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Lines of beauty

Reno Psaila’s love of art and design makes his Morgan 4/4 the perfect purchase, says JOSEPH BUSUTTIL from the Old Motors Club.

In the past, prestige cars were handmade, individualised and incorporating old fashion material like solid wood. They were expensive, and waiting lists sometimes ran into years. But they were special vehicles, made for special people.

One such manufacturer was the Morgan Motor Company, a family-owed firm that started building – and still does – iconic British sports cars, blending craft, heritage and driving experience. Set up by Henry Morgan in 1909, it started with three-wheelers or cycle cars, and then moved to four-wheelers in 1936 with the Morgan 4+4, later changed to 4/4, a model that is still in production today.

Reno Psaila owns a Morgan 4/4, built in 1986.

“I bought it a couple of years ago, but actually it was not my idea originally,” he explains. “As a young girl of eight, my wife Vivienne had accompanied her father to a motor show at Earls’ Court in London, and there fell in love with the Morgan in British Racing Green. To cement this love, she was given a balloon, sadly sucked away in the underground. A few years ago, her souvenirs from a London trip consisted of just Morgan memorabilia. A woman’s subtle hint, one might ask? Anyhow, when my garage became empty after I had finished a long-term aviation project and the empty nest syndrome had firmly set in, I started looking at vintage sports cars and the wife suggested that I should buy a Morgan.”

Psaila found a Morgan 4/4 model in the suburb of Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire. It was in a very good condition, needing little attention – a key factor which helped him decide to buy it, as he did not want to spend too much time on some nut-and-bolt restoration project.

However, being a perfectionist, as well as a jack of all trades, he carried out small improvements, like designing and handcrafting a period-style steering wheel, fabricating the walnut veneered wooden door trims, and stripping the foot wells, front sub-frame, suspension and rear differential, and repainting them.

The Morgan 4/4 is the longest-running production car in the world, and has seen many engine changes over the years. Psaila’s model has a Ford CVH 1600 engine. Its factory original colour was blue, but in 1999/2000 while in Jersey it underwent some restoration work and was painted in a two-tone cream and royal blue finish. A unique feature that Psaila points out is a cute little baby seat behind the passenger seat, installed by a former owner who being a mother, used the car frequently with her baby in tow.

Besides the handwork, the Morgan is admired, among other things, for its sleek lines and sporty design, features that have not failed to impress and influence Psaila, who has art and design running in his veins. Attracted to fast vehicles like the Ford GT 40 or the Porsche 908 and 917 seen in magazines from an early age, he soon started to sketch his own cars. As we talk, he shows me a number of pencil and pen designs of sleek sports cars from those early teenage years, profiles that were well before their time.

While at the Ħamrun Lyceum, his art teacher, the late Esprit Barthet observed and consequently nurtured his talents and helped him find his first work in 1969 after finishing school, aged 16, working as a draughtsman in the interior design studio of his friend, mural artist and fine art painter Frank Portelli. Here he learned the ropes of technical drawing for interior design at a time of a revolutionary refurbishment of local entertainment and commercial premises.

Two years later, he changed companies, and started to work as a graphic designer with an advertising agency, rising to art director within a couple years. In his spare time, he continued to sketch sporty car concepts, dreaming that one day, a couple of designs might jump from the drawing board onto the road.

Psaila’s determination to see such a development finally came to fruition. At the Lyceum, he had a bosom buddy, Joe Baldacchino, whose father Francis had introduced fibre glass in Malta. He became close to the family, especially with another son, Freddie. Together, Psaila with his design and Baldacchino with his fibreglass skills, managed to produce the first Maltese street buggy called the Rhino Bug. The design was turned into a plug, mould, and then a monocoque fibreglass shell, and mounted onto a Volkswagen Beetle platform incorporating the same bolting points, and VW engine and running gear.

Two models were produced, the four-seater Rhino Bug 1 with a high roll bar and an exposed rear engine, and the Rhino Bug 11, a hybrid buggy and 2 + 2 sports car with a lower roll bar.

Working from a small garage in Luqa, they produced 25 buggies between 1971 and 1978. The 2+2 classified vehicle was technically safe and financially feasible, and demonstrated the ingenuity, resourcefulness and talent of local craftsmen. But unfortunately the Rhino Bug did not have official authorisation for manufacture, and eventually production had to close down.

Psaila had also designed the Oner, a mid-range engine sports car to compete with the likes of Lotus Europa, but unlike the Rhino Bug, it never saw the light of day.

