Rumbling into action in a Minerva WW1 armoured car
Once again, Graeme Rice looks back on the motoring worlds of 100, 75, 50 and 25 years ago
Lieutenant Henkart’s Minervas
As the Germans advanced through Belgium, the Minerva armoured cars of brave Lieutenant Henkart became the stuff of legend as they mounted surprise raids on the unfortunate enemy. In one action Lt Henkart’s cars tackled a company of German cyclists and a squadron of cavalry, reportedly killing 25 and wounding many. When not engaged in action the speed of the Minervas enabled them to quickly locate and keep track of the enemy’s movements.
Henkart’s 16cv Minervas were armoured with 4mm armour plate, fitted with at least one Hotchkiss machine gun and had twin rear wheels to give extra traction and cope with the increased weight. They carried a crew of three, plus the ability to take three sharp-shooters, depending on the nature of their mission. Their 8-litre sleeve valve, four=cylinder 30kW motor gave the 4.9 metre long four ton cars a maximum speed of 40km/h and a range of 150kms.
Around 30 were made before the Germans finally overran the Minerva factory.
Louis Renault outwitted by the Hun
Always capable of coming up with brilliant designs, Louis Renault had, as far back as 1910 started supplying aircraft engines to the French Army. Early in 1914, as war was brewing he was invited to Berlin by Walter Rathenau, head of Allgemeine Elektricitats Gesellschaft (AEG) to discuss the Germans building his 80hp air-cooled engine under licence. An offer of 100,000 marks was made to Renault which he refused as he knew his aero-engine was the best in the world. At that point Rathenau shrugged and ordered an assistant to bring some plans into the room. To his amazement Renault was shown a set of blueprints stolen by a German agent who had worked in Renault’s drawing office. Naturally Renault protested and postured, while the Germans politely assured him they would love to abide by international patent law, but big events were unfolding and they intended to make the engine regardless. Furious, Renault told the Germans he wanted nothing to do with it and returned to Paris. Early in August the German agent responsible for stealing the plans disappeared and was never seen in France again.
Wars in America
While the European countries now at war were expecting petrol rationing at any time, various US States were engaging in a different sort of war – a petrol price war. Petrol had dropped from around 25 cents a gallon in New York to 14.8 cents, but in Kansas it had gone from 14 cents to 12cents and was currently reduced even further, bottoming out at 10.8 cents for each gallon. In Britain they were paying about two and a half times that.
No land speed record for Teddy
Over in the States, Teddy Tetzlaff covered the mile in Blitzen Benz No 2, at 230km/h or 142.85mph on August 12, but unfortunately for him the run was neither officially recognised or recorded, and timing was by stopwatch and men waving flags at each end of the run as the Benz passed the distance markers. The only memorable aspect of the achievement was that the runs were done at Bonneville Salt Flats – the first time they were used for record breaking.
Farewell to the age of the monsters
The French Grand Prix was being discussed as a race between old and new – the historic houses of Mercedes and Fiat, whose teams which had been so successful in the age of the monsters, and the newer Peugeot and Vauxhall teams which represented the new school of efficient engine design. Only one aspect of the race disappointed fans and that was the lack of a competitive car from the world’s largest car-producing nation, the United States.
At the end of 20 laps it was a member of the historic house of Mercedes that triumphed over the new breed with Christian Lautenschlager’s Mercedes beating Georges Boillot’s Peugeot. Not that it was an easy victory. Max Sailer’s Mercedes led the first few laps until he lost a connecting rod, giving Boillot’s Peugeot the lead. Nine of the leading cars were separated by just five minutes. Being harried by three Mercedes left the lone Peugeot vulnerable. Lautenschlager closed the gap from two minutes at the end of lap 15, to a mere 14 seconds two laps later, passing the Peugeot on lap 18, a few minutes before its crankshaft broke on the last lap.
One of the interesting comparisons made was that Lautenschlager’s car was a mere 4.5-litre four cylinder model, albeit with 16 valves operated by a single overhead camshaft, which did much the same speed as the monster 12.8-litre Mercedes he used for his win in 1908 on an easier circuit.
