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Peter Giddings Racing


“Now hear this .....Now hear this... Peter Giddings to report for breakfast at the double; and don’t forget to bring tea, knife and fork and Worcestershire sauce”.

So began my Friday, August 21, 1981, at Laguna Seca with Phil Van Ek’s stentorian tones echoing across the paddock at the God forsaken hour of 7:00 a.m.

As I picked my way around the sleeping, shrouded race cars, the Monterey mist seemed to deny any chance of running our cars, so bad was the visibility. In the distance I could pick out “Chateau Bleu”, Phil’s extraordinary motor home, which even features a public address system, which had so rudely awakened me from my slumbers.

I had dreamt that my Talbot Lago GP car had not broken at Sears Point a few days earlier, and that in fact it was here at Laguna Seca running better than ever.

The cold morning breeze quickly got me back to reality, but I cheered up with the thought that at least I would be racing my Ferrari Competition SWB later in the day.

Passing a few other stirring bodies, who were either amused at me clutching my cutlery and sauce, or cursing at the unrequested wake up call, I sat down to a wonderful feast of sausages, eggs, toast, tea and yogurt.

Phil’s Renault was still recumbent on its trailer, and I was amused to note the use of a long pole strapped athwart the cockpit with red flags hanging from either end which, in turn, are visible from “Chateau Bleu’s” rear view mirrors.

Clearly with this precaution, together with additional tie downs, Phil was not going to chance another heart stopping lost vehicle adventure. Even so, to make triply sure, his race car now features a sign reading “If found, please return to .....”

In no time at all we were out making our practice runs. The sun had burned the fog away, and conditions were perfect. Groups A, B and C practiced twice in the morning, as their races were to take place later on that same afternoon.

The Group A race (GT cars 1956-62 small displacement) meant yet another run away for Stan Huntley of Portland, Oregon, in his Austin Healey Sebring Sprite.

Several CSRG members showed up well in this race, including Dick Gale in his Fiat Abarth 750 and Bob Green in his, as always, spotless Lotus Elite. Bob, by the way, should get tne “good turn of the weekend” award as he was able to help another immaculate Lotus — the Mark 15 of Jay Foreman — run again, after it had broken something vital in its rear axle. Unfortunately, Jay then proceeded to ‘lose it’, to the detriment of coachwork and rear axle/suspension. Before this he had been lapping at around 1 min. 25 sec.

Franz Benjamin also ran well in Group A, and in fact we are about to see two O.S.C.A. GTs being run by “Benjamin’s Eccentric Sport Team”, the other car to be driven by Tony Guinasso, Franz’s very able and helpful right hand man.

A “sleeper” in Group A was Lawrence driving a Rudd-Speed AC Aceca. Even “true green” Morgan owners might not realize that this gentleman is “Mr. Morgan” himself, the one and only Chris Lawrence who, until recently, was running his own Morgan emporium in London.

The Rudd-Speed Aces and Acecas featured the English Ford Zephyr 6 cylinder engine, with Raymond Mays head and triple side draft Weber carburetors — a potent package indeed. In Lawrence’s capable hands, my money is on him to give the likes of Stan Huntley a good run for their money in the future.

In the meantime, we have welcomed Lawrence to our CSRG ranks who along with Ed Swart, means that we now have some very experienced international class drivers from whose superior driving we will all be able to learn.

The Group B race (CT cars 1956-62 medium displacement) was another Humdinger.

Unfortunately, car attrition was fairly high throughout the weekend, and an Austin Healey that was due to run in this race was reduced in height by a couple of feet during the morning practice.

It was in this race that Ron Grable showed us how to take the corkscrew. An unbeatable combination of super fast, and well set up car, together with an extremely competent driver. Brian Howlett was his usual value in the yellow and brown Morgan +4 and CSRG members Chuck Weber, Dean Watts and Bob LaRoque all had great fun.

In fact, Dean Watts landed the most valuable prize of the weekend — a free week’s course with the British School of Motor Racing.

Dean, with tongue stuck very firmly in his cheek, remarked that this was the first time he had not damaged his car in quite a while, so perhaps his prize was no longer entirely appropriate.