As fate would have it, he won a four-week scholarship to improve his French language skills in Strasbourg, and prior to leaving Malta armed with his car sketches, photographs of the Rhino Bug and the scale model of the Oner, he contacted Peugeot to see whether they could take him on for a short-term apprenticeship in their design department.

“My plan worked, up to a certain extent,” he says. “I was given the opportunity to work with Peugeot, but I found out that the coachwork design was made off-site by Italian designers, while the French team looked at the interior styling. Moreover, the French staff were just given a brief by their chief designer, then went back to their cubicles to work alone. There was no teamwork, discussion or feedback – definitely not my cup of tea – and so I returned to Malta and my job at the advertising agency.”

His work at the agency included the portfolio of the Malta Car Assembly, and it was a bonus for him to harness his design skills on the campaigns of locally assembled cars like the Mini, Marina, Triumph Spitfire, Hillman Hunter and others. More creative designs from that era, both of his work as well as of his own fantastic futuristic vehicles, are laid out in front of me. His passion for car design drove him to sketch a new mid-engine Mini based sports car, but before he could take it further, the death knell had started to ring for the Malta Car Assembly, which eventually closed down.

In 1976 he left the advertising agency to open a graphic design studio in partnership with journalist Godfrey Grima. Less than two years later, he branched out on his own, operating his own studio for 40 years.

“I have two sons, Kirk and Dirk, both good at designing, who I did not encourage to follow in my footsteps in graphic design. The eldest Kirk, has his own interior design and turnkey company, and the youngest, Dirk, is an architect. I could feel way back in the 1990s that the digital age would lead to an overcrowded graphic design market.”

Psaila laments that career-wise, his own father was not so open minded with him.

“As a boy, I was also fascinated by planes, and was constantly assembling Airfix warplanes. At 14, I built a radio-controlled aircraft. At 16, I applied to join the Royal Navy as a pilot cadet but being under age, my father had to endorse and sign the papers, which he flatly refused to do.”

With the passage of time, he went back to radio-controlled model aircraft, buying a couple of kits, then designing his own.

His fascination with flying led him to get, after groundwork in Malta and a course in the US, a private pilot licence in 1984. In the US, he saw some home built aircraft which could be either produced after purchasing plans, or assembled from kits. Psaila took this further, designing and single-handedly building his own two-seater light aircraft, the RP-Kestrel, in composite materials. This project took him over 25 years to complete in his free time.

“Originally I worked on it in a single car garage in Naxxar,” he says with a sense of justifiable pride.

“Towards the end of 2013, I moved the completed aircraft to the Malta Aviation Museum, assembled it, and carried out the first engine runs and systems checks. The aircraft, which is now in a hangar at the Malta International Airport, is in the process of being evaluated by the Civil Aviation Directorate at Transport Malta for clearance for a permit to test and the start of the flight-testing programme. It is a lengthy process that involves a lot of paperwork, inspections and checks. This is the first time the Civil Aviation Directorate has had such a request, so it is treading carefully.”

Psaila’s skills at creative design and innovation are not limited to cars and planes but also cover motorcycles. He has a Harley Davidson 883 Custom, as well as a Kawasaki EN 500, both of which have had custom modifications to their original design. A restless man who has a need to be doing something, he finds his classic Morgan, which he uses a lot, an oasis of tranquillity and relaxation. He is full of praise for the local old motors scene, which he describes as very active, where classic jewels abound, citing local concours d’elegance events as the sure spots where to find them.

(First published by Times of Malta on January 27, 2019)

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Lamborghini Miura SV and Countach LP 400 Periscopio fetch record prices at auction

At RM-Sotheby’s Paris auction last February, two of Automobili Lamborghini’s most iconic historic cars were auctioned at record prices. The models sold by the famous auction house were a 1971 Miura SV chassis number #4840 and a 1977 Countach LP 400 chassis #1120262.

Both cars have had a troubled history, with several mechanical and aesthetic changes over the years. The brand’s top experts have recently restored them and, in the case of the Miura SV, it has also received the coveted certification issued by Lamborghini Polo Storico.

Photos: Lamborghini

“This is a pleasing but not surprising result, since it confirms a clear trend,” said Paolo Gabrielli, Head of Aftersales at Automobili Lamborghini, which oversees the Polo Storico.

“Historical Lamborghinis are of increasing interest to the world’s leading collectors, who are looking for the utmost respect for originality in their cars. The Polo Storico restoration programme, alongside supporting top independent specialists through the provision of advice, documents and original spare parts, makes it possible to obtain restorations of the highest level and quality, which are appreciated by collectors and, consequently, by the market.”

