Built for the new Canadian-American Challenge Cup, or "Can-Am", the 2E earned instant fame as the first car to carry a high wing which generated and applied downforce directly onto the rear hubs. This innovation dramatically increased grip to the tires. The added grip helped the car to corner faster, and brake and accelerate more quickly than its competitors.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Built for the new Canadian-American Challenge Cup, or "Can-Am", the 2E earned instant fame as the first car to carry a high wing which generated and applied downforce directly onto the rear hubs. This innovation dramatically increased grip to the tires. The added grip helped the car to corner faster, and brake and accelerate more quickly than its competitors.
Like previous Chaparrals, the 2E used an automatic transmission and did not need a clutch pedal. In its place, the Chaparral team installed a foot pedal to control the wing. With his left foot, the driver could hold the wing in a flat low-drag position when accelerating on high speed straight sections. When cornering, the driver released the pedal, which moved the front of the wing to a downward angle. This added downforce through the corners and provided drag to help slow the car. In addition, the pedal controlled the airflow in a tunnel at the front of the 2E to provide a balancing aerodynamic downforce on the front of the car.
"It was time to get the wing off the car and onto the suspension. No one seemed to agree with me at the time... I guess we eventually changed a few minds." - Jim Hall
In 1966, Chaparral debuted the enclosed version of the Chaparral 2 for the World Manufacturer's Championship races such as Sebring, Daytona, and the 24 hours of LeMans. While finishing only one race in 1966, the 2D won the 1,000 kilometer race at the Nurburgring in Germany; a race many consider to be the greatest endurance race in the world.
Chaparral cars experimented with many different shapes with the 2D to increase airflow and decrease drag. Many of these designs would be signs of things to come in the many aerodynamic advancements used in future Chaparral designed race cars.
"The 2D was basically a closed version of the Chaparral 2 with some more advances made in cleaning up aerodynamic drag and getting higher top end speeds on the faster circuits. We continued also to run our proven 327 ci aluminum Chevy V8 with great success." - Jim Hall
Yeah I know. My consistency is leaving a lot to be desired around here. My travels over the past several days have made it extremely difficult to produce something for every day of the week. I hope you'll forgive me. I enjoy my little daily motorsports scribing and look forward to that part of the day when I sit down and put everything out of my mind but the subject at hand. The problem of course comes when "that part of the day" gets eaten by outside forces that I can't ignore. That's how we end up with a spotty week like we've had around here. The upside is that, thanks to this trying schedule and my crisscrossing of the country, I get to do one of my favorite things here, and that is to report on something from the road that I found pretty special.
As I wrote about briefly in a previous post, I had the good fortune to visit the Jim Hall wing of the Midland, Texas Petroleum Museum last week and it really was a thrill. Like I said, I'm a big fan of Jim Hall, his accomplishments, and how he went about achieving such success. To me he is the best kind of example of the American spirit. Fiercely independent, mountains of bravery, infinitely creative, and completely unaware of boundaries. Some would chalk this up to his Texas roots and I wouldn't immediately argue with that, but I do like to think that these are the basic qualities found in any pioneering American.
In many ways, Hall's timing of entry into racing was spot on. For starters, the American racing enthusiast had been enjoying the success and spirit shown by Briggs Cunningham with his all American effort on the international racing stage, but were very downcast by the fact that Cunningham was pulling back his involvement in racing more and more by the early 1960s. Not only that, Cunningham had mostly turned his back on racing American based entries and had turned to the European manufacturers to provide him with competitive machines. So when Jim Hall decided to change his position as a Formula One driver and Lotus pilot to an American manufacturer and racer of highly competitive American sports racing cars, the U.S. racing fans couldn't have been more excited. Of course we can't not mention that Dan Gurney would soon be doing the same, but the history books will show that Jim Hall was there a few years earlier and with groundbreaking innovation that no constructor would approach until the 1960s were over. Indeed, Jim Hall would leave a heavy stamp on international sports car racing and Can-Am before it was all said and done.
In fact, any single achievement made by Hall would have been more than enough for anyone else. How about the first use of the wing in racing? If we just take a moment and try to imagine the impact that that single development has had, well, it's really impossible to put a value on that. Next up for me would have to be his tire development that he went to Firestone with. The concept of eliminating as much slip angle as possible by way of using a tire with a wider contact patch but shorter sidewall basically gave us what is still to this day the shape of any high-performance or racing tire. To think that the classic upright Dunlop racing tire of the '50s and early '60s was the only game in town until Jim Hall came along is staggering. And lastly, his work with aerodynamics in developing various downforce and low pressure techniques in race car design are at least the equal, if not more so, of his other accomplishments. His use of underbody skirting and air-channeling bellypans helped dramatically to his two Indianapolis 500 victories as a team owner and car designer. Now of course all of these Jim Hall developments are commonplace in nearly every form of auto racing, and yes, eventually all of these ideas would have been found out. But to have one man from Midland, Texas, with no connection to any constructor, be hit with all of these ideas, have the talent to develop them into real working and advantage producing race components- all in less than 20 years, is quite remarkable indeed.
That is some serious spirit folks.. whether it be a Texan thing or an American thing, again, is of no consequence to me. I'm just glad, for all of us, that he came along and was inspired by the world of speed and performance as it related to the automobile. We're all a good bit better off for it. And I guess it is that much sweeter that it was all done on our own soil isn't it?
