Fiat Barchetta

 

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The other day I was following a Fiat Barchetta and was reminded of what a pretty and glamorous little car this particular Fiat was. It was in metallic grey with an open burgundy roof. It was in fantastic condition, gleaming chrome and clean paint, with its hood down, wind blowing through the driver’s hair it looked very cool.

There is a growing trend amongst classic car magazines to try to predict those cars that will be future collectibles, that unlike regular vehicles will either hold or  increase their value over a period of time. For me the smart thing to do would be buy a low mileage, well maintained Fiat Barchetta, mothball it, as I have a hunch that this car may well become one such vehicle – a classic.

As someone keen on the evolution of trade marks the “Barchetta” is somewhat enigmatic. Simply in Italian “Barchetta” is a way of saying small boat. Giovanni Canestrini the Editor of “La Gazzetta dell Sport” is credited with the origin of the name in the 1940’s. Initially in the name was used by Ferrari, Maserati and the lesser known manufacturer, Moretti, who all produced open top race cars.

In 1948 and 1949 a Ferrari 166MM – based on the earlier competition Barchetta called the 166S of which only 39 were made – won the Mille Miglia, the endurance race set in Northern Italy which ran from 1927 to 1957 – only being halted by War.

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In 1966 Abarth produced the 1000SP Barchetta – a track success. In 1991 Maserati produced seventeen Barchettas for the track. In 2001 Ferrari released their stunning 550 Barchetta Pininfarina to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the stellar – now Mahindra owned – Turinese design house.

Whilst this extensive use of a distinctive name would be manna from Heaven for the trade-mark lawyers I suspect the fact that the majority of the dramatis personae in this particular performance were either owned or co-owned by the Turin giant “Fiat” is probably the simplest answer to the lack of any dispute.

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Using the project name “Tipo B Spider 176” between 1990-94 Fiat’s in house Centro Stile team comprising primarily Andreas Zapatistas, Alessandro Cavazza and Peter Barrett Davis conceived and developed the Fiat Barchetta. With a 1,747 cc DHOC petrol engine it was based on the chassis of Fiat’s Mark 1 Punto.

It was first released in February 1995 and is classically Italian in styling. It draws from both the Fiat 124 – see our earlier posts on this iconic sports car –  Fiat 124 Sport Spider – a re-imagined icon   – and the earlier Ferrari 166MM.

Production ceased in  June 2005 with a final production run of around 57,700 cars.

So, back to my suggestion of an investment in this beautiful Italian sports car. A simple but limited search on the internet shows that low mileage examples – under 100,000 Kms – particularly LHD – currently go from around €3,000 to €5,000.

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Images – with grateful thanks – courtesy of Sylvia Druet, Ferrari and Fiat Chrysler SpA.

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Airfix by Dominic Baker

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The unmistakable logo that is Airfix will instantly conjure up many very happy memories for some. Fathers, sons and grandfathers all over the U.K. ( and probably further a field). Tables full of newspaper, Radio 4 or the test match cricket on in the background – pouring over the assembly instructions whilst over enthusiastic offspring looked on, frantically chiselling the super-glue off fingers and surfaces before mother got home.

Airfix was founded in 1939 by Hungarian refugee Nicholas Kove – who originally set out to make rubber inflatable toys. The name ‘Airfix’ was very cleverly selected so as the company would come up first in directory searches and had little to do with the products they made at the time. The company introduced injection moulding in 1947 initially to make pocket combs. They were asked to make a scaled replica promotional model of a Ferguson Brown TE20 tractor moulded in cellulose acetate (the plastic often used, at the time, in glasses frames and photographic film) this to be distributed and hand assembled by the Ferguson sales reps.

The tractor went on to be sold by Woolworth retail stores as a kit and in 1954 a Woolworth’s buyer J Russon suggested that Airfix produce a model of “The Golden Hind”. It was made and put in a plastic bag with headed paper with assembly instructions on the reverse and sold for two shillings.

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This became an instant hit and galvanised Airfix into producing new designs with the first Aircraft kit in 1953 of the super-marine Spitfire and then the MK IX Spitfire in 1955 which was a 1/72 scale , it was thought that the new models would bomb in popularity but history has proved otherwise.

