28 April 2011

By Military Dictatorship - The Somoza Mercedes

Let me share with you the story of a family dictatorship; don't worry, related car stuff comes soon after...
The Somoza family at one point ruled Nicaragua (there were three in total), Anastasio Somoza Garcia (known as “Tacho”) began his rise to power in 1933, just as the US Marines evacuated the country, when he was appointed director of the Nicaraguan National Guard.
Following the assassination of his nearest rival and the forced resignation of the elected president, Somoza the eldest staged an election in which he was declared the winner and, in January 1937, he was inaugurated president.
Tacho Somoza ruled Nicaragua for 19 years, amassing a fortune (estimated at $60 million) and surviving periodic coups until he was fatally shot in September 1956.

Following his untimely demise, his sons took over the 'family business'. Luis Somoza Debayle became the interim president, while Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza took over the leadership of the Nicaraguan National Guard. Although Luis stepped down from the presidency in 1963, Tachito’s stranglehold on the leadership of the National Guard ensured that the family’s interests would be protected until he, himself, became president in 1967, shortly after Luis died of a massive heart attack at the age of 45 (the least-violent fate of any of the Somozas).
Tachito managed to lead Nicaragua for the next 12 years while serving two terms as president and serving as commander of the Guard until his government was overthrown in 1979. The former leader fled to Miami and later found refuge in Paraguay, where he met an unfortunate end on September 17th 1980. As he was being chauffeured about the city of AsunciĆ³n he came upon a commando team that first machine-gunned and then fired an RPG-7 anti-tank grenade at his white 1979 Mercedes-Benz 350SEL.

Amid all this chaotic history and in addition to amassing millions (as well as being the point of this whole article), it also appears - big surprise - that the Somozas found the time to treat themselves to some of the finer things in life, not the least of which was a custom-built 1957 blue Mercedes-Benz 300D limousine.
How this particular Mercedes managed to avoid the aforementioned rocket attack we'll come to later. But first, according to Motoring Investments, this is how it was acquired:

From an official Daimler-Benz letter in our possession it appears that Luis Somoza officially ordered this Mercedes on September 14, 1957.  Mr. Somoza communicated to Daimler-Benz Aktiengesellschaft that this limousine was to have special equipment.  Chassis number 7500143 was built with a high torque fuel-injected engine, double acting telescopic coil springs, refrigeration, radio-telephone, military siren and blue lamp.  Mr. Somoza stated that since the automobile was of pillarless design, his intended use did not require armor-plating.  On March 2, 1958, the auto was shipped to Nicaragua on the S.S. Hein Hoyer owned by Hanseatic Vaase Line.

Twenty years later, on December 14, 1977, A. Somoza (Anastasio) wrote an official letter from Casa Presidencial, Hacienda El Retiro to Senor Julio Cesar Gallardo expressing the family’s appreciation for his service and telling him he would be given his brother Luis' car that had been in the family for so long.  Somoza said the car would be legally transferred to Gallardo on December 23.  He wished Gallardo “feliz navidad” (Merry Christmas) and referred to their relationship with the term, “amigos”.
On December 23, 1977, A. Somoza and Gallardo signed a Bill of Sale for un cordoba C$1.00. The document stated that the vehicle was a blue 1958 Mercedes Benz limousine 300D with chassis number 7500143.

In the Carta de Vente, Gallardo agreed to restore the car in minute detail as assessed by Senor Carlos Jose Mendoza of the Mercedes-Benz agency in Managua. Gallardo agreed that the car was to be considered as a museum piece and a national treasure.  Gallardo promised that it would never leave its homeland of Nicaragua.
It appears that Gallardo was as good as his word, at least in terms of the vehicle’s restoration, for in August of 1978 he won first place in the Club de Vehiculos Clasicos de Nicaragua for Concurso de Elegancia. When Gallardo signed the Carte de Vente, he had every intention of honouring the agreemnt to keep the car in Nacaragua as a national treasure.

