Weird and wonderful No7 – Renault 4cv ‘Labourdette’

Another in our occasional series of interesting things that have popped up on the internet…

Regular readers will be familiar with Mario’s ‘brother’ Regie the Renault 4cv, so we are always interested when something about 4cv’s catch our eye on the internet. Like Fiats, there were many different derivatives of the 4cv with unusual bodies but the one we spotted today really stood out.

Yes this strange quirky looking car is based on a 4cv. The 4cv Labourdette Vutotal was unveiled by the French President at the Paris Salon in 1949 or 50 where its design and styling were considered progressive. The Labourdette’s were a french family involved in coachbuilding and then very early car design. The Grandson, was visionary body-builder Jean-Henri Labourdette born in 1888 and who became well known for his bold transformations of prestige vehicles such as Bugatti and Rolls Royce.

The company had developed a glued frameless windscreen and front door glass which eliminated the A-frame, this ‘Vutotal’ (total view) design was patented in 1935 and appeared in many prototypes but never in a production vehicle. After the war Labourdette didn’t really resume their coachbuilding business but Jean-Henri devoted his time to research and inventions. He eventually retired to Grasse, near Nice, which by coincidence is where we found Regie.

The 4cv Vutotal was a three seater convertible with the single backseat turned through 90º and the famous panoramic windows. The headlights were built in under glass. It proved too revolutionary and never went into production.

Two years later Labourdette went on to make a more conventional convertible version of the 4cv. Only two doors but the front end is the same as the production model and you can see the famous star wheels which were fitted on the early cars. This was two years before Renault produced their own factory built convertible which they only made under 500 of, in 1954. Regie is actually, an after market convertible, made post factory to order, similar to what Crayford Conversions did to many Fords in the 60s and 70’s.

The 4cv convertible on a postcard believed to be shot outside the Labourdette’s house in Paris.
The Labourdette 4cv Convertible on track in 1952, believed to be at the Grand Prix de La Baule.

Catching up on 2019… Part 1

As we are so behind, here is the first part of a brief catch up of what we got up to classic motoring in 2019.

The Haslemere Classic Car Show

After the Goodwood Members Meeting it was all go organising the car show we hold in our local town. We have been running this in our community for 11 years (we are currently underway with the 12th). We have around 250 cars attend of which nearly a hundred do a 60 mile tour in the morning in our beautiful local countryside. Mario of course is in attendance, he is in fact extremely useful in transporting stuff to and from the show, including ‘Houndtooth’ our Haslemere Hound, for the discerning Gentleman driver which the humans painted as part of a community arts project.

London to Lisbon

James went off navigating on Hero’s London to Lisbon Rally in a Fiat 2300. This event starts fairly near us at Brooklands and so Jane has an opportunity to go to start and a couple of the stops on the first day before the competitors get the overnight ferry.

The Wander – Jane’s first go at navigating a ‘proper’ event

Organised by some of James’ rally chums this is a fun one day event from Petersfield to Devizes, the long way with some fairly hard challenges along the route. This was my first time at managing maps and clocks but a good time was had and I didn’t make an idiot of herself. While it would have been lovely for Mario to have made his debut it was decided that he was probably a bit slow to keep up and so ‘brother’ Regie was drafted in for the day. Great fun was had, James didn’t get cross, I didn’t cry and Regie run perfectly! We look forward to taking part again.

Part 2 at the Festival of Speed to follow shortly…

Absent without leave…

Firstly another apology, sorry we haven’t blogged since February, no real excuse, just a lack of time… but now we fully intend to get back in the flow. Over the next couple of weeks we will tell you what Mario, Regie and the humans have been up to this year in the motoring world and we have lots of interesting finds to share..

To get started though, yesterday was Halloween and popping up on social media was a fantastic Hearse, a wooden carved Cadillac from 1929, looking like something out of a Disney Cartoon, sort of a spooky version of Cinderella’s pumpkin coach. This got us thinking about the fabulous Multipla Hearse we blogged about in 2012 and so started a trawl through the internet.

One normally thinks of a hearse as a dignified, sensible and probably boring way to make that final journey with a bit of respect but my goodness we found some weird and wacky options…

Other types of Fiat and we think an Alfa, practical in the same style as the Multipla, pretty sensible but with a touch of Italian Bling.

An E-Type Jag for the sporty option

Ornate carving is a popular thing…
Top: a Buick 1929
Middle: a Cunningham 1929.
Bottom group: No idea of the cars or dates below but all look like they starred in Wacky Races. I think these are probably in a Funeral Museum in the USA.

Cadillac’s from late 1930’s early 40’s

60’s space age – a huge Cadillac Fleetwood Eureka

And a Buick, found in Greece and currently undergoing restoration.

