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Out and about on the hunt for unusual classic cars and the occasional hidden gem

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

By Tony Batchelor

Are you able to name this pretty little car which is clearly attracting a great deal of interest? A Maserati or a Ferrari, a Fiat possibly. How about a Lancia. The manufacturer associated with this car is very well known to all of us classic car enthusiasts and closer to home than you might think. A great number of us drive around in cars created by the same designer. The answer, I will come back to that later.

The holiday season is pretty much upon us, or for those of us who have retired it is another day not trapped in an office. It is therefore an opportunity to get out and about and capture images of some of the more unusual gems either travelling around on the roads, displayed at shows or just lurking in some backwater either here in the UK or abroad. As this is a classic car blog when I say “Gems” naturally I am referring to the works of art in motion which we all love and appreciate for what they are, regardless of their condition.

It is nice to see well preserved and kept classic cars, and commercial vehicles for that matter, but there are a great number of cars out there which are in need of some TLC which are just as interesting and are possibly rarer than you think. These need to be recognised and appreciated for what they are, in spite of the fact they might be in poor condition or not be worth much. That is compared say with cars such as a Porsche 356, DB5 or a Big Healey. For example I spotted this lovely Austin A35 an on the seafront in Eastbourne a couple of years ago.

A little gem, an A35 van spotted on Eastbourne seafront

I left my wife on the beach while I “went to get some ice creams”, and in doing so I had to pass the little gem again so I took the opportunity for a couple of pics. While taking the pics the owner turned up and we had a nice chat which went on longer than I thought. I returned to the beach about 45 minutes later, fortunately I remembered the ice creams.

Now the A35 an is not uncommon, not flashy or fast, it is however a nice piece of design from the 1950’s / 60’s which is quintessentially English. It is part of our motoring heritage. It is also of personal interest to me, because as a young boy a local shop owner had one and I often looked at it as I passed it on my way to and from school. Very strange, but I still love them.

I did not expect to find anything of interest classic car wise on our visit to the Scilly Isles around 18 months ago. This is because there are few cars, mostly 4WD’s, vans and minibuses being the main form of transport. Whilst wandering around St Mary’s town my little eye spotted in the distance this slightly modified Ford Capri disappearing into a commercial estate.

Fortunately my wife and I were walking in that direction so I did not have to use the old “going for an ice cream “ploy to go and have a look. Mrs B knows me far too well when I say things like “oh why don’t we have a look at this nice commercial estate on our way to the beach” without realising I have an ulterior motive, and it usually relates to a car of some sort.

This slightly modified “Capri” was spotted attempting to hide away in an industrial estate.

I found the vehicle but the owner had disappeared so I have no details as to the structure and running gear. Love it or not, an interesting and clever modification. Whether the owner regrets sacrificing a classic car that was once worth a few grand, rotten or not, for this “fun car” we will never know. Personally, if I was skilled enough to create that I could possibly restore the Capri.

Whilst on the island I was advised by a tour guide that cars on the Scilly’s are required to hold an MOT Certificate if they are taken to the islands, but once they are there they are exempt from a future MOT tests. Clearly this car would not conform to the required MOT standards for a road going vehicle on the UK Mainland, and if it never left the island presumably it would never been the subject to an MOT test. The minibus we was travelling in was required to hold a MOT Certificate, and it had to be transported by ferry to the mainland in order for it to be tested, as there was no MOT test centres on the Scilly’s. It is not known if this monster "Capri" car was ever MOT’d

In order to clarify for the purposes of this blog I telephoned a garage on St Mary’s, and the guy who answered the phone knew the car I was referring to when I described it. He advised it was created by someone living on the island, so most likely it has never left. Interesting then how it got around requirements such as a VOSA inspection, but the guy I spoke to advised he thought “the owner has been requested to remove it from the road”.

I was very excited about our first trip to Malta; quite surprisingly it was in 2009 and we must go back again soon. I even purchased an extra memory card for the camera in anticipation of seeing lots of classic cars driving around the island. I walked around with the camera switched on just in case something drove by or was parked in a side street, but sadly I was disappointed as very few classics emerged during my time there.

It was disappointing not to see classic cars being driven around like in the UK, as the weather conditions are ideal, sunny and dry, what more could you ask for. Every time the sun comes out in the UK there are usually a number of classics being driven around. I mulled over the reasons why there was a lack of classic cars openly on display. I concluded that possibly the Maltese hide the cars away for fear of British tourists buying them and exporting rust free examples back to the UK. A more likely reason is that the sun would play a huge part in “bleaching” the cars paintwork and interiors, therefore it would be best to keep them under cover during the day and get them out in the cooler evenings.

