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Four-Links – Africar, HANS, rocket bike, papercraft Subarus

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Rugged cars meant to last decades and be easily repairable by just about anyone were just the ticket for Africa, thought Tony Howarth, whose 2CV-powered Africar showed promise but didn’t reach production due to a number of factors, as Jon Branch recently wrote over at Silodrome.

Tony Howarth understood what was needed for a vehicle that would be uncomplicated, easy to build, easy to fix, and perfectly suited to the rough tracks that are the roads of much of the third world.

In a sense Tony Howarth had something like the Model T in mind when he put together the concept that was to become the Africar. It was to be two wheel drive to avoid the expense and complication of four wheel drive (although four wheel drive versions were also planned), it was to be built around an extruded frame made using a CNC tube bender. The suspension, engine and transmission would then be attached to that tube frame. Howarth’s material of choice was stainless steel so that the vehicle would be truly “rust free”.

* As pointed out in this IMRRC excerpt from Jonathan Ingram’s book “Crash!” deaths and injuries from basal skull fractures were once considered par for the course for auto racing until Jim Downing’s own crash, which led him to work with his brother-in-law to develop the HANS device.

Downing realized a head-on crash could have been deadly. (Five years later, Manfred Winkelhock was killed by a head-on meeting with the wall in Turn 2 on board a Porsche 962C during a World Endurance Championship race.) Downing began to think about the number of head and neck injuries happening in racing at the time. Like so many racers, he shrugged off his crash as part of the business. Then, the following spring, Downing learned that a frontal impact by fellow GTU racer Patrick Jacquemart at the end of the back straight of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course during a test was indeed fatal. The cause of death was a basal skull fracture.

Downing’s first reaction to his own near-miss typified the ambitious racer’s point of view, whether it was Formula 1, Indy cars, sports cars, stock cars or rallying. ‘It won’t happen to me again,’ he thought. But when Jacquemart’s crash occurred, the realization sunk in with Downing that it might have been his funeral. He then asked himself a once again: ‘Why can’t something be done about head injuries?’

* On the other end of the auto safety spectrum, there was Fritz von Opel, who, as the Vintagent wrote this week, was fond of attaching rockets to his motorcycles (among other vehicles) in pursuit of land-speed records.

On May 19, 1928, the rocket-boosted Motoclub (dubbed ‘the Monster’, for obvious reasons) was demonstrated at the Hamborner Radrennbahn, with much smoky drama, before a crowd of 7000. In early testing, it was clear six rockets didn’t give enough boost, so Opel doubled down on the concept, adding 12 rockets for the demonstration. He seriously considered an attempt at the absolute World Motorcycle Speed Record, but simply strapping on rockets isn’t a guarantee of success even in a straight line. In truth the boost was unpredictable and frightening, and the ordinary roadster motorcycle chassis, even if if was a fine specimen like the Neander design, was asking for stability issues. The German racing authorities thought so as well, and forbade the use of the rocket-cycle for a speed attempt, on the grounds of safety.

* Subaru dealerships in Japan handed out these papercraft models of then-current Subaru vehicles in 1968. Print ’em out and fold ’em up yourself now!

* Finally, with seemingly everybody out at Hershey this week and wondering what the new AACA headquarters will look like when the renovation wraps up, the AACA Library posted this video walking through the renderings for the renovation.