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Back to backwards

The backwards-slanted rear screen was one of the weirdest design trends ever, says JULES CHRISTIAN.

When it comes to automotive design, it is a world of extremes, ranging from the exotic and the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini to the stately, such as Rolls Royce to the practical and affordable of the mass production companies.

As a general rule, the more dramatic the look, the more you pay, which today means that once a large manufacturer hits upon a successful shape the others play safe and follow the trend or revamp a classic in a modern way.

This was not always the case. In past years there have been some crazy trends. Just look at the wacky fashion for fins in the US in the 1950s, which actually crossed over to Europe in the shape of the Morris Oxford and Austin Cambridge, among others.

Ford Consul 315

But to me one of the weirdest ones was the backwards-slanted rear screen.

If you think someone needs to be blamed for this, it was Ford in the US with their 1957 Mercury Breezeway. “Breeze” gives you a clue as to the idea, as the backwards-slanting rear window actually had a wind-down electric centre section to air the vehicle’s interior in the years before air-conditioning was to become common in most American cars.

Worldwide, Ford thought they would try their weird window in the UK, and in 1959 introduced the Anglia 105E. The advertising claims of the day were that the backwards window gave the owner a rain- and snow-free rear view. Whether it was the unconventional styling or not, the Anglia took a long time to catch on with its best sales year not until 1967, when it was already being over shadowed by a new Cortina model.

Less well known was the Consul 315, targeted at a more upmarket buyer and featured the same rear window design, which was more easily accepted by the time it came out in 1961. The car was not a great success and was only in production for a couple of years, with buyers choosing the more luxurious versions of Ford’s Cortina, which was much the same size.

Lotus Europa Special

It was not just saloon cars that got the treatment. Lotus tried it – well sort of – in their 1970s Lotus Europa. It was a very small rear window, which being a mid-engined sports car, was actually half way up the car, but it definitely had a backwards slant.

In those days, if you wanted something different, there were always the French. Citroen, renowned for their innovation and eccentricity were not to be outdone. In 1961, they brought out the Citroen Ami 6, which was built along the same utilitarian principles of their hugely successful 2CV. Although harangued in the motoring press for its design, it did have many improvements on the 2CV, including the first oval-shaped headlamps which worldwide had always been round until then, and despite its unlikely appearance, it did survive in production in various forms for a further 8 years.

Unfortunately, in the beginning, it wasn’t just the rear window that went backwards. In its first year, so did sales, selling nearly 60,000 fewer units than the model it was planned to replace.

Mercury Monterey Breezeway

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‘World first’ electric Triumph and Morgan models created

An Oxford-based EV classic car specialist has successfully converted two iconic models to run on electric power.

Electrogenic has finalised battery-powered versions of a 1976 Triumph Stag and a 1957 Morgan 4/4, with the pair now utilising a high-voltage electric motor linked to a battery.

The Stag’s original 3.0-litre V8 has been removed in favour of a brushless electric motor with 80kW of power and 235Nm of torque, which is sent to the rear wheels via the car’s original four-speed manual gearbox. Thanks to a 37kWh battery, the Stag offers a range of approximately 150 miles.

The 4/4, meanwhile, is believed to be the first four-wheeled Morgan to be professionally converted to electric power, with the car’s original four-cylinder petrol engine replaced in favour of the same powertrain powering the Stag. It too uses a 37kWh battery pack for an estimated range of 150 miles.

Photos: PA Media

Steve Drummond, director and co-founder of Electrogenic, said: “Converting older cars like these to electric power is about using modern technology to bring out the best characteristics in the cars. For us this means increasing power within the capabilities of the original vehicle, optimising weight distribution and not using too many batteries to keep the handling crisp and precise. Our proprietary electronics integrate the batteries and motor into a seamless system, making the cars as safe as possible.”

Ian Newstead, director and co-founder of Electrogenic, added: “We love the challenge of converting beautiful classic cars with technology that means they will be able to continue to be used guilt-free, even in our cities, for years to come.”

Both the Triumph and Morgan are customer vehicles and have been prepared to their new owners’ exact specifications. Electrogenic is able to deliver a full range of electrification options for its customers, while retaining the look and feel of the original car.

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Happy birthday Bora

Maserati is celebrating the Bora, the first mid-mounted rear engine road car in the brand’s history, just as the MC20 is the first mid-mounted rear engine vehicle in the new era.

The wind of the Maserati Bora spans through 50 years of history, and reaches the dawn of a new phase for the Brand: all new models share the exclusiveness, sportiness and uniqueness that have always characterised the Modenese constructor, and Bora has also handed down its engine position, first introduced on the Tipo 63 (1961), initially reprised on the MC12, and now a key feature of the new MC20.

Exactly 50 years have passed since March, 1971, when the Geneva International Motor Show provided the backdrop for the debut of the Maserati Bora, which was produced until 1978 with 564 cars built, not to mention the spectacular Boomerang, a coupé prototype created by Giugiaro with futuristic engineering and wedge-shaped bodywork.

Following the trend that had already revolutionised Formula 1 racing cars over previous years, Maserati asked Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign to come up with a mid-mounted rear engine sports car with enhanced performance, design, comfort and safety.

Photos: Maserati

The engine was the tried and tested 4,700 cc V8 producing 310 horsepower at 6,000 rpm (to be joined by the 4,900 cc unit two years later), mounted lengthways on a subframe installed on the monocoque.

The car’s distinctive features included retractable headlights to prevent aerodynamic drag, projecting differential on the rear axle, independent suspensions on all wheels (for the first time in a Maserati), disc brakes, dry-mounted single disc clutch, five-speed gearbox and telescopic suspension dampers.

The Bora combined comfort and performance and had a top speed of over 280 km/h, ensuring great driving pleasure thanks to the engine’s exceptionally agile response and the quiet interior.

