The popularity of the Oldsmobile 88 and the “OHV” V8, helped to push General Motors as the number one name in performance in the USA, but that wasn’t enough, GM had broader plans for those engines. The idea was to maximize the profits as much as possible, making the V8 even more affordable. GM quickly transferred the “OHV” technology to its most popular brand: Chevrolet.
Chevy V8, Power to the People.
In 1955 Chevrolet unveiled its all-new automobile line up: the Model “150”, the “210” and the top of line, the Bel Air; all of them equipped with the optional 265CID “OHV” V8, cranking 160HP. Chevy also made available the “Super Power Pack” V8, with 190HP, for those who wanted a little more punch under the hood.
The combination of the sleek design and the power of the V8 made the new Chevy a smashing hit and a turning point for the company. That year alone, Chevrolet sold 250.000 more cars than Ford.
The company repeated the recipe for the next 2 years, making the Chevys from 1955, 56, and 57 instant classics and propelled the popularity of the Small Block V8 for years to come.
Saving the Corvette.
The Corvette was released in 1953 and its mission was to compete with the British roadsters that were invading the American market at the time. It was equipped with a 150 HP, in-line 6 engine and a two-speed automatic transmission, in other words, the car had the looks of a sports car, but was far from performing like one. The Corvette became a disaster in sales and Chevrolet was ready to axe the car after only 2 years of production.
One of the Corvette’s chief engineers, Zora Arkus-Duntov, insisted that the car deserved a second chance but with something more spicy under the hood. Duntov’s request was finally heard and in June, 1955, the 265CID V8 Corvette hit the showrooms across the USA. To make things even better, a 4-speed manual transmission was made available as well.
Sales were picking up thanks to this new combo, but Chevy decided to go even further, in 1957 the car received a 283CID with 10,5: 1 compression ratio that could have been optionally equipped with a Rochester mechanical fuel injection. With this combination, the Corvette reached a new milestone: 1HP per cubic inch, proving how efficient the small block can be. Chevrolet also provided lots of “race-ready” components like brakes, shocks, clutch, and so on, making the little Chevy a superb sports car.
The small block V8 gave the Corvette the necessary boost in sales and also made the car unbeatable at the race tracks. It was only in the early 60s that Carol Shelby, in partnership with the British A/C and Ford, came up with a car that could face the Corvette in equal terms: the Shelby Cobra.
The Horse Power war between the American automakers had officially began
The most popular engine in History.
Throughout the next decades, the Chevrolet V8 engines would not only power the company’s high-performance cars but also the less glamorous cars and trucks. Those engines were also extensively used in the marine industry, powering boats and on a much smaller scale, they even powered airplanes.
Chevrolet produced the “OHV” V8s in a variety of sizes, from the small block 265CID (4.3 liters) to big block 454 CID (7.5 liters) but was the 350CID that became legendary. Cheap, reliable, and pretty easy to squeeze lots of horsepower out of it.
The 350 Chevy became the engine of choice for the blue-collar Hot Rodders for decades, not only during the Golden Age of American High-Performance in the 1960s but also during those terrible years of the oil crisis in the 1970s/80s.
In the beginning of the 1980s, in order to optimize production, meet emission standards, and cut costs, General Motors decided for all its “satellite” brands (Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac) to stop the production of their own V8s and adopting the “corporate” Chevrolet “small block” V8 instead.
General Motors phased out the “classic” small block from its vehicles in the late 1990s, replacing it with the “LS” V8 family, but they kept the legendary 350CID V8 in production as “replacement part” for the millions of vehicles that are still on the roads powered by this venerable engine.
Chevrolet estimates that over 100 million small blocks were produced since 1955, making it the most successful engine in the history of the auto industry.
In the last post of this series, I will talk about the most legendary of the American V8s: the Chrysler HEMI.
It took 17 years for General Motors to come up with an answer to the Ford Flathead V8. Right after WW II, two different brands from GM: Cadillac and Oldsmobile, were developing the next generation of the American V8: The “Over Head Valve” or simply OHV.
