Archive for February, 2011

Sebring in the Rain, 1959.

From Nigel Smuckatelli’s tremendous Flickr stream comes this alarming bit of late-50’s sportscar madness.

The 1959 Sebring 12 Hours practice sessions bedeviled the teams with frequent hard downpours. Despite being able to prepare for rain during the main event, it looks from this footage that the sliced tires that passed for rain-tech in the day weren’t quite up to snuff. The first half of the race started normally enough; with Ferraris and Lister-Jaguars battling it out for the top spots. At half distance though, the sky opened up and that’s when this footage kicks in.

Here you’ll see Ricardo Rodriguez’s OSCA hydroplane and spin. He brought the car home in 47th, which looks from the results to be the second to lowest finishing car—although given the low displacement, it was within 90 seconds of the Index of Performance winning Laureau/Armagnac D.B. Panhard. Later Bob Holbert’s Porsche RSK performs a similar dance move, but he fared better in the race overall with a class win (fourth overall). Robert Roloson’s Stanguellini though, ups the ante with the terrifying crash at the close of the video; Hitting a pole hard and flying up in the air like your little brother’s Hot Wheels. Despite the car being destroyed by the hard crash, Robert can be seen jogging out of harm’s way in the aftermath, after the Stanguellini is lifted up off of him by a group of 6 or 8 people(!). Terrifying!

Nigel says that the car’s owner, Sandy MacArthur, sold the wreck for $100 and the drivetrain and rear axle found its way into a Crosley Special.

We last looked at the 1959 Sebring 12 Hours in August of 2009.

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Track Map of the Past: Spa-Francorchamps

Although this map of the 14.1km version of Spa-Francorchamps might look needlessly complicated, I’m particularly drawn to the data table on the left side. Set your ear on your shoulder and you’ll see an obvious, but clever, bit of quantitative display. Not only does this show the elevation changes of the track, but does it one better by showing the elevation of the track at each point in the track. Despite the complication, I’m surprised that something like this wasn’t more popular in track maps. More than anything else I’ve seen, this shows not only that there was a dramatic elevation change at Spa, but that the changes were almost constant and not simply a hill along one straight and a dip along another. Excellent.

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Available in the UK: John Surtees' 4-Cam 356

John Surtees owned this car for 20 years, and I’m sure it provided plenty of smiles after his retirement (of sorts) from the track. But it isn’t the first Porsche 356 that has spent time in the Surtees stable. His first was a Super 90. He wrote of it in his Supercars I Have Known:

“My father knew the Aldingtons at AFN, the Porsche agents, so I ended up with a 356 Super 90 that had been used as a demonstrator and had hardly any miles on the clock, It was a marvellous little car, but you had to be very wide awake to drive it, In those days we didn’t have such a variety of tyres, so we couldn’t change the handling characteristics of a car: today, people say cars of that period handle well and are fun after trying them on modern radial-ply tyres. You have to remember that our tyres were much more primitive.”

It seems Surtees changed his opinion of the bathtub Porker in the years between these two experiences. Of course, perhaps the tires have something to do with it. Then again, perhaps there’s also an ocean of difference between a Super 90 and a Carrera 2. I’ve never driven either, but would love to know first-hand… invitations will be accepted 🙂

This car on offer (chassis YKE250A) is 1 of only 437 Carrera 2 variants produced. Which makes it a gem already, with the ownership history of the only Formula 1 AND motorcycle world champion, it’s quite a rare beast indeed. The car was restored in ’98 by Team Surtees themselves, which sweetens the deal in my eyes, with mechanical help from 4-cam maestro Robert Garretson (with parts supplied directly from Porsche).

Some look at the Carrera 2 and see nothing but a plain-jane 356 plus the added headache of 4-cam maintenance. There’s something I find alluring, however, about the non-descript supercar. A bit of a wolf in—well, not a sheep—maybe a wolf in less-intimidating-wolf’s clothing aspect that feels right to me. Capable. Not flashy.

Today the car is available from the Coys showroom sales department. More info on their inventory details page.

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How to Make One of the Greatest TV Ads

Making of the Shell/Ferrari ad “Circuit”:

The ad in question:

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Is this the Allard that Ended American Road Racing?

The title of this post might seem hyperbolic at first, but in many ways it’s fair to say that the Fred Wacker Allard J2 made the American public think twice about opening their streets to road racing. The early 1950s were an amazing time for American racing; a time when both enthusiasts and local governments were having a remarkable love affair with street racing. Small towns could close their streets for a weekend, invite some barnstorming sports car drivers to town to have a bit of a race, and tens of thousands of spectators would flood the town’s restaurants and hotels. There seemed no end to the tourism and local business dollars that could be raised for little more than the cost of some hay bales and few extra police officers on duty.

The Fred Wacker Allard J2 at the 1950 running of the Watkins Glen Road Races

That romance came to a swift and brutal breakup during the 1952 running of the Watkins Glen road races, when this Allard piloted by Chicagoan Fred Wacker (a fascinating sportsman that I’m sure we’ll examine in greater depth in the future) had a brief tussle with a Cunningham. During the second lap of the featured race of the weekend, Wacker was following the Briggs Cunningham and John Fitch Cunninghams up Franklin Street as they approached the state park. Fitch began to prepare for the right hander by heading to the left side of the racing line, crowding Wacker’s Allard. They both swerved a bit when they realized how close they were to one another: Fitch back to the right, Wacker edging more to the left; closer to the throngs of spectators at the side of the street. The Allard’s back end came out slightly, clipping the curb and throwing the car’s rear into a group of people sitting on the curb(!). A 7 year old boy was killed, and 10 others were injured.

