Radio Flyer

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If you, like me, are a fan of US movies and TV series, then the iconic Radio Flyer will be more than familiar. Indeed, I know they must be sold in other parts of the world, but like so many everyday iconic items of US life – check out our earlier post on Iconic US Sweets/Candies –  Iconic American Candy – Part 1 – I don’t think I have seen one for sale in the UK. Certainly, when my kids would have loved such a product they weren’t available.

For generations, US kids have carted themselves, several siblings, pets, toys and other important treasures in these charming red trolley wagons. A wonderful item  of great simplicity that’s use is limited only by the depths of a child’s imagination. As American as “Milk Duds” but what’s their story?

2017 saw the celebration of the first hundred years of the Radio Flyer. Antonio Pasin, a Venetian born son of a cabinet maker who, aged 16, in 1913 arrived in New York City to start a new life. In 1917, in Chicago, he started building wooden toy wagons and selling them to local shops. He was a jobbing joiner who built the wooden wagons to carry his tools.

Demand for the wagons led to Pasin forming the Liberty Coaster Company in 1923, and ten years after he made his first wooden wagons he was making pressed steel versions and selling them for just under $3.00. He was very interested in the many production techniques used in the local car industry, earning himself the nickname “Little Ford”. In the 1930’s he produced several versions of his “Liberty Coaster” including The Streak-O-Lite” and The Zephyr that echoed the Chrysler Airflow.

Renaming the company in 1930 the Radio Steel and Manufacturing, the brand name “Radio Flyer” stemming from Pasin’s fascination with the pioneers of Radio (Marconi) and Flight (Lindbergh).

Production was interrupted during the latter stages of the Second World War and turned to oil drum manufacture but the company survived. In 1987 Radio Steel and Manufacturinf became “Radio Flyer Inc” which has been overseen by Pasin’s grandson, Robert as CEO, since 1997.

The company’s range of Radio Flyer and associated products grows annually and aside from being voted a great company to work for, its iconic products are rooted deep in the warmth of the American psyche.

Images used with grateful thanks – Radio Flyer Inc., ClassicCars.com and Vintage Vending Inc.

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Black Cabs – London’s Taxis

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Any visitor to London cannot fail to notice that aside from the usual array of private cars, bikes/scooters and delivery vans that the streets are punctuated with two of perhaps the World’s most recognizable and iconic vehicles. The red London Bus – see our previous post here that features the New Routemaster Bus – Thomas Heatherwick – and the Black Cabs – London’s Taxis or more properly “Hackney Carriages”.

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It may be just an impression but certain parts of the West End, that are not already bus and taxi only, but fall within the Congestion Charge Zone – and a daily rate of £11.50 – have taken on a new character. They seem to flow better and are sparsely occupied by private vehicles but are dominated by well managed public transport provided by Transport for London (TfL) – see here our piece on the iconic London Transport Roundels –  London Transport roundels  – and the Carriage Office – the body responsible for the Black Cabs.

The Black Cab is undergoing a revolution. The streets are a battleground where private mini-cabs, recently licence-reprieved Uber cars and Black Cabs vie to secure a ride but they reflect a clash of cultures. The Black Cab driver knows where he/she’s going having successfully completed the Knowledge see our previous post here – London A-Z street atlas – The Knowledge  – whilst the mini-cab or Uber drivers world is linked to one of the many digital street services following pre-selected routes that guide the driver to the chosen post code. Simple but not foolproof!

Price is an issue but I tend to prefer the comfort of Black Cabs. However, with respect to those Uber drivers that I have met, the London Cabbie is often overall much better “value”. They tend to be better informed about London, its Mayor and its political life, the perils of supporting one of London’s eleven football teams, the most recent celebrity they carried and the best route to avoid congestion.

Cabbie’s opinions matter. In a recent and highly effective Twitter piece, Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson, the US Ambassador to the UK – probably as a result of looking for someone to go “Sarf of the River” to the new US Embassy in Vauxhall – toured several of the thirteen remaining London’s Green Cabbie’s shelters. The driver’s opinions on Brexit and the US President seem very welcome. US Ambassador Cab Shelter Tour 

A new Black Cab appeared on the streets of London at the end of 2017 competing with the most recent diesel version of the iconic Black Cab, the TX4, that was produced between 2007 and 2017. Called the LEVC “TX” and seen below next to an older TX4, the cab is built in a new Chinese owned factory outside Coventry and combines a 1.5l petrol engine with a 110kW lithium battery driven electric motor. Conforming perfectly to the zeroing of diesel emissions and the promotion of the recharge economy.

