercedes dealers and was built to a less utilitarian specification than the earlier estate models. It had 15 inch wheels (bigger than the saloon) and featured self-levelling rear suspension and could be had with a split-folding rear seat and additional bench seat in the load bay that could be folded away. The ‘Fintail’ range was discontinued in 1968 and it would be another ten years before Mercedes would offer its factory built ‘T’ series estates on the W123 platform.

7. Austin 3 litre Estate
Underdeveloped and poorly marketed the Austin 3 litre was a prestige flagship that shared its 3 litre straight-six engine with the MGC and its central body tub with the BMC 1800 but with a stretched nose and tail and rear wheel drive. Over-weight and under-powered – even the manual overdrive version could barely struggle to 100mph – buyers didn’t perceive it as a significantly more prestigious car than the cheaper and equally spacious front drive ‘landcrab’ 1800. So in a sense the estate version – of which only 11 were built – was really the only 3 litre with any credibility. Here at least was a useful load-hauler that was certainly one of the biggest in its class. The self-levelling suspension was of some theoretical value too, although it was rather unreliable: you had to remember to load the car up with the engine running if you wanted to avoid a sagging rear end. Crayford’s conversion doubled the price of the car but was factory approved. The rear door was pilfered from BMC’s Austin/Morris 1100 Countryman. Most of the cars built have now been banger-raced to destruction but three are said to survive if you fancy one…

8. Jensen GT
This was Jensens answer to the trendy Reliant Scimitar GTE although it was too late to market to take on the cheaper foreign competition effectively. Certainly the GT was a more interesting car than the unlovely Jensen Healey roadster (the Healey name was dropped after Donald Healey fell out with Jensen) on which it was based. That said the under pinnings were much the same, with a spectre of unreliability hanging over the Lotus designed (but under developed) 2 litre twin-cam engine that powered it. In fact the engine was sorted by the time the unlucky GT emerged and you can’t help thinking that in happier times the car with its plush cabin, useful load space, five-speed gearbox and 120mph performance, would have been a modest success. Sadly, with the fuel crisis affecting sales of its thirsty Interceptor models the Jensen went into liquidation in 1975 and only 473 GT’s were produced.

9 Lancia Gamma Olgiata
The Olgiata was an attempt by Pininfarina to revive the fortunes of Lancias flawed Gamma range which had been plagued by technical troubles from its introduction in 1976. Based on the beautiful Coupe version the Olgiata did the rounds of the motorshows in 1983. Handsome and well balanced it was intended to be a more up-market interpretation of the Beta HPE and it may have extended the life of Lancias flagship 2.5 litre models if it had been taken up. Trouble was the Gammas fate was already sealed in 1983 when production of the saloon ceased. The one-off Olgiata then gathered dust in storage for ten years before being sold to a European collector in the mid nineties when the Pininfarina museum decided it needed to make some space.

10. 1963 Alfa Giulia Colli Estate
The Milan coachbuilders Carrozzeria Colli (1932-73) will be best-remembered for Giulia Super estate cars they produced in the mid sixties. Just 16 were built: the majority were for the Italian Police and Army while the remaining examples as service barges by European Alfa Dealer Team racers in Belgium, France and of course Italy who at that time were campaigning GTA and GTAm’s. Out of the 16 most had their rear side windows panelled in and all had folding rear seats and a proper lift-up tailgate. Most used stock running gear  – a 1600cc twin cam engine with a five-speed gearbox – but at least one had the lustier 1750 engine and bigger brakes from the V8 engined Montreal coupe. Two right hookers came to UK to be used by dealers. One is currently being restored for a Japanese estate car collector (he runs an Estate car museum in Japan!) but the other has long since been destroyed. There was a factory Alfasud estate car in the seventies but there would be know Europe-wide Alfa estate until the advent of the 33 in the eighties.

more April 16 2011 at 14:54

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