Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Rufus J Flywheel

It has taken me a long time to read Rufus J Flywheel on car names 19 January 2012 if you must know. He meditates, if that is the word for someone with a monicker that smacks of casually made up, on names. How easily the Dacia Lodgy could become Dodgy. Volkswagen’s Sharan Carat was close to Sharon Carrot and Mitsubishi’s Carisma didn’t have much.
Nothing’s new. Does he not remember Singer Vague and Humber Septic? Hillman Scavenger, Ford Crappi, Cretin (Cortina), Angular and Coarser (Corsair), or should Coarser be a Vauxhall? Rolls-Royce’s first idea for the Silver Shadow was Silver Mist until somebody told them Mist in German was something like MR2 in French.
CARkeys is a treasure-house. Well-written, well presented, up-to-date it has obscure material seldom found elsewhere, like David Finlay’s feature on a BMW based on the 1940 Mille Miglia 328. Shown as a Concept at scrutineering for the 2006 Mille Miglia, it was a bit like the real thing I drove in 1992 (left). I had it on good authority that the replica was a serious project at a time when quirky “future classics” were fetching silly prices, and BMW was tempted to follow Porsche with the 959 and make a few 328s. It didn’t last; Jaguar was among those that got into a muddle with the XJ220 and lived to regret it.
The 1940 BMW I drove to John o’Groats was insured for £2million even then, but what an exemplar it was. Lightweight, precise, stiff and quick I could have won the Mille Miglia in it. In 1940 it had been up against ponderous underpowered 2500cc Alfa Romeos, gaggles of Fiats and a couple of 815s cobbled-up by Enzo Ferrari, forbidden by his end-of-contract with Alfa to call them Ferraris. In 1938 Count Giovanni Lurani (an Anglophile, he affected the nickname Johnny Lurani and drove MGs) had suggested the race should move to Libya, Cyrenaica and Tripolitania having been taken from the Ottomans by Italy in 1912.
By1940 Libya was no longer an option so the April 28 race was truncated to nine times round a 104-mile circuit Brescia-Cremona-Brescia. Italy was still officially a non-belligerant but Germany had already invaded Poland and was busy assaulting Norway yet the race went ahead. BMW recruited Lurani (he ran with the hare and hunted with whatever hounds would let him drive racing cars), who acted as go-between in the Hotel Vittoria, where both German and French teams were staying but forbidden to meet because their nations were at war.
BMW won the race at a canter and all three roadsters survived the war. In 1945 H J Aldington of AFN in Isleworth, which imported BMWs (as Frazer Nash-BMWs) in the 1930s, went over ostensibly to reclaim a 328 he had left in Munich in 1939. He came back instead with one of the Mille Miglia cars to save it from the depredations of the occupying forces.
It was converted to right hand drive, equipped with a Frazer Nash radiator and displayed as a prototype. Production never prospered, it was sold to racing driver Gilbert Tyrer, and I saw it racing at Turnberry in 1952 and took it back there for the picture (left). In the 1960s, very down-at-heel, it was bought by my colleague on the road test staff of The Motor, Michael Bowler who restored it and sold it back to the BMW museum in the 1980s.
By the time it had been reconstructed by BMW it felt thoroughly modern. It was roomy and the gear lever was a bit long and springy - not quite the short stubby lever of contemporary sports cars - but the change was slick and precise. Steering was surprisingly light and although the springing was firm it probably felt luxurious in 1940 when sports cars were generally rough and ill-mannered. The classic tall 328 engine (above right)revved to 5,000rpm, with an emphatic crackle from the exhaust at 4,500.

The main disadvantage driving it round Scotland (that’s Ackergill Tower near Wick, above) was that you looked over, rather than through the windscreen and there was no hood. All very well in the sunshine of an Italian spring, but venturesome on the Lecht road by the ski-slopes in wintry May.
Biggles knew what he was about. Goggles and a leather helmet are necessary when your head is in the slipstream. A BMW motorcycle suit made a difference. Rain trickled onto my lap but an inner layer of Gore-tex and zips and studs made it all-of-a-piece, kept me dry in six hours' downpour but it did not protect my face. Snow and then hailstones evoked sympathy for grouse dodging grapeshot in August. Rufus J Flywheel would have a word for it.

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