Monthly Archives: August 2015

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Action in the Ardennes

We can now all relax, the Spa 24 Hours is done and dusted. A famous victory was the result for the BMW of Marc VDS that lays to rest that team’s hoodoo in their local endurance classic. The Special Correspondent was something of a ‘crash magnet’ during the early hours of the race, it all kicked off where the Kemmel Straight turns into Les Combes. Remind me not to stand near him in future.

2015 Spa 24 Hours

The Duqueine Engineering Ferrari with team owner Gilles Duqueine at the wheel clattered the barriers, apparently losing control on the unforgiving tarmac.

2015 Spa 24 Hours

Sorting out the mess was complicated by the fact that the French businessman is a paraplegic, having been the victim of a serious road accident 30 years back. Since then he has become a respected racing driver, winning titles along the way. He will be back as he was unhurt in the incident, though the Ferrari was too damaged to continue.

2015 Spa 24 Hours

The Special Correspondent had just got his breath back when there was a copycat incident. Karim Ojjeh’s BMW getting airborne after hitting the same steel barrier.

2015 Spa 24 Hours

Karim was shaken by the accident, caused by a lockup on the downshift according to the telemetry. Otherwise he was OK.

2015 Spa 24 Hours

There will be a ‘Reflections on Spa 24 Hours’ along later this week.

Meanwhile here is a gallery to enjoy.

Words Between the Lines of Age

A despatch reaches DDC Towers from the Golden State, it is the latest literary output from our old friend, David Soares. He took his 911 for a spin last weekend, destination the NorCal Vintage VW and Porsche Treffen………..

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During the far-off days of the mid-20th Century, the Porsche Design Bureau’s Volkswagen Type 1 Käfer became the global icon of mobility for Everyman. Ben Pon’s Dutch spin-off, the Type 2 Kombi/Microbus/Samba was the gypsy traveller van for every long-haired seeker, surfer, and acid-tripper looking to turn-on, tune-in, and drop-out. One of my own earliest memories is of being driven in an open-top ’59 Beetle cabriolet to the Joan Baez children’s concert at the Berkeley Folk Festival, held on Sproul Plaza not long before it would become Ground Zero for the Free Speech Movement and the Revolution that would be televised.

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We Californians of a certain age have a special soft-spot for the lowly Volkswagen, and for Ferry Porsche’s special-bodied Käfer spin-off, the 356. Ferry wanted to market his car to the moth-eaten remains of the European aristocracy, but his former countryman Max Hoffman had a different pitch in mind. The Baron of Park Avenue asked for de-contented cars to sell to the Amerikaner as hot-rod Beetles, eventually overcoming Ferry’s initial resistance and mass-marketing thousands of Porsches such as the stripped-down Speedster to us posers. By the early ’70’s California was lousy with the rusted lace-like floors of old Bugs and Porsches being driven by anyone who had the floor-jack and bag of hand tools needed to cobble-up a motor. I looked at dozens of rusted sub-$900 356’s before my father bribed me with the promise of paid insurance cover if I bought something Japanese (I was able to get a Wankel-powered Mazda past him). I still pine for the freshly-restored ’57 Speedster that I had to pass-up because I couldn’t reach the required $4500. Today a $350K car.

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With all this automotive counter-cultural history buried deep within California’s psyche, a sort of anti-Pebble Beach has grown over the past 10 years into the NorCal Vintage VW and Porsche Treffen, an informal gathering of the tribe held the first Sunday of August at Dave Brubeck Park in the blue-collar town of Concord, east of the San Francisco-Berkeley axis. There is no pre-registration, $15 per car covers the city’s park-use fee, and participants are invited to “park wherever you like.” There’s no champagne bar, but there are a couple of urns of Starbucks in the morning, and at lunchtime a local taco truck shows up.

