Roadmaster’s 20th Annual Cruise for Kids

It seems that the Roadmasters car club’s annual gathering is generally about the last cruise of the season, so I usually plan to attend. Even when we’re blessed with an Indian Summer, in the Pacific Northwest, the pleasant weather is bound to have ceased by Halloween.

Scheduling a cruise on the first Saturday of December is a crapshoot at best but—Hey! This is a Christmas themed affair so when else are you going to hold it? You get what you get when you plan an outdoor event in Vancouver, Washington on December 1st but I have to say, we lucked out this year. Saturday dawned cold yet clear and the droplets held off until early afternoon. Club president Art Wohlsein grabbed the microphone and finished passing out the homemade awards before anyone got wet.

It’s all for charity anyway with a truckload of new unwrapped toys and groceries going to the needy. The good folks that keep track of such things, report that contributions were up this year- not that last year was bad! This is a well-established gig with Benny’s hot rod /racing themed pizzeria providing the locale for the last thirteen meets. For added incentive, Benny’s prepares a special breakfast menu for attendees and kicks in some of their profits on the backside.

Eighty plus vehicles braved the cold to support the Cruise for Kids this year and it was a good mix of classics, retro rods, muscle cars and “what have you” (as Jack Corley might say!) When you procure your 2019 calendar, be sure to highlight the first Saturday of December. Just make sure those wipers are in good working order and pack a warm jacket. In all likelihood, you’re going to need them.

Auto Art

As I go about my business, making calls on various automotive oriented shops and attending select swap meets, I have noticed a trend. I am observing an increasing number of enthusiasts that have begun to create original objects of art. And they are now presenting them right alongside their other wares for viewing and possible purchase.

I’m not talking about shellacked river rocks with googly eyes or cute sayings but legitimate artwork created by real craftsmen. The objects themselves are as varied as conceivable- limited only by the imagination of their creator. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about…

I stumbled across Donnie Talbert’s art in a combination tire salon/service garage located in Stayton, Oregon. After I commented on his coffee and end tables, a friend of Donnie’s suggested that I meet with him personally and made the arrangements. Talbert is an unassuming young guy that is employed as a union glass worker. After spending a few minutes with him my gut feeling was, “This guy is the real deal—he possesses a true artist’s sole. He is sincere and totally committed to what he’s doing.”

I think some people would describe Talbert’s work as “steampunk” but it is so much more. He describes it as “motorcycle art” or “rat rod art” but I don’t think that is accurate either. Everything I saw required a high degree of engineering to execute. And everything I saw (unlike steampunk), looked clean and was brightly finished. The amount of time Talbert devotes to each table or lamp is clearly evident and reflected in his asking price. “I make unique art,” he proclaims. “No cookie cutter.” His artwork is lowbrow and high-end… simultaneously! I strongly urge everyone to check out his stuff on Instagram at: broken_gear_art.

By contrast, there is enigmatic Jim Nichols. I found his artwork in a second hand store in Sweet Home, Oregon. Nichols builds approximately twelfth scale vehicles out of cardboard, found objects and bits of this and that. I purchased his version of a ’32 Ford Roadster for a paltry fifteen dollars a couple years ago. When I returned to the shop a few months later, they had sold out of his creations save a stagecoach-like affair. The owner of the shop had no phone number or forwarding address for Nichols. He described him as “an old man” and that was the extent of the information I received. It is all together possible that Nichols is no longer among us…but man, what a creative guy! The proportions of my Roadster are damn close. It has opening doors, an opening trunk and a removable hood which reveals a detailed engine made of cardboard, duct tape, a plastic bottle cap and god knows what. The low profile roof is upholstered as is the interior. The wheels and tires are made from jar lids and caps. The headlights are bottle caps filled with clear RTV!

Nichols is/was very familiar with hot rod building and I have to wonder if he also built full scale models. If he is out there in reader-land or if anyone knows him, we would certainly like to hear from you. I know your fellow readers would enjoy seeing more of his work.