The Miura SV, certified by the Polo Storico, is one of 150 cars produced, first converted to “Jota type” and then restored to its original trim. It fetched €2.4 million, the second highest value ever for a Miura SV, second only to one sold by Gooding & Co. in London last September. The Countach LP 400, which belonged to singer Rod Stewart, was produced in only 157 examples; it too was a victim of multiple transformations (including the roof removal), before being restored to its original specifications, and fetched €775,000 in auction.         

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Driven by nostalgia

Inspired by a former family car, a Fiat 132, ALEX ATTARD has built an interesting classic collection, says Joseph Busuttil from the Old Motors Club.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Fiat 132 was a very popular car in Malta, and many were attracted to the distinctive and innovative features of this large family saloon, which took it to the upmarket level. Among the owners was Paul Attard, who used it regularly for many years. After giving him long and sterling service, he decided to sell it to his son Alex, who, on coming of age, had just got his driving licence.

“I had long been dreaming of getting my hands behind the steering wheel of the Fiat,” starts Alex.

“Being very keen on cars and experimenting with them, I soon began to make some changes, including changing the engine from petrol to diesel. I was also part of a group that loved to race cars, so the Fiat, instead of tender loving care, saw a lot of speeding and all that comes with it, and as a result it was damaged and broke down a number of times.”

The Fiat 132 was launched in 1972, replacing the 125 Berlina. Improvements in appearance included a longer wheelbase, while the overall length was substantially increased. Two years later, the model sported a new grille and longer tail lights. In 1977, grey plastic bumpers, lower side rubbing strips, and distinctive clover patterned steel wheels were introduced. Production ended in 1981.

Photos: Tony Vassallo

Alex continued to use the 1980, sky blue-coloured Fiat for four years before selling it. Then came a succession of modern cars prior to a period when he started flirting with the thought of getting a classic car.

“I had always been giving more than a fleeting glance when an old timer passed me by on the road. However, initially, I never saw myself as a serious collector of classic vehicles.”

Things took a different turn when one day, five years ago, he was surfing the net and saw a Jaguar XJ 40 for sale in an Attard garage.

“Although it had been idle for more than seven years, it was still in a very good condition. I fell in love with the vehicle, for besides its good state, it also had a chequered history, in that it once belonged to Anthony Miceli Farrugia, a captain of Maltese industry, and his initials still stood on the personalised number plate”.

A deal was soon done. The 1987 grey colour model only needed new tyres, filling up the air conditioning, and just minor adjustments to the upholstery.

The XJ 40 was a full size luxury sedan produced by Jaguar between 1986 and 1994. This model harnessed the Jaguar independent rear suspension arrangement, and featured a number of technological enhancements such as an electronic instrument cluster. Although the new model design was already on the drawing board in the early 1970s, it took a long time coming off the production line owing to the oil crisis as well as internal problems with the parent company British Leyland. When it eventually saw the light of day, the XJ 40 was at the time the most extensively tested car the company had ever developed. It also pioneered significant improvements to how Jaguar cars were designed, built and assembled.   

Despite having one classic car in the garage, two years later Alex started to feel frequent bouts of nostalgia for the former family car, the Fiat 132. Aware that one of his clients had such a model, he made discreet enquiries, only to be informed that the vehicle had just been sold to a Qormi car dealer. He pursued his dream with determination, and finally landed what he wanted.

“My eyes lit up when I saw it, bringing back many happy memories. The 1980 blue 2000cc model was in a good condition, with no rust. All I had to do was change the ball joints and the brakes. While in the process, the vehicle was also repainted in the original colour.”

A year later, Alex felt that the two classics should have a convertible as a companion.

“Initially I started looking around for an original MGB or a Triumph Spitfire. I went to see a couple of models, but they were asking exorbitant money for them. Besides being overpriced, one has also to factor in the cost of restoration.”

He then came across a Mercedes SL coupe in Mqabba, which tugged at his heartstrings. He went to see it with a knowledgeable friend for expert advice and guidance, who told him to seek something else. Some time later Alex came upon a similar model in Mosta.

“I went to have a look at it at six in the evening, and I just melted in front of it. The 1979 pearl white, 500 V8 model was in excellent condition, and I bought it on the spot. All it needed was a new battery.”

The Mercedes SL – super light – was a grand tourer sports car which started production in 1954. The original idea was to put on the American market a toned down grand prix car tailored to well heeled performance enthusiasts. The first model was the so called Gullwing, with the doors opening upwards. The SL tag also refers to the marketing variations of the vehicle, including engine configurations spanning a number of design generations.

A year ago, Alex was talking to another of his clients, a car dealer in Tarxien, and the subject turned to classic vehicles.