Group C cars (GT cars 1956-62 large displacement) featured an extremely quick 1966 Lotus Elan, the aggressive Morgan SLR of CSRG’s Bill Finks (yet another example of Chris Lawrence’s ingenuity), Ed Swart’s welcome new 250 GT SWB Scaglietti lightweight Ferrari, along with Chuck Reid’s indecently fast, identical looking model.

Ferrari enthusiasts will note some very clever changes to the front suspension, six carburetors, and what can be heard rather than seen — some very special engine modifications, all carried out by Bill Rudd.

This results in Chuck possibly owning the fastest Ferrari 250 GT of this type in the world!

Various CSRG members were giving their Alfa Romeo TZs an airing. in fact, no less than seven were on the grid, sounding like an angry storm of killer bees. Clearly this race was going to be a knock out, drag out race between the large Aston Martin DB4 GTs (reputed to have some 400 bhp on tap!) with Chuck Reid’s and Ed Swart’s 250 GTs in contention, with perhaps Jerry Gamez in his “all bells and whistles” Marnix Dillenius prepared TZ in the running as well.

Despite qualifying well myself in the ex Phil Bronner short wheel base, I was asked to start from the back of the grid which, in retrospect, was more fun than being fourth or fifth on the grid.

Suffice to say that as I trickled down behind the pack and approached turn nine, I espied out of the corner of my eye the starter waving his green flag! As anticipated, the duel was between the cars of Reid and Goss, with Swart hovering in the background waiting for the accident to happen!

Sure enough, after a few laps, Reid got very light coming downhill into eight and spun off. Thankfully there is lots of room for error in this area of the track, and Chuck was thus able to regain the track in third place without any damage to his delectable car. Based on his lap times, he could even give a Ferrari GTO a good run for its money.

From my position at the back I was able to watch the magnificent road holding, acceleration and square braking of the Lotus Elan, finally passing it, and numerous other cars, including some TZs, and CSRG member Joe DeMartino, who was going very well in his nicely turned out SWB.

Unfortunately, in this group C race, yet another car ran afoul of the tires on the infamous corner nine.

Other CSRG members in this race included Michael Cotsworth in his extremely fast and well driven Ferrari California. (Michael is also now the proud new owner of Dave Birchall’S rapid Climax engined Canadian special), and the ever ebullient Boone Crow was moving along quite effectively, in what is, after all, a “fairly standard”Aston Martin DB4.

By 8:00 a.m. Saturday our breakfast was accompanied by a cacophany of sound, composed of the factory Mercedes-Benz W196, Bob Sutherland’s fabulous Fl Ferrari 625, the bellow of Don Orosco’s Aston Martin DBR2, augmented by the screaming of various small capacity, high revving Siatas and Porsches.

Thoughout this day, Sandra Griswold could be seen dispensing wine, restoration shop propaganda, T shirts and insightful chat, with her usual elegant aplomb to her husband’s new friends and customers from Europe and Japan. As a result of this, doubtless east/west relations will be particularly good in the future: at least in so far as historic car restorations are concerned. The Japanese now have some incredible vintage / historic racing cars in their collections, but as far I can see, hardly anyone over there knows how to even fire them up!

In Group 1 (sports racing cars 1963-69) we had the amazing sight and sound of two Porsche 908s, one driven by Mr. Matsuda, a wealthy collector from Tokyo, Japan, who has a museum containing just about one of every important Porsche race car ever built. Alongside Matsuda was the one and only Ritchie Ginther, seemingly lost in that bathtub of a car, but clearly so totally in command, and with quite the largest grin from ear to ear that I have ever seen!

Unfortunately, there were costly mistakes in this race also. Mr. Matsuda understeered into the tires on turn nine, and Les Lindley sustained a good $50,000 worth of damage to his Ford. Bud Romak, on the other hand, ran flawlessly, and clearly had the legs on everyone else.

At least one Cobra retired during the race, much dented down one side, and it was quite evocative to see Carol Shelby walk over and offer his condolences (mostly to the car) as he ran his hands over the now rippled body — the driver did receive a word or two as well!

