Tag Archives: Spark

The Soviet Era START Passenger Van

By John-William Greenbaum, with photos by the author, Robert Brodowski, and Eugen Pedersen

One of the most revolutionary designs to be produced on a somewhat large-scale basis in the USSR was a rather bizarre looking minibus known as a SARB START.

A few years ago, the DeAgostini partworks people brought out a 1/43 version that they called a SARB START passenger van.  It was part of their Autolegends USSR series and sometimes listed as a GAZ START.  Here it is in a nice diorama setting.  It was probably made by IXO.

The actual name is the SARB START (it used a GAZ-M21 engine and running gear). It was pretty much manufactured by two guys in their garage in what is now Eastern Ukraine, but the Soviet Government took notice and proceeded to run the project into the ground in spectacular fashion!

Here is the Spark Models version done for VVM Models.

Next, here is one of the late production versions done by IXO for DeAgostini,

And finally, here is a rare version, handmade in Ukraine by Vector Models, Kherson.

Some History of the Actual Thing

The SARB START was the brainchild of a pair of young designers named A.S. Antonov and Yuri S. Andros.  It had its roots in the early 1960’s in the Severodonetskaya Avtoremontnaya Baza (“Severodonetsk Automotive Repair Center”), better known as SARB, which was a small car, truck, and bus repair facility that typically dealt with a large number of cars produced by GAZ. Severodonetsk is not a very large town and is currently located in Eastern Ukraine.  How this vehicle, therefore, came to the eventual attention of almost everyone in the USSR is a bit surprising, but perhaps it should also be a sign of just how good the design was, at least on paper.

Because SARB typically serviced GAZ vehicles, it should come as no surprise that at the heart of the SARB START is a 70 horsepower, 4-cylinder engine, slightly down-rated (by five horsepower) from what was standard fare on the GAZ-M21I, GAZ-M21L, and GAZ-21R Volga sedans. Also identical was the car’s running gear, and indeed, it had the same wheelbase as the “Volga 21”. However, that was about it in terms of similarities and that’s where the design really started to deviate from the norm not just of Soviet or East Bloc automotive production, but quite frankly all automotive production. A.S. Antonov and Yuri Andros were fascinated by the use of alternative materials to construct vehicles. In mid-1963, while reading about VNIITE’s proposed-but-at-the-time-unbuilt PT Taxi that used fiberglass panels over a steel frame as well as what the East Germans had hoped to accomplish with their Trabant cars made completely of Duroplast (albeit very poor quality Duroplast), the two believed that they could do better by simply building an all-fiberglass vehicle with high-grade fiberglass mixed with granite restoration paste.

Within months, the duo had a 1/10 scale prototype designed and had envisioned how to build it and even use it. Its purposes would be as a combination van, a fixed route taxi, a tourist minibus, and a panel van (the only one of Antonov and Andros’ ideas that would never be realized). By mid-December 1963, Antonov’s design began attracting more than a bit of attention. The Ukrainian SSR’s government also recognized the vehicle’s potential by submitting it without Antonov’s knowledge to the MinAvtoProm (Soviet Ministry of Automotive Production) as an “unofficial” evaluation. When the MinAvtoProm’s bureaucrats, incensed at Nikita Khrushchev for going around them to build the VNIITE PT Taxi, got word of a potential competitor, they co-opted the design and began having stories run in Pravda about the brilliant Antonov and his minibus, which he had dubbed the START. They also began supplying Antonov and Andros with the materials they would need to make the START as a way of getting back at VNIITE.

Yuri Andros, who designed most of the vehicle’s actual body, did so with an eye not toward beauty (indeed, he believed the START to be quite ugly according to an interview), but rather toward reducing drag, yet still keeping a spacious passenger or freight compartment. Despite the ungainly look of the vehicle, it actually had a fairly typical Soviet minibus layout: two front doors, a service door behind the passenger side front door, and also a large, rather spacious trunk. A.S. Antonov, meanwhile, did not believe a front-mounted engine to be safe in a crash test. Therefore, the SARB START would be a mid-engined design; the first and only Soviet minibus to hold that distinction (Save the LASZ “START Luganchyk” and Glavdonbasstroe Donbass, which were descendants of the START.).

