Giovanni Michelotti , a masterful automobile designer

The Triumph TR 4 celebrates its 40 th anniversary this year. The TR4 was received with much praise when it debuted in August of 1961; featuring items such as winding windows, face level cockpit ventilation, and an all-synchromesh transmission also received high marks from the motoring press.  The fixed rear window with a removable centre section, known as a “Surrey top”, was available as an option pre-dating Porsche’s “Targa” roof. Triumph owed much to Michelotti for his many successful designs, and it is worth reflecting on this remarkable car designer’s life.

Like many sons following in their father’s footsteps, Giovanni Michelotti, born in Torino in 1921, seemed destined to follow in his. At the time of his birth, the elder Michelotti was already a machine shop manager at the Torino-based carmaker Itala’s engine factory, so it seems little coincidence that the younger Michelotti would come to develop a deep love of all things mechanical, especially cars.

Leaving school at just fifteen-years-old, Michelotti garnered his first experience in the automotive industry as an apprentice at the Stabilimenti Farina in Cambiano, just outside his hometown. If that name seems familiar, it is because the nascent design house, and the best car-design “school” existing at the time, was started by the older brother of Battista “Pinin” Farina. Today the firm is called Pininfarina S.p.A, and still in operation. It was there that Michelotti’s talent was nurtured, if not recognized at first. In this golden age of coach building, and just two years into his apprenticeship, Michelotti’s first credited design was a body design for a Lancia Astura, in 1938. The project, however, was not meant to be, and never put into production. Michelotti continued to churn out sketches, though. It would be a little while, but Farina would eventually put Michelotti’s designs for a re-bodied 1947 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 into production, and soon thereafter a series of designs based on the Talbot T-26. The success of having cars derived from his work was the motivation that Michelotti needed to strike out on his own. He would establish his own studio, Studio Technico e Carrozzeria G. Michelotti, Torino in 1949.

Michelotti would continue to work freelance for several Italian Carrozzerias, including Bertone, Ghia, Allemano, and Vignale. His first commission as an independent designer was a body for a variant based on the Ferrari 166, which would become just the first of many Ferraris he penned throughout his career. Throughout the 1950s, he would work on designs for Maserati, Lancia, and Alfa Romeo as well. Bodies for the Ferrari 212 Inter, Ferrari 340 Mexico Coupe, Maserati 3500GT, Lancia Aurelia, and Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce would flow from his hand, and oh, what a hand it was. While Michelotti is now considered the father of freelance car design, it is also said that he would create the first sketches in one day and night only working with his pencils.

Michelotti’s career would take an interesting turn toward the end of the ’50s, as he essentially became the in house designer for British carmaker, Standard Triumph. This came about when he penned a proposal to shape the 1956 Standard Vanguard, a sedan design that represented a total break with Standard’s conservatively designed cars. And so, from the late 1950s Michelotti was responsible for all the new models produced by Standard Triumph, starting with the Standard Vanguard and going on through models such as the Herald, Spitfire, GT6, TR4, and TR4A, TR5, 2000 series saloons and the FWD 1300 saloon. Later the Triumph Stag and Dolomite saloon would be added to the list.- nothing like a bit of Italian panache to spice up a staid British manufacturer, right?. He also designed the beautiful Triumph Italia coupe built between 1959 and 1962 by an Italian company around TR mechanicals.

Michelotti also made big contributions at BMW too–the BMW 700, the “New Class” BMW 1600-2, and, later, the now highly-collectable 2002. A pagoda-style roof added to an OSCA study later ended up gracing the Mercedes–Benz SL class. The Japanese manufacturers contracted him to draw up the Hino Contessa and Daihatsu Sport during the 1960s. Other customers for Michelotti’s work included DAF, Fiat, and Ford, but he also found some spare time to produce a few cars under its own name. One of the few was the “Shellette”, a beach car with wicker seats and dashboard, like the Fiat Jolly.

