The legendary rivalry of Group 44 and Kastner-Brophy

Photography Credit: Tom Suddard

The racing world of the early ’70s was a lot different from today’s. IMSA was in its infancy, NASCAR was still a Southern thing, and SCCA road racing was all the rage, drawing factory-backed efforts to both the professional and amateur ranks.

Back then, the racing wasn’t just about honor. It was for market share. Car manufacturers believed that a win on Sunday meant a sale on Monday. Magazine ads touted on-track success, and SCCA racers like Mark Donohue, Parnelli Jones and John Morton became national motorsports heroes. Teams that would become powerhouse legacies, like Penske, Bud Moore and Group 44, could be found running those SCCA campaigns.

To clinch valuable bragging rights, those factory-supported ventures went deep–way beyond just the high-profile, big-bore Trans-Am events. To help promote its own sports cars, in the early ’70s Triumph divided its SCCA effort into two factions: Recent Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee Bob Tullius and his Group 44 team would field the East Coast races, while another emerging legend, Kas Kastner, would concentrate on West Coast events at the helm of Kastner-Brophy Racing.

For the 1972 season, both teams were tasked with campaigning Triumph’s GT6 in the D Production class. Triumph’s hope was to see entries from both of its teams on grid at the season-ending American Road Racing Championships, the event now known as the Runoffs. For this annual contest, the SCCA invites the top drivers from each division and crowns a single victor.

Triumph got its wish. While Tullius and Kastner were technically partners all year long, ever the racers, they were mortal enemies when it came time for the ARRC showdown.

Meet Kas Kastner

Photo courtesy Kas Kastner

Photo courtesy Kas Kastner

In the Triumph world, R.W. “Kas” Kastner is seen as a guru. Decades after publication, his race prep books are still considered to be gospel. One of the most prestigious awards in vintage racing carries his name.

Kastner hails from Batavia, New York, and started racing with his Triumph TR3 in the 1950s. In the early ’60s, he stepped out of the cockpit to become Triumph’s first competition manager.

He quickly became famous for that series of technical manuals. The subject: how to put a Triumph in victory lane. Kastner also provided strong contingency dollars as well as coverage in a factory-backed newsletter. During the ’60s, Triumph could boast that it was the most widely raced manufacturer with the SCCA.

But his job at Triumph would not last forever. In a recent phone conversation, Kastner told us, “I could see the writing on the wall for Triumph, so in 1970, I quit Triumph.”

Soon after, he hooked up with wealthy Salt Lake City media mogul John Brophy, and they formed Kastner-Brophy Racing. They raced Triumphs across the spectrum, including SCCA, IMSA and Trans-Am. They fielded other marques in Formula 5000 and even Indy After leaving racing, Kastner began offering aftermarket turbocharger kits under the Arkay name.

Kastner returned to racing in 1986, becoming motorsports manager for Nissan’s North American operation. Just two years later, Nissan won its first of four consecutive IMSA GTP titles, stopping Porsche’s dominance in its tracks.

By the end of the ’90s, Kastner had largely retired from motorsports. In 1999, his wife, Peg, convinced him to attend a vintage race. “I was humbled by the number of cars I saw running my original Kastner-Brophy team colors,” he recalls. “I was shocked when racers began to ask me to sign their cars.”

With a reinvigorated connection to the racing community, Kastner soon developed the Kastner Cup. This annual award goes to a Triumph driver who not only excels on track, but presents a clean car and serves as a steward of the sport. (Each year Kastner presents the trophy at a different event; for 2018 it will happen at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix July 6–8.) He has since written four more Triumph preparation manuals, further cementing his place as a friend of the marque.

Meet Bob Tullius

Photo courtesy James Dolan

Photo courtesy James Dolan

Like Kastner, Bob Tullius started as a driver and grew into a successful team leader. His standards for car and team preparation have also become the industry norm for the professional ranks.

Robert C. “Bob” Tullius was born in Rochester, New York, not far from Kastner’s birthplace. Tullius, though, was originally interested in football. Had he not suffered an injury in college, perhaps he would have found his success in that sport.

Tullius, also like Kastner, kicked off his racing career in a Triumph TR3. He quickly earned a championship, and Triumph rewarded him with a new TR4.

Tullius soon wrecked that car, though and Triumph didn’t offer to replace it. He didn’t let that stop him:

Tullius and fellow competitor Ed Diehl purchased two more wrecked TR4s and, in just a few short weeks, built a new race car. They shared that car, never losing a race. Tullius drove it to a national SCCA title in 1964.

By this time, Tullius had already become involved in motorsports full time—despite having a job at Eastman Kodak. In 1962, the camera and film company gave him an ultimatum: Continue as a salesperson or leave. Tullius walked out the door, eventually forming Group 44.

In 1966, the team won the first-ever Trans-Am race, putting a Dodge Dart in victory lane. Aside from that and an Audi program in the ’80s, Group 44 primarily stuck with MG, Triumph and Jaguar. In fact, the team took Jaguar into the IMSA GTP ranks, where it faced off against Kastner’s Nissans.

