6 Appeal—Chapter 1

Most people don’t just stumble across a famous race car. They usually figure out a budget, zero in on a make and model, and then start shopping.

We’re not quite that sophisticated.

After wrapping up a few street-based project cars, we decided to put another racer on our radar. Not only did the new car have to fit our budget, but we wanted something that would also work with our comfort zone. After all, being able to afford a GTP car and being able to handle one at 200 mph are two entirely different things. Hitting the lottery or successfully selling an Internet startup company may provide the funds to buy such a beast, but that doesn’t instantly yield the ability or right to campaign it.

We decided to look for something on the more modest side of performance, and two early candidates were a 2.0-liter Porsche 911 and a Triumph Spitfire. Both cars have legions of supporters and fans, yet are relatively easy to field and drive.

However, if you’re shopping for a vintage racer, don’t let our opinions sway you too far. Every racer needs to figure out what they want from a vintage racing experience. A lot of this boils down to individual interests regarding historic periods, makes, models and vintage racing groups. It’s also important to look at the budget as well as the target speed—don’t forget, they’re often related.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Each group, class and car type seems to have its own flavor. The smaller British cars—picture an MG, Triumph, Elva Courier or even a Mini Cooper—tend to be easier on the budget. These machines are relatively inexpensive to acquire and race; they’re also dead simple to understand and work on. They handle well—that is, to a limit—and are easy to drive. Lotus cars are a bit more fragile and expensive than the traditional small British car, but they can also be a blast to run.

Looking to go a little faster? The Porsche 911 usually offers higher top speeds and a better chance of running at the front of a race group. They’re also durable cars. That performance carries a premium, however, as Porsches generally cost more to build and campaign than a little British car.

Open cars like Formula Fords and Formula Vees also work well for both novices and experts. They’re fast and easy to repair yet come with reasonable budgets. However, their minimalist nature thrills some while frightening others.

Gotta have a V8? Ground pounders like Mustangs and Camaros generally get their own grid. These cars are heavy and fast, making them a bit hard on tires, and that can get expensive. Even so, it’s hard to ignore that visceral experience and the crowd dynamic that comes with it.

Remembering History

This is our newest project car as it appeared in a barn near Danville, Virginia, in 2005. Although long neglected, the important components were accounted for.

There’s another important matter to consider when shopping for a vintage race car: Do you want your ride to possess some bona fide history, or are you fine with developing a racer from an anonymous example?

Most sanctioning bodies no longer require a car to have racing history. That means it’s okay to take a street car and convert it to vintage race specs, which usually follow SCCA, FIA or IMSA rules for a particular time period. That said, you will not get invited to Monterey with a converted car; a vehicle with actual racing history will also tend to be more valuable than one that’s been converted.

Each sanctioning body tends to have their own rules and approach. On the East Coast, for example, the SVRA prefers that things be kept rather period correct. Meanwhile, HSR is a little more liberal.

Starting with an old race car can also be less expensive in the long run. Conceptually at least, the old racer will already have the needed hardware: stiffer anti-roll bars, competition bell housing and so on. Sure, most of the parts will still need to be rebuilt, but at least you’ll be partway there. If the car was competitive, it may even have a good chassis setup—or one that’s close enough for starting out.

There is a potential downfall to starting with an older racer, though—especially one with some important history: Every time the car is altered, its value and pedigree suffer. Those who like to tinker—and we realize that covers most racers—may be better off starting with old, insignificant club racers or even street cars. Honestly, we’d call it a crime against nature to totally change a car that has significant racing history.

Dumb Luck

An early Group 44 GT6+ publicity shot shows the car most likely racing at Marlboro in 1969.

Our initial goal was to take an old, club-level car and turn it into a safe, legal, competitive vintage racer. And then we came across something a bit special: the Triumph GT6+ campaigned by Group 44 Inc. as a factory effort during the 1969 and 1970 seasons.

The car won a slew of races, including the 1969 E Production national title at the season-ending SCCA American Road Race of Champions. Mike Downs did most of the driving in 1969, and when he left the team, Brian Fuerstenau and Bob Tullius took over the driving roles.