Finally, I make auto-themed shadowboxes (or memory boxes as some people call them.) I assembled my first one during the summer of 1974. It was high school themed because that’s where I was in my life in ‘74 but it included automobilia as I was already a committed car guy. Since then I have assembled many boxes with specific themes like: Early Hot Rodding, Early Nascar, Short Track (Hardtop) Racing, Bonneville, Midget Racing, Sprint Car Racing, Indianapolis, etc. I thoroughly enjoy the process and experience great satisfaction when I complete one. Generally, I give them away to close friends or family; I have donated them to fund raisers and presented them as trophies. I have actually sold a few.

From the beginning, my intention has never been money motivated. In fact, I’ve lost money on even the boxes I’ve sold. That is because the price of the boxes themselves plus the automobilia therein, cost me more than I can possibly charge for the finished shadowbox…but I’m okay with it.
I am compelled to create like Donnie Talbert whom I suspect will continue to build his amazing tables and lamps even if no one purchases them.

I wonder if Jim Lambert ever collected the fifteen dollars I paid for his Roadster?

A White Race Suit and a Pink Dodge Charger

Balladeer Marty Robbins is probably best remembered for the tremendous catalog of songs he recorded including ”El Paso” and “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation”. He would tell people repeatedly however, that he was as passionate about his auto racing as he was about song writing.

Born in Glendale, Arizona Robbins became enamored with racing at an early age. He followed the exploits of local standout Jimmy Bryan and the Bettenhausen family back at Indianapolis. When his musical career took him east to Nashville, Tennessee he found himself in a hotbed of short track activity. He attended a micro midget race in 1959 and officially launched his driving career shortly thereafter.

Typical of most racers, Robbin’s desire for more power soon led him to the V-8 powered hardtops at Nashville Speedway. 1962 found him piloting a magenta ’34 Ford coupe with a Thunderbird mill built by Preacher Hamilton. He used the vehicle to promote his new record album “Devil Woman” and even featured the car on the album’s jacket. It was in Nashville that Robbins established a huge fan base. He was a regular performer at the Grand Old Opry and on the popular 5/8th mile oval. He was known to pull off the racetrack early at times to traverse town for a live singing engagement. He always put his music first, understanding that one passion financed the other.

He evolved into a Mopar guy and in a corrugated tin garage behind his home, built his own modified using a ’64 Plymouth Belvedere body and a huge displacement Hemi engine. The engine was so large in fact, that once installed, there was no room for the radiator so he mounted it in the trunk. (The “777” car was discovered years later and restored by Ray Evernham for his television show “Americarna”).

The sixties were kind to Robbins and his wealth afforded him the opportunity to move up to NASCAR’s premiere division (what today would be the Monster Energy Drink Series). He purchased a ’71 Plymouth which Cotton Owens had constructed for Petty protégé Pete Hamilton. Robbins had the car reskinned as a Dodge and raced it for the first time in the Alamo 500 at Texas World Speedway. Owens maintained the car for the following nine seasons while Robbins tested his skill at all of NASCAR’s greatest venues: Daytona, Talladega, Michigan and Charlotte. He earned the respect of his contemporaries and all agreed that he had become a very capable racer. AII tolled he amassed thirty five career NASCAR starts. His best finish was a fifth in the Motor City 400 at Michigan in June of 1974. The event had particular significance to Robbins as one of his idols, Gary Bettenhausen finished directly in front of him.

A history of cardiovascular disease was what ultimately brought Marty Robbins down- that and his age by the time he reached the professional ranks. He drove in his last race, the Atlanta Journal 500 on 11/7/82 and died after open heart surgery the following month at the age of fifty seven.

Once during his rookie season, Robbins had stunned officials by turning in race laps that were fifteen miles per hour faster than he had qualified. At the conclusion of the event, NASCAR attempted to present him with honors but he stopped them in their tracks. He admitted to them that he’d cheated by messing with his carburetor.
“I just wanted to see what it was like to run up front for once,” he confessed.

