Sunday, February 27, 2011

3 x 2CVs

If each country had to choose a car as its national ambassador, in the case of the French people themselves they would probably choose the Citroën DS, the 'Goddess', to project their sense of style and prestige. However, if you asked non-French people like me to make the choice of behalf of France, we'd probably pick this car, to represent France's quirky charm: the Citroën 2CV, the 'Deux Chevaux', the two-horsepower workhorse designed for the rural peasantry which proved to be exactly what a lot of city-dwellers wanted, too.

Here's one doing the shopping at the local village grocer's shop. This model with the red
and black colour scheme was called the Charleston, and I had to get one of those in
1:43 scale, as it's the only 2CV I have driven. In London, quite a while ago. I was thinking of
buying it to use as my 'travel around Europe in a car on my own' car. But it just didn't feel
comfortably up to all that long mileage, and so I bought a second-hand Citroen GS Club
instead. It handled its assignment well, but even it was a bit of a snail on theGerman
autobhans, with all those Porsches and BMWs whizzing by.I can't imagine how slow a
2CV would have been on an autobhan (but I would have stuck to the back roads if I had
a 2CV). This model is by Altaya, and they've captured the 2CV's charm quite well.
Having just one 2CV in my diecast cabinet wouldn't do, and the delightful 2CV van from
the Michelin series of cars put out by IXO was irresistible.I've plonked it on my faux
cobblestone road outside a suitably grimy garage.
And for my final diorama, and 2CV model, I have placed the 1939 Prototype out in the
French countryside, being put through its paces as a suitable workhorse for France's rural
community. Legend has it that the original design brief to Pierre-Jules Boulanger, the
designer of the 2CV, was for the proposed car to drive 100kg of farm goods to market at
60km/h, across muddy paved roads. Furthermore, it had to be able to cross a ploughed
field without breaking any of the eggs it was carrying on its front seat. And so here is
the wonderful prototype, with its cyclops-eye single headlight,doing just that – crossing
the field without making an omelette of the job. This little 1:43 model by Norev has
a wonky roof canvas that never stays flat, but I'll forgive it that blemish, as all
prototypes are a bit rough around the edges, aren't they?
Just a little bit of 2CV history, if you don't mind, just the bare basics. Produced from 1948 through to 1990, a short production run of a mere 42 years,  3.87 million 2CVs were made, plus another 1.2 million 2CV delivery vans. And that's not to mention the 3.68 million variants such as the Ami, Diane, Acadiene and Mehari. Grand total of 8.75 million cars. A successful design, then. Little air-cooled flat twin motors all the way, starting off a 375cc engine and ending up with a mighty 602cc powerplant in the end. Always a four-speed manual. And a wonderful, long-travel, soft suspension that literally could cope with anything.

All of this info I sort-of knew already, but the Wikipedia page on the 2CV does the little car proud, so if you want to read more about them, head there. However, to finish off this little homage to the 2CV I like to show you one in action. There are lots of 2CV videos on You Tube, of course. These cars are irresistibly photogenic and telegenic. There's one video about the famous legend that you can't roll a 2CV on a flat piece of road. Going forwards, that's true, but going backwards, it's not. You can watch that spoilsport one here.

However, I have no interest in trashing 2CVs. I just like to see them happy, doing what they so charmingly do, bouncing along on that suspension, crossing open fields.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Italian V-twin melodies

I love the sounds some motorcycles make, but I am picky about bike noise too. Not all bike sounds please me, but I do love a good Italian V-twin melody pretty well all the time. The best place to enjoy these booming arias is when you're sitting on the bike, and it is powering out of a corner, up a hill, preferably a good, long hill. And I do enjoy it when my own Italian V-twin does it. It's one of the simple pleasures that a motorcycle offers in bucketloads, when compared with most cars and their muffled engines. And so today's little posting is going to end with a brief but noisy sound check, but before we get to that I thought I'd show you a couple of photos of Italian V-twin melody makers I have in my diecast model cabinet.

