You can still make out most of the course on Google Maps. Looks like the 3-4-5 sequence has been completely trashed. Though it looks like you can still faintly see the short straight bit at 7-8-9. I understand that this facility was in use as recently as 2012 for police training and the occasional Porsche Club event. In any event, it looks like it could still adequately facilitate a small bore race.
I love the track at Paramount Ranch. That tunnel is so romantic and deadly, and the location in the Santa Monica Mountains ensured that Hollywood stars and starlets made appearances both mixing it up on course and spectating trackside.
A good example of the program for that first race at Paramount in August 1956 has come available on eBay. The price might drive some away, but what a marvelous reminder of the golden era of the California Sports Car Club. Just take a look at the footage of the race from our earlier post on the Ranch. How could you not want a reminder of this kind of immediate, friendly, competitive-as-hell era in motorsport.
Keep your eye on the auction. Thankfully by pointing you to it, I don’t have to be the one to buy it.
Stay strong… stay strong.
Back in May, The San Francisco Chronicle assembled a lovely remembrance of the Golden Gate Road Races held 60 years earlier. Looking at these photos, I’m not sure why the Golden Gate races don’t seem to hold the same fond mystique that other California round-the-house circuits have achieved. Perhaps it was because the event was only run between ’52 and ’54 that it just didn’t have time to build the legend that Pebble Beach or Palm Springs did.
While it may have largely faded from memory, there’s something so appealing about the idea of sports cars thundering through Golden Gate Park that feels so romantic. Walking or cycling the route today must conjure thoughts of Phil Hill’s
Cad-Allard Jaguar C-Type or Bill Pollack’s Cad-Allard Jaguar C-Type (thanks for the correction, Colin) whipping around Elk Glen Lake. It’s marvelous, if bittersweet, to see these images of the Golden Gate Races running while knowing that they’d be almost impossible today.
But if the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix has taught us anything, it’s that a vintage race in the park can indeed be run in the modern era. What’s more, it can be done in relative safety even while paying tribute to a more dangerous time. Certainly a city park is easier to close down for an event than several blocks of city streets are: They get closed off for foot races or bicycle races or charitable walks all the time. Why not showcase some of the park’s history as a racing venue with a mid-summer weekend revival of the Golden Gate Road Races?
Like our previous support for a Central Park Vintage Grand Prix, I can imagine an entire series of city park or county airport road races—perhaps limited to smaller displacement racers and run with a strict “vintage spirit” rule set. Heck, look to the Detroit Grand Prix as a model for making a marvelous racing course within a city park. If Belle Isle can do it, why not Golden Gate? Why not Central Park? Why not?
Let these images be your guide. Imagine yourself for a moment on 2.7 miles of this wonderful circuit behind the wheel of a mid-fifties racer—or even spectating along JFK Drive—and tell me you don’t want this to happen?
Here’s a short but important film from the John McClure Archives. This was the 2nd annual Agoura Hill Climb presented by the Singer Owners’ Club on February 6, 1955, and I think it can be safely described as a smashing success. West Coast Sports Car Journal reported in their March ’55 issue that the event drew 160 competitors and over 2,000 spectators. Even if those numbers are an exaggeration, that is still incredibly impressive. Can you imagine 2,000 spectators coming out to the secluded mountains for a hillclimb? Unless it’s the Goodwood Festival of Speed, or maybe Pikes Peak, the public simply doesn’t care about hillclimbing—not in those kinds of numbers anyway.
I also think this film is incredibly important because it captures something we’re unlikely to ever see again; high performance sportscars driving as fast as they can up a dirt road. Have you ever driven behind a sportscar on a dirt road? Chances are they are driving VERY slowly, just crawling in 1st gear, repeating a silent prayer that no stone is kicked up to mar their paintwork. Even Pikes Peak is almost completely tarmac today. Boo!
Not so in ’55. These drivers are putting everything they have into taking their factory fresh XK120s from the bottom of the hill to the top; bodywork be damned. I think this is what I most enjoy about these vintage club racing films, sportscars just weren’t the luxury status symbol that they are today. They weren’t precious jewels to be polished and parked in front of the dance club. They were simply tools—tools that were built for a purpose—and in 1955 that purpose was to get the Hell to the top of Agoura.
1. Frank Livingston in the Eliminator Model-T Hot Rod (anyone know this car?) at 27.83 seconds
2. Ennals Ives Jr. in a Cad-Allard J2X at 27.86 seconds.
3. Paul Parker, also in the Eliminator, at 28.03
4. Paul Poole in a Jaguar XK120M at 28.63
Update: Chris sheds some light on the Eliminator Model-T in the comments, which quickly lead to this article from Street Rodder. Another example of the greatness of the era; when a T-Bucket shares the track with Siatas and Ferraris. Thanks, Chris!
In this installment of the John McClure archives, the November 7, 1954 running of the Orange Empire National Sportscar Races at March Air Force Base. It is a real treat seeing the racing action ahead of scores of aluminum planes in the background.
