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Motorsports News

2005 Monterey Historics Celebrates American Specials
By Andrew Gardner; photos by the author
Feb 25, 2006, 20:50 PST
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The first Chaparal model, campaigned in 1962. This is chassis # 003

 

Shortly after I returned from this year’s Monterey Historics, a friend asked if I had gone and I replied that I indeed had. We discussed our experiences with the event briefly. He related enjoying the races, but said he had stopped going because he realized that “it’s the same cars every time.”

 

For the moment I agreed with him. There are always some Ferrari’s, some Trans Am cars, some Can Am cars, some older Formula 1 cars, and that cute little 800cc Berkeley.

 

How foolish of me! There is so much more to the event than the regulars, but for many even the regulars are enough of a draw. There are always untold stories in the pits, there is certainly at least one car you haven’t seen with an accompanying owner happy to tell some interesting anecdotes about his car’s history or his own experiences with the historic race machine. But on a grand scale there is a featured marquee every year, and there is a great chance you will be treated to some story or some experience with the manufacturer you have not had before. Even Ferrari enthusiasts have to admit last year’s Formula1 demonstration, which brought the best of the modern Ferrari open-wheelers on track at the same time, was a rare treat.

 

 

This year, we had the pleasure of witnessing great all-American specials (and some not quite all-American) brought together from warehouses and collections and garages from around the country to be displayed in still and at speed. We see every year the classic Ol’ Yellers, but this year we enjoyed the Lance Reventlow’s Scarab and Jim Hall’s Chapparal’s – both cars were fabricated by the old Troutman and Barnes team. It was a year of American pride, enjoying the beautiful products of some good old boys in their home garages and backyards, tinkering with existing chassis and dropping in some strong V8’s, and a variety of other storied creations.

 

 

The Scarab story is that of an American dream team. Lance Reventlow was a rich youngster who got himself immersed in Southern California car culture. He had seen what Europe’s powerhouses had to offer, and he had the money and determination to set out and better the old world’s racecars. He hired the best of the best: Chuck Pelley, a graduate of the Art Center college in Pasadena, did the body design. Ken Miles did the original chassis layout – this young gentleman went on to drive and fabricate for likely the greatest American team of all time: Shelby.

 

 

Phil Remington, a master fabricator and mechanic, also worked on the Scarab team, and worked for Shelby at the same time Ken Miles did. Other names such as the Dick Troutman and Tom Barnes pair, plus engine experts Jim Travers and Frank Coon (of Traco), and others, brought their racing experience from Indianapolis and other venues to this portentous team.

 

 

This American hot rod was powered by a cast-iron 283 small-block Chevy V8, bored and stroked to a 339 cubic inch displacement, rigged with a dry-sump oil system and tweaked to a massive 490 bhp output. The Scarab blew the sports car world away in 1958, with primary driver Chuck Daigh, and Lance Reventlow proving more than competent. Lance campaigned this team for just one year, converted chassis #001 into his personal street car, and sold the other two to owners who campaigned the cars very successfully over the next four years. This shining star paved the way for later American greats Shelby and Chapparal.

 

'62 Chapparal exhaust manifold wrapped in fiberglass

 

Jim Hall’s story is one of particular interest, which is why he was at the forefront of this year’s featured “marquee.” A CalTech grad looking to go into military duty, Jim Hall at near the last minute decided he was going racing. His big brain led to some wild designs, including some that were wildly successful. For many, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear Chaparral is the combination of an automatic transaxle and the pedal-actuated trimmable wing. The mere notion of an automatic transmission in racing is pretty wild, but the manually adjusted wing is just out of this world. The wing could be adjusted to be flat for minimal drag while blasting down the straightaway, and then the wing can be tilted so it exposes a larger surface to the oncoming air, thus aiding in braking for the car - these operations were completed by by pushing/releasing the third pedal in the footbox. Jim Hall and (starting in 1966) teammate Phil Hill got so good that they could really feather the wing pedal, and transition very smoothly from braking to acceleration. The change in downforce due to the position of that third pedal  was certainly significant, and must have produced some amazing sensations in terms of the car’s behavior…

 

 

If that vehicle wasn’t wild enough for you, how about a car with two lawnmower engines strapped on the back? Sounds slow, you say? Well, the lawnmower engines were not intended to propel the vehicle, at least not forward. They were intended to propel the vehicle downward.