The Ducati 750SS, the 'green frame' model, probably the most collectable classic 1:1 size
Ducati there is. This one in the photo is a bit smaller; it's my little 1:24 model made by IXO,
painstakingly deep-etched into the same background I used for my earlier posting on
the Vincent Black Shadow.
This bike really put Ducati on the superbike map. With the addition of desmodromic valves to the 750cc 90° inline V-twin (which first appeared in 1972) the 1974 Super Sport gained 10bhp and 10mph in top speed, giving it a maximum somewhere around the 135-140mph (218-225km/h) mark. But it wasn’t just straight line speed that told the story, it was the ‘on rails’ handling and the sheer look and sound of the thing. In terms of desirable Ducatis from the 70s, look no further. This bike was inspired by a famous race win, by Paul Smart at the Imola 200 mile race in 1972. This SS is generally known as the ‘Green Frame’ model, as this also represented the fact that it was a new, slimmer, improved frame which offered better handling. Another little detail of note was the fibreglass fuel tank with a clear strip down the side, for a quick check on fuel levels.

This is the 'grandfather' of my own bike, the 1969 model Moto Guzzi V7 Special, presented
here as a 1:24 model made by Starline. It's not really my dream Moto Guzzi – I prefer
both the California as a cruiser, and the Le Mans as a sports bike – but this is the bike
which gave Moto Guzzi V-twins a great start in earning an enviable reputation for quality
and reliability. And I wanted a model of my own bike's spiritual ancestor.

The first prototypes of the new big Moto Guzzi V-twin appeared in 1965, using the engine which powered Moto Guzzi’s three-wheeled military vehicles. The first production models went on sale in 1967, and the V7 series appeared in 1969, as a 700cc bike at first (called the V7), but which quickly turned into the 750cc V7 Special. It made 60bhp, could get up to 115mph (186km/h) but this was a big, heavy 228kg (502lb) tourer, not a sports bike at all. And it wasn't cheap. In fact it was almost as expensive as you could get at the time.

I started bike riding in 1971 (on a very crappy BSA 250) and I always remember the Moto Guzzi V7 Special that some lucky rich guy in my suburb owned. I saw him on it every now and then, and while it was so far out of my price range that it was in the "in your dreams, son" category, I knew that I was only 18 and that hope springs eternal in a young man's breast. (By the way, the V7 Guzzis might be more familiar to North American readers as the ‘Ambassador’.)

No, this is not my best diorama yet. It's my own 1:1 scale Moto Guzzi V7 Classic (2009 model),
pictured out in the NSW countryside enjoying what itdoes best, gobbling up country roads with
ease. You can see the family resemblance to Grandpappy above, but its engine is not of the
same provenance. This 750cc twin is based on a later V-twin designed by Lino Tonti. The
original V-twins were designed by Giulio Carcano, the man who also designed that other
famous Guzzi engine, the V8 Grand Prix bike. My bike's engine has a lot less flywheel than
the older Guzzi donks,with which I have spent many miles travelling Australia's highways.
MyGuzzi's engine revs more easily, has a much nicer gearbox, too, but it does share
one thing in common with the old fellas. It makes beautiful music.

My Guzzi is nice to ride anytime. It handles well, steers precisely and it's light. It's classed these days as a 'middleweight' bike. Back in the early 70s, a 750 was about as big as you could get in a true sports bike. But it's nice to take my V7 Classic even for a short ride across town, because it just sounds so damn good at idle, taking off, accelerating, powering out of corners. Anytime, anywhere, it sounds great.

And so I should finish off with that promised sound check, courtesy of You Tube. A Guzzi Le Mans in a tunnel, then emerging from a tunnel. It only takes a few seconds, but it sounds about right to me, an Italian V-twin melody.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Big wheels at the conference

Hot on the heels of my big Russian Zil III Limousine which I recently blogged about here, an even longer limousine, the Mercedes 600 Pullman, has taken up quite a bit of room in my 1:43 diecast cabinet. And so I just had to do them justice with a diorama photo. Gleneagles in Scotland seemed the right setting, and a Strategic Arms Limitation Conference attended by world leaders the right scenario.

