Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Is an American-Built Jaguar in the Future?

Jaguar XE- To be American Built? - JLR Image
Reports out of the UK indicate that Jaguar-Land Rover is in talks with several southern US states about the construction of a new assembly plant. The Liverpool Echo said that a mooted Jaguar-Land Rover production facility in Saudi Arabia would be shelved in favor of the American plant.

Currently, the southeast US is the home of several assembly plants, including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota and Honda. The supplier infrastructure that supports these facilities is robust and their proximity would be of interest to Jaguar-Land Rover. 

The Echo reports that South Carolina is currently the odds-on favorite. Read the full story here.    

Friday, October 17, 2014


The 2011 Geneva Motor Show was the site for the unveiling of MINI's Rocketman ultracompact concept car. This four seater, with innovations to make driving (and living) in congested cities easier, was one of the few "smaller" MINI concepts up to that point.

The MINI product line (and the MINI Hardtop itself) has grown over the years and enthusiasts asked for a model closer in size to the classic 1959-2000 Mini. 

Now, Motoring File is reporting that the Rocketman is a go for production. Their inside sources tell them that a production version could be ready for sale around 2018 and could possibly share its unseen bits with another manufacturer's small city car. 

Get the full story from Motoring File.  
All: BMW- Click for Larger Images

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Behind the Scenes at a Magazine Photo Shoot

As British car enthusiasts, many of us subscribe to one or more magazines that cover the classic car scene. One of my favorites is Hemmings Sports and Exotic magazine - a title from the Hemmings  Motor News family of publications.

Richard Lentinello and Tony McLaughlin's Morgan Plus 8
Richard Shoots the Cunningham Jaguar E-Type
SABCC members may recall the fine coverage of British Car Festival 2013 in the pages of Hemmings Motor News. The May, 2014 issue carried an account of the event written by Executive Editor Richard Lentinello along with some photos provided by club members. Richard asked us to stay in touch and keep him up to date about club happenings and possible stories of interest to Hemmings Sports and Exotic Car readers.  

Mike Darby's Jaguar 240 Gets its Turn
I wrote to him in July with the dates for BCF 2014 in case he was interested in covering the show. Replying that he was booked elsewhere that weekend, he mentioned that he was looking for story suggestions to present to Sports and Exotic Car Editor David LaChance and did I have any ideas that fit the magazine's editorial criteria? I submitted several suggestions and he said he would be in touch.

A few weeks ago, Richard emailed me saying that he would be covering an auction in Biloxi, Mississippi and he would be passing through South Alabama and gave me the list of story suggestions approved for publication. Could I contact the owners, find an appropriate location for a photo shoot and get everyone together for the day?

After a few phone calls, the group was on board and we waited for the day arrive. In the end, Richard planned to photograph and write up stories about Tony McLaughlin's owned-from-new Morgan Plus 8, Richard Cunningham's recently restored Jaguar E-Type, Mike Darby's highly original Jaguar 240 saloon and Bill Silhan's rare AC Ace roadster.  

Frantic detailing of the chosen cars commenced as we watched the weather report in hope that we would have the kind of weather perfect for a photo shoot. It had been decided that everyone but Bill Silhan would meet at the 5 Rivers Delta Center in Spanish Fort for photos. Richard would shoot Bill's car in Pensacola the next day on his way back to his home in South Florida. 

We gathered at the appointed place and hour and Richard scouted out the spots he thought would serve his needs. Selecting his location, he began his methodical photo session. With an eye for minute detail, he requested parking angles, backgrounds and helped the owners with removing personal items from the frame. It was an education to watch him at work. 

With the photo shoot's end, we caravaned to Richard Cunningham's home in Daphne where we cooled off from the heat of the day and shared in conversation about the old car hobby. Richard Lentinello is truly knowledgeable and passionate about classic cars. We certainly look forward to welcoming him back to our area again soon.

For those that do not subscribe to any of the Hemmings titles, I recommend that you check them out.          

Friday, October 10, 2014

How Does That Work, Anyway?

