Me and My ASP Pt. 4: She’s Finished!

The ASP is done! Last Thursday I rolled the car in the trailer and headed for Gingerman Raceway on the west side of Michigan but not before taking a few photos that Harlo posted here last week. My good friend and famed photographer Fabrizio Costantini also came by to take some beautiful photos as well.

I arrived at the track late in the afternoon to shake the car down at their test and tune night. I got to chase around several other open-wheeled cars of various formula. The ASP felt like an old familiar friend and it handled better than I remembered. It might have something to do with changing the geometry of the tie-rods for better bump steer and definitely has something to do with calling over Garret Van Camp (the set up maestro) to help me dial in the camber and toe. I took it pretty easy as I made about 10 laps around increasing my speed with each lap, seating in the new piston rings.

The car felt good, sounded good and then after about 20 minutes of remembering why I love FV so much something went amiss. I couldn’t seem to find any gear other than 4th, so i pulled into the paddock to find out what was going on. A broken shift rod was what was going on. Upon further inspection, it appeared to be made of paper thin steel tubing that must not have held up to the nickel plating process. Perhaps it’s the one part on the car that was designed by Collin Chapman to be as light as possible. I was done for the day. The next morning I began my quest to find some adequate steel to remake a part that would last. I found a steel supplier conveniently located a few miles from the track and the guys at Trackside Motorsports which is as the name suggests is conveniently trackside. They assisted me in remaking a new and improved shift rod that had me back in action for Saturday’s qualifying session.

It is my hope that the rings are still seating and that is what landed me 11th on the grid out of the 30 cars but in truth it was probably some combination of my time out of the car, the rings and the stiff competition. The car did seem to make more power as the weekend went on though… or at least I imagined it did. For the start of the race on Sunday I got away quickly and managed to get around 3 cars before turn 1. By the 3rd to last lap I had made my way into 5th place but then was passed back by Guy Dennehy. I stayed on his gearbox for the next lap hoping I’d be able to draft around him on the back straight. As we came up to the Turn 5/6 combination he went in a little too hot and back end of his Lynx started stepping out and I sensed he was going to lose it.

The car spun left and I went right, then he tried to correct and it snapped back across the track in front of me and I went waaayyy right off the track (as to not spear my pal Guy). I tried to not give the wheel any sudden input and edge it back toward the track surface but as has happened so many times before when two wheel are on grass and two on pavement, my car too snapped into a spin. Most every car I’d worked to get around, got around me in an instant, and several of them too close for my comfort… I had a front row seat to oncoming racecars. As soon as the last car went by I whipped around in anger (just an expression) and started trying to chase down the pack. With only 2 laps to go I knew it wasn’t likely but my heart was pumping and my tires were sticking. I passed all of the lapped traffic before the last lap and had Guy and the rest of the pack in my sights but they had just made up too much ground. If I’d had one more lap who knows. I finished lucky 7th, feeling lucky that I could roll the car back on the trailer unscathed to fight another day.

See the complete restoration story here.

Stay tuned for details on the next project which is nearing completion… a 1969 Merlyn MK11A Formula Ford.

Me and My ASP Pt. 3: Restoration

Fast forward to today. I’ve had the vee apart and back together 20 times since Garrett helped me rebuild it in 2004 but usually just long enough to fix or freshen between seasons. The list of things I would do to the car if I ever completely restored it was just getting longer so I decided now was the time to address everything.

After years of racing the the old girl and my more recent love affair with Formula Fords I have become a far better mechanic and I’ve learned many guarded speed secrets from Garret, my good friend Frank Newton and others. So this time around I wanted to give the 3 time Mexican national champ the love it deserved. I wanted to take the car back to as original as possible. After 40 some years a lot of terrible things can happen to a racecar and the ASP was no exception. The body was pretty hacked up, and was far heavier than it needed to be due to too many layers of fiberglass and paint. The chassis was riddled with holes from multiple floor pans and mounting this and that. And countless other problems that I’ve corrected along the way.

