Thursday, 12 January 2017

XK120 Supersonic

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis



The aero-inspired Ghia Supersonic of the early 1950s is arguably one of the most beautiful car designs of all time. While it's usually associated with Italian cars, however, you may be intrigued to note that this one is actually a Jaguar XK120 underneath.
Originally penned by Ghia designer Giovanni Savonuzzi, the first Supersonic clothed an Alfa Romeo 1900, tuned by Conrero and entered into the 1953 Mille Miglia. (Imagine that today - a coachbuilt sports car being commissioned for racing rather than concours trophies...) Subsequent Supersonics can generally be found hiding the guts of a Fiat 8V beneath their slinky curves, although one was based on an Aston Martin, and three upon Jaguar underpinnings.

This car began life as a left-hand-drive DHC, delivered to the Delecroix dealership in Paris, who shipped it over to Ghia along with another XK120 for rakish new bodywork, commissioned by Delecroix customer Monsieur Malpelli. This car is the only one of the XK120 Supersonics to sport a Conrero cylinder head and triple Weber carbs, affording it the gruffness of 220bhp.
Exhibited at motor shows in Paris and London, this car then hit the concours scene, until Malpelli's unpaid bills caught up with him and Delecroix reclaimed the two cars for themselves. In the following decades this one passed through a variety of collectors' hands, before landing with its current owner in 2015. It's got the original tan leather, the original matching-numbers engine, and the original frisson of debonair boulevardier chic. Gorgeous, isn't it?

Spotted at the 2016 Windsor Concours - more pics here.









Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Wizard Roadster

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis



The cult of the Wizard Roadster is mired in secrecy and half-truths; ownership of one isn't just about drop-top aircooled whimsy, it's an exercise in clandestine sleuthing if you're keen to know the provenance of the thing.
The concept was originally devised in the US; these conversions were available via the small ads in the back of hot rod magazines, and the legend goes that three kits were purchased (one of each popular style; the roadster, the van, and the 'Windjammer' T-Bar semi-hardtop) by Pete & Mart's Custom Supplies of Harlow, Essex, in the early 1980s. UK company Wizard of Rods then - allegedly - used said moulds as the basis for their products. The 1984 Wizard brochure described how the kit would 'transform a stock Beetle into an exciting soft-top fun vehicle,' the fibreglass bonding task being 'something like two weekends' work'. As was the nature of the home-taping nineteen-eighties, these copied designs were variously ripped off by other kit car firms and what-have-you, selling for knock-down prices. So today it's quite hard to know whether a Beetle Roadster is an old-school US build, or a 'genuine' UK Wizard, or a period knock-off, or something that's been crafted since.

For the sake of simplicity, however, let's just call this particular shiny example a Wizard. I can't give you any details as to its provenance, but I'd love to know more about it - the VW-Porsche 914 badges and auto shifter suggest that something entertaining's going on with the running gear, the interior is beautifully trimmed, the custom dash is a real eye-catcher, and the staggered tyre profiles on those Empi five-spokes gives it a delicious rake. Splendid little thing.

Spotted at the Goodwood Breakfast Club - more pics here.









Thursday, 22 December 2016

74MM - MkI RS2000

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis



This is one of the wonderful things about Goodwood events – the free and easy paddock access means that you’re right there amongst the action. This Harris-engined RS2000 was in the process of being hoisted up, dismantled and smacked with hammers early on Sunday morning at this year’s Members’ Meeting, and yet just a blink of an eye later it was out on track giving ’em hell, barking outrageously through its side-exit exhaust. An iconic silhouette, an elbows-deep oily remedy, and typical track showmanship. Lovely stuff.

More pics from 74MM here.











Tuesday, 20 December 2016

'Hibiki' RWB 964

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis



The pearlescent orange vision you see before you is the product of passion and heritage, of vintage methods and new-wave thinking. You may be familiar with the cult of the RWB Porsche, but do you know just how deep the rabbit-hole goes? The whole trippy merry-go-round is a million miles from simply buying and fitting a bodykit – it involves the synthesis and fusion of sensibilities, a personal commitment in time from Akira Nakai himself (for he is the enigmatic figure behind RWB), and a mind-boggling array of decisions in order to arrive at something unique. RWB cars are rare fruit indeed.