If you thought the previous ones were ornate, now have a look at the Asian versions, mini temples decked out in gold.

For the Military funeral or just for enthusiasts the Tank Hearse.

For when you want to combine your funeral with a holiday!

No words… The end.

Better late than never… Goodwood MM76

We’ve been promising this for months but the looming Goodwood Revival meet next week reminded me that we had never shared our rather unusual experiences of the 76th Members Meeting.

Taking place back in March, the first major event of the year can obviously be a bit chilly, although we were all lured into a false sense of security with the first ’72’ MM which took place in glorious sunshine back in 2014.

On the Friday before the meeting I was invited to a special talk by the Duke of Richmond, this was exclusively for the founder members of the GRRC and was a fascinating afternoon with the Duke telling great stories about how Motorsport was brought back to Goodwood. It was a beautiful sunny day and the circuit looked magnificent under blue skies with the daffodils gently nodding in the breeze.

However this year the forecast was looking decidedly dodgy for the weekend and as we set off on Saturday morning it was grey and foreboding and very cold. Mario was booked into the Chicane Parking, partly to be on display to his always appreciative public but mainly so we have the most convenient locker, for all those extra layers of clothing and of course the picnic!

This year was going to be even more interesting for us as our friend Adam had his Lola-Chevrolet T142 taking part in the F5000 demonstration. But by mid morning when he was out for his first run, it had started to blizzard and we could hardly see him come down the startline straight from our viewpoint on the top of the pitlane.

The snow eased off after the demo and we were wrapped up exceptionally well, although I looked and felt like a Michelin Man. Taking photos was difficult in thick fur mittens and I couldn’t put my arms down to my side but I wasn’t cold. We spent the rest of the day mooching around the paddocks, watching racing and then in the evening we stayed on for some of the party which had some great entertainment and parades. By the time we came to go home though, poor Mario had a little coating of snow and it was falling lightly all the way back to Haslemere.

The following morning the alarm went at 6am, we were supposed to be at the circuit by 7.30 as Mario had a place in the Members Parade. However I pulled back the curtains to a white landscape. There was no way we were going to be able to move poor Mario and the roads were more or less blocked.

So Mario stayed safely at home. After a couple of hours talking to friends and following FaceBook we managed to get a friend who had James’ ‘truck’ to come and rescue us. Once over the first couple of hills, the snow became much lighter and we were able to get to the circuit just in time for Adam’s demo. the F5000 cars are very powerful and most opted not to go out but Adam was brave or foolish depending how you looked at it and he took to the track with about four4 others and put in a few careful laps for the crowd. The rest of the day went ahead with some good racing, especially the Edwardian Race which was exciting. 

So, considering the conditions we still managed to have a good day and got home without too much trouble although we couldn’t get Mario back to his garage for about three days.

Hopefully the weather will be kinder to us next week, when Mario will be back at Goodwood for his favourite weekend of the year, working as a taxi at the Revival… see you there.

Weird and wonderful No 6 – Gebruder Verga Coupe

Another in our occasional series of interesting things that have popped up on the internet…  This time this spectacular little space age Coupe produced by a small Carrozzeria or bodyshop in Switzerland in the late 50’s but with a rather interesting story which I have tried to piece together from articles online.

The Gebruder Verga Coupe was a special body on a Volkswagen chassis with a rear-mounted air-cooled engine. There doesn’t seem to be much information or history available but it would appear that at least two cars were built, one more unusual with a bubble-top canopy and a fixed head version with Gull wing doors which may be a copy.

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The Carrozzeria Verga was founded in 1830 by Benjamin Verga as a maker of wagons and carriages crafted from wood and iron. The business stayed in the family and in the next century, later generations became skilled coach builders. In 1956 Enrico Verga produced a prototype car  which appeared at a Concours D’Elegance competition in Campione d’Italia near Lugano. It is thought that this was the beautiful and futuristic glass bubble version and it is this car which features on the website of the family business today – there is no information as to what became of the car, maybe it is hidden away in the workshop!

It featured in a German magazine in the 50’s, who commented, that it had a rather strange opening roof, which lifted up in one piece including the circular door disc and was rather clumsy. In several of the original photos below, the roof seems to have been replaced with a curved windscreen, maybe the roof was removable or perhaps this was a modification or even a different version, although it has the same registration.

Verga-coupe1Verga-coupe3Verga-coupe2Verga-coupe5Verga-coupe6Verga-old-adIt is not known if the second ‘version’ was designed and built by Verga but it has a remarkably similar body shape and styling although it is a fixed head with Gull wing doors. It does have a more intriguing story and is still in existence.

Over the years this car had some rather extensive modifications for not entirely legal reasons. It was used to smuggle auto bits, especially truck ball bearings at a time when customs duties were high. Secret compartments had been installed and the four corners of the body had jacks, which raised it up to reveal the contraband goods. The frame had been reinforced to take the extra weight.

