This show provides a much needed mid-winter boost for for frustrated classic car owners itching to extract their cars from dusty garages to participate in a new year of classic racing, hillclimbs, shows, rallies, auto jumbles and any other form of automotive therapy, anorakery and nerdiness!
Changing the venue of this annual event to Olympia was I think a good decision. Although smaller that the cavernous Excel Centre, the quaint construction of Olympia with it’s glass canopied roof , its and it fantastic history of hosting motor shows is a much more sympathetic backdrop to classic motors.
It’s ever so nice that Renault re-launched the Alpine model but in the same way that modern 911’s look gigantic when compared to narrow bodied Early 911s, the new Alpines look equally flabby when next to the teeny tiny Classic A110 from the ’60s and ’70s.
These fabulous little Michelotti designed cars were built in Dieppe on the Channel/La Manche coast by garage proprietor Jean Redele. They utilised a steel backbone chassis and lightweight fibreglass body with a rear mounted 4-cylinder Renault engine (generally to Gordini specification). With capacities ranging from 956cc to 1,647cc, the tuned engines were plenty powerful enough to propel these 706kg cars around race tracks and rally courses with great success.
The rear engine, rear wheel drive layout of these cars and their rally successes led to much comparison with rally Porsche 911’s of the same period. This comparison continued between later Alpine models such as the A310, A610 and the most recent A110 recreations against their contemporary 911 equivalents.
As Alpine used so many Renault parts, it was a fairly natural move for Renault to buy the company in the early ’70’s in order to instantly tap into their race/rally success. Renault continued to develop the car although in relatively low production volumes until 1995. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Alpine marque however, Renault launched a new Alpine A110 in 2017.
The Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato is one of the most handsome cars ever made but I have to say that the DB4 GT upon which it was based is also a real looker with its more refined and restrained styling by Touring of Milan.
With it’s chassis shortened from the standard DB4 dimensions, faired-in headlights a-la-DB5 and big air scoops atop the bonnet and underneath the gaping grille, it looks like it really means business. Note to Aston Martin: “Cancel the order for the DB4GT Zagato Sanction car – I’ll have a DB4 GT instead!”
This Aston Martin DB3 is a curious but very special car as it marked a transition between the earlier DB2 and DB 2/4 road cars and subsequent purpose built Aston track cars.
The DB3 was built as a pure race car using DB2 components but to ensure a degree of success, David Brown (Aston’s owner between 1947 and 1972) appointed Robert Eberan von Eberhorst as designer and John Wyer as race team manager. He also recruited well respected race car drivers of theperiod including Reg Parnell, George Abecassis and Lance Macklin.
Von Eberhorst had been Ferdinannd Porsche’s protogee at Auto Union in the lead-up to WWII and he was solely responsible for the design of the mid-engined supercharged V12 Auto Union D-Type after Porsche senior moved onto pastures new.
During the war he provided design input for the Tiger Tank and was involved in testing V1 and V2 Rockets. Immediately post war he worked with Ferdinand’s son Ferry Porsche on the 356 and on Porsche’s commission from Piero Dusio – a Cisitalia supercharged Flat-12 four wheel drive Grand Prix car. The commission money for the Cisitalia effectively financed early development of the 356.
Von Eberhorst moved to the UK in 1949 to to work for E.R.A. to help develop the Jowett Jupiter before joining Aston Martin in 1950 to develop the DB3. Unfortunately Von Eberhorst’s engineering design skills could not create a dominant race car out of the sum of DB2 parts and he left Aston to allow Willie Watson to pick up the gauntlet with the smaller, lighter and ultimately more successful DB3S. Only 10 DB3 cars were ever built – so this black example is a very rare example.
The DBS and similarly bodied V8 cars were produced by Aston Martin between 1967 and 1972. The DBS6 continued to use the Tadek Marek straight-six carried over from the DB6 but wrapped in a “more modern” William Towns designed body.
The V8 came into being when the venerable straight-six was replaced with a chunky V8 engine – also designed by Tadek Marek. No amount of product placement in Bond films or The Persuaders enabled me to learn to love these monsters. They were undoubtedly more modern in terms of their body design than their DB predecessors but the classic Touring of Milan styling was a very hard act to follow!
