Thursday, March 31, 2011

Minis at Bathurst 1966

Most of the cars I collect are 1:43 scale, and all the Photoshopped dioramas I have made so far have used 1:43 scale cars, but this time I'm using a tiddler to set up this posting. It's a 1:87 model of the second-placed Mini Cooper S at the 1966 Bathurst race (called the Gallaher 500 that year, after a forgotten and forgettable brand of cigarettes).

Number 17 was the second-placed car driven by Australians Fred Gibson and Bill Stanley.
The winning car (number 13) was driven by Rauno Altonen and Bob Holden. For my
diorama of them racing across the mountain I have used the "17" from the front car
to create a mythical number 7 Mini, but there was no number 7 Mini in the race, if the truth
be told. This 1:87 model is made by a German company, Bubmobil. I have several
other 1:87 cars made by them, including the three Ford GT40s which came 1-2-3 in
the 1966 Le Mans 24-Hour race, so one of these days I guess I'll do another
1:87 scale Photoshop diorama of a race scene.
1966 was an amazing result for the Mini Cooper S, winning the first NINE places in the race. For my diorama I wanted to capture that memory of seeing Minis in line, just racing each other all day. Here's an old shot from the race itself which tells the same story, even better.

This shot pinched from Google Images is only captioned with the name of Rauno Altonen, the
race winner and the guy in front. Several Mini Cooper S driving rally aces from Europe came
out for the Bathurst race, inlcuding Rauno Altonen, Timo Makinen and Paddy Hopkirk.

Speaking of Paddy Hopkirk and Timo Makinen, here's a quick little video of them doing some very fancy Mini driving on a skidpan somewhere in New Zealand. Great little cars, super skilful drivers.

FInally, if you have a serious amount of spare time on your hands, here's a link to a 56-minute documentary on the first seven years of the famous Bathurst race, including footage from Phillip Island in 60-63, where the great race originated, and about which I blogged quite recently in this posting on the Peugeot 403. The second half of the video has footage of the 1964-66 Bathurst races, and the roughness, narrowness and dangerousness of the track is just amazing to behold. Here's the linky to that doco.  

As the doco says at one stage, the track was so rough and dodgy in places that the bigger, heavier cars tended to break. At Bathurst that was my memory of it, watching it on TV as a young schoolboy. It was often the case that the bigger American Studebakers would lead the race for the first hour, then the retirements would start (but this didn't stop me loving those Studebaker Larks, some of which were used as police pursuit cars here in the 60s). 

But by lunchtime it was all about the Minis circulating at speed, way out in front, almost connected to each other like a quick little freight train.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hatchback origins

I've owned real 1:1 size hatchbacks for many years, because they're the perfect choice for our little two-person family of my wife and I, living here in Sydney's inner-city suburbs. Hatches are compact enough to squeeze into small parking spaces, they can be re-configured to carry home plants and hardware when I need to, and they can handle the highways for touring holidays with just the two of us to haul from A to B. Oh, and they're economical, fun to drive and I've always liked the way they look, come to think of it. Right now I'm driving a Citroen C4 1.6 litre turbo-diesel and it's probably the best car I have owned, but my other hatchbacks, including reliable but boring Mazdas, have also served me well.

In my diecast cabinet, however, there are precious few hatchback cars. Just not sexy enough, I guess. But the two hatches I do have are often cited as being either the 'first' hatchback, or the 'first successful' hatchback, or some other term suggesting an important little milestone in mass four-wheeled transport. Let me start with my idea of the 'first successful' hatchback, and we'll work back from there.

Before I started researching which car the historians think was the first hatchback, this is the
car which owned that title, in my mind at least. The Renault 16. It was certainly a successful
hatch. European Car of the Year in 1966 (it was launched in 65) the 16 was a sales success,
with 1,845,959 made by the time its model run ended 15 years later, in 1980. I've always thought
of this car as the 'first hatch' because it set the basic format which so many hatches made by
other companies followed: front engine, front wheel drive, sloping rear hatch door hinged
at the roofline, rear seats which fold down to make a flat floor for carrying bulky items.
By the way, this 1:43 model is by Minichamps, and it took a long time to find a 1:43 model
of a Renault 16 anywhere. For my Photoshopped diorama I have pictured it at a backwoods
service station here in Australia, a suitable spot for this very good touring car of the 1960s.
The trouble is that the historians say there were several earlier claimants to the 'first hatchback' title. The Citroen Traction Avant Commerciale of 1938 had a big hatch-style rear opening, hinged at the top. But it was a commercial vehicle, and hardly launched a trend. Add to that other claimants with hinged rear doors, such as the Aston Martin DB2/4, the Austin A40 Countryman of 1958, a Holden variant back in 1948, a De Soto from the US, and the Autobianchi Priumula of 1964 (plus some others) and suddenly the Renault 16 looks like it's well down the queue, but to my mind it's still the first successful hatch, because the complete package is what sold like hotcakes, and which so many other manufacturers copied. And so the Renault 16 can at least claim to be the first car which got the hatchback concept right, so right that everyone else copied it.

