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Auto-Archives Car of the Month — 1959 MG EX186 Prototype LeMans Car

Like the majority of British automobile producers, the MG Car Company developed experimental models which often, but occasionally not, became production models. The founder of MG Cars, Cecil Kimber, realized at an early time, that properly set up and successful experimental cars could provide a great deal of free advertising, and he was happy to supply factory assistance to any MG speed or endurance record attempt. Between 1929 and 1959 MG established 43 international class speed records with factory-supported EX vehicles, and several EX cars were the precursors of well-known production models.

From the very beginning, the EX designation was used for prototype MG projects and cars, but the first of the EX line to be revealed to the public as a prospective ‘record-breaker’ was EX120. It evolved from a collaboration with Captain George Eyston who attempted to establish the first 100mph speed for Class H cars (750cc) cars, using the diminutive 1929 MG Midget. His MG broke six international records on the way to becoming the first 750cc car to go 100 miles in one hour. Designed with the express purpose of smashing every Class H record, and completed late in 1931, the evolution of EX120 was EX127. In its illustrious career EX127 car set numerous records, and was the first car in its class to surpass 120mph.

 

EX186 is pushed out of the Abingdon factory for a first test run

 

The next car for Captain Eyston was the legendary EX135, based on a K3 chassis with both racing and record breaking bodies and built to assault Class G (1100cc) records. The original streamlined body was painted in cream and chocolate stripes, and earned the nickname “Humbug”. In 1934 it re-wrote the record books for its class, and two years later broke both Class G and F records by becoming the first 1100cc car to exceed 200mph. Following World War II, EX135 re-surfaced in a number of different configurations and took many class records before, in 1951, and sporting a TD engine, the car ran on the Utah salt flats to take more records in Class F. In its long career, and wearing an assortment of bodies and engines, the venerable EX135 broke the world record ten times in eight different classes, a tribute to both the builders and the driver. The next significant creation, EX179 was based on an MGA chassis and closely resembled EX135. With it, Eyston and Ken Miles took seven Class F and 25 American records. Using the Wolseley Twin-cam engine, the car took nine Class G records. The final record breaker from MG was EX181, a mid-engine car nicknamed the “Roaring Raindrop” for its unique streamlined body shape. In 1957, with Stirling Moss at the wheel, this model took the Class F record at 245.6mph. Two years later Phil Hill drove the car to an amazing 254.9mph. This was the end of factory supported MG speed cars except one you may never have heard of before today!

Whetted by a three-car entry in the 1955 Le Mans 24-hour race where the brand new MGA EX182, had finished 12th overall and 5th in class, Managing Director of MG John Thornley and Chief Designer Syd Enever laid plans to develop an MGA-based ‘prototype’ for the express purpose of winning the 1961 LeMans 24-hour race outright. They intended to utilize the then-new dual-overhead cam version of BMC B-Series engine, but recognizing that the engine wouldn’t give them a performance edge, (other cars would have more power), they planned to compensate with a specially built, lightweight, and extremely aerodynamic aluminum body. ‘EX186’ is the racecar that resulted from these plans. The car was built and test driven on the road, and by all accounts its performance was impressive, but sadly the Le Mans MG project was cancelled before EX186 was ever raced.

It was normal MG practice to destroy racing prototypes after retiring them, but in 1960 John Thornley managed to dispatch EX186 to US dealer Kjell Qvale, invoiced as “auto parts.” Qvale kept EX186 stored until 1966, after which it was sold and driven on public roads for about a year until its engine required overhaul. At that time, overhaul costs were prohibitive and the car was removed from service, parted from its engine, and stored in a barn on a walnut farm in Red Bluff, CA. Luckily, most of the car including the hand-built aluminum body and unique DeDion rear suspension survived virtually intact and, in 1982, having seen it advertised in Road & Track magazine, MG enthusiasts Joe and Cathy Gunderson and Steve Willis of Denver, Colorado, purchased the car. Since then, they have carefully and painstakingly restored it to the virtually original specification you see here. Tracking down missing original parts such as the gearbox has been one of the special challenges of the unique 30+ year restoration of EX186 which was on display at the Hagerty offices in Golden, Colorado.

 

 

 

Redlines to Treasure Hunts: A Labor of Love

hobbyDB Team: We are VERY excited about Dan Hornberger’s documentary film project “Redlines to Treasure Hunts” and are pleased to welcome him to our blog with his latest update. “Redlines to Treasure Hunts” is a full-length documentary on the history and collecting world of Hot Wheels. Dan currently has a GoFundMe to get completion costs for the film and is hoping to have it finished by early 2018.

Dan HornbergerA Guest Blog Post by Dan Hornberger

I’d like to thank the folks at hobbyDB for giving me the opportunity to provide an update on the film.

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First…a little background on the film: After producing the documentary STANDARDIZED, an exposé on the standardized testing industry that plagues public education, I began looking for other documentary projects, especially those with a lighter tone. I initially thought about a project involving toys from the 60s and 70s (i.e., Major Matt Mason, Vertibird, AirDevils, Creepy Crawlers) so I attended a local toy fair/flea market. After seeing dozens of tables of Hot Wheels and spotting cars I had when I was a kid, I knew I had my next project. I observed the vendors’ and collectors’ passion; I saw how excited the kids were as they scanned the wide array of cars.

I started researching and discovered an entire subculture of people who love these toy cars. I also quickly found out that Hot Wheels is not your ordinary fad (such as Beanie Babies, Longaberger Baskets, or Cabbage Patch Kids). These toys have been going strong for almost fifty years. I knew that the origin of these toy cars, the different phases of their development, and the dedicated collectors would make a compelling documentary.