In 1959 the car was seized by the French Police at Arnéguy on the Spainish border. It was confiscated by the state and stored in a warehouse at the La Rochelle Customs School until it was rediscovered quite recently. Eventually it was auctioned by the French Authorities, it was purchased and  has been returned to Switzerland, where I believe it is being restored. Even the journey back wasn’t uneventful as the bonnet blew off on the motorway. Amazingly after an online appeal and the offer of a reward, the bonnet was discovered in a field not far from it’s final destination and returned to the new owner!

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Carrozzeria Verga is still in business today and is run by Simone Verga the Great Grandson of Benjamin.

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Hopefully more information will come to light and the car or cars will be seen again soon.

Fiat Spiaggina – a 60th anniversary special

The Fiat 500 was 60 yesterday (launched on the 4th July 1958) and alongside the celebrations of Fiat 500 owners worldwide there were two new Fiat 500’s to mark the occasion.

Fiat themselves have an anniversary model. A Fiat 500C Spiaggina 58′ edition of the convertible modern 500, in baby blue and ivory with a few tweaks, stripy beach style interior and some retro wheels, cute but not that unusual although it is being limited to ‘1958’ cars, it goes on sale in September.

However it is the prototype 500 Spiaggina or Beach Buggy which is getting all the attention. A modern take on the cut down ‘topless’ Jolly Beach Cars so loved by the celebrities of the day in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

 

Based on a modern 500C, it is coach built by specialists Garage Italia, which is owned by Lapo Elkann the Grandson of Gianni Agnelli. it is fully topless with just one roof bar and with some body strengthening by Pininfarina.

The two seater is a perfect fun summer car. With a waterproofed interior, bench seat and the yacht like corked panelled boat/loading bay, even incorporating a shower!

You can actually order this car with any engine from the current 500 range be built to order but no doubt for a specialist price and whether all the quirky features will remain is another matter.

Of course the question we must ask is… any chance of a modern version of the extended 600 Multipla Spiaggina?

All aboard the Skiway…

After a few days stuck home with the snow, this popped up on social media and caught me eye and I thought it would make a perfect topical post…

Timberland Lodge

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Situated 6000 feet up Mount Hood in Oregon, the historic Timberline Lodge was built in 1937 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project to provide jobs after the Great Depression. It is famous for hosting year-round skiing and also for being used as the exterior of the ‘Overlook Hotel’ in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining.

While interesting it wasn’t the Hotel that caught my eye but the fact that it was once the home of the longest stretch of arial tram in the world. The Skiway ran for three miles connecting the town of Government Camp at 2,100 feet to Timberland Lodge. The ‘Cloudliner’ which ran on the route was converted from a school bus suspended from a cable supported by 38 steel towers up to 72 feet tall, which could transport 36 people seated and 14 standing. Most mountain tramways are pulled by a moving cable but unusually on the Skiway, each set of wheels was separately powered by a 185hp bottom-mounted engine and these pulled the bus up the mountain on the traction cables anchored at both ends.

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When it opened a one-way fare was 75 cents, the lower terminal in Government Camp had a restaurant and snack bar, gift shop, ski shop and guest lounge. The tram entered the terminal on the building’s third floor where the loading/unloading platforms were located. At Timberline Lodge there was no terminal building and passengers had to get on and off at an open-air platform.

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The project cost over $2 million to construct and opened in 1951. However it suffered mechanical problems, was slow and could only make a couple of trips an hour so by the mid 50’s when the road up the mountain was improved it made the Skiway redundant and it was deconstructed ten years after opening.

Watch a video of the Skiway in action.

 

Mario is now keeping his fingers crossed that the snow stays away and it warms up in the next couple of weeks before the Goodwood Members Meeting. We’ll be taking part in the Members Parade on Sunday morning and will be parked in the Chicane Parking on Saturday so watch this space.

Weird and Wonderful No 5 – L’Oeuf

Nothing is ever new in this world and the current boom in electric cars is no exception – meet L’Oeuf, an electric concept car from 1942…A three wheel, two seater electric minicar made from aluminium and plexiglass which was designed by Paul Arzens. A french artist, engineer and an industrial designer of trains and cars, Paul constructed L’Oeuf for his own use. Made in 1942 when Paris was in the grips of the Nazi invasion, petrol and materials were in short supply, Paul’s solution to his personal transport was the lightweight L’Oeuf which needed few materials to produce and had a amazing range of 60 miles and a top speed of 37mph with two passengers.