“Being aware that I already had two old motors, he told me that he had just the right car for me. He showed me a 1987 blue Mercedes Benz W126 that had been inactive for seven years. The engine did not start, but being in good condition, I bought it.”

The W126 was the second generation in the S-Class Mercedes models, having a more aerodynamic shape retaining the unique design elements of this type of vehicle. Produced between 1979 and 1991, it aimed at an improved ride, better handling, improved safety and fuel efficiency. It was the most successful S-Class model in terms of units produced and production duration.

Towing it to his Siggiewi farmhouse, he went over the six-cylinder V8 vehicle and identified areas for restoration. New rims and tyres came from Germany, similar to the multi faceted grille. All fuel items – petrol pump, filter, tank – had to be changed. It also needed panel beating to remove two small rust pieces.

Alex laments the length of time classic cars have to stay inactive while waiting to undergo restoration.

“In my youth, I used to do everything myself. I took the family Fiat apart and reassembled it several times. But now I have become impatient, and fear that I may damage my vehicles if I tamper with them, so I take them to the specialists for them to carry out the needed tasks,” admits Alex, who besides his full-time work, also balances two other part-time jobs.    

Alex is a regular participant in Old Motors Club activities.

“When I bought my first classic five years ago, a relative who is keen on old motor bikes, told me about the club, and I joined immediately. I also go on the Sicily trip with the Jaguar, accompanied by my wife Elizabeth, who although not too keen on classic cars, helps me out to procure needed parts.”

Regarding the local old motors scene, he says that there are many enthusiasts, and the hobby is getting bigger. However, Alex adds that traffic has become a great problem, with many drivers becoming intolerant. “Now you can never say that there is one day where traffic is light. Then there is the parking problem – you have to be careful where you leave your old car, for if the vehicle gets a small scratch, it is not easy to combine the spray, and you have to paint it all over again,” he rues.

The meticulous Alex keeps his vehicles in an impeccable condition, in a large, clean, tiled garage, and totally covered to avoid contact with dust. He would like to add to his collection – a Triumph Herald 13/60 or a Jaguar model come to mind. But space is a problem for him, and acquiring a new garage for the moment is out of the question.

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Maserati celebrates the A6G 2000

Starting from Maserati’s roots to plan its future: the values of exclusivity, unique design and 100 per cent Italian DNA of cars of the past are renewed today in the models that mark the brand’s new era. It is in this spirit that Maserati celebrates the 70th anniversary of the A6G 2000.

The A6G 2000 was presented at the Salone dell’Auto di Torino in 1950. Photos: Maserati.

The first A6G 2000, a car representative of the A6 series, built by Maserati from 1947 to 1956 and named in homage to Alfieri Maserati (hence the letter A) with a 6 indicating the engine type (straight 6) was delivered exactly 70 years ago, in February 1951.

The new model was the replacement for the A6 1500 series sports car, and its name referenced the cast iron (or “ghisa”) of its crankcase (“G”) and its engine displacement of 2,000 cc.

The need to increase power output in response to the general trend in the Italian market of demanding higher-performing cars, partly as a result of the country’s improving economic conditions, led Maserati to convert the A6GCS two-litre engine to fully exploit the potential of the A6’s chassis.

The increase in displacement compared to the previous A6 model was achieved through precision engineering work on the bore and stroke of the straight 6. The upgraded engine, with displacement of 1,954.3 cc, achieved a power output of 90 to 100hp depending on the final setup, enabling a top speed of 180 km/h, a clear manifesto of Maserati cars’ quality sports spirit.

The 1950 Turin Motor Show provided the backdrop for the impressive launch of the A6G 2000, which Maserati presented in two versions: a four-seater, two-door sedan by Pininfarina, and a convertible designed by Pietro Frua.

Sixteen of these cars were assembled in 1950 and 1951: nine with bodywork by Pininfarina, and five convertibles and a coupé by Pietro Frua. Alfredo Vignale produced just one car, a two-tone A6G 2000 coupé, with his signature sporty stylistic features.

Rear-wheel drive, a gearbox with four speeds plus reverse and a dry-mounted single disc clutch completed the characteristics of the new A6G 2000, together with the independent wheel front suspensions and rear suspensions comprising rigid axle with leaf springs. Hydraulically operated drum brakes on all four wheels and solid steel or spoked wheels completed the carefully chosen blend of craftsmanship and technological innovation, which made this car, built for the few, an icon on the motoring scene of the time.