 

A recent journey in the new cab, that tend to be rented by Cabbie’s for under £200 per  week on a five year deal, suggests the comfort is still very much there. The new cab’s driver explained the electric motor delivered around 70 to 80 miles on one 50p electricity recharge and whilst the TX leasing arrangement is slightly more costly, the fuel saving is expected to be around £100 per week. Will this bring cab fares more in line with Uber’s prices?

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Other cities around the world have their own distinctive cabs, the canary Yellow Cabs – Medallion Taxi – that have superseded their checker forerunners – in New York, the Black Body and Yellow Doors in Barcelona but in its own right London’s iconic Black Cab – a vehicle designed and built for a single task – should be seen a beacon of security in an unfamiliar city. Just don’t try and flag on done if its yellow roof light is not illuminated – its occupied!

Images used with grateful thanks – Transport For Londons, Daily Telegraph and LEVC TX.

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Mike Hawthorn – 1958 Formula One World Champion

 

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At the weekend, with a couple of my kids, I visited the Brooklands Museum – see the Museums website here  – Brooklands Museum in Weybridge Surrey the home of British Aviation and early Motor Racing. My late father had been an early Trustee of the Museum assisting it to secure substantial support from Shell, his former employer. I am told there is a plaque to his memory on site but, sadly, we couldn’t locate it.

My father was a very keen follower of Motor Racing, he ran part of Shell’s  commitment to sport and visited tracks all over the world in the 1970’s and 80’s. As kids we even lived in the village of Silverstone.

Prior his early years in the Army and then in commerce in Africa and elsewhere, my Dad was schooled at Ardingly College in West Sussex. A rather typical English Boarding School which produced well rounded chaps in the 1940’s. His close friends and contemporaries included Bill Cotton (the son of the 1940’s Band Leader, “Billy Cotton”, who became the head of BBC TV) and John Michael (“Mike”) Hawthorn, who because of his hair coloring, was nicknamed “Snowball”. See our previous post mentioning Mike Hawthorn here – Morgan Cars

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Born in Yorkshire on 10th April 1929 this blond and debonair young man was an iconic British racing driver and the very essence of what made motoracing glamourous. He drove a Ferrari and his penchant for racing in a bow tie did much to concrete his reputation as a gentleman racer of the finest tradition. Behind his steely blue eyes lay a depth of grit and ambition that would see him secure the Formula One World Championship alongside a host of other trophies.

Mike Hawthorn’s biography “Challenge Me The Race” carries the line “The first motor races I ever saw were at Brooklands. I was only a very small boy, but to me it was heaven to watch the cars thundering round those towering cliffs of concrete where the banking curved under the Members’ Bridge, to wander along the lines of brightly coloured cars in their stalls in the paddock, to jump as an exhaust snarled suddenly and to sniff the aroma of castor oil.”

Leslie, Mike’s father had relocated from Doncaster to Farnham, Surrey – opening The Tourist Trophy Garage in 1931 – to be nearer Brooklands. His father is said to have driven a young Mike in a Riley 2.0 litre around the legendary track thus sealing his ambition to race. This must have been a fascinating era with the Sunbeam, Napier Railtons and Bentleys battling on the banked curves of the Brooklands circuit.

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Mike started racing bikes in 1947 and after a period in Formual Two driving a Cooper Bristol and being courted by the Jaguar team – managed by Lofty England –  he joined the Ferrari Team in 1953. He suffered burns following a crash in 1954 in Syracuse (Italy) and whilst  hospitalized his father was tragically killed in a car accident. Mike joined Jaguar in 1955 as team leader, replacing Stirling Moss. After a tragic Le Mans in 1955 and a week Jaguar performance at the same race in 1956 – which led to Jaguars retirement from racing – in 1957 Hawthorn rejoined Ferrari.

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On 19th October 1958 – nearly 60 years ago – driving for Scuderia Ferrari, Mike failed to win the Moroccan Grand Prix at the newly built Ain-Diab Circuit. He was beaten into second place by Stirling Moss driving a Vanwall. Despite his position, Hawthorn secured, by a single point (total 42 points), the 1958 Formula One World Championship, the first British driver to do so. Moss came second with 41 points. Anoraks will be amused to note that Bernie Ecclestone competed in the same race – one of only two starts ever by Bernie in a Formula One – the second being the same year at Silverstone.

