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April 18 2012

Oldest surviving unrestored Mini to be auctioned

Car enthusiasts expected to bid up to £15,000 for Austin Mini Se7en De Luxe when it goes under the hammer at Bonhams

To the untrained eye it looks like the sort of rust bucket not even the most optimistic secondhand car dealer would dare to offer for sale.

But car enthusiasts are expected to bid enthusiastically when this particular Austin Mini Se7en De Luxe comes up for auction later this month.

The vehicle is believed to be the oldest surviving unrestored Mini and will probably be snapped up by a fan of the make wanting to return it to its former glory.

Auctioneers Bonhams say the car was the eighth of its type to roll off the production line at Longbridge in Birmingham in May 1959. It is known to have been owned by one Gladys Hobro of Aldwick, near Bognor Regis, West Sussex, before being bought by David Gallimore in 1986. Gallimore kept it in his garage at Chichester and there are still only 30,041 miles on the clock.

John Polson, of Bonhams, said: "This is a wonderful opportunity to buy the car and restore it. Collectors love the fact it has had very little done to it since it was built.

"The car was made very, very simply without many instruments or equipment.

"It was designed to be an affordable, family car. The Mini is one of the most important cars of the 20th century. They have always been collectable.

"Some collectors would want to return her to new, but others would just like to get her going again and keep her in the original condition."

It is thought that only three Minis earlier than this one exist, but they have been restored. One is owned by the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust and the other two are in private collections in Japan.

The Mini is expected to fetch up to £15,000 when it is auctioned on 30 April in Hendon, north London.


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July 22 2011

Ferrari world design contest 2011

Three design students from Hongik University in Seoul, South Korea won the chance to help design the Ferrari of tomorrow after taking first prize in Ferrari's world design contest 2011 in Maranello, Italy



April 12 2011

MG6: part Audi, part Korean hire car

The 'new' MG is a car doing its best to be the very model of a modern Sino-British sports saloon

Let's be clear. This is not an MG that many, if any of us, will recognise. The "new" MG6 is a rebadged Roewe 550, a British-engineered car that made its debut at the 2008 Beijing Motor Show. Although styled by a British designer – Tony Williams-Kenny, formerly with the Japanese car maker, Mitsubishi – the Roewe is manufactured by SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation), the state-owned Chinese company that took over the Nanjing Automobile (Group) Corporation that bought out MG Rover in 2005.

Confused? You will be when you see the MG6, a car doing its best to be the very model of a modern Sino-British sports saloon. Even then, the MG – assembled at Longbridge from body shells, engines and gearboxes shipped from the People's Republic – has something of the look of a new German Audi crossed with a Korean airport rental car. Only the time-honoured octagonal MG badge prominent on the car's nose and in the centre of its steering wheel suggests that this is, somehow, a distant relation of the quintissentially British cars once made at Abingdon and Longbridge. Perhaps, it doesn't matter. The original MG vanished a long time ago, although fans of the marque remain as die-hard as ever. Now spring is here, just look how many MGBs with their crisp Anglo-Italian styling (a bit of Frua, a lot of Don Hayter) and distinctive hollow exhaust note are out on the roads. The rebadged SAIC Roewe 550 with its global looks and hard, drab interior does at least offer engineering jobs in the West Midlands and there will be many there who will back the car to the hilt.

The MG6 brochure says: "In every detail you'll find a fond nod to MG's glory days – Le Mans, Goodwood, land speed records and true British sporting endeavour." You won't, yet if the car succeeds, might worthy successors to fondly remembered sporting machines from Abingdon be on the cards? Who knows, but as the old Chinese proverb says, you must persevere to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks.


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The new MG: made in China, fine-tuned in Birmingham

After 16 years, the MG is about to hit the road again – thanks to the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation

The automotive offspring of an Anglo-Chinese collaboration will roll off the production line in Birmingham on Wednesday to show the world its sporty snout, aggressive grille and a familiar octagonal badge into which two famous letters have been squeezed.