I started with the most miserable thankless job… fiberglass. I wanted to make sure the body was perfect and fit perfectly before disassembling the car…. a lesson I learned the hard way when restoring my Merlyn MK20A Formula Ford. For 8 weeks I spent nearly every night and most weekend days endlessly sanding and laying up glass. I started by grinding on the back side of the fiberglass and shed over 30 lbs from the body! Considering that 20 lbs is good for about 1 HP in a vee that is significant. I’d stand in my garage on a bathroom scale holding the part and record the weight. Then I would take as much material off as I dared or and weigh us again. I was able to take 13 lbs out of the tail section alone.

I then looked at original photos I have of the car and began to recreate the missing sections of body work. It had a lot of wear and tear, had been cracked up from minor shunts, cut for different seatbelt configurations, etc. Next, I sanded through the 6 layers of paint to get down to the gel coat so i could see all of the cracks. I carved out every crack in the gel coat with a Dremel and filled with glass filler so the cracks wouldn’t come back through the paint. Where the tie rods went through the body it was so bad i just laid in all new glass and cut new holes because there was just not enough material to work with. Then I did a lot of work making sure the body panels all lined up and came up with a better way to fasten everything together and minimize gaps. Once I was happy with how everything fit I took the body over to my good friend Brian Spieza’s shop to talk paint.

I don’t know why. Probably because I’m a designer by trade but paint color is something I agonize over. I love keeping cars original but the original paint scheme of navy blue and yellow was simply not an option in my mind. When I restored the car the first time I painted it Dutch racing orange and I liked it but it was too tempting to switch it up yet again. I finally settled on a color similar to the British Racing Partnership green found on the beautiful BRMs and Ferraris Innes Ireland drove. When it came to the graphics I wanted to keep it simple and somehow pay homage to the car’s winning history. I hand designed the numbers based on some old photos I had of BRP Formula Juniors. When Brian saw all of the reference I put together he loved it too, which was all the further convincing I needed. BRP Green it is. Brian then did the final sanding and we went to the paint shop to mix up the color.

While Brian was working on the body I began the rest of the disassembly and chassis restoration. The bottom frame rails had at least 3 sets of holes from different floor pans that I welded shut and ground down. There were about 50 miscellaneous holes drilled for brake line clamps and whatever else was mounted to the frame over the years. Some the original brazing had cracked and need to be re-brazed. I also sleeved and welded in some new tubes that had suffered the consequences of sitting outside nose down in the ground for a number of years. I did the final metal finishing and then dropped off all of the frame components for powder coat. I painted and refinished all of the rest of the bits myself.

Once Brian had all of the color down on the body panels it was time for graphics. I wanted the numbers and graphics painted on rather than vinyl. I know they used decals in the 60s and it’s extra work but looks far better and more correct to me. I cut out numbers in various sizes and placed them on the car until we found what we thought worked proportionally. When graphics are that simple, they have to be perfectly sized and placed or you just know something is wrong.

I for one think that a 40 year old racecar should look like it was painted 40 years ago. Some people think I’m crazy and some people really appreciate it. I work with Brian because he is a master of making brand new paint look old. He is known for painting guitars to give them an authentic vintage paint quality and broken-in look. When I was restoring my last car I asked him if he’d be willing to try the same technique on a larger scale. So many people look at that car and can’t put their finger on why it looks so period authentic…. It has a lot to do with the paint. It takes a lot of restraint to achieve this without overdoing it. Brian is truly an artist of a bygone era.

Within 2 weeks time I had all of the bodywork and frame bits back from paint and powder. Now for final assembly. I mentioned before I’ve had this car apart and back together many times but it came as a shock to me how quickly everything came back together this time around. I picked up the frame at 5:00 on Friday and by 2:30 Saturday morning the basic assembly was done. These are brilliantly simple cars. Saturday and Sunday I spent tidying up wiring and plumbing brake lines and by Monday I had all of the body work fastened on the car. Mind you it was pretty non-stop. Once I start seeing a project like this come together, I tend to forget things like sleeping and eating and life outside of the garage.

The engine is off to F Newton Motorsports for a freshening and as soon as I get it back I’ll drop it in. I plan to shake it down at Gingerman Raceway as soon as the weather breaks. In the meantime, I’ve already started in on winter project number two, a 1969 Merlyn MK 11A (the white frame you can see in several of these shots). Stay tuned.