While the car’s engineering design carried the name of Giulio Alfieri, the aerodynamics and styling were by Giorgetto Giugiaro, who created a two-seater coupé on simple, elegant lines which gave the Bora a balanced appearance.

The approach was futuristic, with a low, slender, almost tapered front styled to cut through the air, while the front grille included two rectangular air vents with a Trident in the centre. The perfectly sleek sides were centrally divided by a thin black rubber trim, while the rear ended in a Kamm or truncated tail.

The result was a trend-setting, streamlined car perfect for the rock-and-roll spirit of the 1970s, which is still delighting fans today.

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Golden touch

Thomas Camenzuli’s gold-coloured Ford Capri has accompanied him on a life journey, says JOSEPH BUSUTTIL from the Old Motors Club.

The Camenzuli family of Mosta was always an oasis where old cars thrived. Three of four brothers droved classic vehicles. George had a 1950s Ford Prefect, Nenu sported a 1960s Ford Cortina, while Benny was behind the wheel of an old Vauxhall Victor. Their motoring preferences influenced their father George, who then bought a 1950s Morris Oxford. Seeing that his other son, Thomas, had come of driving age and did not own a car, George passed it on to him.

“I was thrilled to bits that now I also had a classic vehicle like my brothers,” recalls Thomas.

“The Morris was in a good condition. The body did not require any repairs, while its 1400cc engine was in a perfect state. The only task carried out was that I changed its black colour to blue. Having a job in a hotel in the north of Malta, it became my daily means of transport for many years, giving me no trouble in the process.”

In the neighbourhood of the Camenzuli family, there was an acquaintance whose claim to fame was that he had bought the first Ford Capri Mk1 to be imported in Malta in 1969, which had come to the island carefully cossetted in a large wooden crate.

Photos: Tony Vassallo, Old Motors Club

“I used to gaze lovingly and at length whenever the gold-coloured Capri happened to pass through our street, or else spotted it parked in the spacious Mosta square, where I would spend some time going around inspecting it. I fantasised that one day I would be behind the wheel of this dream car.”   

After a decade, the Capri owner decided to buy a Ford Mustang, and passed on the Capri to his wife. However, after a couple of test drives, she felt uncomfortable and was afraid to drive it any more, claiming that the car was too big and the bonnet was too long for her. Consequently the car came on the market.

When in 1969 the Ford company thought of a marketing strategy to launch the new vehicle, the sales pitch decided upon was “Ford Capri – The Car You Always Promised Yourself”. This advertising slogan was not lost on Thomas, who, true to form after having spent so much time yearning, now lost no time in purchasing the classic car.

“The car was in excellent condition as its one owner took immaculate care of it. The 16GT model just needed the tender loving care it had long been accustomed to. In fact I continued to harness the Morris Oxford as my daily car, while reserving the Capri for the occasional Sunday drive.”   

Thomas’ 1969 Capri belongs to the first Mk1 series production that came out between that year and 1974. It was the brain child of the American Phillip Clark, who was also involved in the design of the Ford Mustang. In fact, it was intended to be the equivalent in Europe of the Mustang, a sort of European pony. The vehicle used the mechanical components of the Ford Cortina Mk11, so much so that the British magazine Car described the Capri as a Cortina in drag!

Although a fastback coupe, Ford wanted the vehicle to be affordable for a wide range of potential clients. Consequently the car was fitted with a variety of engines – Taunus, Kent, Essex, Cologne, among others – price depending on the power. On its launch, reception was on the whole favourable. During its life span, the Capri came out in two other series, the Mk11, between 1974 and 1978, and the Mk111, that was produced from 1978 to 1986.

The Capri was manufactured in plants in the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and South Africa. Sales of the three series were highly successful, and during its 17 years of production, nearly two million units were sold.

In 1981 Thomas decided to quit his job in the hospitality industry, leave Malta, and try to settle in the United States.

“Many members of my wife’s family were living happily there, and together with our daughter, we planned to make a new start in San Matteo, California. Before leaving, I tried to sell the old Morris Oxford, but no agreement was reached with a prospective buyer, and so I just gave it to my brother Joseph.”  

With the Ford Capri, it was a different story. He could not part with it. At the back of his mind, Thomas had a feeling that one day, he would return to Malta, and the Capri would provide continuity, a living link with the mother country. So he garaged the vehicle, and made arrangements with his father in law to look after the Capri, take it out regularly, and pay all the necessary annual licence and insurance dues.

“I was thrilled to bits that now I also had a classic vehicle like my brothers”


Thomas stayed 10 years in California.

“We were very content there, in a sort of paradise. The family increased by two more children. I had a good job in the electronics industry. The weather there is conducive to the enjoyment of driving, and my heart would skip a beat whenever a classic car came in view. Memories of the Capri left behind would immediately spring to mind.”

In 1991, Thomas and his family returned to Malta.

“One of the first things I established contact with again was the Capri, which thanks to the meticulous maintenance of my father in law, responded immediately to my gentle prompting. I soon found a job, again in another leading hotel in the north of Malta, and the Capri started being continually harnessed as my daily car.”

This state of affairs continued until eight years ago, when Thomas took the Capri to Tony Vassallo, an insurance surveyor, for evaluation. He was told that it would be a pity to used such a classic car for regular use, as the road stress, tear and wear would eventually take their toll. The message was immediately understood, and shortly afterwards, Thomas started driving a modern car for his transport needs. The Capri was now rested and taken out for Sunday drives only.

As fate would have it, Vassallo is also a committee member of the Malta Old Motors Club, and he encouraged Thomas to join the OMC.