Now lets take a closer look at some of the great Chaparral cars created and raced by Jim Hall...
The Chaparral 2; The car that started it all.
The Chaparral 2 was the first car designed by Jim Hall and Hap Sharp and the first to be built in Midland. During the '63, '64, and '65 road race seasons, this car notched up 22 wins in 39 races against the best of the international competition.
The Chaparral 2 boasted a new approach in frame design. The semi-monocoque chassis was inspired by modern aircraft design and was molded from fiberglass reinforced plastic. Since the engine was mounted just behind the driver, the car's designers were free to shape a low, sleek front end fitted with a V-shaped lip spoiler. The design kept the car from lifting at high speeds. In 1964 at Laguna Seca, the Chaparral 2 introduced an automatic transmission, which eliminated the clutch pedal and freed the driver's left foot to be on the brake pedal at the same time as the right was on the throttle. Roger Penske was heard to have said at the time,"I believe Jim designed the Chaparral 2 with the automatic so that us drivers would have our shifting hand free to wave at other drivers when passing them."
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Sometimes things just go your way. Of course, you can't bank on it but it sure is nice when even the little stuff just seem's to hit like a song. This happened to me this morning.
I stopped off on my road trip last night in Midland, Texas for an overnight rest. Being a Jim Hall fan, and fan of the golden age of sports car racing in general, I knew about the small museum in Jim's home town of Midland and had always wanted to see it. I hadn't really gone to any great lengths to have this time out that I would end up in Midland for my overnight stop, I just kinda looked at the map, thought about my schedule, and casually assumed I would be able to stop by one way or another. Midland is a small town and I figured if I didn't stop there I could at least try and make it through in the daytime while the museum was open.
Well, as you can see it all worked out. The crazy part of this story is this; I took the second exit of three just by chance and drove into town to look for a decent hotel. Because Midland is so small, and they have so few hotels, I guess they feel they can fleece the friendly traveler and ask $149 for a single room at a mid-level hotel- because that's exactly what they were doing. Just based on principle I walked out of the first two I tried, even though they both told me I wouldn't find a better deal. They were kinda right too. I drove all the way back out to the Interstate and got a room at a Comfort Inn. The price, $135.00. Unbelievable!
Anyway, it was up early the next day to locate, and make a quick visit to, the Jim Hall Museum( actually it is a separate wing of the Midland, Texas Petroleum Museum ) and get back on the road. Again, I had been hearing about this place and was excited to see it. On my way out I went by the front desk on the off chance that maybe they knew of it and could point me in the right direction. When I asked, the girl looked at me strangely, pointed out the window behind her, and said,"You mean that place." That's right, I had taken a room at the only hotel in town that had an actual view of the museum! Unbelievable! - but this time in a good way.
As you can see, this is a small but impressive display of the great cars that Jim Hall's genius gave us. I try not to throw genius around loosely, but if anyone from this era of motor racing qualifies it would be Jim Hall. Don't take my word for it though, check out some of these quotes;
"The Chaparral was the greatest car that I ever drove anywhere, at anytime during my career." - Phil Hill
"It was absolutely fantastic. I could drive his (Jim Hall's) cars deeper into the corners and come out faster than in any other car that I drove at the time. It was just bloody amazing!" - Sir Jackie Stewart
"We never knew what would come out of his shop. Every time we came up with a new idea, we'd find out that Jim Hall had already been doing it on one of his cars." - Bruce McLaren
"There's no question that with Jim's mechanical capability, plus the fact that he was a great race driver, he helped set a trend. He probably started the greatest movement in auto racing with wings and wide tires." - Roger Penske
I feel like that should cover it in case there were any doubters.
With this post I'd like to just throw up the photos that I have to give you a feel for the display and the cars in attendance. I'll happily get into more specifics on both Jim Hall and his Chaparral cars in the next post.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Well, here we are. Day one of the real drive out west. The past three days have been mostly short jaunts. Last Thursday had me leaving Nashville for Springfield, Mo. to play a show there that night. The GTI worked flawlessly, of course, and gave me a real appreciation for how far the car has come in the years since I owned and drove them. Even as nice as my '91 was, it was nowhere near as fast, quite, and solid feeling. The turbocharger on the 1.8 is really the business. The car runs and drives a lot like my '91 when your foot is out of it, but when you want the HP to bump, just press a touch more and the whistling little turbo kicks in and you're off... feels smooth as a turbine, and sounds like one too. What a great great modern car, and so much car for the money. I'm a fan for sure. If there wasn't a Mini Cooper S, this would be the only choice in the high-performance box'y hatchback, in my opinion.
The next two days of driving consisted of a run from Springfield to OKC, and then on to Dallas. Short drives that we're mostly uneventful... except for this amazing discovery out on I-35 between OKC and Dallas.
I'll be honest with you, I really didn't think things like this existed anymore. I've seen a few of these advertised over the years in Hemmings, but I thought they were mostly picked over and gone. This place had a lot of life ( parts and restorable cars ) left in it. I didn't see the yard until I was mostly past it while making my way down 35 towards Dallas running about 78mph in a 70 zone. Fortunately I was making good time and was able to take the next exit and run back to give this place a quick once over. When I did get back there and began to pull in to the long drive that bordered the yard I quickly realized that there was a pretty good bonus going on behind me- an eight mile drag strip was running about 100 yards away and it was packed with weekend drag racers lining up to do their 7,000 rpm burnouts and eight mile blasts. A nice back-drop to this boneyard from days gone by.
