May 28, 2010

Dallara SP1

A little history

Though Dallara is better known for its open-wheel racers, it has had a long involvement in sportscar racing, albeit screened by more prestigious names. Actually, Dallara was responsible for the development of the Lancia LC1 and LC2’s chassis during the early Eighties and, later, designed the chassis of the Ferrari 333 SP, the Toyota GT-One and the all-conquering Audi R8, no less!

Shortly after the beginning of the new millennium, Dallara decided to put such an experience to good use by designing its very own prototype, the SP1. Nevertheless, during development the Italian company was approached by Chrysler, which requested from it the design of yet another sportscar’s chassis. The Dallara SP1 became at this point the Chrysler LMP. Racing debut was in 2001 and, despite some problems with reliability, a rather normal issue for a new car in endurance races, a Chrysler LMP was able to grasp a fourth place during its first Le Mans 24 hours. Though this was no small feat, modern motor racing is unfortunately the thing of financiers who don’t understand much of the sport. Therefore, Chrysler estimated that not winning everything from their very first race wasn’t worth their involvement, and withdrew at the end of the season.

This left Dallara with several unused LMP chassis, while the French team Oreca, which had been a Chrysler partner for a long time and had collaborated on the Viper and LMP programs, remained without a car to run in 2002. A solution was easy to find: Oreca took over the three cars, which name reverted to Dallara SP1 (though I also often read Dallara LMP, an understandable confusion) and continued their development. The Chrysler engines were replaced by much-tested Judds, and Oreca was ready to face the competition for the 2002 season. Its cars performed well throughout the year and took the fifth and sixth place at Le Mans. Another car was shipped across the Atlantic to Doran Racing, and won the prestigious Daytona 24 hours. From 2003 though, successes became scarce. Oreca had retired their own racers. Development of the car was now at a standstill, except for the vain efforts of the British team Rollcentre Racing which tried to improve the two chassis it raced in 2004-2005. For 2006, regulations were changed, and making the ageing cars legal for the coming season was unreasonably onerous. The end has come for the SP1.

About the models

Model: Oreca-Dallara LMP02 - Judd
Year: 2002
Event: 2002 Le Mans 24 Hours, driven by Olivier Beretta, Eric Comas and Pedro Lamy (finished 5th overall)
Maker: Ixo
Scale: 1/43
Distributed by: Altaya as no.22 of its Les Plus Belles Voitures des 24 Heures du Mans press series
Acquired: brand new, in July 2004, in Souillac, France

A very correct model of a Dallara sportscar as raced by Oreca under the "LMP02" name. My rating is 13/20.





Model: Dallara SP1 - Judd
Year: 2004
Event: 2004 Le Mans 24 Hours, driven by Martin Short, Rob Barff and João Barbosa (retired)
Maker: Ixo
Scale: 1/43
Distributed by: Altaya as no.64 of its Les Plus Belles Voitures des 24 Heures du Mans press series
Acquired: brand new, in May 2006, in Souillac, France

Same 13/20 for this later SP1 ran by Rollcentre.



May 26, 2010

Berliet 770 KE

A little history

Before concentrating on trucks and buses Berliet had been an automobile pioneer, building its very first car as early as 1895. Under the guidance of its founder Marius Berliet, this factory from Lyons would soon become a major producer in France, and an important exporter abroad. By the early 20th century, Berliet was building a diversified range of automobiles, had entered motor racing, had launched its first bus, and had extended its activities to the U.S. where its models were constructed under licence by Alco. Trucks would soon follow, the very first one being produced in 1910.

World War One obviously – and, somehow, sadly – boosted Berliet’s activities. Above all models, its new CBA truck was of major interest for the French army. To fulfil the large contracts signed, Berliet built a new, state-of-the-art factory in Vénissieux, which employed more than three thousand workers.

Such a large industrial potential would inevitably remain underused after the restoration of peace. The poor economic conditions didn’t help, and despite the fact that it retained its rank as a major French truck manufacturer Berliet’s financial situation deteriorated by the early Twenties. Nonetheless, it survived, though its automobile production became more and more confidential. Its very last model, the large Dauphine saloon, was nothing more than a Peugeot 402 fitted with a different, more conventional and, actually, very American-looking front end. Launched in early 1939, the Dauphine sold two hundred copies before World War Two interrupted its production. This new martial interlude gave Berliet’s automobile activities its final blow. On the other hand, truck production never stopped during the conflict, Berliet developing a series of vehicles using wood-fired engines, as gasoline was in short supply.