I photographed this Zagato Aston not because I’ve ever liked it but more to illustrate that progressive Italian design houses can occasionally create complete horrors just as easily as they can create works of art. This is a horror whereas the DB4GT Zagato is a work of art.
It’s amazing how many car manufacturers are also intertwined with aircraft manufacture. Out of the earliest days of accelerated aviation development (also known as WWI), Avions Voisin was founded in 1919 under the technical guidance of Gabriel Voisin who put his aero-engineering skills to excellent use to create quirky art-deco luxury cars which remained in production until 1939.
When Bayerische Motor Werken (BMW) were banned from aero-engine production following WW1 they were forced to diversify into motorcycle and car manufacturing whilst preserving their aero-engine heritage in the BMW badge which represents a spinning propeller. Interestingly their first car (the Dixi) was an Austin 7 built under licence in Munich.
Bristol in the wake of WWII also expanded from manufacturing aircraft into building streamlined luxury cars built around the two litre six-cylinder engine who’s designs were provided to them by BMW as war reparations. Poor old BMW copped-it after both World Wars!
Other Aero/Automotive manufacturers include:- Agusta, Anzani, Austro-Daimler, Bentley, Bugatti, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Daimler-Benz, Darracq, Duesenberg, Fiat, Ford, GM, Hispano-Suiza, Hudson, Isotta-Fraschini, Lincoln, Maybach, Mercedes, Mors, Packard, Panard et Levassor, Porsche, Renault, Rolls Royce, Saab, Salmson, Skoda, Subaru, Studebaker, Sunbeam, Volvo, Wolsely, Yamaha & Zundapp ………………… to name but a few!
But I digress. Coming back to Bristol, their first very aerodynamic cars retained the twin BMW radiator grilles up-front ahead of the wonderful two-litre BMW 328 six-cylinder engine fed with fuel by a row of three down-draft Solex carburettors.
This pre-war engine powered early Bristols until it was decided to swap it for a far more potent Chrisler V8 engine in the 407 model from 1961 to more speedily propel the Gentleman’s Express that Bristol cars had become.
Even their more modern two-door luxury coupe designs , Bristol included idiosyncratic features such as hinged flaps in the front wings just ahead of the front wheel arches to access the spare wheel and the battery.
Sorry to bring the “F-word” into this post but as I’ve admitted on previous occasions there are certain Ferrari models which I can tolerate. These are restricted to models from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s and quite definitely DON’T include any vaguely modern models of the prancing horse marque!
The BB512 was produced between 1973 and 1984 and it epitomises the masterly design of Pininfarina during that period. It’s already low, sleek lines are further improved by a two-tone colour scheme consisting the upper body painted in classic classic Ferrari Rosso Corsa but with the lower part of the car (below the swage line) painted in glossy black.
The visual effect is to make the the car look as if it is sinking into the ground with its wheels resisting the sinking movement by bulging the car’s wheel arches outwards and upwards
The other wonderful design styling trick was to enable front and rear bodywork sections to lift up on hinges at the opposite extremities of the car to provide complete access to the “boot” and engine compartment either side of the central monocoque. The later and more stubby Lancia Stratos achieve the same effect but the difference is that the BB512 engine bay houses a wonderful longitudinally mounted Flat 12 engine whereas the Stratos has to make do with a transversely mounted Ferrari Dino V6.
That’s not to say I don’t like the Dino however as it was a great little car but not one that was ever originally intended to have a Ferrari badge as it was a couple of cylinders shy of earning that right.
It’s always nice to see old Jags and there were loads at this show but almost too many E-types to fully appreciate (and want to photograph). There were some nice MkIIs including an original Beacham one recreated in New Zealand during the peak of their popularity but the cars which caught my eye were a sparklingly clean XK120 Roadster, a superb ’55 D-Type and a rather lovely S-Type Kougar “kit-car”.
The 120 is beautiful from any angle but this was the only one I could get at the time without any people between me and it. The curvaceous rear end os really set off by the racing fuel filler, chromed indicator and tail lights and simple little quarter bumpers.
From this angle the D-Type looks more like an alien flying saucer sent to earth to investigate why Earthlings were hell-bent on fling wheeled bits of metal around not quite round race circuits.