With it’s huge Plexiglas roof and doors the car had fantastic visibility. The rest of the body was hand formed aluminium in an egg shape tapering at the rear to cover the third wheel and the electric motor. The chassis was made of Duralinox tubing, a stainless steel, aluminium and magnesium alloy which is resistant to corrosion and it was attached to suspension on the rear wheel for good handling. The interior was very minimal, just a bench seat and steering wheel, this meant it weighed in at just 90kg, once the batteries were added it was still only 350kg.

Due to the war and the difficulty of getting materials only the one prototype vehicle was ever made, it received a lot of attention but was never developed any further. Arzens was obviously fond of his L’Oeuf as he kept it in his private collection until his death in 1990. It is now in The Cité de L’Automobile – The French National Motor Museum in Mulhouse,with some of his earlier car designs. 
Many of the features in this early experiment – light, small, good visibility and a sense of fun – have found their way into the urban city cars of today.


Multipla’s to the rescue…

The fact, that Fiat 600D Multipla’s were used as Taxis (in Rome and Croydon), is quite well documented and they were modified to use as a funeral hearse. But it would appear that they also played a part in other public services.

Late last year, Kevin and Helen, a couple of members of the ‘Independent Goodwood Photographers Association’ FaceBook Group sent us a message with photos of a Fiat Multipla and 600 ‘Police’ cars which they had just seen in Rome, in the entrance to a police station on Piazza del Popolo. They were both used by the Carabinieri Corps (Italy’s 4th Military service) in 1957 and used for 10 years with the territorial unit for crowd control.

 

This of course caught our interest and a google revealed a hidden police museum in Rome – Museo delle Auto della Polizia di Stato, A bit of googling revealed these images of a Multipla and a 500 in the museum. They seem to be marked ‘Polizia’ but assume it was still the Carabinieri due to the military green paint work. If anyone knows differently please let us know!

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Couldn’t find any period images of Police vehicles other than this rather unusual one of an rmed office out of the roof, wonder if this was from a movie rather than real life. The others are what appear to be Police 500/600 but of course could just be reproductions. It seems really hard to turn up information in Italian unless you are fluent enough to be able to search in Italian!

I did find this model of a Multipla so maybe they were used by the Polizia Municiple as well. It is thought that Multipla’s may have been used as they were able to get down the small streets easily.

I had to include this, modern day policing in a New Fiat 500.

I then of course started looking at the other ‘Emergency Services’. I had a bit more luck with Ambulances with several old pictures cropping up of the Multipla or the 600t van being used by the Italian ‘Green Cross’ a public assistance organisation. Several brochures popped up from a company called Corrozzeria Coriasco (Who also produced the boat car) who produced special Autoambulanza versions between 1956 and 1962, again I believe because they could get down narrow Italian streets and through traffic quickly.


The main difference with the 600t version seems to be the doors, with the Multipla having access via the rear with a standard side door and the 600t having double opening side doors. Although both had space for a stretcher and two people in the back.

There is a beautiful restored example of the Multipla at the headquarters of the Red Cross of Bergamo, which was actually in service in the city in the 1960s.


Finally the Fire Service where I basically drew a blank, other than a couple of models which may be fictional. This post has really tested our research capabilities and we would love to know if anyone has any more information about the Multipla being used for ‘Service’/emergency vehicles. As well as the language barrier it would seem that particularly in the past, Italy didn’t have national organisations for the emergency services but many different private and voluntary organisations with different names.

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A Multipla from American history…

Recently a friend sent us a picture of a Multipla. Not that unusual in a Multipla owning household but this was a rather historical picture.

Our friend had just watched a documentary on BBC 4 ‘Citizen Jane: Battle for the City’ about Jane Jacobs, a journalist, author and activist in New York, who in the 50’s and 60’s was involved in fighting to stop the City Planning Commissioner Robert Moses from running roughshod over the City and demolishing historic neighbourhoods in pursuit of his modernist vision. Jane Jacobs was very concerned about many traditional areas of New York being destroyed by development and the communities that would be lost. The Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village was one of the places due to be destroyed by a planned four lane highway right through the popular meeting place. That plan was thwarted after the community formed a committee led by Shirley Hayes, Stanley Tankel, Jane and neighborhood resident Eleanor Roosevelt, who alongside many local Mothers fought against the plans. The seven-year battle to “Save the Square” was highlighted in Jane’s book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” which sent shockwaves through the architecture and planning worlds.
The famous photo of the Multipla was taken by Claire Tankel, Stanley’s Wife on November 1, 1958 and captures the celebration set up by the Committee after a trial traffic stoppage went into effect. It shows Stanley driving the Fiat through Washington Square with a sign reading “Last Car Thru Washington Square”.

The rest as they say is History and one year later, Washington Square Park was permanently closed to traffic except for emergency vehicles.

The only remaining (and most important) question is… What happened to the Multipla!