After 1945, the production of commercial vehicles was a priority, so Berliet’s future seemed bright. The Fifties and Sixties were indeed a golden age. It was also a time for innovation. Among others, Berliet introduced turbocharged diesel engines in its trucks, fitted a central-mounted horizontal engine under the floor of its buses, and designed a cabover truck with one of the first sleeping compartments. In 1957, thirty years of involvement in the French colonial empire were crowned by the launch of the T100, intended for the exploitation of the newly-discovered oil in the Sahara desert. At more than one hundred tons, riding on specially-designed tyres 2.4 metres tall, the T100 was nothing less than the largest truck in the world (see a picture here and a later variant here with a 1/43 model of this monster). Finally, in 1965 Berliet released the Stradair, a striking truck looking like nothing else on the road. During this time, sheer commercial success was encountered both on the civilian (GLC then GAK cabover) and military (Gazelle) markets.

Such achievements attracted the attention of Citroën. The Javel company was appearing then to be on a steep ascending path: continuing success of the DS, 2CV and Ami ranges, and soon takeover of Maserati and alliance with Fiat. Citroën was also a producer of light and medium trucks, and decided to extend its production to heavy commercial vehicles by purchasing Berliet, which was done in 1967, ending more than seven decades of independence for the Lyons manufacturer. Despite this change of ownership Berliet retained its identity – the company was keen to innovate, and so was Citroën, making the two an ideal pair. Another advanced design to appear during these years was the PR100 city bus. A very modern vehicle when launched in 1971, it equipped a majority of French cities and was widely exported or produced abroad, sometimes in rather surprising countries as in communist Poland and in faraway Australia.

What finally doomed Berliet wasn’t a restriction of its autonomy by Citroën, but the poor financial health of its new owner. In 1974, Citroën was nearly bankrupt. It was now the turn of Michelin, which had saved the company back in 1934 by purchasing it from André Citroën, to sell it to Peugeot, while Berliet and its 24,000 employees were separated from the rest of the conglomerate and taken over by Renault. The latter company already owned Saviem, and though both factories retained their identities at first, rationalization was on the way. In 1978, Renault Véhicules Industriels or R.V.I. was created to cap the manufacture of all commercial vehicles and, two years later, the Berliet and Saviem nameplates definitely gave way to Renault.

About the model

Model: Berliet CAM 770 KEH-C74 Camiva combined with EPA 30 ladder
Year: c.1971
Maker: Solido
Scale: 1/50 (that’s what’s commonly said, but I doubt it and would think it is perhaps 1/55 instead)
Distributed by: Hachette as no.1 of its Sapeurs Pompiers de France press series
Acquired: brand new, in December 2008, in Brive, France

I do not have much information about this particular model. Solido released its scale model versions of the Berliet KE fire truck in 1973, while the Camiva branch, which took care of Berliet’s production of fire trucks, was formed in 1971, so it’s reasonable to date the 1:1 truck from between these two dates. As an old model this die-cast is accurate, but extremely simple to modern standards. The ladder is articulated and can be extended. I’ll give 11/20 to this model.



May 21, 2010

Ferrari-Corvette: strange breed

Trying to answer the question our friend Tohmé asked about the combination of a Ferrari chassis with a Chevrolet Corvette engine, I gathered all the information I could in a reasonable amount of time, only to find that this was still too bulky to be posted in the Austin FX4 page's "comments" section. So I decided to make a separate post on this topic.

I had in mind that most of these strange machines came from California. I was surprised to see that actually, the majority raced in Brazil, which "carretera" races I had forgotten. So, Tohmé, you couldn't be better located to find more information about some of these cars, and I hope you'll share with us what you find! ;) Obviously, being "specials", there's no guarantee that most of these machines, though using Corvette engines and Ferrari chassis, even looked like the original Maranello thoroughbred. American and Australian cars on the other hand were genuine Ferraris re-engined with Chevrolet blocks. I found only little information about the exact model of the original machines, but I bet most were Testa Rossas, a model which was rather common (is it the correct word for such a car?) in American national races at that time.

Okay, so to start with, here are the Ferrari-Corvettes I found in my data. Unfortunately I possibly missed a few ones.


Celso Lara Barberis & Ruggero Peruzzo
Drove an undetermined "special" to victory in the 1957 Interlagos 500 km. This car is said to have had a Corvette engine on either a Ferrari or Maserati chassis.

