Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Victorian soldier who served in World War Two

The Victorian soldier who served in World War Two

If ever there was someone who lived up to the adage "old soldiers never die" then this fellow must surely be he. What a fantastic record, and what a life he must have led! I admire his obvious passion for what he seemed to feel was his calling (I particularly like the fact that he "missed" army life after the First World War (!) so much so that he volunteered for service in Ireland) and marvel even more so at his good fortune to survive so many wars! The fact that he had such an incident-packed life and was highly decorated merely adds to the story and holds him in even higher esteem.
What it must have been like for him to see the amazing advances made over the course of his life (from the 1898 Anglo-Sudan War, above, to working at the Admiralty, left, in World War Two) I can't imagine but obviously the desire to serve his country never left him and I'm so glad that a house clearance (the kind of thing I feel sure has and will continue to lead to such incredible, hitherto unknown, discoveries) has unearthed this remarkable story of an honourable and marvellous man and his life in the Forces.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Dorset man creates 1,600 matchstick models in 62 years

MATCHSTICK MODELS



Dorset man creates 1,600 matchstick models in 62 years

Here's a man who has spent an entire lifetime engrossed in the delightful hobby of matchstick model-making, with the result of many hundreds of examples of ship and aircraft design from down the years.

I love the painstaking details that chaps like Mr Warren, and the fellow in the above clip, take to ensure that the models are accurate scale copies of the real thing - and all with the use of everyday items that are matches and matchboxes!

I myself tried my hand at a matchstick model once, having cut my teeth on Airfix models before. However as I found to my cost the two are completely disparate and I soon realised how out of my depth I was (I had bitten off more than I could chew in picking a rather large model of a tram car - in hindsight I perhaps should have started with something smaller). Needless to say it soon left me in much the same state as it arrived and I resolved myself to stick to my little plastic kits in the future! My brief experience with matchstick models makes me appreciate all the more the great skill with which these modellers create these miniature masterpieces and how much of a passion it must be for them to create something so small and yet so detailed with nothing more than a tiny stick of wood. I hope Mr Warren continues to enjoy his fascinating pastime for many more years to come.

Peel microcars to make comeback

Peel microcars to make comeback

Back in the 1950s at the height of the Suez crisis microcars were considered the future of personal travel. The likes of the BMW Isetta, the Heinkel Kabine/Trojan, the Messerschmitt KR-series and the wonderfully-named and conceived Zundapp Janus were all popular for around ten years from the mid-fifties as the fuel prices began to bite and small became cool.

The smallest of all the microcars, however, came from the Isle of Man in the form of the Peel Engineering P50 (above) and the delightfully jet-age Trident (right), both of which still hold the record for the smallest production car. To modern eyes the may look toy-like to the point of ridiculousness but at the time they were a genuine attempt to provide cheap motoring to the individual.

Now, thanks to the popular B.B.C. programme Dragon's Den, they look to making something of a small return. Sadly not, it would seem, with a new model as a serious alternative to the small cars of today (the original Peels would fail modern crash test regulations abysmally) but rather more as a limited-production plaything for the well-off car enthusiast (and at c.£12,500 a pop, you'd have to be both seriously well-off and seriously enthusiastic). Still, if it means a new audience for and a heightened awareness of this amazing little car and its history, then so much the better.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The 2CV race that will not take your breath away

The 2CV race that will not take your breath away

Always capable of raising a smile if nothing else (rather unfairly, as I'm sure some owners would agree) the good old 2CV - Tin Snail, Garden-Shed-on-Wheels, call it what you will - is actually a jolly nice little car and a superb little French success story, having been produced continuously from 1948 until 1990. It is a marvel of simplicity and original design.

They're certainly unusual cars and not normally the sort of thing that would occur to someone as being a good vehicle to form the basis of a 24-hour endurance race. Stories abound of flexing body-shells causing doors to fly open unexpectedly and with their skinny tyres and soft, high-riding suspension (designed so that French farmers could drive across a ploughed field with a crate of eggs on the back seat and not break a single one) they don't exactly lend themselves to spirited driving!