Two media tarts named Brezhnev and Nixon managed to walk in front of the cars just as
our photographer took his snap. But, being world leaders in the late 60s, who's going
to tell them to buzz off? As long as they promise not to blow up the world with nuclear
weapons, they can walk where they like. (Edit: and as Kashgar216 has pointed
out, the Merc isn't Nixon's car. His ride is a stretched Lincoln, a suitable 1:43 model
of which I am still looking for.)

The Mercedes Pullman and its VIP arrived first at Gleneagles, and here it is in all its magnificent
length. In reality, the Merc is about an inch (25mm) longer than the Zil, and in 1:43 mode,
that remains true to scale. The low-slung Mercedes just looks incredibly long in every
way, but as the Zil is a fair bit taller than the Merc, its considerable length is deceptive. 
Now, I'm always interested in the technical details of each diecast car I own, and I like to know what engine it had, its suspension and any other notable mechanical features. Fortunately, this time I found a You Tube video which does all that for me. Here it is.

To finish off this little posting on a very big car, we might as well have a bit of fun and watch Top Gear's comedians compare James May's Park Ward Rolls Royce with Jeremy Clarkson's Mercedes 600 (which is actually the shorter-wheelbase model 600, not the long-wheelbase Pullman).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

MG Magnette

I was always going to have an MG Magnette in my collection, just because I liked them and more importantly knew some people who owned them and loved them. However, when my wife saw it in the cabinet she said: "Hey, my first husband owned an MG Magnette when we started going out together as teenagers." My own wife was a Magnette fan! And so a little story she told me about a memorable weekend away in the Magnette gave me the idea for this little diorama photo here.

Unfortunately for my wife's first husband, a lovely bloke who remains a dedicated car nut
with a penchant for Alfas, the Magnette story was not a happy one. It broke down.
A long way from home. In a ghost town. This ghost town in the photo, in fact. Joadja it's called.
It's an old mining village 138km south-west of Sydney. Though called a 'ghost town' it has
always been a popular spotfor a day drive for city folk. I haven't been there for years, but when
the MG broke down there in the 70s, there was a caretaker there to make sure the historic
old miner's buildings weren't vandalised. They left the car with the caretaker,and it took
him several return trips to Joadja to finally get the Magnette running again, but he got it
going and it limped home under its own steam. This 1:43 model by Oxford Diecast looks
far too shiny and new to break down. And the other 'incorrect' thing about the photo which
my wife mentioned is that their 'Joadja' Magnette was a maroon colour.
Seems like the perfect opportunity to take a You Tube drive in one, and by coincidence the You Tube Magnette is also green. The Oxford Diecast model is labelled as 'Island Green', and it's nothing like the darker shade of green of the car in the vid. Wonder which one is correct? To give my little 1:43 MG Magnette its full name, it is the first of the 1950s Magnettes, the ZA. It was produced from 1953 until 1956, when the ZB, with same body but improved performance, came along. The ZA was designed by Gerald Palmer, the fellow who also designed the equally famous Jowett Javelin car. Powered by a BMC B-series 1489cc straight four, with twin SU carbs, the ZA made 60hp, had a four-speed gearbox and was good for 80mph (128km/h).

Some people mistakenly say the MG Magnette is just a Wolseley 4/44 with MG badges. The Magnette's engine was different, the body was lowered, the suspension differed and only some, not all, of the body panels are inter-changeable between both cars. The 4/44 was a good car in its own right as well, but the Magnette was too. They just looked similar. Anyway, into the driver's seat for about three minutes of good, solid British motoring. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sorry, it has to be THAT colour

Sometimes, with collecting diecast cars, I'm not too fussy about colours, other times I am a fanatic. This post is about collecting down the 'fanatic' end of the spectrum. When I am a fanatic, it's always personal. Here's a perfect example.

