Tuesday 30 April 2024

Shop Makes Modern Jeep Wranglers Look Like Weird 1930s Off-Roaders

source - Wikimedia Commons/ Hurtan-club.de

Well, as I sit out in the dappled sunshine gracing my garden it seems I've just about kept my promise from the last post to come back in April (this being the last day)!  That pesky thing called life conspired to get in the way again, although there were some pleasant interludes along the way - not least an enjoyable week away in Scotland (more perhaps on that another time).  Anyway, here we are again and back to it with this latest article that has been languishing in my Drafts folder for the last four months(!). 

Clockwise l-r: Panther J72; NG TD Roadster; Bufori Geneva; 
Devaux Coupe; Wiesmann MF3; Mitsuoka Roadster
source - Wikimedia Commons
GTHOAndrew BoneEl monty/Alexander Migl/ WmeinhartDavid Howard)

The market for retro-inspired cars is a remarkably (but perhaps unsurprisingly) popular one - one only has to look at the success of Fiat's 500 range, BMW's MINI brand or Porsche's 911 (not to mention the wonderful anachronism that is Morgan) to see the draw nostalgia still has on the motoring public.  However the desire for producing cars designed to look like machines from a previous age has been around for longer than most people might think, dating back at least as far as the early 1970s.  In Britain companies such as Panther, NG and Dutton rode the wave of popularity that kit cars enjoyed throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s with their models resembling prewar Jaguar SS100s, postwar MGs and Caterhams respectively, all using easily obtainable and maintainable parts usually from Fords or Triumphs.  More recently international manufacturers such as Japan's Mitsuoka, Germany's Wiesmann  and Australian concerns Bufori and Devaux (among many others) have produced beautiful pre- and postwar-inspired vehicles (in Mitsuoka's case based on Nissan platforms; the others relying on bespoke designs) and even more "mainstream" companies like Bentley can't resist dipping into their back-catalogue for the super-rich vintagista.

Hurtan Albaycín T2
source - Wikimedia Commons/ Berthold Werner

However, until now I must admit I had never heard of Spanish-based business Hurtan - despite the fact that they have been producing vintage-styled sports cars since 1991.  Their Albacyin range has, to this author's eyes, a very definite prewar BMW or Mercedes look about it and looks all the better for it (their forthcoming Grand Albaycín has an equally attractive '60s MG vibe, I'd say).  Thanks to this news story I am now fully aware of this little Spanish sports car maker and its latest model - the Vintage.  Based on the already retro-inspired Jeep Wrangler 4x4, the Vintage lives up to its name and goes for the full Thirties aesthetic - with mixed results, it has to be said.  

One problem with attempting to graft older designs on to modern underpinnings is overcoming the differences between the base mechanicals and the bodystyle shape.  In short vintage cars tend to be smaller than more modern ones, with the result that a vintage bodystyle, when placed over a modern chassis, can look somewhat stretched and misshapen.  The track (width) can look too wide, the bonnet/grille can seem a little exaggerated and very often the wheels are (admittedly sometimes by necessity) modern reproductions that tend to be too small and fitted with wider tyres, which only helps to spoil the overall look.

While the Vintage does fall into this trap somewhat, as with so many "modern vintage" reproductions it is something that cannot be avoided and while to the trained eye its Jeep origins are still obvious the aesthetic remains pleasing enough to make me glad that Hurtan created it.  Very much a niche market of one it is perhaps the answer to the question "what if off-roaders had existed in the 1930s?" and enjoys the advantage that all modern reproductions have of combining vintage aesthetics with modern comfort.    

Even more pleasingly I have discovered in the writing of this post that a Hurtan Vintage is plying the streets of Madrid, Toledo and Segovia as a tourist bus, taking visitors around the sights and sounds of those historic cities in suitably old-fashioned and luxurious style.  I congratulate Vintage City Tours on their business idea and choice of vehicle -something that could easily be adapted for other [capital] cities around Europe (and beyond) - and if I ever visit Spain I will be sure to seek both them and Hurtan out.

Friday 29 March 2024

Get Into the Spirit of Spring

To all my readers, followers, visitors and vintage friends - have a Happy Easter
and I will see you again in April!  
In the meantime, do as the song says and
Get Into the Spirit of Spring (weather permitting)!