However underneath that unmistakable exterior is some ingenious, quality (for the time) mechanicals that are easy to fix (and modify) and which are sturdy and hard-wearing, as they needed to be for the car's original purpose. Newer variants are also deceptively fast. I myself was once a passenger in a standard 1984 model which reached an indicated 90mph (I say "indicated"; the speedometer only goes up to 90mph and the needle was off the end, so it may even have been a little more! OK, there may have been a slight downward slope to the road and the wind behind us, but still...!). So while it may be slow compared to most racing events (and standard modern-day family cars if it comes to that) the unique qualities of the 2CV must make this a highly entertaining form of motorsport. I don't know that even I would want to watch it for 24 hours straight but nevertheless it does look like a lot of fun!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Stamps celebrate the age of steam engines

Stamps celebrate the age of steam engines

Another combination now of two seemingly popular (on here at least) items of interest - postage stamps and steam locomotives.

Released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the production of the last steam engine, these stamps feature some jolly nice pictures of proper trains.

Isn't it always the way - first there's the Jersey classic car set from a week ago and now this delightful railway collection. Perhaps one of the other reasons why I enjoy collecting stamps so much is that they frequently feature subjects that appeal to me. Would that I had the money to add them all to my collection!

Monday, 16 August 2010

The V8 Hotel in pictures: sleep in a car at a motoring-themed hotel in Stuttgart, Germany

The V8 Hotel in pictures: sleep in a car at a motoring-themed hotel in Stuttgart, Germany

If I ever go back to Germany for a holiday (having last been around 2001) I shall certainly try and make a point of staying in this hotel. It looks every inch the petrolhead's dream lodgings! OK, some of the rooms are not quite to my taste (I never was one for too much Americana) but of course the place must cater for all motoristas' preferences. They have a wide range of choices, if nothing else. I think the above picture is my favourite car-themed room (I love the feet sticking out from underneath the Moggie Minor!).

However, having a penchant for Bauhaus, Zeppelins and the 1920s in general, I would have to say that my favourite room from the pictures I have seen is the Tower's Zeppelin Suite (above). This kind of style done right is really appealing to me; I love the contrast of the white against the dark wood floor, the geometric furniture and, of course, the Zeppelin pic! "Super toll!", as our German friends might say.

Diana Dors' sports car fetches $3m at auction

Diana Dors' sports car fetches $3m at auction

I absolutely adore this car and although I have been aware of its existence for some time now I did not know that it once belonged to Diana Dors.

This is perhaps one of the best examples of the car as an art form as well as a mode of transport. The beauty of the flowing lines and streamlined coachwork is obvious and gives an illusion of speed and almost nature-like properties. I suppose some people may find it a bit "kitsch" (and the fact that it didn't quite make its estimate suggests that there weren't the buyers to whose taste the car appealed) but personally I find the design positively mesmerising and worth every penny of the $3,000,000 paid for it.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Jersey vintage cars featured on island stamps



Jersey vintage cars featured on island stamps

I actually stumbled across this while searching for another article, but as it combines two of my great loves I thought it at least deserved a place here.

Jersey has a good record of having very attractive and interesting stamp sets and these are no exception. One of the reasons I enjoy collecting stamps is that in many cases they are like little miniature portraits and the care and detail that goes into the designs is, to my mind, absolutely amazing. The artist in this case has done a really first-class job(!).

Jersey also has a good record of preserving classic cars very well, as a result of the warm climate and an island-wide speed limit of 40mph. Both these factors work in favour of the vintage car and so have provided the artist with a nice wide range of vehicles to depict.

Hum! I feel an urge to add to my collection...!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Jeffrey joins fans for tribute to kings of comedy


Jeffrey joins fans for tribute to kings of comedy

Following on from a previous post that told of two rooms at a recently-refurbished local hotel being named in honour of Laurel & Hardy, here is further news from the same venue regarding those two great comedians.

Once again I am pleased to see some recognition of "the Boys'" work and of their blessing humble little Southend with their visit and stage show back in 1952. A hearty well done to the owners of the Palace Inn Hotel and the local "Tent", or fan club, for being such good sports in making the whole thing possible.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Rare vintage racing Bugatti could fetch world record price