Fritz d'Orey
The following 1958 edition of the Interlagos 500 km was won by a Ferrari-Corvette, with this time no doubt about its exact identity. That has to be only d'Orey's major success of the season as he won the Brazilian championship that year. He then embarked on an unrewarding international career - most I remember about d'Orey is a very heavy shunt during practice for the 1960 Le Mans, which saw him bedridden for something as four months afterwards.

Chico Landi
Unlike Fritz d'Orey, Chico Landi didn't have much to prove by 1958, when he entered a Ferrari-Corvette in the very same Interlagos 500 km, finishing 5th. Later that year, Landi raced at the Mil Milhas Brasileiras, teaming with José Gimenez Lopes (car unknown, but I'd bet for this Ferrari-Corvette - they finished 2nd). Landi also won at Barra da Tijuca. Two years later he relieved Nivola on their way to a second place at the Interlagos 500 km with either the same car or a similar one. Considering Landi's fame that should be easy to find more information and pictures.

Pascoal Nastromagario
A Ferrari-Corvette was really the car to drive at the 1958 Interlagos 500 km as Nastromagario also had one. He finished 4th.

Ciro Cayres
Cayres had a great 1960 season with a Ferrari-Chevrolet, winning at Interlagos, at Brasília (not much of the city yet raised from the ground back then, I suppose) and at the Campeonado Paulista. In January 1961, he won at Interlagos and at the Torneio Sul Americano (the latter race with a "Ferrari-Corvette", which obviously is the same machine) before turning to touring cars and the works Simca team.

Antônio Carlos Aguiar
Aguiar drove a Ferrari-Corvette to 3rd place during the 1962 Interlagos 500 km.


If Brazil had them, then Argentine should too.

José Froilán González
The main Argentine driver of Ferrari-Corvettes was no less than González himself. After retiring from Formula One, he raced for a few more years around South America with his private machine. The results I have include: in 1957, Argentinas 500 Millas; in 1958, Buenos Aires GP (6th), Argentinas 500 Millas (1st), Rafaela 500 Millas (1st), Interlagos (1st), Torneio Triangular (1st); in 1959, Argentinas 500 Millas (1st), Rafaela 500 Millas (1st); in 1960, Buenos Aires GP (retired), Montevideo (1st), Torneio Triangular (1st), and another race in Buenos Aires (1st). Certainly the most successful of all Ferrari-Corvettes!

Alberto Rodriguez-Larreta
Perhaps because I'm not a South American, what I remember most about Rodriguez-Larreta is his lone entry in Formula One (1960 Argentine GP, at a time when any local boy could race) and his inclusion in the Argentine IKA team heading for the grand touring car race at Spa a few years later (this event under the nickname "Larry"). Well, actually he also drove a Ferrari-Corvette, finishing 2nd in the 1961 Argentinas 500 Millas.


Albérico Passadore
Won the 1961 Primavera GP with a Ferrari-Chevrolet.

United States

Louis Yates
Yates replaced his previous Porsche by a Ferrari-Chevrolet early in 1957. This car has been entered in Palm Springs (as a "Ferrari Mondial-Chevrolet"), in Pomona (as a "Ferrari-Corvette") then in Palm Springs again and Riverside ("Ferrari 500" with no mention of its engine).

Jocko Maggiacomo
Drove a Ferrari-Corvette to 11th place at Lime Rock in 1959. Interestingly that guy reached Nascar twenty years later.

James Place
Entered the 1960 Riverside Grand Prix with a Ferrari-Chevrolet. This car possibly was a 500TR.

Chuck Nervine
Didn't reach the finishing line at Pensacola in 1963 at the wheel of a Ferrari-Corvette.

Bob Ward
He too retired his Ferrari-Chevrolet, but this time it took place at Augusta in 1964.


Curley Brydon
Brydon was 5th in the 1958 Australian Grand Prix with a Ferrari-Corvette.

This concludes my little compilation which, once again, is rather fragmentary. On the course of making this search I also made a list for Corvette-powered Maseratis, Jaguars and Mercedes, along with a few even stranger machines. Should anyone be interested, just let me know and I'll add them in a further post.

May 17, 2010

Austin FX4 “Black Cab”

A little history

The FX3 was already a legend when its replacement, the FX4, was introduced in July 1958. No one would guess back then that the new London taxi would become even more famous than its predecessor, and that its lifespan would be close to four times longer.

Still, there was nothing revolutionary about the FX4. On the contrary, this was an extremely conventional car, which used a chassis almost identical to the FX3’s one. Uncommon back then on European cars, but regarded as desirable on a taxi, the diesel engine and the automatic gearbox had already been pioneered by the FX3. Another trademark of Austin’s cabs that had remained was the very small turning radius – a London taxi “turns on a sixpence”, as the saying goes. Actually this characteristic is made mandatory by the British capital’s public transport authorities. As the legend has it, this is originally due to the narrow path with tight corners leading to the entrance of the Savoy, the most prestigious palace hotel in London.

