Shed Hero

But not any more... Peter Frost in­tro­duces his Iron Cur­tain clas­sics

Practical Classics (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS AN­DREW ROBERTS PHO­TOS LAURENS PAR­SONS

Peter Frost’s fab­u­lous col­lec­tion of Eastern Bloc cars.

It all be­gan years ago, muses Peter Frost. ‘I was very poor and it was all could af­ford.’ Mr Frost is nat­u­rally re­fer­ring to his on­go­ing in­ter­est in ma­chin­ery from the for­mer Soviet Bloc, which started when ‘I be­gan to ride mo­tor­cy­cles from East Ger­many, Cze­choslo­vakia and the USSR in the late Sev­en­ties when most peo­ple were opt­ing for Ja­panese mar­ques. I used th­ese to com­mute to work’.

By 1986, de­spite (or maybe be­cause of) Peter not­ing ‘a cer­tain amount of prej­u­dice to­wards East Euro­pean cars’, he bought a Skoda Estelle 130GL and a Lada Riva Es­tate. The lat­ter ‘was a good work­horse for com­mut­ing 100 miles per day. I clocked 40,000 miles in 18 months. The only real prob­lems were the poor stan­dard of ser­vic­ing – the me­chan­ics work­ing on them weren’t the best qual­ity – and you could lac­er­ate your hands on the body’s sharp edges’. The ab­so­lute star of Peter’s col­lec­tion is a 1963 Wart­burg 311 Luxus-limou­sine, com­plete with wooden door cap­pings and a full-length sun­roof de­not­ing its sta­tus as a de luxe model. ‘I’ve owned it for 24 years,’ he says. ‘Orig­i­nally it was chauf­feur-driven trans­port for a Pol­ish fac­tory boss and af­ter he re­tired the driver car­ried on us­ing it.’ The Wart­burg was pro­duced be­tween 1956 and 1965 and it was of­fered in right-hand drive form in the UK, but a chap like Peter nat­u­rally

re­quires a car with a much more in­ter­est­ing his­tory – ie one that was ‘smug­gled out of the coun­try, as this one was!’

Peter bought the 311 in 1992, when it was in a very tired con­di­tion. ‘The pre­vi­ous owner in Poland had used it to com­mute in. Of course, find­ing parts is a chal­lenge at times, but prin­ci­pally I first had to cure some more fun­da­men­tal prob­lems, such as worn out brakes.’ And there were fur­ther chal­lenges. ‘All of the trim was miss­ing from one side – I man­aged to ob­tain the two flashes, but the rest I had to make,’ ex­plains Peter. In all, it took ‘three to four months to make the Wart­burg road­wor­thy, but three to four years to ob­tain the right parts and to gen­er­ally clean it up.’

From the sin­is­ter to the plain silly

The 311 Luxus-limou­sine looks rather jaunty, al­beit in a Party Of­fi­cial kind of a way, but the same can­not re­ally be said of his 1990 Ta­tra T613. It’s sober, in­deed men­ac­ing, ap­pear­ance is wholly ap­pro­pri­ate for its orig­i­nal work­place. ‘It came from North Korea, where Ta­tras were used by the po­lice,’ says Peter. ‘Com­pared to other 613s, you no­tice the raised front seats, as it was go­ing to be used by short driv­ers, and a lack of air con­di­tion­ing, elec­tric win­dows or cen­tral lock­ing. It is also ru­moured to have a high-com­pres­sion en­gine, and per­haps it does feel a tad more pokey than other Ta­tras.’

The Ta­tra was found in the in the UK in 1996. ‘It was in a ne­glected con­di­tion and had been un­used for three years. It needed a lot of re­fur­bish­ing and fet­tling,’ re­flects Peter. In terms of parts: ‘ev­ery­thing was dif­fi­cult!’ One par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge was that car had very few el­e­ments in com­mon with other Ta­tra mod­els. ‘Apart from odd things such as bear­ings or brake pads most of the car is unique,’ he de­clares. To­day, the car is a vivid re­minder of the sort of ve­hi­cle favoured by the Min­istry of Peo­ple’s Se­cu­rity dur­ing the Nineties – a ve­hi­cle that you would not wish to en­counter un­der al­most any cir­cum­stances.

The next mem­ber of the col­lec­tion is a ve­hi­cle that be­came a cliché in the early Nineties – the Tra­bant 601. ‘It was made in Novem­ber 1989 and it was first sold in East Ger­many. I bought it circa 1996,’ says Peter. How he ac­quired the Tra­bant is a story that com­mences in the finest tra­di­tion of a Le Carré novel. ‘One evening, I re­ceived a mys­te­ri­ous ‘phone call,’ he re­veals. How­ever, in­stead of Ge­orge Smi­ley sug­gest­ing a clan­des­tine meet­ing with a KGB con­tact some­where in Bayswa­ter, it was some­one of­fer­ing him a Tra­bant for £50! ‘At that time, I had no means of col­lect­ing it, so they came around that night and af­ter monies were ex­changed they left the car on my drive­way’.