“The club is a haven for me. Besides regularly taking part in events, I also find the networking between members most encouraging and helpful. The only time I skip an activity is when it is raining, as similar to many members, I feel I would be damaging the car. My next aim is to join the annual trip to Sicily, something that I have refrained from doing as I am afraid that something would happen to the vehicle while overseas. But I must overcome that fear,” he says. Thomas laments the fact that his wife Susan and his three children have no enthusiasm for old motors.

Two years ago, he replaced a number of components in the Capri, like the water pump, the cylinder head gaskets and the brake servo mechanism. While in the process, the spray of the vehicle was repainted in the original gold colour. His pride and joy, Thomas leaves no stone unturned to maintain the Capri in its showroom condition.

“My sole regret is that some time ago, I left it outside my home just for one night, and it was broken into and driven away. I got the shock of my life when I went out the next morning, and it had disappeared! Luckily, the culprit or culprits were only looking for a short joy ride, as it was found later in the day a little distance away from the Mosta police station. Investigating forensic experts wanted to elevate fingerprints from the dashboard, but that would have meant spraying harmful chemicals onto the dashboard. Since no damage was done to the car, I told the police to drop the case.”

Thomas expresses his satisfaction at the increasing popularity of old motors locally, but he rues the fact that there are owners who prefer to keep their classic cars under lock and key, and never seeing the light of day. “I have been told that there is one person in Mosta who has a large garage filled to the rafters with old Ford models, which he never takes out. What a pity,” he concludes.

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Return to youth

The Sliema of his youth inspired Albert Mamo to take the vintage road, says JOSEPH BUSUTTIL from the Old Motors Club.

The coolest place to be, and to be seen, in Malta in the swinging 1960s was the Għar id-Dud area in Sliema. What was hip and groovy, whether the latest modes, music or motors, converged seamlessly along the Chalet promenade. Born and bred in Sliema, Albert Mamo was part of this crowd.

The majestic sports motors idly driving up and down the area – MGBs, Triumph Spitfires, Sunbeam Alpines – caught the eye, and made a lasting impression on the young man.

“My first car in 1965 was also a popular speedy merchant of the period, a second-hand 997cc Austin Cooper Mk.1 in British racing green, which in line with the good practice of the day, had its small, simple three clock oval dashboard extended and covered completely, with the obligatory extra of a rev counter,” recounts Mamo.

Photos: Tony Vassallo

After six years, the Mini Cooper made way for another icon from that era, an MGC. Unfolding its history, he says that the snowberry white, 1969 roadster was imported here a year later, and had one owner before Mamo bought it in 1972.

“It was in excellent condition, and I harnessed it for everyday use,” he explains, adding that as far as he is aware, there are only six MGCs in Malta, five roadsters and a GT, three of which were sold new in Malta.

The history of the MGC is a truly fascinating one. With the Austin Healey 3000, the sports flagship of the British Motor Corporation, approaching its expiry date in the mid-1960s, the company starting thinking of coming up with an appropriate replacement. An initial plan to produce a Healey carbon copy fell through, and plans to design an upmarket six-cylinder, 3000cc version of the successful MGB went ahead. The result was the MGC, which came out in 1967.

The model had all the prerequisites to become a success story. Even Prince Charles bought an MGC GT when it came out – the vehicle is still in the royal family as the father passed it on to his son Prince William three decades later. But hiccups started as early as the official launch, when it was found that the tyres had incorrect pressure.

The engine was heavy, and there was a tendency to understeer, with lacklustre handling. Critics panned it, saying it was neither a worthy Healey successor nor an enhanced MGB. The writing was on the wall when the Leyland company, which had its own Triumph sports models, took over BMC. Production ceased in 1969, with less than 9,000 models coming off the line. By a strange twist of fate, the MGC has now been fully rehabilitated, and is a much sought after classic.

Mamo and his MGC have also been through many ups and downs in their lengthy relationship. Besides using it as his daily car, he went abroad with it accompanied by friends to racing events in Sicily where they used to visit the annual Targa Florio race, a round of the European Sports Championship, and where due to the relatively low spectator attendance from outside of Sicily, and especially of English speaking foreigners, they had the opportunity to mingle with world class drivers, including some Formula 1 stars.

“One particular time I was offered a ride over part of the road circuit on an unofficial practice day by Rauno Aaltonen at the time he was European Rally Champion in his Lancia Fulvia HF. What an experience. We then would continue up to Continental Europe to attend some other race meeting the following weekend before we returned to Malta such as the Monaco GP or the Nurbergring 1000km.”

In 1974, after visiting the Targa Florio event in Sicily, he continued overland to England, where he spent a few weeks on a business orientation trip. He recalls that on starting the return journey from London to Malta on a Saturday, he read the news that on that very day, the British government had ‘floated’ the pound from its sterling base. This meant that the British currency had not yet established an official exchange rate since the money markets were closed over the weekend.

“Consequently it was difficult for those who held sterling cash to exchange it into local currency along the drive back to Malta. The euro had not even been dreamt of in those days and credit cards were just beginning to appear. Having mainly English pounds, this meant that I had to watch my currency left over from my outward trip very carefully as I made my way back through the autostrada down to Reggio Calabria. Luckily in those days, one could buy petrol coupons beforehand for the purchase of ‘tourist’ petrol in Italy, so I had plenty of these before I had left the island. I had planned on a two-day return trip, so I spent the first night in a hotel on the outskirts of Lyon in France, but after that I did not have the cash for the second night accommodation. Therefore I drove 25 hours nonstop, except for fuel and coffee stops, from Lyon down to Syracuse. To its credit, the MGC did not ever let me down during this lengthy round trip.”