Jean Bugatti — a true automotive artist
Jean Bugatti, artist in metal, dies
“Jean Bugatti’s death,” wrote The Autocar, “is a sad blow. He was an outstanding character in the motor racing world and could be relied upon to keep the racing side going at the Bugatti works.” With Ettore having practically retired to Paris, there was a lot more than the racing side of the business resting on young Jean Bugatti’s shoulders. Representing the third generation in a remarkably talented family of artists and designers, Jean Bugatti, an artist in metal, had already displayed skills that had been inherited from his furniture designer grandfather, Carlo, his father Ettore, but also with his fine eye for the balance and poise he brought to his car designs there was ample evidence of talents inherited from his uncle Rembrandt, one of the greatest sculptors of his time.
Tragically, much of what had made Bugatti great in the thirties and could have made it greater still after World War 2, died with Jean on that fateful afternoon of Friday August 11, while he was testing the Le Mans-winning Type 57 tank-bodied sports car. Although there are conspiracy theories that thirty year old Jean purposely swerved to dodge an imaginary cyclist, thereby killing himself so the family could claim the life insurance money, the facts seem to be simply that in spite of having staff out guarding crossroads around Molsheim, a cyclist came through a track and rode into the path of Jean’s car.
Fiat’s 1100cc Streamliner
Fiat produced an 1100cc sports car with a highly original, streamlined body built by Roselli. All four wheels were fully enclosed with the headlamps faired into the tops of the front mudguards. The full width windscreen could be folded forwards leaving an aero screen on the drivers side. The bonnet tapered and sloped downwards to nestle low between the front wings, looking very much like a Lotus Seven’s arrangement. Having already distinguished itself in races at the Nurburgring, the 153km/h (95mph) Fiat was going to be marketed in England.
Lang wins the Grossglockner
The Grossglockner Pass was the scene for Germany’s premier hillclimb. Run in front of an estimated 30,000 spectators, the pass has 25 hairpin bends, and rises 7,500 feet. Unfortunately, the placings were calculated on the average speed of two runs, but because of hail and mist the afternoon runs were much slower than the morning ones. Hermann Lang, driving a slightly modified 1937 Grand Prix Mercedes-Benz W125 took first place with a two run average of 75.09km/h(46.6mph), closely followed by hillclimb expert Hans Stuck in an Auto Union with a speed of 74.88km/h(46.5mph). A Maserati took first place in the 1500cc class with a two run average of 69.5km/h(43.2mph), while the very streamlined 1100c Fiat sports car referred to above won the 1100cc sports car class with an average of (57.6km/h(35.8mph). BMWs won the 1500cc and 2 litre sports car classes with speeds of 57.8km/h(35.9mph) and 67.45km/h (42mph) respectively. Comparative speeds cannot be judged from these results, as weather conditions varied greatly.
Citroën’s Big Six
A year after it had been released in France, Citroën’s big 2.8-litre six-cylinder was rolling off the company’s English production lines at Slough. Available as a Standard Saloon for £328 or a Grand Luxe Saloon for £370, the introduction of the Six extended Citroën’s front wheel drive range to 18 models across three basic engine sizes. Cheapest was the 12hp 1628cc Saloon at £193, with a Roadster, De Luxe and Grand Luxe Saloons and a De Luxe Roadster the dearest 12hp model at £298. The same line up featured for the venerable 1911cc engine Light 15 range starting at £203 for the Standard Saloon and increasing to £310. With a 3.07m(121inch) wheelbase as opposed to the Light 15’s 2.896m(114inch) version, the Big Fifteen range offered the same model variations except for the addition of a seven seater version sitting on a 327.7m(129inch) wheelbase priced at £310.
Basically the big six was the 1911cc four cylinder motor with two cylinders added on. After a brief drive The Autocar’s testers declared it to be a car with ample power, allied to smooth running with good roadholding and excellent visibility. It would get up to 100km/h in second gear and cruise at 110-125 km/h without any apparent effort.