The GadgetsWow blog recently put a series of animated gifs that help explain the operation of complex machinery. Some of the more interesting images include a rotary (Wankel) engine a radial engine and a constant velocity joint. You can check out the complete set of images here. 

A Four Speed Gearbox - - gadgetswow.com

Saturday, October 4, 2014

SABCC Ice Cream Social is a Smashing Success

After late week weather of high humidity and scattered rain showers, the Saturday of the club's ice cream social dawned with a flawless blue sky and unseasonably cool temperatures for our part of the Gulf Coast.

This eagerly anticipated event has become one of the club's most attended anywhere during the year. The club welcomed almost 80 people from SABCC, the Panhandle British Car Association and the Mardi Gras MGs. This year, more attendees drove British cars to the event than ever before with 29 examples of British-made automobiles parked around the property belonging to Richard and Donna Cunningham.

The Cunninghams have hosted this club event for nearly ten years in their spacious home and workshop garage near Daphne, Alabama. Richard, the proprietor of Classic Motorcar Services, clears out his shop and installs tables and chairs to accommodate connoisseurs of the fine array of homemade ice creams made by

Beginning in August, Donna starts the work that will result in up to ten gallons of fine ice cream. Vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and peach (made with peaches from a heavy-producing tree in their yard) make up the main event.
Club members sign up to bring a variety of ice cream topping favorites and there are always more of them brought than consumed during the day. We are truly spoiled for choice. There are even stations set up to construct banana splits and root beer floats.

Donna makes sure that those with a taste for the savory are catered to as well. A heaping bowl of
chicken salad along with chips, dip, breads and other goodies are laid out for the day's guests.
Richard's working garage is arranged so that people who may never see the inside of and engine or suspension pieces off of a car can inspect parts such as these up close and get questions answered about their own cars. This year, SABCC's Stuart Waddington had his freshly painted Triumph Stag body shell on display. Tom Rennick, another club member is having his owned-from-new 1965 Sunbeam Tiger restored by CMS and a number of Tiger components were out for view.

Both kids and the inner children of older members enjoyed taking a turn with a Sony PlayStation running Grand Turismo. The game included a force feedback steering wheel and a cool high back sports car seat in front of the large screen television.

Club President Michael King announced that nearly fifty cars had preregistered for this year's British Car Festival on October 25th. The event is once again on track to set an attendance record.

As the early autumn sun began its descent, those who enjoyed the gracious hospitality said their thanks went their separate ways after a pleasant afternoon spent with fellow classic British car enthusiasts. Thank you, Richard and Donna Cunningham and all those who helped make the day so successful.     

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Is it Time to Give the TR7 Another Look?

How do you replace a Johnny Carson or Walter Cronkite or a deeply-loved sports car model? The simple answer is: it ain't easy.  We still have a "Tonight Show" and a "CBS Evening News" but we do not have a Triumph TR. While the television shows mentioned came out OK after their changes, the car-buying American public (and automotive press) was torn over the replacement for Triumph's much loved TR6 roadster - the Triumph TR7.

American auto safety regulations were running somewhat ahead of current auto technology in the 1970s. A raft of new standards put forward by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) meant that car makers were legislated into inventing equipment and systems that never before existed in order to be compliant. 

British automakers in the form of British Leyland gamely kept up the "make do and mend" approach so finely honed by the British people during postwar austerity. Make do with larger rubber bumpers, "tamper proof" carburetors and complex fuel systems to keep the product in the American market and keep US dollars coming in. But a stiff upper lip wasn't enough to keep old deigns compliant and BL bet the rent money on a new sports car, but it wasn't a roadster.
"Bullet" Prototype aronline.co.uk
"Lynx" Prototype aronline.co.uk

In 1970 BL launched a sports car committee to create guidelines for a new "corporate" sports car designed to meet current and anticipated European and American safety standards. At the time, NHTSA  had proposed rollover standards that were restrictive enough to effectively outlaw open top cars. The BL sports car committee moved forward with that understanding of American regulations and one of the new sports car's requirements was that it be a closed designed or minimally open hence, the Jaguar XJ-S and the TR7 were closed roof vehicles.
BL moved forward with an internal competition to create the new sports car. The winning proposal would be sold under both the Triumph and MG badges. 