Even when he married, Mamo kept the MGC as the family car. But eventually his wife started hinting diplomatically that a modern vehicle was now more appropriate for the growing family. Finally in 1978 when they had their first daughter, he sold the sports car and bought a modern model. Getting on with his busy family business and family life, he thought no more about the MGC until, eight years later, a friend gave him a lift to Verdala on the outskirts of Rabat.

“On the way there, he said he was going to stop for a short while at a mechanic in Rabat who was working on his car. On getting there, I realised that the vehicle was my old MGC, that had by now passed through a number of hands. Looking at my reaction, my friend asked me if I wanted to buy it back, but I firmly said ‘No, been there, done that’. However, a short time later, I went to London and while there I visited my first classic motor car show at Olympia, where I was overwhelmed by a deadly dose of nostalgia. On returning to Malta, I phoned my friend, and soon the MGC returned to its old home.”

Mamo contacted an old friend and mechanic, Alan Palmier, who had serviced the vehicle both for the first owner as well as for himself during the first period of ownership.

Eventually, the MGC was brought back to a perfect running order. He continued to use it intermittently, until one fine day, the new family dog gnarled at the battery cable wires under the car and dislodged them.

“I did not see to it immediately, and to compound matters, unexpected developments in the family business meant more responsibilities on my shoulders. There was no time for repairs. I just elevated it on a stone platform in the garage, covered it, and thought no more about it for 13 years.”

It would have remained in that state longer had not the Mamo family needed to move house in 2010, and the mummified MGC came back into perspective.

“My brother-in-law said he knew an amateur restorer who had just finished rehabilitating an old Ford Model A. He was available, and so we took it to him. Initially things went well, we got a lot of spare parts needed for this nut-and-bolt restoration, but the job was taking far too long. The delays were frustrating, and so we had to find another solution to get the task finally done. The vehicle was resprayed in the original colour, while no work was needed on the well preserved black upholstery.”

He adds that the project was completed over a six-year period in total.

Mamo has always enjoyed motoring relating sport and in the 1960s, he was an active member of the Malta Auto Sport Club, the Forces Driving Club, and the RAF Malta Karting Club, taking part in hill climbs and map reading rallies as a navigator among other events, although he never participated with the MGC. For a time, he was also the first secretary of the newly set up Malta Automobile Federation in the 1980s, but resigned after two years owing to internal politics that he could not stand.

A landmark in his life on the fast lane is the time when in 1990, he, together with two other staunch stalwarts of the local old motors scene – Gaston Mifsud and Joseph Xuereb – made up the first Maltese team ever to be registered as participants in the elite Mille Miglia event. The Maltese team went up with Gaston’s 1955 TR3. Technical problems beyond their control meant they could not participate with the TR3, but they still went ahead to the starting point in a rented support car, that was meant to be driven by Mam. As the TR3 was a registered competitor, the Maltese team was still given the paperwork. Since the modern format of the Mille Miglia was that of a regularity run, albeit a fast one, they decided to follow the route in their rented Ford Escort which however had the official stickers of the event. This allowed them free pass with the participants and support cars. Therefore the three Maltese men drove the rented car along the official route as if driving the TR3. Mamo says that this was one of the most fantastic motoring moments of his life.

Back to the present, Mamo laments the fact that the female component of the family, his wife Helen and daughter Vanessa, do not share his passion for old motors, although his son Mark shows some interest. He describes the local old motors scene as flourishing and encouraging. An Old Motors Club member, he turns up for some static shows as well as the occasional trip to the Racalmuto circuit in Sicily with the OMC group. He would love to participate more, but blames pressure of work and family commitments for this. A walking advert for active ageing, and practising what he preaches, he says that he has always lived by the slogan that in life, you either give it all, or give nothing at all.

(First published by Times of Malta on August 25, 2019)

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Peer pressure

Inspired by his friends, Noel Aquilina decided to trade modern for vintage, says JOSEPH BUSUTTIL from the Old Motors Club.

The crossroads of life, like a traffic junction, are an important stage in the human journey. It is a time when one reflects on the past, ponders the present, and plans for the future. Important decisions have to be taken, including putting all resources together in order to put up a strong stance with the aim of realising a dream, or face an unusual challenge.

Noel Aquilina was brought up in a family where cars were always important.

“My father Charles was very keen on cars, but being a businessman, the vehicles did not gather dust in our large garage in Balzan, and as soon as the right offer came along, the vehicle would depart to be replaced by another,” he said.

“Consequently, both my two brothers John and David, as well as myself, followed our father’s footsteps in developing an enthusiastic interest in the four-wheeler, but always concentrated on modern cars.”

From his youth, Aquilina has formed part of a group of friends that frequently got together with their vehicles.

“A very significant bond developed between us over the years, and it is still going strong to this day. While we shared many interests and had quite a lot in common, there was one big difference between us. While my friends gathered in the group in their old motors, I stood out as I always came along in my current modern car, standing out like a sore thumb,” he explained.

Photos: Tony Vassallo

Obviously many were the comments by his friends over the years egging Aquilina on to discard modern cars and join the fold with an old timer.

“One of my best friends, Charles Zahra, was the leading initiator, urging me to get out of my comfort zone with modern vehicles and taste the joys of classic cars. As my 49th birthday was approaching, I decided to do something different in midlife, spoil myself and go for it – and in the process started to look for an MGB, a classic car that I was already familiar with, although from a distance.”

Aquilina finally found what he wanted in London, a deal was eventually done, and the vehicle was soon in Malta.

“The red 1974 model was in a very good condition. I only needed to carry out some minor body work, as well as upgrading the black upholstery. There was also a deep sense of nostalgia about the MGB, which harked back to my youth.”

Produced between 1962 and 1980, the MGB was a two-door sports car produced first by the British Motor Corporation and subsequently by British Leyland, as a four-cylinder soft top roadster. Sporting a 1.8 L B-series 14 engine, the model proved to be a significant success not only in the UK, but also on the export market, especially in America.