In this configuration, the engine valves (intake and exhaust) were placed in the heads, on top of the engine, diverting the heat of the gases away from the engine block, solving the most annoying problem of the Ford Flathead: overheating.
The OHV head provides a much better intake/exhaust flow, allowing a higher compression ratio. With a higher heat exchange and efficiency, General Motors could pack more power in a physically smaller unit. The new V8 also has the crankshaft held by 5 main bearing, making the engine extremely reliable.
Cadillac was heavily lobbying to be the only one to have access to the new engine, they even asked the top GM CEOs to shut down the Oldsmobile program. Obviously, the big guys refused Cadillac’s request and gave the green light for both brands to keep their development programs. GM wanted to see the new engine powering not only the luxury Cadillac cars but also the more affordable Oldsmobile; after all, Ford made millions of dollars selling V8s to the blue-collar customers so, why not do the same?
In a time dominated by the “space race” between the USA and The Soviet Union, Oldsmobile wisely named its new engine “Rocket” and after a while, the name became so popular and so attached to the brand that in 1960 Oldsmobile adopted it as its official logo.
The new age of Hot Rod.
In 1949, Oldsmobile finally unveiled the much-anticipated Model “98” equipped with the new 287 CID, OHV “Rocket” engine, pumping out 135HP. Releasing the new engine in the “98” was a predictable move, after all, the car was the top of Oldsmobile line up but the company had something more interesting up its sleeve: a couple of months later Olds delivered to the dealerships a winner recipe: They put a spiced up 160 HP, 303 CID (5.0 Litter) “Rocket” V8 into the new Model “88” which was smaller and lighter (and also more affordable) than the Model “98”. The new car immediately caught the attention of the younger buyers and quickly became a smashing hit.
The “Rocket” engine, with 160HP was already a phenomenal improvement when compared to the 125HP from the latest versions of the Ford Flathead, but there was something else that the race teams quickly learned: the new engine had lots of room for improvement, a mild prepared “Rocket” could easily reach 300HP and still be considered reliable.
Racers all over the USA started adopting the 88 model and the results came quickly: in 1949, the Rocket 88 won five of the Grand National races in the NASCAR championship. In 195I, the “88” won the first edition of “La Carrera Panamericana”, leaving Porches and Mercedes behind.
The first Rock’n Roll song.
The majority of the music researchers agree that the first Rock’n Roll song ever recorded was the 1951 single “Rocket 88” written by Ike Turner and sung by Jackie Brenston. For the first time in history, all the key ingredients that characterize the traditional Rock’n Roll were put together in one song, and yes, you guessed it, it talks about the wonders of the Oldsmobile Rocket 88. That is a good example of how popular the car was among the youngsters.
The Oldsmobile 88/98 became a huge success and for a while the brand became the number one name in performance, but GM had plans to make its V8 even more popular. In the next post of this series, I will talk about the Chevrolet Small Block V8.
The economic prosperity that blessed the USA in the decades after the WWII, helped to consolidated the American cars as the standard for the automotive industry, they were big, elegant, powerful, reliable and above all, affordable.
The engine of choice for the American automakers, at that time, was the V8, the only machine capable provide good performance for such large cars. Thanks to the wonders of mass production and cheap gas, the V8 became extremely popular during the 1950s/60s/70s.
The raw performance, the sound, and the simplicity of this engine influenced generations of gear heads in their need for speed, and helped to create some of the most beloved car movements in the History: the Hot Rod, the Muscle-Car, and the Pony-Car. These movements conquered the hearts and minds of the aficionados all over the world and it is still going on even after more than 80 years after it started.
The Affordable Performance.
In the beginning, automobiles were seen just as an expensive toy for the riches, owning a car was more like a hobby than a necessity.
Thanks to the ingenuity of the American industry and the advent of mass production in the early 1910s, cars became affordable to the lower classes and an important part of daily life.
Later on, the companies added a very import aspect to some of their cars: Performance, and consequently created the “sports car” segment. As one can imagine, high-performance cars in the 1920s were very expensive and once again, the American creativity stepped in to bring the thrills of speed to the masses.
