Friday, December 31, 2010

French body language

One of the little disadvantages of loving and collecting French diecast cars is my poor skills with the French language. A few decades ago I did respectably well in four years of schoolboy French, but that included almost no motoring terms, and so every now and then I wonder "what does that mean?". So a while back I set myself a little task: to learn a few new French motoring words, and also to collect some examples of them, in this case via the mighty Peugeot 203. This great French car of the late 1940s and all through the 1950s was built in a wide variety of body shapes, and so what follows is a little posting about French body language.

CAMIONETTE: a term which literally translates as 'small truck' (the word camion means truck).
This term seems to be almost obsolete, even in France. Everyone seems to call this vehicle
a 'pick-up' nowadays. In the 70s I knew the Peugeot 404 version of this as a 'light truck' and
my mate who owned one says his Peugeot owner's manual called it a 'light lorry'. The canvas
cover over the tray is called a bâche, by the way. This model is a 1:43, by Norev.

Without its bâche, the 203 pickup gets close to being the Aussie favourite work vehicle called
the 'ute' (or utility vehicle), and that's how many Aussies refer to any Peugeot pick-up – a ute.
BERLINE: your basic four-door car is a berline. In the very old days, the term berline was
applied to limousines where a window separated the driver's and passengers' compartments.
Marketing liked the exclusive connotations of the word Berline and so all sorts of lesser cars
took on the classier name. Another term for this type of car is, of course, 'sedan', a term which
originally meant 'covered chair'. This model is 1:43, like all the others, and is made by Corgi.

BREAK: the family-friendly break has a different name for every major market. In the UK it's an
Estate Car, or a Familiale. In the US it's a Wagon. In Australia it's a Station Wagon, but Citroen
called this Station Wagon either a Familiale or a Safari at various times. I've always known of these
203 models as wagons, and those configured with extra seating in the back are the Familiales.
(Edit: my good friend Colin tells me that the word 'brake' comes from the body-less carriage-frame
used to break in young horses. Later on the term 'brake' was applied to a 'shooting brake', an open
horse-drawn carriage which carried several gun-toting sporting shooters out into the field to shoot
at hares, pheasants, peasants, ducks, etc.) This model is a particularly drab grey thing by IXO.
CABRIOLET: I had to create a more cheezy French cafe look for this diorama. The term
'cabriolet', like so many car body names, comes from the horse and buggy eras. In most cases
the cars bearing the horse-carriage name barely resemble the original, but that's hijacking for
you – it's not a science. The original cabriolet was a two-wheeld horse carriage (pulled by
one horse) with a folding top. In Australia we virtually never saw any cabriolet Peugeots,
but other cars in this body style were usually called convertibles or, sometimes, soft tops.
This is a Solido 1:43 model, nicely done.

COUPE: the French word 'couper' means to cut in half, and so a coupe was a cut-down car, in this
case a snazzy looking two-door in such a deep blue it looks black (it's a Solido model).
DÉCOUVRABLE: the word means to 'uncover' and so it's pretty plain where this four-door
soft-top gets its model name. Just the thing for a trip to the vineyards. Model is by Solido.
And now, as a brief interlude and for a complete change of pace, here's a 30-second drive by video, courtesy of You Tube, of a lovely Peugeot 203 Decouvrable (also called a Decouverte) in a street somewhere in France.

FOURGONNETTE: the delivery van models in the 203 range came in
several styles, including this one by Altaya.
I had to include this other Peugeot 203 Fourgonnette here, as it's part
of the delightful Michelin series of cars by IXO.
COMMERCIALE: a variant of the Fourgonnette which includes a few more windows, this
Commerciale travelled between Paris and the Cape of Good Hope, and so I have pictured it
here in a stop-off somewhere in Northern Africa. This model by Solido is lovely, with a lot of
nice detail, including a shovel at the back to help you dig yourself out of trouble.

VAN: the hard-working camionette light trucks wore a variety of bodies on the back, including
this Isigny cheese van droppping off another load of deliciousness at La Fromagerie. The
light trucks weren't ordinary Berlines with different bodies. They were built stronger, with
changes to suspension, gearing, differentials and more, to cope with the heavy workload.

TAXI! Speaking of hard-working Pugs, there's nothing much harder
working than a taxi, and there were 203 Pugs everywhere, including this
one spotted outside a mosque in Casablanca. The model is by Altaya.
DARL 'MAT: not really a body style at all, instead it's a body treatment by a stylist, in this
case a French car dealer by the name of Emile Darl'Mat. He was most successful during the 1930s
with his reworkings of the 402 Peugeots, and the 203 Darl 'Mat of 1949 was his last one. The car
is set a bit lower than other 203s, and the flashy chrome trimming, rear wheel covers and two-tone
paint job made it a very stylish way to enjoy a day at the beach. The model is by Norev.

