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Sunday, 04 September 2011


The Jaguar E-type has always struck me as a bit overblown. The XK120 or 140 is more my taste. But how about the Jaguar SS100?

The Mazda's quite pretty but a bit mimsy.

Interesting coincidence - all three cars mentioned in #7 owe their existence to one man, Max Hoffman, as does #3. Max emigrated to the US from Austria to avoid WW2, made a fortune in costume jewelry, then sold the business after the war to return to his roots - a car dealer/importer in 1947. He knew everyone in Europe, helped get the release Dr. Porsche from allied prison and began importing Mercedes-Benz, VW, Porsche, Allard, Jaguars and BMW to the US. Max convinced Alfa to built that version of the Spider, Porsche to do a cheap roadster called the "Speedster" and Mercedes to build the 300SL. He also was the father of the BMW 2002.
My brother was a dealer for Porsche/Alfa/Ferrari/Maserati/M-B in the 60s, so I have driven most of these cars. Nothing like 135 MPH in a Ferrari 275 GTS with the top down!
I've also owned dozens of Alfas, mostly Giuliettas, including a number of them I raced. Before my brother was a dealer, we had a MG-A and Healey 100-4 BN1R. Compared to the British cars of the era, the Alfa was incredibly high tech: cast aluminum engine, 5-speed all synchromesh transmission and rear axle cases, double overhead cams, two sidedraft Webers and ROLLUP WINDOWS. The look was smooth and well made (by hand in that era) with stressed bodies - not frames - and if you drove them correctly (e.g. HARD) they ran forever (175K on my TI Sedan, my first race car is still going strong after 49 years of racing history!)
The Brits were fun but crude. Porsches of the era were diabolical handlers but reliable as Beetles.
My experiences with these three countries' cars led me to conclude:
British cars are built by blacksmiths.
German cars are built by engineers.
Italian cars are built by artists.

If you like to visit car museums, here is the world's best list which I helped create in November of 1995 - one of the first private web pages! http://www.team.net/www/museums/
Here is a history of the Giulietta Spider I wrote in the same era: http://velocissima.com/conv/GiuliettaHistory/SpiderHistory.htm
And finally, one of the great HUMOR publications from a car company, Arturo Reitz's "Enjoying Your Alfa"

While looking up the earlier links, I discovered a "tongue-in cheek treatise" on car design on my own website that I had completely forgotten. It was written when I was periodically contributing to the BMW club magazine, but this one, on the controversy over the Chris Bangle designs (remember the "Bangle Butt?), was rejected. I wonder why?


PS: Mike, I promise no more posts on this topic...you just hit a few hot buttons...

Finally, John Ashbourne mentions Allard! I can understand if the Allard doesn't make the top ten, but I would've been shocked if I were the first to mention its name after so many comments.

The early '50s Allard J2s were beautiful, swoopy, long nosed, 2 seat roadsters whose "light British carriage/big American motor" combo preceded the AC/Cobra by a decade or so. Here, http://a6.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/199415_1680844894822_1048530152_1472611_723750_n.jpg, is a beautiful example from this year's Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance and here are some additional examples:

- Green Allard http://a8.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/190623_1680844974824_1048530152_1472612_8052630_n.jpg
- Black Allard http://hphotos-sjc1.fbcdn.net/200591_1680844734818_1048530152_1472610_8128792_n.jpg
- White Allard http://hphotos-sjc1.fbcdn.net/200691_1680845134828_1048530152_1472613_8262736_n.jpg
- Another Green Allard http://hphotos-sjc1.fbcdn.net/199367_1680845214830_1048530152_1472614_1021020_n.jpg
- Racing Allard http://a5.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/199238_1680845334833_1048530152_1472615_5918723_n.jpg

(all photos by me)

Excellent article and excellent selection (and I say that even if I didn't have a Mazdaspeed Miata).

In 1957 I was fortunate enough to acquire at the age of 18 a second-hand MG TC for £250GBP. Almost identical in appearance to the TA, it was in fact its postwar re-incarnation.

With her bright British Racing Green paintwork and chrome wire wheels, she was exceptionally pretty and for this young man it was love at first sight, although in time I found she never went quite as fast as her appearance had promised and showed a pronounced tendency to wander at speeds over over 70mph in those de-restricted speed limit days.

Come bad weather the hood would go up and the side screens get clipped in position. No wind down windows, just a flap on the side through which you stuck your arm to give hand signals. The side and rear view plastic panels became yellowed and cracked with use, and visibility was indistinct to say the least.

Heater? What heater? Mine had a circular hole cut out of the fibreboard above the driver’s and passenger’s legs. The forward motion of the car ducted warm air into the cockpit, along with that unique smell of hot oil on metal.

More endearingly, there was no petrol gauge. Instead you had a bronze dipstick about a metre long with nicks corresponding to gallons. Simply unclip the smart chrome petrol cap on the rear slab petrol tank, dunk the dip stick, withdraw and check the level. Simple and reliable.

The car itself was also reasonably reliable save for one fault. At slow speeds such as when negotiating the traffic jams of Hyde Park Corner, Piccadilly, or Trafalgar Square, the plugs would oil up and the engine stall. Not a nice experience. No garage seemed able to fix this problem so I took to driving around with a set of 4 spare plugs and a plug spanner. Used to be able to change the plugs in under five minutes and get going again.

But then I needed something altogether more reliable and weatherproof for the journeys to and from the University at which I had just managed to scrape a place.

So the encounter with my TC came to an end and, as is often the case, this considerably older man from time to time sits back in his chair, shuts his eyes, and dreams of his first love.

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