Wednesday 27 March 2024

All types of news

Downers Grove 23-year-old repairs typewriters for a living

Time for a round-up of more typewriter-related news from the last coupe of months now, starting with another familiar - but always welcome - story of an "old soul" (this time inhabiting the body of 23-year-old Chicagoan Lucas Dul) who continues to maintain the noble art of typewriter repairing.  All the usual traits are here - the then-teenager fascinated by the mechanical writing machine in his local antiques store, the desire to learn its secrets in order to get it working once again and the almost inevitable path it has taken him along in the intervening 9 years to becoming practically a full-time typewriter repair man.  It is a path that he is still only just starting out on, but already he clearly has the passion, knowledge and desire that we typosphereans know so well; once again it is wonderful to see from this article how this self-taught typewriter aficionado enjoys his job and truly appreciates the analogue nature of these machines, not to mention the generally old-fashioned world from which they originate.  It's a pleasure to read of young Mr Dul's accomplishments, his determination to make a proper - and clearly much-needed - business out of typewriter repairs (and sales) and the rewards he already gained (not least another machine from Tom Hanks' collection!) from his chosen calling. 

Ghostwriter - AI Typewriter from Arvind on Vimeo.

What Lucas Dul - or indeed any typospherean - would make of this next item I wouldn't hazard to guess but I suppose with the frighteningly fast advancements in artificial intelligence it was only a matter of time before someone came up with the notion of combining this futuristic tech with the simple tactility of the typewriter.  So it is that that engineer-designer Arvind Sanjeev has taken an old, battered Brother electric typewriter and, using a Raspberry Pi computer along with other gubbins of which I am ignorant, has hooked it up to an OpenAI GPT-3 chatbot which will read and respond to anything typed on the now charmingly-named "Ghostwriter".  This is very much at the forefront of old-meets-new technology and Mr Sanjeev's intentions in creating this remarkable crossbreed are most thought-provoking - questioning, as we all are, AI's place in the world and the impact it has (and will doubtless continue to have) on our lives.  To marry it to analogue machinery as a way of making it more familiar, less overwhelming and more of a recognisable tool - especially for users of "old tech", creatives and so forth - is a fascinating take on the of AI and I commend Mr Sanjeev for his visionary thinking in mating these two seemingly quite disparate technologies so seamlessly and successfully.  The Ghostwriter definitely makes AI seem less intimidating for me and would certainly find a place amongst my collection! 

Finishing off closer to home now - well, the UK at least, although Winchester is my ancestral home (and I may even be related to one of the lecturers featured in this article!) - we find two more like-minded creative writers who are organising what amounts to a type-in at the forthcoming Bournemouth Writing Festival on the 26th-28th April.  An AI-linked typewriter would be an interesting addition to their "Stanza Room", I fancy, but regardless the idea sounds a wizard wheeze, with the plan for various typers to be laid out for visitors to write whatever they like from poems to artwork while Dr Rutter and Ms Waite serenade them on their own machines.  I am sure it will prove to be a worthwhile addition to the festival and I am only sorry that I will be unable to attend, nor to provide any related paraphernalia that they are understandably requesting.  Still I have no doubt that the endeavour will be a success and I will be with them in [typewriting] spirit if nothing else!

There we have it, then - three more stories that prove typewriters are as alive and healthy as they've ever been with the very real expectation that they will continue to have a future in society, from repaired originals [at writing festivals] all the way up to AI-powered hybrids.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Tintin and the Red Devils: Belgian football teams present new comic-themed shirt

You'll forgive me I trust for skipping forward chronologically with this next post (there are still some news stories from earlier in the year waiting in my Drafts folder), but this was too good an item to pass up and I wanted to publicise it while it was still a forthcoming event rather than a past one.  That event is a football match between England and Belgium, a "friendly" pre-season encounter prior to the Euro 2024 tournament (so I am told) due to take place next Tuesday the 26th March.

I don't normally follow the football so what am I doing writing a post about it and the Belgian national team in particular, I hear you ask?  Well the answer is pretty self-explanatory (I hope!) from the accompanying articles.  Yes, the team has had the wonderful brainwave of paying homage to one of Belgium's greatest [fictional] sons - Tintin - by designing their 2024 away kit to emulate the famous boy reporter's best-known outfit!  That means a sky blue shirt with a white collar, brown shorts and white socks to create more than a passing (ahem) resemblance to the most recognised image of Hergé's great creation.  So if you are sitting down to watch the match on the 26th, don't be alarmed to see eleven Tintins running around the pitch - it isn't a group of Tintinoholic cosplayers invading Wembley stadium, just the Belgian national team. 

