Factory Fighters: Two Triumph GT6s That Went Head-to-Head in the 1970s


Lead photo by Tom Suddard, all other photography as credited

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 OFF-TRACK BATTLE

Photo courtesy James Dolan

Photo courtesy James Dolan

It is widely rumored that Bob Tullius and Kas Kastner didn’t exactly love each other. In fact, when we planned our first Group 44 reunion as part of the 2009 Speedfest at the Classic Motorsports Mitty, several mutual friends told us that inviting both men was a bad idea.

Even today, time has not appeared to heal all wounds. Kastner sounds guarded on the subject, while Tullius still seems to harbor some resentment.

Kastner claims that both teams had the same equipment. Early on, he continues, they also shared ideas–until the communication just stopped.

Tullius, however, maintains that Kastner kept the best parts for himself, sending Tullius the rest. “The factory never really gave us anything but headaches,” he adds. “Kas was focused on beating us, not the Datsuns that we were trying to beat.”

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.

Behind the Wheel

Photo Credit Tom Suddard

Photo Credit Tom Suddard

The Triumph GT6 is a small car. Add a full roll cage, and the interior gets even more cramped. If you’re not of small stature, gracefully getting in and out of these race cars is a major challenge. Once inside, though, there’s enough space to work the controls. Just resist the temptation to hang your elbow out the window–definitely an on-track no-no.

In street trim, the GT6 earned a reputation for its evil handling. Credit for that goes to its swing-axle rear suspension and heavy inline-six engine up front. These race cars, however, handle nicely and deliver confident laps.

Kastner and Tullius were pros, and it shows in their preparation work. We restored an earlier Group 44 Triumph GT6 and personally saw the team’s handiwork–tricks like lightening everything that wasn’t visible and engineering a way to move the rear suspension’s transverse leaf spring fore and aft to aid corner-weighting.

The characteristic that most clearly defines the Group 44 car is the wail it delivers at full song. Tullius tells us that Furstenau could have tuned the car for even more power, but he loved the note so much that he left the exhaust alone. As soon as we get the car up to temperature and start laying into it, that lovely, ear-splitting wail returns.

The Kastner-Brophy GT6, unfortunately, doesn’t share that exhaust note. Its updated Quaife gearbox and rear end also take away some of the original charm.

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 datsun.org, 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.

DO IT THE HARD WAY

Image Courtesy HARD

Image Courtesy HARD

Jim Dolan, our Triumph GT6 owner, has grown a love of vintage racing into a club. Dolan, his boys and some other vintage racers in the Pittsburgh area started meeting regularly at the Hartwood Restaurant and Whispers Pub to socialize and talk racing.

These meetups quickly grew into an unofficial group: the Hartwood Association of Racing Drivers.

The name was eventually shortened to HARD, and today the club boasts some 30 members, presents its own driving awards, hosts a holiday party, and organizes a fall road rally in and around western Pennsylvania.

You can find them online at fastcoproductions.com/hartwood-racing-club.html.

DRIVING PITTSBURGH INTERNATIONAL RACE COMPLEX

Image courtesy Pitt Race

Image courtesy Pitt Race

Our location for this comparison was Pittsburgh International Race Complex, the track formerly known as BeaveRun. As the name suggests, it’s located near Pittsburgh–it’s in Wampum, Pennsylvania, just off the turnpike.

Jim and Kathy Stout recently purchased the facility, and they have completely revamped it into a motorsports destination on par with VIR, Mid-Ohio and Barber.

The 19-turn, 2.8-mile track is an absolute joy, featuring a great combination of tight and sweeping turns, long straights and plenty of elevation changes.

The infrastructure has been upgraded with a new control tower and spacious garages. We’ll be back with our Triumph TR3 for the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix weekend July 6–8.

Learn more at pittrace.com.

SEE THESE CARS IN ACTION

Photo courtesy Kas Kastner

Photo courtesy Kas Kastner

The Friends of Triumph online group caters to those who race Triumphs. Joe Alexander started FoT some 20 years ago, and it has grown into a full-fledged community that, along with Kas Kastner himself, presents the Kastner Cup each year. The award’s winner is chosen based on a combination of on-track performance, car presentation and driver attitude.

This year’s Kastner Cup race takes place July 6–8 at Pittsburgh International Raceway. The schedule includes an all-Triumph race as well. For more information, visit kaskastner.com or contact Jim Dolan at jdolan@voyagergrp.com.

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