The Invacar Story – I bought two!

Those who follow me on social media will already be aware that I have purchased a pair of Invacars. This is a hugely exciting development! This pair are actually part of a stash, that was advertised online. A friend first made me aware of them, and he was even good enough to visit the site and pick a couple out for me. He was going to have them himself, but it turns out he’s more sensible than I am, so he had second thoughts. Anyway, I’m very grateful for his efforts. Thanks Marc!

Via Marc and the owner, we managed to sort the deal out, and on Thursday, I actually got to visit the field of dreams. It was absolutely remarkable!

Lexus and Invacars

Comparisons. Lexus meets Invacars. The fog just adds to the unreal feel!

That’s about ten Invacars, which were part of the stash, but have now happily been claimed by another enthusiast. One who already holds a large parts stash for these cars. I suspect I’ll be doing business with this gentleman once I work out what I actually need.

Here’s my pair.

Invacar pair

My two Invacars! Lucky ol’ me.

The one on the left is a particularly early example of an Invacar Model 70. According to the club contact I’ve spoken to, the second one is an AC Model 70. AC designed these vehicles, to a standard specification. Invacar, which had been building invalid carriages since 1948, also built the Model 70, to this standard specification – so they look near-enough identical. AC has previous when it comes to rear-engined microcars – the Petite is an incredibly noisy little three-wheeler that it was producing alongside the fearsome Ace. AC was also building invalid carriages, initially to a similar design to Invacar, to meet government requirements, but then branching out slightly with the Model 57. Other manufacturers had their own designs, including the unfortunately named Tippen & Sons – not a great name for a three-wheeler manufacturer…

The first Model 70s were sold in 1971, and were a fair bit wider than previous designs, and therefore more stable. Sadly, not stable enough for some people, including Graham Hill. He was loaned one after a racing collision, and was so horrified he campaigned against them. That pressure built up until the government called a stop to production in 1977. Disabled people would now need to get normal cars converted. Shame.

However, the government allowed happy Model 70 owners to keep leasing their vehicles right up until 2003. Then, all of a sudden, the government decided the Model 70s should all be scrapped. Within a week, all of the Model 70s were rounded up, and should have been scrapped. In the case of this stash, the executioner’s axe never fell. They were parked up, to await scrapping, but it never happened. They have survived! The seller of the vehicles agreed to temporarily store these vehicles in 2003, but 14 years later, with the chap who brought them to the field deceased, he just wants the space back. He had sorrowful tales to tell of what the poor chap had been through collecting these cars, from owners (or rather, leasees) who were devastated to lose their lifelines. All very sad.

However, as these cars haven’t actually been scrapped, I’ve had a rare chance to save a pair.

Here’s what the ‘good’ one looks like on the inside.

Invacar interior

Inside my ‘good’ Invacar.

Not sure why there’s a bag of rock salt in there. Ballast perhaps? But, as you can see, all the controls are set for hand use. There’s a motorcycle-style throttle, while pushing the entire handlebar down operates the brakes. The doors slide forward, to make it easy to get in from a wheelchair. There’s room for the chair to be stashed next to the seat.

This one has covered over 28,000 miles, which is quite high for an Invacar. Not many got used for long journeys, though the 493cc Steyr-Puch aircooled flat twin is good for about 20bhp. Given the light weight of these vehicles (under 400kg), that’s enough to reach at least the motorway speed limit! Drive is transmitted via a single DAF-esque variable pulley set-up, to Fiat 500/126 driveshafts. Nice and simple, and it means they can go as fast backwards as forwards. What could possibly go wrong?

I’m not really sure how the standard specification came to include an obscure Austrian engine, though the company did sell its Haflinger off-roader in the UK, and that had a very similar engine (slightly larger I think).

Anyway, collection is being arranged, so I can get the vehicles to Wales and start the rebuild. I cannot wait to get started, then go for a drive! That should be possible too. Through hard work by the Invalid Carriage Register, it is possible to change the vehicle class to trike, so they can be made road legal, 14 years after they were unceremoniously banned.

Ian in invacar

Happy! Can’t wait to start the rebuild and go for a drive.

For more info and another look at these vehicles, check out my latest video!

Don’t forget, you can support these ridiculous projects via this page: https://hubnut.org/donate-2/

Many thanks!

Ian

 

 

Citroën destroys brand loyalty

Brand loyalty is a strange thing. I consider myself a Citroen enthusiast, but its products have changed a great deal over the years depending on who was calling the shots. André Citroën himself never got to see the Traction Avant do so well, and never got a whiff of the 2CV and DS (launched during Michelin’s custodianship). Some of my favourite Citroens came out of the Peugeot years, and were better because of it – BX and XM in particular.

