Archive for March, 2010

Should the Cisitalia-Porsche 360 Have Changed GP Racing?


The mid-engine revolution was, of course, prompted by Jack Brabham’s 1959 World Championship win at the wheel of a Cooper Formula 1 car. Shortly thereafter Cooper took the 1960 championship winning T53 car to Indy for a test in 1960, entering the race the following year. The Indianapolis 500 community initially shunned the goofy little car, but eventually Indy was running the configuration as well.

What I don’t understand about this is why the rear and mid-engine platform wasn’t adopted more quickly after the war. The Auto Unions certainly showcased the viability of the configuration before the war. Was their dominance so quickly forgotten?

Dr. Porsche’s engineers built upon his design for the Auto Union after the war, working with Cisitalia in 1947 to build a mid-engined Formula 1 car borrowing largely from the basic construction of the Silver Arrows. Their were, of course, some changes. The engine was more powerful, for one. Laurence Pomeroy’s text, The Grand Prix Car, describes in far more detail than I could.

The horizontally opposed twelve-cylinder engine is placed directly behind the driver’s seat and the vertically split light alloy crankcase extends outwards to form the water jackets. Individual cylinder liners in direct contact with the water are inserted and are sealed by light alloy detachable cylinder heads which are cast in one piece for each block. Each head carries two valves at an included angle of 90 degrees which seat direct, the inlet valve having an o.d. of 35 mm. giving a total inlet valve area of 17.9 sq. in. This is slightly greater than the area available on the 1939 3-litre Auto Unions and in accord with a projected output of 500 b.h.p.

The valves are opened by two camshafts for each bank through the medium of followers and a single 18 mm. plug is used set well back and with a 6 mm. passage connecting the points to the combustion chamber.

The bore and stroke give a piston area of 45.7 sq. in. and the seven-bearing Hirth type crankshaft has the remarkably large diameter of 54 mm., which is nearly equal to the bore itself. Even the gudgeon-pin is 18 mm. diameter, or one-third of the cylinder bore, and although the connecting rods which are one-piece types are conven- tionally proportioned with a length between centres of crank radius x 4 they are absolutely only 4 in. long. In consequence, that section of the rod lying above the big end radii and below the gudgeon-pin fillet is little more than 13⁄4 in. long, giving an exceptionally stiff assembly

The suspension did deviate somewhat from the Pre-War Auto Unions. Rather than following up on the swing axles of the Auto Union A-C cars or the de Dion unit of the Auto Union D-Type, the 360 favored independent suspension in a radius arm configuration with a hydraulic damper and torsion bars. Up front was the VW/Porsche type trailing arm independent suspension.

So you see, I just don’t get it: mid-engine, independent suspension all around, 500 horsepower, and this was 1949… Shouldn’t this have made the mid-engine revolution come a decade earlier? Why wasn’t the Cisitalia-Porsche a massive success and powerhouse on the track? I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that it all came down to finances.

The project’s backer plain ran out of funds as the project was finishing. In a scramble for cash, the development team shipped to car to Argentina to try and persuade Juan Perón to help finance the project. But by ’52, the Formula 1 rules had changed and engines displacements were altered, killing the Cisitalia-Porsche 360 before it had any real opportunity to take on the Formula 1 competition. The car participated in a few Formula Libre races in South America before it was shelved.

The project wasn’t a total loss. It did raise enough funds to spring Dr. Porsche from French prison in what was basically a simple ransom. Although Dr. Porsche was held as a war criminal, no charges were ever brought against him and no trial was ever scheduled; there was just the simple matter of his 500,000 Franc bail. Today the car is part of the Porsche Museum’s collection.

What do you think? If the Cisitalia-Porsche had raced alongside Formula 1 competitors in the early 1950’s, would the mid-engine revolution have some sooner?

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Masterful Swiss Porsche Garage


There’s a fine line between a really beautiful garage and a lovingly curated museum. Garage Journal member and classic 911 fanatic, Milou, is really flirting with the edge of that line, or he’s leapt right over it. If you spend any time at all browsing the endlessly luxurious garage galleries on the Garage Journal forums, you know that a humble 3-car detached garage is fairly run-of-the-mill. The garages that typically attract a lot of attention have square footage in the thousands, more than one lift, and more cabinet space than 10 kitchens. This garage though, is an absolute thing of beauty—and that’s before the ex-Siffert 2.2 liter rally 911 saddles up next to the ex-Wicky racing team 2.3 S/T and street 2.2 Targa.