"Magna" Prototype aronline.co.uk
Triumph proposed two vehicles: a "Targa" roofed sports car code named "Bullet" and a slightly stretched four place version code named "Lynx". Both cars were attractive designs- the Lynx looking somewhat Italian in appearance and the Bullet looking similar to Porsche's 914. 

Meanwhile, MG (through Austin Motors in Longbridge), having had a pretty mid-engine MGB/MG Midget replacement proposal rejected by BL management in 1970, put forward a two seat, hard top wedge shaped vehicle styled by Harris Mann that was internally named "Magna"- a harkening back to MG's prewar sports cars. It was this design that formed the basis of the TR7 at the decision of BL Chairman Donald Stokes

The Shape of Things to Come
It was a radical departure for a Triumph sports car in that it was a unit body design, a first for a small Triumph sports car, but dimensionally it was fairly close to the TR6 it was to replace, almost identical in height and length. Inside, the new TR provided more shoulder room (3") and leg room (7") than the outgoing TR6. 
TR7 Roadster   pistonheads.com

Meanwhile, Chrysler Corporation took NHTSA to court over the proposed rollover standards and the court rejected them in 1972 stating that people who buy open top cars accept the risk inherent in driving
TR7 in Java  triumphtr7.com
without a roof. This not only opened the door for a convertible TR7, but saved the rest of BL's sports car line in America. 

BL called in Italian styling house Michelotti to handle the design and development of the TR7 roadster model. Michelotti had a long relationship with British automakers having designed the foldaway convertible top for the MGB and redesigned the Triumph TR3 body to make the TR4 series.

The roadster was exactly what this last of the TR line needed, helping the TR7 to become the best selling TR ever.
Tartan Plaid Interior Trim   mossmotors.com

Being a product of a huge firm run by marginally competent managers dealing with government meddling and a militant workforce, the TR7 had its problems. Poor build quality haunted the TR all through its life. US owners were not forgiving of nagging reliability problems and eventually the TR7 became a "throwaway" sports car. As their reputation for problems grew, resale values fell until keeping one in good repair became a losing proposition. 

I think its time to give this best selling Triumph (and the last Triumph sold in America) another look. The TR7's design has aged well. The low nose and high tail give it  a look of speed even while standing still and the side creases pioneered on the TR7 can be found on cars on sale today. The interior is comfortable for those of us who are buying belts by the yard these days and the dashboard could even be considered modern. The tartan upholstery may not be to everyone's taste but it was a product of its time and hey, even high end Lotus sports cars wore tartan, too. 

Restoring a TR7 is not impossible if the project car isn't too derelict. Parts are available from the usual sources such as Moss Motors and Victoria British, but be warned, there are a lot of "N/A"s in the catalogs. There are also independent keepers of the TR7 flame that can help, too. Of course, a wise restorer will have a parts car or three on hand.

It's a bit sad that we don't see many TR7s at Gulf Coast British car shows. I think they deserve better.

British Car Festival 24 is Upon Us

Yes, indeed it is October and the South Alabama British Car Club's biggest event is just a few short weeks away. This year's show committee has worked harder then ever to make sure that the show participants have a great time. 

Third-gen MINI Cooper S
As you may have read earlier in this humble blog, BCF 2014 is moving to a new venue due to planned (but ultimately delayed) construction at our usual  Faulkner State Community College campus in downtown Fairhope, Alabama. Instead, we will be just one block south at the campus of Fairhope United Methodist Church. Last year's show attendees who made it to the Friday night welcome party will remember it as the venue for that evening event. SABCC is indeed grateful for Fairhope UMC's invitation to conduct this year's show on their lovely, tree shaded campus.

Jim O'Brien's Sunbeam Tiger at BCF 2013
Again, our friends at MINI of Pensacola will be displaying the new third-generation MINI hatch and other examples of the growing product line. The MINI folks will also have some cool swag on sale at their featured display area on the field. 