However, new safety regulations imposed by the US meant that from the second part of 1974 the MGB started coming out with a different look. The chrome bumpers overriders were replaced by rubber ones. A new steel reinforced black rubber bumper at the front incorporated the grille area as well, giving a major restyling to the nose. A matching rear bumper completed the change. The new US headlight height regulations also meant the MGB headlamps were now too low. Rather than redesign the front of the roadster, the car suspension was raised by one inch. Aquilina adds that luckily, his model came out in the first part of 1974, and thus was unaffected by these changes, which subsequently somehow altered the MBG’s previous slick and sporty appearance.

He now began to join his old motors friends driving his MGB.

“All went well for a while, but at one point some of them, who came along in their old Jaguars, started to suggest to me that I should now look for a similar model. Charles Zahra, who from his first days in the group used to drive around in his father’s Jaguar, was the most persuasive.” Consequently, Aquilina started searching for a Jaguar.

Originally Aquilina was going for an XJ S model, but eventually found out that a number of such models had already been imported in Malta. Feeling that the local scene was overcrowded, he turned his sights to an XJ C coupe Series 11. Such a model was located in the north of England.

“The owner had not used it for a couple of years, and although we were dealing online, I sent a friend to have a closer look at it in order to set my mind at rest.”

On arrival in Malta, Aquilina found that the 1977 Jaguar, with black leather upholstery, was in a very good condition. Nevertheless, he decided to respray it in its original red colour.  

The XJ is a series of luxury vehicles produced by Jaguar in four series that stretch from 1968 to the present day. The flagship of the company, the XJ is one of the cars to be found in the garage of the British royal family, while a stronger version is used by the British prime minister. The Series II was manufactured between 1973 and 1978, and around 10,000 came off the line. The two-door coupe, with a pillarless, vinyl hard top body, was based on the short wheelbase of the XJ, and came with either a 4.2 L or a 5.3L engine.

Proudly rotating his two classic vehicles on an equal basis, Aquilina soon joined the Old Motors Club, where he participates in runs and rallies.

“I would like to involve myself more often in events and activities, but work pressure sometimes comes in the way.

He added that for him, the local old motors scene is developing in a very healthy way. Interest is keen, especially on particular marques, and as an example he cites the formation of one brand clubs, like those for Jaguars, Minis, and American cars.

Asked about harbouring any desires for future classic car acquisitions, Aquilina , who is also a member of the Valletta Grand Prix Foundation, said that he has two dreams.

“I have long wished for a 1974 Porsche 911. This is a model I have ardently admired from close as well as from a distance ever since my childhood. Some of these models are available on the market, but their asking price is increasing by the hour.”

The second dream is a bit closer to home.

“A lot of old cars passed through my father’s hands, but although he was keen on cars, he was not a collector, and soon the old motors left our home. I can still vividly see in our garage a Mercedes Pagoda sports, a Fiat 125, an Alfa Giulietta, and others. I would dearly love to lay my hands on one of my father’s old cars, buy it, and bring it back to the family fold.”

(First published by Times of Malta on June 30, 2019)

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Fast Times

For Joe Gerada, it all started with an MGB, says JOSEPH BUSUTTIL from the Old Motors Club.

In classical Greek mythology, Cupid is the god of attraction and affection. His source of power is a bow and arrow whose sharp golden point, when making contact, fills one with a spontaneous and uncontrollable love and desire.

It seems that one fine spring day, more than 25 years ago, Cupid was on the prowl and made a direct hit, as Joe Gerada and his wife Corinne were driving casually through Birkirkara, and all of a sudden Gerada saw an MGB displayed in a showroom there. Immediately attracted, he stopped his car and they went in to have a closer look.

“Looking back, it was funny because till then, I was not really enthusiastic about old motors, and was not actually looking for one,” he says. “I have always been interested in the mechanical and technical side of things, including vehicles, but classic cars were never a priority. Moreover, there has never been any family history of old cars to influence or role model on. But like a bolt from the blue, I was mesmerised by the British racing green coloured MGB.”

In the showroom, it turned out that the owner was an acquaintance of his wife, and a deal was soon on board.

Photos: Tony Vassallo

“The 1969 model was in a good condition, but the body had some rust patches. I decided on a nut-and-bolt restoration, and so I dismantled it, then took it to a panel beater and a sprayer. It was a lengthy process – more than three years – to get the work done and for them to put it together again. My first experience in my old motors life taught me an important principle: that ideally, the same person who dismantles a classic car, puts it together again himself, provided one has the time and skills,” remarks a now wiser Gerada.

The MGB was manufactured and marketed by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) as a four-cylinder, soft-top roadster between 1962 and 1980. The car had an innovative and modern design, utilising a monocoque structure instead of the traditional body-on-frame used on previous MG vehicles. The lightweight design also lessened manufacturing costs, while enhancing overall vehicle strength.

The restoration gave the MGB a new lease of life, and Gerada started driving it frequently.  He adds that the advantage of an MGB is that is can be harnessed on a daily basis. It is not a conspicuous vehicle, and can be used for normal everyday tasks. A decade ago the classic car was given a light facelift.

Enjoying the new pastime to the full, and becoming enamoured of the MG marque, Gerada then turned his attention to acquiring the predecessor of the MGB – an MGA.

“I was looking for a wreck in need of restoration, and finally I found an MG dealer in Darlington in the north of England, who had a variety of these types. He had what I wanted: a vehicle crying out for rehabilitation, but with a sound body and the original engine and gearbox. Its history was fascinating – it had been exported to Kenya and found its way back to Britain. Its production date was 1957 – my year of birth – so chemistry was instant, and soon it was on its way to Malta.”

