Monday, January 31, 2011

Little Italians

If you think your city has parking problems, wait till you visit Rome. So it doesn't need a lot of imagination to answer the question: why do the Italians make great small cars? Because they have to, silly. And so today's posting is about a couple of small Italian cars sitting side-by-side in my diecast cabinet. Here they are down at the Gelato Bar.

On the left, the Fiat 500L, and on the right, the Fiat Topolino.
The Topolino, of course, is the much older vehicle, the predecessor of the more famous 500.
The name 'Topolino' means little mouse, and this small two-seater was produced from 1936
through to 1955. As far as I can make out, this is a 500C Topolino Convertible, from 1952-54,
towards the end of the Topolino's run. And a very good run it was, with 520,000 of them
made. Though it was the predecessor of the Fiat 500, it was a completely different design.
The Topolino had the engine in the front (not the rear aswith the 500), and it was liquid cooled
(unlike the 500's air-cooling). And the engine was old-tech, a 569cc four-cylinder side-valve,
with the radiator mounted behind the engine, nearer to the driver. Top speed was a sluggish
but adequate 53mph (85km/h). This diecast model by IXO is pictured where you'd find
a lot of Topolinos on any Sunday, at church.
Down by the waterfront at Bari, I snapped this diorama of my 1968 Fiat 500L model, made by
Starline, parked near a good seafood restaurant, which is where you'd find a lot of Fiat 500s on
any Sunday afternoon in seaside towns. This car is a motoring legend, produced from 1957
to 1975, in which timethey made 3.6 million of them, a goodly number. Here in Australia
we called these little cars Fiat Bambinos, and quite a few of them were sold here, too.
However, instead of finishing off either on our knees in church praying or on our butts eating fish, I think it's perfectly appropriate to remember that lots of Fiat 500 drivers did what came naturally to most other car enthusiasts. They raced them. And in the case of the Fiat 500 a famous racing name is firmly attached to the Fiat 500, and that is the name Abarth. 

Carlo Abarth, the great race car builder and modifier, is associated with many brands in his illustrious career, but it would be fair to say he became very famous through his association with Fiat, and especially the 500s which he tweaked to an amazing extent. He modified everything, not just the engine. Suspension, steering, brakes, bodywork: even the badges were souped up.

There's a great website from which I learned a lot about Abarth that I didn't previously know, and it's here. Carlo launched the Fiat 500 Abarth in 1958, and then proceeded to produce ever hotter, faster and more outrageous variants as each new generation of Fiat 500 came out. Go visit that website I linked to if you're interested. It's very well done.

Now, I'll finish off this posting with a fab You Tube link to someone hooning in a cobblestone street in his Fiat 500 Abarth. What a sound, what a rude car, and some fancy yet potentially dodgy driving, too.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Grocer's Son

Lots of diecast model collectors have probably watched a movie and noticed some kind of car that pokes the little devil inside them who says "I want one of those". Normally it might be a flash sports car driven by our movie hero (or the baddie), but I'm afraid my tastes are so broad-ranging that anything with wheels on it is likely to set me off. And that's how I began my so-far-fruitless quest for the van driven by the protagonist in the French movie, 'The Grocer's Son'.

That movie van, I have discovered, is a Peugeot J7. Now, Peugeot J7 vans are not quite a dime a dozen in 1:43 scale, but there are dozens of them for sale at any one time on eBay. But they're not the proper Grocer's Son vans by any stretch, and I want one of those. Fortunately, the quest has not been completely without its delights – as I have come across this charming Citroen Type H Charcuterie van.

For this little diorama I have parked the Citroen Type H van of the Charcuterie purveyor
J Morice, of Saujon, outside a charming French country house. Monsieur Morice is doing his
daily rounds, taking his shop to all the many small villages and farmhouses in his area, selling
his hams, cold meats, sausages and other delicious delights of French cuisine. And this is what
the Grocer's Son did in the movie, except he sold groceries of all sorts. By the way, this 1:43
model is made by Atlas, and while it's hard to photograph, the inside of the 'shop' part of the
van model has a nice little decal on the wall of the hams, sausages etc Mr Morice has for sale.
Here's a still from the 'Grocer's Son' movie of the Peugeot J7 in all its glory, and what a
magnificent mobile shop it is, too (although when you see the trailer clip from You Tube below,
you will realise that those awnings on telescopic damper supports are not to be entirely trusted).
However, you can see why Iam holding out in search of a real mobile shop-style Peugeot J7
van. All the other J7 models for sale on eBay don't open and close. They do nothing.