As is so often the case, Milou’s collection goes beyond the cars and into Porsche collectibles. Vintage Porsche racing posters are a fantastic high-water mark in automotive graphic design and look good in any garage, but what about the Butzi Porsche designed sled? A retail display of Porsche touch-up paint pens? Heuer timekeeping devices? They all come together as a showpiece that would be an excellent place to kick up your feet and watch a race, or alphabetize your brochure collection. You can read Milou’s garage build thread at the Garage Journal. Fantastic!

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Birdcage Maserati at Auction

RM Auctions’ upcoming Sporting Classics at Monaco event has some stunningly beautiful machines crossing the block. Among them is this drop-dead gorgeous example of the mighty Tipo 61 “Birdcage” Maserati. Beautifully prepared and lovingly photographed, this Birdcage is ready for action.

This example, chassis #2470, was the third from last Birdcage to leave the factory, and boasts a string of wins Stateside and in Europe. Originally delivered to Texas oilman and SCCA president, Jack Hinkle. Despite his status of a wealthy collector that might ordinarily be relegated to the ranks of ‘gentleman racer’, Hinkle drove as hard as the professional racers that shared his grid. He won three of seven entered races with 2470. That’s an excellent season, especially considering that he was on the podium in all of the races the car finished (he had one DNF that season).

After the next owner (Can Am Series co-founder Tracy Bird) suffered a fire in the car, the car’s salvagable chassis was grafted with the chassis of the crashed ex-Roger Penske Birdcage. Ordinarily I don’t like these ‘half of one chassis, half of another’ jobs. But the fact that this repair was made in-period, well within the car’s original life, and is well documented, helps me overlook that. This isn’t one of those ‘started as a 330 America, now’s it’s a GTO’ hatchet jobs.

My favorite bit of history comes from the car’s third life at the hands of Lord Alexander Hesketh. He had Charles Lucas drive the car for a historic race that was the support event for the ’75 Austrian GP. Lucas piloted the Birdcage to a commanding lead. The lead was so strong that Lord Hasketh hung a sign over the pit wall reading “cocktails”. This was no mere celebratory “we’re going to win and celebrate with cocktails later”—it was an invitation. Lucas pulled into the pits for a quick nip, then repassed the field for a win. Mid-race cocktails doesn’t sound like such a good idea now, but the story is simply fantastic.

I’ve long adored these incredibly beautiful machines, both her masterfully designed bodywork and as the pinnacle of the space-frame chassis design. This is one of those machines where when you see her stripped of her panels, she looks even more sophisticated and impressive. The hundreds of thin gauge tubes welded together in an impossibly precise geometry looks part mathematics dissertation, part fighter jet, all mean.

Speaking of mean, the black livery on this example is intimidating. It’s so imposing that even though it hides the incredible lines of the bodywork, even though my heart wants it back in her original red-orange factory color, even though it somehow makes this outstanding machine recede into the background when one the grid with her fellow Italian machines—despite all of these very good reasons to repaint—I’d keep her as is. She’s just so damn bad-ass looking. She could be none more black.

More information and photos on the lot detail page.

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Contemporary “Boardtracking” in Germany

Well, not quite.. But this is as close as we’re likely to get. The owner of this Bielefeld, Germany velodrome let some vintage boardtrack enthusiasts on his highly banked (albeit paved and not planks) cycling track for a few laps in vintage boardtrackers. Although the pace looks pretty leisurely, I’d imagine the grade of those banks looks a lot steeper when you’re on them than they look in this clip. The onboard footage, complete with flickery, grainy, goodness give us as good an approximation of boardtracking as we’re likely to get these days.

I just love that this velodrome owner let these guys on the track. Imagine walking up to a business owner and saying, ‘excuse me, we’d like to do something extraordinarily dangerous on your business property. Just for fun.’

My hat is off to you sir.

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Happy Birthday, Steve.


Steve McQueen would should have turned 80 today. I bet he’d still be whipping his XI around the corkscrew at the Monterey Historics every year.

