A successful Winter Challenge…

A quick update…

James and Herman have completed the Winter Challenge from Troyes to Monte Carlo and have had a very successful week. They finished 9th overall and collected a 2nd in class award.

The rally left Troyes last Sunday and after an overnight halt at Chartres met up with the english starters at Le Mans and then onto Bourges. The first full day was in warm sunny spring conditions and not at all like a winter rally should be.

Tuesday was a long day of tricky navigation running into the evening, where fog made the route especially difficult as the headed to the overnight stop in Valence. Wednesday morning finally brought proper winter conditions with 8 inches of snow but again as the rally moved South it again became dry. The final day finished on the famous Col du Turini with snow again but the roads were cleared.

The event was won by the Dutch Crew of Jan Ebus and Jan Berkhof in their Porsche 356, James and Herman have come up against this very committed crew on several previous Winter Trials.

For a full report on the event see the official rally site  and James’ blog of the event

Here are a few of James’ Photos

IMG_4017Before the start in the medieval centre of Troyes


IMG_4044Herman Mass and the Volvo 122S

IMG_4051James has previous of Overtaking the snow plough!

IMG_4056Traditional French Rally Roads

IMG_4066At last proper winter rally conditions, but still no need to use the snow chains

IMG_4068 IMG_4084 IMG_4085 IMG_4096IMG_4131 IMG_4147Herman and James celebrating in Monte Carlo



Have a ‘rally’ good time…

Mario’s human (and chief medic!) James has set off to take part in the 2014 Winter Challenge which starts on Sunday from Troyes, South East of Paris and meanders it’s way through the mountainous areas of France to finish in Monte Carlo next Thursday having hopefully completed some of the most famous Cols in rallying history.

James is navigating for Dutchman Herman Mass in a 1967 Volvo 122S. They have been a successful team for a number of years taking part in various Winter Events. Previous years have seen them on the Winter Trial which takes place in January with routes all over Europe from Eastern Holland, through Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Austria and Italy, meaning they’ve often found themselves in very snowy and icy conditions. photo-5 photo-19 photo-22 photo-33 photo-34

It’s not looking like they are going to get such harsh winter conditions on this years Winter Challenge route through France and so James’ position as navigator will be much more important, one wrong slot could make all the difference on the road. James has spent the last couple of weeks busily plotting the route onto his maps, it looks like there will be some rather tricky navigational sections, hopefully they will do well – always a bit of a dilemma, I want them to succeed but you should see some of the trophies they bring home!

You can follow their progress on the official site or James will be writing his own blog – ‘Dickingaroundwitholdcars‘ – where possible.

James started off taking part in classic rallies more than 25 years ago initially as a driver, in an Austin A35, Mini, Hillman Minx and a pre-war Riley. Lots of fun and lots of adventures were to be had including breaking down in the Riley and being looked after by a family in a very remote part of France, apparently it was like a scene from ‘Ello, Ello’ when the poor husband came home to find two english ‘airmen’ in flying hats and goggles sitting in his kitchen!
old-scans180 old-scans181 old-scans211

He progressed on to an Austin Westminster Police car with navigator Keith Webster in full period police uniform, which became very well known on the classic circuit or you could say notorious – especially for being given a tour of Aix le Bain police station by the local Chief of Police who thought they were real policeman, amazingly they didn’t get arrested although they had rather naughtily had their picture taken in the cells! Unfortunately after a number of years the well performing Westminster met a rather sticky end, embedded in a gatepost in very icy conditions, luckily James and Keith were both unhurt, other than their pride, although James will never be able to forget the words of advise – ‘Don’t overtake the snow plough!’old-scans176DSCN1587 DSCN1627

After success driving in the early days, once James started his restoration business he started being asked by clients to navigate for them and so he began a second ‘career’ on the maps, which he now prefers to driving. As his interest in vintage cars grew, he started navigating in pre-war open top beasts, generally during the winter, the more inclement the weather the better. Several Le Jogs were undertaken in various pre-war cars plus several more visits to the North on the Flying Scotsman._mg_0116 _mg_0270 _mg_0596 DSCN0306 DSCN0316 DSCN5423 DSCN5426