The MG6 fastback, which was designed and engineered in Britain but built mainly in China, is the first all-new MG to be launched in 16 years.

It is also the 21st-century incarnation of an 87-year-old marque that was once a byword for all that was nippy, open-topped and carefree about British sports cars.

Little wonder then that the company has opted for a little glitz to mark the day when full production of its cars resumes.

"It will come through a showcase arch with a bit of fanfare," said the company's PR manager, Doug Wallace.

Production of the car at MG Birmingham – a factory on the former Longbridge site – would not have been possible were it not for the company's Chinese owners, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC).

Six years ago, MG Rover Group went into administration and MG was bought by China's oldest carmaker, NAC. Two years later, NAC merged with SAIC and the MG marque was once again reborn.

Despite the ownership, and the fact that it is three-quarters built in China before being shipped over and finished off by the 40 or so manufacturing workers in Birmingham, Wallace insists the five-door hardtop is a true MG.

"All of the design work for the car, all the styling and all of the actual engineering design work is done here, and all the engineering development and proving of the car is done by that team on site here at MG Birmingham," he said.

"The driving dynamics of the car are [also] overtly MG: it's very sporty going through quick corners and bends and we think that's a particular thing that sets us apart."

But those fantasising about the whoosh of wind through their hair as they tear down country lanes might want to rein in the romance: the MG6 is looking to take on the likes of the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra.

Lest there be any doubt that the MG6 is not exactly a sporty coupe, Wallace added: "A lot of people compare it to the Skoda Octavia and the Vauxhall Insignia, for the body shape."

To others, though, the new car is about a lot more than the reinvention of a beloved brand.

This week is the sixth anniversary of the closure of the once-great Longbridge plant, with the loss of 6,500 MG Rover jobs.

The Labour MP Richard Burden, whose Birmingham Northfield constituency includes Longbridge, describes the MG6 as a milestone and, hopefully, a glimpse of real recovery.

"We're never going to see Rover's return of 20,000 people engaged in mass car production, but what you're seeing here is not just a new model rolling off the tracks at Longbridge but also a new model that was designed and developed at Longbridge," he said.

"Britain now excels in performance engineering and in automotive-related environmental technologies … [and] Longbridge can be a centre for that."

All the talk of corporate and regional revival, however, will prove premature if the marque fails to hit the mark this time around.

According to Richard Ladds, editor of the MG Owners' Club magazine, Enjoying MG, the new car is "very good, very capable, very competent … it's not a BMW but it's not a low-rent car either".

Nor is he bothered about where the car is mainly built.

"It's a bit like an Apple computer: I think, 'Oh that's a lovely Apple computer', I don't think, 'Oh it's built in China'."

The main thing, said Ladds, is that the old Morris Garages badge is once again on the bonnet of a new car.

"There's a somewhat strange brand loyalty and it's nice to be able to say yes, we can go and buy a new MG," he said.


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


January 28 2011

Guardian Camera Club: car photography

Photographer Simon Stuart-Miller shoots cars for February's assignment



October 05 2010

Back-to-front car drives Norman Foster to dream

It's the 1930s car that was meant to change American lives. And now the Dymaxion's back – courtesy of Norman Foster.

Richard Buckminster Fuller had a lot of nerve. In the 1930s, the great US inventor secured the first $1,000 he needed to build a giant futuristic car, called the Dymaxion. The socialite who gave him the cash was told: "If I want to use it all to buy ice cream cones, that will be that – and there will be no questions asked."

Fuller, born in 1895, is best known for his geodesic domes, but his ultimate hope was that the three-wheeled Dymaxion – which looked like a VW camper van crossed with a pinball flipper – would fly, allowing Americans to leave the highway vertically and touch down at lightweight aluminium homes, scattered wherever they fancied by a fleet of Zeppelins.