Mr. Veeder’s Wild Ride

It wasn’t unusual for elderly Indy roadsters to be repurposed as short track cars. Many ended up at Oswego (NY) for example, competing as Super Modifieds. One 1957 Kurtis-Kraft 500 ventured west however, arriving in the Seattle area around 1960. I suspect that Ole Bardahl may have had a hand in this as his Ballard based additive company had a huge presence at the Speedway back in those days. In fact, in ’57 there were two Bardahl sponsored Kurtis roadsters in the 500. One was piloted by “Cactus” Jack Turner and the second by a New Yorker named Al Keller.

Keller competed at Indianapolis six times from 1955 to 1961, finally earning a top five finish in his final appearance. Sadly, Keller perished later the same year (11/19/1961) while racing in Arizona.

Interestingly, a young racer of the same name emerged as the driver of the Kurtis when it reappeared in the Pacific Northwest. Was this Al Keller a relation of the Indy veteran or someone that had simply adopted his racing persona? That is a mystery. Portlander Del McClure who raced against Keller, recognized his name but didn’t know him. ”Mid-pack guy”, was McClure’s comment. “We didn’t really socialize much with the Seattle guys,” he continued.

Long gone was the 252ci Offenhauser when Keller unloaded at Monroe (WA) and Portland Speedway. It was supplanted by a ground pounding Buick Nail-head boasting nearly twice the cubic inches. Bob Fadden was listed as the Owner/Mechanic and ultimately a turkey farmer named Bob Hamilton (based in Aurora, OR) agreed to sponsor the effort.

In the early seventies, Hamilton purchased the Kurtis and that was when Salem racer Earl Veeder Jr. got his chance behind the wheel. Veeder admitted to me years later that he didn’t have the finances to field his own car at that juncture in his racing career. He would show up at the track with his helmet and see what was available. Piloting a vehicle of questionable pedigreed had become “the norm” for Earl and he had a reputation for getting the most out of whatever he drove. The Kurtis/Buick was a rocket ship that was capable of smoking the tires the length of any straightaway. Fearless Veeder had no bitch about that but complained to Hamilton that they needed more tire. Apparently the budget minded owner had procured a boatload of M & H drag racing rubber at a bargain basement price and insisted that they use it up before he’d purchase anything else. And that was where things stood when the team made the decision to tow south to Altamont Speedway (near Tracy, CA) for a big open show.

On the banked half mile they would be competing against some of the best short trackers in the business: Uprights from San Jose, new Offsets and even rear engined, four wheel drive creations, so they needed to be on their game. Unfortunately in their haste to push Veeder out, the crew forgot to remove the plugs from his injector stacks. Most teams used a brightly colored, rubber ball affair that was highly visible and difficult to overlook. “Thrifty” Hamilton had decided to make his own utilizing sink stoppers that he’d purchased at the local hardware store and chained together. When the crew attempted to push start Veeder, the Kurtis balked as he goosed the throttle. Then the stoppers fell into the injection and jammed the butterflies wide open. The huge Buick exploded to life, taking Veeder from a rough idle to full throttle in perhaps two seconds. He pointed the roadster toward the high groove and somehow managed to keep it out of the fence. Down the back straightaway Veeder left a vapor trail then aimed for the pit entrance. (Hamilton estimated his pit speed at maybe one hundred mph?) He roared past his crew, brakes screaming helplessly, teeth clinched, hands firmly planted on the wheel and in his wake, wide eyed pitmen, railbirds and onlookers. It was miraculous that he hadn’t run over anyone. When he arrived at the end of the pit lane, where was he supposed to go? Veeder rejoined the race just as the leaders were passing by! And this is where the real racer showed his moxie- Veeder STAYED OUT! Up against the fence, throttle stuck wide open, brakes toasted, ‘Ol Earl hung with the leaders for a couple laps before coming to his senses and hitting the kill switch.

