A recent American road trip leads Michael Clark to a Kiwi connection – the 2.0 Brabham BT8 Climax that Denny Hulme drove to so many wins in 1964/5 – in a workshop unit at Sonoma Raceway
Many people dream of driving the famed Route 66; I’m not one of them, yet, our road trip from Flagstaff, Arizona to a historic race meeting at Sonoma, California actually started on the legendary road — simply because that is where Enterprise Rent-a-car is based. We’d just concluded four days hiking at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, and now the plan was pretty simple: head for Hoover Dam and then Las Vegas. From ‘Sin City’ we’d aim the Chrysler for Death Valley, then, subject to it being opened after its winter hibernation, take the Tioga Pass through Yosemite. It was 33 years since I’d last conducted a left hooker, but the 224-mile (360km) drive to Boulder City went without mishap — unlike the trip to the 1983 French Grand Prix, when I managed to roll the Renault 5 within 500m of Toulon Airport, where I’d just collected it.
After extricating ourselves from the rolled Renault, I had dashed off in search of a tow truck, leaving my wife with the wreck. Moments later, at the service station we’d passed before rolling, I heard a horn being tooted on the forecourt. To my amazement, ‘Le Car’ sat there, seemingly undamaged, with my wife behind the wheel. When I headed for the driver’s door, I was waved to the other side. What had happened? It seems a rugby-team bus had met the little inverted Regie, and a couple of props and locks had emerged and returned Le Car to le tarmac — no doubt with much shoulder shrugging and cheering from their teammates.
I was then driven to Circuit Paul Ricard in a manner that suggested the pilot had grown up driving on that side of the road. In fact, it was her first time. It’s a story that still gets mentioned — just occasionally.
What became glaringly obvious early into the trip was that America’s love affair with the muscle car is well and truly alive — Mustangs are the most prevalent, but Camaro numbers are also strong, while a convoy of Dodge Challengers, each in a different colour, acted as a reminder that Mopar has a following, too. Sure, Americans love their pickup trucks, and there is an assortment of other locally built vehicles, plus the inevitable German and Asian offerings, but you never travel far without seeing yet another Mustang. It really makes
worth it — there’s a 12-mile (20km) loop road that gets you up close and personal — it’s difficult to believe that the tackiness of Vegas is a mere half hour or so away.
Our longest driving day took us west initially, towards Nevada’s border with California, and into Death Valley, where the roads are straight, the vegetation is negligible, and the scenery is stunning. Oh, and it’s warmish … The highest we saw converts to 44°C, and you couldn’t imagine doing it in the days before air conditioning. Despite all those straights, the only time you’d encounter a motorhome would be on the bendy bits. The international pact of never moving over seems to have established a foothold in America.
When we’d picked the car up a few days earlier, the radio had been playing Take it Easy by The Eagles, which includes the line “Well I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona”, which, as it turned out, was about an hour’s drive to the east. I guess that was why there was no sign of a girl in a flatbed Ford. Once we were through Death Valley, radio contact was again established, and, as we traded sparseness for the rugged beauty of the Eastern Sierras, The Doors belted out Break on Through (To the Other Side) — which we truly had. We were now on Highway 395, heading north to Lee Vining, a tiny place where we had a motel room booked. When we arrived at 8pm, we’d travelled 580km (360 miles) since leaving Vegas and witnessed a dazzling range of scenery, not to mention heat.
We were on the road at six the next morning to, essentially, drive through Yosemite National Park. We weren’t long into the journey before we encountered stunning vistas of melting snow, waterfalls, and icy lakes.
Because of our early start, an executive decision was made to stop for breakfast at a hotel where we’d stayed a decade before — almost to the day. Previously The Ahwahnee, it is now the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, and the detour would have been worth it even if the breakfast had been average — but, of course, it lived up to its new name, as did the area around it.
What is now known as ‘Sonoma Raceway’ was called ‘Sears Point’ back in the Can-am days — in-between times, it was named for sponsor Infineon. Its ballpark location is 28 miles (45km) north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and it’s a similar distance south of the Napa Valley — wine country. Before even seeing any action on
the track, we needed to drop into one of the workshop units at the track — owned by my good friend John Anderson. It’s my kind of place when a March F1 and ex– Gilles Villeneuve Ferrari comprise the welcoming committee. Once you’re in, you soon discover there are other 1970s Formula 1 cars, in the form of a Tyrrell and a Wolf, both ex Jody Scheckter; late ’ 70s Formula Atlantics (March and Chevron); plus a smattering of Formula Fords and a Junior. Oh, and karts.