American high-performance cars were very simple machines, to make them affordable, the brands didn’t spend money with famous designers and with cutting edge technologies. What made them so desirable was the rough power provided by the engine under the hood.
The “Big Three” (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) created quite a few remarkable V8 and if I have decided to write about them all, I rather have written a book. Instead, I picked one engine of each brand that was pivotal to kick start the Hot Rod movement and later on, to consolidate it.
The Ford Flathead and the birth of the Hot Rodding.
The Ford Motor Company is one of the oldest automakers in the world and it is better known for the creation of the assembly line in 1913, but it can also receive the credit for being the first car company to give to the average customer access to a High-Performance car.
In 1932 Ford created another revolution when the company unveiled its first V8 engine. The breakthrough here wasn’t the engine itself, but the manufacturing process.
Ford didn’t invent the V8, after all, this kind of engine had been around for quite some time when the “Blue Oval” guys released their own. Back in the 1920s engines in the “V” shape were very complicated to build, the automakers didn’t have the knowledge of how to cast the engine block in one single piece and the solution was to cast it in two separate “banks’ and weld them together. This was a long and costly process and for that reason, “V” engines could only be found in luxury cars. To make matters even worse, the welding technology at that time was still rudimentary and those engines could easily crack in half under severe use.
Ford was the first car maker to master the technique to cast the V8 block in a single piece and it significantly reduced the time and cost of the production, allowing the company to offer the new engine into more popular cars.
The combination of performance and affordability made the new Ford V8 a smashing success. Soon every Ford model was offered with this engine: cars, pick-up trucks, and even heavy trucks. The engine became known around the World as “Ford Flathead” and on its first generation, it was able to produce 65HP. Nowadays it might sound like the power output of a scooter, but 88 years ago, it was pretty impressive.
Racers quickly learned to make race cars on a budget, installing the Ford Flathead into older cars found in junkyards (usually 1910s/20s Ford model T). Soon, small companies started to develop a variety of aftermarket high-performance parts for the new V8 and that was the foundation of the Hot Rod movement; perhaps the most “grassroots” of all automobile trends in History.
The flathead engines (either V8 or any other shape) are fairly simple machines, easy to build in a mass production line, and automakers heavily relied on them during the 1930s/40s. Ford built the “Flatty” for the American market from 1932 until 1953 but kept the production going on around the world for a few more years. In the end, an estimated total number of 10 million units were built. In its latest versions, the Ford Flathead V8 was already producing 125HP and it could easily reach 200HP with a few tricks learned by the racing teams, but the little engine has some serious project flaws: the flathead concept has the intake/exhaust valves placed in the engine block, that means the hot exhaust gases have to “travel” around the combustion chamber to reach the pipes, generating excessive heat in the block. The second flaw is the crankshaft is held in place by only 3 main bearings, making the engine very fragile for anything above 200HP.
All those flaws are inherent in an engine that was conceived in the early 1930s. I have been involved with Flatheads quite a bit during my professional life and I have learned to love the engine for its qualities and understand and accept its imperfections. Nevertheless, the Ford Flathead is considered to be the first pillar which the Hot Rod movement was built upon and consequently paved the way for the Muscle Car scene of the 1960s, and for that reason, the engine is adored by Hot Rodders all over the world.
The history of the Honda CB 750, the machine that revolutionized the whole motorcycle industry.
At the end of World War II, the defeated nations started a slow and painful reconstruction process. Both Germany and Japan had their major cities wiped out by the relentlessly Allied bombing, and now friends and foes had to get together to rebuild those two countries from scratch. In Japan, the Honda facility was in rubbles and what was left of the machinery, that could still have some use, was sold to Toyota, at a bargain price.
With some money in his pocket, Soichiro Honda, the founder of the company, put together a small team of 12 workers and began to assemble the “Type A” motorized bicycles equipped with a two-stroke, 50cc engine, bought as war surplus, and originally designed to be used as an electricity generator for military radios.
