Small Wonders

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Woolf ‘Babe’ Barnato was a betting man. If there was anything that he found hard to resist (apart, apparently, from a well turned ankle!), it was a wager.

Apart from being probably the most naturally gifted racing driver of his generation, he was a millionaire and as such employed other people to create and manage his wealth. Despite his personal love and knowledge of fast cars, the people who surrounded him as financial advisors knew next to nothing about the motor industry, thus his famous rescue of the ailing Cricklewood-based Bentley Motors, by personally putting together a rescue package with his own money — albeit offering shareholders only 5% of the declared share value, was ill-starred from the very beginning — and apparently based more on his love of the thoroughbred marque, than any financial realities.

By 1929, despite the shaky commercial state of the concern, Bentley had enjoyed numerous racing successes throughout Europe, including four wins at Le Mans — two of them with the major shareholder at the wheel. Something new was needed to attract the public’s attention to the virtues of the empire’s finest sporting motor car.

After his win at the Sarthe in 1929, Barnato had decided to have a special saloon-bodied car constructed for his personal use, using a long-frame speed-six chassis (No.HM2855) and a 6 1/2-litre engine (No.HM2863). Paradoxically, it was the huge cost of putting the 6 1/2-litre unit into production that was a major contributory factor in bringing the downfall of Bentley Motors and its subsequent sell-off to Rolls-Royce in 1931.

The new car was a handsome beast. 2 1/2-tons all up weight, with striking black Gurney Nutting streamlined coachwork, to a design by Barnato himself, cream leather interior and sideways-on rear seats. Legend has it that these were positioned thus for less than honourable reasons! It seems more likely, however, that it was the only way to achieve comfortable headroom under the low rear rooffine.

During the new car’s shakedown run to the South of France in May 1930, the idea was mooted that it would be a splendid idea to race the only means of quick and stylish transport from the Riviera to the North of France available in those days — the Blue Train (remember that this was in the days before scheduled air transport). The news-hungry press seized upon the idea and thus the celebrated wager took place on the return journey.

It was never actually much of a contest in the end — and ‘Babe’ was to admit as much in later years. The car won the race by a comfortable margin, managing to cross the channel and report to the RAC club in London in 21 hours 30 minutes — four minutes before le Train Bleu pulled into Calais Station — but it made for good copy and the tale has since passed into the folklore of the Cricklewood Bentleys. Barnato subsequently sold the car to Lord Brougham and it had a chequered history in private hands, ultimately languishing in the Midlands for fifteen years after the war as a derelict, before being bought and restored by BDC President Hugh Harben. At this stage the running gear was updated, the bodywork painted BRG and a Webasto sun-roof installed. It was in this final form that the car was auctioned by Sotheby’s in December 1984.

As far as I am aware, the car has only been commercially modelled once, as a white-metal kit by Western Models, so a recent release of two nicely detailed 1/43rd scale versions of this characterful vehicle, by the Italian Brumm die-cast concern, is especially welcome.

Retailing at £7.65, you can have either the original black 1930 version — as raced across France, or a representation of its current British Racing Green livery. Both models capture the feel and line of the original and are fine value for money, so it is rather churlish to point out the shortcomings. However, the first version sports bright chrome wire wheels — whereas black would be more accurate (the importer, Harry Lewin of Modeltime tells me that the production release will have satin-chrome wheels, so that’s half way there!).

Also, the Italians have gone to some trouble to recreate the fabric finish of the Gurney Nutting bodywork on the latter BRG version, but it seems that the roof above the waistline should actually be black rather than BRG. Easily fixed, though, by a careful application of semi-matt black paint. Excellent value for money then and highly recommended and now available in the shops.

Another recent release which is bound to be popular and available through the same importer, is the first budget-priced die-cast release by the French 1/43rd scale model manufacturer AMR — (disguised as MR Models) — of the 1989 Le Mans winning Sauber-Mercedes. This is a striking model and very well moulded — so well in fact, that I initially thought it was resin based. It includes all the detail that one could demand from a built model at this price — £16.20. The shape is right, the decals are fine and the detail on the miniature Speedline wheels is very impressive. MR have even got the neon yellow driver mirrors the correct shade!

Two small grumbles though, the exhaust outlets through the side of the bodywork are a little crude and will need some attention with a fine brush and some matt black and gunmetal paint and the rear wing post is a solid casting, instead of the two support plates seen on the full size version, done this way no doubt for ease of manufacture and robustness.

There are also plans for a limited edition release of the other two Sauber finishers in the race (Nos. 61 & 62) at a later date, but in the meantime this is a fine model which will find a welcome place in any collection. One hopes that future productions from MR are up to the same standard.

Whilst on the subject of Group C racers, this is just a note to point out that fans of the many variants and colourways of the ubiquitous Porsche 962 are very well served in the larger 1/24th scale at the moment. The battle seems to be waging between the Japanese manufacturers, Tamiya — who for many years have virtually cornered this particular scale niche in the car modelling market — and now a growing challenge coming from Hasegawa Models. Newly on offer are the Omron 962 driven by Schuppan, Elgh and Matsumoto in the Japanese championship and the Advan car driven by Dickens and Kunimitsu — both from Hasegawa at £8.99. The latter is particularly interesting, as it represents the evolution of the car with the central wing support at the rear instead of the standard factory wing configuration.

Tamiya have struck back with their version of the Okada/Dickens FROM A car — another Japan championship chassis — and unusually undercutting the Hasegawa versions on price — coming in at £7.99. This has been achieved by using the ploy of omitting engine detail on the kit, thus saving the expensive tooling and moulding costs. All the kits are good value and are to the usual high standard of these manufacturers, although the colour of the body moulding of the FROM A kit is too light and needs to be a slightly ‘dirtier’ yellow and the Hasegawa models will need extensive painting of the bodywork to blend in with the decals supplied to match the coachwork decorations of the original cars. Recommended.

Finally Nathan Beehl, the Bedfordshire-based Ferrari model specialist, has shown us the latest in super-detailed large scale miniatures available through his retail outlet at Pulloxhill — Nathan’s Studio (0525-718508). MG Models of Firenze are producing limited numbers of a handbuilt 1/14th scale model of the 1989 Formula 1 Ferrari 639. The photograph cannot cannot do full justice to work of this quality, but it would certainly be a ‘stand-out’ for the collection of any wealthy Ferrari buff — weighing in at a mere £550 (inc VAT!). Over 12″ long, this miniature is exquisitely detailed and finished, right down to a carbonfibre effect rear aerofoil, Koni decals on the tiny shocks and the individually crafted Arexons seat harnesses. Superb — and working on the basis that you get what you pay for — it could be called good value for money! IB

Along the years John Stubbs has made some outstanding car models, such as a chain-drive 1908 GP Mercedes and a 1913 GP Mercedes, to quite large scales and very painstakingly detailed. He now tells us that, prompted by a plea WB made over 40 years ago for bigger model cars, he has completed a one sixth full-size model of a 1920 racing Brescia Bugatti, encouraged perhaps because he once owned the real thing, after much help from George Lutz, who was riding mechanic to Baccoli in one of the team cars, and the late Hugh Conway, etc. The model is just over 18″ in length and all its appropriate nuts are castellated and split-pinned, all joints correctly fitted with clevis-pins, washers and split-pins. Stubbs says the research took more time than building this fine model Bugatti, in which every conceivable detail has been painstakingly reproduced. WB

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