California Classic: The MotorBinder Photo Collection

by pete on June 24, 2014

MotorBinder Classic Photographs from the golden age of motor racing
By Roy Spencer
321 pages, softbound, 10.75 by 8.25 Horizontal layout
ISBN 978-0-615-97059-2
$64 Post Paid US, $84 PP international

Review by Pete Vack

Although dedicated to his father Bev, (1917-1977) Roy Spencer’s stunning MotorBinder is a collection of photos that serve as a fitting tribute to the late photographer Gordon Martin, a former Motorsports Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle.

A wonderful action photo of Paul O’Shea and his SLS Mercedes just keeping ahead of the Aston Martin DB3 of Bob Oker at Riverside in 1957. This one is a full spread reproduction of a Ken Parker photo.

While many of the book’s 321 pages present photos from other sources including the Spencer family album, it is the previously unpublished photos from the Martin collection that makes this work both important and enjoyable. The Martin photos were rescued from a basement after 40 years; the photos presented range from 1955 to 1967, primarily taken at California racetracks and events. All photos are superbly restored and printed on heavy, fine quality semi-gloss paper.

The Guiberson 375 Ferrari S/N 0286AM, taken at Torry Pines in 1955. The famous finned Ferrari appears that it is perhaps red, not the more familiar white and blue as driven by Hill in the Mexican Road Race.

Reviewing such a book is difficult without displaying a selection of the photos. The problem is, which ones? One method is to go through the book (in general there is on large photo to the right and the caption on the left page—a very nice layout) and tab the most impressive images, for whatever reason. Then go back, read the text, and after a second look determine if the initial reaction was still valid, and tell the readers about it.

Race car historians and enthusiasts owe thanks to Roy Spencer for finding, saving, and making this outstanding collection available at a truly reasonable price.

And before that, ask the author/publisher for permission to do so; we thank Roy Spencer for providing not only permission but sending some excellent scans. Hopefully, these will allow the reader to get a grasp of what is in store, for the book is much, much more exciting than can be presented here. All are by Martin unless otherwise noted. We hope the readers will respect not only these copyrights but all that seen in VeloceToday.

An unknown photographer but obviously a pro captured the late Jack Brabham in Victory Lane following his win at Riverside in 1961. As Roy captions it, “In an image that could be straight from Hollywood Casting, tough Jack Brabham salutes the crowd after winning…”

Same race, same place, Martin does Masten Gregory, pensively holding his helmet, with two sets of goggles that were made to fit over his eyeglasses. (Gregory was one of the few top-flight drivers who wore glasses.) He looks tired, and by 1962 his career was on the downward slope.

At Cotati in 1962 Martin got the background, the car, the girl into the perfect sweet light; the car, a Kellison fiberglass kit car; the girl, unknown but now her image saved for posterity and a good thing, too. A 1962 California moment.

Martin traveled to Indy and again his driver portraits were outstanding. At the 1963 race, Novi-mounted Jim Hurtubise looks back over his shoulder before setting off on a qualification lap. He made the front grid with one of last of the marvelous Novis.

Number 66 and looking it. Jim Hall debuts the 2C Chaparral at Kent, Washington in 1965. The combination of a curvaceous body, aerodynamic aids and those straight up velocity stacks and the slanted exhaust pipes signal a car built between a new and an old era.

The late Kjell Qvale decided to import the Mini Cooper in 1963 and invited a number of guests to his ranch in order to thrash the Coopers around a bit for the sake of PR. Some got overenthusiastic, but were forgiven. Martin grouped them together; Fangio, Moss, McCluggage, Rodriquez, Ireland, Bucknum, Ward, and Gurney. What a party.

Spencer ends the pro photo section of the book with another Martin photo of Phil Hill. The year is 1967, he is at Sebring with Jim Hall sorting out problems with the Chaparral 2D coupe. Hill looks much older, tired, and five months later raced his last race at Brands Hatch, where he won with the Chaparral 2F.

That’s only a few of hundreds; we’d love to provide many more examples but you get the picture; buy the book, it is a steal. There are a few typos, a few cases of mistaken identities, most of which are mentioned by readers on the MotorBinder website. They do not detract from the book or the presentation of these photos. There is no index, though one would be helpful.