This car, which began life as a 1991 964 Carrera 4, nestles in adulation at the heart of Profusion Customs, right here in the UK. And it’s wholly appropriate that they should have such a machine in their possession, as theirs is a tale of heritage and passion too. “My background was in crash repairs, at an outfit run by my father,” explains boss-man Jag Jagdev. “We had a good reputation in the industry, with contracts from BMW, Rolls-Royce and so on.” A strong foundation for Jag’s future career then, although for a time he left the business and went into IT sales. It took his son Raj’s automotive enthusiasm to pull him back to his true calling.
“Raj is a hands-on guy, and he found an intensive automotive training programme in the USA that ran a campus in Canada,” Jag explains. “Two months and £10k later he came back an expert; when I came home from work one day and found him working on a Ferrari on the drive, I could see he knew his stuff!” So with his progeny all grown up, Jag jacked in the IT sales and set up Profusion Customs with Raj in late 2007. The economists among you may be raising an eyebrow at the idea of starting up a new business in the midst of a horrendous recession, but the way the guys saw it, it was a perfect opportunity to iron out the wrinkles early on, to ultimately put themselves in a better position. It worked.
“We started out as a stainless steel exhaust specialist,” Jag explains. “We’ve always been interested in audio, but concluded that factory stereo installs were so good these days that the market wasn’t big enough, so we focused on the pipes; the business has two branches – the first is in building custom quality exhausts for any vehicle, and people come to us from all over the UK and Europe for that, and the second is in supplying stainless steel parts to allow other companies to fabricate systems.” Now, you may be wondering how this history lesson fits into the girthsome 911 you’re drooling over. But fear not, all will become clear.
The Porsche, you see, is their own car – not built for a customer, but merely to satisfy their own desires. Indeed, with every other project car they’ve built, they’ve done everything in-house – this is the first time an outsider has been allowed to come into Profusion to build a car. But, as you’ll soon see, Nakai-san is no ordinary outsider…



It all started years back in the swirling mists of time when Raj stumbled across a photo online of a Rauh Welt Begriff build, and it set his mental cogs whirring. The firm was more keenly Mercedes-focused at the time, but that one image was enough: after a protracted search, the fellas were in touch with RWB and about to have their minds comprehensively blown. See, you don’t just get on the blower and order a kit, dealing with Nakai-san is a whole new mindset.
There are two key steps to take when you start down the bespoke RWB path: one is that you need to source and prepare the right car, and the other is that Nakai-san needs to interview you, to get inside your way of thinking and see how the car will intertwine with your wants and needs. And after numerous lengthy discussions with the great man, pinpointing every specific element of the details, they set about tearing down and preparing their base car.

“The 911 was a rare find to begin with, being a Carrera 4 with a manual gearbox and no sunroof,” Jag explains. “It’s generally just the RS models that don’t have sunroofs, so it’s a desirable spec.” But there’s no room for sentimentality here – purists be damned, this thing was getting torn apart. “Oh, there was an awful lot to do,” Jag laughs. “Interior, suspension, engine, the works – everything had to be ready before Nakai-san arrived, so that he could just get on with it without distraction. We fully rebuilt the engine, deleting everything untidy like the air-con system and what-have-you, and we converted it from a dual- to single-mass clutch and lightweight flywheel. We went to KW for the suspension, opting for their 964-specific setup that has a four-wheel hydraulic lift system, to raise it up a couple of inches if need be. And the interior? We really went to town on that…”
The innards were fully gutted, painted, and artfully smoothed. Recaro stepped in with some gorgeous carbon-fibre Pole Position seats, while the Profusion boys set about adding their own custom flair. Being lifelong audio nuts, they eagerly wired in a brace of subwoofers where the rear seats used to reside, and they crafted their own custom doorcards to house the bigger speakers, all supplied by the brainiacs of noise over at JL Audio. “It’s engineered for sound quality, not just bass,” Jag assures us. “And the stereo is a work of art – it’s effectively just a small knob on the dash, all Bluetooth-enabled so you control it from your phone. Not all RWB cars are particularly known for audio, but we’ve got dashtop tweeters, custom door builds, the lot.”
While they were in there ripping things out, the handbrake was junked in favour of an electronic setup, and the dash was finished in body-colour with custom Read Design clocks, and swanky ostrich skin beneath.



So, with the 964 ready, waiting, and bristling with a monster custom spec, it was all set for Nakai-san to do his thing. What was it like working with him, then?
“He’s a machine,” breathes Jag, genuinely awestruck. “No jetlag, just fuelled by passion – his flight landed at 10am on the Friday, and by midday he was sizing up the car, analysing the possibilities, and then he just got to work. We asked him what time he anticipated working till and he said ‘I’ll carry on until 8 or 9pm’; he did, then he was back first thing the next day and right back on it. He’s like an angel floating around the car, there’s no delay, he just knows everything. It really is magical to watch. We’d left the workshop doors open and invited the RWB fans down too, and everyone was enraptured by the spectacle; we gave the fans free beer and there was a massive buzz. After all, what is a company without people, and passion? We were delighted to invite everybody in.”