Cobb sets a new record
Before 6am on Wednesday 23 August, John Cobb in the streamlined Napier-Railton reclaimed the World Land Speed Record from George Eyston with a run of 593.6km/h(368.85mph). “The greatest difficulty,” Cobb explained, “is changing gear as there are no flywheels, so it is very easy to stall the motors.” Stalling the motors was what foiled their attempt on the Tuesday. Restarting the two Napier Lion 932kW(1250bhp) 23,936cc motors could present a daunting challenge to the average electrical system.
Only the trendiest ladies and gents drove a Triumph 2000
Triumph 2000 — UK Car of the Year
The Triumph 2000 was voted the UK Car of the Year, unsurprisingly, as there was something about the 2000 that endeared it to a wide range of people who enjoyed motoring for a variety of good reasons right from the outset. It looked dignified enough to mix it at formal occasions, it felt sporty enough to earn the respect of the performance fraternity and above all it had sufficient performance with good accommodation, affordable economy and manageable maintenance requirements to find buyers across the age spectrum. No surprise then that the 2000 was voted car of the year by 2500 British motorists who had been selected to have test drives of the six finalists. Others in the mix were the Rover 2000 (too cramped and complicated apparently), the Ford Corsair (styling a bit odd?), Hillman Imp, Austin 1100 and Vauxhall Viva, all a tad minimalist when stacked up against the Triumph and the Rover.
From Cooper to Brabham to McLaren
“How odd,” said The Autocar writer, “that these Cooper works drivers eventually get around to building their own cars, running their own teams and doing exceptionally well.” First it was Jack Brabham, and now Bruce McLaren (who still drove for Cooper), was building a 4.5-litre Oldsmobile V8-engined sports car fitted with a tubular space frame, rear-mounted engine and 163.7-litre(36-gallon) fuel tank. After winning the Tasman Championship, Bruce bought Roger Penske’s 2.7-litre Climax-engined Zerex Special and fitted a Traco-modified 3.9-litre Oldsmobile V8 engine to it. He then scored wins in Canada and at Brands Hatch. The new car was to debut on September 26. At the same time his team of eight including Teddy Mayer, Manager, Eoin Young as Secretary and Howden Ganley, were building new cars for the 1964/65 Tasman series. These were brand new 2.5-litre Cooper-Climaxes fitted with Hewland gearboxes.
The Debonair Oriental
Mitsubishi’s 160km/h six–cylinder 2000cc 78.3kW(105bhp) Debonair astounded the British, who were used to heaters and radios being optional extras in cars. Styled by ex-GM man Hans S Bretzner, the Debonair undercut the Rover 2000 in price but came complete with full air conditioning, a radio with two speakers, a dipping interior mirror, grab handles, armrests, electric windscreen washers and a rear window demister. The engine was more powerful too, though UK rivals certainly would have handled better. Being critical, one could say they should have offered disc brakes, at least up front.
No driveshafts, no diffs – was Breedlove cheating?
Any thought Donald Campbell harboured to gain huge rewards and honour for his sponsors with his July World Land Speed Record was dented, given Craig Breedlove had taken his jet engined three wheeled wingless aeroplane fuselage out onto the Utah Salt Flats the previous September and broken the record on pure thrust alone.
Powered by a General Electric axial flow turbojet, Spirit of America was caught up in a storm of controversy when the FIA ruled the record couldn’t stand as Spirit of America wasn’t a car and lacked driven wheels. The response from the Breedlove camp was typically belligerent. “The FIA doesn’t hold the copyright on the Land Speed Record,” they said, “and if they don’t know about jet cars then that’s their loss, not ours!” However while the controversy continued, more jet-propelled cars broke the record, putting it well out of the reach of Campbell and his Bluebird.
