Sunday, July 30, 2017

Concours d'Elegance of America, Plymouth, Michigan, July 30, 2017--Part Seven--Brass Era Cars and Can-Am Racers

1910 Oakland 30 Model 24
Although the Concours d'Elegance of America has a big selection of terrific cars, it is a bit limited with respect to those from the Brass Era (pre-World War I).  A total of eleven cars were listed in the "Gas Light" and "Jazz Age" categories but what was small in numbers was made up for by enthusiasm.  And the most enthusiastic had to be Mr. and Mrs. Laird, who were highly decorative adjuncts to their beautiful 1910 Oakland.

Oakland was established in Pontiac, Michigan in 1907, using a design by Alanson Brush for a two-cylinder car that had been rejected by Cadillac and featuring some quite novel features.  Brush moved on to his own car company and the Oakland, coming on the market in 1908, sold poorly.  It was decided to switch to add a more conventional four cylinder arrangement and a sliding gear transmission in 1909, the same year that Billy Durant pulled Oakland into his General Motors empire.  The following year Oakland was exclusively four cylinder and sales ramped up impressively, from 300 cars to 5,000.  The cars did well in motor sports, notably in reliability trials and hill climbs.  Oaklands continued to be produced until 1931, after which the brand vanished in favour of Pontiac, which had been introduced as a "companion car" to Oakland in 1926.

The 1910 Oakland Model 24 was built on a 96 inch wheelbase and was powered by a 40 hp four cylinder engine.  This roadster model was only available in 1910 and 1911 and sold for $1,700.

1912 E.M.F. Model 30
The Everitt-Metzger-Flanders Company of Detroit was launched in 1908 to build high-quality medium-priced cars  under the E.M.F. name, sold through a distribution agreement with the Studebaker Brothers wagon company.  The partners quarreled and went their separate ways (reuniting in 1922 to built the Rickenbacker car) and Studebaker won control of the company in 1912 after a bitter court battle.  The cars had some technical issues and unfortunately became saddled with nicknames such as "Every-Mechanical-Fault," and "Every-Morning-Fix-it," so Studebaker wisely switched to using their own name on the remaining E.M.F. cars.

1911 Oldsmobile Autocrat
Once the manufacturer of America's best selling car, the little Curved Dash Oldsmobile, the company had left that lightweight buggy-like vehicle far behind when it switched to luxury models in 1904 and was then brought into the fold of General Motors in 1908 as a high-end brand.  The four cylinder 40 hp Autocrat, introduced in 1911, would have been among the heaviest and most powerful cars of the era, and cost $3,500.  Only 1,000 Autocrats were produced by the Olds workforce each year.

1903 Ford Model A
This Model A (not be confused with the 1928 car) was the first production car of the Ford Motor Company.  A two seat runabout, it was capable of a top speed of 30 mph with its two cylinder 8 hp motor.  The Model A was introduced in July 1903 and Ford's official estimate is that 670 cars were built, although other sources suggest production could have reached 1,700.

From these pioneer cars with their charm and low power, we walked over to look at the Can-Am class, dedicated to the wild racing cars that competed in what some still consider to be the greatest race series ever.  The Can-Am Challenge Cup was a sports car series that ran from 1966 until 1974 in its original form, although the name would be used for other series from 1977 until 1987, and then briefly on and off from 1991 until 1999 with different cars again.  But the original Can-Am cars were real monsters as the rules were the least restrictive possible, perhaps the closest to "anything goes" in modern racing.  Without restrictions on engine power (and supercharging and turbocharging were allowed), output reached astronomical numbers, with Porsche claiming 1,500 hp for their 917.

Each season saw dominance by a single manufacturer--Lola, McLaren, Porsche, Shadow, Chaparral-- but the noise and excitement drew the fans until the oil crisis of 1973 and spiraling costs related to the advanced technology used in the cars, brought it to an end in 1974.  Many of racing's greatest drivers competed in the series, which was held at tracks in Canada and the United States.

1968 McLaren M8A
This McLaren was driven to Can-Am Championship victory by Denny Hulme in 1968, then by Bruce McLaren himself the following year.  The car's drivers included Dan Gurney, Chris Amon and Jack Brabham.  In 1970 the car was recently privately but crashed and was badly damaged at Mosport.  Car and driver came back to manage a 2nd place finish in St-Jovite behind Dan Gurney driving a works McLaren M8D.  The car was upgraded to M8B specifications in 1969, with power from its big block Chevrolet V8 going from 620 to 630 hp.

1971 McLaren M8E Roadster
The M8E was a derivation of the M8B for private customers and was built by Trojan Limited in Rye, Sussex, England.  Trojan began building Elva Courier racing cars under license in 1962 and eventually produced cars for McLaren, with around 200 constructed by the time Trojan stopped building cars in the early 1970s.  McLaren cars were the most successful in the Can-Am series, taking 43 wins in all.

1970 Lola T-70 Mk3B

1966 Lola T-70 Mk II Spyder

1969 Lola T-163 (left); 1969 Lola T-70 Mk3B (right)

1971 Lola T-222
Lola Cars International was founded by Eric Broadley in Huntington, England and operated for over 50 years, between 1958 and 2012, becoming one of the largest manufacturers of racing cars in the world.  Broadley worked closely with Ford's Roy Lunn to develop the GT40 but soon went on his own to develop the T-70 and its successors with great success.  A T-70 driven by John Surtees won the first Can-Am Challenge Cup series in 1966.  The T-222's Chevrolet V8 produced over 900 hp in a car weighing only 1,750 lbs.  Following the bankruptcy of Lola in 2012, much of the manufacturing equipment was purchased not only by Carl Haas Racing but also by Manumatic of Markham, Ontario, builder of the current Ford GT.

1967 Shelby American T-10 King Cobra Can-Am
As part of Ford's racing ambitions, money was provide to Shelby American to enter Can-Am racing.  Shelby retained Transatlantic Racing Consultants (TAC) to design a car and TAC came up with a conventional monocoque chassis but with a radical suspension.  The car arrived late at Shelby headquarters and with only a month until the first race at Riverside and with significant handling problems, a conventional suspension was substituted.  The car qualified 13th out of 35 cars, but did not finish the race due to fuel pump failure.  Ford basically lost interest in racing after its success at LeMans (finishing 1-2-3 with the GT40) and funding was cut.  The King Cobra was sold to privateers, who raced it with some success.  The car is powered by an extremely rare aluminum prototype Ford 351, with only six cast in aluminum and perhaps 50 made in all.

1967 Chinook Mk 5 Can-Am
The Chinook racing cars were built in Toronto between 1966 and 1970 by the Fejer Brothers, Rudy and George, and Ed Butt.  Inspired by the McLaren M1, the Chinook was completed in time to compete in the first Can-Am Challenge Cup race in St-Jovite in 1966.  George Fejer qualified 26th out of 34 starters (40 cars had been signed up!) but dropped out mid-race with a fuel leak.  The car was sold and raced by Nate Adams for some time before it was sold and traces were lost of it. The car was eventually dismantled and remained in pieces for two decades.  The current owner had it restored and was able to participate at the Goodwood Revival in 2005, although the car was not entirely sorted and is now running with a 5.7 litre Chevrolet V8 instead of the original 6.2 litre version.  The car has also been taken to vintage events at Mosport, where the original builders were present.

Continue to Part Eight here

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