This poster for the movie ('fils' means son and L'Epicier means grocer)
shows the van in folded down mode, climbing its way up to another
tiny hilltop village. The standard J7 Peugeot van is shorter in the tail
than this longer, modified one, but I have seen quite a few of these
J7 vans in full 1:1 size for sale online, and there must have been a
steady trade in custom Peugeot J7conversions for the French
body-building industry.
Now that I have arrived at the movie poster (the movie screened here in Australia in 2009, and was made in 2007), it's on to the trailer, courtesy of You Tube. The van features heavily from about the 18-second mark onwards in this 90-second trailer.

The film itself was one of my favourites that year, and while I won't go into full movie review mode here, it was in part a film about the passing of a way of life. Apparently, these mobile shops are disappearing from the villages of France, and that was one of the themes of this movie, amongst other things. Apparently, most of the crusty old French villagers who got small speaking (and grumbling) parts in the movie were the real-deal hilltop villagers too.

And so, one of these days, I'll come across a proper Peugeot J7 van in 1:43 scale, decked out to take groceries to the old folk in the hills. Both the Peugeot J7 van and the Citroen Type H have an interesting history, and so in honour of good, sensible but hardly sexy vehicle-building, I'll quickly run through the basic facts about them, to finish.

The Citroen Type H (my charcuterie van) was designed secretly by the French during the Second World War, then appeared soon after, in 1947. It used the 1.9 litre, four-cylinder petrol engine and gearbox from the famous Traction Avant front-wheel drive car, and the corrrugated bodywork (which is reminiscent of a Junkers airplane) was simple to press, light and strong. Diesel engines became available later on, and this van, usually made in a drab, grey colour, was produced from 1947 all the way through to 1981. Total production run was just under half a milion (437,289). Got the French post-war economy rolling again, did the Citroen Type H van.

The Peugeot J7 appeared later, 1965-1980 was its run, and like the Citroen it too used car engines (from Peugeots, of course), 1.6 litre petrol engines and 2.1 litre diesels mostly. Like the Citroen Type H van, the Peugeot J7 was also front-wheel drive.

I'll keep on looking for the Grocer's Van. I've got a few eBay searches saved, using different search words, and I see them as being like dangled lines in a fishpond: one of these days I hope to get a nibble from a French grocer-on-wheels, and I'll pounce.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The old family car

Most diecast car collectors have a little bit of personal history in their cabinets, and I'm no exception. One car that ended up being quite hard to find and expensive to buy was a model of the family car that was sitting in our driveway well before I was born, and then was part of my life until I was about 12 or 13 years old. It's a Jaguar Mark V, and as I still have the original owner's manual, plus a lovely 1:43 model of it made by the Dutch model-maker Neo, I thought I'd show you a few photos and tell one or two little stories.

We used to go down the New South Wales South Coast for holidays, and as the South Coast
has its fair share of stone walls and pretty scenery, I thought I'd set up a little diorama of the
Jag on holidays. It's funny how I can'tremember the registration numbers of cars I owned
10 or 20 years ago, but I remember that ours was AJJ 168.
One of the most memorable things about our old Jag was that deadly leaping
Jaguar mascot that formed part of the radiator cap. Much later on in its life,
the mascot was stolen by a punk in a car park one day, and it was replaced
with a much more sensible and very boring flat filler cap.
As the front cover of the owner's handbook is the worse for wear, here is the
first page. Dad, being Dad, even wrote in the Chassis Number (621703)
and the engine number (T7291) which places our car as a right-hand drive
model with the 3.5 litre straight six engine. When the Mark Five was
launched at the London Motor Show in 1948 it had to share the stand with
the sensational new XK120 Jag Sports Car, and of course the flash Jag
took all the limelight. Nevertheless, the Mark Five outsold the XK 120
easily, selling 5000 Mark Fives each year, from 1948-1951, compared to
the XK's 2000 annual sales. The Mark Five had the less sporty pushrod
engine, while the XK120 had the overhead cam engine. Nevertheless,
the Mark Five produced 125hp @ 4250rpm and in road tests at the
time made it up to 90 mph. The Mark Five was the first Jag with the
front suspension set-up of double-wishbones with a torsion bar, a fine
design that did Jag great service for many years to come.