This brilliant decision has made my week, I can tell you.  Imagine if Belgium made it all the way to the finals of Euro 2024?!  Eleven footballers dressed as Tintin, holding the cup aloft amid cheers and celebrations could catapult the character even higher in to the world's consciousness (and maybe even inspire Messrs Jackson & Spielberg to get on with the next instalment in their promised trilogy of films - whoops, nearly got on my soapbox then!).  Wouldn't it be something if all countries' football teams also fashioned their kits in the style of celebrated cultural icons?  (I struggle to think what England's would be - black and red stripes in honour of Dennis the Menace, perhaps?😕)  It could even encourage more people like me to take an interest in the sport if as much thought as this was put into the kits - in fact at the risk of appearing unpatriotic I may even tune in to watch the match next week and cheer the Belgian team on.

England vs. Tintin Belgium Euro 2024 Qualifier will be broadcast in the UK on Channel 4,
Tuesday 26th March 2024, kick-off at 7:45pm GMT

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Britain’s youngest-ever female pilot set to fly WW1 Sopwith 1½ Strutter

Britain’s youngest-ever female pilot set to fly WW1 Sopwith 1½ Strutter

Huzzah!  We've finally made it in to 2024 (just!) with this latest item of news, featuring a modern aviation pacesetter and someone who will certainly go on to do great things in the industry - 21-year-old female pilot Ellie Carter.

Miss Carter first made the headlines four years ago when, on her 17th birthday, she became Britain's youngest-ever licensed woman pilot.  Flying has obviously been in her blood for much longer, though, judging by the story related in the accompanying articles about her run-in with the USAF authorities at the age of nine(!) not to mention her subsequent aeronautical experiences that led to her record-breaking qualification.  

Now another record is set to be broken by this committed aviatrix, as I am delighted to see that she has been chosen to be the first person - and the first-ever woman - to fly a newly-completed [replica] of a workhorse aircraft of the First World War, the Sopwith 1½-Strutter, built over the last 23 years by a team of enthusiasts in East Lothian.  Even better the B.B.C. have approached her with the intention of making a documentary about her life and this ground-breaking flight, which is due to be aired later this year.  Definitely something I will be looking out for in the schedules!  

source - Picryl
French-built Sopwith 1½-Strutter at Air Service Production Centre No. 2,
Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918

As ever with this type of young, dedicated individual it is wonderful to see the obvious, palpable enthusiasm for her chosen calling and her clear desire to make a life's career out of aviation.  At the same time her down-to-earth (if you'll pardon the expression!) attitude is equally admirable and, in conjunction with her degree in Aeronautics & Astronautics (which if she hasn't already achieved at the time of writing, I'm sure she will!) will keep her in good stead as a worthy ambassador for women and young girls in aviation and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in general.  She reminds me very much of another lady pilot (about whom I have also previously blogged), Tracey Curtis-Taylor; I am sure that Ellie Carter will follow a similar path and that this will not be the last time she appears on these pages, or in the annals of aviation history.  To borrow an expression familiar to those original 1½-Strutter pilots - "soft landings and no dud engines!"

Friday 15 March 2024

Ukraine finds British WW2 Hurricane planes outside Kyiv

Ukraine finds British WW2 Hurricane planes outside Kyiv

Back to Hawker Hurricanes again for this next story, featuring the extraordinary recovery of eight airframes that have been found buried in woodland just outside Kyiv, Ukraine.  While the almost-too-good-to-be-true story of Spitfires and Mosquitoes buried in Burma a few years ago turned out to be just that, with no physical evidence of such aircraft being found, this tangible discovery - as first reported back in July 2023 - is far more promising and all the more remarkable since it is occurring in the middle of an active warzone.

Hawker Hurricane II ’11 white’
Hawker Hurricane II ’11 white’ recreation, on display in ‘Victory Park’,
Museum of the Great Patriotic War, Poklonnaya Hill, Moscow, Russia.

That has not deterred the members of the National Aviation Museum of Ukraine who took advantage of an unexploded bomb disposal nearby to locate the remains of the eight aircraft and begin excavations, with the aim to retrieve as many parts as possible in order to hopefully recreate one complete aeroplane.  How far they have progressed in the intervening eight months it is not possible to say; the museum is unsurprisingly closed for the duration so I expect work is severely limited but it would be nice to think that the parts could eventually be reassembled into a full-scale display once all the unpleasantness is over. 

A Hawker Hurricane Mark IIB, Z5253 'GA-25' of No. 134 Squadron RAF
taxies out past Russian sentries at Vaenga, near Murmansk, October 1941. 
Several British squadrons were originally sent out to train Russian pilots
before handing the Hurricanes over to them.