From other angles the aerodynamic influence of Malcolm Sayer (former employee of Bristol Aeroplane Company) can be clearly seen. This innovative design featuring a central monocoque with front and rear subframes and powered by the wonderful and long-lived XK engine took D-Types to Le Mans victory in 1955, 1956 and 1957. It’s design principles were also carried forward to the E-Type.
This beast is a Kougar which was a rather sophisticated kit car based upon Jaguar (mainly S-Type) mechanical components. I’ve always liked these as they have a rather nice ’50s feel to them looking somewhat like Allards and other specials of the time.
Cougars feature a robust tubular steel chassis wrapped in hugh quality fibreglass bodywork and separate fibreglass wings. The S-Type engine, gearbox, diff, suspension, brakes, instruments etc. etc. are absolutely bulletproof.
This particular car had been built by its first engineer owner before being sold onto the current owner who had quite obviously continue to pamper it and also onward develop it for hard use on continental forays.
I do like a nice looking Lancia Aurelia B20. This lovely car produced between 1950 and 1958 was regarded as the first GT. It’s designer was the brilliant Vittorio Jano who had previously developed straight-four/six/eight road and race engines and a V12 race enginefor Alfa Romeo before moving to Lancia. At Lancia Jano designed the wonderful D50 Grand Prix car car and Ferrari acquired this car and its designer when they bought Lancia. For Ferrari, Jano developed its archetypal V12 engine and then went on to develop the Dino V6.
For a 1950s car the Aurelia looks incredibly modern and from a technical perspective it was ahead of its time with features such as the first production V6 engine, a transaxle gearbox, inboard drum brakes and radial tyres. I think it looks best in coupe form with its very understated but supremely elegant styling which is complemented by a relatively plain but completely functional interior. Another one for the lottery win list!
So – at some point Lancia’s Marketing Department decided that all Lancia model names had to start with an “F” and end in “ia” which resulted in the Flavia, Flaminia, Fulvia. Each of these models were rather splendidly represented at the show.
The Flaminia is a stunning car with bodywork design variously by Pininfarina, Zagato or Touring and blessed with a Jano derived V6 engine in 2.5 and 2.8 Litre vforms. Built between 1957 and 1970 in a variety of body configurations, it was Lancia’s flagship model and you can see why. Without seeing the Lancia badge, the car could be mistaken for a contemporary Maserati of Ferrari.
Produced over a similar timeframe as the Flaminia, the Flavia was more of an executive car with slightly more conservative styling and underpinnings. Somewhat surprisingly, the cars utilised flat-four (boxer) aluminium engines starting at 1.5 Litres with carburetor and increasing to 2 Litres with fuel injection over time. It was also front wheel drive. and it came in various bodywork configurations designed by Pininfarina, Vignale, Zagato and Touring. A handsome car but I’ll stick with the Flaminia!
I think this one was designed by Touring of Milan.
When the name Lancia Fulvia is mentioned – I visualise a rather pretty little two door sports coupe with a peppy little 1.3L or 1.6L narrow angle V-four engine canted at 45 degrees in the engine bay and sometimes in highly tuned HF form. The reality was however that the Fulvia could be had in Berlina Saloon, Coupe and Sport (Zagato) configurations. The brightly coloured model on display here was a super-rare Fulvia Zagato.
All Fulvias were front wheel drive with independent front suspension, transaxle gearbox, all round disc brakes, a beam rear axle with poanhard rod and leaf springs. All of this and the powerful little engine made the Fulvia a great little rally car.
Ercole Spada was the Zagato designer responsible for the Fulvia and he created a radically more aerodynamic and more lightweight body shell on the coupe chassis. These cars were intended to be raced on track, in rallies and on hill climbs.
This much later Lancia Stratos, like the Fulvia Sport was built with one purpose in mind. Yes road cars were made BUT you just have to look at this sparse Bertone design to realise that it is meant to be raced or rallied. It’s bodywork barely covers its chassis, engine suspension and other underpinnings. It’s cabin has just enough room for two people provided they agree not to accuse each other sexual assault for the duration of any jaunt.
The short wheel base of the car and the mid mounted Ferrari V6 engine mean this car can be chucked around race tracks and special rally states with gusto. Lots of drivers did this with such great success that Stratos’s or Strati won the World Rally Championship three years on the trot (1974,1975 and 1976).