Finally, an apology to all the people I have pinched background photos from, while trawling Google Images for backgrounds for my little dioramas. I wouldn't love to credit you all, as that would make everything even longer and clunkier than it currently is. But as I am running my blog advertising-free (and profit-free, of course), I hope my use of these photos is no worse a crime than jay-walking on an empty street. I am slowly trying to teach myself how to use Photoshop – "what does that button do?" etc etc – and so these are my first-ever deep-etched and layered Photoshop dioramas. Hopefully I'll get the hang of it all as time goes by.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Small differences

"Hey, is that Renault Alpine lower in height than the Honda S800? Yep, looks like it. Matter of fact, it's a much smaller car than I imagined it to be." Staring at these three car models lined up in the cabinet has prompted this little posting. Just by chance they were lined up side-on, together as a trio: Mini Cooper S, Honda S800, Renault Alpine A110.

This visual comparison is much more rewarding than searching for specs
on the net. They're hopelessly inaccurate and contradictory, and so what
you need to do is find lots of sheets of specs for each, and use a 'vote'
system (ie, the figures quoted most often) and common sense to figure
out how tall, long and heavy each car really was. But just looking at
the diecast models is one of the best comparisons available.
I could be wrong, but I think it works out like this... The Mini is definitely
the shortest: Mini 3050mm long; Honda 3335mm; Alpine 3850mm.
The Alpine is the lowest: 1130mm; Honda 1219mm, Mini 1315mm.
As for weight: Mini 617kg; Honda 771kg; Alpine 685kg.
(The weight figures are the ones which are most untrustworthy. A lot
of people quote the Alpine at 620kg, but that's a stripped down rally
car's weight, not an 'ordinary' road car's weight). But they're all
littlies, aren't they? And they were all fast and fun to drive, so I
thought I'd take a closer look at each, and toss in some You Tube fun.

If I bought a Mini Cooper S model it had to be green, with a white roof,
which was the colour scheme of the Mini Cooper S owned by my brother
Bob. Some fink stole Bob's Cooper S one day while he was attending
lectures at Uni, and we never saw it again. Bob's four years old than me,
and so as a 15-year-old little brother the Cooper S was my first taste
(from the passenger's seat) of a fast car. And it went! We had a couple
of great drives down the coast in his Cooper S.

I won't bore you with a recounting of all its racing and rallying successes.
The Cooper S's history is well known. But I do have a You Tube video
featuring the racing/rally driver I most closely associate with the Cooper S:
Paddy Hopkirk. He came out to Australia in the 60s and performed
wonders in a Cooper S at Bathurst. The worst thing about this You Tube
video, as with so many You Tube videos, is the very crappy music. So
hit the mute button if you hate it. I did. But it is worth watching for the
Cooper S footage, including some of good old Paddy behind the wheel.

I've always loved the Honda S500/S600/S800 series of cars, but the closest
I have got to being in one is driving the S800 in Gran Turismo. Great fun!
This diecast model is the car which competed in the 1967 Suzuka 12-Hour.
As an owner of two different Honda bikes, and a rider of dozens of others,
I've always been a Honda fan. They make nice engines, no doubt about that.
The S800 had a twin-cam straight four which revved to 8000rpm.

The You Tube video I have of this is spectacularly crappy in video quality
(amateur in-car footage) but it feels right. The engine itself is definitely a hot
one with a loud exhaust, but you can see from the very frequent gear
changes that the driver has to keep the little 800cc four on the boil at
all times. And that's the beauty of small car driving. You need to work
hard to get the most out of them. They're definitely not a car for lazy bones.
You have to be Fred Astaire on the pedals to keep them going fast.

Finally, the Alpine A110. It's hard to talk that accurately about its specs,
as over the years it used engines from Renaults R8, R12, R16 and R17,
and many of the specs quoted are actually for the hot rally cars of the 70s.
However it started out mostly with the Renault R8 Gordini's motor, and
it won the inaugural World Rally Championship with a heavily breathed
upon 1600cc Renault R16 engine.

For this car I have two linkies to finish off this posting. The first is a road
test of the car from some German language TV show. It doesn't really matter
that it's all in German. The footage and the sound is the thing (including some
great rally footage from the 1970s) so here goes.

