We ran our first event of the year last weekend (3/22-23). It was the HMSA Spring race at Laguna Seca.
It was a bittersweet weekend for us. I made the trade with Jeff for the Jagermeister CSL. In exchange I got 2 1971 BMW 2002’s with Trans-Am history.
The weekend went very well for me. The only problem I had was adapting to the car. The pedals did not fit well at all, and I could not heel-and-toe at all. The pedals lined up in such a way that when I tried to roll my foot over to blip the throttle, my foot got jammed between them.
I ran in Group 3, which was made up of 29 of the best and fastest B Sedans on the West Coast. There were a bunch of Datsun’s, BMW’s and Alfa’s. It looked like a Trans-Am 2.5 Challenge grid from the early 1970’s!
I qualified 8th for the Saturday race, and finished 8th. My best lap time was 1:48.8.
That meant I started 8th in the Sunday feature race. Starting 9th was Adam Carolla in his fast, ex-Bob Sharp Datsun 610.
At the start he latched on to my rear bumper, and stayed there for the first 7 laps, giving me all I could handle. He finally retired with an engine problem.
On the first lap I was following Steve Link’s 510 Datsun very closely when he suddenly slowed coming out or the Rainey Curve. It was all I could do to avoid hitting him in the trunk. He said later that he broke a half-shaft.
The rest of the race was pretty uneventful, and I ended up finishing 7th. My best lap time of the race was 1:47.6, which was an improvement from Saturday.
Terry Forland drove the second 2002 all weekend. That car is not as well developed as the #34 car, and despite his considerable driving skills, he was never quite able to match the #34 car. He ended up finishing 11th on Sunday.
It was a great weekend, and a great way too start the 2014 season. We won’t be back to Laguna Seca until the Rollex Reunion races in August.
Here’s the link to the video from my YouTube channel:
I became the current custodian of 51203 after I saw it offered at auction through Coys Auction House in January 2013. I have never purchased a car this way before. I have always approached a purchase in the traditional manner, looking carefully, researching, talking with experts, etc., before making any offers.
When I saw the car something deep inside me just clicked. I had only 2 days from the time I saw it on the ‘Bring a Trailer’ web site until the day of the auction, so I couldn’t dilly-dally. I did as much Google work on the car as I could in that time, and called a couple of people I thought might know something about the car. The more I learned about it the more intrigued I became.
I decided to take the plunge and submit a bid I could live with.
I contacted Coys and worked with Nick Wiles, who explained the various ways I could bid on the car. He was extremely helpful. I decided to make a commission bid, which means I sent them the highest price I was willing to pay, and they kept bidding in steps up to that amount. I filled out the paper work, scanned my passport, gave them a CC number as a performance deposit, and then waited until the following Saturday for the auction.
The UK is 8 hours ahead of us here on the left coast, so by about 2:00 PM, when I had heard nothing, I figured I had not made the winning bid. I was a little disappointed, but figured it had all worked out for the best after all. The idea that I would bid that amount on a car I had never seen in the flesh sank in, and I was almost relieved that providence had seemingly protected me from some horrible mistake.
But providence had something completely different in mind, and low and behold, when I got up Sunday morning and checked my email I found this from Nick:
Congratulations you successfully purchased the BMW. Your high bid of -xxxx successfully bought the Willis. My colleague Valerie will shortly be sending a full invoice to you via email.”
Needless to say, I was stunned! I guess I never really thought I would win at the figure I offered, but I got it for something less than my top bid. I was ecstatic, and my wife was even more excited about it than I was. Now what do we do? Oh yes, get it home!
Coys works with a transport company called Cars UK. They contacted me and began the process of transporting the car to the Northwest. I decided to go ahead and have the car air-shipped, as I was concerned about having it locked in a container for 6 weeks in the salt air. Cars UK was wonderful to work with, and I would highly recommend them. The folks in their Atlanta office were absolutely tenacious when it came to dealing with the folks at US Customs.
There were a few hitches, but just 2 and ½ weeks after the auction my wife and I drove up to SeaTac Airport and collected the car. We then took the car to Racecraft in Woodinville, WA where Terry Forland and Jim Froula operate a restoration, fabrication, and race support business.
