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.
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.
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.
“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.
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
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.
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.
It’s never surprising when a new no-expenses-spared restoration of a Ferrari is unveiled. Or a Gullwing Merc. Or a Barracuda. What I love so much about Ohio restoration shop Pete’s Custom Coachbuilding is that they often lavish the same level of affection on lesser known and quirkier models. Their restorations of Issetas and a Lambretta Lambro trike and a King Midget are enough to let you rest easy that these marvelous jewels are in good hands.
Their recent restoration of a Berkeley SE492 is no exception. The level of care in reconditioning parts that aren’t available or ensuring that every fastener was period-appropriate is admirable. It’s details like this that usually puts this type of restoration in the realm of not financially viable. But let’s face it, we didn’t get into vintage racing cars because we’re sane people. It always makes me glad to see there’s other crazies out there.
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.