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Adventure-ready Land Rover Defender Works V8 Trophy celebrates expedition legacy

Land Rover Classic will build 25 re-engineered Defender Works V8 Trophy vehicles for an adventure event at Eastnor Castle in 2021. Photo: Land Rover

Land Rover Classic is continuing the formidable expedition legacy of the original Defender with a limited production run of adventure-ready Defender Works V8 Trophy vehicles for an exclusive competition at Eastnor Castle in 2021.

Based on the re-engineered 2012-2016 Defender Works V8 specification developed by Land Rover Classic, including 405PS / 515Nm 5.0-litre V8 petrol powertrain, eight-speed ZF automatic transmission and comprehensive uprated suspension, steering and braking packages, the Trophy vehicles feature a wide range of additional upgrades specifically tailored for off-road use.

Twenty-five examples of the Defender Works V8 Trophy, in a mixture of 90 and 110 Station Wagon body designs, will be exclusively finished in a unique Eastnor Yellow paint colour with matching 16-inch steel wheels. Contrasting Narvik Black paintwork features on the wheel arches, bonnet and rear door. The purpose-built vehicles also receive LED headlamps, a Heritage front grille, unique Land Rover Trophy badging and event participation graphics personalised to each customer.

The Defender Works V8 Trophy is designed to tackle the most demanding endurance challenges. Additional all-terrain kit includes a front winch, multi-point expedition cage, roof rack, underbody protection, A-bar, raised air intake, LED spotlights and mud-terrain tyres.

Inside, the instantly recognisable 4×4 benefits from full black Windsor leather upholstery with Recaro sports seats, contrast yellow stitching and a bespoke Land Rover Trophy clock face by Elliot Brown. Land Rover Classic’s own Classic Infotainment System with integrated navigation and mobile device connectivity is also fitted.

Later this year, Defender Works V8 Trophy customers will be invited to compete in an exclusive three-day adventure at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire – the spiritual home of Land Rover all-terrain training, testing and development. This will be the first time customers drive their car.

Dan Pink, director, Land Rover Classic, said: “The Land Rover Defender has always been more than just a vehicle, its engineering capability and suitability for overland expedition and all-terrain competition means it’s renowned with getting away from it all. The new Land Rover Trophy will bring this to life for a new generation of adventurers.

“Experiences are a key part of Land Rover Classic’s DNA and this whole concept comes directly from feedback we’ve received. Our customers want to create their own stories, battle scars and patina with their Works V8 Trophy vehicles from day one, fuelling campfire chats with like-minded enthusiasts.

“We’re looking forward to an exciting and memorable event, full of camaraderie, and continuing the Land Rover Trophy legend for years to come. Seeing the silhouette of these vehicles which you’ll instantly know as a Land Rover, traversing the hills at Eastnor, will be a defining moment of the adventure.”

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Dreaming of a white Christmas

For the festive season, a Ferrari Testarossa in white suits me just fine, says Jules Christian

Throughout their history, Ferrari have always used numbers in their model descriptions. If you said, however, 512TR it would mean little to many, but it is in fact the number of one of Ferrari’s best selling and most famous models: the Testarossa.

When introduced in 1984 as a replacement for the Boxer 512i, the blunt Pininfarina styling and ostentatious side strakes compared with the curvaceous lines of its predecessor, caused a great deal of consternation among Ferrari devotees. Although it was only 180cm wider, it also made the Testarossa look so much larger.

In fact the Testarossa had an excellent design throughout and resolved many of the problems of the earlier 512i. The aerodynamics were so good that it did not need a rear spoiler, unlike its competitor the Lamborghini Countach. The much-needed additional interior space even allowed for some luggage behind the seats, and the absence of a spare wheel gave workable load space under the bonnet. Ferrari had decided that Testarossa owners would never change a wheel themselves but would call a tow service, so they simply didn’t provide one. And you had to fit a radio/stereo – they didn’t provide one of those either.

One of the problems with the mid-engined 512i was that the radiator was in the front of the car with pipes running inside down the sides to the engine at the rear, which made the cabin uncomfortably hot. I can vouch for this as I had to deliver one from North London over to Heathrow Cargo in heavy jammed traffic on a hot summer’s day with no aircon – it was a nightmare.

The side strakes on the Testarossa, which caused so much consternation, were a part of resolving this, and were lead-ins to the air ducts for the radiators, which were moved to the engine compartment.

The Testarossa was powered by basically the same flat-12, 4943cc mid-engine as the 512i, but with four valves per cylinder head which were actually painted red. The upgraded engine punched-out 385bhp and gave it a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 5.5 seconds and a top speed of around 290km/h.