Now Mario has no intention of becoming a rally car in winter or summer but we have taken his ‘little brother’ Nippy the Subaru 360 on two microcar rallies across Europe. With James driving and Jane as a rather novice navigator we all had a big adventure but that’ll have to wait for the next blog…MM_0226



Up, up and away…

Our last blog post about the Goodwood Aerodrome got us thinking about that futuristic dream of the flying car…

The stuff of movies and science fiction for years, flying cars featured in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Jetsons, James Bond and more recently Harry Potter.film-carsThen last week some of our friends came back from a weekend at Daytona and they had visited the ‘Warbirds Adventure’ museum  in Kissimmee Florida and one of the exhibits was a Molt Taylor “Aerocar” which is a real flying car and the only certified airplane in history that could also drive legally on the highway. This example was designed by Molt Taylor in 1946 and was once owned by TV host Bob Cummings who flew and drove it on his weekly TV show “The Bob Cummings Show”, and has flown many celebrities including Marilyn Monroe!  The museums example is the last remaining flying Areocar and belongs to the Sweeny family who reguarly fly it. James May was filmed flying the car in his Big Ideas show in 2008.   Watch a video of the family with the Aerocar

95108_f260arts-graphics-2008_1132021aSo this got us digging around to discover what we could about the holy grail of the car/plane combination. Many inventors have tried and failed over the years to produce a successful ‘flying car’. The first attempt is believed to have been the Curtiss Autoplane of 1917, which proved incapable of anything resembling true flight. 448-1

1-Flying-Cars-Curtiss_Autoplane_1917_2It wasn’t until 1937 that the ungainly looking Waterman Arrowbile proved that flying cars were possible, though this model never progressed beyond the prototype stage.Waterman_Aerobile_1957_03 Waterman_Arrowbile37

After the war there was a resurgence of interest and in 1946 Robert Edison Fulton Jr produced his Fulton ‘Airphibian’. It was intended that you flew your plane and then after landing the fuselage could be split in two, the front became a very basic car and the rear part of the tail and wings was left behind at the airport while you drove away.OrigAirph45Teamairphibian

This design got aeronautical engineer Molt Taylor thinking of a better way to make a flying car and he designed a version which featured a folding wing and tail which could be towed by the vehicle and converted in five minutes. The first official test flight took place in December 1949.

Primitive by automobile standards of the day, the Aerocar featured an air-cooled Lycoming flat-four engine, positioned over the rear wheels. A three-speed manual transmission provided drive to the front wheels, and this road transmission was simply placed into neutral when the Aerocar was in flight mode. The conversion process from automobile to airplane involved  fitting a tail cone and propeller assembly, which was driven by a power take-off located behind the rear license plate.

Aluminum was used in construction of the frame, wings, tail and ailerons, and the fuselage covered in fiberglass to save weight. The steering wheel operated the front wheels on the ground, but was also linked to ailerons and elevator flaps to provide bank and pitch control in flight. On the floor were clutch, brake  and rudder control pedals, the throttle was mounted on the dashboard.

After flying the wings fold back along the tail, the propeller is stowed, and the tail disengaged and rotated into the towing position. The tail portion could be parked, allowing the Aerocar’s cabin to be used independently as a compact car.

Development continued throughout 1950, and it took it’s first long flight from Salem, Oregon, to Longview, Washington) on August 29.

Aerocar-300x228 Aerocar-inflight-0804-1a1954Aerocar_01_700 1954Aerocar_02_700skycarflying_car3In May 1954 an improved version was submitted to Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) for certification. On December 14, 1956, the Aerocar became the first certified airplane that could also be driven on U.S. highways, a feat that has yet to be duplicated.

