Sunday, 31 May 2015

Visit to the School for Blind Children - Towarzystwo Opieki nad Ociemniałymi in Laski just outside Warsaw, Poland

                              Click on photos to enlarge - far superior rendition

An emergency call was received by the CCC from Jerzy Bylica, a new member and chairman of the Austin Healey Club in Warsaw. Would we be able on the shortest notice to offer any cars for a charitable event they had organised at a school for the blind. Some Healeys had dropped out at the last moment.

As he put it in his email to me : 

Talk to the Center’s pupils about classic cars, let them touch it , hear it, drive in them. I can’t promise you an attraction (sometimes is hard even for adults) but it could be something which will really touch your heart and you will remember for a long time.

I put out the call. Three of us CCC members turned up - a new CCC member Michael Kenny in his red MGA, Kuba Owoc in his BMW 635 csi and me in the 1949 MG TC. This together with three superbly restored Austin Healeys (details later).

I thought this a most unusual and generous idea, something owners of classic cars would hardly ever think of in a million years, possibly even dread! The MG TC not the RR would be the car of choice for me to bring for the kids. I definitely had some reservations as this is a pristine, highly polished concours car and would be 'fondled' and climbed into by a large group of blind, some additionally disabled, schoolchildren. They would try and build up a picture of the car simply through touch, asking questions followed by a short drive. What a quite extraordinary idea!

Pause for thought...risk of damage, scratches or whatever to my beloved classic...never straightforward and difficult to rectify. Would my Polish be up to dealing with the stress of disabled schoolchildren's often odd and unexpected questions? Then my conscience kicked in. 

'Don't be such a bloody wimp Michael! Just do it!' 

I decided this was a very worthy cause and a highly unusual use of a classic car. A rather different motivation to the millionaire investment industry it has presently become. The event would be the absolute opposite of being displayed under guard at a museum or Concours d'Elegance event. Also rather different to the sybaritic pleasures of summer pic-nics and semi-glamorous outings I usually engage in with the car! 

It evolved into a desperately moving occasion and I think has changed my entire attitude to my classic and in addition was a shock exposure to the appalling disability of child blindness. I admit to having the horrors as the children first descended on the car doing things that would have drawn the ire of myself, concours guards followed by suitable parental chastisement in any other context! 

There were about 35 children of various ages from I guess perhaps 6 to 16 years accompanied by professional adult teachers, helpers and a group of Franciscan nuns who have been especially trained to educate and assist them. It is a type of boarding school with branches in the UK and I believe in Australia too. I soon got used to 'the violations' and developed a more charitable 'philosophy' to the whole thing. I admit being a selfish old bxxxer concerning my classic cars!

The children were extraordinarily enthusiastic, good humoured, friendly, thoughtful and delicate in their touch as they tried to build up a picture in their mind of a 67 year old motor car. How do you do this when you are blind from birth or severely disabled? What image of a MG TC, Austin Healey, MGA or BMW (the marques present) would you construct in your mind only through the feel of your fingers? 

Of course an MG TC is nothing like even a normal 1960s classic with all the odd dashboard features, instruments and funny horn. One asked me if he could start the car. This we did but of course starting a TC is rather different to a modern car with its separate key and stiff pull starter. This caused the lad some confusion and fun. Another asked technical questions concerning engine capacity, horsepower and petrol consumption. What an extraordinary scene was taking place in front of me and something I will never ever forget. 

After exploring the cars through touch we then took them for a short circular drive around the centre. I explained aspects of the car in Polish as we proceeded. Even getting into a TC is different to other cars (you need great flexibility), the doors open in the opposite direction to a conventional vehicle (so-called 'suicide doors') and the catch to open and close them can be confusing even to the sighted! The cart suspension of the TC gave them some fun (and me some stress) on the rather rough and dusty path.

We were kindly invited for lunch but pressure of time and short notice at the weekend unfortunately prevented it.

The Educational Centre in Laski Towarzystwo Opieki nad Ociemniałymiwas was created by Elżbieta Roża Czacka. She considered her loss of sight as a vocation. In 1911 she founded The Society for the Care of the Blind and a couple of years later - the Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross. Both of these, in the second decade of the XXth century, became foundations for the creation of the Institute for the Blind.