The Vanden Plas — A lost generation
Shorn of its rear fins, the new Vanden Plas Princess R with the 3909cc 130.5kW(175bhp) Rolls-Royce FB60 six cylinder, all aluminium engine just didn’t look modern. Rather it reminded one of a slightly squared off 1955 Morris Oxford. Imposing from the front but lacking a well formed rear. While the smaller wheels may have seemed more fashionable, they didn’t help the overall proportions. Where the fins had acted as natural housings for the light assemblies, these were now spread across the back of the car under the lip of the boot lid. Its prospects weren’t helped by the fact it was little quicker than the Wolseley 6/110 from the same stable, but a lot less economical, a lot dearer and a lot heavier. Rover’s excellent 3 litre P5 saloon could almost equal its all round performance and for just £200 more Jaguar’s Mk X was a far more competent package.
After trying everything else, Renault’s 1500 goes front-wheel drive
Much more adventurous than most new 1964 cars was the new Renault 1500, or 16 as it later became known. Here was the forerunner of the 1980s saloon with its front engine, front wheel drive, commodious passenger space and opening rear hatch. But really, was there ever a manufacturer that gave the impression of either not being able to decide on which end they wanted the engine at, or which set of wheels they wanted to do the driving?
Since 1947 Renault had built rear engine rear wheel drive cars – the 750 or 4CV, Dauphine, Caravelle, Floride, R8 and R10. Through the fifties, the company also built the front engine rear wheel drive Fregate and Dauphinoise small estate. Now there was a new front engine front wheel drive mid-size car, following on from the front wheel drive R4 small hatchback or mini-estate introduced in 1961. Now in the latter half of 1964 they were producing three types of transmission layout simultaneously, with a range consisting of the rear-engined Dauphine, Floride/Caravelle, R8 and R10, the fwd R4 and the new 1500, both with their motors behind the front axle line, and the Estafette small van, actually Renault’s first fwd vehicle introduced in 1959, but with the engine ahead of the front axle line. Touted as a style setter for the spring season, the 1500 was anticipated to be the hit of the Paris Salon.
OK, we couldn’t find a photo of Sir Stirling on the London-Brighton run — but these can-can dancers make for a colourful alternative
Stirling Moss on a Go Slow
Stirling Moss confused the commentators by stepping well out of character with his latest vehicle purchase. Here was the man who, from 1947 to 1962, could drive any kind of car on just about any kind of track faster than just about anybody else. He had won rallies, endurance races, sprints and Grands Prix. He was renowned for being able to leap out of his Maserati with its central accelerator and odd gearchange and get into a Jaguar with its conventional layout and be just as fast or faster than anyone else.
Most memorably though, he somehow gave his name to numerous witty representatives of the British constabulary as they pulled over speeding motorists and uttered those famous words “Allo, allo, allo – who do you think you are then, Stirling Moss?”
Moss bought an 1899 surrey–topped, spindly wheeled, centre pivot steered 7½hp Allen, made by Mr G Allen of New York. He paid £18,000 for it, partly because he wanted to do the London to Brighton and partly to please his wife by fulfilling a promise he’d made that he would drive slower.
Bugatti’s problems worsening
Bugatti was still without a designer to create a body for their 60 valve, quad cam, quad turbo four wheel drive super car and was increasingly under attack from the financial sector in Italy. Some inside the organisation were suggesting there was some kind of organised sabotage going on, while most thought that was just hot air intended to keep prospective and existing backers interested.
Would Ford’s 323-based Capri beat off Mazda’s MX-5?
It was one of Ford Australia’s biggest gambles and while it wasn’t a latter day Edsel, it certainly wasn’t a runaway success like the Mustang had been 25 years earlier. No, the 1989 Ford Capri was rushed into the limelight in an attempt to draw enthusiasts’ gaze away from Mazda’s MX-5 and dilute the new roadster’s appeal. What Ford achieved was the opposite, as the new Capri never looked quite sorted – from its awkwardly contoured droop snoot to its overly fussy rear end and bumpers which gave the impression of being tacked on as an afterthought. While the designers of the MX-5 went all out for the taut, integrated and contoured look and created a car that was strictly fun for just two people, the Capri had a succession of designers, Ital Design, then Ghia and then Ford who collectively seemed to want to make a sporting car rather than a sports car. The biggest hurdle was that the finished product had to sit on a fairly bog standard, domestic as a spaniel, Mazda 323 four seater floorpan. Optimists thought they’d sell 40,000 a year, with 35,000 going for export. For $23,300 you could have the basic 1.6-litre model with a five-speed manual or a three-speed auto and know this version was $6000 cheaper than the MX-5. For another $4700 you could opt for the turbo model which developed 100kW(134bhp) and would accelerate to 100km/h in nine seconds, do a standing 400m in 16 seconds and max out at 201km/h(125 mph).