While building their first prototype, the two engineers received a rather chilling visit from the KGB: if the design succeeded, they would be obligated to provide SARB START Minibuses to the KGB free of charge. The somewhat apolitical designers quickly said yes in order to save their own skins, with some of the first START minibuses ever built going to the KGB for evaluation purposes. Yuri Andros quickly became convinced that the fiberglass/GRP body was close to indestructible. Getting all the free press he wanted between the MinAvtoProm and Pravda, he arranged to have one of the very first body shells dropped from a height of nearly 40 feet. With cameras rolling, a crane placed on a platform first raised and then dropped the body shell. Although there were obviously dents and scrapes, the fact that the body neither shattered nor crumpled shocked just about everyone present, Andros and Antonov included.

In January 1964, the two men were given the go-ahead to start serial production of the SARB START, as you see it here. And that’s when the roof caved in the entire project. Andros and Antonov had envisioned specific, rather utilitarian roles for the START (as well as being a KGB SIGINT vehicle), but apparently, the Soviet government had absolutely no idea what to do with the design. Instead of Andros and Antonov’s specific wish that it be a combination van first and everything else second, they turned it into a tourist minibus. Indeed, it went quite a bit overboard: three, three-seat sofas were installed inside the back, there were cabinets for dishes, a serving table was placed over the engine access door, and a sink with faucet was placed in the trunk in case anyone needed to wash their hands. A.S. Antonov is said to have remarked “at least they kept the AM radio”, or something to that effect.

Antonov believed the START had turned into something ridiculous and, in an attempt to get the project back on line the way he wanted it to, he formed a second production line in Donetsk called Glavdonbasstroe, trusting Andros to try and keep production going at SARB. Antonov’s production line produced the far more utilitarian but otherwise identical Donbass minibus, which unfortunately has yet to be modeled. The Donbass holds the interesting distinction of being the only “START-type” minibus exported, with at least two going to Poland. The Donbass was never produced in quantity, however, and it eventually ended Antonov’s association with the project.

By late 1965, problems started to be reported with the SARB START Minibus’s body. Andros was confused, given the high-quality fiberglass combined with the GRP paste he’d been given. However, sure enough, on many of the 1965-built STARTs, the body started to become warped. Andros never learned it until many years later, but it turned out that he was being supplied with low-quality fiberglass. The SARB START was also slow to build. By the first few months of 1967 (i.e. when production ended), just over 100 STARTs had been built since 1964.

The production output apparently wasn’t efficient enough for the MinAvtoProm and despite Andros needing help with better quality materials, he never got them due to this reason. By 1967, despite a successful design, Yuri Andros had enough. With funding problems of all kinds cropping up, he turned production over to a fellow by the name of D.A. Melkonov, who built twenty LASZ “START Luganchyk” Minibuses in Luhansk. By adding a better suspension as well as redesigning the hourglass-shaped C-pillar into something far more conventional, Melkonov basically solved all but the problems with low-quality materials. But even then, Melkonov put wood pulp into the fiberglass to prevent warping. However, by this time, it was too late. The MinAvtoProm and most government agencies had withdrawn their support.

The “START-type” minibus was now a thing of the past and neither Andros nor Antonov ever designed another vehicle. When one examines it, however, the SARB START was a terrific idea that was far ahead of its time. Unfortunately, it was too far ahead of its time, in the wrong country, and being produced under the wrong system of government to succeed in any way, shape, or form.


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1991 Alfa Romeo SZ

By Karl Schnelle

For the last couple years, I have driven down to Nashville, TN, in the autumn to drive a car from the Lane Motor Museum.    If you are lucky enough and have the funds, you can sign up for a Rally to drive their cars if you donate a certain amount to the museum.  The museum wins and the participants win!  Plus the cars get to be driven as they should be on the back roads of Tennessee for a day.

Being an Alfafanatic, I saw that the museum had just acquired an Alfa Romeo SZ (Sport Zagato) and it was on the 2018 Rally list!   Somehow, I was so extremely fortunate that I was the first in line for this car.  I got my buddy Skip, a fellow car guy and 1/43 collector,  to co-drive since you really need a navigator to read the Rally book and call out directions. He did not need any convincing!