Bud Romak finished a fine first in his Lola T160 coupe, with Walt Maas in a Porsche 910 in second, Terry Jones in a 1968 Lola T70 Mark III B-GT an excellent third, with a hairy looking Dick Smith in his Cobra 427 fourth.

Group 2 (pre 1948 sports and racing cars) brought a lump to my throat as this was the race that I was supposed to be running in with the Talbot Lago GP. Last year my Talbot had expired in this event due to the previous inhalation of some Mt. St. Helens dust. I must say that I was looking forward to doing much better this year.

My frustration, however, could not begin to compare with that of poor Bob Sutherland, one of our hobby’s most enthusiastic and loyal supporters. The first year that Bob’s Type 37A GP Bugatti ran at Laguna Seca it spun out on turn nine, lost its exhaust and was narrowly missed by the new/old Frazer Nash of John Sebert, and my other Talbot Lago GP. The next year while in the lead, the Bugatti again spun out in turn nine. This year Bob was determined to do it right, and many hours had been spent on the Bugatti, and it was running better than ever before. With John Sebert’s Frazer Nash running a little off tune, and Phil Hill’s 4CM Maserati in the pits with oil pressure problems, the race was definitely Bob’s as he steamed into the lead, driving oh so carefully every time around turn nine. On the seventh lap a large flame accompanied by much smoke and a tremendous explosion emitted from the rear end of Bob’s Bugatti, and as he slowed to a halt under the bridge by the start/finish line, his two hands were held up in the agony of the moment. Once again he had been deprived of a certain win, due to the magneto slipping around in its housing!

Another tragedy in this race was the fact that Jack Breconis was missing in his superb 1928 Alfa Romeo 6c l500S. Poor Jack had a fuel feed problem, and tragically on the way up the hill to the circuit the night before, his car caught fire. The sight of Jack and his friends around his badly burned pride and joy, is one that I will not forget in a hurry. When we see him next year, (as we undoubtedly will) with a once again resplendent cherry red Alfa, we should all remember to shake him by the hand.

George Wingard, all the way from Eugene, Oregon delighted us in his 1908 Mercedes-Benz GP car complete with riding mechanic to me one of the most entertaining drives of the day and an incredible sixth place overall.

Once again John Sebert in the Frazer Nash inspired special won, with the silent running Delahaye 135M of Richard Adatto in 2nd, with our own Rodney Smith in his delectable Riley Brooklands 9 a very excellent third with Richard Rawlins in his 1922 Ford Model T in 4th place.

CSRG member, David Willis, caused quite a sensation, particularly amongst the Japanese visitor contingent, by turning up with his fresh, high chassis 4.5 liter Invicta. David has restored this car to its former glory, and is to be conqratulated because when this particular dynosaur was unearthed, it was missing many important items, including most of its body!

David did a ”Sherlock Holmes” on the body, affixing holes in the chassis, etc. and came up with some spectacular Monza Alfa like coachwork, which almost certainly matches one of the three or more bodies that this car has sported throughout its long competition career.

Winner of the “Die Hard Trophy” for the best restoration, David paid a nice tribute to his wife, Lou Ellen, to wit: “All I did was restore my Invicta. Lou Ellen put up with me, whilst I restored my Invicta”!

The Invicta will now feature in a forthcoming issue of Car Graphics, Japan’s (and I would say the world’s), most prestigious auto magazine, particularly in so far as graphics, color separations and general lay out/quality.. There is also a strong possibility that David and his two loves (i.e. Invicta and wife) will be demonstrating this tricky handling vintage racer in Japan at one of the forthcoming events at the spectacular Mount Fuji circuit. Let’s hope they do not get tempted with a large bag of yen, as we have all too few real vintage racers left in our ranks.

The restoration of your Invicta, David, surely warrants an interesting “barn” type story, either in our CSRG newsletter, or Steve Earle’s “Vintage Racer”.