Work on restoring the blue MGA started immediately, and Gerada took it to a panel beater. Alas, the task was taking too long and was not up to Gerada’s standard, and so after five years, he changed the panel beater. The engine and the chassis were seen to by another skilled mechanic. The whole project took nearly eight years to complete, but eventually the MGA, now sporting an old English white colour, was back on the road.

The MGA was produced from 1955 to 1962, and had represented a complete break from the marque’s earlier designs. It was a body-on-frame structure, harnessing the straight-four B series engine from the MG Magnette saloon driving the rear wheels through a four speed gearbox. The MGA raced extensively in competitions with considerable success, especially in the US. 

With two MG sports cars in the stable, Gerada started to appreciate more how advanced for their era these vehicles were.

“Moreover, they were simple productions, comfortable, with appropriate size, and accessible in terms of money. I also observed the thoroughness and sophistication of the MG pre-war designs,” he adds.

The MG took a stronger hold and he was soon searching for a predecessor of the MGA – a model from the MG T series. This was a range of body-on-frame two-seater sports car, with very little weather protection, produced from 1935 to 1955. The series featured the MG TA, TB, TC, TD and the MG TF Midget.

Knocking on the doors of an MG dealer in north London who specialises in models that came on board prior to 1939, he found an MG TC that although coming out in 1947, had a pre-war design. Production was halted because of the war but soon after the war ended production started again with the available designs and components

“The vehicle had a lot of wood, including the floorboards and coach section, and a total nut-and-bolt restoration project was called for. While repairs were required, I made it a cardinal point that preservation was to be given priority over restoration. The same black colour was kept, while the red seats and chrome retained their original patina.”

Gerada explains that his love affair with pre-war vintage cars is further stemmed from their character and unique, individual looks. Becoming involved in the Malta Grand Prix administration, he thought of acquiring a vehicle that could participate in the pre-war section of this event. His sights fell upon a black, 1935 MG PA with supercharger, acquired from another UK MG expert dealer.

“The vehicle – a sweet, small car and the first one to be referred to as the MG Midget – was in excellent condition, and needed no attention. I took part in one Grand Prix edition, but felt I was mistreating and punishing the MG PA, as the circuit is more sprint than endurance.” 

The MG P type was produced between 1934 and 1936. The roofless, windowless vehicle harnessed an updated version of the overhead camshaft, cross-flow engine, driving the rear wheels through a four-speed synchromesh gearbox. Only 2,000 MG PAs were manufactured. While the PA sported an 847cc engine, the other model in the series, the MG PB, had a slightly larger 939cc one.

Trying to combine his passion for rallying and his favourite 1930s cars, Gerada came upon a 1935 Alvis Special 12/70, a two-seater racing car. The Alvis Car and Engineering Company was a British manufacturing company operating in Coventry from 1919 to 1967. Besides cars, it also produced military vehicles and equipment.

“The Alvis was located in Germany, and had a previous history of rally racing in that country. The former owner had also participated with it in the 2010 edition of the Mille Miglia.”

The vehicle was in a very good condition, although he admits that initially he found the gears hard to engage, and put it down to the lack of a synchromesh gearbox. He spent years using the double clutch, until he realised that the synchromesh rings had worn out over time.

He replaced three out of four gears and the car’s performance greatly improved . He became a member of the Alvis Owners Club, and procured two gears from them, the other one being produced locally.

“Technically the Alvis was very advanced for its era,” Gerada explains. “As with many other upmarket engineering companies of the time, Alvis did not produce their own coachwork. Instead they relied on the many available coachbuilders in the area. Many Alvis cars were customised for racing, according to the owners’ requirements.”

With his racing Alvis, Gerada has taken part in the last six editions of the Grand Prix, as well as in various Old Motors Club rallies. His most exciting event so far has been participating in the Alpine Trial in France, a three-day regularity rally.

Photo: Luca Emanuele

“It features long distances, going through narrow roads and mountain routes including Mount Blanc and Lake Geneva, with sharp edges and hairpin bends. Going downhill is always a hair-raising experience. It was quite tough and a challenge for this old car, considering it has no roof or windows, and its brakes are cable and rod. However, the Alvis behaved very well and we made it.”  

He opines that old motors are attracting more newcomers to this pastime in Malta. He also praises the varied skills of local sprayers, panel beaters, mechanics, engineers and upholsterers whose standards most times surpass those found abroad. Gerada would like to see more events like classic hill climbs and rallies, as the local scene needs more competition.

“A racing track is highly desirable, as the Grand Prix circuit is only around two kilometres long. One has to go abroad to achieve the aim for which these fast cars were built. Sicily, with its roads, hills and mountains, is our nearest option, but this is not always possible as time and money are needed. The demand and the enthusiasm is there, and if crowd pulling events are organised, a racing track is doable, possibly a public-private partnership,” he says.

One final question: five thoroughbred old vehicles – which is his favourite?

“I feel like a father with a family of five children. Despite their unique differences, the father bestows upon them equal love and affection.”

(First published by Times of Malta on May 26, 2019)

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Hitting the headlines

A photo in a newspaper inspired my love for Alfa Romeo, Johan Huy tells JOSEPH BUSUTTIL from the Old Motors Club.

The attention of the boy was drawn to the main story and pictures splashed across the front page of a leading Dutch newspaper. It recounted the story of a murder that had taken place along the Amsterdam North Sea canal. An Italian man was found dead in his car, with a bullet that went through his head and lodged in the roof of the vehicle, an Alfa Romeo GTV.

“In my mind, reading the gruesome details faded into insignificance compared to viewing the stark beauty of the Italian iconic car, and from that day onwards, I became hooked to the Alfa Romeo marque. I was only ten at the time, but I said to myself that in future, I would be driving such a car,” said Johan Huy.