I remember that our walnut dashboard was pretty flash, like this one, with lots of
gauges, but I don't think we had air-con. However, we did have the sun-roof,
which slid back only rarely with sensible old Dad at the helm.
One feature I remember fondly was the boot. Though it wasn't a true rumble
seat, it could occasionally improvise as one. Like most Australian families of
the time, our family was mad about sport, and Dad was involved heavily in
the local cricket club. He used to take our kids teams on Saturday mornings
to the cricket, where he was coach, umpire and not all that happy with
my irresponsible approach to batting. Usually there were a couple of cars to
ferry the 11 kids in the team to the cricket, but on a couple of famous
occasions the other car broke down, and so the whole team went in the
Jag. That meant four or five of us would get to ride to the cricket with
the boot lid down, with us sitting on the big old cricket kit bag. The
Nanny State wouldn't allow that these days. Imagine the"Shock! Horror!
Irresponsible Father Endangers Kids!" news headlines that would be
used if that happened today. We loved it.
And so, in honour of dangerous Dads and cricket lovers everywhere, plus old Jaguar
enthusiasts, I made up this little diorama of a Jaguar Mk V at the cricket.
As I am indulging in a little personal history, here's Dad with the Jag in 1960. The car
would have been 11 years old by then, and Dad had polished all the duco off the car, and his
dodgy semi-professional attempts (see my brother's postscript memories below) at rust
repairs are in evidence on the rear wheel arch.
Finally, I think this car-loving thing is genetic. While digging around for that old photo
of Dad with the Jag at home, I came across this one of Grandpa standing very proudly in
front of his new Buick, sometime in the 1930s. Judging by those palm trees in the
background, this one was probably taken while Grandpa served a long stint as minister
in the Presbyterian Church in Grafton, on the New South Wales North Coast.
So this blog posting starts on our South Coast, ends on the North Coast, and spans three generations while doing so. The other thing I discovered about both Grandpa and Dad was, apart from liking nice cars, they had another thing in common. Both were extravagant. Reverend Grandpa was notorious (amongst the women-folk) for coming down to Sydney and buying lots of what he couldn't afford on shopping trips in the Big Smoke. I wonder if he really could have afforded that nice Buick? What did Grandma do without so he could have his Buick? We'll never know.

Same with Dad. He really couldn't afford the Jag. That's an upper class car. Lots of the kids in opposing cricket teams thought we had a Rolls Royce. Eventually, economics caught up with Dad and he was forced to sell the Jag because it was just becoming too expensive to run. He bought a Holden, and while it was a good, reliable middle class car that served us well, it wasn't a patch on a Jag.

And so my little outlay of paying about $80 for my Neo diecast model Jaguar probably is a bit extravagant, but it pales into insignificance when I think of what Dad went out and splurged on!

Postscript: my older brother got in contact with me after reading this blog, and his memories of the Jag are well worth including. Why is it some of the best memories are also the most dangerous? I guess that's a boy thing. Here's what he had to say.

"Great stuff, it brings back a lot of memories. Your notes and observations about the old Jag are spot on. Only a couple of other things that I remember
• The trafficators that would (on most occasions) slide out in a  saluting fashion to indicate a left or right hand lane change or turn was about to be undertaken
• Of course, the running boards were a hit and we would ride on them as dad drove into the driveway
• In the photo you have of dad and the Jag, note the piece of sandstone under the front tyre in case the handbrake failed. I remember it was smaller and worn smooth by the time the Jag was sold
• You mentioned the rust repairs that dad attempted. I remember that he did a tech course (or equivalent) in panel beating so his efforts could be described as semi-professional!
• While we were on holidays I can remember sitting on dad's knee as he drove up the coast, with me steering and the car doing 60mph (100 kph). Would probably be frowned upon today. No seat belts of course. I would have been about 11 or 12 years old at the time.
• One of my fondest recollections is of Dad lying under the car in the driveway at home doing some running repairs. I ran outside  to ask him a question and instinctively he attempted to sit up and  answer me but all he succeeded in doing was bashing his forehead on the underside of the car, quickly followed by "Jesus bloody christ ..." to which I remember asking "is that the same one as the one we learn about at Sunday School dad?" I received no reply.
• I can also recall the occasional use of the crank handle to get the  car started - but that may have been on the previous vehicle, a Morris Minor."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wind in your hair

If you want that four-wheeled blend of carefree freedom and style, you can't beat a convertible with its top down. I've always been very attracted to these cars and have several of them here in my diecast model cabinets, but the odd thing is that I have driven only one (a Triumph TR3) and have ridden in a couple of others, quite briefly, and so they remain more of a fantasy car for me than something I have spent much time in. For this little posting, all the soft tops here are American (I'll save up my Europeans for later), and all of them are pictured cruising around the American backroads, stopping for a beer, looking for a cafe, filling up with gas, or checking into a motel somewhere.