Spot of the holiday? Perhaps. Certainly joyous.

Very much a Citroën, whatever marketing numpties think.

But show me a Saxo and I’ll turn my nose up at it. Wave a Xsara in my direction and I will not get excited. Hand me the keys to any of Citroën’s current line up, and I’d probably just give them back – ironically apart from the e-Mehari, which isn’t actually a Citroën at all.

My loyalty to the brand has been diluted by Peugeot’s with chevrons, and by Citroën’s frankly callous regard for its own heritage. For years, the conservatoire was impossible to visit. A hard working team kept some incredible machines in storage, and Citroën will, rather begrudgingly, let you poke around the place today. For now. If you apply for a visit through a club. And only on certain days.

Citroën has also been one of the worst for supporting older models. They cannot wait for the period to expire in which they must make parts available for their old cars. Even before then, they’ll ramp the prices up to quite ridiculous levels, so demand falls away.

But circumstances have taken a far darker turn of late, with the spinning off of the DS ‘brand’ from within Citroën. This triumph of marketing over substance has seen Citroën now airbrush one of its most iconic designs from its history files. You can see it right here. A lovely list of Citroëns from the ages, but the DS (and, oddly, the SM) are nowhere to be seen.

Citroen SM

Apparently the SM isn’t a #CitroenIcon either. Insanity.

How utterly ridiculous. The DS was one of the most incredible cars of the 20th Century, but because some marketing bod who was born decades later had a blue sky moment, it apparently isn’t a Citroën anymore. Frankly, I’m starting to wish that Peugeot had just killed off the Citroën brand rather than subject it to this. Hydropneumatic suspension has already been killed off, and now history is being altered to make it easier to sell the hideous DS range of cars.

PSA, the group that owns Citroën, really doesn’t seem to get it. It has no understanding that heritage sells. No, not like that. It isn’t something you just dig out once in a while to try and get a sale. Heritage is something manufacturers need to invest in. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche understand this, and Jaguar Land Rover is fast following suit.

None of these companies are attempting to erase cars from their history. Citroën overlooking the DS is like Jaguar overlooking the E-Type, or Land Rover pretending the Range Rover didn’t happen, BMW ignoring the M3 and Porsche denying it had anything to do with the original 911.

It’s the final straw as far as I’m concerned. The Citroën of today is not worthy of my attention. Instead, I will forever enjoy it’s actual heritage. The one that has the DS firmly at its centre – a car which was very much about substance, not empty promises from a design agency.

Gullwings for the high street

Gullwing doors are a stupid idea really. Sorry Tesla, Mercedes-Benz and DeLorean but they are. Let’s not forget that the Mercedes-Benz 300SL was banned from race tracks for the simple reason that if the car rolled over, the driver could not get out. The Tesla Model X and DeLorean both remind us that making such doors a production reality is a bloody nightmare. They’re nothing more than a very silly gimmick.

A truly scrumptious design - Giugiaro Gabbiano.

A truly scrumptious design – Giugiaro Gabbiano.

Yet, when Giorgetto Giugiaro applied them to his Gabbiano Renault 11 proposal, I must admit that I was swept away both with the beauty of the design – uncluttered and clean – and the practical case for gullwings. Very easy access to all seats being the main one and a major point Elon Musk makes about the Model X.

As a child, I studied pictures of the Gabbiano for hours. It really is Giugiaro at his very best. Yet, barely anyone knows it exists. That made me all the happier when, earlier this year, I included the Gabbiano in a feature on one-offs and cars that sadly never made production that was published in Classic Car Buyer.

Gabbiano is Italian for seagull, so there’s a clear reference to the doors. In terms of styling, there’s a very-1980s wedge profile with pop-up headlamps and another styling trait that became the rage about this time – a ‘floating’ roof where the pillars are blended into the glasswork. See also the Rover R8 200 and XX 800 and Citroen XM. Once more, Ital Design was at the cutting edge of car fashion. Yet, there’s always something very real and believable about Giugiaro’s designs. Note the really entirely normal rear lights that so neatly form part of the rear styling, while also having a bit of a nod to the original Renault 5. No fancy-pants LEDs here, or gimmicky slashes, just really practical, neat design.

Giugiaro's talents toned down for the production 21.

Giugiaro’s talents toned down for the production 21.

My disappointment was increased at least ten-fold when Renault replaced the 11 with the dull, dull 19. Especially as Ital Design had a hand in it! Not one of its best efforts, though it did redeem itself with the 21 – not an especially exciting design but one which again, has a delightful neatness about it. I guess it goes to show that concept cars are far too often judged too radical for the real world. A shame.

