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.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Seeking out Tatras

I've only been seriously collecting diecast cars since early this year, and as soon as I decided that a couple of cabinets full of model cars and bikes is exactly what my study (and I) needed, a Czech-made Tatra was up at the top of my shopping list, along with a lot of French cars and a varied miscellany of other vehicles. 

At first I thought Tatras, being such a famous and unusual car, would at least be a popular model that would be readily available. Alas no. While not truly unobtainium, they're not all that common, and it took a while for this inexperienced researcher to find his first one. I now have three little Tatras in the cabinet, and so I found a scene from the Tatra Mountains, after which the car was named, to serve as a backdrop for some photos of them.

A Tatra T77, 1934 model. The model is 1:43 by IXO. As well as loving the red
colour, this rear side-on view shows the aerodynamic shape quite clearly.

Look at the front end of the Tatra and you can see the beginnings of a VW
beetle. When you consider that there's a rear-mounted air-cooled engine
in the back and the familiarity is even stronger. Admittedly the donk in the
Tatra is a 3-litre V8, much bigger than the little flat four in the Vee dub.
Later engines on the T77 were increased in size to 3.3 litres.
A video I have for you later on in this post gives
the in-car view through the vision slits of a
later model, the Tatraplan 600 of 1952. I love
the comment from the owner of the Tatraplan:
"All you can see through the back is the car
behind you just before it hits you."
This is actually the first Tatra model I bought (it's also by IXO). While I loved
it, I was just a bit disappointed at the black colour scheme, which makes it
hard to easily see and appreciate all the details. When I saw the red one on
eBay, I decided that a second Tatra was well worth the investment.
While looking for another T77 I came across the next model Tatra on eBay, the
T87, fittingly enough in a 1:87 scale, made by Wiking, a German model maker
who specialises in this tiny scale.
The Tatra T87 was named as the most collectable (real-size) car of 2010 by the New York Times, and if you have a spare 128,000 Euros, there's a Tatra T87 for sale here at Classic Car Sales.

And so now it's video time to tell you all you need to know about Tatra design. I have found three that are well worth a look. The first two are a guided tour, inside and out, of the Tatra T87 at the Minnesota Museum of Art, and the third is a "ride with Chuck" in the 1952 Tatraplan (which has a smaller flat-four engine but still embodies many of the design features of the T77 and T87 which preceded it). And so it's on with the Tatra Show.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A day at the beach

When the sun comes out the soft tops go down and the owners of convertibles and cabriolets head for the beach. Not to be outdone, the cars with sun-roofs peel back the covers and join in the sunny, wind-in-your-hair fun. This diecast paparazzo was in the right place at the right time this weekend, a car park at the south end of Maroubra Beach in Sydney, where a succession of lovely cars passed in front of his lens.

Peugeot 402 Darl'mat Roadster, from 1938, one of a series of specials created
in the 1930s by Emile Darl'mat. With a 2-litre four-cylinder engine, it sped
down the roads quite nicely, but with its Art Deco styling it looks like it's
flying along at speed, even when parked at the beach.
Peugeot 203 Cabriolet from the early 1950s, an affordable convertible for the
sun-loving masses. With a 1300cc engine it was no speedster, but with its
tall gearing it sailed along the highway once it was wound up to speed.
This is a 1:43 Solido model.
Affordable cabriolets were popular in France in the 1950s. This is the Simca
Weekend, a 1956 model, also with a 1300cc engine. Model is by Altaya.
Definitely not so affordable, the 1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville was
nevertheless very desirable, and this model is the first in what became
a long line of Coupe de Villes. With a 331 cu inch V8, it got along very easily.
This pretty model is made by Yatming.

The 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air really hit the spot with US buyers. With its new
265 cu inch OHV V8 it offered plenty of potential for boys who liked to play
with engines. This snazzy model is by Franklin Mint.
It's not just soft tops at the beach today, however. Sun-roofs are everywhere.
This is a Jaguar Mark V from 1950, my old family car in fact (well, until
Dad ran out of money trying to keep the Jag going – he eventually faced
up to reality and bought a Holden, which was much more his price bracket.)
This high quality resin model is by the Dutch company, Neo.
Speaking of price brackets, you don't have to pay big bucks to get the wind in
your hair and the sun in your lap. A Citroen 2CV Charleston has rooftop
windows aplenty, and of all the cars featured so far, it's probably the only
one that could happily drive along the beach as well. Model is by Altaya.
If you prefer Italian-flavoured sunshine on a low budget, a Fiat 500 will do
the job beautifully, and there's always a parking spot with these babies.
This model is by Starline.
Once they get their act together, these long-distance German tourists in their
Vee-Dub will get the soft top down and camp out here for a few days of beer
and sunburn. This model is a super-cheap ($15.50 new) plastic model from
China, made by Cararama. My wife was complaining about the lack of VWs
in my cabinet, saying she wanted to see one there. The next morning I was
in a hobby shop buying the neat green hedge used in these shots, when I
saw the Beetle with cute caravan. And my wife loves it.
And so that's it for the beach report this weekend. The surf is flat, so the carpark behind the beach is where the all the action is.