Driving this 1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville might be cool with the top down, but down in
Louisiana it gets mighty hot, and so stopping for a beer is an easy way to keep your cool.
Now, I have to admit to not knowing all that much about American cars, but researching
them has been fun. The '49 Caddy was a special model. It was the first Caddy to run the new
overhead valve V8 engine (which then did Cadillac proud for decades). The earlier V8s
had all been side-valve engines. The new engine (331 cubic inch, 160 hp) was 200lbs
lighter, more powerful and had 14% better fuel economy than the old one. Famous racer
Briggs Cunningham took an almost standard Caddy over to the Le Mans 24-hour race
the next year, in 1950, and came in 10th outright, a very good result which speaks
volumes for this car's design and build quality. This model, by the way, is a nicely made
1:43 Yatming model from China.
The 1955 Chevy Bel Air was also a milestone for that series of cars. This was the first of the
second generation of Chevy Bel Airs, and its new 265 cubic inch (4.3 litre) 'Turbo Fire'
V8 was an instant hit, so too the styling. Also available was a straight six powerplant, marketed
as the 'Blue Flame'. The 1:43 model pictured here is by Franklin Mint, and both doors open,
so too the hood (or 'bonnet' as we Aussies and Poms call the things). I love all that 50s marketing
stuff, and so for this little posting on US convertibles I'm tossing in some advertisements,
courtesy of You Tube. "The new Motoronic Chevrolet Bel Air. What's new? Everything!"

This 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz was a big car, weighing in at 4930 pounds. With a 365
cubic inch V8 with twin four-barrel carbs and a four-speed auto transmission, it was a thirsty big
thing, and so it's no surprise to see it filling up once more. The Biarritz was the convertible model
of the Eldorado, and the Seville was the two-door hardtop. This 1:43 model is by Solido.

There's a cafe around here somewhere, and the driver of this 1959 Sting Ray Concept, very
probably Bill Mitchell, its designer, is hungry. This wonderful looking car was a concept car
with balls. Designed by the head of GM Design, Bill Mitchell, along with GM designer Larry
Shinoda, this car was the inspiration for the famous Corvette Stingray, which was launched in
1963. This concept car was more than a design exercise. With a tubular space-frame and
fibreglass body, it weighed just 2200 pounds (about 1000 pounds lighter than most
production cars of the time). It had a fuel-injected small-block 283 cubic inch (4.6 litre)
V8, which developed 315hp at 6200rpm. It made its debut in an April 1959 race, and in 1960
it raced and won the SCCA National Championship. It then retired from racing, and after he
fitted a passenger seat it became Bill Mitchell's personal weekend car. Exclusive car
you've got there, Mr Mitchell! The 1:43 model is a nice one by Auto Art.

Finally, to finish off this posting, one more charming 1950s advertisement for Ford cars, courtesy of You Tube. Who better than Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, stars of the classic 1950s comedy show, 'I Love Lucy', to demonstrate how easy it is to change over from soft top to hard top, with the press of a button.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jochen Rindt's Alfa

For all I know the mighty Austrian driver Jochen Rindt drove several different Alfas, but the one I have in my diecast model car cabinet has just sent me on an interesting little wild goose chase around the net, trying to find out its history. Here's the car in question.

Alfa Romeo GTA 1600cc, the car which Rindt drove in the 1966 touring car race at the Aspern
Circuit near Vienna. Uncharacteristically for him, Rindt didn't win that day. He DNF'd
with a gearbox problem. The winner was Nanni Galli. You wouldn't believe the trouble I
had finding out even these bare facts. And I blame it all on the car's model-maker, M4.
Wrong year, and they couldn't even spell Rindt's name correctly, either. After
much searching I found a site which listed all the touring car race results of
the era, and Rindt is there in 1966 in car 31, but he wasn't in the race in 67.