Citroen DS23 Pallas. It had to be this green colour, and that was my problem. They don't
seem to make many in this colour (mostly you get blacks and deep maroons in DS23s). But
I've been waiting, looking, hoping, and finally I spotted one, and bought it. Why this
green? Well, there was a green DS23 Pallas in the streets where I lived for quite some time
in inner-city Sydney, and it wasbeautiful, classy and this green colour. I really loved the way
that car moved. The way it sat down so very low to the ground after being left there for
a few days. And it was magical to see it start up, rise on its hydro-pneumatic suspension
as the engine warmed, then set off majestically, never in a hurry, the rear suspension
dipping and rising slowly as the driver progressed fromfirst gear, to second and beyond.
And so I did this little Photoshop diorama of it parked in the streets of inner-city Sydney,
my stomping ground. This 1:43 model, by the way, is a really nice old one made by Norev.
Geographically, we're staying put with this next diorama. A Renault 10, also pictured outside
some terrace houses in inner-city Sydney. This time, it had to be white. No other colour would do.
And to make the same kind of rod for my back as I did with the DS Pallas, it turned out that
white Renault 10s in 1:43 scale aren't that common. You can get black & white Police 10s
at any time, but a pure white one? It was a six-month wait. This 1:43 model is by IXO.
Again, the reason for the "it must be a white one" is that the only Renault 10 I've had anything to do with was a white one, and what a wonderful car it was for its owner, Yvonne, the girlfriend of a close mate of mine. Evie's Renault 10 served her well for so many years, rarely if ever letting her down. Now, Renault 10s are never going to be collectable, and in fact I've seen all sorts of ill-informed chat by fools on forums bagging these cars, mostly on the basis of their lack of sex appeal, I presume.

Sure, Renault 10s are almost the ultimate in unexciting three-box mid 60s car designs, so there's nothing much to get excited about there. But they were the final, refined product of a line of rear-engined practical town cars which began with the 4CV Renault in the late 40s, and progressed through the Dauphines of the 50s and Renault 8s of the early 60s. With the Renault 10, they offered a fairly roomy, comfy, tractable, reliable car with light steering, a great turning circle, and terrific fuel economy.

And so there. I always wanted a Renault 10 in my cabinet, but it had to be a white one. No other colour would do. Same too for the green Citroen DS23 Pallas. 

Sometimes it's just like that, but fortunately for me, I'm only fanatical about colour occasionally. Such as with red Italian cars, they have to be red. And the DS19 Citroen did have to be blue with a white roof. And the Mini Cooper S had to be GTO Green with a white roof. And the Checker cab had to be yellow. And my French racing cars all have to be blue. But that means only a fraction of the collection has psychological baggage attached. The remainder of them I am more relaxed about, although the only black cars I like are those with lots of chrome, I must admit.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Vincent Black Shadow

As well as mostly collecting diecast cars, I have a small collection of assorted motorcycles, most of them in 1:24 scale, and one of my favourite models is this one, the Vincent Black Shadow. But it's not a perfect model by any means. 

You wouldn't believe what a time-consuming stinker of a job it is to deep-etch the spokes on
a motorcycle wheel in Photoshop, not to mention the dozens of little 'peek-through' nooks
and crannies around this machine, including those two in the rocker boxes. After more than
an hour of fiddling (and learning how to do it), here it is, my diorama of a Vincent/HRD
Black Shadow stopped to take in the views on an enjoyable weekend ride up into
the lush mountains in the hinterland, where the winding roads unfold.

So, what's wrong with this model? Well, like the Jochen Rindt Alfa which I blogged about here, this is another example of a mis-labelled model. The little plinth on this 1:24 IXO model says it’s a "1953 Vincent Black Shadow", but it’s actually a 1948 or 49 model. Small difference? Well, the badge/decal on the tank is a dead giveaway. That’s because they dropped the name ‘HRD’ from 1950 onwards, due to pressure from American dealers, who said people thought an HRD had something to do with Harley-Davidson. From 1950 onwards, they all had a ‘Vincent’ label on the tank. Like this one.

These nitpicks aside, it’s a lovely bike, a nice model and one of the all-time great motorcycles, a 1000cc, 60° V-twin that, while a tractable thing around town, was good for 125mph (200km/h) when wound out on the highway. All this in the late 1940s. No other bike came close to it at the time, or for quite some time. No wonder real 1:1 size Vincents are so pricey and sought-after. Australian bike enthusiasts all know about our connection with the Vincent. It was co-designed by Philip Vincent, owner of the company, and Phil Irving, the Australian who was his chief engineer for many years. 

