Archive for March, 2008

Waterford Hills Historic Footage

Growing up in the Detroit area, I spent a lot of Saturdays in the stands at Hilltop Turn with a polish sausage watching the races at Waterford Hills Road Racing circuit. In August each year, the track hosts a vintage race in conjunction with the Meadowbrook Coucours dé Elegance down the street in Rochester Hills. And while I’d seen many a vintage car wheeling around the corners at Waterford Hills, I’ve never given much thought to the history of the track itself – that is until a member of their discussion forum, Joe, pointed out that he’d uploaded some old film of the track to youtube.

Details were a bit sparse, just that the old 8mm film can had “1959-1964” written on it. Wonderful stuff.

Head on down to the track for their 50th Anniversary vintage race weekend August 1-3, 2008. If it’s anything like the many race weekends I’ve spent there, it’ll be a wonderful time at a wonderful little track.

Somehow Waterford Hills just keeps hanging on, despite the urban sprawl that has seen McMansions sprouting up around this once rural track. Thankfully they’re continuing to win the fight to shut down more and more small tracks around the country and keep us from featuring Waterford Hills in our “Lost Tracks” series. Got a favorite small-scale track you’d like us to feature, share it in the comments.

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Lost Track: Brynfan Tyddn

Starting Line of the 55 Brynfan TyddnFollowing up on our last classic track piece on the Bridgehampton road circuit, let’s look at another track featured in the Last Open Road series of books. The Brynfan Tyddn road course saw action from 1952-56. “Brynfan Tyddn” is Welsh for “Large Farm on the Hilltop”, and consisted of a winding road around T. Nowell Wood’s 690 acre lake house estate. The race was an offshoot of a long running hillclimb event, the “Giant’s Despair”.

The running gag about the course in the book is how dangerous and tight the course is, despite it’s 3.5 mile track length. Looking at photos from the era, it’s not hard to see why. The road surface looked like crumbling asphalt barely a lane and a half wide, and looks more like a golf-cart track than a racing circuit – even in the days of back country racing of the early ’50s. Despite these shortcomings, the track drew huge numbers of fans and some interesting racers and cars. Carrol Shelby won this race in 1956 driving a Ferrari 500 Testa Rossa in what would be the last race for the course due to a track fatality.

But the 2.5 liter Ferrari’s win seems to have been an exception at Brynfan Tyddn as the course was historically dominated by smaller displacement racers: Keifts, Porsches, MGs, Siatas, and OSCAs. In fact, in the earliest years of the race, cars were limited to 1900cc engines. Perhaps maintaining the lower displacement rules would have kept the ’56 race safer and would have seen many more years circling Mr. Wood’s property.

Formula3 at Brynfan TyddnLike the bulk of the road courses of the ’50s, the roads are still there, here’s a link to a Google map of the roads that made up the course, along with an approximate location of the start finish line. If you head out there, send me a photo.

Further Reading:

Also worth checking out is this scan of a 1952 Road & Track report from that summer’s outing.

You can buy prints of Carrol Shelby’s race and a brace of MGs from Wheels on Walls. Lots of great racing prints available there to cover your garage with.

Finally, here’s a lovely history of the races, complete with several records and other race results.

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Everyone has a favorite.

Porsche 550 on the roadAnd this is mine. The Porsche 550 Spyder is the slipperiest little roadster I could ever want. One has recently come available – now i only need $1.6million. donations?

This particular example was piloted by American Zora Arkus-Duntov and Frenchman Auguste Veuillet to a class win in the infamous ’55 24 Hours of LeMans. For that race, this Spyder chassis #550-0048 averaged over 137kph fitted with a 1100cc motor. Smaller than the typical 1500cc 4-cam. This particular year’s 1100cc class was fairly heavily contested, with Coventry-Climax entries from Kieft, Lotus, and Cooper.

550-0048 also went on to take an overall win at the Swedish Grand Prix with Richard von Frankenberg at the wheel. An astonishing win, besting much more powerful cars including a Mercedes 300SL, Jags, and Maseratis. You can see why these early racing models earned Porsche the “Giant Killer” moniker.

Later, the car was campaigned in the ’56 Mille Miglia and was road tested by Road & Track. For these, it’s engine was upgraded to the 4-cam 1500cc. The car then fell out of the public eye, reappearing now on Kidston’s site. The Kidston listing for this car says she is supplied with 2 engines – is it both the LeMans class winning 1100 and the magnificent 4-cam?

550-0048 historic shot This photo shows 550-0048 bearing racing number 49 in the wet conditions of the ’55 Le Mans. Could you ever want anything more beautiful for your garage?

Be sure to check out the informational pdf at Kidston for complete details on this example, including many more period photos of 550-0048 in action here.
Thanks to Octane for posting about this marvelous car.