As you can see in the photos, this really is an astounding place. How very unfortunate that it wasn't open. I would have gladly paid the $5.00 to walk the yard and really take in what treasure was hiding away there. I never thought I'd get to see '57 and '58 Chevys in mostly complete condition sitting in a wrecking yard. This is the kind of stuff that my Dad got to experience. And because this was south Oklahoma, these cars were in remarkably good condition body-rot-wise.
So there you go... discovery number one from the great spring road trip. For the record, I've stopped off for the night in Midland, Texas.( Come on sports car guys, who is from Midland? That's right, Jim Hall and his wonderful Chapparel race cars ). Fortunately there is a museum located here that is dedicated to Jim Hall and his accomplishments. Of course I'll be visiting it in the morning and reporting back for tomorrow's post... so please, check back for that, and as always... stay 'tuned' !
Thursday, February 19, 2009
We all have our favorite "Road Trip" stories. Some are focused on a harrowing incident, like limping an uncooperative old machine many miles to an exit or shop for repair. Or maybe a full on break down that involved the better part of a day laying on the ground fighting a mechanical problem with limited tools. Then again some are all sunshine and rainbows. The road trips when it all goes right. The weather holds out, the car couldn't be happier and wants to keep on going even after it's back in the garage, the friends who were scheduled to be on the trip all make it without exception or complications.
It's hard to say which is more satisfying. I suppose the really memorable ones contain just the right amount of all the above. I'm pleased to say that I've had a couple of those in my life, but I've also had the others in extremes.
I'd have to say that possibly the worst road trip I may have experienced would be the time a limped ( literally ) a 1991 VW GTI from Los Angeles to Nashville during the height of summer. I had spent the better part of 4 months out west doing some music work and had stumbled across a dead mint, low mileage, one owner, red with grey little 5spd GTI. It was a loaded California car that looked and felt new. I was already a GTI owner, having owned an ex-SCCA solo car, a red '86, for a few years at that time, and I was hooked on these little German anvils. I made a nice deal with the owner and decided I'd drive it home when I left town later that month.
Well, the car couldn't have been better driving around the Hollywood hills. There were several nights driving home, dead tired from a full day in the studio, when I would suddenly get a huge second wind and go up on Mulholland drive for a good 45 minutes of winding switchback fun. I can still feel how tight, whisper quiet, and rattle free that little car was.
Yup, it was a great one... until about 80 miles outside of LA at around 10pm when I was on my way home. Suddenly out of nowhere, it began doing what can only be described as the exact symptom you'd have if someone where sitting in the passenger seat next to you and turning the key off and on off and on. It would only do this under high vacuum situations, as the problem would go away if you put a load on it ( perfect problem to have when you're heading out across a dead flat interstate for 2,200 miles ).
I limped it along bucking and snorting like this for a couple hundred miles and finally pulled off for the night. The next morning I spent the first hour of my day inspecting everything under the hood. Looking for any kind of bad vacuum hose or leak of any kind. I tried to locate what grounds I could see and read if they were corroded or not. I found nothing glaring. In fact, everything looked great.. just like a low mileage car from a perfect car climate would.
So, I fired it back up and got in to see how it would behave for day number 2. Would you believe- perfectly fine for the first half of the day. But, when it came back it came back big. I was struggling to stay out of peoples way in the slow lane ( traffic moves along notoriously well out in the wide open sections of I-40 ). I finally got to Alb., NM and found a German car shop. They couldn't take it until the morning. So, without putting in much of a day of driving I got a hotel and waited for morning.
The next day it was off to the shop. Of course on the way there it wouldn't act up. When I dropped it off I explained the problem but that it was behaving. he said the would use it as the parts runner for a while and get it to act up. I remember not liking that very much. Around 2pm I got a call from the shop saying the car runs perfect and shows no problems when hooked to the diagnostics. Come and get it and that'll be $280.00.
I understood their side of this but I also have to say they were pretty uncaring about the old "just passing through" tourist. Bed side manners are so important.
So it was back on the road... and within a few hours back to the bucking and snorting. I somehow made it to Nashville and thought to myself,"I'll never ever do that again in an unknown car."
For the next couple of months I tried everything imaginable to fix my sick but minty little teutonic box. New ignition switche, clean all grounds, made sure of zero vacuum leaks, replaced the crank sensor, replaced the distributor, replaced the computer... nothing, unchanged. I kept it for the better part of a year, just using it in town where it was mostly fine, and then sold it to a German car dealer and never heard of it again.
So why, might you ask, am I going on about a little cross country journey that I once took in a car so unruly that it would have made Jack Kerouac decide to stay home on the couch???,,, well, starting at 8am tomorrow I will be setting out on a cross country drive for the first time in few years ( at least with me at the wheel ), and you know, I couldn't be more excited. It really is a great love of mine, and hey, they can't all be bad right?
The only potential problem I see is the fact that my choice of transportation is a frighteningly familiar one... are you ready for this???... a pretty little silver VW GTI!!!! ( Cue Horror film soundtrack ) . But really, I mean, it couldn't happen AGAIN could it? ... really, could it?