Michelotti is credited with more than 1,200 designs–cars, and even buses and trucks–where at least one model was produced. The quality, quantity, and breadth of his work are just some of the reasons why he was inducted into the European Automotive Hall of Fame in 2009. Over the years, Michelotti declined numerous offers to join other coachbuilders because he was valued his independence as a freelancer, and the varied challenges they allowed. Michelotti passed away too soon in 1980, at the age of just 59. Carrozzeria Michelotti closed its doors in 1993.

Michelotti’s name has always been associated with Triumph and many may not know that, during his long association with Vignale, he was asked to build an MG TD based special. This vehicle resembled the Ferrari grand touring cars and featured a body fashioned from aluminium. The styling featured many later Vignale cues and provided an interior that would have shamed many luxury cars of the day with intricate wood veneer.  Despite an excessive amount of chrome, the alloy body made the car only slightly heavier than stock and the performance was consistent with other similar cars of the day. The car still exists today.

Healeys for Road or Water


By Trevor Holland- our retired Austin man from snowbound Austria

The  link between Healey as a performance car or boat took me back to my youth and holidays in Cornwall learning how to water ski being pulled along by a Healey speed boat. Donald Healey sports cars are well known and documented but his other company — Donald Healey Marine  — building speed boats on a commercial basis is less well known . This company was set up in the mid 1950’s ; initially building outboard engined boats and then on to inboard engined boats  . The company closed down in 1961 after building approx. 1750 boats including trailers .The actual number is not very well documented as record keeping was not computerised in those days.

Some boats of interest that were produced:

Healey 55    — powered by a 1489cc MGA engine

Healey 75     — again powered by an MG engine of 1588cc

Healey 707  — powered by a 2912 cc big Healey engine  .. This boat was propelled by a Dowty Marine Jet Drive rather than a propeller .

Donald Healey with one of his boats

Donald Healy and Stirling Moss


South Africa had links with Healey cars because some were built in the Blackheath Factory .

Big Healey ( 1957 / 62 )—- approx 340 built

AH sprite ( Frog eye ) ( 1958 / 62 ) —- approx 335 built

MGA s of course were built by Motor Assemblies Ltd  Durban ( approx 750 in total  )

Having touched on Healey what about the Healey  1000 ( 1000 not 100 )  — but that’s another story .





A history of Hangklip and Clarence Drive

Tim Le Feuvre who now lives in Hermanus, although he remains a member, says : Below are excerpts from an article written by a member of the Logan family with whom we were very friendly and with who as a teenager I spent many holidays and weekends at Hangklip.

On our GRMC “Summer Holiday” tour, in motoring from Kleinmond & Bettys Bay to Gordons Bay, we drove around the back of the mountain section called Hangklip. Had there been a road around the sea side of the Klip, one would have been able to see the old RADAR station and the staff accommodation barracks referred to in this account as the now ‘Hangklip Hotel”.


Hangklip Story.

By John Logan

I have been persuaded to write some notes about Hangklip by several references I have read recently dealing with The Hangklip Hotel. Much source material has been lost over the years and, if my memory of dates has failed me, I can only say ‘peccavi, I have sinned and ask that any corrections that seem relevant be passed back to me. In the course of his duties my father Mr H Logan, became friendly with Brig. P.F. van der Hoven, O.C. Cape Command and, through him, several senior officers in the Navy and Air Force of the Union Defence Force.

Shortly before World War II broke out in 1939 my father met and befriended Jack Clarence, the moving spirit behind the Hangklip Beach Estates Ltd Company. This company had been set up by Jack, Harold Porter and Arthur Youlden  (the father of ‘Betty’ who gave her name to Betty’s Bay ) to buy up the five farms that included all the land from about 10 miles up the Palmiet River and  the Oudebos farm to the end of Rooi Els at the point where the river flows on the beach.

When the war ended in 1945, many of the buildings which had been erected around the coast to house top-secret radar installations were stripped of their contents and allowed to lie unsecured.  One of these was the station at Hangklip, called Silversands. Interestingly, the diesel generators which once powered the radar transmitters and the other plant at Silversands, as well as the associated camps that housed staff, were stripped   out and sent to Bloemfontein for storage where, a few months later, they were all destroyed by fire! The heavy duty power lines leading from Silversands to the other constructions at Hangklip were also removed – and vanished!