Needless to say, the team was never invited back to Altamont but it wasn’t the end of Veeder’s association with Hamilton. The two remained friends (practically neighbors) for the remainder of the turkey farmer’s relatively short life. Earl Veeder Jr. raced until he was nearly seventy and died of heart failure “in the saddle” so to speak.(He was participating in a midget race.)

The ’57 Kurtis-Kraft 500 had long life ahead of it as well. The Buick Nail-head was replaced by a 302ci Ford with Gurney (Westlake) heads and shipped to Pennsylvania for a ground up restoration. It is said to reside somewhere in a New York today, in a private collection.

Note—A big thank you to those who generously offered their recollections and photos which enabled me to retell this story: Jerry Burkholder, Ralph Hunt, Bill Nootenboom and David Veeder.


Indycar Returns to PDX

The trouble with old adages is that they contradict each other- that or they are just flat wrong. Consider “Nice guys finish last” or “Slow and steady wins the race”. How about “What you don’t know, can’t hurt you…” Really?

On September 2nd Japanese driver Takuma Sato won the resurrected Grand Prix of Portland and he accomplished that by driving “fast and steady”. He also attributed the victory to a perfect set up, great teamwork, a successful fuel strategy and luck. In other words, he had a perfect day…that’s what it takes to win in Indycar anymore. Floridian Ryan Hunter-Reay’s team miscalculated on their fuel usage and it likely cost them the victory. Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais’s team overcame what seemed like insurmountable adversity to place third.

Twenty five entries qualified within the same second, each averaging over 121 mph on the twelve turn course. Roger Penske’s entries were fastest and captured the front row. Andretti Autosport pilots came next with Championship contender Alexander Rossi and Hunter-Reay split by Bourdais. 2017 Indy 500 winner Sato advanced from the twentieth berth.

There was a stack up on the first lap that eliminated three cars but resulted in no injuries. Seventh starting James Hinchcliffe initiated the accident which gathered up point leader Scott Dixon in the melee. Amazingly Dixon never lost power and was able to drive away from the incident. Pole sitter Will Power faltered immediately and was never a factor in the race. Instead defending series Champion Josef Newgarden of Tennessee carried the banner for Penske and was challenged from the drop of the green flag by the Californian Rossi.

Throughout the contest Newgarden, Rossi and Hunter-Reay were the dominate cars with each taking turns at the point. Meanwhile astute railbirds were keeping an eye on entrants like Sato, Spencer Pigot (also from Florida) and Dixon whom were forging their way through the field. And there was the snake-bitten Bourdais whom had had more than his share of drama previous to the initial start. The four time series Champion (and winner of the last Portland race in 2007) set the fastest lap in Saturday’s final practice session then promptly slid off course, severely damaging his racecar. Owner Dale Coyne quickly rallied his troops and assigned three teams of technicians the task of preparing a backup car for their number one driver. Mission accomplished, Bourdais took the untested mount and stuck it in the fourth starting slot. Though he avoided the first lap dust up on Sunday, incidental contact with another car did crumple the nose of his pink and white racer. He was forced to make a pit stop for a replacement nose and rejoined the race at the rear.

The race proceeded without another major incident and one after another driver made scheduled stops for fuel and fresh rubber. When rookie driver Santino Farrucci (Woodbury, Connecticut) ran out of ethanol and stopped on the course, a local yellow was thrown and both Rossi’s and Newgarden’s crew chiefs decided to bring their drivers in.
Hunter-Reay’s team left him out, determining that he had enough fuel to finish the race if he would only conserve. This late race turn of events allowed a group of contestants (some of which had already made their last stops) to close up on the leaders for the final sprint to the finish.

Englishman Max Chilton found himself in the lead for the restart but his final stop still lie ahead. That was not the case for Takuma Sato however, who had made his pit stops on schedule and had steadily been advancing his position all afternoon.