Now, there's another car older than the Renault 16 which is often labelled as the 'first hatchback' and I'm comfortable with this choice, as it meets my criterion of being a sales success. It's the Renault 4.

There's a scene in the TV cartoon show 'The Simpsons' in which Lisa Simpson is thumbing
through a magazine called 'Non-Threatening Boys' and that's what this car seems to be like,
a 'non-threatening car'. A friendly face at the front which would not look out of place in one of
Enid Blyton's Noddy books, and a roomy, practical, versatile and economical vehicle behind.
The mighty little Renault R4, so successful that they made over 8 million of them in a model
run which stretched from 1961 through to 1992. Its rear door was top-hinged, the pattern of
the classic hatch, but it seems to me to be more a small wagon, maybe because its rear
end was almost vertical, and not the classic modern sloping back end of the Renault 16.
This 1:43 model of the Renault 4 by Edicola is pictured out in the countryside, where
it was as equally at home as it was in the world's cities and suburbs.

One thing I am sure of is that the 'first successful hatchback' was definitely a Renault, and the unwinnable debate gets down to 'which one', and that's based on your own private definition of the word 'hatchback' (and this was a term which didn't really become common in our language until around 1970, by which time both the Renault 4 and 16 had probably sold a million or more of each). So, let's finish off with a little advertisement-style video of the car which most people say is the first successful hatch, the marvellous Renault 4.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Action at Phillip Island

The famous annual 1000km race at the Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst, New South Wales, actually started life as a 500 mile race at Phillip Island, Victoria, in 1960. Pictured below is the car that won the C Class in the famous race's first two years, and came so close to being the outright winner in the very first year that some people still maintain that it did win the race (although the officials didn't agree). It is, of course, a Peugeot 403, and the C-class winning team in both years, 60-61, was Geoff Russell and Dave Anderson.

This model is a 1:43 scale model originally by Altaya, but modified by an Australian enthusiast. It's number 3 in a limited edition production of 10 of these models. It's one of my favourites for many reasons, one of which is the great story of the race win that almost was.

I'm quite excited about this photo, as it is the first of what I hope will be a series of action shots
using my little diecast models. I was looking at a photo of a real action shot with just one car
in it, and it occurred to me that in Photoshop I could substitute my model for the real car, and the
blurred background of the action shot would do all the heavy lifting in giving that sense of
speed. Add a driver (in this case a deep-etched Jack Brabham driving a Cooper Climax in 1959)
and the only unrealistic thing is that the car is left-hand-drive, while the real car would be
right-hand-drive. It just looks more dynamic to have the driver on the viewer's side of the car.
The race win that almost was? Yep. It's like this. Each of the classes in the race started separately, at 30 second intervals. At the end of the race's 167 laps, the first car home across the finish line was the Class D Vauxhall Cresta driven by John Roxburgh and Frank Coad, seemingly the outright winner to all and sundry. However, the C-class winning Peugeot 403 finished soon after, also on 167 laps (the only other car to complete 167 laps), and it seems in the confusion of the finish of this inaugural race, the 30-second gap between the classes was somewhat forgotten. The Peugeot team claimed they finished less than 30 seconds behind the Cresta, and should have been the outright winner, but they never got anywhere with that claim, and so the inaugural winner of the famous race is down in the history books as the Cresta.

The model pictured here is captioned by its maker as the 1961 C-class winning car, as Russell and Anderson won that class in both years. It's notable for its distinctive red stripes, which made it easy for pit crews to pick out the car from the pack as it went around the course. 

