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NEW SPECIALS FOR VINTAGE RACING
Briggs Cunningham's BuMerc

One of the dilemmas facing vintage racing organizations is deciding the eligibility of replicas. Since there will never be any universal standards regarding the acceptability of fake cars, each sanctioning body makes its own rules. This screening process runs the gamut from no restrictions to extreme selectivity, but, in the end, practically all vintage racing organizations accept replicas.

While replicas and highly modified cars liberally dot the tracks at several events, other promoters are much more selective, accepting only the most faithful reproductions of exceedingly rare, museum–bound or nonexistent original cars.

Even the most prestigious vintage races make exceptions. In recent years the Monterey Historic Automobile Races has allowed the late Robert Sutherland’s diminutive 1923 Bugatti T32 Grand Prix “Tank” to participate in the prewar group. In 1995 Sutherland's Tank was joined by Philip Moch’s even more delightfully bizarre 1923 Voisin GP. Though faithfully executed, both cars are replicas. At last year's Goodwood Revival, Robin Lodge’s exquisite Lancia D50 wowed the crowd with its distinctive pannier–tanked design. It, too, is a replica as were both Shelby Daytona Coupes, though their constructor, Carroll Shelby, prefers to call them “continuation” cars.

The point of this column is not to explore the appropriateness of replicas in vintage races, but to express appreciation for those who have built these exacting replicas and for the organizations allowing them to run. All but the most rabid purist would choose to see a historically accurate replica in motion than gazing at a static museum display or photographs.

Considering half of the word “automobile” indicates movement, the only way to truly experience and appreciate a race car is at speed. In many cases, if these replicas were not built and allowed to run in public, then an important and sensuous bridge to motorsport’s past is sacrificed in the futile pursuit of originality.

While replicating a historic race car falls within the conceptual framework of vintage racing, what has happened to the ingenuity that endowed the original cars with unmistakable individuality? In today’s world a race car’s individualism has been lost to the unassailable efficiencies of modern technology as dictated by computers and wind tunnels, a car's identity now achieved with corporate logos. Although modern engineering ingenuity is severely regulated and hidden beneath look–alike bodywork, vintage racing offers the perfect stage on which to rekindle the design and construction of distinctively individual race cars.

Apart from the featured marque at Monterey every August, the most entertaining perennial show at America's premiere historic racing event is the large turnout of Specials. Ranging from fire–breathing V8 mongrels to Crosley–powered H–Modifieds, these Specials were built during the fifties and early–sixties to challenge Europe’s thoroughbreds. The Specials stand as testimonies to the ingenuity of individuals and constitute an important cornerstone of the heritage of U.S. motorsport.

Vintage racing should attempt to recapture this era’s ingenuity, not by sanctioning replicas of existing Specials, but by encouraging the design and construction of new Specials built to period specifications. Rather than limiting a creative person’s talents to resurrecting, replicating or, as is common practice today, modifying a car’s performance considerably beyond its original parameters, vintage racing can offer the opportunity to build a unique car from scratch. This would provide a real challenge and offer much greater satisfaction than merely duplicating or bastardizing past efforts.

The only constraint in designing and building these new Specials would be limiting the components to those available during the chosen period. In areas of safety the equipment would be the same as required or recommended for current vintage race cars. Similar to the original Specials, race group classification would be determined by the engine’s displacement or, if the entry warrants, a separate race group.

The key element of this proposal is, of course, the acceptance of a new Special by vintage racing organizations. Some clubs such as VSCCA would certainly consider the idea not only preposterous, but probably sacrilege as well. But other organizations not as deeply entrenched in a commitment to originality might well consider the current trend of accepting replicas less appealing than presenting unique cars built in the spirit of an era. In this light also consider the diminishing ranks of people who own and race 40– and 50–year-old cars and the life span of the original concept of vintage racing becomes most assuredly finite.

The word “spirit” is often ballyhooed in vintage racing as something worth preserving. While this application of “spirit” primarily refers to driver conduct, it could easily encompass the spirit in which these cars were originally built and, that too, is worthy of preservation. If vintage racing is going to survive beyond the constantly thinning number of older enthusiasts, it must attract younger generations.

As the cost of contemporary racing continues to escalate and its quagmire of restrictions inhibiting creativity, vintage racing stands on the threshold of opportunity. By loosening its grip on the futile pursuit of originality and embracing new interpretations of an era, vintage racing can open its door to fresh air. Is it more important to worship an era’s artifacts or encourage a rebirth of the spirit and inventive ingenuity from the same era? Vintage racing could easily provide a home for both.....Art Eastman

hoto Copyright ©Art Eastman

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