Heritage Motor Centre – an amazing day

The Heritage Motor Centre contains some incredible cars – absolute icons mingle with odd prototypes and immaculate examples of cars the world didn’t necessarily take all that well to. I got to drive some of them last Thursday, as you can read in this week’s Classic Car Weekly (7th May issue).

That article gives you the background for why it happened, but here I’m going to focus on the vehicles that really stood out for me. One is HUE 166 which, as any Landy fan knows, is Land Rover Number 1. There’s some debate about exactly what this means – some reckon Huey is the first production Land Rover, others that he is in fact a pre-production one. It also must be said that a thorough restoration (Huey was sold by the factory and used as a farm hack for several decades) in the 1970s included the fitment of quite a few non-original items. Such as the rear body. And trafficators.

First Land Rover

HUE 166 and a hairy bloke (Pic: Richard Gunn)

I couldn’t care less. Huey remains one of the most significant vehicles in our motoring history. He’s one of the most famous too, and is very often wheeled out for events and TV programmes. I seem to recall that Dick Strawbridge drove him around on a beach in North Wales as it’s where the concept of the Land Rover was conceived. But, this was my chance to get behind the wheel. I was thrilled.

For a start, I’ve never driven a Land Rover older than a Series III and have always loved the cute looks and earnest appeal of the super-basic Series 1. As I clambered aboard, my 2CV began to feel almost luxurious! It’s rare to see quite so much exposed metal on a car. I gave the starter a shove, and the 1.6-litre, inlet-over-exhaust engine fired promptly into life. This was it. I was going to do it!

So, it was a shame that I pulled away in third gear really. The gearing is so low that this didn’t really seem to matter, but down-shifting to second for a particularly nasty speed bump confirmed my error. I had my suspicions by this stage! Huey felt quite sprightly really, and eager to stop too. Noisy, certainly. Not just engine noise, but the rattles and bangs of many metal panels. I got a chance to go back to third, and did a beautiful double-declutched downshift into second for a tight roundabout. There is no synchromesh on first or second.

Then I got a good run down towards the Centre and managed to get up to fourth. I was having the time of my life! Not only was I driving a Series 1 Land Rover, but this was the most famous of them all! Sadly, they wouldn’t let me take a trip around the off-road course.

Other iconic vehicles were present, but sadly while I got a short drive of the first Morris Minor – NLW 576 – the brakes had failed, so I had to be somewhat careful. Happily, I’m an expert at driving vehicles with no brakes… The Rover P6BS was an astonishing opportunity too, though sadly tainted by a hideous misfire. I doubt more than five cylinders were working.

My next choice was a Range Rover that has fascinated me since I was a child. In 1971, two Range Rovers drove the length of the Americas, from Alaska to Cape Horn. Most of the 18,000 mile journey was no problem at all, but the Darien Gap was the tricky bit – a chunk of rainforest and swamp that joins North to South America. Through here, they averaged just 2.5 miles a day. I’ve read many features about these cars, both of which survive. One is part of the incredible Dunsfold Land Rover collection, the other was retained by Rover and is a car I can remember from when I first visited Gaydon back in 1993. I remember standing next to it wondering about the adventures this car has undertaken and being struck by the contrast between jungle-battling and standing silently in a museum.

Darien Gap Range Rover

Therefore, I was overjoyed to get the opportunity to actually drive one of these famous vehicles. I wasn’t the first – it seems it was taxed in 2012 at some point. That probably explains why it was so joyous to drive. It felt absolutely spot on. Top heavy, yes. It still wears the ladders they used to cross the forest and they make it top heavy! So overloaded were the cars that the rear differentials developed a habit of very often breaking on the trip. Experts were flown out from Solihull to pinpoint the problem and the vehicle loads reduced.

This Range Rover has an amazing history, from over 40 years ago!

This Range Rover has an amazing history, from over 40 years ago!

Some cars were only available for passenger rides – such as a 1904 Rover and an MG Metro 6R4. Time didn’t allow for such pleasantries, but I did drive a mix of other vehicles, including an Alvis TE21 and an Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire 346. These were very pleasant indeed, but neither really stood out. After all, they were just classic cars albeit rather nice ones. It’s amazing how historical context makes one car feel so much more special than another.

Which brings me to the Triumph Lynx. I almost didn’t get to drive it, as it spectacularly blew a coolant hose after a couple of drives. Hats off to the Heritage Motor Centre mechanics though, because it didn’t seem to take them at all long to get the hose changed.