Huy’s father, Jan, drove a DAF car. “It was a lot of fun for me, because in those early post-World War II days in Holland, very few people had a four-wheeler. Primary and secondary school in Amsterdam were followed by university in Groningen, where I went to the department of psychology and the art academy for graphic design,” he added.

Soon after graduation, Huy went into business, setting up an art gallery as well as an aluminium frame factory in Holland. Eventually he expanded his business interests to textiles, and that is when the Malta connection started.

Photos: Tony Vassallo

“In the 1980s, I came over to the island in order to look into the feasibility of producing jeans here. The venture took off and was successful. I started visiting Malta more frequently, and lulled by its beauty as well as attractive tax system, eventually decided to relocate with my family here,” explained Johann, who then set up a marine business which he still runs today.

That childhood vision of the Alfa Romeo remained with him, and as was to be expected, his first car was a 1970 Alfa Romeo Bertina 1750cc.

“I’ve had 23 models of this marque at different periods in my life. At times, an intruder would come in – there have been a couple of Porsches, a twin turbo Maserati E, a Mini Countryman, and an MGB GT – but eventually they would be shown the door, for I always say to myself: when you drive a good car like an Alfa Romeo, why change it?” he explained.

His love and affection for this Italian manufacturer has seen him setting up the Dutch Alfa Romeo Club, of which he is an honorary life member. With a number of his Alfa Romeo models, renowned for their velocity, Johan has taken part in races in Holland, Belgium, Germany and France. He is also a regular contributor with articles in Alfa Romeo publications in Holland and Germany, where besides the auto element, he also gives a publicity plug to the Maltese islands.

Presently, Huy has four Alfa Romeo cars. Close to his heart is a 1970, red Zagato Junior 1300 GT.

“This is a very rare model, of which only 1,104 were built, with around one to two hundred still around today,” he said. “It was in production from 1969 to 1972, with the design coming from the Zagato company, which was similar to Bertone and Pininfarina, and that had many racing successes in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

“The Zagato Junior itself was built on a Spider platform, delivered by Alfa Romeo to Zagato, shortened, then the coach frames would be put on by hand and with the help of wooden frames. Basically, all cars were different, which is normal for hand built vehicles of a limited production.”

Huy had long coveted such a model, and in 1984 while in Holland, he spotted a newspaper advert with one for sale. He immediately phoned for an appointment, and together with a friend, was soon on his way to see it. “We had a look at the car, that had been in Sardinia. It was in a very original state – I drove it three times round the block, and bought the vehicle on the spot.”

Although in a good condition, Huy eventually decided to restore it, and harnessing Alfa Romeo restoration specialists in Holland, a long-term nut and bolt restoration project was initiated, coming to completion in 1987. He kept the car for 14 years since he not want to sell it – all other cars, including a Porsche 911, had to be sold since the Maltese customs authorities wanted to impose prohibitive taxes for the vehicles to come here. Finally in 2005, Huy drove the classic car from the Netherlands to Malta, a journey of more than 3,000kms, with no hiccups at all.

One other Alfa Romeo that Huy has is a 1971, yellow Giulia Super 1600cc, a four-door saloon which he proudly pronounces came out of the now defunct Malta Car Assembly in Marsa.

“One hears a lot about other models that were assembled there – the Triumph Spitfire, the Triumph Herald, the Austin Mini, the Morris Marina, the Hillman Hunter – but hardly is a sound ever uttered about the Alfa Romeos assembled there, like the Giulia and Sud models,” said Huy, who has plans to write a book about these locally assembled Italian icons.

Explaining how this classic car came into his possession, Huy said that while on the first trip that the Old Motors Club organised to Sicily, he got talking with another participant, who told him that he had a Giulia Super that he had wanted to restore, but had given up on it. Huy became interested and eventually bought the vehicle. He left it there for many years, but now that he has acquired a lot of spare parts for it, restoration is about to start soon.

“I will see to the mechanical tasks – I have already bought a block from Holland – but the panel beating and the rest, I will leave to expert hands.”

An extremely organised man, his innate love for classic cars and unquestionable teamwork, organisational and leadership skills have seen him being one of the founding members of the Valletta Grand Prix Foundation, where he served on the committee for a number of years. Huy is also a driving force behind an informal grouping of local Alfa Romeo owners, which he says numbers around 150, and which he hopes to turn into a formal organisation at some time in the future.

He is frequently seen at Old Motors Club events, sometimes with his son Johann Junior, who has inherited his father’s passion for old motors. Alas, his wife Jannette and his daughter Esther do not share the classic car enthusiasm gripping the male members of the family. As to the OMC, Huy urges more utilisation of the social media in order to modernise and thus attract younger members to the club, as well as the introduction of more mobile and interactive events, rather than, for example, static shows. He also opines that more use of the English language at activities would help foreign OMC members to feel more at home.

As to the national old motors scene, Huy feels that the former total dominance by British models on Maltese roads is now being seriously challenged by other iconic brands coming mainly from Italy, Germany, France, and even Japan. Popular and standard classic cars have also now been joined by more sophisticated and upmarket models that grace the local roads. He clings strongly to the idea that a classic car should be left in its original, factory like state, and comes down heavily on owners who change engine capacity or customise old vehicles with changes that are completely alien or irrelevant.

Although Huy presently has only four Alfa Romeo models, he finds that his passion for the Italian icon is emphatically enhanced as he goes around his vast collection of more than 500 Alfa Romeo small scale model cars, meticulously displayed in a number of glass showcases strategically placed in and around his study, and dating from the earliest production vehicles to more modern offerings.