We'll see, and you'll find out. My route will take me to the 3 shows I have to play for the tour this weekend on Thurs, Fri, and Sat., ( Springfield, Mo. , OKC, Ok. , and Dallas ). Then it's on the road to LA. I can't promise I'll be able to check in everyday ( internet can get hard to find out in the wide open west ) but I'll do my best.
PS... the photo is not of the "lemon" but my old faithful track-day/race school car, the ex-SCCA '86 GTI. A car that also drove its way out west and back and never even thought about a hiccup, had 280,000 miles on it when I sold it, and would have happily still done a full day on the track in July heat.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Just as the approach of the month of May means "Indianapolis" to the American speed enthusiast, the coming of March means the "Mille Miglia" to the Italian speed enthusiast.
Now run as strictly a historic event, the Mille Miglia ( Italian for 'thousand mile' ) was once an annual flat-out speed contest for the greatest drivers of the day.
First run on March 26, 1927, the great thousand mile race started in the small northern town of Brescia, wound its way down to Rome and back to Brescia in a large, almost figure 8 shape. The entire race was run on public roads that ranged from mountain passes to narrow country two lanes and ran through several small villages and towns. In the tradition of the great Targa Florio, the Mille Miglia was a serious test for man and machine.
Looking over the entry lists from the 24 years that the race was run you'll see both the greatest driver's names and the greatest manufacturing marks in our sport's history. Nuvolari, Varzi, Fangio, Tarrufi, Ascari, Moss, Collins, were all there. In spite of the fact that the grid was usually dominated by the great Italian manufacturers like Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, what most consider the greatest Mille Miglia drive ever, and easily one of the greatest drives in the history of motorsport, was accomplished by Stirling Moss in a Mercedes.
In 1955 Moss and his co-pilot, the great motorsports journalist and historian Dennis Jenkinson, covered the thousand miles in an astonishing 10 hours and 8 minutes averaging just at 100mph for the entire race. Unfortunately, two years later the race was stopped for good when Ferrari pilot Alfons de Portago and his navigator were killed, along with 11 spectators, in a high speed accident near the town of Guidizzolo. In 1977 the race was revived as the Mille Miglia Storica, a several-day historic event for 1957 and earlier sports and racing cars.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Well I have to say, I'm beyond encouraged by the e-mails I received regarding my mention of my upcoming event. If even a third of those who reached out for more info decide to attend, I'll be pleased as punch.
Because I've spent some time getting back to folks to answer various questions about it, I thought I would use up one perfectly good post and do a quick bit of event promoting, lay out all of the details, and get it out of the way now so we can get back to the entertainment on Wednesday.
To recap, the event is called the Music City Motor Jam and will take place on June 27th of '09 in the Nashville,Tn. area. It is a single day event, is open to pre-1973 special interest cars and motorcycles, and will consist of many activities. There are two levels of participation that will be available to people and tickets for both are limited and will be sold first come first served.
Level number one would be for people who are interested in having complete participation in all of the activities for the full day of the event. That package, and the day's itinerary, is as follows; A scenic driving tour/rally-run will kick off at 10:30am from the historic Loveless Cafe just outside of Nashville. The grounds of the Loveless Cafe offer a pleasant mix of 1940s Route 66 American diner with equal touch old rural south. The Cafe will be open and is famous for its charm and quality southern breakfast offerings. And for those who are interested- the Loveless general store will bring back the memories with its Waltons-like wood plank floors and penny candy. Registration will run from 9 until 10:30 am and a light breakfast of donuts/danishes/bagels, and coffee, will be complimentary. When registration is complete, the scenic driving tour will begin its first leg of the day.
The Loveless Cafe is perfectly situated less than a quarter mile from one of the treasures of the south- The Natchez Trace Parkway. This will provide the driving tour participants with the first opportunity to bring machines up to temperature and stretch their old car's legs, all while touring what is unquestionably the most beautiful stretch of scenic road that Tennessee has to offer. The Parkway is a registered National Scenic Byway, protected by the U.S. Parks dept., and gives the traveler an endless winding ribbon of perfectly groomed roadway and matching scenery, complete with historical land marks, points of interest, and scenic overlooks.
By mid-day, the tour will make its way to its first destination for a lunch stop and private car collection tour. This will consist of a one and a half hour stop at the secluded Vintage Classic Garage. A quality catered meal will be served to all participants in air conditioned comfort and the complete Vintage Classic collection will be on display for all to see and inspect. The collection features something for every motorsports enthusiast; from a full array of '50s and '60s sports and racing cars with Lotus, Jaguar, MG, Triumph, and Porsche, strongly represented, to big full bodied American special interest cars from similarly early years. Add in with that a nice mixture of automobilia and a huge, secure, adjacent parking area for the tour participants to meet and greet all of their fellow travelers, and their rides, and we're sure the mid-day stop will not disappoint.
From there the driving tour continues on with its last leg, traveling over to nearby historic Franklin,Tn., a town famous for its southern charm, small locally owned boutiques and shops, and historically significant southern architecture in its mansions and plantations. Continuing on the Tennessee backroads for the latter half of the afternoon, the tour will finally join back up with the Natchez Trace for its last installment of scenic driving.