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The crowd and the cars are an eclectic bunch — a tribal meeting of old and new counter-cultures, drawn together by the anti-establishment symbolism of the cars of ’60’s revolutionaries and acid-rock icons, but attuned to both psychedelia and the hot-rodder’s innate sense of style. There were plenty of gray-beards, but the t-shirt was their uniform of the day, not the blue blazers now worn at the Lodge — ironically, their t-shirts give off much more of the vibe that I remember from my first Pebble Beach concours back in 1969 (my last was in 1991 when the vapid pretentiousness became unbearable). The youngsters sported plenty of ink beneath their flat-brim ball-caps and Pendleton shirts.

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What of the cars? Enough of my own pretense. I happened to have my camera along, and remembered that my friend Brooks suffers from a similar nostalgia for that brief moment when these little German cars symbolized some sort of hope for a more peaceful and egalitarian world — before LIBOR-rigging and wars-without-end made the very notion of the People’s Car something for weepy losers and dirty hippies. If you weren’t there, let me set the mood with the words of the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, from his non-fiction masterpiece, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972). No captions or recitations of provenance; let’s let the cars speak for themselves.
“There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda.… You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.…

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

David Soares, August 2015

Masters of Donington

Donington Masters Festival 2015

Further evidence of the strength of the Historic Racing movement in the UK was to be found at the Masters Festival held at Donington Park recently. Simon Hildrew was on hand armed with cameras and lenses………..

John Brooks August 2015

The Battle of Evermore

I have only a few rules in this house, not reposting stuff is one, but here I am breaking it. This piece deserves a second airing……..40 odd years gone and still burning brightly………….

All things considered I have been a lucky man, perhaps not in a financial sense, I have been too slow to really make more than a buck or two, but I have met many fine folks along the highway of life and I have been enriched by them in other ways. My old friend David Soares has brightened up my (and hopefully yours) day with this peek into that lost continent, the past. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Wealth is not only measured in monetary terms………….

Can Am 1972 Start

The title of Thomas Wolfe’s novel You Can’t Go Home Again has launched a thousand journalistic ruminations about the futility of searches for times lost but perhaps, like other ruminants, they’re simply contributing to climate change.  In opposition to this popular view, the Romans saw history as man’s long downfall from a past Golden Age and they aspired to restore the past, not to dismiss it.  This month I saw two tributes to our own past, which served to remind me that maybe we ought to stop re-inventing the wheel and just maybe aspire to revive our own Golden Age.

Paddock Pair Morning

The first was the recent Kennedy Center Honors for the boys who recorded at Bron-Y-Aur cottage forty years back.  After a pathetically American introduction by Jack Black, the now gray-haired Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones nodded politely at a few lame attempts at impossible covers.  It seemed as if the ghost of Keith Moon was in the room and that things were going over like the lead gas-bag he famously predicted.  Then Ann and Nancy Wilson (who long ago performed as a Led Zeppelin cover band before calling themselves Heart) took the stage accompanied by an orchestra and full chorus, along with the only man who can truly lay down a Bonzo percussion line, his son Jason Bonham.  From Ann Wilson’s first notes, their rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” was better than perfect.  By the climax of Shayne Fontaine’s note-perfect tribute to Stairway’s soaring solo, Jimmy Page was mouthing the cord changes and smiling beatifically while Robert Plant openly wept.  You can go home.  (See their performance here: http://youtu.be/JK_DOJa99oo)

Can-Am Rev 4

Ten days after, I went home to 1972 once again.  The proprietor of this website, Mr. Brooks, has been after me for years to purchase a decent scanner to digitize my trays of Kodachromes from the amazing early-‘70’s Laguna Seca Can-Am races that I’ve been carrying around since my boyhood.  There is no sight or sound like a field of thundering Group 7 cars taking the green on the front straight at Laguna, driven by the likes of Revson, Hulme, Donohue, Follmer, Siffert, Stewart, Andretti, Oliver, Cevert, Scheckter, Elford, and Redman.  I freely admit to having been warped for life by the experience by a monkey that I will never get off my back.