However, instead of banging on with a history that's easy enough to find and read if you really are interested, I thought I'd finish off with my favourite song about a Vincent, written by and performed by one of my favourite musicians, one of the greatest guitarists alive, Richard Thompson. It's called Vincent Black Lightning 1952.

With lines like: 
"There's nothing in this world that beats a 52 Vincent and a red-headed girl" 
and "He gave her one last kiss and died, And he gave her his Vincent to ride"
it's a great story as well as a fine tune, and the guitar-playing and singing aren't too bad, either.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Swinging sidecars

Whoever whispered in my ear when I was much younger that: "It's better to regret the things you've done, than to end up regretting even more things that you never got around to doing" did me a favour. In the case of motorcycles with sidecars, I am glad that I have ridden a few of them, but I definitely regret at some stage never owning one. Getting one now is merely part of a lottery win fantasy, as I currently have nowhere to keep one and so I'd need a bigger house, and a garage, as well as the outfit. And so I content myself at this stage with just a couple of 'outfits' in my diecast cabinet. First up, fantasy outfit Number One.

BMW R69S, with a Steib TR500 sidecar. Yes, that would definitely do me! The more familiar
Steib sidecar is more of a lozenge, or bullet, shape, but this is the one which BMW offered
for sale to the public. The R69S is considered by many BMW fans to be the most collectable
of them all. A smooth, torquey 700cc engine, shaft drive, Earles forks. It's everything
a touring outfit possibly needs to traverse a continent in style. This 1:24 model
by IXO is a bit flimsy (wobbly exhaust pipes), but quite pretty nevertheless.
Not really a fantasy outfit, but it would be nice to tootle about town with one. This is an unusual
1:43 model, a white metal kit that cost 10 English Pounds, via eBay. I'm an absolute klutz
with my hands, and so the result of my glueing and hand-painting is not all that flash, but
when friends check out my diecast cabinet, this is the piece that invariably brings a smile.
The sidecar attached tothis Lambretta scooter is a 'Swallow Sprite' as far as I can tell, by
Googling. Swallow is the sidecar-making company of the early 1920s which then became
a car bodybuilder in the early 30s, then a car maker of SS cars in the late 30s. After the
Second World War the SS name wasn't all that appealing to anyone, anywhere. So they
changed their name to Jaguar. The sidecar division was sold separately around that time,
and in the 50s Swallow kept on making 'chairs' for all sorts of bikes, including the
increasingly popular scooters from Italy, such as this Lambretta.
It's interesting to read the history of companies such as Swallow and Steib. Both suffered an irreversible decline in the late 50s, as motorcycles, and motorcycles with sidecars in particular, fell from favour. Cars became cheaper, more plentiful, and sidecars just couldn't compete in that marketplace. Many people probably don't realise how popular motorcycles with sidecars were in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, often used as work and delivery vehicles as well as being family transport. I think my old Grandpa, the church minister, had a bike with sidecar to do the rounds of his country parish before he stepped up to his flash, comfy Buick in the late 1930s.

My own experiences with sidecars were limited. With an old mate of mine, we spent a memorable weekend in a borrowed Norton outfit roaring along dirt roads north of Sydney. And then, later on, while I was working as a motorcyle road-tester for a bike magazine, I was given a Russian Ural outfit to test. It was painted bright green, was a Police model fitted with a siren (you depressed a foot lever, which activated an arm which rubbed on the flywheel, and as you pulled in the clutch and revved the engine, the siren wailed away!). Alas, its electrics lasted about three days before frying, but I had three days of fun with that Russian cop outfit. The machine was picked up by the folorn dealer, taken away on the back of a truck, and my brief career with motorcycle sidecars was brought to an early end.