Consequently I have absolutely no photographs of classic cars I found on Malta to add to this blog, so I have added a web image of classic cars on Malta instead.

Here they all are, hidden away in a walled garden. These pristine classic cars belong to members of the Old Motors Club, see,0,club-history.hmtl. Picture OMC website

Feeling like I was suffering from withdrawal systems, I badly needed to see some classic cars and quickly. I was fortunate enough to pick up a brochure for The Malta Classic Car Museum from one of those tourist information “what to do” racks. I went along and it made up for missing out previously, great cars, extremely well set out, less than £10 entry and I bought the T shirt.

Malta Classic Car Museum, Bugibba. (pictures My Guide Malta and Malta Classic Car Museum)

If you go to Malta maybe you might like to visit the Malta Classic Car Museum, see details at

Now Cyprus was more rewarding from a classic car hunt perspective, as whilst strolling around some back streets by chance we came across these beauties.

Sun bleached classics found in Cyprus.

I almost got run over trying to cross the road at speed as I was so keen to look at them. I would have gone into the garage for a chat, but being lunchtime they was shut leaving mad dogs and the English to walk around the streets in the mid-day sun. The two complete cars, ie the Wolseley 1500 and the Ford Zodiac were a little “sun bleached” but otherwise the bodywork was in really good condition. Heavens knows about the mechanicals.

The amount of rust on the Mk10 is surprising, but I was really taken with the Zodiac but I did not think I would be able to get it back to the UK. As I have said in a previous blog, it is all about opportunities and timing.

I had absolutely no idea if there would be any cars of interest in Cape Verde where we visited earlier this year, and some of you might say no I did not find anything interesting.

Never say never, as hidden away in a small village called Cidade Velha (the old city) on the island of Santiago was this VW Passat. Accepted it might not seem that interesting, but it is probably around 40 years old and on that basis the bodywork looks reasonable. There are some minor mods to the front bumper, but look at the quality of road it has been driven on, it is like that on every backroad and a number of main and coastal roads. I wonder what will become of it.

VW Passat B1, circa 1980.

I wonder how many readers have made the pilgrimage to the Le Mans Classic. Held every two years it is a must attend event at least once for every classic car owner or indeed enthusiast.

For those of you who have not been fortunate enough to attend I would attempt to describe it, but I think a couple of images say it all really.

Part of the “Porsche Field” at the Le Mans Classic. That is a view of just the 911’s and a couple of 356’s, there is a lot more. Note the Ferrari’s in the background waiting to get onto the race track. Apparently there are around 8500 club cars at the event.

Classic racers almost within touching distance. There is racing around the eight mile track over a 24 hour period, but this is split into different races for vehicles from different decades. These cars were racing around lunchtime for an hour or so; some Ford GT40’s were racing around between 10pm and midnight.

Finding hidden gems in amongst 8500 classic cars is quite a challenge, but rest assured I found something to be happy about. Whilst strolling around the track in 2014 I spied nestling in amongst an E-Type, a couple of Porsches and a Ferrari a little Innocenti Mini.

I was aware this car was mentioned as a possible replacement for the Mini but that was all. One of the great things about producing this Blog is that in researching I am finding out things I never knew, and there is a great deal I do not know, but some of the findings I share with you here.

It would seem Innocenti was an Italian machinery works originally established by Ferdinando Innocenti in 1920. Over the years they produced Lambretta scooters as well as a range of automobiles, interestingly mainly of British Leyland origins. From 1961 to 1976 Innocenti built under licence the BMC /BLMC Mini, followed by other models including the Regent, (Allegro), the Berlina and Combinata (Austin A40 Farina saloon and countryman), the Innocenti 14 (Austin 1100) and the Spyder, (a re-bodied version of the Austin-Healey MKII Sprite with styling by Ghia).

The company of this era was, and maybe still is, commonly referred to as Leyland Innocenti. The brand was retired in 1996 six years after a takeover by Fiat.

The Innocenti 950 Spyder based mechanically on the Austin Healey Sprite. Picture Barn Finds.

Looking at the Spyder for the first time whilst compiling this blog I thought I had seen the front end of the Spyder somewhere before. Then there is that gently curved bonnet and subtle change in height at the back of the door, a TR6 maybe?