The museum has a short write-up on the car, so I won’t repeat the whole story.  In 1988, Alfa Romeo and Zagato collaborated on a show car based on the Alfa 75 (Milano) sedan, but with 3L V-6 engine, called the ES-30.  The slab-sided body was a little ‘wedgy’ (it was the 1980s!) and nicknamed “Il Mostro”, the Monster.  Either you love it, or you hate it, as they say.  Enough people liked it that they produced 1000 red examples for sale and 1 black one for Signor Zagato from 1989-91.

The Models

After the Rally, I came home and dug out my SZ models.  I have three or four.  I am mainly a 1:43 guy, so I do not have the 1:18 from BBR Top Marques, the 1:24 Alfa Centenary partwork by Hachette, or the small 1:64 from Kyosho.

Being in the US, Matchbox are common so I do have this little 1:55 Matchbox in all red.  Matchbox made many different ones right after the real one came out.

SMTS in their 1/43 Voiturette series made a very nice white metal version.  I acquired this heavy Monster in 1993, so I did not get the newer handmade resin Make Up model later.

Finally, Spark made both the red and black versions in 1:43 over ten years ago, so I picked up the black one.

Have you seen other SZs out there in model form?  Please let me know.


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Resin Roundup – March 2017

By Maz Woolley

 

This posting is a round up of some of the recent releases in resin which have caught my eye. All photographs on this page are from the manufacturer or retailers.

Auto Cult

1:18 Scale

Adler Trumpf Rennlimousine 

This 1:18 Scale model of this streamliner from Adler has already been released in 1:43 scale by Auto Cult.  The 1:18 scale version is now being made available.


1:43 Scale

Here are the 1:43 scale resin models made in China for Auto Cult of Germany. These form the second and third releases of 2017.

Bizzarini Machinetta  Engineers limited production series

Giotto Bizzarrini is best known for his association with super cars like the Ferrari 250 GTO and for the V12 engine that powered Lamborghini cars from 1963 on. The Machinetta was made when he was a mechanical engineering student at the University of Pisa. It is a  re-bodied Fiat 500 Topolino with a tuned engine and revised chassis. It was apparently a project completed towards his degree.

Ford Mach 2 Concept Prototypes series

The Mach 2 concept was a design and engineering study created by Ford’s design chief Gene Bordinat for a mid-engined sports car inspired by GT race cars that could replace the Cobra. The concept made its debut at the 1967 Chicago Auto Show and featured many off-the-shelf Mustang components, including its front suspension, front and rear brakes, and most notably the 289 cubic inch V8 engine which was placed behind the driver.

The car had a clean design to it with European looks but it was shown but never put into production.

Morris J-Type Delivery Vehicles series

The Morris Commercial J-type was a 10 cwt van launched by Morris Commercial in 1949 and produced until 1961. The van followed the emerging trend of having forward controls and sliding doors on each side. It was made in both left and right hand drive versions. The J type was fitted with a 1476 cc four-cylinder side-valve engine based on the one used in the Morris Oxford MO. Many of these vans were used by the Post Office and other public bodies. But as presented by Auto Cult it is a nice example of a plain van.

Audi 100 type Bischofberger Camping vehicles series

This car from the early 1980s is built on an Audi 100 Saloon. Inside the real camping car was a fridge, a sink, a stove, a table, and two sofas which can be transformed into a double bed. Pictures show it to be rather cramped inside. Bishofberger also did conversions on less glamorous platforms such as the Transporter and VW Golf Pickup.

Ford Model T “The Golden Ford” Early Beginnings series

This model is based upon a recently restored vehicle originally built by Arthur Edward George, an engineer and car racer. who’s firm patented the first trolley jack. Initially raced as a stripped chassis it won the all Ford race at Brooklands in 1912, were Henry Ford was said to be an interested spectator. The car became The Golden Ford the following year when it had a narrow single seat body of polished brass added to it.

Steyr-Puch Adria TS Brands of the past series

This car was created by Otto Hölbl Karosseriewerk of Vienna in Austria. It was based upon the Steyr-Puch 700 chassis which was in turn an Austrian version of the Fiat 600. 18 cars were hand built in during 1960-61.