With three laps to go, Hunter-Reay was radioed that he no longer had to conserve and he responded by closing right up on the leader’s tail. But it was too little too late, it was Sato’s day and he flashed across the finish line first. Ironman Bourdais brought his cobbled together back up racer home third. Pigot (who had started seventeenth and was on nobody’s radar) placed fourth. And the point’s leader, the guy that drove away from the first lap pileup and rejoined the race in last, had motored through the field to finish fifth. One race remains on the schedule.

On the victory podium, the diminutive Sato beamed, making no effort to contain his enthusiasm. Fast and steady had won this race. And on this day, a nice guy had finished first.

The Shape of Speed

Did you miss it? I would have, had it not been for my neighbor Darlene Hardie. Darlene is a member of the Portland Art Museum. Several months ago she received a copy of their publication “Portal” announcing the opening of a new exhibit showcasing streamlining in automotive design. Seventeen cars and two motorcycles were put display, all having been created between the years of 1930 and 1942.

A Chrysler Airflow Coupe I expected to see, its styling was considered ground breaking when it appeared in showrooms in 1934 but it wasn’t a big seller. Contrast the cranberry colored 1938 Talbot Lago… considered by some to be the most beautiful automobile ever built. Other manufacturers represented were: Mercedes-Benz, Bugatti, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Delahaye and Cord. The motorcycles were built by BMW and Henderson. Included in the display were several “one offs” — the Scarab, arguably the first minivan and whimsical fish tailed Airomobile were two crowd pleasers.

A tip of the hat to guest curator Ken Gross, thanks for pulling together such a compelling show. A more eclectic collection of vehicles I’ve never seen. And thank you Darlene for bringing this significant exhibit to my attention.

A Toy Car Story

My mom got me started with the Matchbox cars. She always loved miniatures and getting her to pony up for a new addition to my collection was easy. I can still remember the yellow, stair-stepped, countertop displays (later “spinner” racks) showing all the models available. How cool were those?! I still dream about them occasionally.

I had cars, trucks, tractors, trailers, all of ‘em but my favorites were the sports and racing cars. I loved the LeMans winning D-type Jaguar, the Maserati grand prix car and the Ford GT in particular. And the E-type Jaguar (XKE) with its tiny spoked wheels and metallic red paint has to rate as one of the coolest die casts ever.

All of my collection saw action outdoors in the dirt and sand but mostly I enjoyed racing them on smooth surfaces. A cement patio or low pile carpet was ideal. I’d get down on my belly, eye level, line them up in a long column of two and turn them loose! I tried to be fair, giving them shoves of equal strength and letting them roll. Generally my favorites made it to the front. The latest acquisition was always a pretty safe bet but sometimes an old standby (like the XKE) would pull off an upset. Hey, auto racing is a dangerous an unpredictable game! Eventually almost every vehicle in my fleet was assigned a number and raced. Even the Snow Trac traded his treads for a set of rubber tires borrowed from a Tyco slot car. “Gregory” next door very likely introduced me to 3 in 1 oil and once applied, all entries performed remarkably better. Then in 1968 Mattel introduced Hot Wheels…Holy crap! This was a toy that answered my prepubescent dreams!

My gripe with  Matchbox was that they weren’t releasing any hip new cars. They’d produced a bunch of weird English models like the Ford Zodiac and Ford Zephyr — cars I’d never seen in person. When Chevrolet introduced the Camaro in 1967 it rocked my world and I wanted a toy version. I had to “pretend’ my Matchbox Opel Diplomat was a Camaro. It was vaguely the right shape (a four door with a trailer hitch!) and at least had a snappy gold paint job. An Opel Diplomat? WTF! I STILL haven’t seen one in real life!