Soichiro Honda’s dream was to start producing automobiles but there was little interest in cars in the impoverished post-war Japan. What they really needed was an affordable way of transportation and the “Type A” was exactly that.
The hard work and good ideas paid dividends for Honda, in a matter of 15 years the company had a nice line of small motorcycles and had already won the 1961 Moto GP World Championship in the 250cc class.( htt ps://theclassicmachines.com/2020/03/08/mike-the-bike/ ). Honda was officially challenging the dominance of the European bikes, not only on sales but on the race tracks as well.
Honda goes to USA.
Honda was the first Japanese brand to try selling motorcycles in the US market, but they had a long journey before gaining the hearts and minds of the North American customers. In the early 1960s, the Japanese economy was still in the process of recovering and that means there was no place for big, fancy bikes over there. But in the USA, the bike market was completely different: in the land of “bigger is better”, the economy was doing fine and gas was cheap. The big motorcycle segment was dominated by Harley Davidson with engines as large as 1200cc and the median bike sector belonged to British brands like Norton and Triumph.
Changingthe image of motorcycles
Back in the 1950s and 60s, motorcycles were firmly associated with troublemakers and outlaws, but Honda tried a different approach: with the slogan “You meet the nicest people on a Honda”, they started targeting the “Good guys” customers, with small displacement bikes.
By the mid-1960s, the American Honda dealers requested the CEOs in Japan, a new, higher class bike, that could compete “mano-a-mano” with British products. Around this time, Honda had already established itself as a winner brand in the motorcycle GP races and it was time to transfer all that expertise to a new, high-performance road bike.
In 1965, Honda unveiled the Dream CB450, intended to be sold in North America and Europe. Equipped with a state-of-art twin cylinder, double overhead camshaft engine, cranking out 45HP, able to push the new CB to a top speed of 180 Km/h and it could easily leave any 650cc British bike eating dust. Honda was pretty sure its new creation would be a huge sales success.
The CB450 sold quite well but it wasn’t the smashing hit that Honda was expecting and that was puzzling the minds of the Big Guys in Japan. After all, this new bike was high-tech, fast, affordable, and it looked good too, so what was wrong with the American customers?
To find the answer to this question, Soichiro Honda himself, accompanied with a few CEOs, traveled USA to see the American bike market with their own eyes.
It didn’t take long for them to understand what was happening: the CB450 was in fact an awesome bike, but it was born with the same DNA found in the Honda racing bikes: to fully enjoy it, one must shift gears with the RPM needle well into the red line territory and that was absolutely not the way Americans like to ride their motorcycles back then. Instead of having a lightning fast motorcycle, with a screaming engine, they rather have a big and comfortable bike for long and relaxing open road rides, prioritizing torque over speed.
And there is only one way to have lots of torque, which is with lots of displacement.
Mr. Soichiro was truly committed to winning the American market, and he quickly gathered a team of Honda’s best engineers to develop a “big” motorcycle. They were running out of time since Triumph was getting ready to present the all-new Trident 750cc, with a three-cylinder engine.
The new Honda had to be different from the competition, it had to stand apart from the crowd and the engineers knew exactly how to make the bike unique. Honda had a good experience with multi-cylinder engines, after all, the company was racing in the 250cc World Championship with a bike equipped with an in-line 6 cylinder engine. Ok, the market wasn’t ready yet for a 6 cylinder street bike but an in-line 4 would be perfect.
Honda created a “state-of-art” engine, high-tech but yet simple, 2 valves per cylinder, single over-head camshaft, and air-cooled. The requirements were: good source of power, torque, and reliability (believe me, Japanese bikes, in the 1960s, were not quite as reliable as they are today). The new 750cc in-line 4 was able to crank almost 70HP @ 8500 rpm and 44.3 ft.lbs of torque, enough power to shame any other 750cc in the market; just to give an idea, the main competitor of Honda, the Triumph 750cc had only 40HP. To overcome the lack of reliability, the engineers put the engine through thousands of hours of tests and the standards of quality control were significantly raised.
This new 750cc motor was also “oil-tight”, a quality that the British bikes never had.