I take my hat off to the museum's volunteers, who must have been working under immense pressure - and probably not a little danger - to get these relics to safety and so begin the job of sorting through the parts needed to create a complete Hurricane.  Cleaning, repairing and cataloguing are strenuous undertakings at the best of times but what it must be like with the evils of war hanging over you is almost unimaginable.  That these men are driven to rescue these long-abandoned machines, with the desire to return one to period condition in honour of the brave [Ukrainian] pilots who flew them on the Eastern Front during the German invasion of Russia, is more than admirable and I wish them every success in their endeavour (when the situation permits) - stay safe, gentlemen!

Wednesday 13 March 2024

91-year-old car enthusiast, teen bond over restoring vintage Model A Ford

91-year-old car enthusiast, teen bond over restoring vintage Model A Ford

We resume normal service now on Eclectic Ephemera with this heart-warming story from Washington state in America and which initially appeared in June 2023.  Proof, if proof were needed, that age is no barrier to friendship - especially if interests are shared as in the case of the two gentlemen who form the subject of the article.

Serendipitous events like the one which brought this pair of enthusiasts together are the sort of thing that make the world seem a little bit of a brighter place, where two people at the opposite ends of the age spectrum can meet by chance and hit it off in such a splendid manner beneficial to them both.  Quite apart from the obvious rapport that they enjoy Mr Sage gets to pass on his extensive knowledge on the subject of Model A Fords (see below for an example) to the younger generation and so ensure its ongoing perpetuation while Mr Mpare learns valuable skills - both of the life and the mechanical variety - that he has already put to good use building his very own Model A from parts sourced by the Model A Ford Club of America no less!  It is simply joyous to read of how an unexpected meeting has led to this firm friendship, the passing of the torch of experience, the obvious enthusiasm shown by both men for their common interest.  It goes to show that one never knows what Fate has in store for us and that unlooked-for opportunities should be embraced whenever possible - who can tell where they might lead?  Once again it is also splendid to read of another "old soul" - one with a nonetheless very mature outlook on past, present and future, who understands and appreciates the importance of traditional know-how such as this and the rewards he has gained as a result - the companionship of a responsible and grounded gentleman with a lifetime of experience, which in and of itself can be of great benefit to a teenager just starting out in life (a fact that young Mr Mpare and his family clearly appreciates) and, if that wasn't enough, his own antique motor car built with his own hands!  Well done and congratulations to Messrs Sage and Mpare, indeed!  May their friendship continue to blossom and may many more Model A's ultimately get back on the road as a result.

 Dan's Model A

Monday 11 March 2024

I couldn't possibly comment...

"What's that - you'd like to leave a comment? 
Let me just get a pen and some paper..."
Hello all.  This is by way of a bit of "housekeeping" between posts (I suppose this is a post in itself, though, but you know what I mean I hope!  Not my usual fare, shall we say).  It's just that I've been informed that some of you may have been experiencing difficulties posting comments recently, with some sort of message along the lines of "An error occurred while trying to publish your comment" stopping one from leaving a friendly remark or somesuch.  If this has been affecting you I am heartily sorry, as I do value all positive and chummy comments that you may wish to send my way on the subject of my (hopefully our) interests and witterings thereon.  Should it be the case, and if you'd care to, perhaps you might drop me a wire at the address on the postcard (right column) and I will see if I can do anything to help.  To be truthful I'm afraid my technical know-how is slim to non-existent though, so I can't guarantee I'll be of any use I'm afraid!  Having had a poke about amongst the cogs and gears below stairs - and although I do have comment moderation switched on - I don't believe it's got anything to do with the Comments settings on Blogger (but who knows with Google these days), however with a bit of a hunt around the æther I can at least suggest the following:

  • Check your anti-virus software settings.  Some anti-virus programs include anti-tracking as standard and this can apparently interfere with third-party cookies that are required by most websites (including Blogger) for comments etc. to be allowed.  I myself experienced something along these lines (stopping me from commenting on my own blog, no less - the cheek of  it!) the other day and it turned out to be my anti-virus software, Bitdefender, being rather overzealous on the blocking front.  It might be worth checking your own provider to see what the settings are for the Anti-tracker, if you have it switched on (with Bitdefender you can choose which browsers it is active on, so I have it switched off for all of them).
  • Likewise you can check the third-party cookie settings on your browser of choice directly to confirm whether or not they are switched on and/or create a custom list of which websites are allowed to use them (in Chrome this is under Settings/Privacy and security/Third-party cookies).
  • It might also help to do the old trick of emptying your cache and/or deleting your browsing history and cookies but for how far back I could not say (again in Chrome this is in Settings/Privacy and security/Clear browsing data).  You will likely lose all your logins across the interweb and have to sign in again, though.  
  • It may be a nuisance but perhaps try a different browser and see if that helps (quite what to do after that I couldn't say though - perhaps check and compare the settings?).
  • Again a bit of a pain, however you could switch to Incognito mode in Chrome or open a Private window in Edge or Firefox (Ctrl+Shift+N in all cases, I believe) and see if that makes a difference. 
  • As a last resort you may want to try uninstalling and reinstalling your browser - that might reset everything, although again you will probably have to sign in to any websites you were previously logged in to.    

"This would be so much easier if we had a working comments section..."

Well apologies for that rather dull, instructional post but as I do enjoy and encourage any and all pleasant comments I would be sad to think that you, my readers, were being stopped from doing so for any reason.  I hope my limited knowledge on the subject has been of some use should you have encountered this issue and I look forward to reading all your lovely comments again in the future!

Thursday 7 March 2024

Airships around the world!

Going back a mere 12 years for the origins of this next post we switch from the road to the air and a mode of transport oft-championed by this blogger; one that is slowly (as is its wont!) continuing its renaissance in a new 21st-century reimagining but still with positive links to its past - the airship.

Even more of an enthusiast of this form of lighter-than-air travel than yours truly (and in a far better position to do something to promote it!), Texas native Don Hartsell has spent over 40 years dreaming and nearly 20 years planning the inaugural World Sky Race for airships.  As reported back in 2012, Hartsell had been attempting to raise commercial and financial interest for his fantastic scheme since at least 2006, with the nascent plan to have the race ready to begin from London in 2014.  Alas, as is often the way with these sorts of huge undertakings, that vision was forced to go by the wayside (as had an earlier start date of 2011) due sadly to a lack of necessary funds.      

Now, however, Mr Hartsell seems confident enough to speak again publicly about his marvellous idea - with what would seem to be some credible expressions of interest from a variety of parties representing all different sorts of markets and the advantage of a far more advanced airship industry that looks poised to take on this epic challenge to their (and the world's) benefit.  Things seem to have progressed to such a degree that Mr Hartsell has even bought six(!) airships for use by any entity who might wish to join the race and I genuinely wish him the very best of luck in his search for entrants into his World Sky Race.  The chances of that seem all the more heightened thanks to the remarkable number of airship manufacturers that have sprung up over the last fifteen years or so and the progress they have all made in that time.

French concern Euro Airship is just one of several companies at an advanced stage of airship development and to promote their latest vessel Solar Airship One have, in a similar vein to Mr Hartsell, announced their intention to undertake a 20-day long nonstop flight around the world without using any fossil fuels whatsoever (as the name suggests, the airship is 100% solar-powered). Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if the two were to team up, or at least for Euro Airship to enter the World Sky Race?!  What a boost it would be for the industries involved - not only airship design and application but all the associated machinery that goes with it; a true melding of old and new technologies, a showcase for 21st-century know-how in a long-neglected pre-war ideal!  I look forward to continuing to follow the progress of Euro Airships as they gear up for the planned 2026 launch - they certainly seem to be well set to succeed, with some experienced aviators signed up to the project (not least famed French adventurer Bertrand Piccard).  This is definitely one to watch!  

Likewise, fellow Gallic airship engineering business Flying Whales (great name!) seem well on their way to becoming airborne, their new Large Capacity Airship scheduled to gain its type certification within the year with the aim to be fully operational by 2027.  They already have an eye on the international cargo market with plans to set up production plants in Canada and Australia to complement their Bordeaux HQ; I wouldn't bet against them either!

British-based Hybrid Air Vehicles, working out of the old airship hangers at Cardington in Bedfordshire (where the R.101 was built and departed from on its ill-fated maiden flight to India in 1930), is another airship manufacturer that has spent the last fifteen years refining its own designs into the Airlander 10.  Now they have finally reached the exciting stage of applying for type certification with the UK's Civil Aviation Authority which, if given, should allow HAV to begin full-scale production with commercial flights envisaged to start in around four years' time.  Airships gracing the skies of Britain (and the world) again before the end of the decade?  What's not to like?!