We unloaded the car in their shop and all stood speechless for fully 5 minutes just looking at the car and soaking in its charm and character. It is truly a special car. My guts had been right. It was worth all the uncertainty.
We checked everything over on the car, filled it with race fuel, turned on the ignition, pulled the choke, and pressed the starter button. A few seconds cranking and it rumbled to life! I can barely describe the feeling to be sitting in a car with all this history and having it running happily, and best of all, knowing it was now mine.
After letting it warm up, I slipped it into gear and drove out of the shop and south down the Woodinville-Redmond Highway. It burbled a little below 2,000 rpm, but once it got to 3,500 it just came alive. Torque, amazing amounts of torque. How that little 6 makes all that torque I can’t understand. It just jumps up to 6,000 in a heart-beat. Of course the fact that it weighs only 820 Kg certainly helps.
After a couple of laps up and down the highway I drove it back into the shop and sat there in the car for some time just enjoying the moment and letting it all sink in.
Then Terry and Jim got all practical and we began to lay out a game plan for getting the car race prepped for the coming season. The only thing my wife insisted on is that we add back the roll bar that was on the car when it last raced in 2004-2005. So Jim stuck a brain bucket on my head and measured me and the car for a new roll bar. Fortunately we discovered all the openings for the previous bar were still present, and were covered with temporary covers.
Spares? What do we need for spares, and where do we find them? Campaigning a car this old presents certain challenges, not the least of which is spare parts to keep it running. We made a list, and Terry volunteered to start searching.
Finally, after several more hours of planning and talking my wife and I needed to head back to Oregon. Reluctantly we got back in our car and headed south down I-5.
But wait, there’s more!
When we got home from Seattle late that night the box of historical photos, trophies, letters, invoices, and articles that came with the car was waiting on our doorstep. My wife began to rip into it before I had my coat hung up.
Every item that came out of the box was just amazing, and a real tribute to the engineering and creative genius of R. C. Willis. The old pictures were particularly fascinating, as well as a couple of old race programs, and letters from R. C. Willis and Charles Bulmer about the car and its history, along with a collection of 22 cups won by the car back in the day. Many happy hours later we fell into bed emotionally exhausted.
To look now at the little car and think about all the history that has passed under its wheels is inspiring and a bit humbling. To try and accomplish what Willis did in this day would be incredibly difficult and expensive. It would be the equivalent of taking a BMW Z3, modifying it, and competing successfully in one of the current feeder pro series. My hat is off to you, Mr. Willis!
My plan is to continue to add to the storied history of the car by campaigning it in vintage race events and BMW events here on the West Coast. Come on out to a race and cheer this wonderful old car along.
We have begun the restoration/race prep of the Luigi CSL. We have decided to return the car to the same livery it wore in 1976, the year it won the European Touring Car Championship.
The first order of business was to remove the wide Group 5 fenders and the front air dam that were installed in the 1980’s.
It was interesting to grind down through the old paint and bondo and find all the old layers of paint the car wore through its racing career. Down at the very bottom we found the black/green/red paint from its original Castrol livery.
When we removed the front air dam we found that the front valance was in need of some repairs. We want to make the new air dam removable to aid in loading/unloading the car from the trailer and need a solid base to mount it.
The old valance was cut out, and a new one was grafted in.
Once the old fenders were removed and the valance repaired, the engine was taken out and shipped down to Terry Tinney for a freshening. The car was then taken to the painter’s shop.
Jim Froula from Racecraft, visited the CSL recently at the painters.
He said that there is not too much progress to report except that they have stripped all the paint and filler from both sides of the car and it’s in amazingly good condition underneath all that mess that was there. No rust and only the slightest indication of contact at each front corner.
The fiberglass parts turned out to be a real disappointment. They are nowhere near close to fitting.
The rear flares are about 2″ narrower than the fronts, but the shape is okay so making them a little wider will be easy.