Mother Elżbieta Czacka was aware of the need for the proper education of the blind to enable them to live independently and responsibly. This is why The Centre in Laski educates blind children from their first months of life until the Baccalaureate and Professional Exams in an atmosphere of self-respect and openness to others. In the future, this will enable the blind to live independently amongst their family, work environment, and in a society of sighted people.

Probably best now to simply let the pictures below move you beyond words.

The entourage at work - 1949 MG TC, Austin Healey 100/4, MGA, Austin Healey Mk III

A couple of the Polish Franciscan sisters were rather 'feisty' (no better word for it) and insisted on taking the wheel and enthusiastically driving the children around the 'circuit' themselves in clouds of dust! 

Such a vision only in Poland surely! 

Fortunately not a health and safety regulation in sight to 'protect' these 'vulnerable' blind children from injury and enjoying themselves. Powerful classic sports cars without seat belts being driven by nuns! My goodness, whatever next! We have to put a stop to that immediately! 

I thought it quite wonderful and perfectly life enhancing.

Of course I could still be ensconced in the increasingly absurd nanny-state UK , mired in a plethora of puritanical regulations designed it seems to prevent the experience of life's joys.

The preservation of  human warmth in life is one significant reason I like living in Poland. 

 Kuba Owoc in his BMW 635 csi

Michael Kenny in his newly acquired MGA

Jerzy Bylica,the organiser of this selfless event in his immaculate Austin Healey Mk III

Yes a life changer for a couple of hours...and a useful shock to ingrained ideas. 
Fortunately ages ago I had ordered and am waiting for the costly Swissvax Discovery Kit With Mirage Wax to arrive next week. The car will need it! 

But my heart will not.

Ośrodek Szkolno-Wychowawczy dla Dzieci Niewidomych im. Róży Czackiej
Laski, ul. Brzozowa 75, 05-080 Izabelin


Friday, 22 May 2015

Autonostalgia 16-17 May 2015 Warsaw Poland

Click on pictures for a superior rendition

A new meaning given to the much abused term 'originality'. 

A fierce bout of nostalgia for a deeply original Wartburg 353 in production in East Germany between 1966 and 1984. One careful owner. The interior has also clearly been maintained in original condition since manufacture heaving with an accumulation of old maps, moth-eaten clothes, artificial flowers, lolly papers, newspapers, an invalid short a triumph of dilapidation. 

Brilliant irony in evidence here...

I found my visit to Autonostalgia this year ever so slightly disappointing compared to last year. There were far fewer interesting early vehicles, a preponderance of German makes and no military vehicle presence unless I missed it. No seriously used Rally cars as last year or many obscure 'East European' types which makes these shows so fascinating to us uneducated Western car buffs. 

This being said the Porsche Museum went to a great deal of trouble and expense bringing some interesting vehicles to the show as you will see below. Some superb Mercedes were also displayed. There were some simply gigantic American fantasy cars clearly designed for touring Texas or Wyoming. A smattering of English and French makes most of which were outstanding examples of Bentley, Jaguar, Rolls-Royce and Citroen.

Overall the show convinces me that quality of Polish car restoration is now leaping ahead of many specialists in the West and in some respects has become second to none. All at a fraction of the rip-off prices pertaining in the exploding contemporary classic car market. Classic cars are now of course recommended by 'Financial Advisers to Ultra High Net Worth Individuals' as a pleasant even cavalier component of a diversified investment portfolio: property, shares, bonds, cash, gold, classic cars, wine and art. Rather a bummer for the poor modest enthusiast whose desired exotica are rapidly moving out of financial reach (like me par example). In many cases Polish craft skills in trim and engine engineering remain of enviable and outstanding quality especially the quality of bodywork, paint and interior trim - magnificent in some cases.

I will simply post pictures of some cars that caught my attention and attempt to identify them. I foolishly forgot to take a pen and notebook - typical!

A superbly restored 1930 DKW

Mercedes-Benz were well represented with some very fine examples that remind us that they can be a truly elegant car, not a word one usually associates with Mercedes.