Road going versions of the Stratos are supposed to be hot, deafeningly loud, uncomfortable and impractical with bone jarring suspension. I want one!
With limited opportunity to use the Yellow Peril (my ’71 911E), it was good to see some some significantly more shiny Porsche’s across various show stands.
Porsche Club GB had just one car on their stand, a very nice looking 914/6 which was a very early prototype which originally house the very first 6-cylinder engine to be inserted into the 914 bodyshell at the Porsche factory.
The car had gone through various modifications throughout its life but was finally fully fettled as GT variant of the 914/6 with all of the GT goodies.
The bulging wheel arches of the 914/6 relieve the boxiness of the basic 914 bodywork and give the car an all together more aggressive and purposeful stance.
Ah the 356 (I will have one!). Beautiful in all heir forms but the 356A and earlier cars possess that wonderful simplicity of design that is just right. The bodywork is all curves and the rounded front of the bonnet lid adds to the overall feel of roundness like a Hobbit house front door!
This particular car in Meissen Blue with contrasting red leather interior has benefitted from excellent bodywork restoration by Bruce Cooper and and his metal masters at Sportwagen and equally excellent mechanical restoration by Steve Winter and his team at Jaz Porsche. Where’s that piggy-bank and my hammer?
Early 911s are always of interest and this orange car turned out to be a shirt wheel base 911S.
This car in striking Conda Green is an ST replica based upon an early 911T. With its mix of lightweight panels, carefully crafted fatter wheel arches, period correct wheels (different front and rear) and authentic looking badges and decals it looked the part.
A through the bonnet fuel filler added to the authentic look.
The engine however went well beyond the original’s 2.3 or 2.5 spec, stretching instead to twin-plug 2.8RSR spec which must make for some very interesting driving experiences.
I’ve never owned a Triumph but I’ve always quite liked their TR range (up to and including the TR6). The Walter Bellgrove designed TR2 (produced between 1953 and 1955) and TR3 (produced between 1955 and 1962) were quite utilitarian and robust cars using Standard engines and firmly rooted in ’50s design with their cutaway doors and side screens.
The TR4 & TR4A (produced between 1961 and 1967) and TR5 (produced between 1967 and 1968) represented a stylistic leap forward into the ’60s thanks to Triumph management securing Italian design consultancy from Giovanni Michelotti.
Although the TR6 (produced from 1968 to 1976) represented another stylistic evolution during the late ’60s and early ’70s, I never warmed to the rather slab-sided and boxy Karmann styling.
The car that caught my eye on the Triumph Owner’s Club stand however was not a standard TR model however, it was the Triumph Italia (produced between 1959 and 1962). This car was quite literally a Triumph of Italian design which is not so much a missing link between the TR3 and subsequent cars as a limited production futuristic design exercise to try out new design concepts and features in real life.
Rather than go down the prototype or pre-production route, Triumph opted to build a limited run of 329 Triumph Italia cars between 1959 and 1962 using a TR3 rolling chassis wrapped in an extremely stylish coach-built body designed by Michelotti but constructed by Vignale in their Carozzeria in Milan under contract to Ruffino S.p.A. of Naples.
The beautiful Italia is a jewel of a car looking like a scaled-down Maserati or Ferrari and featuring a number of the styling queues which appeared not the TR4 and 5. I’ve only ever seen one other car in the flesh so it was a real delight to see this one and have some of its history explained to me by one of the enthusiastic Triumph club members on the stand.
Odds & Sods
At shows such as this, one can become quite blasé about numbers particular marques and models displayed in abundance so it’s nice to stumble upon singleton cars which stand out because they are uniquely represented.
This Facel Vega HK500 was one such car.
Facel manufactured these wonderful Jean Daninos designed cars in Paris between 1959 and 1962. The car was propelled by a range of powerful Chevrolet V8 engines (ranging from 4.5 Litres to 6.3 Litre) inserted into a tubular chassis designed by British racer Lance Macklin and wrapped within a rather imposing and slightly American styled two-door body with luxurious internal appointment.
This 1950’s BMW 502 was their first V8 engined car but I assume a more highly tuned version of this same engine powered the later 507 sports car. Very nice.
This cracking little Fiat 500 with its suicide doors looked great. perfect for zipping down the supermarket ………. to buy small things ……….. but not many of them!