My father was given permission by Jack Clarence and the UDF to occupy the derelict Silversands RADAR station provided he made himself responsible for its upkeep and that of the access road.  His intention was to use the station as a storage site for the materials he had begun to accumulate for his construction work at Rooi Els. His family’s aim was to use the place as often as possible during holidays to visit the nearby beaches !

The one man who contributed more to the development of the area around Hangklip than anyone else was Jack Clarence. Gerald John Vaughan Clarence (1886 – 1950) was the youngest of nine children; his father was the son of a pioneer who had gone prospecting in Central Africa, where he died. Jack was born on a sugar estate in Natal where his father died when Jack was three. The family was brought up by a grand and wonderful lady; his mother. To the end of his life, Jack paid tribute to the values with which she had imbued him and which events have confirmed the strength of his character. Jack Clarence had an interesting career.  He was educated at St John’s College in Johannesburg at a time when that school was housed in a small corrugated iron building. He went on to study engineering at the School of Mines (later the University of the   Witwatersrand) from which he gained his understanding of civil engineering and a very decided set of values. For twenty years thereafter he followed a career with one of the biggest mining houses, gaining a reputation for being a wizard at share valuations. I learned later that Fortune had smiled on him, too, and in successive years he won both the Irish and Calcutta Sweepstakes.

In the years leading up to World War II the increasing international tension gave rise to the idea of a road from Cape Town to Durban, largely following   the   coast, to allow rapid deployment of forces to counter any threat to the country from the sea. At that time Jack Clarence had become fully engaged with the creation of the Hangklip Beach Estates (Ltd) and its development of a series of townships with reasonably sized and inexpensive plots enabling the man-in the-street to build a cottage to which he could eventually retire. In early days, road access to Hangklip involved a long journey over Sir Lowry’s Pass to Kleinmond and thence by pont across the Palmiet, over a very poor gravel road to Rooi Els.

Jack Clarence realised the vital importance of creating a more convenient means of accessing the Hangklip Estate by a new road by the shortest possible route from Cape Town to Hangklip and decided that this would best be achieved by extending the existing coastal road from Gordon’s Bay to the bridge over the Steenbras river, on to Rooi Els, via Kogel Bay and then to upgrade the gravel road system at Hangklip.

When World War II War broke out in 1939 there was much political upset as far as South Africa’s potential as Britain’s ally was concerned but eventually General Smuts (as he then was) proved victorious and South Africa declared war against Germany. One of the tasks undertaken by the Union Defence Force (U.D.F) was the protection of the essential – and vulnerable – sea route around the Cape, vital for Allied communications, the Suez Canal having become being unavailable through the Italian aggression in North and East Africa. At that time Britain asked Commonwealth members to co-operate in the use of “certain technical developments”. These were, of course, the early experiments and tests being conducted at Bawdsey in England that led to top-secret RADAR.

Early in September 1939 General Smuts approached Dr Basil Schonland , Director of the Bernard Price Institute for Geophysical Research at Wits University to prepare for the use of radar. The full story of the development of radar in South Africa has yet to be written and it is probable that this vital contribution to the Allies Victory in 1945 will remain largely unknown as so much detail about early work was hidden under the mask of Secrecy. However, the upshot of this work was that a small team of wireless scientists in Johannesburg including Dr’s Bozzoli from Wits, Dr W.F. Phillips from Natal and F.J Hewitt from Rhodes were deputed to construct a radar apparatus for training in anticipation of the arrival of the finished product from Britain.

Finally, in great secrecy, the test equipment built by this team produced a weak echo from the water tower at Northcliff. From this point improvements followed rapidly and usable equipments were manufactured under the code name “JB”, the first model being installed at Mambrui, North of Mombasa. On 14th May 1941 equipment was sent from Johannesburg and set up for test on Signal Hill. By this time those scientists and technical personnel forming the early developers of radar had been grouped in a military unit known as the Special Signals Services, a division of the South African Corps of Signals with Colonel F Collins in command.  In 1942 twelve locally produced radar sets were installed near Cape Town, East London and Durban.

