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This car was hard to identify. We did, but it took a bit of help from our friends. But instead of telling our readers what it is, why don’t we give away a free copy of the VeloceToday Select “Cuban Grand Prix, 1957” to the first one to email firstname.lastname@example.org and correctly identify the chassis, engine and coachbuilder?
Bob Temple photos courtesy Dale LaFollette at VintageMotorphoto
Before he went west when he was a young man (see Bob Temple at Palm Springs), Bob Temple journeyed to Watkins Glen to see the 1950 event, which was a very big deal. He took along his trusty camera loaded with Kodachrome film, and came back with negatives left in a box until Dale LaFollette found and purchased them after Bob’s death in 1991. The Temple photos have never been published before.
As usual, we asked our resident experts what they could add to the photos: Eric Davison, who was there watching eagerly, while he himself was taking precious color photos; Jim Sitz from the West Coast but who knows everyone, and Philippe Defechereux, who wrote the book “Watkins Glen, the Street Years • 1948-1952” and who kicks this off.
Defechereux: “Watkins Glen can fairly be called the birthplace of organized road racing in America, the sweet date being Saturday October 2, 1948. The following year was a building year for the new sport, with a second event added to the calendar: the first official race at Bridgehampton (Long Island, NY) on June 11, 1949. That event drew praise and 15,000 spectators, also featuring the first Ferrari ever to race this side of the Atlantic: Briggs Cunningham’s V-12-powered 166 SC. Watkins Glen in September ran its second event which proved an even bigger success, thanks in part to new entrants driving a gaggle of new racing cars from Europe besides BSC’s Ferrari. There were H.R.G.s, Allard K1s, and Cisitalias among others.
“It is the year 1950, however, that truly witnessed the “Big Bang” for road racing here. Palm Beach Shores, Florida, opened the season as early as January 3, with the Jaguar Factory even entering an official XK-120. Despite less-than clement weather, 19,000 spectators were counted. Next California joined the fray in the summer with two races that matched the formula, now well-established by Cameron Argetsinger. They took place in Palm Springs in April and Santa Ana in June. That month also witnessed Bridgehampton’s successful second run on June 10. Then a trio of enthusiastic Chicagoans, Jim Kimberly, Fred Wacker and Dave Garroway, using a private Cessna to make a broad aerial survey, determined that Elkhart Lake, WI, would allow for a great Midwest replica of Watkins Glen. Locals then organized the first big road racing event in in the Midwest on July 23. Again, tapping on obviously growing love affair with road racing, the new venue and its race proved an instant hit.
“So when Bob Temple arrived at the Glen in the third week of September, 1950, his timing was perfect, and he would have the privilege to witness three races instead of two as before: the Seneca Cup, the Queen Catherine Cup, and the Grand Prix. Good thing he had plenty of color film rolls for us to relish today.”
Sitz: A Mercer in the Watkins Glen car park. Interest in ‘old cars’ was growing and the Glen even had their old car Concours d’Elegance. When the SCCA was formed in 1944, their purpose was to preserve this type of car from being scrapped. There were no plans for racing since it was assumed ARCA would resume their racing after the War.
Sitz: Alfa 2500 Pinin Farina Convertible. This could be one owned by Alec Ulmann who did arrive at a Suffolk County NY race in May 1950 with an Alfa convertible. Hoffman Motors did not import that many and Ulmann would certainly have been at the Glen.
Defechereux: Tom Cole in his Cad Allard led the 1950 Grand Prix event on the first lap. On the second lap, Cole was exiting Townsend Road Corner ‘with a tad too much speed’, ended up in a ditch where our intrepid Bob Temple was standing.
Sitz: Oddly the year before in 1949, Cole debuted the J2 model in US, with a Cadillac engine. But the American press ignored the car!
No one could figure out who owned or built these sports car specials. Hopefully our readers can help.
Sitz: There is our mystery car again with the Farago special. Road & Track reported the car In April 1950, called Farago a ”sports car specialist “who built it after trip to his native Italy in 1948. He later raced at Sebring in SIATA.