The front flares are just wrong in every way. The good news is that the fiberglass guy we have on the job can make anything so I’m confident it will look right in the end it was just a hurdle we didn’t expect.
The main reason for Jim’s visit was to get really detailed about how the flares need to look, how much gap to allow around the tires, how far they need to protrude from the fenders, how they need to be attached, etc.
They reviewed a whole bunch of photos, made a bunch of notes and measurements and they now have some clear guidance on how to proceed. More importantly they are still confident that our schedule is realistic and promise to meet our date for the Sonoma Motorsports Festival in May.
Jim has have allowed a month after painting to reassemble everything and maybe even get it out to a track day before we head south with it.
On the engine side of things. The injection pump and injectors are out to the specialist that will thoroughly clean them out and make sure they are flowing properly.
Terry Tinney should have the motor disassembled and inspected early next week so we’ll have more information on any issues there might be there.
While participating in an auto cross event held at Brainerd International Raceway during the summer of 1970 I met a man named Jerry Orr. At that time Jerry was the president of the International Ice Racing Assocation. The IIRA held a series of races during the winter in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and southern Ontario.
He told me about how much fun it was, and how much I’d learn about car control, race strategy, and car preparation. Mostly he talked about the fun.
I decided that I would give it a try with my trusty NSU.
The IIRA ran 3 classes broken down by engine location and drive wheel location. The fastest cars were front engine/front wheel drive. There was also a class for front engine/rear wheel drive, and rear engine/rear wheel drive. These were further divided by engine size, making a total of 6 classes.
The rules governing tires were very strict. You were allowed to run studs, but only 13 studs per foot of tire circumference. But there were studs, and then there were studs. Needless to say, the studs you used were a critical factor in how fast you went.
Regular street studs were not competitive. A tire shop in St. Paul, who were also running a Corvette in the series, had developed a conical stud that worked much better. They had a lot of power to put onto the ice, so they worked hard at developing the studs, and then selling them to the other racers.
The NSU would run in the rear engine/rear wheel drive class, along with an assortment of VW’s, Simcas, and a couple of Renault Dauphins driven by a pair of brothers named Archer out of Duluth.
At that time there were fairly large fields, and the races were 2-3 hours long. My first event was in Brainerd, and it was cold! How cold was it? Air temp was -25, and wind chill was -35. We left our tow vehicle running all night outside our motel so we would be sure to get to the event on Saturday morning.
The NSU was air cooled, and in the interest of weight savings I had removed what little heating system it had to offer. I regretted it that day! I finished 3rd in my class and won $15 which about covered my gas bill driving to the race.
I ran in Duluth (DNF), and the biggest event every year, the Saint Paul Winter Carnival race on Lake Phalen. This race always drew big crowds. We had been running the NSU with a single carb, and decided to switch to the dual 38 mm Webers from the autocross engine.
What a difference that made! I was able to motor by the Renaults down the straight, and that caused the Archer brothers some apoplexy. Unfortunately these carbs also had a problem with icing up and I ended up DNFing while running second.
That spring I sold the NSU, something I still regret.
Here’s a link to the current IIRA web site. To get an idea of what this racing is like, take a look at some of the videos. http://www.iceracemn.com
Competing against some of the fastest cars of the day, Willis had a great day.
The race was won by Reg Parnell’s Cooper Bristol. Then followed 2 Connaught A-types, and a Ferrari 125/66. Willis finished a credible 5th, and in the process set a two litre lap record of 85.5 MPH.
As the 1952 season wound down Willis and Bulmer recognized that there were changes coming in the various Formulae. They also realized that they could no longer compete effectively with a car that was also being driven daily on the open roads. So they began to plan for the 1953 season. These plans developed into a special built and extremely light weight 1500 cc car with a steel space frame designed by Bulmer. Bulmer even designed a special short throw crankshaft that they planned to use in the new car.
Unfortunately reality caught up with the team as business set-backs caused Willis to have to sell his garage, and the partially finished race car they were building for 1953. 51203 also had to be sold and was offered in this ad in the Fall of 1952. This set-back also proved to be the end of Willis’ racing career.