 

 

These two noisy – we mean VERY noisy – engines would propel air away form the back of the vehicle, which then creates a low pressure spot at the back and sucks air from underneath the car, thus creating a low pressure zone underneath the car. Low pressure below means relatively high pressure above, and thus increased downforce. I personally have never heard of a power-induced ground effect car before this year, and I first heard it just weeks before the historics while attending the car show at the Pasadena art college. Gordon Murray’s talk about his Brabham Formula 1 car, the “fan car,” was certainly a fascinating anecdote, humorously spiked with the closing fact that the car was promptly banned from Formula1 for having an unfair advantage. The Chaparral fan car did not last long in competition either - just one year, and unfortunately with little success because the team missed multiple races that season, and even with reigning Formula1 World Champion Jackie Stewart at the wheel, the car had a tough time finishing due to a variety of parts failures. But it was quite a sight to see and hear. Most Chaparals sound like mean American machines, powered by viscious V8’s, thundering down the main straight at Laguna Seca. The fan car sounded more like a tiny propeller driven airplane preparing for take-off; those two lawnmower engines were far too loud to allow anybody not right next to the vehicle to hear the car’s propelling motor. Jackie Stewart relates the amazing experiences he had driving this car. He would get some drift, then just lift off a bit and it would stick, and then he could then add more and more throttle and continue powering out of the corner. This car had some amazing grip.

 

'62 Chapparal; Hurst shifter equipped

 

The Chaparral story picked up where the Scarab story left off. The Troutman and Barnes team, which had done most of the fabrication design for the Scarab, was looking for new work. Jim Hall had enjoyed great success in Maseratis and was looking to apply his Caltech engineering expertise to his own cars – when the two crossed paths, they find they had a lot to offer each other.

 

 

The first Chaparral featured a Chevy 283 bored and stroked to a 339; it ran with a 12.5:1 ratio, put out 442 horsepower and redlined at seven grand. The team hoped to create rear-engined car, but had no available running gear to handle that kind of torque. Thus, they put the small block way back in the front half of this 90 inch wheelbase chassis. This led to a powerful, long-hood body design. The engine transferred power through a Gord-Warner four speed and an eclectic rear end: a twenty year old Ford ring and pinion gear set with a GM positraction differential. The early cars wore a variety of bodystyles on the same chassis, and served as early aerodynamic test mules for Jim Hall. The early cars saw some success, including a victory in the 1962 Road America. On track at this year’s Monterey Historics, the Chaparals sounded like mean American machines hungry for competition.

 

Behind the front rows of the pits were cars farther from the spotlight than the Chapparal back in their heyday. The Platypus, for example, thrived at a time when the factory Porsche RSK and 500 Spyders were showing their age, and Southern California speed shops were figuring out how to build better chassis. The team of Scooter Patrick, Hans Adam, and Don Mitchell, put together a fiberglass body on top of a very ahead of their time chrome-moly spaceframe chassis. The P.A.M. team, as they called themselves, dropped four-cam Porsche motors in the rear and were off with some success, claiming runner-up to a quick Lotus in the West Coast Championship in 1964. The Platypus was a continually evolving car, receiving modifications whenever time and budget allowed. It later received a Porsche 901, and finally a Oldsmobile V8 engine.

 

Walking a little further down into the pits, amongst burples and rips and roars of V6’s, 8’s and 12’s, lies a less American special, which we will fondly remember by its given name: the Pooper. A clever contraction of the names of its primary constituents – a 1.7-liter Porsche engine in a Cooper chassis, this 1100 pound car used its ridiculously low weight to make up for low horsepower and run with some of the bigger boys. This 1953 special, with its 85-inch wheelbase, was about as nimble as they come. The Pooper showed its mettle, driving Pete Lovely to a class F national SCCA championship.

 

The "Especial" precursor to the 250 GTO

 

And there were some non-American specials, like a beautifully prepared light blue Ferrari Especial. This particular machine was the 1961 predecessor to the GTO. It was powered by the Testa Rossa’s motor, and based on the 250 SWB chassis. Its body very closely resembles the Superamerica – obviously not a design that lasted for the official racecar that debuted the next year. The Especial carried four wheel Dunlop disc brakes, and this model included the physical evidence of lessons learned on track: after its first practice session, the test driver concluded that it was producing lift on both ends. So they added some interesting looking small spoilers. This was obviously a successful test car, considering the GTO’s dominance in the two following years of sports car racing.

 

 

The same thing every year? Not quite. Not nearly. The same lap times, maybe largely the same people, but the featured marque always makes its mark on this special occasion. The stories, the speeds, the smell of unburnt high-octane fuel, the incredible sounds mix to form some sweet love potion that leaves you almost unnaturally giddy as you swing through the pits and cling to the fence as you watch those old hero machines race by with all their heart. While the crowds shift on Sunday to the Pebble Beach Concours to watch the judging of mostly old and slow cars restored on million-dollar budgets, perhaps the truer automotive enthusiasts are still inland, at the track, with the guys who have wrenches in their hands, bloodied knuckles, grease under their eyes and fingernails, tuning their 50-year old Webber-carbureted V8’s and going uot to duel the old fashioned way – on Hoosiers and Dunlops, with drum brakes and no electronics more complicated than the distributor cap and headlights, making their cars do what they were meant to do – fly.

 

 

 

 

Ignition technology circa 1958: Scarab's distributor

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lister makes a late turn-in at turn 3

 

Another American special; the Monsterati

 

 

 

© Copyright 2005 by MotorSportsCenter.com

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