One of the wonderful things about Laguna Seca is the way it equalizes us all, and allows historic car owners and enthusiasts alike to meet and chat in an open, friendly way. I have already mentioned Phil Hill, who found the time to come over and commiserate on this Talbot-less day, and then go on to describe, along with some wonderful Italian like hand language, how he could get the W-196 around Laguna Seca even faster “if I was allowed a little tweak here and a little tweak there”. Likewise, Ritchie Cinther, who I have only met on a few previous occasions, instantly recognized me and reminisced about the Ferrari 410 Sport, (oh for a tape recorder on these occasions!) Walt Maas also got on a microphone and told us how much he enjoyed running these historic cars.

One of the many wonderful vignettes that I witnessed, and will cherish from here on in, was Briggs Cunningham chatting and reminiscing to a group of enthusiasts surrounded by his glorious Cunningham liveried cars, yet, when later on he was presented with an autographed picture from us all, he was too bashful und retiring to even talk to us over the microphone. Instead, his cars, his drivers, and his special guests bore vivid witness to what we all owe this amazing sportsman.

The grid for race 3 was quite unbelievable. The superbly turned out HWM Chevrolet, the one and only Sterling Edwards in his 1952 Edwards America coupe, Phil Hill straight out of the Maserati and into a Cunningham C-2R, CSRG member George Newell in his pristine Aston Martin DB3S; driving so well and courteously, and John Harden all the way from Oklahoma City in a Hiliborne injected Allard JTX, which is an absolute rocket ship!

By this time my good friend Jack Hagemann had knocked back a couple of cokes with me. However, despite’ requests over the public address system, Jack would not go up to the announcers booth in order to be interviewed. He was even a little bemused at the appearance of some of his “Hageman Specials” in this race. Surely if Sutton was the “Scaglietti of Hollywood” then Hageman is the “Touring of Danville”!

At the start of the race, George Newell was side by side with the Sutton Jaguar special on which much midnight oil had been burnt in order to get it through scrutineering. As the two cars roared down to turn nine, evidently something or someone would have to give, and sure enough George Newell peeled off slightly to the right and vanished behind the tires, scattering marshalls left, right and center. Unscathed, George reappeared and rejoined the race a little further down!

Harden in his very fast Allard J2X took first place, Gordon Keller in his Allard J2R second, Dave Smith coming third in the Hagemann Jaguar Special, Phil Hill rowing the Cunningham along as well as he could in 4th place, and Ron Laurie in the second Hageman Jaguar special in 5th.

Yet another well known driver was due to participate in Group 4 (GT cars 1948-55). However, for some reason Pete Lovely, while appearing in person with his charming wife, was Lancia Aurelia-less, more is the pity, because he certainly does know how to get this car around the circuit at an amazing rate of knots.

CSRG members in this race included Martin Swig in his always reliable 1955 Alfa Romeo 1900SS, and Jim Cesari similarly mounted.

In the race for Group 5 (1945-55 sports cars under 2 liters) the “brothers DeBoer” as they were so announced, had clearly worked long and hard into the nights preceding this weekend to transform their blood red Siatas into the white and blue of Cunningham heraldry. What a wonderful gesture, and how well the cars looked! We also had several MG TC and TD specials in this race, plus John DeHaan’s nicely turned out MG TD (congratulations on your fine Bentley article in the “Vintage Racer”, John). Also John Brookman in his well known blue MGTD was running. The Brookmans have quietly supported every kind of racing for years, and therefore it was particularly appropriate that they won a special award at the end of the day, for their wonderful help and enthusiasm.

Phil Van Ek had discussed with me over breakfast his chances against the “flying DeBoers” and the fact that they had a game plan whereby they would swap places and run two or even three abreast for a few laps, prior to going “all out”.

In fact what happened was that when they stopped “playing to the gallery”, they still had not got out of the tight pack they were in. Phil driving the race of his life took second place after John DeBoer had gone straight on with a locking rear brake (which problem had already shown up at the Portland event). Phil, according to my watches, also made fastest lap at 1 min. 33 seconds, which would be an excellent time for a car of twice the Renault’s capacity!