Between 1984 and 1991 nearly 10,000 Testarossa models were sold, only 500 of which were the later F512M, 1994 version, which apart from some cosmetic changes, had a modified 434bhp engine, revamped handling and sorted out the stiff gear-change issue, which had always been annoying. All the models were coupes, with only one Spyder built made especially for Fiat and Ferrari boss, Gianni Agnelli, to celebrate 20 years of chairmanship.

Agnelli was not the only famous Testarossa owner – Elton John, Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan and Rod Stewart all owned one. But the only star who was actually given one for free by Ferrari was Don Johnson who starred – driving a white Testarossa – in the 1980s TV hit Miami Vice.

Fine, so I know the Ferrari colour is red, but if Santa is kind, in this case, I might just make an exception. Have a merry Christmas and here’s to a better 2021 for all.

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A boyhood dream

George Giordimania’s love of classics started from the classroom, says Joseph Busuttil from the Old Motors Club

Like all caring couples, George and Doris Giordimania wanted their two children to have a more comfortable and financially rewarding future than they themselves had experienced. Of moderate means and making sacrifices, they sent them both to private schools to give them what they thought would be a better platform for life. But son Michael was proving to be a headache for them at times.

“Academically I was fine, but I have always been technically and mechanically oriented, with an affinity for old cars and a fascination for the combustion engine,” begins Michael Giordimania.

“I would get car models as presents and dismantle them – although I did not always succeed in putting them together again. I would read and research about vehicles as often as I could. My parents thought I would end up in some messy garage repairing cars, something that was not on their list of expectations.”

The successful completion of secondary school presented Giordimania with a deep dilemma. His natural instincts led him to apply for a motor mechanic course at the Umberto Calosso Technical College. Respecting his parents and heeding their advice, he also applied for the draughtsmanship course at MCAST. Both applications were accepted.

“I decided to start with the draughtsmanship course without declining the other option. In fact for a time, a friend used to tell me that my name would be called out every morning while taking down the attendance. After some serious soul searching, I gave up on the technical college and concentrated on the MCAST course, which lasted four years.”

Giordimania now has a successful career designing and installing steel structures in big construction projects.

While proceeding with his studies, old cars were never too far away in the background. In 2000, 16 and still in secondary school, he asked his father whether he could buy a classic car. The reply was in the affirmative, provided there would be no driving before he would get his licence in two years’ time.

Giordimania says that he is very grateful to his father – who alas passed away a few years ago – in that he always believed in his son.

“He taught me a lot without preaching. He had a way of empowering me, never shouting when I accidentally broke a tool but explaining and allowing me to experiment.”

Having always had a soft spot for the Ford marque, Giordimania read that the Escort models were disappearing from the island.

“A friend told me there was one for sale in Għaxaq, and with my father, went to see it. The dark blue 1973 Escort Mk 1 had been garaged for a decade and was just body and upholstery with no engine, which had caught fire. My father was not very enthusiastic, but I saw there was potential in it.”

Not wanting to be a burden on his family, Giordimania bought the Escort with his own money, which he had been saving carefully over the years since being given some at his Holy Communion.

Leaving the Escort at a Rabat garage, he continued with his course. At intervals he bought spare parts with money saved from his stipend as well as from a part-time job in a restaurant.

A 1300cc engine from an abandoned Escort was provided by Stephen, his sister’s then boyfriend, now husband. Restoring it intermittently, Giordimania brought the Escort back to roadworthy condition and then sold it, making a handsome profit in the deal.

Shortly afterwards, he saw another Escort for sale in Pembroke.

“The white vehicle with a protruding fuel cap was one of the first batch imported in Malta, manufactured in 1967 and arriving in the island a year later. The car was in a very good and original condition.”

“It needed very little attention, and was in such a good condition that I got married in it two years ago.”

Giordimania says that Escorts came in various models – including 1100cc, 1300cc, 16 Mexico, RS 1600, and Lotus, with the latter being a few built from the Lotus Cortina for the racing track. Noting that his Escort had the ermine white colour of the original Lotus, he decided to change the drive train and bought a 1600cc engine from Ireland. He claims that such engines – with a prefix L block behind the engine mount for high-grade engine performance in racing – are not easy to come by. He entrusted the rebuilding job to a professional mechanic, although he himself did the assembly and the gearbox, and changed the suspension. Proud of the conversion, Giordimania says the Escort is the apple of his eye.  

Being very fond of Fords – which he says are simple to work on, and which do not entail one to be the greatest mechanic with the most sophisticated tools – he spent some time looking for a two-door Ford Cortina Mk 1. Locally it was close to impossible to source one, so one of his many English friends directed him to one in Manchester.