Can-Am Rev 5

My neighbor down the road, Bruce Canepa, recently began fettling George Follmer’s 1972 Can-Am championship-winning Porsche 917/10, chassis -003, for the new owner after handling the $5.5M sale this past August at Mecum’s Monterey auction.  The crew of his state-of-the art facility in Scotts Valley, California is handling several cars for the same enthusiast owner, including Peter Revson’s 1970 L&M Lola, Denny Hulme’s 1970 Can-Am championship McLaren M8D, and the ex-Jackie Oliver 1974 champion Shadow DN4 recently purchased from Don Nichols.  Bruce is no stranger to the mighty 1000-horsepower 917/10, having owned and raced the ex-Georg Loos chassis -017 for the past decade.  The car was to be rolled-out shortly after New Year’s at a private track day at Laguna Seca, where I had seen the car raced over 40 years ago.

Mark in 9 1972

Much has changed at what is now known as Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the four decades since the original Can-Am, but in many ways the start-finish straight is like it was when I was a teenager with hair hanging down below my shoulders and a borrowed range-finder camera.  The day began wet, just as the weekend did back in ’72, but in the afternoon the clouds parted and the track dried.  Mr. Canepa took -003 out for a few laps to warm the fluids and conduct a final systems check before turning the car over to its new owner.  Bruce came around for his final lap and I stood at the pit wall as he properly opened-up the throttles the way George Follmer did back in the day.  Suddenly, I was transported back in time by the whoosh of 12 air-cooled and turbocharged cylinders making a big chunk of their Metzger-designed 1000 horses.  The sight and sound of a 917/10 returned to its stunning white, red, and black L&M tobacco livery literally made me weak in the knees.

Follmer 72

What was special about those Canadian-American Challenge Cup races?  The races were, after all, just races.  The reason that we turned up every year was to see what was going to come off the trailers.  The fields of Group 7 were incredibly diverse.  Jim Hall introduced wings and sucker-cars for Hill and Elford; Gordon Coppuck’s papaya-orange Big Macs driven by Bruce, Denny, and Revvie were different every season and always better than the Trojan customer cars; Don Nichols’ AVS Shadows were truly innovative; Eric Broadly’s Lolas gave drivers like Surtees, Stewart, and Donohue something new and different; and Hans Metzger and Helmut Flegl changed the game with their 917 variants for Siffert, Donohue, and Follmer.  The amazing cars were reason enough to turn up, and in those days before Led Zeppelin performed at Bill Graham’s first stadium show, thousands did.

Mark D 1972

Most pundits have wanted to place blame for the demise of the Can-Am at the feet of Roger Penske and Mark Donohue, who with Metzger and Flegl developed 1972’s 917/10 into the amazing 1200-horsepower 917/30, but I will have none of it.  The year 1973 was the beginning of a long global economic crisis linked to oil.  Nobody had the budget to go racing in the unlimited class, and gas-hog 8-liter Chevy’s and 5.4 turbo Panzer’s were far from politically correct when most Americans were lining-up for hours to simply pump gas into their Pintos.  The result has been decades of spec and consumption-based sportscar formulae which lack the pizzaz and diversity of the Golden Age of the Can-Am.

Papaya Orange

Today, with the takeover of the ALMS by NASCAR’s Grand-Am subsidiary, we are again being fed more spec-formula pablum.  Close racing is promised, between the same cars and teams year after year.  No diversity.  No anticipation of seeing something new, different, and better.  The racing will be good, but if I want to see good racing I can watch the shit-boxes of the WTCC.  This is why Rich Guys lined-up transporters at Laguna to run a bunch of old cars rather than invest in spec-racers.

Can-Am Rev 2

As Robert Plant crooned 40 years ago in Stairway to Heaven, “Ooooh, it makes me wonder.”  Why can’t we go back?