                         I think this is a supremely elegant 1952 Mercedes 220 (W187) Cabriolet

Magnificent  restorations of the Mercedes 190 SL and Pagodas seem to have become a specialty of Polish classic car restoration companies

The Porsche Museum supplied the striking 911 Carrera Speedster Prototype from 1987

A beautifully presented Citroen 2CV - one of the favourite cars of the late British 'Playboy MP' Alan Clark. There were some truly imaginative 'barn find' displays of the DS Pallas last year - sadly missed in 2015

The CCC chairman trying out a long wheelbase Tatra 613 for size, luxuriating in the grey velour-covered seats.

The Tatra 613 was a large luxury rear wheel drive car with rear mounted air-cooled engine manufactured from the 1970s to the 1990s, as a replacement for the Tatra 603 series. It featured a body style by Vignale and featured a dohc air-cooled 3.5 litre V8 engine developing a healthy 165 hp.

The Tatra 613 vehicles were mostly used by government officials and industry executives.

A splendid, meticulously restored Tatra 600 Tatraplan manufactured from 1946-52. Only 6,342 were built. The name refers to the aeroplane streamlined inspiration, the body having a drag coefficient (Cd) of only 0.32. The car is powered by an air-cooled flat-4-cylinder 1,952 cc rear-mounted engine. Note superb bodywork, paint and chrome in this outstanding restoration.

Our esteeemed CCC member Przemek Vonau of AAA Auto with a cute and rather rare 1959 Skoda Felicia 2-door Convertible. Wonderful 1950s pastel shade of lime green. Seating five it was equipped with a folding hood and a plastic hardtop. The Felicia sports a 1089 cc four-cylinder engine. Only 14, 863 were produced from 1959-64.

A highly desirable 'Split' rear window VW Beetle from the early 1950s. Period luggage rack and cases.

A discreetly displayed pair of Maseratis.
A Maserati Khamsin (1974-82) and a Maserati Merak (1972-83).
The Khamsin with bodywork by Marcello Gandini at Bertone and the Merak with bodywork by Giorgetto Guigiaro at Ghia. 

Possibly the most outstanding car at Autonostalgia this year. An imposing and regal 1963 Bentley S 3 Continental 'Chinese Eye'. 

This Polish restoration by Classic Data  is up there at Pebble Beach standard of finish.
Behind is an equally superb 1936 Rolls-Royce 25/30 (shame about the wedding livery).  

Always some beauties at this event

My pathetic picture of her astride the bike does not do her (or her legs) justice. More beautiful and exotic than Sara Martins the French-Portuguese actress who used to play the Caribbean detective Camille Bordey on the island of Saint-Marie in the BBC series Death in Paradise. The old series with Sara Martins is now on BBC HD if you are interested. 

Clearly my youthful island years in the South Pacific are resurfacing!
Sad isn't it - the older man and his memories

A cute Giannini 590 GT Replica

    The engine bay of a nearby Lancia replica Rally car. 
Marked absence of Alfa-Romeo at the show compared to last year

A gorgeous 1960 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible that for me at least is the very apotheosis of  American design flair and taste

A stunning interior! Whoever commissioned this restoration insisted the seats be trimmed in lamb sourced only for Lamborghini cars. Truly magnificent.

Profound understanding of detail and design in this Corvette. They are a true work of (American) art.

'Bravo!' is right. 

This sort of minimalist Maluch camping seems well and truly over in Poland in 2015. 
Is there nostalgia for it I wonder?

And so we bid farewell to a car show absolutely unimaginable when I first visited Poland in 1992. 

                                                       Gratulacje dla wszystkich!

The last word from the inspired Wartburg work of art that opened this account 

So conceptually superior in every way to Tracy Emin's bed

Michael Moran (Chairman CCC)

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Honourable Charles Stewart Rolls meets Henry Royce - 111th Anniversary of Their Meeting at the Midland Hotel Manchester 4 May 1904 - Celebrated in Customary Fashion by the CCC at the Bristol Hotel in Warsaw, Poland

When Rolls Met Royce 

Monday 4th May 2014 marked 111 years to the day since Frederick Henry Royce, who owned an electrical and mechanical business, met Charles Stewart Rolls, who ran a car company in London.

