Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Minisprint

Minisprint (by retromotoring)

Minisprint (by retromotoring)

Back in the 1960s the Mini was king. They were everywhere and dominated just about every motor sport they were entered into. The neat way in which the front and rear drivetrain/suspension assemblies were self-contained in a pair of subframes lead to many different variants on the original theme and numerous kit-car derivatives.

One of the most interesting has to be the Minisprint. Geoff Thomas and Neville Trickett met by chance at a race meeting at Castle Combe in 1965 and the project took off from there. It was realised that by reducing the frontal area of the Mini there would be both weight loss and aerodynamic gain, leading to a more competitive car.

Rather than simply treat the basic Mini to a roof chop, the body work was also "sectioned", a horizontal slice taken out of the metalwork to further lower the stance. This was quite a tricky task, as it required extensive reworking of the metal and attention to the doors, bonnet and boot lid. The external seams and gutters were also removed, further smoothing out the shape.

The project wasn't intended to be a one-off, and both race car and road versions were developed. Initial interest was strong, and the car looked fantastic - at first glance just like a regular Mini but with clearly different proportions.

Mini Sprint Advert (by retromotoring)

Minisprint Traveller advert (by retromotoring)

The Minisprint wasn't a race circuit success as by 1966, the year after the initial meeting of the two creators, just about every saloon car class had regulations dictating that the silhouette of the car had to remain similar to that of a standard production example - something that the Minisprint could not comply with. Plenty of road cars were sold though, and after some 85 Minisprints were built the project was sold to Stewart and Ardern - the world's largest distributors of Morris Cars at the time. The S&A Mini Sprint was first shown at the Racing Car Show, London Olympia, in 1967.

Mini Sprint advert (by retromotoring)

Thomas and Trickett moved on to other projects, Trickett created several kit car designs amongst other things, and Thomas went on to build up Rob Walker Garages, including the Formula 1 racing team, winners of the British Grand Prix in 1968.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fiat 850 Vanessa (Ghia)

From CAR Magazine, January 1967 - Turin Motor Show report

Fiat 850 Vanessa (Ghia) (by retromotoring)

Model-girls all fell for the exquisite Vanessa in palest mauve: a light-hearted Ghia exercise aimed at sugar-daddies with Christmas in mind. Exquisite workmanship made sense of a whole host of faintly frivolous but by no means ridiculous ideas, including a baby seat that folded down from the rear backrest with a separate side entrance (useful for shopping, too) alongside, separate front seats with decorous swivelling cushions and elegantly articulated safety backrests, a host of padded drawers and cubicles for makeup, umbrellas, handbag and the like, and a commodious carpet-lined boot in the front. We like the way Giugiaro had taken emphasis right away from the mechanicals, giving the machine an entirely feminine and yet self-respecting air, specifying Idromatic two-pedal drive, hiding the unassuming powerplant under a plain hatch in the tail, chucking out all the instruments and replacing them with inconspicuous coloured lights (including the speedo, which simply lit up little numbers half-buried in plush) and capping it all with a concealed fire extinguisher which would also pump up a flat tyre.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Panoramic Progress

The "panorama" roof is very fashionable in the new car world at the moment. Manufacturers such as Vauxhall/Opel, Mercedes Benz, Citro├źn and Ford all offer models in their current ranges with windscreens that extend back into the roof, to create the impression of a bigger and brighter cabin space and an added sense of inclusion with the surrounding environment.

As is so often the case, there is very little that is truly new under the sun. The Messerschmitt KR200 for example went a whole lot further than the current crop by making the entire roof section out of Plexiglass, and they were by no means the only car manufacturer to do this nor were they the first.

P8150068 (by retromotoring)

This Belgian Minerva Coupe dates back to 1932 and the roof treatment isn't too different in concept to those of today:

1932 Coupe Minverva 32 CV (by retromotoring)

1932 Coupe Minverva 32 CV (by retromotoring)

However if you want a similar experience from an ordinary classic car you really only have the option of an aftermarket sunroof which just isn't the same. Glass ones are too small to let any useful light through or offer a decent view, steel or fabric/Webasto-types have to be open to allow any light in at all. That's fine in the summer but not too enticing in the rain and cold of winter.

An interesting alternative back in the 1960s was this, the Skyscanner roof:

Austin Mini Skyscanner advert (by retromotoring)

Easily fitted and designed to fit "all popular makes of car", they certainly look as though they'd offer an experience similar to those in new cars. Whilst nowadays we have the technology to deal with excessive glasshouse-heat in summer with various coatings and treatments, back then a sliding cover blind did just fine - although I can't imagine it did wonders for the headroom.

I wonder how many were sold, and how many yellowy-scratched survivors there are today?