The car was deemed so fast that the SCCA even bumped it up a class for 1970; the Triumph continued to dominate. That year kicked off with a prestigious stop at the New York Auto Show, where the car was displayed in the British Leyland booth. Fuerstenau and Tullius did very well with the car in 1970—they collected wins and pole positions almost every time out—but a second championship was snatched away when the gearbox’s mainshaft broke. The car coasted to a stop about halfway through the 1970 championship race.

After that, the car was considered to be old news. Group 44 sold it and concentrated on other efforts.

Research and Restorations

Restoring an old race car takes one part technician and one part detective. The restorer needs to be patient, listen to all the stories, and go through old magazines and newsletters before coming to any conclusions. Like most old race cars, our GT6+ had a muddied background that needed to be sorted out. It came up for sale on the Friends of Triumph online forum in the fall of 2005. While many were interested in the car, that action soon cooled when someone discovered that it carried a July 1969 build date. That fact didn’t jibe with a car that was supposedly raced during the 1969 and 1970 seasons.

Not willing to just let this go, we dug a little deeper. Fortunately, we had met Lawton “Lanky” Foushee during our travels to Triumph events. A Mapquest search determined that Lanky lived only 92 miles from the car’s resting place near Danville, Virginia. The seller was asking $14,000 for the car—a lot of money for a clapped-out Triumph racer, but not bad for a car with this type of history. More research was warranted, so we asked Lanky to check it out.

Upon seeing the car, he reported that it was definitely one of his. He had joined the Group 44 team for the 1970 season and remembered the car well. When asked about specifics, he recalled dozens of details, from the oil filter adaptor’s design to the header configuration and seat mount brackets.

When we asked about the build date discrepancy, Lanky explained that the team’s original 1969 Triumph GT6+ was badly damaged at Nelson Ledges in September of that year. The Group 44 boys had to go to the docks in Baltimore and get another body-in-white in order to rebuild the car for the following weekend’s race. Great story, but how could we prove it?

Fortunately, a meeting shortly thereafter with Mike Cook, current archivist for Jaguar and then-PR director for Triumph, yielded the evidence we needed. Mike located a Triumph Society of America newsletter that showed the car getting wiped out at Nelson Ledges. The caption in this official factory newsletter explained the accident and the subsequent rebody. Plus, Mike remembered the accident, so we considered the story true. We negotiated a $12,000 purchase price for the car and retrieved it. 

This car also starred in a lot of magazine ads from Triumph, Quaker State and Champion.

The Triumph’s provenance had been proven, but we still needed to learn about its history—especially since the car changed steadily through the years. Research on this subject turned out to be a little easier than expected, probably due to the car’s success.

Pick up any Road & Track from 1969 through about 1971, and images of the car can be found in ads for Champion, British Leyland and Quaker State. The December 1969 issue of SportsCar—the SCCA’s official publication—featured the car’s lap times from the recent American Road Race of Champions.

Once we announced our purchase of the car, original team members and fans alike came out of the woodwork, offering help, pictures and words of encouragement. Team owner Bob Tullius himself even looked over the car and deemed it original.

Tullius’s son, Russel, also came by to see the GT6+. He was but 10 years old when the car ran in team colors, and he now lives near our office. He recalled cleaning the Triumph’s wheels and said that the GT6+ was his favorite Group 44 car. Former Group 44 team member Steve Knoll, who shot this month’s cover photo, was a big help in finding old images.

We also visited the Daytona International Speedway’s archives. Archivist Eddie Roche keeps an amazing collection of photos picturing cars that ran at Daytona. Thanks to our car’s big showing, he needed just a few minutes to find photos, including a close-up shot taken in the winner’s circle.

As with most old race cars, however, detail shots of our GT6+ were hard to find. Race photographers tend to concentrate on capturing the on-track action; nobody remembers to shoot the engine, interior and suspension. These are images that restorers desperately need.

Mike Downs, the car’s former driver, came to our rescue here. He went through his archives and found the detail shots we needed. He helped us determine what was original and what wasn’t, and it turns out that his photos contradicted what some people had told us.