Coastal Radar was vital and a series of stations housing the transmitters and supporting staff had to be constructed at selected spots around the coast. One of these was at Hangklip (called the Silversands station) and the urgency of an improved road to be built along the coast to access this site and others nearby, it became pressing.

With support from the UDF, the Cape Provincial Administration commenced building this road in 1940. Using native (black) labour, the whole project was controlled by a Provincial Engineer by the name of Jan de Reuck. The route the road was to take along the steep sides of the coastal mountain road was the subject of debate. Jack Clarence’s knowledge of civil engineering now came to the fore. He deplored the design of the coastal Road from Gordons Bay to the Steenbras river mouth, contending that, as it lacked contour planning, it had a number of peaks and lower elevations which underwent erosion and damage during storms.

Eventually it was agreed that the new road from Steenbras to Rooi Els was to have two major high points, the first section of the road gradually rising to its highest elevation about half way between Steenbras and Kogel Bay before following a path down to the beach level at Kogel Bay. From that point the roadway rose again, to another peak before returning to beach level at Rooi Els where a new bridge was to be constructed over the Rooi Els river to replace an older timber bridge connected to the original rather elementary road system at Hangklip. Jack Clarence’s vision and drive in getting this plan adopted has produced one the most spectacular coastal roads in the World, rivalling Chapman’s Peak and some Mediterranean routes. The wisdom of his plan also showed its value during the several floods which have taken place over the past seventy years, the worst being   1955 when other roads were totally washed away and the damage to Clarence Drive was not severe. In the present state of the economy where roads much simpler than this cost many millions of Rand per mile, it is interesting to know that the budget for this project ran at 1200 pounds per mile!

War time and financial constraints limited de Reuck’s options and he was expected to build this road with virtually no survey equipment apart from a single theodolite and dumpy level  and no heavy plant such as bulldozers and loaders.  To ensure the right levels and grade de Reuck used the old Roman TEE rods and measuring tapes.  The route includes several quite deep valleys running from the mountain down to the sea. These presented great difficulty and de Reuck was unable to obtain cement and reinforcing steel to bridge these portions. For this reason he decided upon dry stone walling to create paths over the valleys at the same level as the road, thus maintaining the smooth climb and descent principle adopted for the road, as opposed to the frequent ups and downs of the old road to the  Steenbras river mouth . These rock supports can still be viewed and it is interesting to note that, here again and in the absence of mechanical cranes and machinery de Reuck used another Roman technique called sheer legs to lift the huge stones into place after they had been rough shaped with cold chisels and hammers.

The roadway near the summit before reaching Rooi Els has an interesting feature. This is the mine shaft visible on the face of the rock. Many years ago, the large black outcrop of rock at this point suggested the presence of Silver. Investors sank a shaft and dug a drive that allowed material excavated material to be dumped down an elementary chute to sea level. The first trial of this system resulted in a huge mass of rock and gravel whizzing down to sea level into the waiting lighter where it broke through the deck of the lighter that promptly sank! Like a similar deposit across False Bay which also prompted the establishment of a mine (at Silvermine) near Fish Hoek, this black mineral failed to prove silver bearing ore which was mainly of Manganese.

At this stage, permit me to quote from a book published in his memory by his wife, Beryl soon after his death in 1950.

“The beginning of that road seemed so small and feeble – a few natives with picks, shovels and a few wheelbarrows and one white man starting on a nine-mile road that was surveyed to pass through thick rock in some places. Jack was delighted and said it was a beginning and that he would not allow anything to stop its steady progress. By constant pressure he got more men and more equipment, more people interested and more money. Even the war did not cause any delay for he found ways, all honest ways, of getting the military to help him.”

Such was the man and this coastal road is a wonderful memorial to Jack Clarence and his vision for the project and to Jan de Reuck for his genius as a constructor. It is sad to note that, when many years later, the Administration agreed to upgrade this route and to acknowledge Jack Clarence as the moving spirit behind the project, no public tribute was made to Jan de Reuck for his contribution. The official reason for this decision was that he was simply doing the job for which he had been paid. Thus bureaucracy rewards its hero’s!