The car was purchased by Berwyn Baxter who raced it throughout the 1953 season. The car appeared on entry lists as the “LMC Bristol,” so named for Willis’ now defunct garage, the Loughton Motor Company. 3rd place finishes at AMOC’s Silverstone race in August, and BARC’s Goodwood race in September comprised the highlights of that season.
Baxter bought a C-type Jaguar for the 1954 season so 51203 was idled, and finally it was offered for sale through the Scarth Hill Motor Co Ltd in Ormskirk. Cedric Brierly purchased the car in December 1954 for 365 Pounds. He intended to transplant the engine from the car into his own BS Special. Fortunately his plans changed and he sold the car to Peter Sims of Sheffield before it could be cannabalized.
The car ran two more races at Silverstone. The first was in July 1955, and finally in October 1956. It is thought to have then been converted back to street car, and it thus disappeared until 1967 when its newest owner, Paul Spencer, wrote to both Bulmer and Willis seeking additional information about the car in preparation for restoration. It was now in several hundred pieces, with its magnesium body long since rotted away and sold for scrap.
It then went through a series owners, John Baker (1968-1983), Fuad Mazjub (1984-1989), and Brian May (1989-2001), each of whom had the best intentions of putting the car back together.
But it was not until it came to Proby Cautly in 2001 that 51203 was finally and properly restored to its former glory. The car was completely refurbished by Neil Davies Historic Racing in Hertfordshire during 2002-2003. The car still retained its Frazer-Nash Type 40 chassis (#51203) and the 2 litre BMW engine (#361672) with the Bristol head. The biggest challenge was that a new body, faithful to the original had to be fabricated. However, due to safety concerns this one was made out of aluminum. The original cast magnesium wheels were also duplicated by Crosthwaite & Gardner using modern materials and techniques which resulted in much safer wheels.
Mr. Cautley ran the car in several vintage events until he sold it back to John Baker who wanted to satisfy his curiosity as to how the car actually performed.
From Baker it went to Paul Evans in 2008. Mr. Evans converted it back to street use, removing the roll bar and adding the gauges and lights necessary to obtain an MOT Certificate.
At this point the car was putting out somewhere near 60 bhp, so the next step was obvious. During the winter of 1949 a 2 liter motor was fitted. Willis used the vertical valve, M319/4 Type 55 with triple horizontal Solex carburetors. Though not as effective as the hemi-headed 328 power plant, Willis and Bulmer modified it for more power along the lines they had used with the smaller engine. The car was also fitted with an ENV 75 pre-selector transmission from a Riley via a custom magnesium bellhousing.
To mark this new phase in its life the car was also re-registered as PVW 893.
The 1950 season showed that the car was now quite quick, and was, in fact, a match for the factory Frazer-Nashs and HMWs. But as Willis was now participating in more circuit races, it also showed itself to be unreliable. But given the team’s limited resources, this should hardly seem surprising.
That summer the team ventured to the Continent and raced in the Formula 2 events at both Luxemburg and Chimay, Belgium in May, and the 4e Coupe des Petites Cylindrees at Rheims in July. All these runs ended with DNF’s. These disappointments discouraged further forays to Europe, and resulted in the team focusing on races close to home.
By mid-summer the car was running more reliably. A second place finish to Gil Tyrer’s ex-Mille Miglia 328 streamliner at Silverstone in July, and a victory over Oscar Moore’s OBM at the SUNBAC Silverstone race in August were very promising. In September Willis returned to Prescott and climbed the hill in 50.48 seconds to win the 1500-3000 cc class. This time set a new record for the class, and was even good enough to beat Sydney Allard’s new Cadillac-Allard for the best time of the meet for sports cars.
1951 was pretty much like 1950, fast but fragile. 3rd behind an XK 120 Jaguar and a Frazer-Nash Le Mans Replica in June at Silverstone. Another 3rd behind two Frazer-Nash Bristols at Boreham in August, and a well deserved 2nd behind a Frazer-Nash High Speed at Gamston Airfield in July. The year ended with a disappointing DNF at the International Wakefield Trophy Race at Curragh in September.