But, when the Sandinistas came to power in 1979 they released a Decree,  which was for the confiscation of all Somoza family property.  This decree extended to all Somoza family, soldiers, officers and presumably associates who left the country.The car was 'assessed' (quite what that means I don't know) and according to documents with the car, the same Carlos Jose Mendoza of the Mercedes agency in Managua delivered the car to the port for export to California and its new owner.  Since previously the Somozas owned this Mercedes agency we have to assume it was now under government control.
The car then turned up on eBay in 2009 and sold for an undisclosed sum.

27 April 2011

By Presidential Edict - Cadillac One

A little look at the Presidential car they call The Beast.

The current US presidential limousine, nicknamed 'The Beast' by the US Secret Service, entered service on January 20, 2009. According to General Motors, the 2009 Cadillac presidential limousine is the first not to carry a specific model name. The vehicle's outward appearance carries many current Cadillac styling themes, but doesn't exactly resemble any particular production vehicle. The body itself seems to be a modification of the immediately previous DTS badged Presidential limousines, but the vehicle's chassis and driveline are assumed to be sourced from the GMC Topkick commercial truck. Many body components are sourced from a variety of Cadillac vehicles; for example, the car apparently uses Cadillac Escalade headlights, side mirrors and door handles. The tail of the car seems to use the taillights and back up lights from the Cadillac STS saloon. Although a price tag has not been announced, apparantly each limousine costs US$300,000. A bit of a bargain I think, considering what you get.
During his presidency, Barack Obama has also used the limousine of former President George W. Bush consistently, during visits internally in the US and internationally.

Most details of the car are naturally classified for security reasons; however, it is known that it is fitted with military grade armor at least five inches thick, and the wheels are fitted with run flat tires that makes the vehicle drivable for a certain period of time. The doors weigh as much as a Boeing 757 airplane cabin door. The engine has an Eaton Series 1900 supercharger. The vehicle's fuel tank is leak-proof and is invulnerable to explosions. Due to the thickness of the glass, much natural light is excluded, so the fluorescent halo lighting system in the headliner is essential. The outside crowd is only heard through internal speakers.

The car is perfectly sealed against biochemical attacks and has its own oxygen supply and firefighting system built into the trunk. Unseen at a glance are two holes hidden inside the lower part of the vehicle's front bumper, which are able to emit tear gas. The vehicle can also fire a salvo of multi-spectrum infrared smoke grenades as a countermeasure to an Rocket-propelled grenade or Anti-tank missile attack and to act as a visual obscurant to operator guided missiles. This is fired remotely by the USSS countermeasures Suburban which trails the limo and contains the sensors to detect the launch of such an attack. The limo is equipped with a driver's enhanced video system which allows the driver to operate in an infrared smoke environment. This system also contains bumper mounted night vision cameras for operation in pitch black conditions.

Kept in the boot is a blood bank of the President's blood type.Interestingly, there is no key hole in the doors. A special trick, known only to Secret Service agents, is required to gain access to the passenger area. Furthermore, the entire limo can be locked like a bank vault.
The car can seat seven people, including the president. The front seats two, and includes a console-mounted communications center. A Remington shotgun is kept beneath the driver's seat, stashed between his seat and door. A glass partition divides the front from back. Three rear facing seats are in the back, with cushions that are able to fold over the partition. The two rear seats are reserved for the president and another passenger; these seats have the ability to recline individually. A folding desk is between the two rear seats. Storage compartments in the interior panels of the car contain communications equipment which is called the Limousine Control Package and is operated by the White House Communication Agency. This is the voice and data device that links the vehicle to the WHCA Roadrunner at the rear of the motorcade allowing command and control (known as "C2") functions to be performed from the limo.

