Anything For the Shot

In the Lobby for Grand Prix

Theatre Lobby for Grand Prix

There is a thriving market for movie memorabilia from John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix on the Internet with movie posters in a variety of languages and programs from various cities’ premiers, some signed by the racing drivers and movie stars in attendance. Because I can’t think of better ways to spend my day I often find myself perusing the offerings from various auctioneers.

This series of photos is currently up for bidding at Heritage Auctions. These lobby displays sure put to shame any mere movie poster or lobby card. I wonder where that imposing display featuring the tracks of the Formula 1 season is today. Hopefully it escaped the landfill and is adorning the entryway to someone’s home screening room.

More information (and more photos) on Heritage Auctions’ lot detail page.

A Precariously Perched Silver Arrow

Mercedes W154 being unloaded at Tripoli

I’ve been reading Sandro Martini’s wonderful novel Tracks: Racing the Sun about the golden age of Grand Prix racing and the exploits of Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi and other (mostly Italian) heroes of the 1930s racing scene and the worrisome political climate of the era (full review to come—short version: I love it).

The passages that take place during the contentious and controversial Grands Prix of Tripoli are so evocative and romantic that I couldn’t help trying to dig up some photos of the era. This dockside image of the Mercedes W154 so perfectly captures the clash between the huge technological leaps that racing machines were making with the almost quaint simplicity of the rest of society. These ropes and cables jerkily transferring this rocketship of a car to the docks must have been as much a test of nerves as the race itself. You think about racing teams having to trust their drivers but rarely do you consider the faith being placed in the longshoremen.

In the Days Before Go-Pro

In the Days Before Dash Cams

Art Appreciation: Early Honda F1

Return of the Sharknose

I’m not one to quibble about replica vs. re-creation vs. continuation but I know that these kinds of builds get some people’s dander up. With no surviving example, I can’t imagine that there are many who would argue the merits of this project. After all, it’s about as legit a Ferrari 156 as we’re ever likely to see.

The car itself has been making quite a splash on the european vintage circuit but even if it is a few years old, the video is well worth a watch. I’d like to see more of these kinds of builds and hope that the skills to do so don’t become so scarce that it gets even more difficult to make them happen.

Saul Bass on Grand Prix


We think of Grand Prix solely as Frankenheimer’s movie. In the basic sense I suppose it was, but I often forget about legendary designer and filmmaker Saul Bass’ hand in the film.

He did the title sequences—which were brilliant—but he also had a hand in the choreographed racing montage sequences as well. They’re handled wonderfully in the film, often as musical interludes that are balletic in parts, raw and evisceral in others. In short, they’re perfect analogues for racing in general. They’re so wonderfully assembled, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they’re the result of months of preparation and storyboarding.

But Saul shared this classic fake-it-till-you-make-it story in Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design:

Shooting the races in Grand Prix brought into focus for me the Director-as-Performer mode. Until then I had been directing in the Repertory mode. Small companies, with accumulated experience working together. All in tune with an exploratory point of view. Shifts in concept or staging understood as a process, rather than a certainty.

This all changed when I began directing the races for Grand Prix. The first race was at Spa in Belgium. We had permit problems with the Racing Association. We didn’t know if we could even get on the track. If we did, I would have no advance opportunity to study the track or even to know what part of the track we would have.

Suddenly, at the end of one day, we unexpectedly got permission to shoot the next day. I arrived at an assigned section of the track at 8:30am. I saw an unfamiliar terrain, a multilingual crew, a slew of Formula One racing cars and drivers, 1,500 extras, and others—waiting for “the word”.

I looked around. What’s my first shot?
A race start.
I called out my requirements.
“Put the cars over there.
The No. 1 Camera here. 600mm lens.
The crowd…”
I had another thought.
I started again.

“Let’s have the cars further back.
No. 2 Camera there. 1000mm lens.
Put the 600mm lens…” Pause.
I had a better idea. “Here’s what we do…”

I stopped.

I could see the crew looking at each other and growing restless. My authority eroding. It was a very long day.
But, somehow I got through it.

The next day, I arrived on the set. New pieces of track. New terrain. A thousand pairs of eyes zapped in on me.