Finally, the tour will head north to the big city... Nashville, with its ultimate and final destination being the wonderful Lane Motor Museum. One of the more fascinating and unique car collections on the planet, the Lane Museum is a Nashville motorsport treasure. Housing over 150 unique cars and bikes from all over the world and from any and all eras, the Lane offers a very unique experience for any motoring enthusiast. Upon arriving at the Lane, the tour participants will be directed to a secure parking area within the structure of the Museum which will house and display their cars for the evening. The museum will be privately available to all participants at this point for touring and inspection with ample time to take in the many unique automotive displays and vintage vehicles throughout the building. One of Nashville's most noted jazz combos, the Jody Nardone Trio, will be providing soothing sounds throughout this time, and a cash bar will be open and available.
At approximately 6:30 pm, dinner will be served. The tour participants will be able to dine in a private, elevated, and partitioned off seating area that is part of the main floor of the museum, enjoying a clear view of the collection as a dinner backdrop. The relaxing music of Jody Nardone will continue on through dinner providing light entertainment and a relaxing audio bed. As a portion of the proceeds generated by the event will be helping to fund the "On Track" youth in motorsports educational program, a short presentation will be made by both myself and Henry Astor as the dinner is winding down. Items that will be going to auction to assist in the funding of "On Track" during that weekend will be on display and will include NASCAR memorabilia, Goodwood Festival of Speed items, signed collectables courtesy of the BBC show "Top-Gear", a new Fender acoustic guitar signed by dozens of Nashville's most famous country music performers, and our featured auction item... a brand new Fender Eric Clapton model black Stratocaster guitar courtesy of and signed by Eric Clapton himself. In addition, all tour participants will be automatically signed up for the evening's raffle where additional music memorabilia, concert tickets, automotive products and collectibles, will be raffled off at random.
At 8:30pm the evening's live music entertainment will begin as some of Nashville's top talent take to the stage. Participants in the full day's activities will enjoy a bird's-eye view of the stage from their private VIP viewing area, which will be complete with its own bar. As the night continues on and the acts progress from one to the next, it will ultimately open up to a Last Waltz-style all star jam session, closing the night out on what we're sure will be an unforgettable note.
This full day participation package will sell for $175.00 per person. Again, ticket availability is limited.
For those who can't get away for an entire day and would just like to enjoy part of the evening's activities, the second level of participation is probably for you.
Beginning at 6pm, the Lane Museum will be opening up its spacious back lot for a cruise-in/show and shine. Participation in this is not limited to any particular type of vehicle. In addition to the Lane Museum's enormous ex-US military amphibious machine on display, cruise in participants will also enjoy seeing(and hearing) a display of vintage dragsters, all parked right among the rest of the cruisers. Although the museum will not be accessible during the dinner hour, a limited number (200) of cruise-in participants will be able to both, park in the show and shine/cruise-in lot, and enter the museum for the evening's live music entertainment. The cost for this will be $35.00 a person and there will be a cash bar available once in the museum.
Lastly, for those who would only like to attend the cruise-in/show and shine, the entry fee will be $10.00 per car. Again, the rear lot gates at the Lane Museum will open at 6pm.
Tickets will be available on line by going to astormotorproductions.com
On behalf of myself and my business partner Henry Astor, we hope to see all of you at this first annual Music City Motor Jam!
Monday, February 16, 2009
And we're back as promised with part two of my Dean Jeffries post.
I'm hoping some people were taken enough with my description of the book to go out and get it or at least get it on order. I took some time and sat down with it again after writing about it last week and it continues to be a very nice piece of work. But, onto my visit with the great man...
As best I can figure, this was in the spring of 2000 that I had the opportunity to meet Dean and spend some time with him at his shop. Once again I have to credit my friend Tom Sparks for making this happen. He and Dean go back to when they were teen-agers, and knowing how I am about the early days of any kind of motorsport, Tom knew it would be a thrill for me to get to meet him. He was right of course.
I had made a trip out to So-Cal with my VW GTI to deliver flat head parts to Tom for my engine that he was building and decided to stay for a week or so. We had made the rounds of the usual museums and cruise-ins when Tom suggested we look up a few of his old pals. Some calls were made and our first day out would be Tony Nancy in the morning and Dean Jeffries in the afternoon. How's that for a hot rod legends itinerary?
We left out fairly early that day and drove over to Tony's shop. To say the least I was excited. Tony was one of the more mysterious figures from early hot rodding and I truly didn't know what to expect. I had heard stories of his great generosity and kindness, but also a good number about his tendency to boot people out of the shop that weren't to his liking. Unfortunately I would never know which way that day was going to go for us, as Tony had to leave the shop at the last minute for the first half of the day and had left word by way of a note taped to the shop door. Not only did we not get to visit with Tony that day but, sadly, I would not get another chance to meet him. He passed away just a few years later.
So we picked ourselves up from the disappointment of not getting to see Tony and just drove on over to the Jeffries shop to see if he was ready for visitors. What will seem amazing to the custom car lovers out there is the fact that Dean's shop is not only not a private and secluded place that only a choice few know about, it is in full view of the 101 as you make your way around the backside of the Hollywood hills. From your place in traffic you can look off towards the hills and see his shop and his huge billboard with "Jeffries Custom Auto" written in big cursive sweeping letters. And if there were any question as to which Jeffries this was, the futuristic multi-wheeled Mad-Max looking movie vehicles parked around his lot took all of the guesswork away.
