Arutunoff and the Appia

by pete on March 25, 2014

The Arutunoff Appia Zagato at the Walter Mitty at Atlanta in 1984. Photo by Pete Vack

By Toly Arutunoff

In 1964 it seemed like I needed a companion in the garage for my Lancia Flaminia Zagato. The previous year, after our good finishes in the Targa Florio, Nurburgring 1000km, and Spa 500km, the factory offered me a straight swap for my car and one of the GTS Appia Zagatos, guaranteed for 117 mph. I turned the offer down, but later I saw an ad for an Appia Zagato in Rhode Island for $900. I heard it call my name and before I knew it we were on our way east from our lair in Oklahoma.

The Appia Zagato was based on the four door sedan introduced in 1953.

I went thru Nashville where I called on Bill Pryor–my Europe co-driver–and we flew up to NYC. We got in late and invited the stewardesses (those were in the days when stewardesses still looked like stewardesses) to have a late dinner with us at Reuben’s. Is it still in existence?

The Appia Zagato ads were enticing.

I knew I was in New York when we all went into Reuben’s at 1:30am with our luggage and I told the hostess/cashier that we liked the place so much we were going to live there and she didn’t bat an eye. A couple of the girls invited us to sleep on the couches in their house, and at sunrise and after 4 hours’ sleep we took a train to Rhode Island. The train was in crummy shape. We got a taxi at the station and after the driver asked some people how to find the town we wanted (in Rhode Island for pete’s sake!) we took off. It was hot and humid and we were tres fatiguee. The cab had a flat. He had no spare. We tried to doze on the hot plastic upholstery for the hour or so it took for a spare tire to arrive. Then we found out we were about 3 blocks from the dealership where the car was!

The car’s owner, Dr. Maurice Schlossberg (any relation to Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, I wonder) was at Lime Rock or something. I discovered I’d left my checkbook at home. The guy at the dealership said “No one is gonna come up here from Oklahoma to steal an Appia Zagato!” and so I wrote a check on a piece of paper like we could do in those days. The car did not have a license plate on it, so Bill, an artist, wrote “in transit” on it very neatly. Also there wasn’t a title, just a bill of sale.

The paperwork completed, as we drove off I noticed the wheel shimmy but it went away over 10 mph. We stopped for gas but the nice old Polish lady wouldn’t let me use my Texaco credit card since the card form required a tag number which we didn’t have. This took about a $3 bite out of our traveling cash.

Dr. Schlossberg had said the car had reclining seats but they didn’t seem to do that, so Bill wadded up his jacket and used it for a pillow to nap as we headed for Nashville. I took a back road shortcut and we stumbled upon an SCCA rally checkpoint! We continued and got onto some tollroad. It was now evening and we were very tired and saw a Howard Johnson’s motor lodge at an exit. It was an unmanned exit and required 25 cents and we had just 20 cents in change, so I threw it in and drove on–there was no barrier. I still do a great imitation of the horn that went off. It surely had been designed to embarrass violators. bleaahhhh! The rest of the trip was without incident but as I retrieved a pen which had rolled under the seat as we disembarked in Nashville I saw a lever under the seat cushion. I pulled it and the back simply flopped backwards. Bill could’ve been much more comfortable after all……

The Appia Zagato at Opelousas, Louisiana, airport SCCA race in 1964.

I knew the car was classified H production in the SCCA, so I had a single-hoop rollbar put in and went to a race in Independence, Kansas. The front shocks were adjustable with a little brass wingnut on top (the front suspension was sliding pillar with included shock, much more sophisticated that the Morgan’s system). Running with the muffler and the air cleaner and the Michelin X tires, i.e. absolutely stock, I got a third place out of five or six cars.

Around this time George Starch bought one of the show cars, with a wooden headliner held in by chrome bows; it had kickup rear fenders like a Fiat 1100tv. It also had a trick racing muffler that hung just below the driver’s seat and had dual outlets right there. Not only was it noisy it gave me a nice buttocks massage at almost any rpm. I got bigger carb venturis and suitable jets and planned to run the car seriously in H production the following year, but it was dropped from the production car list. I mentioned that to Tracy Bird at the SCCA convention and he told me to write a letter but the way I was in those days I just said to heck with it.

Appia Zagato at Opelousas, Louisiana, airport SCCA race in 1964.

Ann Carr Porter from Clarksdale, Mississippi, standing by Toly’s first Appia Zagato at Opelousas, Louisiana, airport SCCA race in 1964.

While I was off somewhere a friend decided to overhaul the car for me without my asking. he took it apart and borrowed an Italian restaurant owner’s limo to haul the parts in the trunk. The limo chauffeur somehow got the car and thought the stuff in the trunk was junk and took it to the Nashville dump. Somehow I got the thing back together and swapped it straight across for a Lotus XI climax, complete with working headlights and all upholstery! I raced it once and the owner decided to swap back. I’d put new tires on it but it’d also blown its head gasket so we called it square. Part 2 next week!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Denton March 25, 2014 at 6:16 pm

Good stuff Toly. Opelousas was our drag strip in the late 50’s. Big Daddy stopped by on his way to show the boys in CA a thing or two one year, and Diesi Pontiac was the first SS in the US to break 100 with a ’59 Tri-Power. Sorry I missed the SCCA events, but I did go to Mansfield SCCA with the MGA a few times in the late 60’s. Still have the MGA and I bet you have the old Flaminia Z as well. I remember you drove it back to the Daytona 24 in the 90’s.

jim winfree October 17, 2014 at 6:41 pm

hello toly’

i tried your first appia out in 1965, but the wifey thought it a little small for a growing family and mercedes collection. i should have bought it!

i would really like to hear from you, we haven’t talked since the mid 1970’s. i trust you have taken great care of the m__________ gov.’s staff license plate.

your old friend,
jim winfree

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