Tales from the Pits

On a clear, crisp Friday in April of 1953, with the sun beginning to warm the hillsides just north of San Luis Obispo, California, Harvey Mayer unloaded from its trailer the 1100cc OSCA belonging to Randy MacDougall—Pebble Beach bound—for the purpose of blowing the cobwebs out of the engine and fine tuning for the weekend’s activities, and took off up the road, the tow car in lame pursuit.

At Torrey Pines a few months earlier Randy had driven the car to second place, behind Von Neumann’s Porsche SL, wearing the blue paint it had arrived with from the factory. But now resplendent in its new Italian racing red livery, the OSCA managed to catch the eye of a wary California Highway Patrol officer, who duly pulled Harvey over. Now having very good eyes, our pilot had certainly seen the CHP as soon as he had seen Harvey, and in those pre-radar days, the officer had not been able to clock the OSCA over the mile necessary to issue a speeding ticket. But he circled the little bolide carefully, pulled out his ticket book, and began writing. The first OSCA on the West Coast, this car had the headlights recessed in the little round grill opening, and not fared into the fenders as later MT4s would. So despite being liscensed for the road, the car was illegal.

“Your headlights are too low to the ground, and too close together.” the cop said, handing Harvey the ticket as the tow car drew up behind. “You’ll have to fix it before you can drive it on the road again.”

Back the OSCA went onto the trailer, and I noted its passing from the parking lot of the Paso Robles Inn, where our equipe had stopped for early afternoon cocktails. Into the lounge I went.

“Harvey has just gone by towing the OSCA” I announced.

“What color was it?” asked my Father suspiciously. He knew it had just been painted, and figured I didn’t.

“Red” was the answer, but it didn’t convince the rest of them. They were made believers when, near Greenfield in a growing twilight, we came on the OSCA, on its trailer, hitched to Harvey’s tow vehicle, precariously tilted along the side of the two lane road. He had had a flat tire. This was fixed, but in pulling off the road where the shoulder was steeply graded, the carburetor of the tow car had become starved for fuel, and it would not restart. The tank was low on gas, and the pump was not getting any into the carb. We had no gas can between us, but we did have some fuel line, and eventually Harvey was able to siphon some gas out of our tank and pour it into the starved carb, and his tow car sputtered and off we all went, arriving at the Pine Inn in Carmel well past the dinner hour.

Harvey had become quite paternal about the OSCA, and for good reason. No more beautiful race car existed. Its thin aluminum skin was sleek and utterly unique, its little twin cam four an engineering jewel. Randy, a writer by profession, published a humerous little piece in one of the sports car journals of the day accusing Harvey of trying to keep him away from his own race car, of refusing to answer the telephone when Randy called, and of leaving teddy bears to bounce around in the cockpit to keep Randy awake when actually racing the car. This was not a bad idea. Randy put the car into the haybales twice in front of me during Sunday’s race, doing severe damage to the carozzeria. and he did not come close to showing the car’s potential. But Harvey drove it in the novice event, and as the smallest engine in the race, started dead last on the twisty, narrow, pine=lined track. In four laps he threaded his way through the field and caught the leading Jaguar Porsche, going on to win. Years later, Harvey would be the fastest West Coast Lotus driver.

Ken Miles won Randy’s event in the first outing of his R1 special. I always thought that if Harvey had driven the OSCA in the main instead of Randy, that the debut of Miles’ car would have resulted in a second place.

Update:
Tony Adriaensens sent along a pair of photos of the OSCA in question taken at Torrey Pines. Leaving open the debate of when exactly #1122 changed her colors. Thanks Tony!

DISCUSS (3 Comments)

  1. Mike Jacobsen

    Seeing this in print I take the first opportunity to correct myself! By a slip of the pen I said “Jaguar” when I should have written “Porsche.” MJ

  2. tony adriaensens

    The photo of the OSCA used in Mike’s wonderful story was taken at Torrey Pines in December 1952 – at that time they still used a small number for class identification; shortly afterwards, these engine capacity classifications were indicated by use of a letter – TA

  3. OSCAFAN

    Wonderful tale!
    Interesting to note that the MM bodywork -as it is called nowadays- seems out of sequence, in OSCA body development terms. OSCAs chassis # 1118 and 1119 had similar MM bodies, but by chassis # 1120 and 1121 the headlights moved to the fenders and the more conventional OSCA body design came about. The mystery of why #1122 would have an “out of sequence” body gets compounded when one realizes that some of the present mechanicals have an #1119 stamping on then (namely the bell housing and gearbox). Books note chassis #1119 as being destroyed early in its a career.

    Another twist in the tale is the article that appears very early in the car’s life on the west Coast in a magazine called Auto Speed and Sport from October 1952. There a split case sump is visible in the photographs as well as a particularly early development front suspension lower wishbone set up. It is noted in OSCA literature, that the engine from chassis #1109 was used in #1119 (with the same owner) and now with the pictures the fact that the suspension is such early construction might indicate that some (if not all) of the underpinning for # 1122 came from (a much) earlier car.
    So the net result is that there is reasonable chance that #1122 was a re-stamped #1119 which was in itself #1109 in earlier life.

    Such is the twisted and convoluted life of a race car.

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