“The two-tone burgundy with cherry cream top, 1966 Cortina Super with a 1500cc engine had one owner, who was getting on in years, and his son preferred a modern car. It had few defects, like some chipped paint and scratches in the seats, and so I bought it. The air cleaner, steering wheel, horn and rims had been upgraded, and I changed them back to the original.”

Giordimania was given a thick file of car documents, one of which states that this Cortina is the last one to come off the production line that is still in existence.

By this time he had caught the classic car fever in no small way, and another Ford Cortina was soon in his garage.

“The maroon 1963 Mk 1 1200cc de luxe model was bought from Mgarr. It needed very little attention, and was in such a good condition that I got married in it two years ago.”

Giordimania says his wife Chantal initially did not know anything about classic cars, but soon picked up and became an ardent believer, giving him advice and guidance as well as urging him to go for more.

Jointly they bought a red 1979 Porsche 911 3L cylinder boxer engine from an acquaintance. With this sturdy vehicle they went on the Old Motors Club trip to Sicily last year. For the same event this year they are preparing another of their roadworthy vehicles, a wedgewood blue 1968 Triumph Spitfire Mk 111.

1979 Porsche 911 3L cylinder

Giordimania also has three old cars awaiting their turn to be eventually restored. These include a 1970 Ford Capri Mk 1, a 1960 Renault 4 CV which he says is rare in Malta, and a 1954 commercial Morris van with split screen. The vehicle was imported by the post office for deliveries, and he has already been in contact with the postal authorities regarding its restoration, including the original colour scheme.

An active member of the OMC, he observes that when the going is good, members are found in abundance, but not always so when voluntary projects are in the pipeline. While the club has a number of officials with a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience, there seems to be no counterparts to replace them when they eventually disappear from the scene.

He states that the national interest in old cars is booming, although there is a dividing line between the real classic car enthusiast, and those who purchase an old motor just because it is fashionable to do so. There has to be an intrinsic yearning, and this also applies to the maintenance of the vehicle, which is of the utmost importance. Another cardinal principle is to harness the classic car, as little use is detrimental.

With such a significant collection, one would think that Giordimania has fulfilled all his classic car objectives. However, there is something seething below the surface.

“Chantal has a dream car, a Citroen DS 21, and I want to get one for her,” he says. This is certainly a tasteful choice, for the model, praised for its aerodynamics, futuristic body design and innovative technology, came third in a 1999 Car of the Century poll of the world’s most influential auto designs, and was voted the most beautiful car of all time by Classic and Sports magazine.  

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Biting the Bullitt

The Dodge Charger flexed plenty of muscle in Hollywood classics, says Jules Christian

When it comes to movie car chases, the 10-minute sequence in the 1968 movie Bullitt was to become legend and revolutionise Hollywood standards.

Starring King Of Cool Steve McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullitt, the famous actor was unfortunately second-bested by the car he drove in the film, a Ford Mustang GT Fastback. As a keen amateur racer he wanted to do all the stunt driving himself, but ended up doing only the close-up scenes, mainly because of insurance issues. In the majority of them, the car was driven by his stuntman double Loren James.

McQueen, renowned for his temper tantrums, lost it during shooting when he took a wrong turn and furiously reversed. The burning rubber scene accidently ended up being one of the most famous takes in the film.

With heavily modified engine, suspension and brakes, the famous Highland Green Mustang was quite a beast. The 6,390cc V8 punched out a mean 325bhp and could do 0-97km/h in around eight seconds – and with the GT package it had wider wheels and the fabulous four-speed Ford manual gearbox. To create more of a bad-boy image the badges and some of the chrome were removed or matt-blacked over.

There were, in fact, three identical Mustangs used in the film with two being used for all the accident scenes and were written off after the movie. The main Mustang was bought by the Kiernan family in 1974 for the equivalent today of €28,500 and, as its fame grew, McQueen became somewhat obsessed with owning the car and repeatedly over the next six years, before his death in 1980, tried to persuade them to sell it to him – to which the answer was always a firm no. A wise decision as at the beginning of 2020, the family sold the Bullitt Mustang at auction, in its original condition, movie bumps and all, for €3,150,000.

Back to the real world. What about the other, mainly forgotten, car in the famous chase? In fact – was this the car to choose out of the two of them? Dead right it was, as this was an animal: the Dodge Charger R/T. With a 7,250cc V8 engine, it had almost one litre more cc than the Mustang, giving it 55 more horsepower than its rival. It was more than a second quicker to 97km/h, had a higher top speed and, all those mods to beef up the Mustang for the movie – none of that as the Charger was tough enough and quick enough.