I even found a photo of Rindt at the wheel in 1966, in car 31.
The good thing about this is that I rediscovered the history of this great driver,
the only man to win the World F1 Championship posthumously, in 1970.
Rindt was killed in practice for the Italian GP at Monza, on September 5, 1970.
He had already won in Netherlands, France, Britain and Germany that year.
One major cause of his death was removing the rear wing, in an effort to
get more speed at the very fast Monza circuit. This destabilised the car,
and Rindt lost control under brakes at the Parabolica curve and hit the crash
barrier. All this I knew already (if sketchily), but one thing I didn't know is
that he was actually German. He was born in Mainz in 1942; both of his parents
were killed in a bombing raid at Hamburg, and Jochen grew up with his
grandparents in Austria. While he never took out Austrian citizenship
he always raced with an Austrian licence. He is buried in Graz, Austria.
That 1970 F1 season featured some classic races. Rindt chased down Jack Brabham at Monaco that year, pushing so hard that old Black Jack overcooked the brakes in the last corner and Rindt got by to win. Footage of that is easy enough to find on You Tube, but I prefer this piece, starting with a modern interview with second place-getter Jacky Ickx from Belgium, about the battle he (in the Ferrari) and Jochen (in the Lotus 72) had in the German GP at Hockenheim that year. Ickx tells a great story about their overtaking methods while drafting at speed (all very gentlemanly), and there's some good race footage here which shows how hard Rindt pressed his car.

However, as I have titled this post 'Jochen Rindt's Alfa' I really should sign off with a short 20-second You Tube video of a GTA Alfa being driven in the right manner out on the open road. I don't know why so many countless thousands of You Tube car videos have to be set to the accompaniment of crappy music which drowns out the engine, but there are far, far too many of them. This one just lets you listen to the music of the engine of this great 1960s car with the beautiful Bertone body that has kept legions of club car racers very happy (if not always wealthy): the Alfa Romeo GTA.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Good dirty fun

Watching the Dakar Rally highlights on TV each night has partly inspired this posting. In my diecast cabinet there are a few French cars from the 60s and 70s that thoroughly enjoyed a bit of good, dirty rallying fun, and did pretty well, too. Here are some of them.

The Citroen DS21, which was the moral winner of the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon.
Just 98 miles from the finishing line in Sydney, drivers Ogier and Bianchi were so far in front
they were uncatchable (if nothing went wrong). On a stretch of road that was supposed to be
closed to the public, the Citroen had a head-on collision with a Mini (reputedly driven
by two off-duty policemen). The Citroen was wrecked and Bianchi badly injured. Paddy
Hopkirk, who was coming second, arrived on the scene in his Austin 1800 and threw
away his chance of winning the event by turning around and going for help. That left
Andrew Cowan, in a Hillman Hunter, the winner. But that DS21 became part of Citroen
legend, one of the greatest Citroen feats ever. This model (1:43 by Atlas) is parked near
Uluru (Ayer's Rock) in Central Australia, but the London-to-Sydney route didn't actually
go through here. I just like the look of Uluru as a backdrop for my DS21. 

This 1:43 Norev model is the Peugeot 404 Injection which Bert Shankland drove to victory in
the 1967 East African Safari Rally. Bert, a Peugeot dealer from Tanzania, was the man to beat
in those days. He won the 1966 rally, which was very wet, and the 67 rally, which was very
dry and dusty. In 1968 his car blew a connecting rod 150 miles from the finish, while he was
insecond place, rapidly reeling in eventual winner Nowicki in, you guessed it, a Peugeot 404.
There's a great quote from the Aussie Frogs website where I found all this good info, about
the 1968 finish. "On the ramp at Nairobi the (second-placed) Huth Ford Lotus Cortina was a
mess. Its door pillars were cracked. Its windscreen was held in place with rope. It had no
clutch, and it failed a brake test. In contrast the Nowicki Peugeot looked all ready to go
around again." The Peugeot teams always went for toughness as a priority, while the
faster cars invariably seemed to break.

This is the Peugeot 504 which came in 9th place in the 1976 East African Safari Rally, the
one where Mitsubishi scooped the pool with a 1-2-3 finish in their Lancers. The first Peugeot
504 home was driven by that man Bert Shankland who came in fifth. The car pictured here
(a 1:43 model byAltaya) parked outside a Masai village in Kenya, was driven by Jean-Pierre
Nicolas and Jean-Claude Lefebvre. Just finishing was a great achievement. Of the 65 teams
which started, just 14 finished the 4950km rally in Kenya. Nicolas and Lefebvre went on to
win the 1978 Safari Rally in a Peugeot 504 V6 Coupe.