Defechereux: Paul Farago was a Fiat enthusiast from Detroit, an early SCCA member of the local chapter along with Charles Davison (Eric’s father), and an excellent mechanic and body designer. His attractive Fiat Special first showed at the Glen in 1949, was built on Fiat 508 components, including the original 1,089cc engine. Paul Farago especially designed the sweeping roadster body for it, using light aluminum panels, which he shaped himself. The beautiful one-of-a-kind car won the Class 2 prize Concours d’Élégance in 1949, while it raced in the Queen Catherine’s Cup and won his class. Not bad for a one-man show.
Defechereux: The Fitch model B. The special had a Ford V8 60 and John Fitch took it to 8th overall in the Grand Prix event. The chassis and suspension were essentially Fiat 508 components and the engine was said to produce 105 hp at 5300 rpm. It became known as the “Fitch Bitch”.
Davison: Dave Garroway’s Jaguar SS100. During the weekend of the racing the town was a wild assortment of cars, drivers and spectators. One night I found myself outside a restaurant when Dave Garroway exited. Being a cheeky kid I stepped right up and introduced myself explaining that my Dad’s was the other SS100 that had been entered. I explained that the Jag broke down along the way. Garroway, a really fine gentleman and serious enthusiast told me to bring Dad around so they could talk. He also expressed dismay at the fate of our car and stated that it was too bad we could not have brought it the rest of the way. He had parts, tools and a willing crew and the car could have been on the track. I have been a fan of his ever since.
Sitz: Garroway acquired the SS 100 in January 1949, arrived with bang at the Lake Geneva Rally in May that year. By May 1950 the first Today show host had fitted a supercharger for the Bridgehampton race, then by May 1951 it was running an XK 120 motor.
Sitz: Jim Kimberly in the 166 MM Ferrari leads Jim Pauley in the Nardi-Danese and Briggs Cunningham in the Healey Silverstone. Wait, not sure it is Cunningham’s Healey Silverstone, usually done in blue. Could be John Bentley’s.
Sitz: If you tried really hard could you design something worse? Grumman aircraft staffers were responsible for this I guess. Briggs was allowed to run standard Cadillac chassis for Le Mans with a special body, finished 11th behind his stock 62 Cadillac de Ville.
Defechereux: Cunningham’s “tank-like” Cadillac was used as a pace car in the Seneca Cup race by Cameron Argetsinger. It was way too big to actually race through the streets of Watkins Glen. However, it came to the Glen surrounded by a degree of fame and a nickname given to it by the French media: “Le Monstre.” Officially fielded at the Le Mans 24 Hour race earlier on June 24-25 by Briggs Cunningham, the huge rebodied Cadillac Model 61-51, now called a “roadster,” was entered along with is normally-bodied sister car, a regular Cadillac 61-50 Coupe. Given that more than half the field dropped out for various reasons before the finish, it is remarkable the BSC’s first attempt at Le Mans with American cars and drivers saw both entries finish honorably: the Coupe in 10th place, and “Le Monstre” right behind in 11th place. This rare color photo is precious.
Sitz: Mercedses 540 K was perhaps owned by Dr. Sam Scher, the famous NY plastic surgeon. He had the most wonderful cars!
Defechereux: Scher also brought the Bugatti Type 54 for Bill Milliken to drive.
Davison: The Bugatti that Milliken drove was fitted with a Buick Dynaflo transmission supplied by Charles Chayne who was, at the time, chief engineer at Buick.
Davison: Probably Max Hoffman’s Porsche.
Sitz: I had to wonder if this was 1950 or perhaps later since they were so rare. I checked my notes and found that Hoffman brought in just 3 cars in fall 1950, so this could be the Hoffman Porsche.
Sitz: Ralph Knudsen was from Milwaukee and later raced Brook Stevens’ Excalibur. The Veritas was originally owned by Dennis Poore of England. He would retire after 12 laps.
Defechereux: Karl Kling was expected to drive a factory entered Veritas but SCCA rules convinced the company it was not worth the trouble.