Constant Changes

Once we got the GT6+ home, we inspected it carefully with the help of Triumph experts J.K. Jackson (right) and our own Gary Hunter. We were surprised and pleased with what we found.

Once we started going through all of the photos and information, we realized something: The car had changed constantly throughout its lifetime, something that’s not unusual for any race car. The team was only interested in winning, not making a future restoration any easier.

When we asked the guys involved, they pointed out many alterations made during the 1969 and 1970 seasons, including the relocated hood latch.

Since this was a factory effort, British Leyland also instructed the team to update the car to 1970 specifications after the 1969 season—a new car just wasn’t in the budget. Sometime after the 1969 ARRC win and before the 1970 New York Auto Show appearance, the team changed the side marker lights and painted the windshield frame black.

Until we heard these stories, we did a lot of head-scratching while going through the old photos. We also had to make a decision: What point in history should we pick for the restoration? It’s a question that anyone restoring an old race car must answer.

We figured that the winner’s circle from the 1969 ARRC made the most sense. It was the car’s most famous moment, and the best pictures we had were from this event.

Making a Plan

Contrary to our usual M.O., we didn’t tear into this car the moment it arrived home. It actually sat for a while—a few years, in fact.

The spark to get rolling came during the summer of 2008, when Amelia Island Concours founder Bill Warner mentioned that he’d like to see our car as part of his upcoming Group 44 reunion.

This was indeed an honor, but there was much work to be done. We basically had about seven months to perform an entire mechanical and cosmetic restoration. After Amelia Island, we figured that we’d try to make our on-track debut at our own Classic Motorsports Mitty event. Then we’d roll the dice and see if the car would get accepted at the Monterey Historics.

We faced a tall order, and starting with the next issue we’ll detail our plan of attack. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Sources

Action Performance Speed & Custom
Misc. hardware
www.actionspeedandcustom.com
(386) 252-2632

Advanced Performance Technology
Engine parts
www.aptfast.com
(951) 686-2831

ATL
Fuel cell
www.atlfuelcells.com
(201) 825-1400

Autopower
Roll bar
www.autopowerindustries.com
(619) 297-3300

BAT, Inc.
Oil and water cooling
www.batinc.net
(941) 355-0005

Bethania Garage Fire extinguisher
www.bethania-garage.com
(336) 922-3018

The Body Werks Paint and metal work
(386) 672-2125

Carbotech Performance Brakes
Brake pads and shoes
www.ctbrakes.com
(877) 899-5024

East Coast Custom Powder Coating
Powder coating
(386) 677-5188

Eastwood Company
Misc. restoration supplies/tools
www.eastwood.com
(800) 343-9353

English Automotive Specialists
Assistance/mechanic
(850) 575-9372

G-Force Racing Gear
Safety gear
www.gforce.com

Griffin Thermal Products
Radiator
www.griffinrad.com
(800) RACE-RAD

Koni Shocks
Shock rebuilding
www.koni-na.com
(859) 586-4100

Moss Motors
Misc. Triumph parts
www.mossmotors.com
(800) 667-7872

Nisonger Instruments
Tach rebuilding
www.nisonger.com
(914) 381-1952

PerTronix
Ignition
www.pertronix.com
(909) 599-5955

Racer Parts Wholesale
Misc. race hardware
www.racerpartswholesale.com
(800) 397-7815

Redline Performance
Assistance/mechanic
www.redline-racing.com
(954) 783-7003

SascoSports
Goodyear tires
www.sascosports.com
(877) 377-7811

Spec Clutch
Clutch/flywheel
www.specclutch.com
(800) 828-4379

Spit Bits
Primary sponsor, parts
www.spitbits.com
(800) 201-0494

Swain Technology
Header coating
www.swaintech.com
(585) 889-2786

Vintage Racing Services Engine/trans./diff. rebuild
(203) 377-6745

Wheels America Wheel refurbishing
www.wheelsamerica.com
(888) 873-7361

Wilwood
Brake fluid
www.wilwood.com
(805) 388-1188

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