A few days ago we talked about the iconic Goodbye Pork Pie Mini experiencing a bit of a revamp. Well, here’s another iconic pop culture vehicle star — this time the inspiration behind James Bond’s original Aston Martin in Ian Fleming’s novel Goldfinger.
This vehicle went up for auction on Saturday at Blenheim Palace. The first owner of the vehicle happened to be Philip Ingram Cunliffe-Lister — the son of Lord Swinton who was a close confidant of Winston Churchill. Ian Fleming’s father was also said to be a close confidant of Churchill and with Lord Swinton being head of M15 during World War II, it is rumoured that the character ‘M’ in the James Bond series was based upon Lord Swinton himself. Read full story…
It’s been parked up for the last four years, but New Zealand motor sport personality Clark Proctor will be bringing back his turbocharged V6 Nissan-engined Escort for Targa’s 20th anniversary.
The car will undergo a complete nut-and-bolt rebuild before the six-day event from Christchurch to Queenstown kicks off. His Nissan GT-R35 has been sold to racer Peter Baker.
“We did the 10th anniversary Targa in the Escort and I said at the time I would drive it in the 20th so that’s what I’m going to do. Obviously, after seeing what Tony (Quinn) was doing with his GT-R we went and bought one of our own, but I’ve still been using the Escort in things like street sprints and hill climbs so when Peter (Baker) expressed interest in buying the GT-R I didn’t have to worry about what I was going to replace it with,” Proctor said. Read full story…
To mark Maserati’s centenary a major exhibition has been opened at the Enzo Ferrari Birthplace Museum. A number of key people who have played a role in the history of Maserati were invited to the opening including Sir Stirling Moss.
He became a professional driver in 1948 at the age of just 18 years old and drove for Jaguar, HWM, and Mercedes-Benz. When Mercedes-Benz left the motor racing scene he moved on to racing for Maserati and Vanwall. In 1954 he drove what he considered to be his first proper Formula 1 car — the Maserati 250F. Between then and 1962 he raced in 318 races and won 134 of those. Read full story…
It’s not that often we get to drive a half-a-million-dollar supercar — and what made this drive so special was that it was in a car with a direct connection to the Kiwi motoring psyche
With the original iteration of the MP4-12C, launched in 2011, McLaren Automotive re-entered the supercar market with its first road-going sports car since production of the now legendary F1 ceased in 1998.
Designed under the leadership of Frank Stephenson, the MP4-12C’s chassis followed Formula 1 principles, being a one-piece carbon-fibre tub — dubbed a ‘Carbon MonoCell’ by McLaren. Weighing in at a mere 80kg, this chassis was manufactured by Austrian specialist Carbo Tech, of Salzburg. Unlike the three-abreast seating arrangement of the McLaren F1, the MP4 featured a more conventional two-seater configuration — although a slim central console allowed McLaren to position the driver closer to the car’s centre-line than the passenger.
Photo: Simon Darby and MINI NZ
Remember that Kiwi classic film from the early ’80s that saw a teen’s journey across New Zealand in a rented yellow Mini? And do you remember that iconic Lake Hawea chase scene? Well Mini New Zealand has remade this scene featuring a number of ‘new originals’.
The old beaten up Mini has been replaced with the brand new Mini Hatch, and with all the new features this car has Mini New Zealand thought it was worthy enough to recreate the scene that would resonate with Kiwis. Read full story…