At this stage of proceedings, let's have a look at those 404s and 504s in action, in Africa. Good dirty fun indeed!

But wait, there's one more! Move forward a few years, to 1979, and the first-ever Paris-Dakar Rally, an interesting car with a great Paris-Dakar story to tell.

Here's the home-modified Peugeot 404 Pickup driven by mechanic/car builder Marc Andre and
his co-driver Philippe Puyfoulhoux. Powered by a 2-litre Peugeot 504 engine and modified to
include a larger cab (that included504 seats), the Pickup took 1000 hours of work to look
this good. (I'veplaced this 1:43 model by Norev on a rocky hillside in the Atlas Mountains).
How did it go? Brilliant and bad, I'm afraid. The bad news is that sand got in via the timing
pulley, and they had to pull out. The brilliant news is that they repaired the engine and
continued directly to the finish at Dakar. Once there (ahead of all the competitors still in
the race) they entered Dakar legend on the final day, at the last stage of the rally on the
beach. Thierry Sabine, the event organiser, asked Marc Andre to open the track and warn
the public that the competitors were coming soon, and of course the crowd lining the
finish, including press photographers, went wild, thinking the 404 Pickup had won! I found
out all about this car at a French website (use your Google translator) and forum, which
includes several pix of this 404 in the 1979 Dakar. You can find it here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Another win for Fangio

What better was to advertise a shiny new highway than to race cars on it? Ahh, the 1950s, a golden era of fast, unsafe, motoring madness. Pictured below is the car which won the race from one end of Mexico to the other, the Carrera Panamericana, in 1953, the Lancia D24, driven by none other than Juan Manuel Fangio, the greatest driver of all time.

Not only did the Lancia win the race, it also came in second and third, for a finish that race
teams dream of. The D24 was very advanced for 1953. With a light, sleek aluminium body by
Pininfarina, it weighed only 760kg. Powered by a 3.3 litre 60° V6 which made 260bhp
@ 6200rpm, it was good for 265km/h (165mph). With its welded steel tube space frame
and inboard-mounted drum brakes, it was an advanced design, a race winner not only in
Mexico but also in Italy's Mille Miglia (Ascari driving) and the Targa Florio (Taruffi).

This nice little model is a 1:43 scale piece by the Italian company, Brumm.
Let's go for a drive in one. Shame we can't understand a word the guy says, but it doesn't matter, it's all about the car, not him...

What the other competitors briefly saw of Fangio's car in 1953.
What the hell, one more video, old footage from the times. Check out the slow wipe-out of the large American competitor around the 51 second mark...

Finally, a few notes on the Carrera Panamericana, only if you're interested. All of this is gleaned from the Wikipedia entry on the topic here.  

The idea for the race, from one end of Mexico to the other, started off with the completion of the Panamerican Highway in 1950. To publicise the road, they decided to stage a race. The first series of races went from 1950 to 1954, by which stage 27 competitors had died. And so, for safety reasons, it was closed down. It has been resurrected in recent years.

1950: the first race went north-south from the Mexico-Texas border down to the Guatemalan border. It was won by an Oldsmobile at an average speed of 88mph (142km/h).

1951: reverse direction, south-north, won by the Ferraris of Taruffi and Ascari. A notable effort was El Paso salesman Bill Stirling's third place in a Chrysler Saratoga.

1952: getting serious now with more factories involved, and the Mercedes 300SL's win (driver Karl Kling). (They almost didn't make it to the finish line, after just surving a collision with a vulture which came through the windscreen while doing 200km/h.)

1953: Fangio's win, with the Lancia D24's 1-2-3 team finish.

1954: Ferrari win, driven by Maglioli.

As mentioned previously, with so many deaths the race was a dangerous thing for all concerned, and so it was cancelled, only to be resurrected in recent years. I've always wanted to have one or two Carrera Panamericana cars in my diecast cabinet, and this Lancia is probably the pick of them. But a 300SL Merc wouldn't go astray either, so I have my eye out for one of those, too.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


You want an acid test for a car? Put it to work as a taxi, that'll soon tell you whether it's well built or not. A lot of cars fail to make the grade, and in several cities companies have purpose-built ultra-tough cars specifically as cabs. And so my diecast collection has to have some cabs. I know there are many missing from the collection so far – no Mercedes cabs, such as the one I had a scary ride around Amsterdam in; and no Volga cab from Moscow, either – so here are just a few cabs from around the world, what I have so far.