The Lynx is actually a pre-production example. They got that close to actually building it. The styling is an odd mix of Harris Mann’s TR7 and a Canley designed rear. Not the happiest rear end it must be said. The platform is extended TR7 but with a Rover SD1 rear axle set-up. It’s a Capri-rivalling, US-pleasing V8 four-seat coupe. Sadly, industrial relations were so bad at the TR7 factory in Speke that management shut down that factory, and with it the hopes of the Lynx. The project was shelved before tooling could be put in place and this vehicle remains a remarkable one-off.

 

Lynx rear

The Triumph Lynx was very nearly a production reality

What a shame too. It is a lovely car to drive, with delightfully-weighted power-assisted steering, and the lusty grunt of the V8 that arguably should always have powered the TR7. I was very pleased to secure a drive in this almost-production car. What a day.

I know this is already a very long piece, but I really must thank the mechanics, management and volunteers at the Heritage Motor Centre for making this incredible day a reality. It was pretty much unprecedented to have so many important cars out and actually working and it made for a true spectacle. It was truly heart-warming to see how much everyone involved – from volunteer right up to the management team  – absolutely loved the day. I wish them all the best for the new Museums Collections Centre, which will allow the reserve collection to be displayed for the first time. Exciting times indeed.

 

Historic Racing. Old is best!

I watched the Formula 1 a couple of weeks ago. My timing was spot on. It was an absolutely thrilling battle, with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg having a titanic tussle for the lead. But as thrilling as their fight was, the spectacle of Formula 1 still doesn’t grab me. It hasn’t really done so for years. The problem is the noise. No, not that the cars are too quiet – these latest ones have a nice V6 growl and pleasant turbo whine – but that the noise just isn’t that nice.

This is where historic racing comes in.

Historic race cars

Old is better than new when it comes to racing

You get a lot more variety with historic racing for a start. Here, a TVR does battle with an Austin-Healey and a Triumph TR4 at the Goodwood Revival. Not that you need to stump up the frankly scary prices for admission at the frankly incredible Revival. Historic Racing takes place all over the UK and indeed the world. The Silverstone Classic lacks the atmosphere of the Revival, but features much of the same metal. There’s the Donington Historic coming up soon too – first weekend of May. There’s stuff going on all over the place, creating the sort of noises that racing cars should make. Hearing exotic V12s pumping out sweet music, joined in chorus by straight-sixes and tuned V8s makes for a true motoring spectacle. It creates the sort of soundtrack that modern F1 completely lacks.

It creates moments like this too. An extremely well-driven Ford GT40 at a soggy Goodwood. Remarkable car control.

You won’t see cars squirming around in Formula 1 like that. It really is astonishing stuff.

Prefer a V12? I bet you didn’t even know that a Jaguar XJ-S could make this sort of noise. The road car is rather more refined.

Those are the sorts of noises that set my blood curdling. There is an increasing interest in historic racing, and rightly so! Modern racers may be quicker, but like modern cars, they seem overly sanitised and some of the fun has gone out of it. It’s not just track racing either. Here’s perhaps one of my favourite motorsport videos. The late, great Colin McRae giving it some serious beans in a Metro 6R4, and losing it completely at one stage!

This sort of thing generates a level of excitement that modern racing just can’t match. Whether it’s 2CVs or Ferrari GTOs, historic racing has a massive range of interesting tin in action. I bloomin’ love it!

 

The last car built in Luton

Luton was once the home of Vauxhall, experiencing its best years before the consolidation of parent company General Motor’s European operations. From the start of the early 1970s, Vauxhall would lose out to German in-house rival Opel first losing design input, then losing car production at Luton altogether (though Vivaro vans are still produced there today – a joint project with Renault).

Vauxhall Frontera DTI

Yes, this is the very last Vauxhall Frontera. The last car built in Luton.

The last Frontera was built in 2004, and it marked the end of passenger car production at Luton (albeit at the former-Bedford factory rather than the main car production plant). Unusually though, it wasn’t an Opel design. In fact, it wasn’t very European at all. The Frontera began life in Japan as the Isuzu Mu (short wheelbase) or Wizard (long wheelbase). General Motors seemed to think that such a name made it unsuitable for Euro tastes, so launched the Vauxhall/Opel Frontera in 1991. The underpinnings were largely from an Isuzu pick-up truck, rebranded as a Bedford then a Vauxhall in the UK and used extensively by The AA.