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In the 1960s & 70s the interest in the hobby grew exponentially, as did the range of models with vintage motorcycles, cars, space rockets, jets, trains and famous ships. Airfix produced a monthly modelling magazine full of their latest products from 1960 until 1993. In 1963 Airfix tried to compete with Scalextric to produce raceable models but this was shelved.

The 1970s are considered Airfix’s heyday. They produced much larger scale models and ramped up production to 17 different new models a year. At its peak 20m kits were  distributed worldwide and Airfix had 75% of the modelling business in the UK. During this era Airfix acquired Meccano and Dinky Toys to become the UK’s largest toy company.

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The 1980s saw a decline in sales, work place streamlining was met by industrial action, and with a strong £ sales to foreign markets collapsed. Eventually, Airfix filed for bankruptcy in 1981 and was bought by General Mills and then again by a Borden Group/Humbrol in 1986 itself entering liquidation in 2006 when Hornby, the British company that owned of Scalextric, acquired Airfix.

Airfix will always have a place in many peoples heart , the satisfaction of seeing all of its neatly arranged components come together to form such a splendid looking model became an addiction to some with many fine hours spent glueing , painting and, of course, saving up for that one model that would complete your set!

Please click the following link to buy your AIRFIX SPITFIRE on AMAZON  Airfix 1:48 Scale Supermarine Spitfire Mk.I Model Kit

If you’ve enjoyed Dominic’s piece please see Concorde by Dominic Baker

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Images courtesy of Airfix

Scalextric

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My Dad really liked Hornby “00” gauge electric train sets. The level crossings, the stations complete with milk churns, uniformed Porters with trolleys and passengers in tweeds with brown suitcases. He bought me a Hornby “00” set as soon as he could assure himself that I was old enough not to be electrocuted myself. I played along as he enjoyed it so much mounting endless lengths of track onto a huge board and creating a village and hillside scenes.

What I really wanted was an iconic Scalextric set. Like all good parents they usually obliged the reasonable requests of their offspring and for my tenth birthday I got my first set.

As kids we lived in the village of Silverstone (Northamptonshire, UK) a home of the British Grand Prix. The circuit is owned the British Racing Drivers Club and is the home of the Jim Russell racing school.

My Dad’s gift was a Scalextric Grand Prix circuit and one of the many combinations of the track set up was a reproduction of the Silverstone circuit with Woodcote, Stowe and Copse Corners and Hangar Straight.

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It was an era when club racing with Minis and Porsches was as much fun as the more serious and competitive Formula 1, so I decided to build the shorter Silverstone Club Circuit. I had four slot cars that I really liked to race, a green Mini, a Red Mini Mini – the best selling car in Britain and two Porsches in red and white Porsche 911 Targa and One Millionth Porsche 911.

I had two gun trigger controls in red and blue – as opposed to older palm held thumb plunger type of control – that gathered dust like a magnet and heated quickly filling the rooms over which I arranged my track with a electrical smell that I remember to this day.

Over the years my usual birthday and Christmas requests were for more track, cars, an automatic lap counter – that proved hazardous to some cars as the slot connection often derailed it if hit the lap counter too hard  – armco barriers, banking and track buildings – the pits etc. Pieces of track were ostensibly rather boring presents but straight and curved pieces with their interlocking electrical elements and black press studs could create a difficult chicane or a straight for breakneck speed.

Scalextric was first made in 1956 by British inventor, Fred Francis. He first made “Scalex” small model clockwork cars made of tin.

Facing a downturn in demand for his Scalex cars, Francis added a small motor to his cars and a slot with electric brushes that provided contact to the track’s power supply from concealed batteries. Scalextric was launched at the 1957 Harrogate Toy Fair “Scalextric” was a huge hit. “Scalextric” is now owned by Hornby Hobbies of England.

In 2009 Top Gear’s James May announced the re-creation of the original Brooklands track – in situ – using Scalextric. He broke the Guiness Book of Records record for the World’s longest Scalextric track – 2.95 miles/4.75 km. My late Dad was a Trustee of the Brooklands Trust – that owns the Circuit. He would have loved the very idea!

Images Courtesy of Scalextric/Hornby/Daily Telegraph and the Brooklands Trust

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