We pulled up to the door and Dean was just inside and walked out to greet us. Tom introduced us and I have a crystal clear memory of Dean looking at me like I was an alien because I knew who he was. He asked if we had a friend other than Tom in common. I said no, and he went on wondering why a guy my age would know who he is, what work he's done, and would be interested in seeing his shop and meeting him. It was something far beyond simple humility... he just didn't understand.
That being said, I could never exaggerate how generous and kind Jeffries was throughout our entire visit. At this point in his life he would have probably considered himself semi-retired, but he had multiple projects going and was in the shop working at 9am. He did have stuff to do, but you wouldn't have known it by the time he took with us. Of course, he and Tom are old friends and that made for a nice way to get to walk along through his shop as he showed Tom all of his projects. Friend to friend.
As you can see by the photos posted above, I was rather taken by a particularly interesting project that Dean had going at the time. Now believe me, there was a lot to see in his shop, and especially in his office that was his kind of 12'x12' scrapbook with walls covered floor to ceiling with hundreds of photographs of all of the hundreds of cars he had built and/or customized over the years. But I was not at all prepared for his GT40.
I, like most anyone else I'm sure, had no idea that he had been involved with the GT40 program for Ford. It may not have even come up had he not shown me his race engine collection. We walked into a small side room just off of the main floor of the shop, and he had several 1960s Ford racing engines on stands hanging around. I remember that he had two 289 based engines with Hilborn injection, a side-oiler 427, and the crown jewel... a 255ci 4-cam Ford Indy racing engine. I asked him what the story was with these and he very casually stated that he had worked for Ford when they were racing sports cars in the '60s. I didn't catch on immediately. When I asked him about that he responded by saying,"They gave me one of the race cars when we were done with the program... it's right in here." We then walked into another room and there it was- Ford GT4o #109. As if these cars aren't rare enough, GT40 #109 is one of 4 roadster versions that they produced, and only one of two to still exist today. In fact, the other surviving roadster is said to be in a nearly unrestorable state.
Jeffries could see my fascination with the car and took extra time to show me around it and tell me about the car and its history with him. He also told me of his plans for it which were quite interesting. He stated that for years it had been languishing in his back room at the shop ( actually it had sat outside for most of the 1970s up against the outer back wall of his building... laying up on its side !!!! ) and he kept threatening to run it into some kind of hot rod or futuristic custom car, but all of his friends kept talking him out of it. He said that he never really knew that it had any value until an investor in England heard about the car, contacted Jeffries, and offered him 5 million for the car sight unseen. Jeffries said that the day that call came in he began a proper restoration on the car as soon as he hang up the phone. Fortunately he was able to complete the car in time for a GT40 display at Pebble Beach a few years ago that I attended. With the exception of the original LeMans winning cars, the Jeffries GT40 roadster was the star of the show. Interestingly, the car had very limited race history as it was used mostly for testing. Even more interesting is the fact that the engine that they were trying to develop along with this car was none other than the 4-cam Indy race engine. Though it never went onto international endurance racing success, the 4-cam spent more time in the chassis of GT40 109, so that's what Jeffries has back in it today.
Before we left I got to spend some time in his office having him show me all of his old photographs of his many creations. They were all there; The Mantaray, The Green Hornet "Black Beauty", The Monkee-Mobile, photos of the James Dean Porsche ( which Jeffries lettered with the words "Little Bastard" on its tail ). Many cars in various state's of build. Some just getting pin-striping, some getting a classic flame-job, but all receiving the timeless touch of a great artist and gentleman, Dean Jeffries. I guess you could say it was a day well spent.
PS... As for the photos above. I shot all of the older pics showing the GT40 under restoration, but the very nicely shot and framed photo of the Mantaray with the restored GT40 in the background was done by Adam Pepper (Thanks for that Adam).
Friday, February 13, 2009
If and when I find something that really knocks my socks off, I hope it's OK that I use this forum to endorse it. There's nothing in it for me other than feeling like maybe I turned someone onto something that they otherwise might not have found. I know I'm always curious about what other gear-heads are watching, reading, following etc. It's a big old world out there and a lot of stuff gets released daily and can sometimes fall through the cracks. Especially motor-books, as they aren't likely to hit the NYT best sellers list very often.
This fresh off the presses release from Tom Cotter ( of Hemi/Cobra in the barn fame ) is one that I wish would hit the best sellers list. In the book, Cotter does so much good in so many ways that it's hard to know where to start.
Dean Jeffries is probably not a household name to a lot of gearheads who aren't die hard custom car or hot rod fans. But he should be. Dean has always been the kind of guy who was too busy with his head down in his shop to really attract a lot of fame and attention for his work. He chose to let his work do all of the talking. Unfortunately, over the years there have been many points of interest in the Jeffries legacy that have been turned and twisted and just flat out wrongly told. And again, because of Dean's personality, he didn't pay much attention and wasn't really interested in speaking up and correcting people. Well, that's where this book comes in.
In a completely neutral and direct way, Tom Cotter finally corrects all of the false information that has surrounded some of Dean's most famous work. He simply gives you the facts; backed up by shop schedules, timelines, photographs, and finally Jeffries' own memories, and lets you see the hard evidence that a lot of so called "Barris productions" are in fact the creations of one Dean Jeffries.