One of the key elements of an RWB build is that Nakai-san must furnish it with a name, and this one – Hibiki – came about when Jag and Raj took him out for a curry. They were discussing a mutual appreciation of Japanese whisky, and he felt that Hibiki was the perfect title; not only is it a brand of whisky, but it also translates as ‘beautiful sound vibrations’, which ties neatly into Profusion Customs’ exhaust heritage.
“Oh yes, the exhaust was an interesting build too,” Raj chips in. “We were working to quite a tight timeline, of course, and we ended up crafting the system on Nakai-san’s second day of the build. We built up a full custom manifold, and used one of our 9” silencers as a combined all-in-one silencer and tailpipe. It was certainly a challenge!”
And as you might imagine, the car’s been pretty well received. “The online reviews, the emails we’ve had, it’s all very humbling,” says Jag. “And it’s worth pointing out that we’re the official UK agent for RWB – if anyone’s interested in owning a bespoke Rauh Welt Porsche, come and talk to us!” You’ll need to have a reasonably healthy bank balance, however – this car’s been valued at around £170,000. You get what you pay for though, don’t you? And if you parked this outside a swanky hotel next to, say, a McLaren P1, no-one’s going to be looking at the Big Mac. “That’s true,” laughs Jag. “We’ve got a Testarossa in the collection, and no-one gives it a second glance, they make a beeline for the RWB!”



So where on earth do they go from these giddy heights? “Ah, we have a few plans,” grins Jag, a twinkle in his eye. “This is no museum piece, it’ll get used, and used hard. We’re planning a twin-turbo conversion for next year, so that should push it past 600bhp. And since we’ve got UK RWB #001, we’d quite like to build #002 as well…”
You heard it here first. But for now, let’s allow the lads to luxuriate in their magnificent creation. It’s offbeat, it’s unique, and it’s been a hell of a journey.


Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Astra VXR Nürburgring

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis



Well, this was a surprise. You know what it's like when you climb into a car with low expectations and it totally shocks you? That's what the VXR Nürburgring did to me recently. It really is very good indeed.

Launched in 2005, this generation of Astra VXR was already a fairly manic thing, with 240bhp-odd and an aggressively firm chassis setup. The Nürburgring edition was, on paper, something akin to a cynical marketing exercise - a set of white wheels and some stickers, along with a modest 15bhp power hike. Oh, but it was so much more...
From time immemorial our motorsport heroes had been leaping and jinking through the Eifel mountains and, with the importance of lap times at this venue spiralling into an arms race, this was an easy win for the marketing men. With a few choice tweaks to the oh-so-eighties-inspired white-on-white hot hatch, they smashed in a time of 8:35 (well, they didn’t actually – that time was set in a stock Astra OPC some years previously, but don’t let something as trivial as a fact get in the way of a good story), then set about selling 835 special edition cars to celebrate. The chosen few of the clamouring public were treated to chequerboard decals and stylised ’Ring logos, but more significantly a shouty centre-exit Remus pipe, lighter wheels, and a certain implacable dynamic frisson. It worked, too – the Astra VXR Nürburgring cost a hefty £1,575 more than the standard VXR, but they shifted every one.

These cars are surprisingly fast - hooligan-fast, with a thudding power delivery and the ability to make the scenery go blurry really rather quickly, backed up by excellent brakes to scrub all that thrust off again - but the real bonus is that Remus exhaust. Sure, citing one sole bolt-on mod as the character-defining marker of a model may seem frivolous, but this truly is a great exhaust: the VXR Nürburgring pops and crackles like a rally car on the overrun, and blasts what sounds like shotgun fire out of the back end every time you change gear. It's absurd. Brilliantly absurd.

I wasn't expecting to like this car all that much, but it was so good that I started checking the classifieds to see what they're selling for. That, to me, is a pretty good sign.













Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Lamborghini Miura P400 Roadster

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis



Lamborghini Miuras are always special. With ideas pinched from the humble Mini (the transversely-mounted engine, the gearbox-in-sump arrangement) and an overtly race-car-for-the-road ethos that saw the car designed behind Ferruccio Lamborghini's back - he was more keen on building luxurious grand tourers - it had solid pedigree right from the start. The fact that Marcello Gandini styled it to look like some kind of boisterous spaceship has ensured that it's every bit as jaw-dropping today as it was when it was unveiled in Geneva in 1966.

The one you're looking at here is not just a roadster - it's the roadster. The only factory-commissioned open-top Miura, this very car was built by Bertone for the 1968 Brussels Motor Show, and it's been exhibited globally ever since. After a number of auto salons it was sold to the International Lead Zinc Research Organization to use as a showcase for the use of zinc alloys in automobiles - bit weird - and was eventually sold on to a New York City real estate developer by the name of Adam Gordon in 2006, who commissioned the Bobileff Motorcar Company of San Diego, California to restore it to original Bertone Roadster spec. It's subsequently been shown at Pebble Beach and Amelia Island, and you see it here at this year's Salon Privé. Check out that spangly disco paintwork!

More from Salon Privé here.