Road trip

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

New Zealand Classic Car - - Motor Sport Flashback -

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.

Mus­cle-car sight­ings

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.

A piece of Art Deco at the Hoover Dam.

From 112°F (44°C) to 33°F (0°C) in the space of 350km and about 14 hours.

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