Never ones to be left behind in any race - technological or otherwise - American expertise is also working on its own airship design with the US company Aeros' Dragon Dream concept having been in development since 2013 and although the prototype suffered a setback in 2015 when it was damaged in a hanger accident it would seem the company is still pushing ahead with the search for a production site; I see no reason why we should not see their eVBAs criss-crossing the globe again within a similar timescale.  

EDIT 09/03/24: I knew I'd forgotten one - and how embarrassing that it should be the largest of the lot!😳 (I say, emojis - are they new?  Sorry, I'm digressing!)  Apologies to LTA (Lighter Than Air) Research, the brainchild of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, whose Pathfinder 1 prototype has recently taken its initial steps towards regular test flights over its California base after 10 years in development.  Once again utilising the very latest in aeronautical technology the Pathfinder nevertheless retains much of the traditional airship design and will doubtless make a mightily impressive sight sailing over the San Francisco Bay area.  That an even larger Pathfinder 3 is planned - and to be headquartered at Akron, Ohio (to the USA what Cardington is to Britain) - is almost too much to imagine but I'll wager that, with this level of backing, if anyone can do it these chaps can!  A fleet of Pathfinders, joining with the other airships mentioned above to deliver urgently-needed cargo to inhospitable areas, carry passengers to anywhere in the world - or even just take part in an around-the-globe World Sky Race! 😉 - feels more and more like an attainable goal if these projects achieve their potential, as I'm sure they must.  

As well as the many commercial enterprises that are pursuing the 21st-century airship concept, so smaller businesses and private designers have also recently been reimagining them for modern personal use in the wonderfully futuristic form of "air yachts" - the term dating from the golden age of pre-war flying boats, especially the smaller private variety, but now meaning an airship/boat hybrid!  While admittedly the idea of superyachts in this day and age is understandably looked upon in some circles as vulgar and unnecessary one has to admit the engineering, not to mention the execution, can still stir the soul and remind one of the technical skills and spirit of adventure that mankind possesses.

Swiss-based company AirYacht (a relative newcomer formed in 2017), is one of the few airship designers to be exclusively targeting the passenger market with its AirYacht concept.  Attractively billed as "the sky's cruise ship" and again harking back to the glory days of international luxury travel, the AirYacht seems to be intended for private owners or select travellers wishing to take small group holidays and sightseeing tours to otherwise remote places - as with all of these ventures much being made of the sustainability, advancements and slower pace afforded by the application of modern technology to these incredible craft.  Although I fear that, at least initially, a flight in the AirYacht will be beyond the reach of most of us mere mortals it is to be hoped that again success will lead to similar, more accessible craft taking to the skies and so to greater economies of scale in the future.  I certainly wouldn't say no, given the opportunity!

Another airship enthusiast (witness his reference to the 1924 airship Norge, which I also previously blogged about) and imaginer of airship-yacht crossovers, Perpaolo Lazzarini's Colossea is his second design following his 2022 concept but, whereas that was intended to land directly on the water, so the Colossea has a separate airship attached to a boat's superstructure, able to detach at will to fly independently!  Again aimed at the ultra-luxury mega-yacht market the Colessea nevertheless boasts some fantastic modern engineering again married to traditional airship design and - if one must have these things - I can't help but again feel enthusiastic that such a project even exists. 

With all these at various advanced stages of development I can't see why Mr Hartsell's World Sky Race shouldn't have a whole slew of entrants from across the private and commercial sectors lining up to take part.  What amazing publicity it would be for all these airship manufacturers to be involved in such a great adventure, circumnavigating the globe and showing whole new generations the wonderful potential of airships and so finally throwing off the terrible images of the Hindenburg and R.101 - tragic though they were - that have unfairly dogged this mode of transport for too long.  The airship cannot - must not - go on being judged in such outdated fashions (to be fair, I feel that these have been somewhat overrated in recent times - I fancy that the younger generation will be far more open to this revised mode of transport, particularly given its new ecological credentials) and a World Sky Race featuring the best current lighter-than-air design has to offer has to go some way towards continuing the revival of this splendid form of travel.  Could the 2020s be the decade that airships finally enjoy their long-overdue resurgence?  With all this positive development I think we can do more than hope!   