Though the passenger compartment of the FX4, which body had been designed by Carbodies, can now be lookeLinkd as typical, it was then common in taxis from most European countries: the driver was separated from its customers by a divider, the absence of a seat near him allowed to carry bulky luggage, while additional passengers could take place on two jump seats.

Designed as a very conventional vehicle as we have said, the FX4 changed little over the years. The only two conspicuous evolutions were the use of rear lights borrowed from the new ADO 16 for the sake of standardization (1968) and the replacement of the original 2.2-litre engine by a larger 2.5-litre (1971). A noteworthy trait of the car was that, due to its very long life expectancy (many FX4s’ milometers were able to approach two millions kilometres), older cars could generally be retrofitted with most small improvements later brought to the original car.

As we mentioned every time we discuss a Seventies British car, the country’s automotive industry was struggling then simply to survive. Austin had much more important things to do than caring for the relatively low-volume FX4. Would the traditional London cab simply vanish, to be replaced by converted family saloons? Fortunately this didn’t happen: in 1982, it sold all its productions dies and intellectual rights to Carbodies. The small manufacturer faced a problem nonetheless: Austin simultaneously stopped the production of its diesel engine, so a new plant had to be found. Carbodies thought an ideal replacement would be the 2.3-litre block from the Land Rover. Unfortunately FX4s so equipped didn’t give satisfaction to their operators.

In 1984, the FX4 saw yet another nameplate affixed onto it: LTI. The new company, which name stands for London Taxis International, had been created by the merger of Carbodies and the major London cabs’ operator, both companies being under the same ownership. Soon LTI addressed the car’s engine problem by replacing the 2.3-litre by a 2.5-litre, also provided by Land Rover but distinctly sturdier. Nonetheless this still wasn’t enough and – a sign of changing times – LTI turned to a Japanese engine from 1989 on, namely a 2.7-litre Nissan diesel. This larger block not only improved reliability, but also gave higher performances, which prompted the need for a new disk brakes system. Under this latest guise, the FX4 carried on for ten more years, addressing as it could the multiplying environmental rules. While prototypes for a replacement had been proposed since the Eighties by various manufacturers, it was finally LTI itself which provided the new London “black cab”, the TX, after the very last FX4 left the factory in October 1997.

About the models

Model: Austin FX4
Year: 1965
Maker: Ixo
Scale: 1/43
Distributed by: Altaya as no.4 of its Taxis du Monde press series
Acquired: second hand with neither stand nor box, in October 2007, through mail from a fellow collector from Rouziers de Touraine, France

A die-cast I really wanted but had to wait for long before I put my hands onto one. No regrets when I opened the package: this is a nice model Ixo made. Nothing fancy (door handles and rear lights are moulded with the body then painted, for example), but correct all around. It's just a pity silver paint materializing the chromed rim around the windows has been applied to only five out of the car's eight windows - why? My rating is 12/20.




Model: LTI FX4
Year: 2000 (see below)
Maker: Ixo
Scale: 1/43
Distributed by: Altaya as no.60 of its Taxis du Monde press series
Acquired: brand new, in July 2004, in Souillac, France

Today the FX4 remains the most iconic London taxi, and many second-hand vehicles have been exported, some for collectors, other for publicity purposes. This is the case of this LTI, that can be approximately dated from the Nineties, and which Altaya chose to reproduce as a Singapore taxi - though probably authentic, not necessarily typical from the South-Asian metropolis. Anyway the model is original and... colourful! My main reproach is that though the model is recent (note the black grille, bumpers and door handles), unwilling to modify its mould Ixo kept the little round rear lights of the pre-1968 cars. This detail is nevertheless discreet so I'll still give 11/20 to it.



May 08, 2010

Ferrari Superamerica

A little history

Early in the history of Ferrari, North America became an important export market for the Italian company thanks to its local importer Luigi Chinetti. But while Europeans were driving small and economic family saloons during the Fifties, Americans perceived automobiles as chromed and finned monsters. With such discrepancies in the tastes of its potential customers, Ferrari soon developed two lines of automobiles: the famous 250s were rather aimed at the European market, while a new, larger America would be sent beyond the Atlantic.

Starting as a 4.0-litre car the America soon evolved into a 4.5-litre machine when it received the Lampredi V12, originally designed for racing. Apparently this still wasn’t enough, and in 1955 the America gave way to the Superamerica – the name says it all.