Of course no one is here to criticize the great work of George Barris or any of the fantastic custom cars that he created. We all know of the groundbreaking custom work that came from that shop, and how it continues to influence today's builders. It just comes back to the two radically different personalities we're dealing with here. No one could possibly deny, Barris included, that there has ever been a better self promoter in the hot rod and custom car world than George Barris. And good for him. It made him the household name that he is today and is directly responsible for the additional success that Barris Kustoms has enjoyed beyond what the cars were saying. But you have to remember that, all the while, there was Dean Jeffries... head down, working away.
I don't think it can ever be determined, exactly, how so many of Dean's creations got credited to Barris. They just did. And once those stories took off, they became part of the history of hot rodding and custom car building. Throughout this wonderfully comprehensive look into Jeffries' life, we not only experience the record being set straight, but we get to ride along as Cotter takes us through the life and times of this phenomenally talented artist's life.
It is truly awesome ( in the most literal meaning of that term ) just how many things Dean accomplished, how many varied parts of the car world he was involved in at one time or another, and how incredibly humble and carefree he is about it all. To this day he has an almost,"Well, anyone would have done this had they been put into the positions I was. I was lucky." His attitude goes beyond understatement.
Even for the folks who are familiar with Jeffries, there are some guaranteed surprises. His involvement in the film industry was a much bigger part of his life than I certainly ever knew, and I know that his direct involvement and influence on the Ford GT40 project will come as a surprise to many. His early days working for Barris are wonderfully well documented and photographed, thanks to Barris and his love for the media, as many crisp color photos are used throughout. The look into the immediate post-war So-Cal years of custom car culture is fantastic as well. The shenanigans and comradery that went on and were a daily component of this very small world are wonderful to read about. It will definitely make you want to travel back to that much simpler time as you read along.
And right there in the middle of it was Dean Jeffries. A guy who really had it all. So much talent, so many different abilities, it feels in the book as though it may have been hard for him to stay with a single goal for very long. Movie star looks, the obvious customizing talents of striping, painting, and metal working, an expert race engine builder, and many say the driving talents to have been a champion on the biggest of racing stages, Dean Jeffries lived many lifetimes. And thanks to this wonderful new book by Tom Cotter ( complete with a touching forward by collector/preservationist Bruce Meyer ), we can finally all be brought up to speed on this amazing man's life, and Dean Jeffries can finally have his record shown and set straight... its been a long time coming.
PS... tune in to Monday's post where I will take you through the day that I was fortunate enough to spend with Dean about 10-12 years ago. I'll post some photos from the experience and tell some tales of what I learned from, and about, this great man.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
On a recent trip to southern California I finally got around to visiting a place I'd been hearing about, but not really believing, for a long time. The Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo,California.
Located out near the LAX airport, the museum is right in the heart of a vast warehouse district. The streets are wide, straight, without much traffic, and actually allow the museum to do the unthinkable; take visitors for rides in various classic cars. You see now why I never quite believed this?
But it is true. You can schedule a visit to the museum and put in a request for a classic car ride. Between a very large open lot that is accessible from the rear of the building, and the surface streets that surround the museum, staff members can give people just enough of a driving experience to have a feel for what these old machines were, and are, like to drive and ride in. Nothing against '65 Mustangs ( I owned one for several years and it remains the most enjoyable car I've had ), but we're not just talking about a ride in a '60s drop-top pony car, we're talking about fully restored pre-war full classics... and they have many to choose from.
Some highlights would be the Stutz DV32 boat-tail speedster on display that had conquered the Great Race, a fantastic Oxblood Packard Darrin, 1916 Packard Twin 6 convertible, a really lovely '36 Packard V-12 convertible sedan... just to name a few. Fortunately for me, my friend Mark Lambert, and pal Tom Sparks, this month's featured display is one on the great LA custom bodywork shop, Coach-Craft, and included a few of their unique pre-war custom creations. An added bonus was having Tom there to tell us stories about when he worked there as a young man right after the war.
The folks there were more than generous, friendly, and helpful with answering any and all questions. No, we didn't get to go a for a drive in any of the cars that day, as a wedding was setting up during our visit, but you can be sure that I will next time. Because they keep just a few cars in rotation at a time, you don't exactly have your choice of what to take out, but thanks to the great collection they've assembled there aren't really any dogs.
So, next time you fly into LAX, plan to set aside a little time to visit this unique museum and its collection. I mean really, when was the last time you rode in a 32 valve Stutz?
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
... of a lot of things. A few that come to mind off the top of my head would be; Garage or shop space, horsepower, good ideas, energy, and of course, time.
You can never have too much of that. Yes, you'll hear people say,"We have more than enough time." But can that ever be true? I don't think so. And it seems that every time I hear that, it's coming from someone who is about to embark on some type of home repair... and we all know that it never turns out to be true in those instances.
Why am I rambling on about this? Well, I guess it's my way of soft-pitching a flimsy excuse as to why I've been "out of the office" around here for almost a week ( a terrible example to give the kids ). Pretty lame I know, because we're all busy and this definitely doesn't make me special. But what I've realized during the past several days is that the very thing that has been the biggest 'time vampire' around here and has been responsible for interrupting my daily post schedule, is the very thing that I've yet to post about. And I've been meaning to for some time. In fact, it tops the list of motorsports activities coming up this year that I'm most excited about.