For 1952 the team realized that they would need more power if they were to remain at all competitive in the 2 litre classes. So Willis set about modifying the Type 55 engine to accept a 328/Bristol type alloy cylinder head fitted with 3 down-draft SU carburetors. This change was immediate and dramatic.
Bulmer drove the car in the first event of the season, the Gosport ¼ Mile Sprint where his best time of the day was 14.97 seconds, sufficient to beat 2 Frazer-Nash Le Mans Replicas and garner the 5th fastest time of the day.
Sharing the car for the May AMOC Race at Snetterton, Willis easily took his heat race ahead of a Frazer-Nash Mille Miglia and a potent MG-Cooper, but had to retire from the final. Bulmer was leading the Formula 2 race until he blew a head gasket in the late stages of the race. Still he was able to set the fastest lap of the day at 77.92 MPH.
Two weeks later Willis posted a record time of 48.84 seconds at the Prescott Hillclimb. This was down from his initial time of over 62 seconds from just a few years earlier. Bulmer won the up to 2,500 cc sports car class and finished 2nd in the Formula 2 race at Silverstone at the end of May, followed by a 2nd in the Formula 2 race at Snetterton.
Three weeks later Willis faced a tough field of Formula 2s at the West Essex Car Club’s Boreham race. Led by Reg Parnell’s Cooper Bristol, 2 Connaught A-types, and a Ferrari 125/66, Willis finished a credible 5th, and in the process set a two litre lap record of 85.5 MPH.
As a young man I spent many summers hanging out at Road America watching some of the biggest names of the day racing some of the most spectacular cars of the period. It left an indelible mark in my memory, and a craving to be on that track in a race car some day. But it would be decades before that dream became a reality.
I never got to race on that track while I lived in the mid-west. The last race I attended there was a combination F-5000, Trans-Am weekend in the early 1970’s. A few years later I got married, moved west and thought I’d never get the chance to drive Road America at speed.
However, last summer Mary and I made the trip back to our old stomping grounds, and I finally got to race on the track I had always dreamed about.
Its a long drive from Amity, Oregon to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. We left in our RV on Sunday morning, July 14, and planned to arrive Wednesday afternoon, July 17.
We headed east out of Portland and up the Columbia Gorge on I-84, turning north at Tri-cities. We made our way up 395 to Spokane, and then headed east on I-90 through the Idaho Panhandle into western Montana. Then the long slog the length of Montana, North Dakota, and down through western Minnesota into the Twin Cities.
We spent Tuesday evening at some old friends house west of Minneapolis, and left early Wednesday morning for Elkhart Lake, arriving about 2:30 that afternoon.
The Koepchen 2002 had been hauled to Road America via Mont Tremblant by Racecraft, so we just needed to find their rig in the paddock. Not as easy as it sounds. The paddock at Road America is huge, and it was full of participants and their rigs. After checking in and getting our credentials we found a paddock steward to help us locate our crew and car.
Thursday and Friday were spent learning the track. It was quite a thrill to drive out onto the main straight for the first time. Road America is a big, fast track, and it took a while to get comfortable going through some of the high-speed sections. Here’s some video from practice:
I qualified in the top 10, which is a testament to the great job Terry Tinney did on the motor. Road America is a horsepower track, and we were getting 125 mph down the three straights. Not to shabby for a box!
My Group was the first race on Sunday. I was lined up 5th behind Vic Skirmants in his quick 356 Porsche. At the drop of the flag I was able to get by him down the back straight. I was also passed by an Elva, but he made a mistake at the Kink and damaged his car.
Vic and I traded positions for the entire race. I was quicker down the straights. He was better under brakes, and through a couple of turns.
On the last lap we caught some lapped traffic, and I got held up through the kink. Vic got just enough of a gap that I couldn’t catch him on the front straight. It was a lot of fun!
Here’s the video of the race:
After a great weekend we loaded the RV and began the long trek back west.
The track was everything I hoped for, plus a lot more. As you watch the videos, look at the park-like atmosphere they have created. No wonder it is such a racer and fan favorite.