In 1990, after amassing numerous professional and amateur titles, Tullius closed up shop. While he has mellowed with age, in his day Tullius was famous for his hard-ass, win-at-all-costs attitude. What he should be known for is pioneering the concept of motorsports marketing. He came up with the idea of pitching motorsports stories to local papers, a practice that got his team more ink than others and, in turn, delivered more value to his partners. Another winning marketing strategy was his team’s unprecedented look: neat and clean, with matching graphics for cars, crew uniforms and support vehicles.

After the death of business partner Brian Furstenau in 1993, Tullius withdrew from motorsports. With son Russ by his side, we coaxed Tullius back into the limelight to serve as grand marshal at the 2009 Classic Motorsports Mitty Since then, Tullius has been part of many high-level events, from the Vintage Triumph Registry annual conventions all the way to the Monterey Motorsports Reunion.

The Best Drivers, Too

Photo courtesy Nissan

Photo courtesy Nissan

For the 1972 season, Group 44 had Brian Furstenau driving its GT6. In addition to being Tullius’s business partner, he was also an accomplished fabricator and, Tullius says, “one hell of a race car driver.”

In fact, one of Tullius’s regrets is not taking Furstenau further in his driving career. “He could have won Indy if I had been able to take him there,” Tullius adds. Sadly, Furstenau died at the age of 50. On July 21, 1993, the 1949 North American T-6G that he was flying crashed.

John McComb was already a national championship driver when he hopped behind the GT6’s wheel for 1973. (Furstenau had moved to another Group 44 effort for that season.) Through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, McComb had piloted cars for several factory teams, including Shelby, BRE and Ferrari. Today McComb is a fixture at events like the Amelia Island Concours.

Kastner-Brophy only campaigned this particular Triumph GT6 for the 1972 season, and Don Devendorf was the team hotshoe. He’d driven a Triumph Spitfire to his first SCCA national title in 1969; the following year he’d scored a championship for Kastner-Brophy in an earlier Triumph GT6.

After leaving the team, Devendorf established Electramotive Engineering and ran a Datsun 240Z in the newly formed IMSA GTU class. He drove it to the GTU championship in 1979 before claiming the IMSA GTO title in 1982. Electramotive eventually became very involved in Nissan’s successful GTP program.

Two Cars, One Goal

Photo Credit Tom Suddard

Photo Credit Tom Suddard

Jim Dolan owns a pair of special Triumph GT6s: the very cars campaigned by Kastner and Tullius during the 1972 season. He grew up as a Group 44 fan, he explains, and happened to stumble upon the team’s GT6 back in 1994.

A little more than three years ago, he found the Kastner car via Bring a Trailer and was able to pick it up at a reasonable price. As Dolan tells us, he needs multiple track cars because he races with his three sons, Brian, Charlie and Pete. (While Dolan quickly admits that his sons deliver the faster lap times, he adds that he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.)

The cars are maintained by Fowler Automotive Street & Track of Glenshaw, Pennsylvania, and run at several events per year. Dolan notes that the gearboxes, a problem back in the day, have been updated, allowing the cars to deliver lots of reliable laps. We sampled both machines at Pittsburgh International Race Complex, a facility that has been totally rebuilt to top-tier standards.

A look at the serial numbers shows that the cars came down the assembly line together: KF-146-L for the Group 44 car and KF-165-L for the Kaster-Brophy build. Both were immediately prepared for racing and have never turned a mile on the street.

As per SCCA rules at the time, modifications were limited. Some of the stock interior pieces even had to be left in place. Alterations to the bodies and drive-trains were extremely restricted.

Adding safety equipment, on the other hand, was a must. Fuel cells were just coming into vogue in the early ’70s, and both cars received one. Roll bars that wouldn’t pass a modern technical inspection were also installed.

Mechanically, what could be changed were the engine internals. Although the rather weak stock crankshafts had to remain, the rules allowed higher-compression pistons and some minor headwork. Radical camshafts were also permitted. And while SCCA rules required the original Stromberg carburetors, the jetting could be improved.

As for the exhaust systems, teams could get rather creative. Both cars feature intricate, custom-built headers and straight-through exhaust systems that run out the side.

Triumph rated the street GT6 engine at 104 horsepower, but the race cars were said to make about 170. Track prep knocked the stock curb weight from an even ton to about 1800 pounds.

Both Tullius and Kastner remember the GT6 as a fast, reliable racer. Its Achilles heel, though, was its weak differential and rear end. While Tullius and Kastner can’t recall such issues, the guys tasked with keeping the cars together, like Group 44 crew chief Lanky Foushee, have said otherwise. When we restored our own Group 44 Triumph GT6, in fact, Foushee told us that gearboxes were replaced at least every race weekend and sometimes between sessions.