Do You Remember These Guys?
The show will feature the Sunbeam Tiger in observance of the 50th anniversary of this Anglo-American hybrid (designed before hybrid meant electricity is involved somewhere) that was developed by Carroll Shelby. In fact ALL Rootes Group marques will be honored and their owners will receive some special treats on the day of the show.

Where were YOU when the Beatles made their American debut? We'll also be remembering the start of the "British Invasion" in American pop music. We'll have some background music during the day that will certainly get you singing along with the best of Britain. 

Here is a calendar of events and details associated with the 24th annual British Car Festival:.

Friday Evening Welcome Party 7:00PM at the Abundant Life Center building at Fairhope United Methodist Church 155 South Section Street in Fairhope. Meet fellow British car enthusiasts and enjoy some great homemade goodies courtesy of SABCC member families.  

British Car Festival 2014 9:00AM at the campus of  Fairhope United Methodist Church in downtown Fairhope, Alabama. Day of show registration closes at noon and popular choice ballots will handed out shortly thereafter. Balloting will close at 2:00PM and awards will be begin at 3:30PM

To allow you to park your car quickly and with the least delay, we urge you to pre-register. You can print a form here and mail it in.

We look forward to seeing you at the 24th Annual British Car Festival. Stay tuned for news about next year's show, too - our 25th anniversary year event!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

An MG Y-Type in a Nice Italian Suit

Zagato (L) and MG Y-Type (R) -carstyling.ru
The Italian automobile design firm Zagato is known for producing some achingly-beautiful specials. Their elegant, flowing bodies can be found on a number of high end cars that they've restyled including Aston-Martin and Jaguar from the 1950s through today.

Prior to the outbreak of the second World War, Ugo Zagato achieved fame by creating a number of highly streamlined bodies for competition cars. His experience gained through working an early Italian aircraft builder served him well; over thirty competitors in the 1936
 Bristol 403-like Rear Quarter mg-cars.org.uk
Mille Miglia were bodied with Zagato designs.

Zagato lost his factory to allied bombing during the war and set up shop in northern Italy where his firm produced produced military vehicles in cooperation with Isotta-Fraschini. When hostilities ceased, Zagato returned to building custom bodies on other manufacturer's chassis. One of those post-war exercises was on an MG Y-Type.

The late 1940s and early 1950s saw
MG's John Thornley (L) in Lugano mg-cars.org.uk
Zagato design aerodynamically slippery bodies that included the use of a transparent plastic known as Plexiglas. This easily shaped plastic found extensive wartime use in aircraft canopies and windows due to its light weight and shatter resistance. The Zagato-MG show car was a product of the "panoramica" design language that was adopted by Ugo Zagato.

Note the Zagato Emblem on the Bonnet  mg-cars.org.uk
The Zagato Y-Type made its public debut at the 1949 Lugano (Switzerland) Salon. The four-seat coupe body style was quite airy with the side windows and windshield curving up into the roof line. There was no exterior opening to the trunk space making what little space there was exceedingly difficult to access. Ask any Mk I Austin-Healey Sprite owner about this fun feature.

The severely curved side windows meant that they could not be lowered into the doors - they remained fixed in place. The quarter vent windows were likely the only way to admit fresh air to the interior. Impractical, yes, but when did a show car need practicality?

MG's management viewed the car at the Salon with some interest, but unlike the Arnolt-MG of Italy's Carrozzeria Bertone, it did not go into production. The single Zagato Y-Type built is not known to exist today.    

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Designed on One Island, Built on Another

When most modern Americans think of "imported cars", the brands that they likely to name are Asian. Whether actually imported or built in factories in the US, Asian manufacturers (particularly Japanese firms) retain a significant share of the American automotive market. The post World War II era in the US was a completely different market with most small, economical cars coming from England. With the directive of "export or die" hanging over their corporate heads British firms knew that the North American market was their key to survival. But with the arrival of a number of Japanese brands in the US, the days British mass-market car sales in America were numbered. The roots of this demise run deep into many different areas, but one deserves a close look by enthusiasts of classic British cars - Britain's assistance in creating the Japanese automotive juggernaut.