MotorBinder is a work which will be welcomed by those interested in West Coast racing in the 1950s and 60s, motoring historians in general, and anyone who loves fine black and white photography. It is available for only $64 including S&H for domestic delivery, $84 for the rest of the world. For the money, an excellent deal. It can order ordered via

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

jim sitz June 24, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Pete..Sebring 1967 with Phil Hill, You mention his looking tired
Yes indeed and DID NOT START race since my close friend Phil had his appendix
removed at this venue.At Brands Hatch later his comment on winning was”…Not bad for an Old guy..”(he had turned 40 earlier in yr, April 20th

Jim Sitz

Paul House June 24, 2014 at 4:06 pm

An excellent book in every way with fantastic pictures. Some cool shots of lesser known cars and candid pictures of drivers. I cannot get enough of photographs from the golden era of motor racing and this ticks all of the boxes. My hero`s Ken Miles, Carroll Shelby and Phil Hill all feature quite a bit. Bev Spencer and his cars were an interesting segment too, he certainly had some beautiful cars. Well done.

jim sitz June 24, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Shelby 4.5 Ferrari. as he raced in his 1st California event. Yes. i saw the car then ownedby Guiberson of Texas, the winning 4.5 was
metallic dark maroon i would say.
Before that in 1954 when Owned by Carlos Braniff
of Mexico it was silver with Mexico decal on back of car,,he ran at Bergstrom airport located nr
Austin, Texas, March 28th, 1954(very big date in aut0motive circles)

Carlos finished 2nd to Jim Kimberly who drove his personalized 375 to win.
the Vignale bodied spyder also raced by Ken Miles later that summer of 1955 up at Bremerton, Wash in a SCCA National, then passed on to final owner Lou Brero who ran Nassau Dec 1955, engine over heated. (Had its race Nr 108c when un earthed many years later)

Jim Sitz

TVC15 June 25, 2014 at 6:05 am

Great Photos !! I love the one of Paul O’Shea in the Mercedes Benz 300 SLS what ever happened to those cars ( I think there were 2 ) ?

wallace wyss June 27, 2014 at 2:14 pm

On the 300SLS, I heard that two lightweight Mercedes 300SL roadsters were shipped to O’Shea and his racing partner but these weren’t quite the same as the SLS that was featured in the Colliers magazine article photographed by David Douglas Duncan as they took three 300SL roadster prototypes from Germany to Italy over the alps. I also heard the O’Shea cars have disappeared but at least one of the Collier cars was found, by a Californian Scott Grundfor, who restored it and sold it.

Michael T. Lynch June 30, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Jim Sitz, as usual, is correct re the dark maroon of the Guiberson 375 MM at Torrey Pines. It was Shel’s first California appearance and he made the most of it, winning going away.

Wally Wyss is also correct re the O’Shea Mercedes (2 of them, entered by George Tilp.) It is not clear if Tilp owned them or if they were on loan from Mercedes. I spent a great deal of a client’s money trying to find them because Scott Grundfor had the serial numbers. Working through a number of law enforcement agencies (I wasn’t about to try and pierce modern DMV license info privacy laws without them) I was unsuccessful. This subject is discussed in some length on the Nostalgia Forum at

Studebaker was the Merc distributor at the time and the urban legend is that they crushed the cars in South Bend or sent them back to Mercedes who crushed them. This has never been proven and the romantic in me likes to think they are barn finds about to happen. Considering that at least one of the 1952 Le Mans cars was converted to a street car and sold, anything is possible.

The David Douglas Duncan Mercedes were pre-production prototypes and had nothing to do with the O’Shea/Tilp cars which were heavily modified, causing them to run in the Modified Class in the SCCA, not the Production Class that standard 300SLs ran in. BTW, no Mercedes documents ever referred to these cars as SLS, the name was a creation of an unknown motoring journalist.

Michael T. Lynch June 30, 2014 at 4:54 pm

If someone wants more (conflicting) information on the two Mercedes D Modified cars run by O’Shea/Tilp, go here.

TVC15 July 5, 2014 at 4:56 am

Gentlemen , Re the 300sls , Just out of interest check out a web site named ” Barn Finds ” go to ” 1960 Mercedes Benz 300sl Roadster Garage Find ” from August 22nd 2011 and scroll down the comments to a comment from a man named Lewis who writes of a possible sighting of one of these cars under a pile of wood back in the 70s in Seattle . As you read on you will see I tried to make contact with this mystery man through the link but only got one reply . I would like to read your comments !

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