Firing up a 28.5-Litre Fiat After 100 Dormant Years

After 100 years of sitting idle, Duncan Pittaway and his team have breathed life into this former Landspeed Record Fiat S76. More than 100 years after the two S76s were built by Fiat to take the flying mile and flying kilometer records away from the Blitzen Benz, this fearsome hellbreathing dragon has spun up her four valve-per-cylinder, multi-spark, overhead cam 28½ Litre (!) engine and it. Is. Staggering. Without exhausts fitted, this view of the combustion chambers spitting the remains of burning fuel straight into the camera lens makes me feel like Gandalf staring down a Balrog in Moria.

Fiat S76

Modern engines are absolutely pushing envelopes. The sophistication of engineering and artistry that powers contemporary racing machines is very, very impressive. But none of them have the Earth shattering brutality of this 104-year-old Fiat. Terrifying. And Gorgeous.

Hat tip to Stefan Marjoram on this one. More to come in the new year, it seems. I can’t wait for more of the Beast of Turin.

The Art of the Restoration Story

Alpine 110 restoration by AlpineLAB

Car restoration is dirty business, and you feel that grime intimately: There will be chunks of rust stuck between your neck and your collar. There will be endless layers of paint slowly being sanded away. Twisted pieces of steel will be stuck in the soles of your boots from every stupid broken-off bolt you’ll have to drill out. I can understand why restoration shops would rather wait until the car is finished, polished, and with the proper beginnings of a sunset behind her before they get out the camera. What ends up happening, though, is that restorers web sites all tend to look the same: beauty shots of the finished car. There is rarely even a single photo of the car before restoration began.

Germany’s AlpineLAB shows us the kind of beautiful documentation that can happen when a truly passionate restoration workshop has someone on staff that knows a thing or two about curating a web site. Of course, there are miraculously beautiful photos of the finished product worthy of any of the glossies on the newsstand. But the commitment to documenting the restoration and the race history of their Alpine 110 projects is so very refreshing. What I appreciate most, however, is their opening the archives to show us the specific period articles and photography of these cars’ race history. People spend a lot of time establishing a car’s provenance, it’s very appreciated to see those archives opened up for all of us and not just prospective buyers.

Alpine A110 1800VA

The Alpine 110 was an astoundingly capable little machine. I’ve read it described as a car that you wore rather than drove. That kind of machine deserves the treatment that AlpineLAB has given it. I imagine that as more and more restorers enter the community having grown up on the web, the more of this kind of wonderful storytelling we’ll see brought to the world. Clear your afternoon and click over to their site for more of their build stories. These images are but a taste.

Thanks for sending this in, Jürgen!

Let’s Restore A Merlyn Formula Ford with Eric Dean

VSCDA Racer and occasional Chicane contributor Eric Dean is no stranger to stunning Formula Ford and Formula Vee restorations. For his most recent project, Eric has virtually opened up his garage and cracked a few Stroh’s so we can build a 1969 Merlyn Mk11A Formula Ford along with him.

You can really see the level of effort that goes in to making even a simple racing car this well prepared. Whenever I see these time lapse videos, I’m pulled in two directions at once. Part of me looks at these, and thinks, “There. That doesn’t look impossible. This guy is practically doing it by himself.” But time lapse is deceptive. If we slowed this video down and watched even a single afternoon of restoration in real-time, we would start to realize the hundreds of hours of meticulous work that is really behind these restorations.

Television audiences have come to expect that gorgeous automotive restorations can get done in 5 days. I think that devalues the real artistry, engineering, and skill that goes into shaving decades off a car’s age. Making a car as good as it was the day it left the workshop—or better—is no small task. It’s almost an insult to think that anything of this level of quality can be carelessly rushed.

That racers like Eric take on these projects is admirable. That they can then get in the pilot’s seat and put thoughts of the hundreds or thousands of hours of effort out of their minds while they squeeze a few more tenths out of a lap in high traffic… Well, that’s something else. I must be foolish to think that it’s not the risk to life and limb, but the risk of sacrificing all this effort that is some additional bravery.

Congratulations Eric, she’s gorgeous.

Detailing a Dormant 912

There’s something very satisfying about seeing a barn fresh car become road ready. I love the restraint it takes to clean a car up and freshen the paint without stripping it down and completely restoring it. Patina has value.