Rare vintage racing Bugatti could fetch world record price

Once again another rare Bugatti makes its way onto the auction circuit and threatens to break the record price paid for a car of its type. This time it is a 1931 Type 51 Grand Prix racer, in highly original condition. That fact alone should ensure that it commands a high premium, even among the rarefied atmosphere of such vintage cars. Of only the 40 or so made this particular example is supposedly one of the best , with a good history (particularly considering that, by all accounts, the Type 51 was not one of Bugatti's most successful race cars - although that may add to the charm). Just as in the art world, these are the things collectors look for in a purchase and as mentioned in the article (and touched upon here in previous, similar posts) the classic car market is well known for bucking the general trend of the economy as the rich and discerning look for secure investment opportunities. I hope (and feel sure) that whoever ends up buying this one-of-a-kind car, however much they pay for it, is a car buff as well as a speculator and will enjoy his purchase for its aesthetic qualities and racing pedigree as much as for its monetary potential.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Giant bus which drives over cars planned in China



Giant bus which drives over cars planned in China

The headline makes this sound like some sort of monster bus, more akin to the one in the previous post, crushing smaller vehicles in its path as it drives through down-town Beijing. In fact, it is a very novel approach to reducing overcrowding on the roads of China's cities.

Personally-speaking, on the one hand I think it is a fantastically futuristic idea that could have come straight out of the pages of a retro-futurist pulp comic or the like and I applaud the Chinese for considering it. However on the other hand I can't help but wonder about a couple of things that make me question the feasibility of the concept. For one thing it relies on the drivers of the cars beneath the bus keeping their heads and knowing what they have to do when the bus passes over them or when they pass underneath it. If Chinese drivers are anything like some of the drivers here in Britain I would worry about the accident rate were these vehicles to be introduced. From what I understand there would be built-in fail-safe measures to mitigate accidents and incidents but, as I am rather fond of saying sometimes - nothing is fool-proof. Secondly if they end up running on rails in the road (rather than with sensors following painted lines), surely there will be a huge amount of disruption while the roads are being dug up to fit them? In that case they might as well build an elevated railway or a monorail, methinks.

Whether or not these machines come to pass the world has been brightened a little by the suggestion of such an advanced idea that once again shows the seemingly infinite variety of which mankind is capable.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Motoring enthusiast builds 367mph bus



Motoring enthusiast builds 367mph bus

We've had super-fast lawnmowers, jet packs and [potentially] record-breaking land speed cars, so why not a 367mph bus? Here again the epitome of an enthusiast and a team of like-minded individuals have taken something incongruous and transformed it into something amazing and unthought-of. I always admire people who can look beyond the obvious and ask the question "why not?", particularly in an engineering context, and who end up creating something so wonderfully advanced. The fact that in this instance the finished product has the outward appearance of an everyday machine just adds to the fun of it all. (Fancy going to school at 350mph?!). That Mr Stender and his team have subsequently put the vehicle to such excellent and worthy use makes the story even more laudable.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Airships: a second age


Airships: a second age

A very well-written and detailed article here about one of my favourite machines; a stately mode of transport that has for too long been largely absent from the skies. Now, however, it would seem that airships are on the cusp of a proper comeback thanks in no small part to these sterling chaps working out of the same site that once housed the British dirigibles R.100 and R.101.



They seem to be a very determined, knowledgeable and experienced team with some good backing and some interesting-sounding possibilities. I'm not sure about their insistence on the term Hybrid Air Vehicle; as a budding aeronaut and zeppelin aficionado the word "airship" has no negative connotations to me but I can understand that it might have to the man in the street.

Naming conventions aside the whole thing has the appearance of a very exciting and profitable venture. I have said before that I refuse to believe that the airship has had its day and look forward to seeing these aerial behemoths ploughing through the air again in the future. With this latest development, that vision looks like being a step closer to reality.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Trophy reveals Spitfire designer was also an ace pilot

Trophy reveals Spitfire designer was also an ace pilot

A lesser-known talent of noted aeroplane designer R. J. Mitchell is reported here, but perhaps it should not come as too much of a surprise that the man who came up with what many say is the greatest fighter aircraft (not to mention myriad other successful designs) should have been pretty handy behind the stick himself.

Nevertheless the rarity of such an item connected to Mitchell coming to light after all these years is certainly worthy of comment and I'm pleased to see it find its way into a museum where it can be properly appreciated and help to further people's awareness of this amazing man and his extraordinary achievements. As the article mentions his life was sadly cut short due to cancer and beyond his work at Supermarine very little is known about him as he obviously valued his privacy. However he seems to have been a man who was intent on adding to his knowledge and experience, even in the face of a fatal illness, almost right up to the end of his life and it wouldn't surprise me if this isn't the last piece of R. J. Mitchell memorabilia that comes to light.

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