Monday 4 March 2024

Alvis resurrects 1920s Grand Prix racing car

Alvis resurrects 1920s Grand Prix racing car

Nearly 14 years ago now (yikes, where on earth has the time gone?!) I reported on the then-new owners of the classic British motoring manufacturer Alvis and their simply wonderful scheme to put some of their vintage models back into [limited] series production at their workshop in Kenilworth, Warwickshire - including the stunning 1935 Bertelli Sports Coupé and 1938 Lancefield Concealed Hood in addition to the original Vanden Plas.  Since that time Alvis have also broadened out into some of their post-war models such as the Park Ward Drophead Coupé and the Graber Coupé/Cabriolet but for their most recent project (a definite one-off this time) they have returned to their pre-war motorsport days thanks to the remarkable rediscovery of a truly unique, much-storied racing car that very nearly ended up on a scrapheap - the 1927 Alvis Grand Prix.

With driver George Duller in the cockpit, Number 2 Alvis is readied
for the 1927 Junior Car Club 200 Miles race at Brooklands

The Alvis GP caused a stir right from the start thanks to its then-innovative mechanical layout, being front-wheel drive at a time when almost all cars, both for road and racing, were driven from the rear.  But this was not its most notable technical advance - the front axle, instead of being the solid variety (that is, connecting the wheels with a rigid beam), was composed of four independently-mounted elliptical leaf springs allowing for an equally remarkable eight-cylinder, 1.5-litre supercharged engine to be placed lengthways behind the gearbox thus giving the car an unusual (for the time) long-nosed appearance.

Alvises Numbers 1 & 2 (bottom centre), their distinctive low-slung stance and
long bonnets contrasting noticeably with the other cars', head off at the start of the
1927 JCC 200 Miles at Brooklands, October 1927

Two cars were produced with the intention of both being entered in eligible events of the period, however the advanced engine in particular suffered from reliability issues right from the beginning.  After both failed to make the start of the 1927 British Grand Prix at Brooklands on the 1st October, they took part in the 1927 Junior Car Club 200 Miles race at the same track two weeks later; both cars qualified well - the Number 2 car lapping in excess of 120mph in the hands of experienced racer George Duller to start second, while the similarly proficient Maurice Harvey would be third on the grid in car Number 1.  Initially setting an impressive pace (Number 2 being in the lead at the start before dropping back to third due to a spark plug change) both cars experienced crippling mechanical failures, with Duller having to retire with a shattered conrod (below, now on display at Alvis' in-house museum) on the 52nd lap.

Having removed the engine to diagnose the problem back at the factory, Alvis kept Number 2 in storage for over 10 years, never to be reunited with its original powerplant.  In the late 1930s they decided to cut their losses and sell the car to Coventry-based scrap merchants Roach Brothers, with the firm instruction that it had to be broken up and not sold on.  Thankfully someone at Roach Bros. completely ignored this order and sold the car intact to Bill Pitcher, a motorcycle dealer and Alvis enthusiast from Rugby.  Pitcher's intention was to convert the car to rear-wheel drive - he sourced a 1929 Alvis TT or Le Mans engine and gearbox for the purpose but ended up having to sell the car on in the mid-'50s following the failure of his business.  Another FWD Alvis enthusiast, Nic Davies, picked up the reins and toured the world with the GP before embarking on a full-scale restoration project in 1990.  It took until 2003 for the car to be in a condition to run under its own power for the first time in nearly three-quarters of a century; three years after that it was acquired by current owner of Alvis Alan Stote and Tony Cox, an authority on FWD Alvises.

It has taken a further 17 years, with many an advance in CAD and manufacturing techniques to help along the way, but now I am delighted to see that Alvis GP Number 2 has been fully restored to 1927 racing trim - including a newly-built period-correct engine and gearbox!  Rightly taking pride of place among Alvis's already exceptional collection of original and recreated cars, the GP was publicly revealed at the Automobile Council in Chiba City, Japan in April 2023 with the intention being to have it fully completed and running at Brooklands in time for its 100th birthday in 2027.  All the more reason, I think, to start planning my long-overdue return to that great race track.  A hearty well done to everyone involved in this mammoth project and I hope to see it in the metal in a few years time!

With its designer Captain G. T. Smith-Clarke in 1927 (left) and fully-restored
today (right)

Wednesday 28 February 2024

Jersey veteran pilot flies WW2 plane for 101st birthday present

A heart-warming story from April 2023 now, featuring remarkable WWII RAF veteran Bernard Gardiner who, for his 101st birthday, took a flight - and what's more after nearly 80 years, the controls! - of the world's only two-seater Hawker Hurricane.

As well as being a well-deserved and very apt gift for Mr Gardiner's milestone this was also something of a "thank you" not only for his admirable service during the war but also his role as a patron of the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group, a charity set up in 2016 with the aim of returning an example of another of Hawker's famous Second World War aircraft - the Typhoon fighter-bomber - to airworthy status.