Rolls and Royce met at the Midland Hotel in Manchester on 4 May 1904 to discuss a proposed partnership. Royce had just built his first motor car and the pair reached an agreement over lunch to manufacture vehicles to be sold under the name Rolls-Royce.

Midland Hotel Manchester shortly after completion in 1903 not long before Rolls and Royce met there

The first Rolls-Royce car, the 10hp, was unveiled at the Paris Salon in December 1904. Two years later saw the formation of the Rolls-Royce Company.

After considering sites in Manchester, Coventry, Bradford and Leicester, Derby's council offered the company cheap electricity on a site on the southern edge of the city and the rest, as they say, is history… (Courtesy of Flying Spares)

As Rolls-Royce remains one of the greatest brand names and industrial British Institutions (despite changes of ownership) I always celebrate this meeting of the founders every year. Well someone in Dam Buster spirit has to fly the flag after all, even an Australian living in Poland.

I headed up to the historic Bristol Hotel in Central Warsaw near the Presidential Palace, the CCC base. I had a glass or two of champagne and leafed through  some of the past Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts' Club Bulletins and RR books I have not had time to look at closely. I have been a member of the R-REC (Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts' Club) for over 20 years.

My 20 year badge

Books...and more books...

I mention my rather sentimental activity to the CCC Membership and one local and one overseas member (who just happened to be in Warsaw) turned up to share the spirit - Ian Booth and one of our overseas members, Adrian Pilbeam.

Yes, well...
The weather was chilly this anniversary and threatening rain so we celebrated inside. In the rather chic cafe we had a few glasses of fine Deutz Champagne and an excellent selection of delicious Tapas such as Roasted Goat Cheese in Filo Pastry with Honey and Walnuts, Duck Liver Pate - really delicious - Confit of Duck, Garlic Shrimps and Calamari with Lemon Mayonnaise. A few Espressos to finish off a pleasant few hours chatting about the difficulties and pleasures of driving, maintaining and restoring classic cars in Poland. 

28 years of faithful service. Purchased 19 May 1987.
Ian Booth had to head off to the inauguration of the new Saudi Arabian Embassy where he was being awarded a medal by Prince Khalid for his engineering contribution to the project. How thoughtful and loyal of him to call in for the RR anniversary drink on the way! Much appreciated at least by me and congratulations to him.

There are many exceptionally talented and distinguished members of the CCC - most in fact!

'Our Ian' being awarded his medal by Prince Khalid of Saudi Arabia at the inauguration of the new Saudi Arabian Embassy in Warsaw

     'Fashion is not, of course, the same as taste'
                                                                                                                        Alan Clark  Backfire

You might imagine my response to this latest market-driven concept from Rolls-Royce.

That hard-surfaced 'Techno-Fashion' so beloved of a certain nationality

The Rolls-Royce Wraith so strongly reminiscent in profile of the Bentley GT

A Continental interior lamentably un-English. Today the market rules absolutely in matters of taste.

How far we have moved from the spirit of Sir Henry Royce, that great engineer.  He was never market driven or an interior designer influenced by fashion. Bodies and interiors were designed by superb coachbuilders according to customers' whims. The builders - Thrupp and Maberly, Barker or Park Ward - simply clothed the matchless RR chassis with their art.

Part of the Speech made by Sir Charles Rolls at the Dinner following the 1905 Tourist Trophy Race:

Mr. Royce is one of those unassuming, hard-working men who devote their lives to the study and solution of difficult and mechanical problems, and to whom indirectly are due the general advancement of civilization and the high position which Great Britain holds at resent in the engineering world.

The above concept is far in intention from that...

Motoring for the sheer pleasure of it is so rare these days. The driver is significantly insulated from his machine. The roads are packed with Euroboxes. Such cars as the RR 'Edition' above, despite their so-called 'perfection', are drowning in complex and largely unrepairable technological excrescences and fashionista choices mainly to keep the jaded palate of the global wealthy faintly amused. This attitude has been created by a near hysterical wish to satisfy and profit at all costs from the luxury competitive market. Altrusim and excitement in car manufacture as I remember it  is thin on the ground in 2015.