But let's not finish on that broken-down Russian bum note. Let's go for a brief ride on that fantasy bike of mine, the BMW R69S outfit. After the video guy goes to some trouble to prove that he's starting the bike from cold, he then does a couple of passes, including the almost obligatory You Tube flypast with the sidecar wheel in the air. Nice bike, that R69S.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Classic GP cars at Reims

If only this line-up of Classic GP cars, pictured outside the pits at the historic circuit at Reims, in France, were real. I'd like to be there to hear each start up, one by one, then roar away. Alas, they are just my little 1:43 diecast models, lined up as they are in the cabinet, taken out for a day of diorama photos and 'what ifs'.(Tip: if you click on the photos, especially this first one, they pop up much bigger.)
I have them organised this way not only so it's chronological, oldest left and newest right,
but also because it tells the story of how cars became smaller as they became faster.
Tyres got wider, bodies lower and, eventually, they even changed where they put the engine.
Let's have a look at them one by one, pictured as they are on this sunny day here at Reims.
Oldest first. The Blitzen Benz from 1911. The model is 1:43 (as are all the others) made
by Brumm. What a car! This not only held the world land speed record from 1911 through
to 1919, for a while it had the outright speed record for any man-made bit of machinery
It was faster than any plane, any train. At Daytona Beach in 1911, driver Bob Burman got
the chain-driven (yes!) Benz up to 141mph (228km/h). Under the hood was a 21.5 litre four
cylinder engine, developing 200hp at 1600 rpm. Many engines in these early days were huge.
There was a big debate between engineers as to whether engine capacity or revs was the way
to get more speed out of cars, and with the Blitzen Benz the 'Big Capacity' guys had a
very strong argument with their 21.5 litre beast.
We're leaping ahead 20 years now, to the years 1933-36, when this Bugatti Type 59
competed in many Grands Prix, with drivers such as Nuvolari at the wheel from time to time.
Powered by a 3.3 litre twin-cam, supercharged straight eight, it developed 250hp at 5500rpm.
Its top speed of around 230km/h wasn't much quicker than the Blitzen Benz, but this Bugatti
was a true GP car with great cornering ability, while the Blitzen Benz was more of a banked
oval or beach-flats kind of speedster. The Blitzen Benz weighed in at 1540kg, and the nippy
Bugatti was just 900kg. Italian model-maker Brumm has done a good job with this one.
If they staged an outright stop speed test of our assembled classics, this one might win the
top speed battle. This 1938 Auto Union Type D could make it to 340km/h (210mph), thanks
to its 3 litre V12, which developed 485bhp @7000 supercharged rpm. This machine,
at 850kg, weighed less than the Bugatti. This car won the British GP in 1938, with Nuvolari
at the wheel. This, by the way, is a lovely Minichamps model, very nice.

The war is over, it's 1954, and the Mercedes W196 driven by people such as Juan Manuel
Fangio and Stirling Moss were only trying to catch each other. They won 9 of the 12 Grand Prix
in 1954-55. This is the first unsupercharged GP Mercedes. Its  2.5 litre straight eight with
desmodromic valves made290bhp @8200 rpm, propelling the 850kg car to a top speed
around 300km/h (185mph). This model is made by German firm Premium Classixxs.
This has always been my favourite classic GP car to look at. It's the Maserati 250F which
Fangio drove in 1957 to win his final world championship. It's powered by a 3.5 litre V12
which developed 310bhp @7200 rpm. Ultra-light, it weighed in at just 650kg and
had a top speed of 305km/h. This model by Brumm does that sleek Maserati shape proud.
This is the Lotus 25 which Jim Clark drove to victory in the Italian GP in 1963. This is such a
simple, 'pure' idea of a racing car. It weighs a super-light 456kg, and its Coventry Climax
1500cc V8, which developed 195bhp @9500rpm, took it up to 300km/h. All it lacked
was modern tyres. Like so many of my GP car models, this one is also by Brumm.
Last in my line-up of cars is the car I have always called the Repco Brabham, (but the model is
labelled as the 'BT-19') the car which Sir Jack Brabham built and drove to victory in the
1966 World Championship. No-one had done that before, and it's unlikely anyone will ever
do it again, either. The designer of the car was Ron Tauranac, and it's based around a 3-litre
V8 developedby Australian firm Repco, under the supervision of legend Phil Irving, the
Australian who also designed the famous Vincent V-twin motorcycle. Brabham won the
championship using reliability and light weight as his strategy. The engine itself was based
on an alloy Oldsmobile block, and used a lot of ordinary parts available over the counter.
It developed220kw @8000rpm (compared to the 250kW of the Ferrari and Maserati
V12s that it shared the grid with). The car, though heavier than Jim Clark's Lotus 25,
weighed just 570kg, and was one of the lightest in the field. 'Black Jack' was 40 when
he won in 1966, picking up the championship with four wins (in a row) and one fourth
(and twoDNFs). This nice model is made by Top Gear, an Australian firm.