N103D became the  KISN Air Traffic Watch plane

N103D became the KISN Air Traffic Watch plane

Aerocar_Brochure_1961Aerocar-P1Taylor continued to build Aerocars throughout the 50’s but costs were an issue and a short lived deal to go into production in 1961 failed as the 500 required buyers couldn’t be found. Taylor spent the rest of his life building improved prototypes but none went into production.


The Aerocar III was built in the late 60’s with an updated and redesigned car section. It was quite sporty and apparently quite stable in the air.


This is the only Aerocar III ever built and is in the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

Of the 6 prototypes made, 5 remain. One of them unused since 1977 but supposedly maintained in an airworthy condition. was for sale for $1.25million in 2012. For a vehicle which was only a prototype it got a lot of publicity and recognition and is remembered with affection, recently one appeared in the  Disney movie ‘Planes’, although the 1954 Taylor Aerocar in the movie is depicted as German and called Franz Fliegenhosen!


Another designer Theodore P Hall came up with the prototype ConvairCar featuring a plastic bodied four seater car suspended under a 34.5 foot wing. It flew for the first time in November 1947 but crashed within three weeks due to fuel starvation, after fitting another body it was flying again by the end of January 1948.convaircar2722Flying cars were still being developed into the 70’s with the Mizar built between 1971 and 1973 by Advanced Vehicle Engineers (AVE) of Van Nuys, Los Angeles, California. The company was started by Henry Smolinski, a graduate of Northrop Institute of Technology’s aeronautical engineering school.

Prototype Mizar’s were made by adding the rear portion of a Cessna Skymaster to a Ford Pinto. Two prototypes were built and three more were under construction. One, fitted with a Teledyne Continental Motors 210 horsepower engine, was unveiled to the press on May 8, 1973. It then began a series of taxi tests at Van Nuys, California.

The Mizar was intended to use both the aircraft engine and the car engine for takeoff. This would considerably shorten the takeoff roll. Once in the air, the car engine would be turned off. Upon landing, the four-wheel braking would stop the craft in 525 feet or less. On the ground, telescoping wing supports would be extended and the airframe would be tied down like any other aircraft. The Pinto could be quickly unbolted from the airframe and driven away.
Production was scheduled to begin in 1974. However on September 11, 1973, during a test flight at Camarillo, the right wing strut detached from the Pinto and apparently the right wing folded. Designer Smolinski and his associate, Harold Blake, were killed in the resulting fiery crash.AVE-Mizar-1973 ford-mizarToday the flying car is still a dream but one which might become a reality. Dr Paul Moller has been designing flying cars for decades including the Neuera ‘flying saucer’. Moller International have backing in place to develop their Skycar, designed for speeds of over 300mph at an altitude of up to 36,000 feet for four passengers. The company intends to bring Vertical Take Off and Landing to the masses, a true sports aerocar but one that looks more futuristic than anything from the movies!article-2268402-172981B5000005DC-260_634x355moller-flying-cars saucercarsplash_450x325Terrafugia launched their flying car the ‘Transition at the 2012 New York Auto Show. The two-seat street legal aerocar could achieve a maximum air speed of 115mph and 35 miles to the gallon on the road. It is reported that they are well on the way to getting the dual road and air certification required.
fajb_flying_car_01_may2013terrafugia-flying-car-628The company have also released their next project the TF-X. More practical as it doesn’t need a runway it is designed to take off and land vertically via electrically-powered rotors mounted on the end of it’s fold up wings. It is hoped to be in production by the 2020’s.fajb_flying_car_02_may2013

So dreams or reality, will Aerocars ever become a part of our transport system? Many have tried but none have ever gone into production mainly due to prohibitive costs and the complicated certification required.

On a final note one aerocar dreamer is photographer Renaud Marion who takes ordinary cars and photoshops them into floating creations, here’s one example from his ‘Air Drive’ series and one we’d certainly like to be real, it’s really cool! Maybe he’d like to create a floating Mario.renaud-marion-01