I am not going to suggest Karmann were influenced in any way during their involvement in the design of the TR6, but ….. . Picture Classic Park.

As I said previously at one point there were plans for the Bertone-designed Mini to replace the original British Mini, but these came to nothing and instead we ended up with the Austin Metro. Within a year of the car's launch BLMC went bankrupt and in May 1976 Innocenti was sold to De Tomaso and GEPI.

If you want to find out more about Innocenti and the Innocenti Mini, Wikipedia has a great deal of information and a good starting point, see and

Also at Le Mans I spied this Simca 1000. I am not sure how far it had travelled under its own “steam.” As I said in a previous blog, I purchased one of these as my first car and steam regularly escaped through the conveniently located louvers on the engine cover. My car did not travel far, I think Croydon to Guildford (and back) was the longest journey I made, otherwise it only travelled any real distance on the end of a tow rope.

It was however nice to see one in really good condition, a very rare car even in France. I wonder where they parked the rescue vehicle.

Simca 1000, driven or towed?

The next Le Mans Classic is July next year (2020). Maybe if there is enough interest Lee might arrange something, a Charabanc maybe (how very French). For further information see and

I have not finished with Le Mans quite yet; there is still the riddle of the unidentified “pretty little car” to solve, so we will return to France later.

Next a trip to Madeira where I spotted hiding away in a residential backwater in Funchal, an Opel Kapitan P2. Built between 1959 and 1963.

Finding this car did not make my heart leap, not like the Innocenti, but it is a nice car and extremely well preserved. It was satisfying to find it as it meant I had achieved my objective in seeking out a classic car, and so I could finally go for a cold beer, then I would then be doubly satisfied.

Opel Kapitan P2. Picture Mrs B

Web pictures Catawiki

If you happen to go to Madeira you might consider a trip to the Toy Museum in Funchal, where there is an amazing collection of die cast cars and commercial vehicles. Details at: (in Portuguese) and (English).

Next a trip to Rhodes where this little workhorse was discovered. This is the Mazda T1100 or T1500, not that it is that important just a bit more engine power. The latter was produced between 1962 and 1965. According to the various write-ups, this was / is no “Tuc Tuc”, it was a serious load carrier with a decent engine, but for some reason the designer decided to leave one wheel off.

A workhorse, fortunately it is not a real horse as it looks like it has been worked very hard.

If you want to know more about the Mazda T1100 / 1500 and T200 see

So finally back to Le Mans and to that rather pretty little car.

Whilst walking around the periphery at Le Mans in 2008 I spotted a number of people standing around this rather beautiful creation which I had not seen before. As I got closer I still could not recognise it, clearly it was Italian styling but not a car I could identify.

Italian styling without a doubt

When I finally reached the car and managed to get a good view through the people standing around it, the name badge on the front of the car said “Italia”, which meant nothing to me. The back of the car had the same badge, it was only when some bloke finally moved away from the back wing did I see the “Triumph” badge.

I have seen those rear wings and lights somewhere before.

When I spoke to the proud owner he advised me the car was a Triumph Italia, or a Triumph Italia 2000 Coupé to be exact. Only 329 of these hand crafted cars were built between 1959 and 1962. It was Designed by Giovanni Michelotti, the TR3 chassis and mechanical components were supplied by Triumph and the car was built by Alfredo Vignale in Italy.

What a stunning little car, unfortunately the Italia never became an official model of Standard-Triumph. Typical of the British car industry at that time, being faced with financial and labour problems and making the wrong decisions. Standard-Triumph was taken over by Leyland Motors in 1961; the new management did not follow through with the verbal agreement / contract with Salvatore Ruffino, the owner of CESAC who was the Italian company that distributed Standard-Triumph in Italy, who wanted to mass produce the car in Italy.

Triumph instead concentrated their efforts on development and production of the new TR4 to be released in 1962. The TR4, also designed by Mr Michelotti, clearly borrowed many elements from the Italia, particularly the rear wings and lights. Now I just love the TR4 and so I will forgive Leyland management on this occasion. Comparing the two cars I am not sure which one I would opt for if given the choice.

The Triumph TR4A, with the long rear wings and lights borrowed from the Triumph Italia.

If you want to find out more about this wonderful little car see and for a glimpse at the interior see

Hopefully you enjoyed this little read and possibly learnt something, I certainly enjoyed putting it together and I definitely learnt something.

Keep your eyes peeled and camera ready to capture that elusive little gem.

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