Another CSRG driver in this race who was driving very well, and cornering and gear shifting to perfection, was Ernie Mendicki, who subsequently was in the running also for the “broadest grin of the day” award alongside Ritchie Ginther.

CSRG member Sid Colberg, perhaps still a little shaken at his practice accident in the “Birdcage”, decided not to run his very pretty Maserati A6GCS, which car probably received as many compliments as any other sitting in the paddock. Another car that ran extremely well in this race was Don Baldocchi’s 1954 Nardi Crosley.

The final outcome of this exciting duel was Jarl DeBoer in 1st place; the inimitable Phil Van Ek in 2nd; Bob Ashmore in his Porsche 356 coupe in 3rd; John DeBoer with a flatted tire and locking brake in 4th; Heiser in the Nardi special in 5th and Eric Gluesenkamp 6th — phew! Definitely one of the best races of the day.

With hardly enough time to catch our breath, the race for Group 6 (sports cars over two liters 1956 through 58) was upon us. This race featured probably the smallest grid of the day. Nevertheless, it was a quality one. Super enthusiast Bob Sutherland was out again, this time in his Ferrari 625.

Bob has gone through all kinds of trials and tribulations to get this car running and reassembled again, but believe us, Bob, it was worth it!

Alongside Bob Sutherland we had Ted Gilred in the yellow Porsche RSK. I have previously dueled against this car up at Portland and can testify to its great speed.

CSRG member Stephen Block was in his glorious Maserati 300S, even more resplendent than ever with a new paint job. CSRG member, Don, Orosco was also quickly getting to know his Aston Martin DBR2, a booming, torquey monster which when mastered will, l am sure, beat everything in its class.

Of particular credit was Bill Chizar’s Ferrari Testa Rossa. Painted in silver and red, the car looked fabulous, and is a great credit to Bill and his tight budget tenacity. In fact Bill went on to win second prize in his class at Pebble Beach the following day.

In Stephen Griswold’s first drive of the day he was exercising Howard Cohen’s fearsome Ferrari 410 Sport. Notorious in its day as a fairly evil car, and only really showing well on airport circuits with long straight aways, Stephen looked very tired after his grapple with this Ferrari “Hans Tanner concours” winning car, so ably put together and restored by CSRG member Nino Epifani.

In this race we had yet another star in our midst — one Darryl Greenamyer. As all of you flying enthusiasts will know, Darryl Greenamyer has held a number of records, including prop and jet low altitude world flying records at the same time. You would think that with Darryl’s flying escapades (which have included at least one forced jet plane seat ejection) nothing would faze him. Nevertheless, it was a subdued Darryl Greenamyer who climbed out of his awesome Ferrari 3l5S.

In my opinion, having the best drive of the day was CSRG member and founder David Love in his 250 Testa Rossa Ferrari. Dave makes everything look so smooth and simple — so much so that turn nine appeared to be taken at a walking pace. Nevertheless, the gap between David, and second place man, Don Orosco had lengthened. A fine drive, particularly as David was still not fully recovered from back surgery.

Back in third place Stephen Griswold was having a very hard time, and afterwards remarked that the 450S Maserati (another monster with a grim record) was a “lot easier to drive”.

The final outcome of group 6 was, of course, David Love in first place; a rapidly improving Don Orosco in his Aston Martin DBR2 in 2nd; and a breathless Stephen Griswold a fine third in the Ferrari 410 Sport; Ted Gilred in the very fast yellow Porsche RSK in 4th; Stephen Block driving a very sensible, tidy race in his covertable Maserati 300S 5th; and enthusiast par excellence Bob Sutherland 6th, in his magnificent 1955 Ferrari 625 Formula One car.

Race 7 (sports cars under two liters 1956 through 58) featured a slew of Loti with a sprinkling of Porsche 500, Dolphin and Ferrari. “Scuderia Casado” members were all wearing attractive black and yellow T shirts to compliment John’s and Micki’s, his pretty and enthusiastic wife’s, four cylinder 500 TRC Ferrari, refreshingly painted in yellow, a la Ecurie Belge. John’s lap times were a model of consistency, and here we have the perfect example of a new CSRG member, sensibly getting himself up to speed during his first season, with a total lack of heroics and funnies! Another Ferrari 500 TR in this race was Thor Thorson’s — surely a top contender for the “Hans Tanner concours” award if it had been shown the following day. Thorson’s car was rebuilt by Mike Dopudja, who also received an award for his outstandinq rebuild of the special Cobra coupe Type65 of Peter Brock design.