The Dymaxion was meant to be phase one of a social revolution, fuelled by the latest technology, but only three were ever built. No 1 caught fire and No 3 was turned into scrap; only No 2 survived. It now sits in the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada – or it did until 18 months ago, when the architect Norman Foster decided he wanted to fulfil a dream, and build Dymaxion No 4. So he borrowed No 2 for inspiration.

"The Dymaxion had the same engine and transmission as the Ford Sedan of the time," says Foster, who worked with Fuller, his design hero, from 1971 until his death 12 years later. "However, at three times the volume, with half the fuel consumption and a 50% increase in top speed, it not only did more with less, but anticipated the 'people mover' of several decades later."

Foster's Dymaxion, which the architect has just unveiled, is striking and spacious. Boasting an emerald green body topped with a white roof, it looks part porpoise, part wingless aircraft, part beetle – like something from the 1930s sci-fi film Things to Come. And, until the end of October, it's parked not in Foster's garage, but at the Ivorypress Art+Books gallery in Madrid, the centrepiece of its Bucky Fuller & Spaceship Earth exhibition.

Hopefully, the show will travel the world, although whether it will encourage further orders for Dymaxions is anyone's guess: they were never cheap, even though Fuller, with typical bravado, once told a reporter, even before the first lacquered aluminium creation emerged from the factory, that 100 were under construction and would soon be selling for as little as $200 (half the price of a run-of-the-mill Ford Sedan at the time). In reality, the cost of building each car was about $8,000.

I watched Foster's Dymaxion No 4 being made in East Sussex, at racing car restorers Crosthwaite & Gardiner. Foster was introduced to this haven of automotive engineering by David Nelson, one of his partners and the co-designer of the elegant McLaren Technology Centre in Woking. It was a marriage made in heaven. "As a child," says Foster, "I lived in a fantasy world inhabited by these cars and their legendary drivers: Bernd Rosemeyer in the rear-engined Auto Union and Rudolf Caracciola in the Mercedes-Benz, racing at Nurburgring, Tripoli and Monaco."

The C&G team had many questions. Restorer Phil King went off to Reno to take 2,000 photographs of No 2, which was in a sorry state. Eventually, with the promise that Foster would create a new interior for the car, No 2 was shipped to Sussex. Meanwhile, Foster's team worked through the Buckminster Fuller Archive at Stanford University, while King and co improvised when clues were unforthcoming. The Dymaxion, says King, "was unlike anything I'd seen before: you almost have to forget everything you've learnt about car engineering to understand how it works."

Why? Well, as with the originals, No 4's shell comprises an ash frame sheathed in hand-beaten aluminium. This sits on the chassis of an old 1934 Ford Tudor Sedan, but front to back, so the back wheels of the Ford form the front wheels of the Dymaxion. Much of the detailing echoes Zeppelin design, while its V8 Ford engine is a mounted at the rear, under a long tailfin designed to both cool the engine and increase stability. It is steered by the single rear wheel, which acts like a boat's rudder. This is, without doubt, the Dymaxion's weakest point.

"The interior seemed extraordinarily roomy," says Allegra Fuller Snyder, daughter of Fuller, remembering her rides in the original. "It felt almost like a living room. Riding in it was much more like floating." Foster echoes Allegra's sense of wonder. "Driving the Dymaxion is a revelation," says this lifelong sci-fi fan and Fuller's perfect disciple. "At slow speeds, it can turn on itself, almost like a spinning top. Moving faster, it is extraordinarily well-cushioned and feels more like a boat than a car."

The Dymaxion Corporation sank, heavily in debt, within a couple of years of its founding. It had enjoyed a rollercoaster existence, with Fuller and his business partner, William Starling Burgess, notching up parties, affairs and engineering sorcery right to the end. Allegra believes that her father lost heart with the project after he crashed No 2, injuring her. Having lost his first daughter to polio, he was horrified at the thought of causing Allegra harm.

Whatever the ultimate reason for the Dymaxion's fall from grace, Fuller's magnificently optimistic fusion of architecture and invention never did fly – either from showrooms or in skies above America.


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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