Mean­while, lurk­ing in the cor­ner of the shed is a diminu­tive car that makes the Tra­bant seem pos­i­tively lux­u­ri­ous – a 1967 Velorex 16/350. ‘In Cze­choslo­vakia th­ese were al­lo­cated to the poor or the dis­abled,’ con­firms Peter – a rea­son­ably alarm­ing idea, given that the coach­work is essen­tially vinyl fab­ric over a tubu­lar steel frame like a pram hood. Power is from a Jawa twin-cylin­der

350cc mo­tor­cy­cle en­gine that was mod­i­fied for car use and the trans­mis­sion fea­tures Dy­nas­tart. ‘It means four speeds for­wards and four speeds back­wards,’ ex­plains Peter. ‘I’ve owned it since 1993 but I have not yet driven it on the roads. So far I have done very lit­tle to it, as I’ve been grad­u­ally gath­er­ing parts, but I now have vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing I need. I’ll be get­ting it Mot’d soon and I’m look­ing for­ward to driv­ing it to all sorts of places.’

Some more usual sus­pects

Some­what more fa­mil­iar to British mo­torists is the green 1980 Skoda 110R Coupe. ‘This is one of the last ones made; I came by her around 2009/2010,’ says Peter. An­other car that was not un­com­mon in the UK dur­ing its prime is his 1986 Wart­burg 353 Tourist, which was orig­i­nally ex­ported to Bel­gium where it was bought be a British driver. It joined the Frost col­lec­tion in 2010: ‘I bought it in the UK and it needed a fair amount of work. I fit­ted a new cylin­der­head and I also had to re-plumb the cool­ing sys­tem.’ At the mo­ment it is pend­ing some more me­chan­i­cal work. ‘The seats also need some re­fur­bish­ing be­cause the front ones are made of odd parts, but I do have a set of brand new fac­tory cov­ers.

Nat­u­rally, a col­lec­tor of Peter’s cal­i­bre has more in­trigu­ing cars tucked away in the cor­ners of his out­build­ings – and who could fail to be im­pressed by his 1971 Za­porozhets 968, the archetype Soviet ‘peo­ple’s car’ of the Sev­en­ties.

Peter’s col­lec­tion does not just en­com­pass Soviet Bloc ve­hi­cles, though – he has been a mi­cro­car en­thu­si­ast for many years. ‘I bought this 1960 Berke­ley T60 around 1980. She was then in a bad way; one of the front wheels had been

torn right off and the sus­pen­sion needed ex­ten­sive re­pairs,’ says Mr Frost. So he em­barked on his first ever restora­tion, car­ried out, in his words: ‘with more en­thu­si­asm than ta­lent’. He used the Berke­ley for a few years and for while it was his only car. ‘I even went to work in it and I car­ried a pas­sen­ger much of the time! It was tech­ni­cally a hard­top, but that is re­moved and the ‘heater’ is a roll-neck sweater and a woolly hat. It was de­light­ful to drive, but I am bi­ased as I like two-strokes’.

The Berke­ley was taken off the road in 1990 and Peter has started its sec­ond restora­tion. ‘Luck­ily I had al­most an­other car’s worth of me­chan­i­cal parts,’ he says. Cir­cum­stances con­spired to de­lay the work, but it’s next on his ‘to do list’. When it’s re­stored, it will join an­other three-wheeler in Peter’s rolling ros­ter – a 1971 AF Spi­der. Cre­ator Alexan­der ‘Sandy’ Fraser wanted to repli­cate the pre-war Mor­gan for­mula for mo­torists of the Six­ties and Sev­en­ties, although only seven Spi­ders were made from 1969-80. Peter’s bought his ex­am­ple as a wreck in 1982, and out of all of his cars it at­tracts the most at­ten­tion. ‘The old boys think it is a Mor­gan and some peo­ple think it is am­phibi­ous be­cause it is wooden!’ he chuck­les.

Road-go­ing cars on a rota

‘Ev­ery­thing gets ro­tated so that I don’t for­get to use one!’ says Peter when asked about his cars’ ex­er­cise regime. ‘That way they all get used. The lo­cal Eastern Euro­pean com­mu­nity recog­nises the Wart­burgs and Tra­bant and I re­ceived a round of ap­plause from the guys at the car wash! Over the past 20 years, there has been a change in at­ti­tudes to such cars.

The Frost menagerie also en­com­passes a Syrena and a Mikrus from Poland, along with a Wart­burg 313 Sports and a Melkus RS 1000. A Volga M21 is on his shop­ping list and he’s never owned a Moskvich.

But back to the ex­ist­ing fleet, and it is time to im­press the denizens of Uxbridge with a Wart­burg 311 Luxus-limou­sine in full spate. We travel cloaked in a blue cloud of two-stroke ex­haust fumes and mys­tery, with peo­ple lit­er­ally stop­ping and star­ing. In a world where ‘in­di­vid­u­al­ity’ is fre­quently seen as a mar­ket­ing con­cept and ‘post-modern irony’ still stalks the streets, the Peter Frost Col­lec­tion stands proud. Or, as Mr Frost him­self puts it: ‘As a boy I read

The Ob­server’s Book of Au­to­mo­biles – and that book is re­spon­si­ble for my tastes in cars!’

BELOW The 311 is a top of the range model; this one was smug­gled out of Poland.

BELOW The level of lux­ury a chauf­feur for a Six­ties Pol­ish cap­tain of in­dus­try could ex­pect.

RIGHT What pow­ers a Six­ties Pol­ish limo? A 992cc two-stroke three-cylin­der!

The 311 was built in the Eis­nach plant in the for­mer East Ger­many, formerly run by BMW. And the qual­ity shows.

BELOW You want in­di­vid­u­al­ity? This has go to be hard to beat.

LEFT Af­ter much work on Peter’s part, the Wart­burg has proven to be a re­li­able beast.

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