Let me rephrase a bit. Excited?, yes. Anxious?, that's more the feeling, but maybe not in the way you might think. You see, I have gone and done something that I've been wanting to do for quite a few years now and am learning, as you do in times like these, that you really do have to be careful what you wish for. What could this be you might ask? Well...
On June 27th, 2009 my business partner Henry Astor and I will be putting on a day long motorsports event here in the Nashville, Tennessee area. Why would I take this on? Because, it will be fun- of course! Sure it's a big job to organize and promote something like this, but I'm more than confident that the payoff will make it all worth it.
In a nutshell, we're hoping to bring together between 50-60 pre-'73 special interest cars and bikes ( and their owners ), for a day of scenic driving, top quality catered meals, live entertainment, and just good old motorsport-people comradery. And therein lies the payoff; getting lovers of cranky old interesting machinery, like myself, to get their vehicles out for the day and have a pleasant time with like-minded folk. What could be better?
For those who have an interest in participating, please feel free to check out www.astormotorproductions.com for more information.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
For those of you who have wondered about the Corvette museum in Bowling Green, I thought I'd take a post and fill you in as best I can.
Lucky for me I'm about 65 miles south of this place and can not only visit it often, but can also take in the various motorsports events that happen throughout the year in Bowling Green. One of the towns main attractions for me is the time capsule straight out of the '50s quarter mile that they have there... but that's another story.
The Corvette Museum gets two thumbs up from me. I really enjoy this place every time I'm there. Of course they have many great cars on display, but they do a nice job of giving the cars a natural environment backdrop in several different theme'd rooms. My favorite of course is the Corvette race cars from all eras that are displayed in formation all around the rounded back wall of the museum complete with racing scene murals painted behind them. With a revolving door of cars coming in and out throughout each year, it pays off to go back and visit periodically. In fact, I stopped in on a whim a few years ago and got to see the restored "Purple People Eater" while it was there on display. A great car with great history; a '58 or '59 Fuel Injected big brake car that driving ace Jim Jeffords from Chicago drove to two SCCA B-production championships in '58 and '59. He even took the car out to the west coast races in the late '50s to run with Bondurant, MacDonald, and the rest of the So-Cal big boys. In addition, I can't remember a time I'e stopped in when they haven't had an original Z06 in attendance. Last time it was the white ex-Mickey Thompson car that not only road raced but took to salt at Bonneville.
A very nice theatre is also there showing a very well done documentary film on the history of the fiberglass bodied mark. Looping all day long. Of course you have many engines on display as well as a Corvette hall of fame featuring tributes to the men and women who helped make the car what it is today.
But for my money, the most important thing in the entire building is an old yellowed piece of paper. It sits in a glass case, well lit for all who want to press their noses. It is the typewritten letter from Zora Arkus Duntov to Chevrolet Chief engineer Ed Cole entitled "Thoughts pertaining to youth, hot rodders, and Chevrolet". The letter is dated December 16th 1953.
The nut shell of the story is that Zora had just returned from Speed Week at the Bonneville salt flats and was blown away by the size of it, the number of competitors, and the great advances being made in performance by young hot rodders. But mostly, Zora was concerned with the lack of Chevrolet presence out on the salt and hot rodding in general. A brave and persistent Duntov ( who had been hired as an assistant engineer just months prior ) outlined for Cole his thoughts on the matter and they are nothing short of brilliant. Zora had an amazing ability to see into the future and read how Chevrolet could be a part of it.
By first outlining to Cole the size and influence of the hot rod movement, he then went on to explain the natural progression that would inevitably take place with kids who grow up on Fords and Ford performance and how they'll of course gravitate to purchasing new and newer Fords as they age. He pointed out that it was in no way more complicated than the simple fact that Ford had made a great V8 with interchangeable parts that the high performance aftermarket saw as the most obvious choice to build hop-up parts for. Therefore the kids were given no choice but to go with Ford.
Where Zora would eventually go with this is nothing short of a turning point in high-performance history as big as we would ever see in our lifetimes. And I really don't think that is an overstatement. Zora mapped out reason after reason why Chevrolet needed to immediately begin development of an OHV V8 engine. His guidelines for what he felt this design had to contain and achieve is a spot-on description of what the Chevrolet small block V8 would come to be known for. He stressed the following; it had to be lightweight, it had to be simple in design, it must be fuel efficient, and it must make good power for its size and take to modification exceedingly well.
As we all know, Cole listened and the rest is history. In 1955 the brilliant and timeless Chevrolet small block V8 was introduced in 265 ci form and would go on to be possibly the longest running unchanged V8 design in automotive history. Of course to us it's the holy grail of small sized V8s for building obscene amounts of reliable power at a very low cost. No matter what your allegiance, I think it can be agreed by most that it has had the largest impact on hot rodding, racing of all kinds, and motorsports in general. I honestly can't imagine how different our sport and hobby would be had they not gone ahead with Zora's plan. Obviously something else would have come along but it's hard to imagine that it could have been done as "right" the first time.
P.S. If you'd like to read Zora's letter in its entirety, go to the Corvette action center website and check it out.