The Armstrong 500 was held at Phillip Island for one more year, in 1962, and after that it moved to Bathurst, still called the Armstrong 500 for the 1963, '64 and '65 races. in 1966 it changed its name to the Gallagher 500, named after a brand of cigarettes if I remember correctly. In that first Gallagher, Mini Cooper Ss came home first-to-ninth, a race I remember very well. Perhaps that might be my next action diorama, as I do have a '66 Bathurst-livery Mini Cooper S in the cabinet...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Peugeot 404 Fire Extinguisher

There was always going to be a Peugeot 404 Light Truck (better known as a Pickup) in my diecast cabinet, but the issue was 'which one?'. It could easily be a plain white one, as that was the colour of the one owned by a close mate of mine, and which I drove and rode in many times. But white ones weren't so plentiful, and so I decided that fate would decide which type of 404 Pickup would arrive first in the mail. And it turned out to be this one, a French 'Pompiers' (ie, Fire Brigade) 404, and so for my cheesy little Photoshop diorama, it just had to be parked outside a Pompiers Station.

This 1:43 model by Atlas is a bit on the rough side, with an ill-fitting windscreen, but I do like
the ladder and the benches for the lads to sit on, however precariously.
While researching the 404 Pickup for this blog I was struck by how many of the 2.0 litre diesel powered versions are still in good supply. Here in Australia all (or most of) the 404 Light Lorries (which is what they were called here, or Light Trucks) came with the 1.6 litre petrol engine, and you still see them running around town often enough. That important difference aside, this was (and in many places still is) a wonderful work vehicle. Even the plain Peugeot 404 sedans were tough, but the Pickups were even tougher. The Pickups aren't just a sedan with a different body. These things were beefed up Pugs. Tougher suspension and a hypoid drive diff to replace the sedan's worm drive diff. They still came with that excellent rack and pinion steering and they handled remarkably well for a workhorse, and weren't remotely bothered by heading off-road. 

As my usual mainstay, You Tube, has a paltry collection of boring 404 Pickup videos, I thought to finish off my posting on this great vehicle that I'd go and plunder Google Images for a sampling of the many uses of the Peugeot 404 Pickup.

Of course, Fire Brigade duties! Here's a real one, in camionette mode.
Off to the camel races somewhere in the Middle East.
Carrying light loads of timber fuel in one of the former French African colonies. Are the
owners puzzled by the unexplained engine overheating problem?

Community taxi somewhere in Mauretania.
If we ever had to go back to basics and could only
produce one work vehicle for the whole world to
carry their goods around in, this would be one of
the best choices you could possibly make.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mrs Emma Peel's Lotus Elan

Mrs Emma Peel would like it be known that anyone who tries to steal her Lotus Elan will probably be shot, not fatally, just sufficiently to prevent you driving... ever again.

Researching this car and finding some photos of Mrs Peel to grace my dioramas revealed an alarming number of lovesick puppies on You Tube creating 'tributes' to her. That woman really hit the lust/fantasy hot spot in a lot of young boys, and some not-so-young lads. And so, if you're not familiar with her charms, let's have a look at the only clip I could find which combines both Mrs Peel and her Lotus Elan.

Of course it had to be a blue Lotus Elan for my collection, as that's the colour of the car
which Mrs Emma Peel drove in the TV series, 'The Avengers'. This little 1:43 model is by
Vitesse, and it's nice of Vitesse to include pop-up headlights in their version of this car.

Mrs Peel's car was an excellent choice by the Avengers series creators, as it was one of the
best sports car of its times. Her she is pictured watching her quarry in a street in Florence,
hardly drawing any attention to herself in her little blue car.

Made from 1962-75, the Lotus Elan t was light and fast, a classic Lotus. Weighing just 680kg, it was powered by a 1557cc twin cam inline four which featured cylinder heads by Cosworth, which propelled it to somewhere around 190km/h. With four-wheel discs and independent suspension all-round, it handled superbly, and its sales success was a financial mainstay for Lotus, allowing the company to continue its love affair with racing through the 60s and 70s. They sold 17,000 Elans by the end of the model run, some of them the '2+2' series of slightly lengthened four-seaters. My preference, just to look at, is this orginal two-seater, and the presence of Mrs Peel is an ideal adornment as well of course.

Now, finally, let's have a quick look at one of these little flyers being thrashed around a flat piece of tarmac, getting around the cones with skill and verve. Looks like a fun car to drive.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Feeding the masses

Having blogged about the Peugeot J7 van in the movie 'The Grocer's Son' a while back, this is something like Part Two of that little obsession, as I have added two more French foodie vans to my diecast cabinet, and I love them both. Let's start with the Peugeot J7 van.