Some nice tips here on how to handle a car when you’re just feeling it out and assessing it’s condition.

The Caretaker

Breathing Life Back into a Written Off BMW CSL

It’s never an encouraging thing when you encounter a photo like this one. This photo of a “written off” BMW CSL popped up this morning on Bring A Trailer’s Facebook feed. I remember seeing this photo last fall shortly after a driver fell asleep at the wheel and careened into Jon Furley’s 1972 BMW 3.0 CSL. The loss of a CSL is a bad thing.

Any CSL is rare, but this is one of only 500 RHD models made. That sounds bad, right? But Furley’s example is a damn-sight rarer, as her original owner was Chris Amon. This CSL was Amon’s street car during the era when he raced the Batmobile BMWs. Noooo!

So, what has happened in the year since the crash? I’d assumed that this one was stripped of her valuable bits and given a tearful good bye. Thankfully that’s not the case. A very brave team has decided that she must live again. After all, what’s one lost corner between friends?

This album on CSI Garage’s Facebook shows that her restoration has begun this past November. Looks like they’ve welded in a replacement front end, rebuilt part of the frame, and pulled and assessed the engine (which was relatively unscathed with only a broken timing case cover and cylinder head cover).

There’s something infectious about the optimism in the vintage sports and racing car community that I love. Insurance adjusters look at this and call her a write off. A random person off the street looks at it and calls it scrap. Hell, most “car guys” would see these photos and say it’s beyond saving. A good restoration workshop looks at this and says, “Yeah, we can do that.” This is not a project for the weak of heart and I’m looking forward to their continued updates—though perhaps not as much as Jon.

Also see this thread on PowerFanatics for many more photos of the teardown. More good news, the family cat that went missing after the crash made it home. Ok, now I’m going from concerned sports car nerd and entering weird internet stalker territory.

Reader Non-Restoration: Phil Knudsen’s ’58 Alfa Giuletta Veloce Spider

“I am not restoring this car, its a REAL time capsule race car from the 50’s and 60’s. Restoring this car would be like erasing and restoring a Monet… it wouldn’t be the same. It will not be modified with new parts. It will find its way back to the track but not to compete. I’ll let other the guys destroy 750F’s… this one will stay a barn fresh nostalgic racer.

A car can only look its age and experience once.”

And with those words, I turned from casual browser of Phil Knudsen’s AlfaBB thread on his ’58 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce Spider Race car into an enthusiastic fan.

It started commonly enough, Phil had sourced this retired racer from the John Murphy collection in Atlanta. The engine was out of her and he was looking for more stories and photos of her time as a frequent racer up and down the East Coast.

Naturally, I assumed he was trying to establish provenance while he tore the body down and started restoration. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that he’s decided to keep her bodywork and even paint as she was when she went into storage. Only newly painted (but beautifully aged looking) new numbers were added to bring her back to her old racing livery.

Of course, there were those that disagreed. Suggesting that not fixing the paint was tantamount to neglect. Keep the rust away, sure, but no top-shelf restoration can possibly make her any more beautiful than she is today.

Keep fighting the good fight, Phil. That patina is priceless and she’s only original once.

Click on over to Phil’s build thread on AlfaBB for more.

Reader Restoration: Beach Mk. 5 Formula Vee

Nigel Cass wrote in with this lovely set of photos of the 1965 Beach Formula Vee that he and his father restored as a hillclimber. With a 1915cc engine, I’m guessing she’s a touch faster up a hill than my old ’73 VW Thing was.

These shots of the car in action make me realize what a good photo opportunity hillclimbs are for vintage racers. If I just showed you these photos without the backstory, you might think that they are of a country road-racing circuit. The low stone walls and banners along the roadside only serve to make it look more like a mini Nürburgring or Spa.

She’s a beautiful car. I can’t wait to see Nigel and his father’s next project: a Lola 342

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.

Eric Dean’s Freshly Restored Vee is Ready for Action

Eric says, “I took some photos of the ASP before I rolled her in the trailer for this weekend’s race. I guess that means the restoration is officially done. I hope it gets around the track a little faster than before.”

Those of you that have been following along with Eric’s ASP Formula Vee restoration are going to be pleased as hell to see these shots. I’m sure there’ll be more images of her on track by the time the weekend is through but I couldn’t resist sharing these with you today.

Beautiful work, Eric. Congratulations.