Time for the Battle Royal

Photo courtesy James Dolan

Photo courtesy James Dolan

Back in 1972, after putting in strong performances on their respective coasts, both Triumph-backed teams arrived at Road Atlanta for the championship race. They joined Bob McQueen, driving an ex-Brock Racing Enterprises Datsun 2000, as the class favorites. 

Rob Beddington sums up the engagement on, a Datsun roadster website: “All three cars were locked in battle, occasionally racing three abreast down the straight and, on the fourth lap, Furstenau pulled out a new lap record (1:38.254).”

On lap six, Devendorf hit the brakes too hard and left the track. His car came to rest in mud formed by the weekend’s heavy rains. “He made it back on the track in third, but soon retired,” Beddington’s report continues.

Meanwhile, the Group 44 Triumph was still hounding the Datsun: “Furstenau piled on the pressure, attacked the veteran Datsun 2000 down the pit straight, and nosed in front for a couple of turns, only to be taken by McQueen again between Turns 5 and 6.”

McQueen, who was battling a broken shock absorber since the race’s opening stages, made better use of traffic, Beddington explains, allowing him to increase his lead to nearly 3 seconds. Then McQueen had another problem crop up: an overheating engine. The Group 44 driver cut down the lead to less than 2 seconds.

“The final lap was probably the most exciting lap of the ARRC weekend,” Beddington writes. “Furstenau went for broke and caught McQueen by Turn 6. He stuck with McQueen through Turns 8 and 9 and, by Turn 10 and the bridge, the Triumph was locked on the Datsun’s tail. Both drivers attacked the last corner faster than any lap before, resulting in a synchronized four-wheel drift for both cars.”

McQueen held on for the win. Margin of victory: just two-tenths of a second. For the third year in a row, the Datsun 2000 had bested the GT6.

This wasn’t the only race for Kastner and Tullius that weekend, as both teams had other entries and other classes. And while neither would claim a first-place trophy that year, it just shows how tough those battles were. It was a time when the factories, along with serious amateur efforts, delivered some of the best racing ever.

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Torqued New Reader
4/12/21 7:08 p.m.

The sidebar mentions the reputation for evil handling of the GT6 in street trim.  A little while back I picked up a pair of GT6's as projects because I so like the style of the car.  Niether is drivable at this time.  I would really like to know just what was done to these two in this article to make them handle so nicely.  Did they still have the swing axel rear suspension?  I have also heard that the steering rack was moved from it's position in the Spitfire version to accomodate the longer inline-6 motor of the GT6 and so the Ackerman angle in the steering works backwards - the outside wheel turning more than the inside one.  Is this true?  Did they do anything to correct that?

macautr2 New Reader
4/13/21 1:03 a.m.

Kas Kastner was a true legend and a natural genius in inquisitive engineering, he will be sorely missed. I thought I might add my Macau TR2 which has been battling racetracks since the 70's....and nearly beat Derek Bell on a couple of occassions just after his Le Mans Wins in beginning of the 80's..

wspohn SuperDork
4/13/21 11:25 a.m.

Very cool picture!

Many people are unaware that Triumph offered a stock rear wheel well cover on steel wheeled early cars (TR2) - I think very, very few were ever actually sold.  That car has figured out how to do that on a wire wheel car!

RadBarchetta New Reader
9/1/21 8:19 a.m.

In reply to Torqued :

GT6 owner here... The GT6, like the Spitfire, got that reputation because of the swing axle used in the early models. Lots of good info on why that is here:

That problem was largely solved with the Rotoflex suspension used in the GT6 Mk2 (or GT6+ in the US) and the swing-spring in later Spitfires and GT6 Mk3. I say "largely" because they still use that transverse leaf spring and have some intersting handling characteristics of their own. But they do eliminate the most dangerous aspect of the swing axle. You can find information on what Kastner did to improve handling in the widely available Competition Handbook, and also in the books sold by Kas himself (now Kas's estate, sadly).

The only downside to those books is that most of the part numbers listed in them, like the one for the replacement leaf spring, are no longer available and the specs to recreate one may be lost to history. Although it wouldn't surprise me if some GT6 race driver out there knows the secret sauce...

murphmi New Reader
4/16/22 6:42 p.m.

I wanted to race SCCA sooo bad in the early 70s, and showed up to a regional race at Bridgehampton one weekend to find out how to do it. Turned out the SCCA had cancelled their weekend, and EMRA, a smaller regional club had taken over the track. They were incredibly welcoming, totally relaxed, answered all my questions, and put me to work as a corner worker. 

I had heard about Kastner's manuals, and ordered the one for the Spitfire from my Triumph dealer's parts department, and set about tearing apart my street Spitfire and doing every modification I could afford. I had a glorious eight or nine years racing, and the car was relatively competitive and very reliable. It's still in the back of the garage, in case I want to try vintage racing (now that I'm vintage myself!). 

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
4/21/22 9:29 a.m.

I was lucky enough to be the driver for this story. Cars were fun and this is an amazing track.

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