The engine wasn’t only powerful and reliable, it was gorgeous: 4 chromed exhaust pipes adorned the unit, going all the way to rear of the bike (just like the racing Hondas) and to improve performance, it was fed by 4 individual carburetors. To complete the package, the bike was equipped with a “silk-smooth” 5-speed transmission and electric starter. The new Honda was also the first street bike to be equipped with a disc brake.
The final design resulted in a “badass” looking bike, something like a race-ready machine, but Honda wanted the 750 to be more like a “Touring” than a “GP” bike and for that reason, during its development, a great deal of time was dedicated to the “ergonomics” of all the components in order to make the “CB” very comfortable.
The new Honda was presented to the public for the first time at the 1968 Tokyo Auto Show and it was an instant hit. At this point, the front disc brake wasn’t even fully operational and the system still had to go through a lot of development and testing before making the bike available for the dealers.
The Honda Dream CB750 “K” hit the American market in January 1969 and it was a nice surprise to the customers: it was faster than a Triumph 750cc (190.4 km/h vs 200 km/h) and more powerful than a 1300cc Harley-Davidson (65HP vs 67HP).
In 1969, the price of a “big” bike in America was something in between $2,800 and $4,000″, and Honda started selling the CB 750 for $1,450. For the customers, it was like a dream come true, and quickly the dealers across the USA were flooded with orders. The original sales estimate of 1,500 units a year became a monthly figure and quickly it grew to 3,000 bikes/month.
With the demand growing faster than the production, it didn’t take long for the dealers to cash in on this situation: in order to “leapfrog” the waiting list, some customers were willing to pay 50% or even 80% more for the bike.
Suddenly, the dominance of European bikes in the American market was shattered, Triumph, Norton, Ducati, Moto-Guzzy, BMW, neither one of them had anything close to the 750 K
The picture above is a good example of how the competitors were caught off guard: When compared to the new Honda, the 1969 BMW looks like an antique from the 1930s.
Among all bike brands racing to put something new in the market in the late 1960s, Kawasaki was the one that came the closest to ruin the Honda “Dream”, in 1968 they had the prototype of an in-line 4, 750cc ready, but Honda was faster to put its bike into production. When the CB750 came to the showrooms in 69, Kawasaki decided to go back to the drawing board and change its project.
In 1972, Kawasaki unveiled the “Z1”, a 900cc, dual camshaft, in-line four beast, capable to reach 220 km/h of top speed. The “Z1” might be bigger and faster than the “CB” but it is obvious from where Kawasaki got its inspiration.
While the other brands were struggling with 2 and 3 cylinders engines (and even a “Wankel-Rotary” engine by Suzuki), Honda and Kawasaki laid down the foundations for the “Super-Bike” segment.
It was only 1975 that Honda officially adopted the name “Four” in order to emphasize the most important attribute of the bike. Between 1976 and 1978, an interesting optional was available: the automatic transmission.
The original CB 750 was produced between 1969 and 1978. In 1979, Honda unveiled the redesigned version of the bike, with the typical square-shaped gas tank that would become the signature of all bikes throughout the 1980s. But more important than the new design was the adoption of the 16 valves, dual camshaft engine, able to produce 77 HP.
In 1981 was released a more “Americanized” version, called “Custom” or “Night Hawk” in the USA.
The CB 750 was also a considerable success in other countries around the world, like Australia, South Africa, and Brazil.
After 34 years of production and a myriad of different versions and special editions, Honda decided to end the production of the CB 750 in 2003, only to bring it back again in 2007 but at this time, only for the Japanese market. Anyway, this last revival was short-lived and lasted only two years.
Some “scholars” will argue that the Brits created the first “Superbike ( and the Norton Commando is probably the chosen one), but what the CB brought to the customers was a collection of qualities in one single product: performance, reliability, style, comfort, and affordability. At that moment, the British bikes were light years behind this package. But the more important detail is the legendary transversally mounted, in-line four engine that became the signature of the Superbike segment, in the same way, the V8 engine is the signature of the Muscle car movement.
