The Little Egyptian Cars That Couldn’t Quite
When you hear the name Ramses II, also spelled Ramesses or Rameses, the first thing that will probably come to mind is images of dusty monuments. The name evokes the great spread of golden sands below wide, ancient pyramids, the vast history of Egyptian art, long lost treasure and discovered tombs, filled with booby traps, ornately decorated sarcophagi and remarkably preserved mummies of the long ago rulers of the Egypt of story books. When you hear the name Ramses II, you do not think of cars.
But perhaps you should.
Egypt in the 1950s was fraught with chaos. Following World War II, Egypt had tried to wrestle ownership of the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean and Red Seas across Egypt. It had been completed by French workers in the 1800s, and for nearly 90 years after remained largely under French and British control. In July of 1956, then President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, seized the canal, leading to invasions by Israel, France and England. By 1957, troops had pulled back, but Egypt hardly remained a safe or peaceful place for British ex-patriots like Raymond and Neville Flower, who had been working to develop a racing scene halfway across the world from home.
Edmund Flower, their father, had set up Cairo Motor Company in 1908, first selling British then some American cars in Egypt and several countries surrounding. The Flower boys, first through work with their father and later running the business on their own, began raking in the dough. Rolls Royces were hot in Egypt in the 1940s, as imports were the only things available. But not for long.
Following the fubar with the Suez Canal, President Nasser closed the door to imported cars, but not to their materials. Thus, the Flowers imported the parts and built them on site. Raymond Flower’s interest and enthusiasm for racing led to the production of the Phoenix 2SR6 a hodgepodge collectively created from the minds of several designers, racers and enthusiasts from all over the world.
But the Phoenix never got its day in the sun. It was the Egyptian ‘national car’ and President Nasser took it to the Suez Canal, a move decidedly unimpressive to the French, who refused its entry to the 1956 Le Mans race. Its next attempt was foiled too, when engine problems forced the Phoenix out of the 1956 Reims, circumstances which were often whispered about as sabotage.
The Flower boys soon left Egypt, but the country continued to try its hand at car production – the Phoenix Frisky Microcar later the Meadows Frisky, but those cars are far more famous for introducing Neville Flower to Giovanni Michelotti, one of the automotive world’s most important partnerships, producing some of the most iconic sports cars and roadsters.
And of course, in the era of state sponsored cars, there was the Ramses II, another journey of lost potential, poor craftsmanship and not quite success. Unlike the relics and ancient rulers for which the Ramses II was named, Egypt’s history of automotive production and the masterminds behind style, design and sales, have largely been lost to the sands of time. Perhaps it is time to dig up their graves and see what we can glean from automotive stories that have long been forgotten – after all, there is much to be learned from the car history of a country never known for its cars.
Photo: Ramses II – Selected from Wikipedia Commons