And finally, I found this remarkable 'ad' for an Alpine A110 which essentially is a partly restored car stripped down to all its components, with lots and lots of photos of everything from the body shell through to the instruments, brakes, wiring, engine, suspension bits – everything.
And here it is. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cheap at the price

"How much for that Mercedes Renntransporter?" I asked at the Sydney diecast model shop. "That one is $250," said the helpful sales assistant. "Wow" was my simple reply, not merely because that was a lot of money, but also because I knew that I already had one at home, ordered online, delivered brand new to my door, for just $83. So it was cheap at that price.

This is the Renntransporter, with Fangio's W196 Mercedes (not included in
that price!) mounted on the back. Both are models by Premium Classixxs
in Germany. I ordered both vehicles at the same time, 14 Euros postage
for the two. And the W196 cost more than the Renntransporter. These are
1:43 models, but Premium Classixxs is bringing out a 1:18 model of it,
and Bubmobil has a very nice little 1:87 model of it available, too.

It was the Renntransporter, however, which really excited my imagination.
Built at the Mercedes factory from all sorts of parts, it was designed to
carry around Mercedes race cars in the mid-50s. It used a 300SL motor, and
various other Mercedes trucks and other vehicles donated parts to the cause.
I love the "max speed 105mph" sign on its rump. Imagine seeing a sleek,
blue truck with a even more sleek silver GP car aboard, whizzing along
the autobhan, speeding back to Stuttgart, at 105mph! I'd like to see that.
The model is nicely detailed, even the ramps come off so you can do a
diorama of the GP car being driven onto the ramps, if you like. I love the
slight 'weirdness' of this thing, the way the cabin is so far out in front
of the front wheels. Must have taken a while to learn how to drive it.

Amazingly enough, Mercedes actually scrapped the two Renntransporters that they built when they closed down the racing team in the late 50s. They have now built a perfect replica of it, which probably explains why there are several lovely scale models of it popping up on the market now. A very good run-down on the story of the rebuild, and the original Renntransporter, can be found here, on Tamerlane's excellent blog.

FInally, a lovely walk-around You Tube video of the rebuilt version of the Renntransporter.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Four Mighty Horses

The simplest of motoring pleasures is to plant your right foot firmly down on the accelerator pedal and sit back and enjoy the fun as the big motor gets going. But what about those cars which don't give all that many jollies via your heavy right boot? A Renault 4CV for example. A whole generation of people starting off in the late 1940s and continuing on into the 60s had a whale of a time riding their 750ccs worth of four mighty horses all over Europe in particular. And so I had to have some Renault 4CVs in my diecast collection. I love driving small, underpowered cars, pushing them to their limits, taking on much bigger competitors, and that was the appeal of not only the Renault 4CV, but so many cars of that era.

Here's the prettiest of my 4CVs, a 'decouverte' soft top model.
The 1:43 model is by IXO.
More recently I came across this sextet of 4CVs for sale on eBay, and for
the princely sum of $5.50 each, including postage, they were mine.
As usual, all are 1:43 scale, and all are made by Eligor.
These are 'barquettes', special streamliners based on Renault 4CVs. On the left
is the famous Bosvin-Michel Special, built by Camille Bosvin and driven by
Guy Michel in various races in the 50s, include the Bol d'Or 1950-53, the
Mille Miglia 53-55, Le Mans in 1954, the 12 Hours at Rheims 53-54, Targa
Florio 55 and many others. The car on the right is the Rispal Barquette,
which competed at Le Mans in 1955.
Here's the Guy Michel car competing at the Bol d'Or in 1953, to give you
some idea of the tiny size of these 750cc cars. Michel won in 1952 and
1953, in 1953 covering 2518km at an average speed of 104.9 km/h.
And here's the scary bit. He drove alone for the whole 24 hours. They
changed the rules to make multiple drivers mandatory after that.
On the left is the 4CV Berline which competed in the 1952 Bold d'Or, where
it placed eighth. And on the right is the Type R 4CV driven by Gamot and
Maeght in the Tour of Belgium in 1953. Not sure how they went, though.
All I know about the car on the left is that it was driven by Mr and Mrs Clark
from New York to Los Angeles in 1956. Judging by the lack of numbers
and the many sponsor's stickers, it looks like a promotional long-distance 4CV.
On the right is the 4CV which competed in the Liege-Rome-Liege Rally in
1955. The 4CV won this long, arduous rally that went from Belgium to Italy
and back to Belgium, crossing the Alps twice, in 1952. 4CVs also won the 1949
Monte Carlo Rally, and the first four places in the 53 Monte Carlo.

Quite a few 4CVs made it Australia, where they earned a reputation for
durability that Australian roads don't hand out very easily.