President Barack Obama's Cadillac limousine makes its debut during the 2009 presidential inaugural parade. The "2009 Cadillac Presidential Limousine" is heavily armored and guarded by Secret Service agents. The limousine is flanked behind by two 2005 heavily modified Cadillac DTS's used by President George W. Bush
  The car is driven by a highly trained Secret Service agent who is capable of performing a J-turn. This maneuver, taught at the USSS training facility outside Washington D.C., can turn the limo 180 degrees in matter of seconds to escape any trouble. The President's lead protective agent usually sits in the front passenger seat.
On domestic trips, Cadillac One displays the American and Presidential Standard flags, which are illuminated by directional flood lights mounted on the hood. When the President performs a state visit to a foreign country, the Presidential Standard is replaced by the foreign country's flag. The limousine is airlifted for domesti

c and international use primarily by a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III.
The vehicle fuel consumption is about 8 mpg.
The United States government also operates similarly designed limousines for VIP guests, visiting heads of government, and heads of state.

26 April 2011

By Royal Appointment - Royal Family Cars

By no means an exhaustive list of the Royal family's cars; just thought I'd post some of the more fascinating ones.
The Queen's own cars are provided for use on official engagements and state visits and are unique in the fact that they are not required to display any registration number on the front or rear of the vehicle (great for speed cameras!) Although the Daimler Limo's and the monarch's personal vehicles and those belonging to other members of the Royal Family do display registration numbers.

2002 Bentley State Limousine, the first ever in the Queen's fleet; Daimlers and Rollers were the usual order of play. For the Queen's 50th anniversary, a new hand built 'processional limousine' was constructed by Park Ward. It was used for the opening of the Manchester Commenwealth Games. It was based on a lengthened and widened Arnage platform, and powered by a Zytec-developed edition of the familiar twin-turbo 6.75 litre V8; two were built.
The Queen has her own mascot for use on the state cars. The photo shows the Bentley carrying the unique mascot of St. George slaying the dragon. The Queen uses the Lion mascot in Scotland.

H J Mulliner bodied 1950 Rolls Royce Royal Phantom IV (5.7 Litre Straight 8)
(This Rolls Royce was purchased by Princess Elizabeth in 1950, and became a state car upon her accession to the throne as Queen Elizabeth II in 1952)

H J Mulliner bodied 1950 Rolls Royce Royal Phantom IV (5.7 Litre Straight 8)
& Rolls-Royce Phantom VI State Limousine:

Rolls-Royce Phantom VI State Limousine. There two; a normal roofed one and a raised roof, (no doubt for the toppers, ma'am) The one with its raised roof and enlarged glazed area was presented to The Queen to celebrate her Silver Jubilee in 1977.

'61 Phantom V high-roof:

1954 Queen Elizabeth II Land Rover 'State IV'. Great for when HRH is doing AWDC events:

King George VI's Ford Pilot Shooting Brake:

Royal hooper built 1935 Daimler; King George VI owned one, although this one was actually Emporer Hirohito's. Frightfully gangster.

Prince Charles' Aston DB6; a wedding present from his Mum. Bless. After 38 years, the car was converted to run on 100% bioethanol  distilled from surplus British wine. No doubt excellent if you need to siphon some off for anther in the Royal fleet. Hic.

Proof that even the Duke Of Edinburgh has one redeeming feature; this was his Alvis TD21 Mulliner Park Ward Drophead Coupe:

And his 1956 Ford Zephyr estate, the first modern production estate (as opposed to a special-bodied "shooting brake") owned by the Royal Family:

The Scimitar GTE was a favourite mode of transport for Princess Anne, who had her first one for her 20th Birthday and has had another 8 GTE's since (and currently owns a Middlebridge Scimitar). It offered Princess Anne high speed motoring (as she famously found out by getting caught speeding in it) and had plenty of room for the Princess's horse riding equipment. here she is going for an early morning burn-up. Watch those Gatsos ma'am.

The Royal/State/Presidential Car Week

A vaguely topical idea; pics of Royal cars, state cars, presidential cars et al.