So when Hot Wheels hit the street (their first model being a ’68 Camaro) it was all over for Matchbox. I acquired one as soon as possible and with its revolutionary piano wire suspension; it promptly outclassed my starting field. I ended up trading that car for a classmate’s purple Barracuda and a red Mustang Fastback and lime gold second Camaro joined my roster soon after. The Hot Wheels lacked some of the detail of the early Matchbox series but the overall performance of the toys coupled with their eye popping candy paint jobs, more than compensated for that. From the first series on wild customs like the Beatnik Bandit, the Python and Silhouette were part of the offering but the models based on actual street cars and racers, were my preference. In 1969 when Hot Wheels released replicas of the two most popular cars in the Can Am series – the McLaren M6A and the Chaparral 2G, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I’d been fortunate enough to see the real cars compete at Laguna Seca and the fact that I could now add them to my collection was mind boggling.

Again, my races took place on large flat road courses that I laid out myself. I never owned one of the plastic orange tracks so that was never part of my Hot Wheels experience. Did I miss out? I’m not sure.

I did however get to race on one of the plastic drag sets once. A fellow collector and classmate of mine invited me over one afternoon for some friendly competition. As his parents worked graveyard and were day sleepers, we were forced to set up in their front yard. We borrowed a ladder from the garage and mounted our starting gates about six feet off the ground! The orange strip extended down his sloping yard and emptied out on the sidewalk.

It was all fun and games until a girl I had a crush on came strolling up the block! We were miles from where she lived- Turns out she and her girl friend were having a “play date” as well. What were the odds? Anyhow I was caught “playing cars” and I remember feeling embarrassed. What was she giggling about? She wore a pair of floral bell-bottoms that had actual bells sewn on them! I guess we forgave each other… many years later I took her to the Senior Ball. By then I was playing with real cars.

Another Man’s Treasure

What follows is part two of a story I began in the February 2018 issue of Roddin’ & Racin’. It was entitled: “One Man’s Junk…” and told the story of a unique wrecking yard in Springfield, Oregon that is brimming with eclectic vehicles. “Another Man’s Treasure” tells the story of what at first appears to be a similar venue but in fact turns out to be…“a collection”. For the most part nothing is for sale here.

I spent the better part of a day with the owner exploring the grounds and taking pictures. I have known Bob Farwell for many years and consider him a friend. Yes, he’s a chatterbox but if you are willing to listen, he has many interesting stories to tell. He is bright, resilient, insightful, kind of heart and as passionate about automobiles as any person I’ve ever met.

And then there’s “the collection”…Wow. I have to admit that my reaction to it was somewhere between fascination and horror. The tour of his compound left me reeling. I had very mixed emotions about what I’d seen and that makes it difficult to write about. Then a few weeks later I received word that he’d had a fire and a portion of his collection was destroyed. The news made me nauseous but I imagined that it was devastating to him. At that point I decided that the second part of my story would never be published- then I ran into Farwell at a swap meet. I offered my condolences and told him of my decision. Much to my surprise, he was disappointed! In spite of everything, he wanted to see a story about his collection in print.

So here it is. It is not my best work. It is not the story I initially intended to write. It’s not much of story at all but fortunately…the photographs speak for themselves.

Bob Farwell is a collector of a different sort. He collects antique cars, race cars from different eras and much, much more. There is a collection of radio controlled airplanes, small industrial engines and mechanical oddities. What appears at first to be a scrapyard is in actuality an uncategorized assemblage. Every object is somehow meaningful to Farwell and worthy of saving. Every object has a story attached- a story that Farwell is anxious to tell. I think in many cases the stories are of more value than the objects themselves.

Farwell has had an interesting life full of ups and downs. He has been a championship winning race car owner. He has lost one of his best friends (due to heart failure) in a midget that he owned. He is the former owner of Cottage Grove Speedway and readily admits to losing a fortune in that endeavor but expresses no regrets. Until very recently, he owned a successful bar and grill adjacent to the State Fairgrounds. And of course, he still owns an amazing collection of race cars. They include:

A 1957 Grant King Big Car powered by a 302 c.i. GMC engine. King was a master race car builder of Chinese descent with strong ties to the Pacific Northwest. Eventually he settled in Indianapolis where he built numerous racers that compete in the Memorial Day Classic
.
The Rennsport house midget. A 70’s era bullet propelled a 165 c.i. “Staggerfire” V-4 engine. This potent racer was driven by some of the best short trackers in the business including Jimmy Sills and Jan Opperman.