Reyonnah Little cars series

This company was created in France by Robert Hannoyer. Its name is the founders in reverse. The only vehicle made was a small four-wheeled vehicle with a relatively wide track at the front and a narrow track at the rear. The vehicle offered space for two, seated one behind the other, following the same basic lay-out as the better known Messerschmitt. A single-cylinder engine from AMC or Ydral of 175 cc or 125 cc powered the rear axle via a three speed manual gear box and chain drive.

An unusual feature of the car was that the front wheels could be adjusted to make it narrower so it could slide into a motorcycle parking place. The wheels had to be adjusted outwards before the car could be driven away. The car appeared at the Paris Motor Show for at least three years from 1950 till 1952 but poor sales meant that then faded into obscurity.McQuay-Norris Streamliner Streamliner series

McQuay-Norris was a maker of car parts such as piston rings and steering wheel knuckle bolts. It also produced and distributed electrical controls for gas appliances. In January 1936 McQuay-Norris produced a fleet of six cars called aluminium eggs due to their strange appearance. The cars were released in New York and in other locations in the United States. Each car was a part of testing of pistons, piston rings, and other engine parts manufactured by McQuay Norris. The bodies of the aluminum eggs were mounted on chassis of cars of different brands. They were driven in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, in different climates and highway conditions. The cars featured a streamlined design which reduced air resistance. Streamlining was effective in enabling the installation of fifteen instruments used in component testing.


Matrix

 

Many of the models already advertised are now shipping and just one new announcement has been made recently of a new model to 1:43 scale in resin made in China for the Netherlands.

 

MX40408-011 Delahaye 135M Antem Convertible 1949

Another model of classic coachwork on a Delahaye chassis. This car was shown at the 1948 Motor Show and evolved into the 1949 car modelled here. Elegantly keeping separate wings whilst incorporating the headlights to give the car a more modern feel. The rear wheels were hidden behind a fairing, in a nod to the trend for aerodynamic styling. A formula which was also used by Jaguar for the XK120.

MX 41203-021 Lancia Aurelia (B52) B-Junior Ghia 1952

An interesting model but a rather clumsy re-styling of the Aurelia which was rather better looking to the editor’s eye than this expensive offshoot!

Neo

 

Neo continue to release models with the latest announcement being of the Lancia shown below. These are resin made in China to 1:43 Scale for Germany.

213730 Lancia Flaminia 3C 2.8 Coupe Speciale Pininfarina 1963

Spark

Releases are mainly focused on Grand Prix., Le Mans and other racing cars currently where Spark and Minichamps both seem to be focusing quite strongly.  Both the models shown are resin made in China to 1:43 scale.

S4268 Lola MK4, No.15, Bowmaker Racing Team, GP Deutschland, 1962

This includes a figure of the driver Roy Salvadori. The car debuted at the 1962 Dutch Grand Prix and was powered by Coventry Climax engines. It was a mixture of a tubular frame and welded panels making it a semi-monocoque. John Surtees had success with the car at the Australian and New Zealand Grand Prix but it was outclassed by competitiors like Lotus and faded away its final swansong being wining the Rome Grand Prix in 1963 driven by the privateer Bob Anderson.

S3587 Spice SE 87C, No.131, Graff Racing, 24h Le Mans, 1988,

Spice raced cars fitted with Cosworth engines and had some class wins at Le Mans. This car was run by Graff Racing who are still racing today.

Mini Minieri

Continuing to focus upon rare and stylish cars these models are resin made to 1:43 scale.

MMIBT001 Jaguar B99 2011 Bertone

This was a concept car designed and developed by the Italian design house Bertone. It was on the Bertone stand at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show. The 4-door saloon was shown in two versions: compact executive (B99) and grand tourer (B99 GT). Featuring  suicide doors and a low height it had a hybrid power train with a 1.4 Litre engine for range extension purposes with two electric motors of 201 bhp each driving the rear wheels. The B99 name is derived from B for Bertone and 99 for Bertone’s 99th year in operation.

Best of Show

 

Here are some of the recently launched 1:18 scale resin models made in China for ModelCarWorld of Germany.