This is a 'Friterie' van, a seller of hot chips to never-ending queues of lovers of 'pommes frite',
the ubiquitous snack of France and Belgium. Somehow the van has been magically transported
to a spot outside the Bondi Beach Pavilion here in Sydney in my diorama fantasy. There's no
chance of this ever happening in reality, as the Bondi Parking Gendarmes would be onto the
Friterie man's little Peugeot J7 van in a flash, moving him on as soon as they ate their chips.
Having been moved on to a quieter side street, business is as brisk as ever. I do love the attention
to detail in these 1:43 models. The maker has included deep-fryers, mesh scoops for the chips,
buckets of chips on the counter and, though you can't see it here, a mesh rangehood screen
over the deep-fryers. The Peugeot van itself is nothing special at all, in fact it's a bit knocked
about, and one of the wheels is a bit wobbly. What the maker must do is find old models
cheaply, then transform them into his little dioramas. The guy who makes them is in France,
his name is Daniel Lardon, his business is called Maquettes Collections Passion, his eBay
shop is called Passion1948, and he has a blog at
The second modified van from the same guy is my wife's favourite model by far, and I think it
is my favourite, too. And so I've pulled out all of my amateur Photoshopping tricks here and
have included three shoppers and a fruit seller inside the van to complete this diorama. The front
third of the van itself is a Citroen Type H van. The rear two-thirds is mostly made by the
diorama guy, but he does use the rear wheels and housing from the Type H, of course. 
The attention to detail here is exquisite (by the model maker, I mean). Not just content with
generic vegies, there are 19 boxes on the counter, and each has a different type of vegie or fruit
in it: cantaloupes, tomatoes, leeks, oranges, parsley, bananas, eggplants, potatoes, onions,
apples, lemons, avocados and, of course, a set of scales in the middle. It is so charming!
So I have tried to do it justice by adding in a nice old shopping couple and a cheery fruit seller.
My only problem with these lovely models is a relative lack of both finance and space to have as many as I'd like. I can imagine the many hours of work that go into hand-making each model, and so I don't begrudge Daniel Lardon a single Franc of his fee. I have two of Mr Maquette Passion's dioramas, plus the previously featured Charcuterie van from Atlas. That might almost be enough for now, but 'never' is a fateful word to risk uttering, and so there's just a slim chance I might bump out the foodie van collection to four or, what the heck, five models, but with a lack of both money and space, the next ones will have to be good to merit inclusion alongside the wonderful trio I already have.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Silver Germans at the Mille Miglia

I have a bit of a soft spot for models of old street cars with big numbers written on the driver's door. It just speaks volumes for the mindset of the car owners. "Don't worry about any fancy preparations, just fill out the entry form, write a really big number on the door and let's go street racing." The longer the race the better: 1500km (roughly a 'thousand miles') was a good distance to traverse, and that's what the Mille Miglia was all about, from 1927 through to 1957, when they shut it down after a terrible accident where both drivers and spectators died.

This Metro 1:43 model of the Porsche 356 is of a car which competed in the 1952 Mille
Miglia, so I thought a nice little photo of it in the northern Italian countryside, filled with
vineyards and pencil pines, would look appropriate. This car is quite an early 356, one of
the ones with a split windscreen. While I do know that this car was powered by a 1.5 litre
flat four, I won't pretend that I know all that much about Porsches. I just like the look of
them, and so I thought two You Tube videos are needed to do this lovely old car justice.
The first one is just a lovingly restored old car being started up, driven out of its Swedish garage, then cruising the streets for a while, then returning home. It's nicely shot and it's a lovely car. Here it is.

The second one is a German clip that shows the car off well, but what I particularly like about the footage is how it captures the skinny tyres of this old timer. I've seen original old 356 Porsches on the streets and marvelled at how they got along on those tyres.

This Mercedes Benz 300SL Gull Wing is actually just a spectator at the 1952 Mille Miglia,
but there were two there in competition that year,where they came home in second and
fourth places. I've pictured this one at the charming old stone pensione where its owners
stayed the night near Brescia. This car is so famous and so written about that I don't
need to tell you much about it that you don't already know. By the way, this 1:43 model is
made by Dinky. I whited out the 'Dinky' name on the numberplate, because it looked naff.

It was a hell of a car for its time. I always find it astonishing that the German car industry not only recovered so quickly from the devastation of the Second World War that it was producing cars of any sort again, but they were actually producing the world's fastest production car, good for 250km/h (160mph), and the world's most innovative car, with the first fuel injection and, of course, those signature gull wing doors.