Filmed in San Francisco and the surrounding area, and not having computer generation like today, the stunt drivers were told to do speeds of around 120km/h to create the necessary realism. In fact on open stretches they were pretty well flat out at 180km/h. Well, the Mustang was. The stuntman/actor driving the Dodge Charger, Bill Hickman, complained that he had to keep taking his foot off the gas pedal as the Mustang couldn’t keep up. And the R/T wasn’t even the hot version of the Charger!

A year later, enter The General Lee in the TV series The Dukes Of Hazard. This was the ‘grownup’ model – the Dodge Charger R/T Hemi. The stunt model was upgraded from an R/T early in the series, and remembering this was in 1969, the V8 Hemi version had no less than 425bhp under the hood and chopped the 0-97km/h time down to 5.3 seconds. Admittedly General Lee seemed to spend much of its time flying through the air and maybe should have had wings rather than a more powerful engine, but to be quite honest when I watched the series, my attention was primarily focused on the vision of Daisy Duke played by Jessica Simpson.

When it came to American muscle, the Mustang may have been a late 1960s contender, but with the Dodge Charger in the picture, the Bullitt was definitely bitten.

A chase from Bullitt.

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Bertone beauty

Screaming style and substance fuelled the Lamborghini stable, says Jules Christian

The Italians are very good at making things glamorous. I mean, just look at their pasta – curly ones, tube-shaped ones, spaghetti. Let alone designer clothes, and perfumes. But where they have really excelled in the past is in exotic car design. The two most famous design houses undoubtedly have been those of Bertone and Pininfarina with Bertone aligned with Lamborghini and Pininfarina to Ferrari.

Of these, Ferrari is the better known brand, not just because of their designs, but more from their racing pedigree. In fact, in 1966 they were left standing when Lamborghini unveiled their amazing Miura. The design was revolutionary, adopting the new racing mid-engine configuration, which Ferrari were slow to adopt and, even with their new model, the Pininfarina designed Daytona, they stuck with their established front engine, rear wheel drive layout, which in coupe form especially, paled by comparison.

The Bertone designer of the Miura, Marcello Gandini had, through the success of the Muira, set himself a tough challenge to create Lamborghini’s next model for 1974. In fact, he gave a hint of things to come with his 1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept car. The finished product, delivered for production as the LP400, was not just sensational, but was to become the most impactful design in supercar history – the Lamborghini Countach.

Constructed with aluminium panels, the front wedge profile and flat squared lines of the Countach were an entirely new concept and was to set the template for many of the mid-engined supercars of the future. The front lights (not the headlamps – they were pop-up) simply made it look evil, while the rear light array was just plain sexy. This, combined with vertical scissor opening doors, ostentatious air vents, classic rear wheel cut-outs, and luxurious interior, the car screamed for attention.

Apart from the mid-engine configuration, about the only thing in common with its Miura predecessor was the engine. The first model was powered by the proven carburettor 3.9ltr, 374bhp V12, which at the end of its long production run in 1990 had been replaced by a quattro-valve, 5179cc, 449bhp fuel injected engine. This gave the Countach a 0-100km/h time of 4.7secs and a top speed of nearly 300km/h.

Although the basic bodywork remained unaltered, later models featured skirts, wheel arches and different air vents, which accommodated wider wheels and improved suspension for better handling and resolved inherent engine cooling problems. A rear spoiler was also added, which actually did nothing to help the aerodynamics and was purely for effect. In fact when driving at high speed it was found the wing made the car uncomfortably light on the front end.

As outrageous as the Countach was, it was decidedly quirky as well, as I found out when I had the chance to drive one in 1978. Surprisingly, the window glass panels were all flat with no curves at all. It had door window winder handles – not electric – but then the tiny windows only went down about 30cm, about one turn, because of the shortness of the doors. The air vents in and behind the doors were not actually vents, with one housing the fuel filler cap and both housing the door opening buttons facing downwards, as were the door key locks – so if you wanted to get the key in first time you would have to get down on your knees to see.

Alfa Romeo Carabo Concept

Driving was also interesting. The double blade wiper only came over to halfway across the front of your face because of the windscreen shape; the pedals were offset to one side (like an old Triumph Herald); the steering, with even no weight at the front, was really heavy and didn’t lighten up even when you got going; and the rear vision, well, there wasn’t any. The wing mirrors were basically useless and on this early model there was a sort of periscope contraption, which gave you the tiniest view if you looked through it at exactly the right angle.

But at the end of the day who cared. It was a Lamborghini Countach – and it was beautiful.

Lamborghini Countach

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