It is interesting that two of our three CSRG driver observers started on the back of the grid this weekend as in addition to myself, Walt Mathewson in his lovable “Pooper” was the tailgate of a very large grid indeed, and really had his work cut out to take a very fine second place overall, just pipping Felix Brunot in his Lotus 11. Porsche 550s made first, fifth and seventh places in this race, and it is clear that the Lotus 11 brigade are not going to take this lying down!

Race group 8 (sports racing cars 1959 through 1962) was run at a very fast pace indeed. Don Orosco in his sweet handling Porsche RS60 managed to stay ahead of Ted Peterson’s “Ol’ Yeller” Mark 10, one of two varieties of “0l’ Yeller” running in this race, neither of them, according to the experts, conforming that closely to original specification.

Jim Luckman drove to an excellent third in this race in his 1959 Cooper Monaco two liter, while another Cooper Monaco, with 2 liter engine, was enthusiastically driven by Bruce Owen, who has just rejoined the CSRG. Yet another Cooper device came 4th in this race — a Cooper Monaco Ferrari, previously campaigned by Pete Lovely, and now driven with some abandon by Bill Cammarano. 5th in this race was CSRG’s Jim Tracy in his immaculate and well prepared Porsche RS6I, while “Sideways” Roger Downer was 6th in his early two liter Cooper Climax, giving us shades of Jack Brabham in his beginning Cooper years.

In no time at all Group, 9 (GT cars 1962 through 65) were on their warm up lap. Stephen Griswold was out again, this time in the ex, Lumsden/Sargent E Type which originally was a conventional lightweight. Over the months/years this car went through a number of changes, including a Malcolm Sayer inspired body, similar to Dick Protheroe’s “Cut 7”. Automotive history buffs got a kick out of the fact that this special E Type circulated in the race with organizer Steve Earle’s Ferrari GTO, thought to be the self same GTO that duelled with it back in 64! This magnificently proportioned Jaguar is now owned by another soon to be CSRG member, Richard Crebs who did a fair amount of nail biting as Griswold circulated, particularly as Stephen and Jaguars have shown quite an affinity to Armco of late! Sure enough, it was a start1ed Richard Crebs who, following the “oohs” of the crowd, reluctantly directed his attention to turn 8, beyond which Stephen Griswold was valiantly fighting a now almost brake-less E type in a cloud of dust, less than a foot away from the armco!

With a concerted sigh of relief we watched Stephen get his unruly steed back under control, while Steve Earle slipped through to take a fine 8th place!

Up front, Don Roberts, driving one of the most successful Cobras of all time, roared into first place, this particular Cobra, just looking, Sounding and handling so much better and tighter than any of the other Cobras out on the circuit. A commendable second place was taken by Chris Gruys in the Cobra 427 prototype. Bob Paterson in the Corvette GS, very untidy on turn 9 -- but oh how the crowd enjoyed it - was 3rd. In 4th place was enthusiast Gordon Gimbell who did well in his Cobra, and in 5th place CSRG’s Lou Sellyei, upheld the honors in his yellow Ferrari 250 LM.

And so, all too soon, another Laguna Seca historic was over. The first and last places all received prizes and it was a proud Phil Van Ek who collected a “Die Hard” award, which hopefully won’t encourage him to revert back to old knicker elastic again for tie downs!

Once again — thank you Steve Earle; thank you Peter Talbot; thank you Mercedes-Benz and Phil Hill for that awesome W196 demonstration; and thank you SCCA workers, et al.

Next year’s Laguna Seca will be a tribute to Porsche. That gives us a whole year to nag Porsche into bringing over their V16 Auto Union — I can hardly wait!

(Written in 1981)