Silence.

In a panic, I grabbed my cane.
Plunged it into the turf. “OK!
No. 1 Camera here. 200mm lens.
No. 2 Camera there, 600mm lens.
No. 3 Camera in the stands.
All cars lined up for a start there.
1,000 extras in the stands.
The rest in the woods.
And call me when you’re ready!” A beat.
Pandemonium broke loose, and everybody went to work.

I hopped into my jeep with my first cameraman, tooled around the curve in the track, stopped where no one could see, and said to myself, “OK. What the hell am I going to do today?”

I knew it would take them a little time to get that all sorted out. So I calmed down. Went down the track a bit. Set up some angles and figured out my day’s work… my shot list.

My first assistant came running up. They were ready. We drove back to the set. I looked everything over.

“Fine. Alright. We’re ready to go.”
“Ready?”
“Ready.”
“Camera ready?”
“Camera rolling…speed!” “Action!”
VVRRROOOOMMMMM!
The cars took off.
“Cut. Print. Next shot!”

People exchanged glances. “He knows what he wants. We’re in good hands.”

Of course, I never actually used that shot. It was a question of morale… I learned that when you have an army, you may have to ride a white horse.

Vanwall Modeller’s Guide

Model makers have a bit of a reputation for being fastidious about the details. Ostensibly, this illustration by R. Pawlowicz for Modelarz magazine is meant to simply guide a model-maker in their own reproduction of a ’56—’59 Vanwall GP car like the one Tony Brooks piloted in the 1958 Monaco. But just look at the inset detail illustrations of the De Dion axle, the mirrors, or the scoops and vents. Any one of these could be hung on their own as a piece of art worthy of any garage. The more typical modellers guide of a simple front, top, and rear view is pitifully bare by comparison.

It’s hard to imagine that any model built from this guide could be a greater work of art than this series of illustrations.

Ex-Denny Hulme McLaren Formula 1 Car at Auction

RM Auctions will be hosting their first ever event in Monaco in a few weeks, “Sporting Classics of Monaco“, and they’ve certainly pulled out all the stops. The catalog is absolutely mesmerizing, with offerings including the 1937 BMW 328 Mille Miglia “Bügelfalte”, The stunning Birdcage Maserati we looked at a few weeks ago, and some high-demand Ferraris (275 GTB, Tour de France, Daytona Spider).

This car though, hasn’t been featured much in the sportscar press and I didn’t know it was included in the sale until I happened upon the full catalog today. You are looking at one of the three M14A Formula 1 cars that McLaren built to compete in the World Championship for 1970. The McLaren team entered the new decade in absolute dominance of the motoring world. Their Can-Am effort the previous year was in complete control of the series, with Bruce McLaren or Denny Hulme standing atop the podium at all 11 races of the season. They’d also claimed a handful of wins in ’69 in Formula 1 as well. It was time now to continue that amazing success into the 1970s. This car looked well poised to do it too, with a 2nd place finish in her debut race at Kyalami for Hulme—in this very car. The team was on the podium twice more in the next three races. Not a bad start.

That’s when everything went South. Denny suffered a bad methanol burn following practice at Indianapolis. Bruce of course died in a crash at Goodwood testing the new Can-Am car. Amazingly, Denny missed only two races and returned to the car for the French GP. In the next 8 races, Hulme would finish on the podium 3 times more and finished the season in 4th. Incredibly, he won that year’s Can-Am drivers’ championship—oh for the era of driver versatility.

The car itself, chassis M14A2, looks absolutely perfect. Although it had a short stint in her post-F1 years as a Formula 5000 car, the car was fairly quickly returned to the original specification (is this the original engine?) Ford-Cosworth DFV and Hewland gearbox. The car is presented in the livery she wore during the 1970 season and that orange shade is just so brilliant. The photography for the catalog is absolutely stunning and looks like you could just reach into the photo and take her for a spin. I’m surprised that RM’s estimate is as low as it is at $340,000 – $400,000. I can’t believe I just referred to $400K as a low price on something. But really, who needs a house (or two), when you could take a few laps in this.

More information in the auction catalog – I hope more auction houses follow this practice of releasing their full catalog online.