An extremely rare Don Edmunds-built, rear engine midget powered by an Auto-Craft (Full race Volkswagen) engine. This car was campaigned in the Pacific Northwest but remains a bit of a mystery. Edmunds acknowledged having built the car to Farwell but it is not mentioned in the exhaustive biography on Edmunds published by Paul Weisel, Jr. last year.

My Vintage Vantage

At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway you are in constant search of the next good vantage point. There isn’t one spot from which you can view the entire 2.5 mile oval but there are countless positions to observe from and there is always much to see.

This morning my perch is among the seventy five privately owned vintage Indy cars that are participating in the weekend’s festivities. I am an interested bystander as Greg Wilke prepares to take the family’s 1968 Eagle out for the morning session. Wilke is struggling and his female companion seems more intent on documenting the occasion on her cell phone, than assisting him. When his new carbon fiber helmet topples free and begins sliding down the nose of the race car, I can no longer stay behind the barrier. I snatch the helmet just before it hits the blacktop and with that, I have become “a crew member”. Wilke is wondering out loud where the hell his teenage son is and fussing with his belts. Ultimately I get him to stand up in the cockpit. I unsnap some of the upholstery and lengthen the lap belts a bit. As we get the five point buckle fastened, Junior arrives with the starter. The engine shrieks to life and away Wilke goes. I scramble to the closest vantage point; the grassy knolls inside turn two but the Eagle fails to appear. Apparently Wilke stalled the racer somewhere on his way to the track. They got it re-fired but it wouldn’t go in gear. Back in their pit stall, Wilke handles the disappointment of not getting to run much better than I would have. “I’m an owner, not a driver.” He says. Mostly he is pissed at his son who talked him into taking the racer out in the first place. He is grateful for my help and gives me the history of his car.

This Eagle is a sister car to the one in which Bobby Unser won his first Indy 500 (1968). The Wilke family (Leader Cards, Inc.) has owned it since it was new. It has participated in four 500’s always piloted by hard charger, Mike Mosley. It has carried Bardahl livery, Zecol/Lubaid, Murphy’s dept. store and in its final season; Vivitar Cameras. It has been propelled by various power plants: turbo charged Offenhausers, four cam Fords and Chevrolets.

In my fantasy I own a vintage Indy car with a small block Chevrolet engine- Just because they’re somewhat familiar to me, affordable and I want to be able to drive it! Not even in my fantasy world do I own an Indy car with an engine valued at twice the cost of my house.

I think the Klingerman brothers have the right perspective on this. They located a couple authentic one off Indy Specials from 1969 and ’70 and built their own engines for them. Though their Cecil and Morris Marauder chassis originally cradled exotic Offys and Fords they replaced them with production based units. The Cecil carries an injected Chevy Sprint Car mill; the Marauder rocks a Ford which they turbo charged for fun. These alternatives make perfect sense to me particularly if you plan to take the cars out and play with them (which the Klingermans do).

Steve Francis of New Milford, CT appreciates what the Klingermans have done but was fortunate enough to locate an Indy car in Australia that was powered by a Chevrolet engine since day one. His Cheetah is one of two cars built by Howard Gilbert for the 1967 season. The companion car to Francis’s in fact, was the surprise winner of the ’69 season opener in Phoenix driven by George Follmer. So the classic “cigar-era” Cheetah is not only historically correct but inexpensive to maintain.

Others will say: “As long as we’re fantasizing, why not go for broke?” Okay, if money is no object, I want the 1946 Novi.