Update: 550-0048 sold at Coys’ Légende et Passion auction in Monté Carlo on the 10th of May for an astounding £708,338. Congratulations to her new caretaker and I hope you get her on the track some time.

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Lost Track: The Bridge

In the first of what I hope to make a long series here on the Chicane, let’s take a look at the sadly defunct track at Bridgehampton.

I’ve recently been plowing through the marvelous Last Open Road series of books by B.S. Levy. The series follows a young small-town auto mechanic as he throws himself headlong into the burgeoning sportscar racing scene of the early 1950s. We get to see through Buddy’s eyes the first race he attends at the street course in Bridgehampton, NY.

Bridgehampton hosted auto races on its streets since 1915. Following a fatal crash at Watkin’s Glen in 1952, the state of New York put a quick end to street racing on state highways. A group of enthusiasts, however, came together in 1953 and purchased a 550 acre plot of land that would ultimately house the 13 turn, 2.85 mile course.

A parcel of land that is now a golf course.

Bridgehampton Race Map overlayHere’s a Google maps screen grab of the current golf course with the track map laid over it; they’ve actually preserved a few turns and part of the main straight. Here are some photos of the site as it exists today. Follow that link to see some shots of the main straight, the blind 1st turn, and the Chevron bridge over the track. At least they didn’t make the whole thing a damn putting green.

Photos of the track in it’s heyday abound online, here are just a few:
Alfa discussion forum member Lowmileage collected a few in this thread.
Here’s a set on fotki. (lots of Can-Am era shots here).
Here’s pbraun’s set on Flickr.

On the bright side, there was some effort to maintain the track as late as 1999, as this New York Times article points out. It’s a good read for a quick introduction to the track and some of the legal wrangling that happens when people move to a neighborhood that has a long-established race track and then decide that race tracks are too loud.

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Whew.. That Was One Hell of a Drought

RS Spyders at Sebring. Photo ©American Le Mans SeriesWell the boys from Stuttgart are finally drinking from the Sebring victory cup once again. Porsche can add another notch to their “Winningest Team at Sebring” belt, after 18 years since their last overall win in Florida.

Penske drivers Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Emmanuel Collard piloted their RS Spyder to the overall win in a monstrous race that saw 27 lead changes, and featured 3 cars finishing on the lead lap — a close race indeed after 12 hours. The win also makes Penske the only race team in history to win both the Sebring 12 Hours and the Daytona 500. Team Dyson’s RS Spyders finished 2nd and 3rd for a 1,2,3 Porsche finish in LMP2. Lovely.

Prior to this win, Porsche hadn’t finished on the top of the podium since 1988, when Klaus Ludwig and Hans-Joachim Stuck took their 962 to victory. The 1988 win was the final race in a 13 year winning streak for Porsche. 13 years!

Porsche also won the GT2 class with victory from the Flying Lizard Motorsports team in a GT3 RSR piloted by Joerg Bergmeister, Marc Lieb and Wolf Henzler. The Flying Lizards also finished 2nd. Not a bad weekend for Porsche, 1,2,3 in LMP2 and 1,2 in GT2. Congratulations to Porsche!

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1964 South Bend Region SCCA Autocross

This is the great thing about the internet in general, and YouTube in particular. How else would you have seen this incredible home movie shot in Mishawaka, Indiana of the mall parking lot gymkhana? YouTube has it’s share of useless videos, but the service done by Wloring in preserving this absolute gem and sharing it with us makes up for a whole lot of the jack-assery on the site.

According to the uploader, the cars and some of the drivers are (probably) :

Austin-Healey Sprite (Jeanne Ruble)
MG-B (Jack Harrell?)
MG-TD (Ed Steltner?)
repeats of above.
Formcar Formula Vee Jim Bell
Formcar Formula Vee Bert Olson
Mustang (note white sidewalls!)
Arnolt Bristol (F. P. “Wedge” Rafferty?)
Corvair coupe (Ray Hayes?)
Ferrari? (Bob Tarwacki?)
Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gull Wing Coupe (Carl Crowel)
Porsche 356 Coupe (possibly Lloyd Loring)
Austin-Healey 3000 (6 cyl)
VW Bug
Triumph TR-3 (F Production race car)
Porsche 356 Roadster (Bob Runeman)

And while we’ve learned that YouTube comments can be among the dumbest thing on the internet, the discussion about this particular video actually uncovered new information on the cars and drivers in this event. These are things that make the internet truly astounding — no matter how obscure the information, somebody out there knows something about it.

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Porsche Takes a Controlling Interest in VW.

I’m an unapologetic Porschephile. So in celebration of Porsche taking control of over 50% of Volkswagen, here’s a lovely video I stumbled across on YouTube. By “stumbled on”, I mean “found during my regular several hours a week of combing through YouTube for historic motorsport video”.

This incredible film from 1948 shows the first 356 roadster test drive with Ferdinand Porsche alongside an MG TC.


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