The beginning of automobile production in Japan dates back to the dawn of the twentieth century with various home-built cars, some of which were steam powered. The earliest series produced car was built by the Shokai firm with a production run of 10 cars.

Japanese engineers were keen to learn about automobile production and many went to either find employment with, or observe, car makers world wide. Several of these missions ended with successful negotiations to build those maker's cars on Japanese soil.

In 1918 the British Wolseley firm licensed the production of their A9 and E3 cars and their CP truck to a consortium operated by the Japanese shipbuilding firm of Ishikawajima and Tokyo Gas and Electric Industrial Company.  For the sum of £80,000 paid over ten years - regardless of production numbers, profit or loss - Wolseley would assist in training, equipping and managing the factory in Japan.

Wolseley Type CP by Ishikawajima (jsae.or.jp)

The first purely-Japanese built Wolseley did not appear until 1922 and it was more labor intensive to build than planned for. The resulting high cost meant that the selling price was much higher than the market would accept. Soon, financial problems meant that the payments to Wolseley were reduced. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 destroyed the automobile assembly line and the small finished stock of cars.

The CP truck line was another story in that the Japanese military paid a subsidy to truck builders provided that they met certain criteria. The Japanese-built Wolseley qualified and went into full production.

The post World War II period saw the same devastation visited on Japan as central Europe. In addition to rebuilding their nation, the Japanese were ruled by the Allied military. Everything from the production of food, clothing and industrial output was tightly regulated. The first transportation need in post war Japan was trucks. Demilitarized trucks were used for rebuilding, shipping goods and personnel transportation. The demand for private cars was filled somewhat by sales of American cars owned by departing US military brass. Car production for civilian use did not begin until 1947 when 300 cars were allowed to be built.

Nissan/Austin A40 (earlydatsun.com)
As the economy improved and military rule ended, Japan's automakers were looking for opportunities to produce larger, more desirable cars than the three-wheeled vehicles that made up most of the light car offering at the time. Once again, England steps in.      
In 1952 an agreement between Nissan and Austin resulted in the Japanese production of the Austin A40. The agreement called for Nissan to purchase "completely knocked down" A40 Somerset kits for assembly in Japan. Everything needed to assemble the car was contained in a large crate and Nissan workers unpacked the components and put everything together on a short assembly line.

The terms of the agreement allowed Nissan to sell the finished cars only in Japan. No royalties were paid to Austin for the first year but the second year, the greater of 2% of the retail value of the cars or £10,000 would be due. The royalty would gradually increase over five years to the greater of 5% or £30,000.
Nissan/Austin A50 (austinmemories.com)

In 1954 Nissan signed an additional agreement with Austin to build the larger A50 Cambridge. The agreement also allowed Nissan to source locally produced components and delete them from the CKD kits. Parts built by Nissan were sent to the UK for validation. At the end of A50 production, the car was 100% Japanese, including the engines. Nissan went on to produce a slightly modified BMC B-series engine line until 1980.

The Rootes Group was not to be left out of the running and in 1953 they signed a licensing agreement with Isuzu (the successor firm to the Ishikawajima consortium) to build the Hillman Minx, Commer vans as well as being the sole importer of British built Rootes vehicles. Isuzu paid Rootes a one-time fee of £50,000 and a royalty of £25 per car after the first 2,000 units.
Isuzu/Hillman Minx (Flicker User Vic Hughes)

Initially, Isuzu assembled Minxes from CKD kits, but the Japanese Ministry of  International Trade and Industry required that the Japanese partner in these so-called technology sharing agreements produce vehicles completely made of Japanese components within five years. This requirement opened the door for many well-known UK parts manufacturers to set up shop in Japan in a similar arrangement.

That the Japanese auto industry grew into a world-beating production powerhouse is well-known. The irony being that as Japanese producer's world market share grew, Britain's declined. Eventually firms such as Nissan and Toyota opened assembly plants in the UK and Honda for a time allowed their Civic to be built by the remnants of British Leyland where it was badged a Triumph. Even into the early years of the 21st century, the majority of models produced by MG-Rover in England were Honda based.