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I wrapped up the interviews a month ago (however, I’ve recently learned of another exciting potential interview, but I don’t want to reveal any more just yet). Sure, we interviewed the giants of the collecting world: Mike Zarnock, Bruce Pascal, Larry Wood, all of whom were friendly, accommodating, and supportive. I’ve been feverishly transcribing all of the interviews. Let me tell you, writing a blog entry beats the tedious transcription process. I’m nearing the end of that stage, but it has been a slow, painstaking phase; however, it’s highly necessary if I want a much smoother editing stage.

I often think about all of the great people we’ve met along the way. We:

Spent time with the SJPD and Charm City Collectors’ Clubs (thank you to all of the members!)

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A Charm City Collectors’ Club (MD) sale

Interviewed dozens of collectors such as Kirk Engle, Roy Friend, Dan Hocker, and Ed Bregitzer

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Kirk Engle amidst his collection

Gained invaluable information from interviews we hadn’t initially planned such as Mark and Jennifer Millhollin, Wayne Heede, Danny Tharp, Mark Starr and Bill Cookerly…thank you VERY much!

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Mark & Jennifer Millhollin, Collectors’ Convention Organizers (and VERY nice people!)

Experienced four days of crazy fun at the National Convention in Indianapolis; we came away from that event with eight hours of footage and the experience of meeting dozens and dozens of very nice people (including hobbyDB’s own Christian Braun and Robert Graves)

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Traveled to SoCal and paid a visit to Mattel, who arranged for us to interview Jimmy Liu, Steve Vandervate, and Brendan Vetuskey

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Jimmy Liu, Associate Marketing Manager at Mattel

And we accomplished so much more. I feel compelled to say that this project has allowed me to:

  • work closely with my son, who will graduate this May with a BFA in Filmmaking from Montclair State
  • have my daughter help me on two shoots
  • work with several close friends: Jim Del Conte, whose work is always top-notch; Glenn Cocco and Peter Fey, my two Temple University SCAT brothers. My friendship with these two guys has lasted 25 years, and having the chance to work with them has made this great experience even greater. By the way, Pete composed and performed all of the awesome music in the film trailers.
  • rekindle my love for this great hobby

So what’s next? Well, I’ll finish the transcriptions by next week, and I’ll immediately dive into cutting the film. The toughest part of editing will be narrowing hours and hours of footage into a 90-minute doc. My rather optimistic goal is to have a rough cut completed by late November. In the meantime, I’m hoping Pete can continue cranking out cool tunes, and I’ll spend more time trying to raise money for the budget. Of course, we want the film shown on the major streaming venues so the Hot Wheels’ community can watch it. But before that can happen, we need to enter a few film festivals and, hopefully, deal with numerous distribution offers. Our official fundraising page is www.gofundme.redlines.

I’ll continue to post updates on the official site: www.redlinestotreasurehunts.com, and the film’s FB page. By the way, I’m entertaining another title: The Hottest Wheels. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

With more hard work, more money in the budget, and a little bit of luck, this film will be completed just before the 50th Anniversary. How cool would that be?

Well, so much for a break. It’s time to get back to transcribing. No rest for the weary.
Take care!
Dan Hornberger

Designer Notes: Unreleased Heller Porsche 911R

Lincoln Futura Philippe de Lespinay

Philippe de Lespinay started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer. He also also worked for Cox, who are now known for their remote control and gas powered vehicles, but also created many kits over the years. More recently, he was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. And he’s on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

hobbyDB will be regularly sharing his insights on particular models he has worked on including production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well.

Read more about his history in the toy and model business here.

Heller Porsche 911R

This car also not make it into production, unfortunately. The 911R was at the time, THE car to have if you wanted to win the GT class

heller porsche 911R kit

Notice how the views from the ends show the cross section of the hood and the rear glass at certain measurements. In a way, it’s a miracle that a 3-dimensional model could be created from drawings without any assistance from a computer!

heller porsche 911R kit heller porsche 911R kit

Designer Notes: Balsa Wood Cox Alfa Romeo 33 Slot Car

 Philippe de Lespinay started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer. He also also worked for Cox, who are now known for their remote control and gas powered vehicles, but also created many kits over the years. More recently, he was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. And he’s on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

hobbyDB will be regularly sharing his insights on particular models he has worked on including production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well.

Read more about his history in the toy and model business here.

Balsa Wood Alfa Romeo 33: A Major Mistake (but what fun it was!)

balsa wood alfa romeo 33 slot car

In search of the ultimate lightweight, I built this crazy car in 1968 using a Dynamic Alfa Romeo “33” body over a balsa-wood cum light-gauge piano wire chassis, that for unknown reasons, survived for the last 41 years and counting.

balsa wood alfa romeo 33 slot car

The original body was French blue, I will have to paint this replacement some day, or maybe not because it clearly shows the intricacies of my engineering heresy! 

The original was powered by a Champion “Bob Cozine Signature” motor, and that thing was fast, but the noise was incredible as the chassis resonated like a violin!

balsa wood alfa romeo 33 slot car

Designer Notes: Heller Lotus 49B

Lincoln Futura Philippe de Lespinay

Philippe de Lespinay started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer. He also also worked for Cox, who are now known for their remote control and gas powered vehicles, but also created many kits over the years. More recently, he was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. And he’s on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

hobbyDB will be regularly sharing his insights on particular models he has worked on including production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well.

Read more about his history in the toy and model business here.

Heller Lotus 49B 

Heller Lotus 49B Cosworth

In 1969, I decided to make four kits of Formula One cars, but only three were produced. Unfortunately and for reasons I do not know, the tooling for Matra MS80 was never built.

Heller Lotus 49B Cosworth

The Lotus 49B is one of the most iconic and recognizable models in the series. It could be built in various configurations with or without aerodynamic wings.

Heller Lotus 49B Cosworth

Heller Lotus 49B Cosworth