Previously: Part 1, and Part 2.

Me and My ASP Formula Vee. Part 2: 2004—2011

Me and My ASP Formula Vee. Part 1

Eric Dean—who’s magnificent Merlyn Formula Ford restoration remains one of the most popular posts here on The Chicane—is nearly finished with the restoration of his first racing car: A 1968 ASP MKIII Formula Vee. It must have him feeling nostalgic because he’s finally relented in my frequent pleas that he start writing about his racing in Formulas Ford and Vee, and his restorations. This is the first part of a series he’s begun on his relationship with this racing car and her subsequent restoration. I’ll see the car in person at the end of the month and while I’ve spent a great deal of time around this car, both when Eric first picked it up and helping him in the pits over the past several racing seasons, I’m a bit giddy to see how it turns out. Ok that’s enough from me, let me hand it over to Eric.
— Harlo.

Previous Owner Robert Samm

It was tired, worn and I was starting to feel like my car was the roach among all the beautifully prepared vees I race with in the VSCDA. The car is a 1968 ASP MK III, originally built by Wayne Purdy, a former Beach FV employee. The ASP was 1 of 6 or so vees Wayne built before moving on to other racing ventures. This car was raced by a gentleman named Robert Samm very successfully in the southwestern United States and Mexico, claiming at least 3 national titles in Mexico in the MKIII.

I acquired the ASP in the winter of 2004 sight unseen. I knew I wanted to go vintage vee racing but admittedly didn’t do as much research as I should have prior to making the purchase. I was taken by the story and esthetics of the little known ASP rather than the proven race worthiness. A more rational man may have sought out a Lynx or a Zink, brands that dominated FV in the late 60s. I discovered the ASP on a racing classifieds website and the price was right… or so I thought. As it turns out it was just further proof that you get what you pay for.

Despite that, I remember feeling just like a kid on Christmas when it arrived by truck that day late in January. With the help of the driver, I rolled it off the truck through the fresh snow into the garage. I was elated. I couldn’t believe I now owned a vintage open-wheeled racecar. I had wanted to race cars like these since I was a kid. At this point I had only been to track days and autocross events in a street car but I had the racing bug and I had it bad.

I contacted the race director at my local track to see if he could put me in touch with any of the vintage vee drivers in the area. As luck would have it, his former neighbor Garret Van Camp was recently back in vintage vee racing, a former SCCA national champion and he lived 20 minutes from me. Garrett won the 1970 FV championship, raced Porsche speedsters and went on to race super vees as the factory driver for Lynx. Eventually he took a long hiatus from racing to raise his family. In 1994 he decided to once again get behind the wheel. He tracked down his original Lynx, restored it back to the configuration he won with in 1970 and he keeps on winning nearly every race he enters… At 74! Truly inspiring.

I called Garrett and that same day after work he met me at my house to have a look at my car. I’ll never forget what he said upon laying his eyes on the ASP. He said “I wish we would’ve met 3 weeks ago… I never would have let you buy this piece of shit”. We joked about the whole car being held together with cabinet fasteners and zip ties. He was right and I knew it but I was still optimistic. He immediately started educating me on the car and made an impossible list of what needed to be done before the driver’s school began in April. And without his help it would have been impossible.

Garrett would stop by once a week to check on my progress. He encouraged me, taught me and provided endless motivation. Besides that he re-engineered and re-fabricated parts to make the car stronger, safer and the car more competitive. All things that at the time were well beyond my knowledge and ability. I had some background in motorcycle restoration but when it came to racecars I was about as green as they come. Garrett would constantly remind me “if it doesn’t make you go faster, don’t waste your time kid”. Come spring, the car was done but it was a tremendous amount of work… especially for a car that was advertised as “race ready”. Garret was my instructor, is still my mentor and a constant source of inspiration. I consider he and his wife Maggie as 2nd parents and lifelong friends. I completed the school that spring and went on to my first race. There are few things in life I’ve experienced that are as satisfying as finishing a race in a car that you’ve built… Except maybe winning—but that came much later.