And to finish off this little homage to a great car, here's a classic advertisement for the 4CV, starring a very enthusiastic young French woman. I love that 'quel acceleration'! Pedal to the metal, as they say...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Art is Deco

One of the great benefits of the old style of building cars – with a separate chassis containing the engine, drivetrain and suspension – is that you were free to then add the body of your choice to clothe the chassis. This is how many of the classic old cars were sold, before the Second World War especially, and the Art Deco period of the late 20s and all of the 30s was a golden era of car coachwork. 

There were several famous design houses specialising in coachwork for cars, including the French firms Letourner & Marchand, Pourtout & Chapron, and Figoni & Falaschi. It's these cars which I am most interested in collecting, but across the Atlantic some wonderful examples by Cord, Auburn, Packard and several others were also being built, so a collection of all the Art Deco cars could become a very expensive and beautiful obsession. For starters, however, I'm sticking to France.

Delahaye 165, 1938 model with coachwork by Figoni & Falaschi.
The model is by IXO, 1:43.
Powered by an alloy, 4.5 litre, 60° V12, the car was essentially a production
version of the Delahaye 145 V12 race car.
These IXO models aren't expensive, but they look great in the cabinet.
Unfortunately for me, there is another Art Deco Delahaye that I want, but
the models of it cost somewhere north of $300, while my cheap little
IXOs each cost me about $30, more my budget zone. However, I did
find a nice You Tube piece on the Unobtainable Delahaye, and here it is, the
car once owned by British starlet Diana Dors. Car and girl, perfect combo.
(You'll have to endure a little 10-second ad at the start, unfortunately)

Talbot Lago T150 CSS, 1937 to 1939, with bodywork by Figoni & Falaschi.
Like the other cars in today's posting, it's 1:43 by inexpensive IXO.
Powered by a 4-litre in-line OHV straight six, it had the nickname of 'The
Teardop' as its designer said it was based on a drop of water.
As soon as he laid eyes on this car, the Chairman of Bentley, Wolf Barnato,
placed an order for one. I know how he feels. And now, again courtesy of
You Tube, is a walk around this car. I love the little details like the hand-
made set of luggage in the back. What a lovely driving holiday!

Delage D8 120, 1939 model, with bodywork by Letourner & Marchand.
It was powered by a straight eight 4.7 litre OHV engine. The design house
Pourtout & Chapron also made a wonderful Art Deco body for this car.
Tatra weren't the only company putting stylish aerodynamic fins on their cars
– everyone was doing it back then, including this shy little fin by Delage.
Finally, my other little Art Deco car, in a very pretty pale blue-green. While it would have been nowhere near as expensive as the Delage, Delahaye and Talbot Lago at the time, it belongs in their Art Deco company. It's the Peugeot 402 Darl'Mat roadster.

Emile Darl'Mat made special bodies for his souped-up Peugeots all through the
1930s, and then again in the late 40s, with his Peugeot 203 Darl'Mat.
I love the decorative detailing down the side of the bonnet and the flying
wings on the rear wheel covers.
This model is a 1:43 made by Altaya, the Spanish company.

The Darl'Mats distinguished themselves in long-distance racing, such as the
24 hours of Le Mans. This dodgy looking scan is from my book 'Peugeot, sous
le signe du Lion' by Pierre Dumont. It's written in French, but thankfully with
the picture captions also in English, and it's a treasure trove of Peugeot stuff.
Turn over the page, and here's the Darl'Mat team ready
to roll at Le Mans in 1937. If my translation is correct, they
all finished, and came 7th, 8th and 10th in their class in 1937,
at an average speed of 114.2 km/h for the 24 hours.

And so my search goes on for Art Deco cars, as there are many more that I could add to my cabinet, if my budget can stretch that far. Of course many modern car companies still look upon body design for their cars as a form of sculpture, but there's something very feminine and romantic about the Art Deco period that just appeals to me the most – it was a Golden Age of the art of body design for me.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Schlumpfing around in 1986

It's funny how one thing leads to another, but yesterday I asked myself how many cars in my diecast model collection are also in the French National Motor Museum at Mulhouse. This is the collection that a lot of people still know as the Schlumpf Collection, as the French National Motor Museum Collection's history starts with the Government's acquisition of the huge Schlumpf Collection. Well, it turns out that there are quite a few models in my cabinets which are also in the Mulhouse museum (I think the number is about 15, but I'm counting my five different models of Peugeot 203 as one, for example). And so I went to my box of old photos and dug out the pix I took 24 years ago, in 1986, when I spent a day at the Schlumpf Museum.