Fred Wacker and crew at the 1950 Watkins Glenn

There had been injuries at other runnings of American road races, including the fatal crash of Sam Collier during the 1950 Watkins. While safety efforts ramped up a bit, the bulk of the danger seemed limited to the drivers. If these swashbuckling racing drivers wanted to take their lives in their own hands, communities continued to allow in on their streets. Once spectators were in harm’s way, however, community sponsored road racing all but dried up overnight. The close-call between drivers and an overcorrection to avoid a crash happens dozens of times every race weekend, but the proximity of spectators turned what should have been a minor racing incident into a tragedy for the sport.

It’s easy to mourn the loss of small-town races, and easy to imagine how great they might have grown through the 50’s had this crash not spotted the entire sport in American eyes. But the truth is that spectator safety standards were so lacking that it was only a matter of time before an incident like this would have happened. Even so, it’s a shame that rather than take more gradual steps to increase safety for spectators and drivers, we saw the rapid extinction of the road race. While that extinction created the great American racing palaces that would come (Road America, Lime Rock, The Glen), I would sure like to see (legal) wheel-to-wheel racing on public roads again.

More photos at the Allard Registry, as well as this fascinating recollection of the ’52 race from an eyewitness to the crash. Thanks to Paul for the contemporary photos of the J2.

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Scarabs and Stingrays at Meadowdale

Worth it for the trackside narration alone!

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De Portago's Life in Racing

Seeing this color photo of Alfonso de Portago (among the last captured before his fatal crash) on Automobiliac last summer, I was inclined to agree with Bradley that there’s something haunting about it; an eeriness about how calm the moment seems, but with the dangerous proximity of the walls and the spectators and the nearby buildings hinting at what might happen when his tire catastrophically deflates moments later. Juxtaposed with this much earlier photo of young de Portago sitting pensively in his kiddie kart—before his legend as a racing driver and playboy would take hold—these bookends of de Portago’s life in motoring somehow makes the tragedy of his demise more palatable. Sure, it’s easy from my comfortable vantage point to romanticize the danger of the era and glorify those who died “doing what they loved”, but these photos of de Portago show that there might just be some truth to it.

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Fuchs Up Front, Minilites in the Back

Browsing through Flunder’s tremendous build thread on the Early 911S Registry forums, I was struck by this interesting phenomenon of the competition 911s of the early 1970s: Fuchs 7R fronts and Minilite 9×15 rear. The combination creates a marvelous stance and an interesting big & little wheel combination. Mismatched wheels may look a bit jarring to contemporary eyes, but there’s no question that it’s a racey look. This is racing, after all, and we’re after results, not beauty. If it just so happens to be beautiful—as I think it does in this case—then all the better. Some commenters have suggested that the wider Fuchs weren’t yet available, or weren’t as strong as the Minilites.

Flunder’s entire thread is worth a look. I was discussing with a friend recently the concept of rare parts hoarders. I’m sure you’ve run into a few, they’ll have benches full of rare race parts, mechanical fuel injection systems or period turbos wasting away in the corners of their basement. Usually I get grumpy about these folks, that they’re speculators holding onto parts for their increasing value with no intention of ever putting them into their cars.

Flunder has proven that there are still “good” parts collectors. After a 3 year search for a seemingly endless list of rare factory race parts (factory aluminum door skins, plexiglass, conrods, the works), he put together a stunning tribute to the Group 4 racers of the early 70s. “Tribute” is probably the wrong word, this thing is probably more authentic than most surviving Group 4 cars.

Thankfully, he also went with Fuchs in front and Minilites in the rear. It’s probably going to cause some folks to scratch their heads on the street, but it’s these small acts of courage that make me enjoy the vintage sportscar world so much.

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Heuer Rally-Master

From the instruction manual:


Perfect timekeeping with the Rally-Master combination.

The combination of an 8 day Master-Time with a Monte-Carlo timer on the same back plate permits simultaneous reading of the following times:

Time of day (official time) or Total elapsed time.

Time of trip or Elapsed time during a lap.

The Rally-Master is of invaluable help when timing check-points are to be passed free of penalties.

All Heuer dashboard instruments are designed to be mounted at no extra cost on double, triple or quadruple plates. Just order the combination desired.

Technical description of the Monte-Carlo and Auto-Rally timers:

Strong lever movement, 7 jewels, incabloc shock absorbers, unbreakable mainspring. Dials with luminous figures and hands. Case with turning bezel with luminous pointer (instruction for use on page 2).

Timing limit:
± 1/2 second p. hour or ± 6 seconds per 12 hours.

Running time:
24 hours.”

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Iowa's Greenwood Roadway 8mm

Quite a mixed field in this footage of the Greenwood Roadway shot by 8mm footage shot by the editor of the Record Herald, the late Richard C. White. Interesting that a Lotus 11, Corvette, and Porsche 550 are in the same grid.

The sweeping right hander at about 30 seconds looks terribly fun.

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