Petrol engines were Vauxhall’s own 2.0-litre (swb) or 2.4-litre (lwb) but the lwb was also available with the 2.3-litre turbo diesel engine shared with the Carlton. Not one of the best. A facelift didn’t change an awful lot externally, but did replace the cumbersome rear leaf springs with coils. New petrol engines (2.0 and 2.2) were a boost, as was the fitment of Isuzu’s own tough 2.8-litre turbo diesel. It didn’t last long though. For some reason, GM opted to fit the VM 2.5-litre engine from 1996. This was an inferior engine in terms of refinement and reliability – it pops head gaskets (it has four cylinder heads) for fun if you neglect it.

1998 saw further improvements, with a more noticeable restyle, the 2.2-litre petrol carried over but a new 2.2-litre Vauxhall/Opel DTi diesel option and also a 3.2-litre V6 for those with no economy worries. By now though, the competition was moving on and the Frontera was feeling its age.

I know because I’ve driven the very last Frontera ever built and therefore the last car built in Luton.

Driving around on public roads in such a vehicle is really quite odd. No-one has any idea of the significance of it. Why would they? It’s just a black, bland 4×4 with nothing to distinguish its unique history. It is owned and maintained by Vauxhall’s Heritage team at Luton. They often use it to tow other classic Vauxhalls to various locations for displays and the like. This is a working vehicle. Yet when I drove it in 2008, it had less than 4000 miles on the clock.

I enjoyed driving it for a few days and took it as far as the Bromley Pageant of Motoring that year, where no-one paid it any attention, as you’d expect. I felt like frogmarching people up to it saying “Do you know how significant this car is?” But I rather feared I’d be taken away by nice people in white coats. Or at least the security guards.

Vauxhall Frontera rear

Last Frontera is very practical and often transports Vauxhall Heritage cars

Yet to drive, it wasn’t that enthralling. Sure, it was very competent in many regards, with fine poise, a quiet engine and good pulling power, but the ride was definitely on the firm side. It felt like the designers had decided that the only way to stop it falling over on bends was to weld the suspension up. On Fenland roads, it was horrific. On the motorway though, it was delightful – with enormous door mirrors making it very easy to keep an eye on traffic behind. Sadly, I didn’t get to put it through its paces off-road, but from what I’ve heard from others, they’re pretty good. After all, there’s a strong separate chassis and a proper low-range gearbox.

That was the problem. Like the Nissan Terrano II, the Frontera just wasn’t soft enough. New cars such as the Nissan X-Trail and the Vauxhall Antara proved that when it comes to 4x4s, the market wants a car that looks a bit chunky – they’re not really interested in actual off-road ability. Therefore the Frontera has another duty to perform. It must represent the end of an era too – the era when soft roaders were still actually good off-road. (Ok, it wasn’t the last. The Nissan Terrano managed to linger on for another few years but was killed off in 2007).

However, my work here is done. I have highlighted what the last passenger car built at Luton was, and it wasn’t the Vauxhall Vectra that most people expect. No, it was instead the Frontera. A car that enjoyed a 13-year production life. A car that deserves more credit than it ever receives. Especially the one I drove.

Maserati Traction Avant

No wonder Citroën went bankrupt in the 1970s. Not only were they building some of the wackiest cars available to the public, but they bought Maserati and decided to have a go at building wacky supercars too.

Quattroporte II at Auto Italia

Even more bonkers than a Citroën SM - the Maserati Quattroporte II

Take the Maserati Quattroporte II as an example. The previous Quattroporte was pretty much the first super saloon. Capable of seating five adults yet transporting them at a constant 125mph (top speed was 140mph), the quirky Quattroporte managed to sell pretty well with 760 sold in an eight year production run. Power came from two sizes of iconic Maserati V8 equipped with four Weber carburettors. Not exactly a thrifty ol’ motor.

A neater, Frua-styled version was on the cards, but then Citroën took over – and they had some very advanced ideas. As if the Citroën SM wasn’t a big enough White Elephant, the Quattroporte II was, in hindsight, absolute madness. To create it, a lengthened SM platform was used, complete with front-mounted Maserati V6 and front-wheel drive. The full range of hydraulic suspension, steering and brakes were fitted and Bertone was commissioned to come up with a dramatic shape – complete with six headlamps behind a glass nosepanel – just like an SM – and triple windscreen wipers.

With only 190bhp, compared to at least 250bhp with the previous QP, performance suffered in this hugely weighty car. 125mph was perhaps just about possible, though only 13 were finally built. Citroën and Maserati both ended up in huge financial straits. Maserati was bought by De Tomaso – who quickly killed this extravagance – while Citroën fell into the arms of arch-rival Peugeot. It can’t really be considered in any way a success – but I’d still quite like one. Shame the only one for sale in the UK at the moment has a price tag of £124,999 – but then, where are you going to find another?