When racing resumed at Indianapolis after World War II, Frank Kurtis introduced a new profile to the Speedway. Piloted by Ralph Hepburn his supercharged, V8 powered, front wheel drive monster broke the track record in qualifying. Though it was a full five miles per hour faster than its closest competitor, the Novi balked during the race. In 1947 team owner W.C. Winfield brought two cars to the contest and by driving with a light foot, Herb Ardinger managed to start and finish the 500 in the fourth position. His teammate Cliff Bergere meanwhile barfed the engine in the second Novi after starting on the front row. By its third appearance the Kurtis Novi’s reputation preceded it. Bergere abandon his seat declaring that the car was too dangerous to drive. ’46 pilot Hepburn climbed in and promptly hammered the wall, killing himself. Duke Nalon now assigned to the former Ardinger ride, qualified easily in the eleventh spot and brought his Novi home third. Though the Novis would continue to compete for many years and typically qualify among the fastest, they would never place any higher than third.

So which of the two team cars is this #15 Kurtis Novi? It hardly matters but I would put its value at well into the millions. If you were to take this specimen out for leisurely cruise and hurt the engine, where you gonna find another one? Unfortunately some toys are too valuable to play with.

Driving Greatness

World of Speed celebrates the Porsche 911’s 55th birthday

A successful exhibition should be thought provoking. The curator aspires to stir your emotions and hopefully connect with the viewer. In my case, World of Speed’s new tribute to Porsche’s iconic little rocket ship was a resounding success. It had me asking myself when I first became aware of the marque… without much difficulty, I had it.

We were young! The 911 model was only three years old but already a popular race car. I distinctly remember watching a regional event won by a yellow sports racer (likely a Lotus 23). A white and a brown 911 ran second and third respectively, within a car length of each other the entire distance. I drew a picture of the race from memory in my school binder the following Monday. My Porsches looked more like Volkswagen Bugs but trust me, I knew the difference.

911’s were featured at every road race I attended at Laguna Seca and Sears Point from the mid-sixties on. I was fortunate to get to watch Peter Gregg compete in the under two liter class in the early Trans-Am series. His white #59 was always competitive and typically finished amongst the Mustangs and Camaros.

When I was in middle school, my father’s accountant was a man named Russell Shattuck. Shattuck had two sons — one my age (Jim) and an older one (Steven) whom I barely knew. I didn’t know Steve but he knew me well enough to know I was a race nut. One night he arrived at my parent’s house with a 911 he had “borrowed” from a neighbor. In short order we headed toward the nearest freeway where Steve wound the Porsche up to 120 mph before diving down an off-ramp! I was returned home slightly giddy and sweaty but smiling. (If my parents only knew!)

The International Race of Champions (IROC) conceived in 1973 was a neat deal. The idea was to put the best drivers in world in identical 911 Carreras and let them go at it on select road courses and ovals. The cars featured air-dams, wide fender flares and whale tails. Each was painted a different color so it was easy to follow your favorite. I remember watching them on television…I think it was Riverside. The procession looked like a string of Easter eggs.

I think some of those Porsches ended up in the Camel GT because in the following years there was a glut of brightly painted Carreras running in that series. Lemon yellow, apple green, magenta, they were so cool! And the competition: Corvettes, BMW’s, (remember the Chevy Monza?). All competitors dolled up with aero kits- What a great series that was.

As the years went on, the body kits became more extreme and the cars looked less and less like the stock models they were based on. Most marques adapted turbo chargers. The Porsches would whistle down the straightaways and belch fire when the driver backed off. Spectacular!

My buddies and I were avid slot car racers at the time. Since you couldn’t buy a miniature Porsche that looked like an IROC Carrera, I decided to build my own. Lindberg models made a plastic 911 that was the correct scale (a Targa to be specific). I attached cardboard fender flares, an air-dam and whale tail and painted the whole package a lethal gloss black. It had the right look but the first time I flew off course so did one of my flares! The next time we visited Laguna Seca there was a black 911 competing in the under two liter class with a homemade aero kit. Unpainted tin air-dam and makeshift fender flares. “Look! It’s Veltman’s slot car!” my buddies shouted.

All good memories conjured up by a little Porsche 911 exhibit. Thanks for the memories World of Speed.