(First published in Times of Malta on April 28, 2019)

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Precious classic pearls from Poland

The Maltese and the people of Poland have quite a lot in common. The red and white colours make up the flags of both countries. Similar to the Maltese, the Poles have long-standing and deep Catholic roots. Malta and Poland have a history of lengthy periods of rule and domination by foreign powers. The two nations were heavily bombed during World War II and similarly, with true grit and determination, succeeded in rebuilding their country.

Like their Maltese counterparts, Polish old motors aficionados had to be very creative in, phoenix like, restoring their four-wheelers after the war, for besides the bombing, the military authorities in both countries had requisitioned all private cars, which suffered a lot in the hostilities or were destroyed.

To have a closer look at their efforts, I recently visited the Museum of Motorisation and Technology in Otrebusy, about 50 kilometres outside Warsaw.

Photos: Joseph Busuttil

The museum opened in 1994 and has over 300 old motors of all shapes and sizes. Besides, there are dozens of old motorbikes, scooters, bicycles, and equipment related to the four-wheeler, plus hundreds of model cars displayed in large showcases. The compound is made up of a huge barn leading to a large open yard, after which comes a smaller barn. The entrance to the museum is packed with vehicles large and small left in the open air – my heart skipped many a beat when I saw such precious pearls barely visible under a thick white blanket of snow inches deep, as it had been snowing all night and the temperature was well below zero.

Car production in Poland has always been a very important part of the economy. The first vehicle was produced by the Ursus company in 1893. Popular models during communist rule were the Warszawa, the Syrena, the Polonez, and the Mikrus. The country had, and still has, successful joint projects with Italian giant Fiat, resulting in a number of Fiat Polski models.

A number of them grace the museum, including the 125, 126 and 127. Four red Fiat Polski sports cars are crammed together, with a long row of antique motorcycles dangling above them on shelving protruding from a nearby wall. For a time, Poland also collaborated with neighbouring Czechoslovakia in car production, and a black 1928 Praha made in Oswiecem (Auschwitz) harks back to this period.

The first post-war car designed in Poland was the Warszawa, and a grey and light blue 1955 black Srodmiescie model shows how powerful, sturdy and rugged these vehicles were. Named after the capital city, the first model came out in 1951 and was a licensed copy of the Russian Podeba (victory) vehicle, authorised with the blessing of Soviet Union President Josef Stalin.

Another Polish car in the museum is a red 1957 Mikrus MR-3000 model. This was a micro car produced between 1957 and 1960. Only 1,728 of them came off the line. Designed as a cheap car for the masses, it came about when spare production arose at aerospace manufacturers WSK Mielec and WSK Rzeszow, the former producing the body and the latter the engine. The Mikrus was very popular initially, but high production costs and an expensive price tag saw its demise within three years.

Another small Polish car is the Syrena, produced between 1957 to 1983, a lengthy period during which only minor changes to the model occurred. Manufactured in various models, the most popular was the 105, a pink example of which is at the compound. All were two-door sedans with a two-stroke engine. A van and a pickup were also produced, while a coupe sport and a hatchback remained prototypes only.

Pre-war Germany is well represented in the displays. A rare, white, 1939 collaborative NSU-Fiat 500, made up of 300 parts, was produced by Karosserie Weisberg. Also made in Germany in 1928 under licence from the US is a two-tone, black and brown Ford AF. A red 1939 BMW sits next to a blue BMW Wartburg model. A couple of black Horch limousines from Automobile Werk Eisenach – now known as Audi – date back to 1938, the same production year of a white Mercedes 170 V cabriolet. This Mercedes model was a market success, and the most produced car of Daimler Benz until the outbreak of the war. It was also the first Mercedes vehicle to come off the line once peace was restored.

The oldest exhibit is an American J.A.G. from 1897. Other iconic American models feature a 1923 Oakland, a white 1959 DeSoto – part of the Chrysler company – and three Durants in white, black and green. One of the largest vehicles on show is an enormous 1924, 12 cylinder Packard Landaulet, with a dark blue driver compartment and a black passenger rear, fitted with thick light brown leather, resembling more a plush, circular and sophisticated sitting room sofa. In their time, Packards were the perfect combination of all that is best in cars – good looks, great design, high quality and reliability. Many prestigious Packards had luxury bodies and interiors made to special requests from very rich clients. Before World War II, Packard cars were the official vehicles of the US government.

Historically, Poland has always had a bittersweet relationship with Russia, and this is reflected in the arrangement of Soviet Union cars in the museum. Various models, including a 1949 Podeba M20 and a 1959 GAZ 13 Czajka, are to be found freezing in the snow in the open yard connecting the two barns. There are other old motors in this yard – including a number of Rolls Royce and Bentley models – but unlike the Russian vehicles, they are under the cover of overhanging awning.

Other European marques abound – one finds an Italian Lancia, a 1978 Swedish Volvo Bertone, and a French grey 1972 Peugeot 304. Another attraction is a French, white, 1960 Renault Florida convertible, highlighting the vibrancy and elegance of the French style in the 1960s. This model also came to symbolise the end of the difficult post-World War II period, and the return of cars bought for pleasure, grace and performance.

The Bible of old motors enthusiasts is divided, like the religious Holy Book, into two parts, the Old and the New Testament. The classic cars New Testament lays down that an old vehicle should be thoroughly rehabilitated – sometimes undergoing a nut and bolt restoration process – to a showroom, ship shaped condition. On the other hand, the classic cars Old Testament strongly states that a period vehicle should be left as found, with minimal change or intervention, in order to return on the road.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the Polish Museum of Motorisation and Technology stands firmly behind the teachings of the Old Testament. With its barn-find atmosphere, eccentric and cluttered arrangements, free range lay out, dust, cobwebs, warts and all, it is breath of fresh air, far removed from the usual clinically clean and formally organised classic car museum.

(First published in Times of Malta on March 31, 2019)

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