And so, to the action — there were treasures at every turn, including pre-war Alfas, a Type 35 Bugatti oozing more patina that I have ever previously seen, plus an array of cars that had run in the Indy 500 a mere 95 to 105 years ago.
I was on the search for something with a Kiwi connection when I spotted the unmistakable white and emerald green livery of Sidney Taylor on a pretty little mid-’60s open sports racer. It could only have been the 2.0 Brabham BT8 Climax that Denny drove to so many wins in 1964/’65, but who could have imagined that the car would end up in a junkyard in South Carolina, where it was discovered in 1976? It has raced continuously after being restored to its former glory — currently by Edie Arrowsmith, although, sadly, the day after I photographed her alongside her pride and joy, the car was looking pretty sorry for itself after a notinsubstantial accident.
Cars and Coffee
My friend Locke has been a long-time Chris Amon fan — so, if you’re such, and you’re going to shout yourself a retirement gift, your Ford GT might as well be to the same livery as the one in which the Kiwis won Le Mans. And Locke and I figured there wasn’t a better way of celebrating 50 years since that famous victory than taking his 5.6-litre supercharged V8 baby out for an early weekend morning drive in the hills out from San Jose. What a car! To be fair, it really falls down in the luggage-carrying stakes, but, in every other respect, it is an astonishingly good car.
Cars and Coffee takes place on the second Saturday of the month at Canepa Cars in Scotts Valley. Bruce Canepa is a racer who has developed an empire with a focus on restoration, customizing, and motor racing. People turn up and park their treasure in the car park, grab a free coffee and doughnut, and then commune with all the other petrolheads. Once you’re done outside, you enter the building — it’s all open, and you sense that Canepa has a particular thing for Porsches.
In among the exotica inside is a Triumph Stag in magenta, but it was the racing cars that were my main focus, and they’re everywhere — such as a 1970–’71 Porsche 917 resplendent in Gulf livery and a Can-am Mclaren M8E.
But then, if it’s racing cars and bikes that you’re really after, you ought to head upstairs to the museum, where the car on the raised centrepiece is an ex–patrick Depailler Tyrrell six-wheeler. However, my eyes immediately locked onto a type of car that has long been one of my favourites: a 1950s-style Indy roadster. This one was a Kurtis, stunning in bright yellow and housing the ubiquitous 4.2-litre four-cylinder Offenhauser.
The vastness of a late ’60s Nascar racer is best grappled with face to face. The 1969 Dodge Daytona of Buddy Baker featured not only the soon-to-be-outlawed high wing but also that intriguing concept of having the cubic inches writ large on the bonnet. That year was the only time in his long career that Richard Petty raced a Ford (a Torino Cobra) — as ever, in ‘Petty blue’.
Then on to the Ferrari that won Le Mans in 1965 — the last time that the famous Italian marque succeeded in the round-theclock classic. Interestingly, the accompanying information board states that there were three winning drivers — the question as to whether Ed Hugus drove a few hours in the middle of the night, as has often been suggested, seemingly no longer in doubt!
In black is a beautifully presented Miller 91, dating from 1926 — it was both an Indy 500 and board-racing car powered by a 1476cc straight-eight. Oh, and it’s front-wheel drive. And what a sight the line-up of Porsches are behind!
Back to the car park, I happened upon not just the first French car I’d encountered after three weeks in the States but, in fact, a few of them. Renault is no doubt using Formula 1 to break back into the US, but it has zero presence as far as I could see. As for the Italians — we saw a fair number of Fiats, but not a single modern Alfa Romeo. Given the position that Alfa once held in the States, it beggars belief that all the affection for that marque has been allowed to evaporate. There were certainly plenty in the car park and no shortage of enthusiasts grabbing photographs.
Wall of Fame
Last month we reported that Jimmy Palmer and David Oxton had been added to the Motorsport New Zealand Wall of Fame. Also added was our reigning world champion sports-car racer Brendon Hartley — who, sadly, will have to wait until at least 2017 to win Le Mans.
Apply Rain-x® Original Glass Treatment to your windshield and watch water bead up and slide off as if by magic, giving you a clearer view of the road ahead. Photos at left show the remarkable difference in visibility one treatment can make.