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Stirling’s New Ride


Auction houses vigorously protect the privacy of their purchasers, but in this case Stirling Moss seems to have wanted to shout from the rooftops about his new car, and so authorized Gooding & Co to announce the proud new owner following their Amelia Island Auctions. One of only fourteen Porsche RS61 Spyders built, and the final evolution of the 50s and 60s Spyder family, this RS61 (chassis 718-070) is indeed a treasure. A treasure befitting the $1,705,000 bid that finally won the car. Whew.

The car has an interesting history, particularly for a machine that spent most of its life in the States. The car took class wins at SCCA National events at Daytona, Lime Rock, Maryland, Meadowdale, and Road America. A further class win at the 1960 Sebring with Bob Holbert and Roger Penske sharing the wheel sealed the deal on a remarkable history book for 718-070.

As to the car’s current condition, which looks absolutely stunning in the photos, perhaps the Gooding catalog for the event says it best:

On a recent test drive by Gooding & Company, this RS61 exhibited all the delightful qualities for which the late Porsche Spyders are renowned: nimble and responsive steering, effective brakes, a lively, free-revving engine and an almost telepathic level of feedback. The Ernst Fuhrmann-designed four-cam loves to climb up the rev-range and emits an unforgettable, staccato bark, made all the more raucous by the single, center-exit stinger exhaust.

Inside, the passengers are treated to a minimalist, business-like cockpit that is an ideal setting for fast, focused driving; yet with its spacious and inviting feel, full FIA windscreen, lightweight bucket seats (easily adjusted for different drivers), clear readable gauges and a comfortable driving position, it would be a reasonable long-distance event car.

Porsche RS61 718-070 at Sebring 1961

Not only is the car a thrill to drive, once placed in the right hands, an RS61 is more than just a class contender – it is a car with the potential for outright victory in any grid of early 1960s sports racers. Yet despite all its on-track talent, an RS61 is capable of driving down the highway in relative comfort and with surprising ease.

Hey Gooding, how do I get that pre-auction test driver job?

The purchase took place just days after Stirling’s fall down his home elevator shaft. It looks like Moss is fully committed to recovering quickly from this broken ankles and returning to the track. Now he’ll just have to decide between this amazing machine and his equally lovely OSCA. Congratulations, Sir Stirling.

Via Classic Rallies.

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More Unseen Racing Footage: Palm Springs 1955


Bill Pollock's Baldwin Mk II Special

Let’s take another look into the John McClure archives. This time from the March, 1955 running of the Palm Springs Road Races.

This race is particularly interesting for pop culture fans as James Dean brought home 2nd place in his Porsche Speedster for the under 1500cc class—this was mere months before purchasing the Spyder he would die in. Sadly, while there are a few very fleeting shots of Dean’s white Speedster here (bearing number 23 for this race), there isn’t a clear shot of the man behind the wheel.

The rather grisly rollover accident of Ray Sinatra’s Darrin, while terrifying to look at, left Ray with a dislocated shoulder.

Jack McAfee in his winning Ferrari 375MM


Ultimately in the main event, Jack McAfee took top honors in his Ferrari 375 MM (#211) after a long battle with Bill Pollack in the Baldwin Special Mk II Mercury (#20).

I’m struck by the stark beauty of the Palm Springs desert venue. I’ve never been to the California desert, and it looks like I should definitely make a point of it.

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Bless the Trials Drivers

You kids today and your paved racecourses. Mulsanne Straight… Hrmph.. Straights at all.. Hrmph. Bah. Just drive your Bugatti or Bentley through the woods. These guys are serious about using their cars as they were meant to used. After all, there weren’t a lot of paved roads when these cars were new.

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A Lap Around Sebring with Hans Herrmann

Among the celebrations at this weekend’s Sebrings events is a particular anniversary for the race’s winningest factory. 2010 marks 50 years since Porsche’s first victory at Sebring, a feat they’ve matched 17 more times. To commemorate the milestone, Hans Herrmann jumped back in the old RS60 he co-piloted to victory at the Sebring airport circuit in 1960. Wanna ride shotgun? Me too.

via Automobiliart

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Why I Love Elkhart Lake


I hope this photo doesn’t get anyone in trouble but I can’t help but share this shot from the 2008 Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival. Where else in the world can you stumble out of the bar at 1am and see a pre-war biplane engine-powered Frazer-Nash monoposto double parked in a handicapped spot?

I just love it.

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