The next thing I knew I was scanning these photos as a way of preserving them, and here I am today doing a blog posting on that visit, way back in 1986. 

Inside the Museum there were so many Bugattis – every model in every colour,
astonishing riches. And they had so many spare Bugatti supercharger cases
that they formed a big, beautiful B for Bugatti out of them for one wall.

Sorry about the picture quality. The prints have faded and the light was a bit
strange indoors anyway. Avenues and avenues of cars in every direction, and
I was there midweek on a bleak day in March when it was almost deserted.

Might as well start with the Bugattis, which is what the Museum is famous
for. In fact I stumbled across the museum rather than sought it out. Driving
along the highway I saw a very large sign with nothing but the shape of a
Bugatti radiator on it, with "5 km" underneath it. The signs were repeated at
each kilometre mark after that, so I took the turn-off, correctly guessing where
I was headed. I stayed the night in a village nearby, was at the museum at the
9am opening time next morning and stayed till the close. There were Bugattis
aplenty, inluding some I'd never heard of, such as this Type 50 Cabriolet.
As well as having every model they have every colour of every model of
Bugatti. Wow. These are just two of their Type 57s.
The space is so big the long laneways of lightposts really do narrow at
the ends. Needless to say, more Bugattis, every colour.
Another one I hadn't heard of before. Bugatti 73A from 1947.
This was nice, I wanted to take it home. Bugatti 101, from 1951.
What a design statement. The T50 from 1933.

As well as the full-size Type 52 they had little toy models made by the factory
for Ettore Bugatti's children. Looks like the kids never used them as they
are immaculate, rather than beaten up, as they would have been if normal
kids (ie, like me) had been allowed to get their hands on them.
As a sudden segue into all the other cars here that are not Bugattis, I might as
well start with the mighty Peugeot 203. As this is the French National Motor
Museum, and as the Peugeot HQ was near Mulhouse, where the museum
is located, Peugeot was represented here with virtually every known model,
including this 203, which I am collecting in 1:43 size, and which I once owned
in real-world, 1:1 size as well. What a great car, worthy of any motor museum.

I've got one of these in my model cabinet, too. A Panhard Dyna.
And it's just a matter of time before I add a Panhard Dyna Junior, the cabriolet
version of the Dyna, to the collection too. Small engines ruled in early post-
war Europe. This one (and the Dyna) were powered by an 850cc flat twin.
It was great to see Gordini 'The Wizard' so well represented here. I'm on the
lookout for a 1:43 diecast model of the Simca Gordini on the right.
Other nations' cars are well represented here, such as Mercedes from Germany
and these Maseratis and Ferraris in that superb Italian racing red. Those
distinctive colours – red for the Italians, blue for the French and silver for
the Germans – were such a wonderful part of racing back then.
Further on down the line in that bevy of red Italians was this 1933 Maserati
8CM driven by one of my heroes, Tazio Nuvolari. Looking good in retirement.
In the foreground here is a 1970 model Type 312 Ferrari F1 car raced by Jacky
Ickx and Clay Reggazoni. Behind is a gaggle of Bugattis in French racing blue.
While I don't have this Cisitalia in my diecast collection (and I'd like to) I
do have a road-going Cisitalia, 1947, in which Nuvolari came second in the
Mille Miglia that year. This little race car is, like most of the Cisitalias of
the era, powered by a small engine, an 1100cc Fiat engine.

Wonderful. The Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 Coupe. Unfortunately the diecast
models of this cost squillions, so I'm hanging onto my Schlumpf photo,
which proves I have seen one in the flesh.
Speaking of seeing things in the flesh, this is the first
glimpse I got of the Tatra there. I knew immediately
what it was – the Tatra 87.
This was an unusual car in that it was not immaculate
and shiny. It looks like it had been driven straight
to the Museum from Prague and was in used condition.
And I'll finish off with a corny little exhibit they had there. Press the button
on the "Why a Suspension?" and the little conveyor belt with built-in bumps
rolls along, upsetting the water in the left-side wagon that is unsprung, without
suspension, and barely disturbing the water in the right-side wagon, which
no doubt has a soft, comfy, long-travel French suspension. This is probably
something that is a bit naff now, and probably isn't there any more.
I'm not sure when I'll be visiting Europe next, but if and when I do I will be setting aside at least one day to spend wandering around this great car Museum in Mulhouse, France. I am sure it has changed in the 24 years since my last visit (and a visit to the official website shows it's extremely different now, which is what I'd expect). However, I look forward to discovering the things that have changed, and the marvels that are still as wonderful as ever.

While I have included a link above to the official website, I found it slow, so I'll add that you can also see the current collection online at this gallery.