The Typhoon, which first flew in February 1940 and entered service in 1941, was intended to be the replacement for the Hurricane and was initially deployed as a pure fighter to counteract the German Focke-Wulf 190 which was outclassing almost everything the Allies could put up against it.  Although it proved to be the equal of the Fw190, especially at low level, some early structural design flaws held it back and it was subsequently switched to the roles of low level ground attack and interception.  Armed initially with six .303in machine guns, then later four 20mm cannons, the Typhoon was also able to carry up to 2,000lbs in bombs or eight wing-mounted rockets making it a formidable foe against German armour and reinforced positions.  The Typhoon continued in this multi-role function for the remainder of the war, finally being retired in October 1945.  Prior to that however, in September 1942, it begat the Tempest - a development of the original Typhoon design (indeed early examples were referred to as the Typhoon II) that was intended to be more of a true fighter aircraft than the Typhoon (or "Tiffie" as it was affectionately known).  The Tempest would go on to become one of the most powerful piston-engined aircraft of the war - at low level the fastest single-seat propellor-driven aircraft of the time, so fast that it was easily able to deal with V1 flying bombs and even Messerschmitt's jet-powered 262.  

Flight Lieutenant Walter Dring, commander of "B" Flight, No. 183 Squadron RAF,
with his Typhoon Mark IB, R8884 "HF-L", in a dispersal at Gatwick, Sussex.
source - IWM

Unlike the Tempest, of which there is one airworthy survivor (which made its maiden flight only last October following seven years of restoration) and at least three around the world currently undergoing restoration to flying condition, there is currently only one extant (static) example of a Typhoon - MN235, which over the last few years has been on display at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C.,  the RAF Museum at Hendon, the Canada Aviation & Space Museum in Ottawa and - at the moment - the RAF Museum London.  All that will hopefully change soon, though, thanks to the hard work of Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group which is aiming to restore Typhoon MkIB RB396 to airworthy condition so that people can see this remarkable (and, in relation to the Spitfire or Hurricane, somewhat forgotten) Second World War aeroplane take to the skies again in honour of those, like Bernard Gardiner, who flew them.  After a pause of a couple of years due to the pandemic work has restarted and continues apace; with luck and thanks to the HTPG we (and hopefully Mr Gardiner!) may yet see a Tiffie in the air once more.

Sunday 25 February 2024

Cierva C.4 Autogiro Replica Flies in Spain

Hello.  Yes, it's me again, begging forgiveness once more for allowing six months to elapse between posts!  I have been a bad blogger and there is no excuse.  I could blame my new forum for taking up more of my time than I anticipated, or just life getting in the way, but I shan't because we all have different calls upon our time and I dare say I could have made more space for this dear old blog.  Anyway, we'll cast a veil over all that, I think, and get back to the fun business of writing about interesting vintage-themed news (and goodness knows we need that more than ever, I should think).  Something that should be even easier for me now having recently splashed out on a new PC (the laptop was all very well and has provided sterling service for the last seven years, but there is still something to be said for a desktop setup especially when writing like this) - there can really be no excuse for not posting more often now (he says)! 

Without further ado, then, I'll take us back to the beginning of 2023 for this first story about a machine close to my heart - the autogiro. 

Cierva C.4 Autogiro Replica Flies in Spain

Last year marked the centenary of the first flight of the autogiro, the brainchild of Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva and the precursor to all modern helicopters.  After several abortive designs his C.4 autogiro made a controlled ascent at the Getafe aerodrome near Madrid on the 17th January 1923 in the hands of experienced test pilot Captain Alejandro Gómez Spencer.  

source - Wikipedia 
Cierva autogiros would go on to be developed throughout the '20s and '30s, regularly being touted as the next big advance in aviation before reaching something of a technological dead-end by the start of the Second World War, after which advancements in vertical take-off heralded the beginning of the helicopter and relegated the autogiro to that of a light, leisure aircraft (now known as the gyrocopter).  You can read more about the history of Cierva autogiros in this article I wrote for In Retrospect magazine a few years back.

Now, however, I'm delighted to see that a group of Spanish aviation enthusiasts have put the finishing touches to a full-scale flying replica of that first C.4, the maiden flight of which took place once again at Getafe aerodrome (where it will be operated by the Club de Ultraligeros Getafe) back in April 2023 - a fitting tribute to Juan de la Cierva, Captain Gomez and the history not only of the autogiro but of early Spanish aviation in general.  What a wonderful sight it is to see one of these fantastic machines take to the air once more!


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