Scenic coastal drive

Reports have emerged to the effect that this road was built by Italian prisoners of War. This is not correct and in any event the progress of the War in its earliest years certainly did not offer a source of labour until much later, after 1942, when thousands of Italians surrendered after the Allies victories in North and East Africa, particularly after project Compass when the mass of prisoners captured became problematic. Many Italian captives were used to build roads and public works after 1942, a singular example being the du Toits Kloof mountain road to Worcester. A significant number of these Italians elected to stay on after the War becoming South African citizens who have continued to make major contributions to the country’s economy.

In fact the labour force available to Jan de Reuck consisted exclusively of black African convicts. In those days the restrictions which the Law applies to this activity today didn’t exist and blacks built this road and much else. At the outset, it seems that the men were transported to site daily from a temporary gaol near Gordon’s Bay. Later this plan involved far too great a delay and an interim gaol was built at Kogel Bay. This was a very primitive structure and evidence of its existence near the point where the stream at Kogel Bay debouches on to the beach has vanished.  I remember seeing   traces of these buildings early in 1946 when my family travelled out to Hangklip for the first time.

In order to regularise the situation and to make a more permanent place to house this labour force it was decided to build a fairly modern gaol beside the Main Road at Pringle Bay. Eventually this gaol was built and used to house around two hundred convicts. When labour was required for any construction work on the Estate, it became the practice to hire small gangs of convicts from this gaol and, if I remember correctly, they earned five shillings per diem for their work. In addition, a guard was required for any group of more than five convicts and the user was required to provide 10 shillings per guard and food for the group, per day.

When the time came for my father to start work on his land at Rooi Els, he hired groups of convicts of from five to ten members. He became interested in these men and took every possible opportunity to talk to them about their troubles. Most of these convicts had been sentenced to ‘life with hard labour’ which implied that they had committed very serious offences. It became obvious that much labour was likely to be needed both to finish Clarence Drive but also for the upgrading and further building of roads and pipelines at Hangklip. For this reason the Estate built the gaol at Pringle Bay (which was visible on the right as we drove over the river bridge at the Pringle Bay turnoff ).  This building housed over two hundred convicts and the staff needed for their control and management.

The huge building consists of a four-square block with the front portion used to house the Gaolers and guards needed for the management of the large number of criminals the place housed. The three remaining blocks contained cells each housing about forty convicts and five smaller cells in a punishment block for recalcitrant or difficult men. In the centre of the building a quadrangle contained a raised platform on which a pipeline system with sprinklers was mounted for convicts to wash their clothes – and themselves. Cold water, of course!

With changes in the Law after 1948 it ceased to be legally acceptable for offenders to be sentenced to hard labour and the Estate could no longer support the cost of housing two hundred convicts without their labour being available. The gaol was therefore abandoned, some years later being bought by the Estate Manager, Mr Roy Makepeace, with the intention of establishing a caravan park and back-packer hostel.

Years later in 1958 when my family was asked to vacate the Radar Station at Hangklip and I had decided to build on our Rooi Els property, we were offered the use of one of the gaoler’s flats as a base from which to work and gave me access to the place which I explored. The gaol had water borne sewerage , of course, and once this became blocked, I had the nasty task of opening up the manholes on the upper level of the septic tank the size of small tennis court to clear the problem.  The cost of feeding this number of convicts was a major factor and the land immediately below the gaol and along the bank of the Buffels River was levelled, irrigated and used to produce almost all of the vegetables needed by the labour force. In course of his chats with his convicts (!) father told me that they were very happy with their circumstances and particularly valued the food they ate.

When I came to occupy the gaol (voluntarily!) and was exploring the surrounding land I came across an aqueduct built to bring water from the outflow of the Buffels River Dam to the vegetable lands along the Buffels river bank.  As this offered me an interesting   project, I decided to repair this water source. Over many weekends, with a long-suffering friend, we worked to fix gaps in the ditch. Success eventually greeted our efforts and a very large amount of water arrived at the gaol one night, when we were having a braai. Lacking much foresight, I had made no arrangement to direct this water if it ever arrived and had not done anything to control what soon became a flood; we had to breach the aqueduct to avoid being washed into the river. As far as I know this aqueduct is still  in existence.