Scott Lear
Scott Lear
4/21/08 12:17 p.m.

Cars are not permanent. Although the primary materials in their construction--things like steel, vinyl, glass and rubber--are frequently thought of as immutable, we regularly see the effects of their deterioration in the classics we drive and restore.

Steel rusts, vinyl cracks, rubber breaks down and glass can delaminate or shatter. It simply happens at such a slow pace that we can't really relate to it. The decomposition may not happen in front of our eyes, but nobody said our eyes were perfect.

Another disadvantage that cars have is their reliance on their creators. When we break an arm, the odds of it mending are pretty good, especially with a little corrective maintenance (like a cast). When a car breaks a suspension arm, the odds of it healing make the progressive slot machine jackpots in Vegas look inevitable by comparison.

Without regular attention, an automobile doesn't stand a chance against the ravages of time. A race car is even more doomed, since these machines are subjected to lots of abuse and, usually, a slew of owners who will hack and modify everything in sight in their search for more speed. The original bits are often left in a box to rust or are thrown out altogether.

For all those reasons, this Huffaker-built 1978 MGB race car is a remarkable example of what can happen when the odds aren't given a chance to take hold. Thanks to an unusual genesis and a series of sympathetic owners, this MGB came through the rough years--when it could have been just an old race car--and emerged as a gleaming, restored and all-original survivor.

The Last of Its Kind

Hap Waldrop, the proprietor of South Carolina's ACME Speed Shop, has been a key contributor to this MGB's unusually pristine state. In addition to his physical contributions of working on the car through the decades, Hap has extensively researched this B and keeps a mental record of its considerable history.

"Huffaker built four of 'em," Hap says in his comfortable Southern drawl, "the single-hoop cars, they're commonly referred to. Those are the B's with a single roll hoop behind 'em. They came from the era of factory cars. In the early to mid 1970s, Huffaker got the factory contract for E Production SCCA competition."

In the hands of drivers like Terry Visger, Logan Blackburn and Brian Fuerstenau, MGBs racked up an impressive list of SCCA Runoffs trophies, including six championships between 1971 and 1977. Factory support from British Leyland was coming to an end in 1978, and there were two Huffaker-built single-hoop MGBs in the season-ending 1978 E Production championship race.

"Both cars were in their third or fourth season," Hap continues. "They had been driven hard and had hard lives. John Woodner, who was a famous racing name as a rally driver, was called in to drive the silver No. 11 car. [Lee] Mueller was in the red No. 10 car."

At the 1978 Runoffs, Mueller placed second to Robert Overby's Porsche 356 Speedster, and Woodner finished just off the podium in fourth. Because the factory support was ending, it was widely known that the Huffaker-prepared cars would be up for sale following the race.

"Chris Dole of Florida ended up buying the No. 10 car that finished second. Mike Pinney, who is now a two-time national champ, walked away with the No. 11 car. A third person, Don Martin from Texas, wanted one of these cars pretty bad, but wasn't quick enough on the scene to get one of 'em. He pleaded with Huffaker to build him a new car, and Huffaker did build him a brand-new MGB," Hap explains, indicating the silver No. 9 car featured here.

A Late Start

According to Waldrop, Jim Lerch--who has since become the head engine builder at Huffaker--was given the No. 9 build as one of his first major projects. "There was a lot of pressure on Jim to impress papa Huffaker, so by far the No. 9 MGB was the least prestigious and the nicest of the bunch," Hap adds.

The Huffaker team had access to the full British Leyland parts bin, and the single-hoop cars were built from the ground up for racing. Although the MGB race cars they produced in the mid-to-late 1970s looked at first glance to be rubber-bumper cars, that was for the most part an illusion for the sake of marketing.

Huffaker started with a new old stock, bare 1963 chassis--cars commonly known as pull-handle MGBs--because they were the lightest available from British Leyland. Rubber bumpers were fitted so these cars would mimic the ones that were available in showrooms at the time. To further complete the updated look, the Huffaker team modified the metal behind the dashboard to accept the late-model dashboard.

The newly minted No. 9 Huffaker MGB was raced by Don Martin in 1979 and 1980, and in the early 1980s it was sold to Kenneth Miller. Miller raced it for a year before he found another prospective buyer, a Triumph Spitfire racer named Danny Ross. About this time a 22-year-old Hap Waldrop was getting interested in road racing. Hap ended up buying the Spitfire from his new friend Ross, and Ross purchased the No. 9 Huffaker MGB.

"I had never seen an MGB as nice as this one," Hap recalls. "I didn't know what Huffaker was, it didn't mean anything to me. Danny ended up parking the MGB in my garage, so I got to look at it every night. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I've got to get a car like this.'"

In 1985 Hap sold the Spitfire and bought his second car from Danny Ross. This time it was the MGB of his dreams, and since it was already in his garage he didn't even have to move it.