The first Superamerica, the 410, was set into motion by a huge 5.0-litre, 335-hp V12 engine. Prices were extremely high, all the more as the car was fitted with custom-built bodies. Only three dozens of them left the Maranello factory until 1959, when the 410 was replaced by the 400 Superamerica, fitted with a smaller 4.0-litre engine but capable of similar performances. Going fast is nice, but being able to stop when needed is equally important, so four disk brakes were made standard equipment. The 400 was the largest-volume Superamerica… though the final tally didn’t exceed fifty copies of the car… In 1964, the 400 Superamerica was replaced by the 500 Superfast. By then custom automobiles were becoming unthinkable, so all Superfasts received a similar Pininfarina coupe body. Two years later, production was stopped for good after 37 Superfast had been built – the need for especially designed models for the American market was no longer as obvious as it had been fifteen years before.

About the model

Model: Ferrari 400 Superamerica
Year: 1960
Maker: Ixo
Scale: 1/43
Distributed by: Fabbri as no.19 of its Ferrari Collection press series
Acquired: brand new, in October 2005, in Souillac, France

Ixo proposes a fine model of a Pininfarina-bodied 400 SA. Its blue paint is superb and most details correctly reproduced. My rating is 14/20.




May 04, 2010

Fordson Model F

No, this blog isn't hibernating once again, I simply experienced troubles with my computer for the last three weeks. Too bad as I actually had two posts ready for publishing... So now that the problem is solved, here's the first one.

Just before we start, welcome to our newest friends eviL hanZeL and Craig Hover, who just brought the total of followers up to twenty. Thanks guys, and enjoy your stay here!

A little history

Hear the name “Ford” and the word “car” will instantly come to your mind. Nevertheless, in the early days Henry Ford was eager to renew its Model T’s success in various fields, most notably aviation (the Ford Trimotor - which wasn’t an in-house design - flew during the late Twenties; a few of them were still in operation a few years ago) and agriculture.

Henry Ford himself came from a family of farmers, so being interested in the mechanization of agriculture was rather normal. As early as 1907, Ford started toying with the idea of building a tractor. During 1916, the prototype of the Model F was running and, by 1917, it went into production in a dedicated factory, especially erected for it in Dearborn.

The Model F was simply revolutionary. Early tractors were massive machines, often moved by steam or two-stroke diesel engines. Ford’s tractor was a simple, nimble, cheap apparatus that used a 20-hp, 4-cylinder gasoline engine and as many parts as possible from the Model T automobile. A particular care had been taken in protecting all mechanical parts from dust, a common source of breakdowns for early tractors. Purchasing a Model F was a 750-dollar investment for a farmer, but the machine allowed large savings over the traditional use of horses.

Success was instant for the Model F, and for a time the same bright future could be foreseen for Ford’s tractor as for its automobile. By 1922, 70% of all new tractors sold in the United States were Fordsons. Alas for the Dearborn company, a combination of fierce competition (International Harvester battled hard with Ford for the first place, as Chevrolet did simultaneously on the car market) and sales’ stagnation (a large share of American farms being motorized by then, the rest being too modest to afford a tractor anyway, particularly after agriculture entered a decline in 1925) decided Ford to abandon the production of its Model F in North America in 1928. Production of a new tractor, the Model N, would continue in Cork, Ireland, where production of Fordson tractors had started as early as 1919. More than 552,000 Model F had been built in America alone when production ended, a sizeable share of this output being shipped, quite surprisingly, to Soviet Union.

By the way, you perhaps wonder why the company’s automobiles were named “Ford”, its airplanes “Ford”, but its tractors “Fordson”? Well, despite keeping the development of its tractor secret, some information were leaked. Seeing a good opportunity for publicity, a group of businessmen from Minneapolis set up a Ford Tractor Company, using the name of one of their engineers. This venture didn’t go far, but the move forbade Ford from using its own traditional name for its newest product. Tractors were therefore produced by a division of Ford, Henry Ford and Son, shortened into “Fordson”.

About the model

Model: Fordson Model F
Year: 1917
Maker: Universal Hobbies
Scale: 1/43
Distributed by: Hachette as no.23 of its Tracteurs et Monde Agricole press series
Acquired: brand new, in April 2007, in Souillac, France

A nice little model, though quality of assembly could have been better. If I remember well the tractor itself is made from plastic parts, while the wheels are uncharacteristically made in metal. Nice to put on a shelf next to a Model T! 12/20 for this model.