CHRYSLER Imperial LeBaron 4-door Hardtop, 1971

DODGE Dart Phoenix, 1961

Ford Ranchero Pick-up 1979

 

Chevrolet Corvette Corvair Concept


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Porsche 919 Hybrid Le Mans 2015 in 1:18 scale

By Fabrizio Panico

 

 

A few months ago a new model was added to my 1:18 scale Porsche promotional models collection: the 919 hybrid, winner of Le Mans 2015.

An imposing model, it was produced as a diecast by Spark for Porsche as a Special Edition (WAP 021 819 0G) but there seems to be no visible difference at all with the identical resin Spark item (no. 18LM15), apart from the box, the black base and the price. There are no opening parts, but despite this it is quite fragile due to the many antennas and needs quite a lot of care in handling.

The real car is a sports-prototype racing car of the Le Mans Prototype 1-Hybrid (LMP1-H) category. It has a composite chassis of carbon fibre with a honeycomb aluminium core, and a turbocharged V4 engine with lithium-ion battery for energy recovery, plus an exhaust-energy recovery system. 2013 was its first public showing with only an eleventh place at the 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours race. In 2015, with more than 80% new parts, car no. 19 was driven to victory at Le Mans by Earl Bamber, Nico Hulkenberg and Nick Tandy. Other 919s took second and fifth place with cars no. 17 and 18. The 919 went on to win both the 2015 and 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship.

An important car, but (alas) an ugly one, at least compared to the Ford, Ferrari and Porsche of the 1960s, and not helped by its white and black lettered livery (excellently rendered), based on the Porsche slogan “Porsche Intelligent Performance”.


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Alfa Romeo – Back to the US with the 4C!

by Karl Schnelle

 

4C 3 times

3 of the 4C’s Described Below

Post-war Alfas were sold in the US for many years up to 1995 when they stopped importing the 164.   Then,  in the 2000’s, rumors started about their return to the US market.  Every year it seemed it was the same story:  next year Alfa will be back ran the headlines!

In 2008 finally the low volume, high cost 8C was imported in very low numbers.  I have never seen one so far!  But the real return happened in 2014 with the US launch of the more ‘affordable’ 4C. Then the Spider was launched as a 2015 model in the US.

If you backup a few years, the 4C Concept was introduced at the Geneva and then Frankfurt auto shows in 2011.   I saw it first at the Chicago auto show in 2015, and by then, both production versions were shown.

4C

The Spider was shown in bright yellow (Giallo Prototipo) to contrast the Alfa red coupe!4C Spider

 

The Models

After the European introduction in 2013, the scale models and toys have trickled out from various manufacturers.   Starting with the big boys, AUTOart makes them in six colors in 1:18 scale.  At more than twice the price, BBR has both the coupe and Spider in multiple colors.   They also have the coupe in red or white in 1:43 scale.  More my size, but not my budget!

With other  1:43 resin makers at half the price, I can not justify a BBR at this time.  So the following are now in my collection!  First up was the Spark coupe in red.

Spark 4C

If you can see the detail, the Spark is a model of the original concept car with exposed projector beam headlights and a different side vents.

More recently, TSM introduced their Spider version. Their website labels it a 2014 concept but the box says 2015 concept and the base says 2014!  So I am very confused (not too unusual!)…

TSM 4C

But they are great models and nice to compare.   Both come in an outer box and inner clear plastic display case.  The  red Spark has the projector beam headlights of the concept car.  The wheels and mirrors are also different on the two 1:43 cars.  The edges of the Spider’s grill seems to be less defined when you examine it closely.  Overall, they are both great models of this new Alfa.

Going down in size is the 1:55 scale SIKU, which is really more of a toy but very nicely done.  SIKU does weird scales but are very nice toys, I think.

Siku Alfa 4C

And finally, the small 1:64 scale 4C from Matchbox:  another fine toy Alfa.  The overall shape represents the real car very well, but those generic wheels do bother me a little.  Much less detail than the others is present, but at this scale it still looks very nice.

4C Matchbox

If you’ve seen other models of the 4C or would like to comment, let us know on FaceBook!