Finally, to celebrate the years: the oldest and biggest lined up with the smallest: the Blitzen
Benz of 1911 and the pretty Lotus 25 of 1963. I know which one I'd like to drive!
Everyone at the GP Classics Meet had a lovely day at Reims. Every car ran perfectly, no problems at all. The roaring noise of the Auto Union Type D on full power shocked some, while the fly-by of the Blitzen Benz, at 140mph, left many mouths gaping in amazement. But for me, it's watching that beautiful Maserati 250F which always gets me. It might be a very fast classic GP car to many folk, but to me it is also Art.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Horsing around with Jaguars

That old saying about watching out for getting "more than you bargained for" happened to me the other week, but in a good way. Yes, I was looking for a 1:43 model of what I think is probably the prettiest Jaguar ever made, the XJ6 (yes, I like it more than the E-Type). No, I wasn't looking for an XJ6 with a horse trailer attached, but that's what I bought anyway. Why not, when the price is so good? And besides, I had always wanted to have at least one Vanguards model somewhere, as I like the idea of having as broad a spread of model-makers as I have a broad spread of cars. And so I bought a Vanguards model, mint in box, of a Series 1 XJ6 with a horse float attached for $Au25 delivered to my door.

This is what I was really after, a Series 1 XJ6 Jaguar, the start of that lovely line of Jags that
looked so good from the late 60s and all throughthe 70s. Of course they still look great today, but
I did a lot of stopping and wishful staring back then, when a beautiful XJ6 Jaguar purred past me.
Unfortunately, as time went by I grew accustomed to the sight of too many XJ6s broken down somewhere, with the roadside assistance guys going their best to help get the thoroughbreds home. Such a sad thing to see beautiful cars let down this way. When in good fettle, they must have been a joy to drive. I've never been in one. This Series 1 car has the most popular engine, the 4.2 litre DOHC straight six, which developed 180hp @5500rpm and was good for about 120mph. They sold over 59,000 4.2 litre XJ6s, out of the total sales of a bit over 82,000 for the whole model run. The other engines were the 2.8 litre six and the 5.3 litre V12.

As I mentioned earlier, this Vanguards model came with a very nice horse trailer in the box, so here's a little diorama I've made to celebrate the undoubted fun of horsing around with an XJ6, for those who could afford it.

I'm just a bit extra pleased with this diorama, as I have learned a new skill in Photoshop this
morning. All this original background photo lacked was some horses in the paddock, and so
after a bit of trial and error, I managed to figure out how to copy a horse from one photo and
paste it into another one, to complete the scene. This is going to open up a dodgy new world
of tricked-up photos, but that's diecast dioramas for you. Nothing is real!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

To the Kremlin, Boris

The Zil 111, or if you read Russian, ЗИЛ-111. If you were a Politburo member or a very senior official in the KGB, you'd be pleased to see one, as it's probably your ride. As for the 99.99% of the rest of Soviet society, your feelings might have been more mixed about them, especially in the 1960s, when these big things were cruising the streets of Moscow. Not that you'd want to show those mixed feelings in any way, of course.

I don't really know that much about the Zils. This one was made from 1959-1963 and owes a lot of its style to large American cars (some say especially the Packard, but my uneducated eye can see some Chevy and Caddy in there, too), and it had a 6-litre V8 under the hood.