Paddock Pair Left 1972

Kremer

LMB

Howmet

 

Follmer in 9

David Soares, January, 2013

 

Montlhéry Marvels

2015 JB General

The Special Correspondent and I paid a visit to L’autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry recently, the excuse being the Vintage meeting. It was a surprisingly enjoyable day, with a wide variety of cars to admire……here is a little of what I saw.

Rare and Interesting at the Techno Classica

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The Special Correspondent casts his eye around the halls of this year’s Techno Classica, as is his wont he uncovers some gems for our appreciation.

1937 Mercedes-Benz 230N
A rare Mercedes model. This beautifully preserved car has a 2.2-litre 6-cylinder side-valve engine and transverse leaf independent front suspension.
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Here is its cockpit. Only 38 of these cars were made.

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1925 Renault 40CV
This was Louis Renault’s attempt to compete in the luxury market with the likes of Hispano-Suiza, Maybach, Rolls-Royce and Isotta Fraschini. The basic model was introduced in 1921 and they were only made in limited numbers. This monumental car, the MN model, has the “new” losange Renault badge introduced in 1925. It was in this year that Renault took one of these cars fitted with a L’Avocat & Marsaud 4-seater open body to Montlhéry where it captured a host of records including the world’s 24 hour record at 87.65 m.p.h.
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This is what it’s like to sit in, still with the fashionable right-hand drive for luxury cars.

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Tatra 80
Still with luxury cars, this is the largest car made by this fascinating Czechoslovakian company, the work of the gifted Hans Ledwinka.
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It is powered by this impressive 5.99-litre V-12 uncharacteristically equipped with side valves – note the unusual dynamo drive on top of the engine at the back – and the rear suspension has a massive transverse leaf spring controlling the swing-axles. Again like the Renault it was aimed at the top luxury market and a mere 25 were built from 1930-35. The President of the Czech Republic, T.G. Masaryk, used one as did the Minister for Foreign Affairs, E. Beneš.
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Skoda Superb 640

We are used to regarding Skodas as excellent cars these days but before the Second World War and the subsequent onslaught of the Communist regime they made very fine cars.

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This is a typical example with a type name familiar today. This version has a 2.5-litre 6-cylinder side-valve engine giving 68 m.p.h. Only 201 of them were constructed between 1934-36.

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1931 DKW F1

There’s nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1 v9)! No, McLaren was not the first to name their road-car an F1 and Mini was not the first to use a transverse engine to drive the front wheels! This little DKW did both.

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It had a 2-cylinder 2-stroke unit mounted across the frame driving the front wheels although it did not take advantage of the space this layout afforded. It was Europe’s first high volume series production car with fwd and it offered the first competition to the motorcycle in Germany.

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1937 Lincoln Zephyr
The Zephyr was designed to fit into Ford’s model range between the Ford V8 and the up- market Lincolns. It was introduced in November 1935 for the 1936 year and was one of the first successful streamlined cars after the market failure of Chrysler’s Airflow. It had a V12 version of Ford’s flathead V8 and the car still used Ford’s transverse leaf suspension with rigid axles dating from the Model T! 15,000 were sold up to 1940.
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Just what is this, I hear you say? Well, it’s a Zaporoshets, a Russian small car, built in the Ukraine, and very popular in the Soviet Union for many years.

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As shown, it has a rear-mounted V4 engine of various small capacities.
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Bentley used the Essen Show to launch their new Mulsanne Blue Train model to commemorate the 85th anniversary of Woolf Barnato’s race with the Blue Train from the south of France to Calais.
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For much of the time since it was believed that Barnato used this elegant Gurney Nutting-bodied Speed Six but this was not the case – this car was not built until after the famous run! In fact Barnato used a Speed Six with a four-door saloon body by Mulliner.

TAILPIECE

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An 1897 Malicet & Blin single-cylinder car. This company did not really make cars but they were one of France’s main suppliers of components, especially chassis and steering gear, to the fledgling industry at the dawn of motoring.

David Blumlein August 2015