When searching for a suitable You Tube video to finish off the Gull Wing posting, I found a lot of people pussy-footing around in their rare and expensive old Gull Wings, or wandering around parked cars that were going nowhere fast. And then I stumbled across one of my favourite Australian TV motoring shows, hosted by the late Peter Wherrett. Now Peter knew how to drive cars, and in this little clip he punts the Gull Wing Merc through a few corners out on the open road in a sporting manner. Driving the car the way its lucky owners drove it in the 50s, before any of them knew they had a million dollar classic in their hands.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Handsome Italians

Back in the days of no TV and poor spectator facilities at tracks (many of which were just closed-off open roads), the colour of the car you were hoping to take the victory flag was all-important. In the distance you'd see a red car coming. It's an Italian! Hotly pursued by a silver car. Oh no, a German! Then a gaggle of three blue cars (those swift little French Gordinis most likely). And so I like to keep up a little bit of that four-wheeled-nationalist tradition by preferring classic colours for my diecast cars. 

Of course there are countless exceptions to this rule (especially with street cars), but all my sporty Italian cars are red (or as reddish as I can manage), all my sporty Germans are silver, the racetrack French are blue and the British green. While the cars I have to show you today are street cars, they all have some strong sporting connections. And besides, I just like red Italian cars.

A 1957 model Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sport, stopping off to buy some fruit in its home town.
This is a 1:43 model by Solido (who, by the way, manage to spell Giulietta incorrectly
on the underside of the car, transposing the i and the u to Guilietta). That aside, it's a nice
little model, but as a non-expert in Italian cars I couldn't tell you how accurate it is.
With Italian cars the bodybuilder or designer is always an important detail, and this chic little Alfa wears clothes by Bertone, and I think it's one of the prettiest cars of the era. As well as being pretty, it was a successful car, being produced from 1954 through to 1965, with 132,000 Giuliettas built. This 'Sprint' model had a 1290cc straight four, twin cam engine which produced 80bhp @ 6300rpm, propelling the car to 88mph (142k). The faster Sprint Veloce got up to 112mph and the Sprint Speciale made it to 120mph, which is getting very quick for the roads back then. And so, the only You Tube which could do justice to this car is one where it is being driven with verve on an open road. Historic footage from 1958 no less.

1952 model Fiat 8V, with the Zagato body, stopping off for a cool Coke somewhere in the
Caribbean. This is a rare car. Only 32 with this Zagato body were ever made, and only
114 Fiat 8Vs of all body types weremade in its short production run from 1952-54.
The nickname for the Zagato-bodied 8V was 'Elaborata'. This nice 1:43 model is made
by the German firm, Starline, who has a fascinating range of mostly but not
exclusively Italian cars and bikes. Here's a link to them.
8V? Yep, it's a V8, a little one: a 2-litre, twin cam 70° V8 which initially made 105bhp @ 5600rpm, and later on made 115bhp @ 6500rpm when twin four-barrell Weber carbs were fitted. The car weighed only 996kg and was more than sporty: race-prepared 8Vs won the Italian 2-litre championship several times in the 1950s.

This is a lovely Fiat 130 Coupe, its owners having lunch in Germany after a memorable
drive up from Italy.
OK, reddish is the best I can do here with this Starline model. If I couldn't
get a reddish one I would haved looked for a silver one, as that was the colour of the
Fiat 130 Coupe owned by a good friend here in Sydney. That little badge to the left of the
door says this is a Pininfarina designed car, and didn't they do a lovely job with this
big Fiat? First appearing in 1971, it's a classic minimalist 1970s design exercise
in straight lines and subtle angles. Not a line out of place.
While the Pininfarina body is worth the price of admission alone, the powerplant has a fine pedigree as well. Designed by Ferrari engine designer Aurelio Lampredi, the 3234cc, 60° twin cam V6 produced 165bhp @ 5600rpm, propelling the car to a top speed of 117mph (189k). The most common transmission was a 3-speed auto, but a 5-speed manual box was an option. This car was a luxury tourer, and from a memorable trip in the 130 around the wine-growing regions about 120 miles to Sydney's north, with my friend and our respective partners, I can testify to its excellence as a four-person luxury open road car.

This is one classic car that doesn't have a big price tag attached to it these days. They only made 4294 examples of the 130 Coupe, and the usual enemies of rust and neglect have whittled down that number. Here in Australia, spares prices are higher than astronomical, and so my friend just couldn't afford to keep his 130, and when it came time to sell it (and he did so very reluctantly) it took ages to find a buyer. It's that sort of car. Beautiful, not all that successful, and not all that popular. If I was a rich man, I'd have one in my extensive underground garage of classics.

To finish off with another video: this is a nicely produced ad for a Fiat 130 Coupe made by a Dutch car seller. A bit of on-road footage, a loving walk-around, a peek at the engine at idle, it does justice to this car, which is a classic that is definitely undervalued.