As a theme for my cheesy dioramas, I thought a 'food' theme might be worth a try, as cabs spend a lot of their time either delivering customers to an eating spot, or picking them up from an eatery then taking them home. Of course I couldn't resist a few twists on that theme, so here goes.

Peugeot 404 Paris taxi, an IXO model. The wonderful thing about Peugeot taxis, apart from
being one of very few cabs with a Pininfarina body, is that they were almost identical to the
sedans sold to the public, and yet they toughed out life as a taxi without complaint. Though many
cabs had the normal 1.6 litre four-cylinder petrol engine, over time the majority of Pug 404
cabs used the 1.9 litre diesel engine, which first appeared in the 403 Peugeot. Roomy inside, with
comfy seats and soft suspension, the 404 was a great way to glide home from the brasserie.

In Morocco, the best way to enjoy fish is to buy it fresh from the markets then cook it at home
yourself, for lunch. Here, this Peugeot 203 cab is waiting while the customer haggles with the
fisherman down by the dock in Casablanca.

In Sydney, Australia, in 1957, life was simpler and eating out far less flash than it is these days.
Here, this Holden FE has stopped off at the famous Harry's Cafe de Wheels down at
Woolloomooloo, on Sydney Harbour. Here, the food fare is mostly meat pies, including the
'pie floater', a meat pie sitting in a dish of cooked, mushy green peas. An acquired taste. The Holden,
a GM car, was produced from 1956-58 and got along OK with its 2.3 litre straight six engine,
but as for going around corners and stopping it wasn't so hot. But it was tough and reliable enough.
The livery this IXO model wears is for the De Luxe Red Cabs, common in Sydney at the time.
Holdens have proved their toughness as taxis over many years.

All cabbies have to eat, and this classic black London cab, an Austin FX4, is pictured outside
the cabbie's favourite 'greasy spoon' cafe. This model is made by Welly. The FX4 was made from
1958-1997, and followed on from the Austin FX3, which some aficionados love even more.
But I wanted an FX4, as that's the cab I rode in on many occasions when living in London.
Depending on which year it was made, the FX4 could have had a 2.2 or 2.5 litre Austin diesel,
a 2.3 litre Land Rover diesel, or a 2.7 litre Nissan diesel. But it was almost always a diesel,
although some petrol-engined London cabs were made. But they wouldn't have sounded right.
Of course I had to include a Checker Cab from New York, and the imposing Eveready Diner in
New York is the place to park it, for a feast of burger and fries either for the driver or the customer.
Like the London cab this American car was a purpose built taxi that changed very little down the
years. Morris Markin, the owner of Checker Motors Corporation, did sell these cars to the public
(for example, this one as the A12 Marathon), but most of his sales were to taxi companies. Engines
varied from the early 3.8 litre side-valve six, through to 4.6 or 5.7 litre V8s, petrol Chevrolet
engines mostly. However, there was a 3.8 litre diesel engine option, an in-line four made by Perkins.

And now, for a brief video interlude courtesy of You Tube, what else could I possibly include at this point but the trailer for Scorsese's 'Taxi Driver', starring Bob de Niro? That reminds me. Haven't seen it for 10 years, must get it out on DVD again.

Finally, stretching the food theme a long way this time, but the monks at this temple in Bangkok
make the best satays, they're around the back. Parked out the front is the mighty Tuk-Tuk
of Bangkok and every crowded Asian and African city and town in the world, plus anywhere
else where space and money is in short supply. You can thank the Italians for the Tuk-Tuk, as
the original version was the Piaggio Ape, powered by a Vespa engine. Engines used to be 150,
200, 250 or 350cc two-strokes, depending on the model. These days the pollution from the
massed two-strokes has become a major problem, and many now have four-stroke engines
powered by LPG or compressed natural gas. Like the rattle of a London cab's diesel, I always
remember the putt-putt of a Tuk-Tuk in Thailand.

Well, that's the very modest and inadequate taxi collection so far. I'm definitely in the market for some more. Mercedes, Volga, a Citroen DS19, more Peugeots (a 504 from sub-Saharan Africa is what I want)... hell, I might even get another Holden if the right one comes along.