Here's a Zil 111 parked outside KGB Headquarters in Moscow. This model is a 1:43 mutha
bought on eBay from Poland, where it was made for the de Agostini company by a company in
China. It's an impressive thing, and right now it's easily the biggest car in my diecast cabinet.
Measured from bumper to bumper it's 139mm long, compared to the next longest car I have
there, a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, which is just 126mm long. I believe that a Mercedes
600 Pullman is longer than a Zil 111, but only just. I guess I'll get that longer German limo, too.
As well as this hardtop version, a convertible was made, and here it is in action in the kind of place where it was most at home, Red Square.

I couldn't help placing one of my Zil 111 dioramas somewhere a bit more subversive, so here it is parked outside the famous St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. Perhaps someone with a guilty conscience was having a quiet word with the Patriarch. Who knows?

Handsome lump of black-painted steel and chrome extras, isn't it? I can see a couple
of extra limousines coming my way this year.What is it about long, black, sinister cars
that looks so appealing?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Life's a picnic

Car buyers don't buy cabriolets and convertibles  to commute to work in. They buy them to have fun in, on sunny days. They'e optimists' cars. Here's one now, enjoying a picnic by the side of a tranquil lake somewhere in France.

Peugeot 404 Cabriolet (the model is a 1:43 by Minichamps). There were no 404 cabriolets
to be seen here when I was cruising around in 404 sedans, wagons and light trucks in the
70s and 80s in Australia. I even contemplated jumping on a plane and flying on a 'French car
fan's holiday' to Noumea in nearby French-governed New Caledonia, just so I could check
out some 404 cabriolets and hopefully, by then, the sleek new 504 cabriolets too, if the
French colonies had any yet. When I finally spent some time in France in the mid 1980s,
404 cabriolets were quite rare things, but I did manage to see a few in the flesh. And
very nice Pininfarina bodies they are too.

Citroen DS19 cabriolet, pictured in a picnic spot by the edge of the Dordogne River. This
model is a nice old one by Norev, with a plain metal underside stamped with its details.
This Norev model is also something of a record-holder for me. It's the car which has taken the
longest to arrive via the postal system from anywhere. Bought on eBay on September 28,
posted to me in Germany the next morning, then arriving 69 days later, on December 9.
Moral of the story: never give up hoping!

Though I have featured the Peugeot 203 Cabriolet on earlier blog postings, it just couldn't
miss out on a spot in this French cabriolet celebration. Here, it is also pictured on the pretty
Dordogne River, crossing a bridge on the way meet up with this friend in the Citroen DS19.
Last of the dioramas is this Simca Aronde Convertible from 1955, marketed as the 'Weekend'
according to Altaya, who makes this model. It, too has stopped for a picnic,
but I don't like the look of those clouds looming on the horizon.
Simca is a French car maker about whom I know relatively little, so I did some research. For starters, the name Simca is an acronym for 'Societie Industrielle de Mechanique et Carrosserie Automobile' (the English meaning most of those words is obvious, except for Carrosserie, which means bodywork). 

The Simcas I was most familiar with in the 60s and 70s were the four-door hardtop versions of this cabriolet, the Arondes (also around were bigger cars, the Arianes, but not as plentiful as the Arondes). Simcas were actually assembled in Australia for several years, up to 1964, and they had a good following here as a result. The Aronde was nothing to get excited about technically. A small engine (1221cc OHV straight four); independent coil front suspension and live-rear-axle/leaf spring rear suspension. Top speed 74mph (119k). 

Simca, as a company, had an odd history. For one thing it started as an offshoot of Fiat, in the 1930s, in the beginning just assembling (in France) Fiat cars and putting Simca badges on them. After the Second World War they started designing and making their own French cars, and they were good solid cars, so good that at times certain models were the best-selling cars in France. But Simca was never its own company. It was mostly owned by Fiat, part-owned by Ford, who sold their share to Chrysler, who then took it over, who then sold it to Peugeot-Citroen PSA, who then dumped the Simca name altogether and replaced it with the Talbot name. So, it's hardly a glorious history for a maker of good, popular cars, and a story I didn't know at all well until I bought this nice little white cabriolet.

Instead of finishing on that down note, let's go cruising in a stylish French cabriolet for half a minute or so, just to remember that life is a picnic (or at least seems like you're going to a picnic) when you're in a cabriolet with the top down, and the sun is shining.