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Immediately following the race Hawthorn announced his retirement from motoracing after eight amazing years. Sadly, the 29 year old champ was unwell following the loss of his friend Peter Collins and a recurrent, and, many have said probably terminal, kidney complaint.

Sadly on 22nd January 1959 Mike was killed in a British Racing Green, Mark 1 3.4 litre Jaguar – Reg VDU 881 – that had been loaned to him by the Jaguar team, that crashed on the Guilford by-pass. Whilst the circumstances are unclear it seems that on the wet surface with a witness attesting to seeing his car traveling at around 100 mph, he may have been racing Mercedes Team’s Rob Walker, who was driving a gull-winged doored Mercedes 300 SL.

See this dated Pathe newsreel announcing in its staccato voice over the sad news of Mike’s death  Mike Hawthorn Killed

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Image credits – used with grateful thanks Brooklands Museum, Pathe News and Motor Sports Magazine

Mini – the best selling car in Britain

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Relatively few of us can actually remember the Sixties, there are, however, true icons that were spawned in the era of Pop Culture that have grown in popularity with the passing of time. They have cemented their place in world’s consciousness like no marketing campaign could ever achieve.

One such revered treasure is British Motor Corporation’s (BMC) truly iconic “Mini”.

A crumb of comfort to all budding design geniuses the Mini’s designer, Sir Alec Issigonis’, during his Engineering studies at the Battersea Polytechnic failed his maths paper three times. Despite this his skills were recognised by both Austin and Morris where he was employed in the late 1930’s – working on a predecessor to the Morris Minor – prior to their fusion into BMC in 1952.

After a brief stint with Alvis, in 1955 Issigonis left at the invitation of BMC’s boss Sir Leonard Lord to work with a small design team on three new designs. With the Suez Crisis in 1956 the project was scaled down to concentrate on a small car code-named XC/9003. The result was a transverse four cylinder water cooled engine and front-wheel drive which allowed a greater percentage of the car to be used for passengers. The car also featured a down-scaled rubber cone suspension system designed by Alex Moulton (the eponymous bicycle designer).

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In August 1959, the car was launched as two models, the Morris Mini Minor – the first bearing registration “621 AOK” – and the Austin Seven (later to be known as “the Austin Mini”). Issigonis’ design was initially manufactured at Longbridge and Cowley – BMC’s plants – and later made under license all over the world.  The Mini become the best selling British car in history with a production run of over 5.3 million cars.

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Variants included the Clubman, Traveller, the half-timbered Countryman, the Moke, Reilly Elf, Wolseley Hornet and the sizzling 1275GT.

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Performance versions, the Mini Cooper and Cooper “S”, were realised by Issigonis in collaboration with John Cooper who specialised in designing and maintaining racing cars. Cooper saw the potential in these small cars that drove like a go-kart on ten inch Dunlop tyres. They were hugely successful winning the Monte Carlo Rally three times.

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In 1969, a coup for early product placement, Mini’s were seen being triumphant in the film “The Italian Job” – alongside Michael Caine and Noel Coward – Aston Martin DB4/DB5

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My wife’s first car was a resprayed – from gold to red – and treasured Mini that was stolen in Streatham (South London, UK) in the early 1990’s much to her sadness.

In the mid-1970’s my Aunt Molly, simply one of the coolest people I have ever known, had a Harvest Gold version. She and her husband had lived in South Kensington and holidayed in Juan Les Pins. She wore Pringle and Ferragamo but Todds to drive in.

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BMW acquired the Rover Group (formerly British Leyland – the successor to BMC) in 1994 and sold-on most of it to other manufacturers, retaining the rights to build cars using the “Mini” name.

The last Mini – a red Cooper Sport – to made in Longbridge was built in October 2000.

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The later re-imagination of the Mini brand by BMW would have been inconceivable without the role played by the original but BMW are certainly making the most of its heritage. Launched in 2001, under the masterful eyes of designer, Frank Stephenson, the early designs of the “New Mini” embraced much of the retro feel of its predecessor and has certainly achieved the status of a classic design. Only time will tell if it achieves a similar iconic status in its own right.

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Images courtesy of BMW and others.