What an ironic reversal. Now we have engineering by the German firm BMW with ‘fashion’, 'craft' and ‘lifestyle’ choices as the only significant British contribution to the product. That white leather  interior is so tasteless and arriviste with naff RR logos blazoned on the headrests - an car interior yearning for a celebrity wife to complete the picture. Understatement is a fundamental British quality but certainly not here with nouveau riche exhibitionism well to the forefront.

I am proud to drive an elegant 1974 classic Crewe product with its lovable English ambience of an Edwardian gentleman's library, restrained taste and charm, engineering eccentricities and efficiency inadequacies. I will always continue to do so. 

The traditional English RR style of uniquely British motor car as conceived by Sir Charles Rolls and Sir Henry Royce has gone forever along with the society that conceived it. 

These views are solely those  of Michael Moran (Chairman CCC)

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Pic-Nic at the Country House of Otwock Wielki near Warsaw, Poland 3 May 2015

Click on photos to enlarge - far superior rendition

Where does one spend 'Constitution Day' in Poland? 

The weather has been changeable and surprisingly chilly in Warsaw this year but I was determined to  have the first pic-nic of the season in charming surroundings. It turned out to be a pleasantly sunny day verging on the hot after midday. Late April and early May are wonderful months in the country as spring literally explodes across the landscape and the trees come into leaf. Warsaw is utterly transformed from the foolish accepted view of it as a miserable city, cold and mired in slush. 

Every year I make a definite decision to use the old Royce more than the previous spring and summer. I dare not take it on the heavily salted roads of the long winters. Since my last visit here in April 2009 the CCC has come into existence so I invited the members if they wished to have a day away from the 'trouble and strife' (not the Cockney rhyming slang for 'wife' but the present state of the world). 

This charming baroque country house called Otwock Wielki and is situated about 25 kms south of the city off the road to Pulawy. It is built on an island on a loop of the Vistula river. The house is surrounded by a superb park with the usual Polish practice of closely planted limes and a small area of English lawn with a fine fountain of two leaping dolphins. Otwock Wielki was built in 1693-1703 for Franciszek Bielinski, Grand Marshal of the Crown, by the remarkable seventeenth century Dutch architect Tylman van Gamaren who designed so many of the finest surviving buildings in Poland. It was subsequently expanded in the eighteenth century by the talented architect Jakub Fontana. The interior has recently been restored and furnished in period with a stunning stucco what one might call 'Roman' Ballroom. The rooms formerly dedicated to the Polish military hero Jozef Pilsudski who presided over the brief flowering of Polish independence between the wars have disappeared. They have been replaced with a number of rooms decorated with period furniture, paintings (possibly family portraits) in the style of a dworek (Polish for country manor house).

Cupid strikes again!  Detail from a restored tapestry in the palace

The ballroom

A maritime fresco within the Palace

Detail from a beautiful Florentine pietra dura table

A pavilion in the gardens added since my last visit in 2009

Detail from and 18th century escritoire 

Detail of frescoes in the Dining Room

We set up our pic-nic table in a field beside the house and long water of the lake near an ancient avenue of willows coming into leaf. We were immediately attacked by tics lurking the long grass. Screams from the summer-dressed ladies present. "You can die from a bite! I know someone seriously ill, hospitalized...' Quite right.  We moved to an adjacent spot where they then began to fall from overhead branches of the trees. More screams and leaping about - not unlike French movie. We finally found a safe patch of ground. Nothing could have been more civilized as we opened the old Fortnum's basket left over from Christmas festivities years ago packed with excellent Polish cold cuts, fresh bread and a chilled bottle of New Zealand Rose. 

Our tic-free group guarded by HRH

Nothing could have been further from the absurd view of Poland as still a melancholic uncouth country. Here was no interference from 'guards' or private 'policemen' urging you to move elsewhere. One wonderful aspect of motoring in Poland is that you can stop almost anywhere scenic and pic-nic without problems of invading private territory or being accused of trespassing. Bliss if you love this activity as much as I do. The country is relatively unregulated concerning leisure activities and one never feels that 'pressure of people' that often spoil country excursions in so many European countries.

The picturesque lake

Ian Booth from the CCC and his family joined us. No other CCC members and no classic cars other than mine unfortunately on this pleasantly 'escapist' excursion.