Helping Hands

For four years Hap actively campaigned the No. 9 MGB in SCCA Club Racing. Constant modifications were required to keep the car competitive, and Hap was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the severity of the changes that were needed to stay at the front of the pack.

"They kept lowering the weight," Hap says. "You needed a coil-over suspension. We knew what we had was an unusual car."

As minimum weight requirements came down, many racers were cutting away the original body panels and installing lightweight fiberglass replacements. Hap replaced only the bolt-on panels, however, refusing to cut into the actual chassis.

"We just felt that [the Huffaker MGB] was a part of history, and I didn't have the stomach to do that," he says. "I didn't feel like I could go any further with the car and I wasn't ready to pull the trigger and commit to cannibalizing the car. Now that everything's said and done, I made the right decision; we saved the history of the car."

In a perfect world, Hap would have kept the MGB in a museum state and bought another race car, but financial realities prevented that. In 1989, he casually mentioned to an employee of multitime IMSA champion Roger Mandeville that he was thinking about selling the car. Hap was surprised when Mandeville called him the next day.

"I bought the MGB for $9000 in 1984, which was a lot for a race car," Hap recalls. "The only thing I could come up with was to add $1000 to it, so I sold it to him for $10,000. My friends thought I was the smartest guy in the world--bought a car, raced it, and sold it for a profit. The car was mothballed, cleaned every now and again and sat for 15 years as part of Mandeville's collection."

While he didn't want to divulge numbers, Hap jokes that he didn't feel nearly as smart when he found out what Eddie Beal paid for the car in 2004. Along with the car came the original metal fenders, hood, deck lid and other components that had been removed, boxed and inventoried by Hap two decades earlier.

A Second Chance

Although the MGB was in fantastic shape, new owner Beal wasn't satisfied with good enough. The care and attention that Hap had given to the MGB were still evident, and when Eddie decided he wanted to get some work done on the car he approached Hap at his ACME Speed Shop.

"Eddie had a picture of the car when it came from Huffaker," Hap says. "He wanted it to look exactly the same. Eddie is meticulous about everything he has. He said he wanted it taken apart, down to bare metal, everything re-powdercoated, anodized and yellow zinced. It took me about seven months, 12 hours a day, seven days a week to make it to the Mitty in 2005."

When you look under the hood, some of those hoses are the original ones, Hap notes. The radiator is the original radiator.

"A lot of the suspension pieces were yellow zinced," Hap recalls of the restoration. "We bead-blasted them and had a plater do that. We did powdercoat in place of anodizing in a few places because we knew it would give us the exact look but be much more durable. The only new things are Eddie's seat, the belts and the fire system."

And so against the odds, even after 30 years of racing, sitting and changing hands, this Huffaker MGB has ended up just about where it started. The only difference is the size of the parts bin and the trail of stories in its wake.

Driving Impressions: Taking a Few Laps at the Mitty

Classic Motorsports Publisher Tim Suddard took a few laps in the freshly refurbished No. 9 Huffaker MGB during last year's HSR Classic Motorsports Mitty at Road Atlanta in Georgia.

"I have driven a bunch of old race cars," Tim says, "but this one felt different somehow. It didn't look or drive like an old race car. It looked and felt like a new race car. You could tell that this was a real racer built by people--and then restored by people--who knew how to build race cars.

"Road Atlanta, with its high speeds, notorious downhill off-camber entrance from the front straight, and even more notorious Turn 1, is not an easy track to figure out a race car on. The Huffaker MGB as restored by Hap was up to the challenge. Everything felt so right that there was essentially no learning curve. I was running at 10-tenths by the end of the warm-up lap.

"The car turned in quickly and without drama, and in steady-state cornering the car was easy and progressive to drive. Under braking it had no bad habits. The braking was more impressive than the engine, which was obviously down on power. If this car drove this well in the early 1970s when Huffaker built it, then it's easy to understand why the team won so many races."

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Tom Heath
Tom Heath UberDork
7/2/08 8:59 a.m.

If I were a lottery owner, I'd have one—just for the opulence, if nothing else. (It would also be on lease, because even as a brazillionaire, I wouldn't want anything to do with those service costs.)

My kids could give two hoots about 0-60 times, so the SRT8 wouldn't impress them. Besides, there's no way any SUV would take the steal the "fun car" spot in my driveway.

Is the Touareg the answer? No, not likely. Is it a very nice truck thing? Hell yes. Why not a Cayenne? I don't know, I haven't driven one of them yet. I have driven (and been stranded by) enough DCX products to not consider them much better or more reliable than the questionable Volkswagen.

It's nice to have some banter on the reviews, anyhow. Maybe the Touareg should have received a lower overall rating, but I was really impressed with the way it drove.

Just wait until we're done with the review of the Hybrid Chevy Tahoe we just had...

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