I Dreamed of Genie

I dreamed of owning the Genie, to be specific. No, I’m not talking about Barbara Eden. I’m talking about a small block powered sports racer, built in 1964 by San Franciscan Joe Huffaker.

There was a time in my life (the late 70’s) when I loved sporty cars so much, I’d drive to Sears Point just to watch club racing. It was during those outings that I became enamored with the nimble little racecar, then owned by a gutsy, talented driver named Terry Herman. Only a handful of unlimited, Can Am-style cars would typically show up for these meets so Herman would have to start scratch in a mixed field of big bore Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs and such. It was always entertaining watching him slice and dice his way to the front. And when someone did turn up with a swoopy, late model McLaren or Lola, Herman could usually whup on them too. He had that circuit dialed and rode that Genie like a spirited thoroughbred. What a cool little racecar.

I didn’t know it at the time but it turned out that I’d seen the Genie race before. When I attended my first race at Laguna Seca in 1966, the car was there. My program lists Huffaker as the entrant and the driver as “Unannounced.” I don’t remember it but I’ve seen a photo from that weekend showing Bob Bondurant at the wheel. This was kind of a big deal as Bondurant was racing Formula One at the time. Unfortunately, they are listed as a nonstarter that weekend so evidently there were issues of some kind or another. Bondurant went on to found one of the first competition driving schools two years later and for that, he is probably best known.

The Genie was then sold to accomplished privateer Merle Brennan of Reno who raced it in the Can Am series exclusively at Laguna through 1970. In gawd awful heat he finished 9th in ’67 (a full twelve laps behind the leader) and was paid $1,100   for the day’s work. In 1968’s driving rain he paddled to 11th, he stayed home in ’69 but returned in ’70 to place 13th earning $900. These may not sound like great numbers but you have to consider the competition. Brennan was competing against the best drivers in the world. Factory teams, corporate sponsors, guys with the best of everything. By 1970 he was driving one of the few small blocks on the grid.

Brennan sold the Genie to Herman when he procured a wrecked formula car he planned to rebuild as a sports racer. For some reason unknown, Herman painted the car pea green and went racing. I described his exploits earlier… finally he repainted the car red for what was likely his last ride. Tossing it around with typical abandon, he lost the right rear wheel. Fortunately damage was minimal but that was the last time I saw the car…

Fast forward about fifteen years. The Can Am thirty year reunion is coming up and I’ve got all my old photos out. Wouldn’t it be cool to dig up that old Genie and take it to the reunion? I’d be willing to sell my elderly sprint car and all my roundy-round stuff to raise the money. How much could they want for the old carcass? I’m thinking six grand, maybe? Possibly ten? I had no idea. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

Turns out Herman sold the car to a guy named Tom Hanes who continued to race the Genie into the 1980’s. Hanes was injured in the car while driving it on the street. Complications stemming from those injuries ultimately killed him and his widow sold the Genie to Mike Brown in 1985.

By 1995 vintage road racing is in full bloom. I contacted the Historic Can Am Association and inquired about the car. As luck would have it, not only were they familiar with it, but it was for sale! I called Mike Brown and confirmed that it is the Genie of my dreams. He of course, knows the car’s full history and by now has completely restored it to its original glory. This is bad news to me because I was hoping for a basket case- Maybe I could afford a basket case. The price has now gone up considerably. Nonetheless, I ask him to send me a package…

The photos of the car are stunning. By all indications, it is a first class restoration. Asking price? $70,000.
When I saw the price I literally laughed out loud and not because it was funny. I think it was more like shock. I mean, it’s a cool little racecar but… that’s about it. It has a modest racing history. People have heard of Bondurant perhaps but Brennan? Herman? It’s a rare Genie after all, not a rare Ferrari.

So that was that until about a month ago. Fast forward another twenty years. I open a copy of my new vintage racing magazine and there’s a classified ad for the Genie. It looks exactly as it did in 1966 and again in 1996. It couldn’t be in any better condition… New asking price? $175,000. This time I’m not laughing.

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