21 April 2011

Lamborghini Miura Roadster

Purely as a design exercise, aimed at keeping demand for Lamborghini’s Miura on the crest of a wave, Nuccio Bertone assigned Marcello Gandini a styling project to create a Spyder version of the Miura, in 1967.

The ‘Lamborghini Bertone Miura Roadster,’ as it was officially christened, was finished in a light metallic blue with an off-white leather interior with red carpeting. The dashboard and steering remained black, and the steering wheel itself was the original avant-garde unit that was also used on the Marzal. This Miura carried chassis number 3498 (which, in accordance with its one-off prototype status, is not even listed in the factory’s original production chassis number register), and P400 engine number 1642 was fitted.

For the January 1968 Salon de L’Automobile Bruxelles, Bertone pulled off another masterstroke when he unveiled this Miura Spyder to a gob-smacked Ferruccio Lamborghini, who, we are told, only saw the show car for the first time at the preview the day before. However, Bertone told Lamborghini to put any ideas of production right out of his mind: “We couldn’t make this car for production because there were untold problems with stress-tolerance issues involving the chassis and the windscreen. It’s purpose was simply that of a showcar,” Bertone confided to a GM stylist years later.

With its Bertone publicity duties completed, the Spyder was sent to Sant’Agata (where it was famously photographed by both Zagari and Coltrin, and it was fettled by the service department with the idea of making it roadworthy to sell as an expensive one-off.
In 1968, International Lead and Zinc Research Organisation (ILZRO) CEO, the late Shrade Radtke, was looking for something radical to showcase the zinc alloys, coating and plating systems the company promoted for the major manufacturers in the Detroit area. It was decided to purchase a standard production Lamborghini Miura Berlinetta and have it specially built using zinc-based components and trim wherever possible.

Onwards then to Sant’Agata, and a meeting with Paolo Stanzani. However, Stanzani was against the idea of modifying a production Miura, and came up with the convenient solution of offering the one-off Miura Roadster, at the time at Sant’Agata for fettling. The offer was accepted on the spot.

In May of 1969, the "ZN75" was completed, now adorned with much extra brightwork and painted metalic green, and Bertone arranged for a private showing at a villa in Turin, attended by the hierachy of the Italian automotive industry. It was a special day, and Bertone himself, was proudly pictured with the car on that occasion (if anyone can point me in the direction of where it might be on the 'net, please let me know.  .

There followed a globe-trotting schedule of International Motor Shows -
August 1969 – Shown in Detroit, Michigan
October 1969 – Shown in Montreal, Canada
November 1969 – Shown in Anaheim, California
January 1970 – Shown in Detroit, Michigan
January 1970 – Shown in Montreal, Canada
February 1970 – Shown in London, England and featured on BBC TV
April 1970 – Shown in Palmerton, Pennsylvania
July 1970 – Shown in Tokyo, Japan
August 1970 – Shown in Sydney, Australia
November 1970 – Shown in Paris, France

After a final showing at the 1978 Detroit Motor Show, in February of 1981, Radtke donated the car to the Boston Museum of Transportation for an estimated $200,000 tax deduction. In the mid-1980s, it was refurbished and its interior upholstery replaced.
In 1989, it was purchased by the Portman group, and has spent its life since then shuttling from auction house to temporary owner, likely because its full history and significance is unknown by most. Auctioned off soon thereafter, it spent a number of years in Japanese collection. In 2002 it returned to the USA for a brief sojourn, before finding another home with a Ferrari collector in France.

In December 2006, the priceless Miura Roadster was finally purchased by a New York property developer who, at huge cost, has had the car returned to its original 1968 Salon de L’Automobile Bruxelles specification. The conversion, by the Bobileff Motorcar Company, was completed in late August 2008. it was then again put up for auction and purchased by a mystery buyer, current whereabouts unknown...