Unfortunately, the Briggs Cunningham team that swept the previous year’s race was a no-show. This race, however, was significant for Porschefiles as the first US race run by a 550 Spyder. Sadly, the car crashed and burned in practice with the driver escaping reasonably unscathed. Instead, Ferraris ruled the day, with 7 of the top 10 spots in the featured over-1500cc race. Also in the film is a parade lap of Historic cars (teens and 20s).
Cliff has race results over on Etceterini.
Here’s another Chicane-exclusive film from sportscar fan, San Diego Jr. Chamber of Commerce member (who helped create the Torrey Pines track), and a pretty darn good shot with a film camera, John McClure. This time it’s the track he was most intimately involved in for the November 1954 race. It was our Torrey Pines post in the Lost Tracks series that prompted Mr. McClure to contact me and offer up this brilliant footage.
The film starts with the LeMans syle running start of the 6 Hours endurance race. The race was ultimately won by Lou Brero in a C-Type, with the von Neumann Ferrari 500 Mondial finishing 2nd. The Ferrari is the #39 car that we see quite a lot of in this footage that looks pink in this film – I’m assuming due to the film processing and not the color sensibilities of the car owner.
Jags, MGs, Gullwing Mercedes, and OSCAs feature prominently in the film, along with Porsche 356s, and a few Ferraris. I don’t know what the story was with this tree, but it seems to be magnetic — lots of narrow misses overrunning the turn at what I’m assuming was a high-speed straight. I also like some of the footage of the spectators here. It wasn’t just the drivers that could get away with more than you can today—let’s see what happens when you try and start a small bonfire to keep warm at the corner of any track these days.
Let’s take a deeper look at this short-lived but much loved SoCal race track, shall we? There were only a handful of races held at the Santa Monica mountainside race track, most of which were marred by dangerous track design that led to 3 fatalities in the 18 short months the track was operating a full capacity. Of course, the feature we so admired, the crossover, was a contributing factor to the inherent dangers of the facility. The fact that the track was bound by cliffs and rocky terrain didn’t help either.
Here’s a (sparse) race report from the first event at Paramount, the California Sports Car Club sponsored race in August 1956 as reported in the West Coast Sports Car Journal:
Thousands of Southern California spectators witnessed Harrison Evans, in his Ferrari Monza, battle it out with Eric Hauser, Morgansen Special, Sunday August 19, at the first sports car road race to be held at the Paramount Ranch in Agoura, California. Evans zoomed across the finish line just two seconds ahead of the home-build Special to chalk-up another victory for Ferrari banners. Richie Ginther, driving a Von Neumann Porsche, upset favorite Jack McAfee in Saturday’s go by a close half-second proving that the young driver belongs with the top ranking drivers on the West Coast. Ginther sailed to an easy victory in the Sunday under 1500cc race also when the closely anticipated race between him and McAfee failed to materialize after McAfee’s Porsche was forced out early in the race.
Some top drivers in the country participated making for some of the most exciting races of the season. Veteran driver Rudy Cleye won the production over 1500cc race by taking the checkered flat 27 seconds ahead of his nearest rival and averaged 66.9 mpg during the 20 mile race. Bruce Kessler, driving a Cooper Norton captured the first place both Saturday and Sunday in the exciting Formula III races.
Paramount track is a great step toward the development of sports car road racing in this country.
Sounds like an auspicious beginning, I’m surprised there’s not much discussion of the track itself. It’s almost as if the author was just reporting from the race results sheet. No matter though, the track was quickly a favorite of SoCal drivers and specators.
Check out the Morgansen Special that was mentioned in the article, long before it became the first Old Yeller: a sheer brute of a thing. Amazing that this was duking it out with an elegant Ferrari Monza in a heated battle for the lead. This is one of the things that I think most conjures the glory of early American road racing; that an (ok, I’ll say it) ugly home built beast could hold its own against some of the best sports cars from Europe is still an impressive feat. It’s also an example of an era when hot rods and sports cars were much more aligned in spirit and events. Sadly, in the years since, the typical sports car driver has moved very far away indeed from the hot rodding, home building, shade-tree engineering spirit of her early days.
Today, the Paramount Ranch race track is slowly crumbling into the surrounding landscape. It’s part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and is currently in the care of the National Parks Service. The park is most famous as a tourist destination for movie fans; the old Paramount Western sets are preserved on the same property. This Google Map shows, however, that some of the original track remains. The sweeping carousel comprised of turns 1 and 2 is clearly visible in the satellite image.
At least we can still (sort of) experience this track today, thanks to video games. Race simulator fans have created custom tracks to bring long-dead facilities back to life, and Paramount Ranch is among the tracks updated for a new generation. Check out a gallery here.
You can also build your own Paramount Ranch in a decidedly less high-tech manner. The unique crossover feature is a must for slot car track builders to equalize the track lengths of the different lanes. As a result, Paramount Ranch has been a popular basis for home-built slot car tracks. Here is a series of articles from ’66-’67 in Car Modeler Magazine that describe how to build your own scale version of Paramount Ranch in your basement.
More pics of the Morgansen Special on the H.A.M.B.