In 1969, the CB 750 revolutionized the whole bike market and the competition had to change and adapt to a new reality. It was a game-changer for motorbike consumers. From that point on this segment would receive the attention it deserved: each brand started offering its customers, products with better quality, and a wider variety of models to choose from.
*NE: The title: “Bike of the Century” was awarded in 2012 by the Motorcyclist Magazine, during its 100th anniversary celebration.
A quick look at the World’s biggest private collection of vintage airplanes.
Brazil might be well known for some things like soccer and carnival but not a lot of people know the connections the country has with aviation; from the pioneers like Santos Dumont to a thriving domestic aerospace industry, we are crazy about aircraft.
It is no surprise Brazil is home to the biggest private collection of vintage aircraft in the world, with more than 100 planes. In 2006 this collection became the TAM Museum, also known as “Asas De Um Sonho” (Wings of a Dream) museum.
In fact, this endeavor started as a dream: Rolim Amaro, the founder of “TAM” (the second largest Brazilian airline) was an aviation aficionado and in 1996, he and some of the company’s mechanics, finished the restoration of a Cessna 195. The job was so well done that Rolim fell in love with the hobby and the rest is history.
He and his brother João Francisco just kept buying and restoring old airplanes and at some point, they decided to share this passion with the public.
A short lived dream.
When the museum opened its doors, in 2006, there were 32 aircrafts in permanent exhibition, 10 years later this number had spiked to 120, but even with this amazing collection of rare machines, the enterprise was facing some serious financial challenges. The museum is located in the city of São Carlos, within the same propriety where TAM keeps its technology research facility, this arrangement was very convenient for the owners since there were no renting costs, but it was very inconvenient for the public, because the location is pretty far from major cities, resulting in a very low number of visitors.
In 2016 the TAM administration decided, with a heavy heart, to shut down the museum operations. Since then the collection has been kept in pristine condition by a small army of volunteers. The airplanes are in the very same position as they were when the museum closed its doors, just as if they are expecting a grand reopening at any moment.
The TAM museum has received some very interesting offers to relocate the collection to a big city and the most promising one is a partnership between The City of São Paulo and the Brazilian Air Force: The oldest airport in São Paulo, “Campo de Marte” (Mars Field) will be slowly phased out and a portion of the facility will be destined to receive the new museum.
In 2012, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the TAM Museum and obviously, we took a quite a few photos of the planes, you can take a look at the picks by clicking on the YouTube video above. Enjoy it.
June 14, 1970, on this day, for the first time in History, a Porsche received the checkered flag in front of everybody else in Le Mans. The brand debuted at this legendary race track with a class-victory (1,100 cc) in 1951, but it took almost 20 years for the team to achieve an overall victory.
From 1964 until 1969, the battle between Ford and Ferrari overshadowed the performance of the other competitors but Porsche was always among the favorites. Ford had officially retired from Sportscar competition in 1968 and by 1970, there wasn’t a single GT 40 among the participants in Le Mans (remembering the Ford GT 40 had swept Le Mans in 1966, 67, 68, and 69). Now, the favorites were Porsche and Ferrari, but, obviously, there were some other brands fighting for the victory.
Let’s take a look at the fastest prototypes:
The Stuttgart team brought to Le Mans nine Porsche 917 and most of them were the improved version called “K” (K stands kurzheck or short-tail). The 917 wasn’t exactly new, the car was ready for the 1969 season but it was beaten by the outdated Ford GT40 at Le Mans in the same year. For 1970, the Porsche Team had an obligation to win. The cars were distributed between the official factory teams and private racers. The “K” cars were not only prettier than the original 917, they also have better stability and better aerodynamic. The heart of the beast was a naturally aspirated, 5.0 L, Flat 12, air-cooled engine, capable to produce 620 HP. The total weight of the car is 1764 lbs | 800.137 kg. The fastest 917s were clocked at the Mulsanne straight at 350 plus Km/h.
For the 1970 Sportscar championship, Ferrari had the all-new 512s and for Le Mans, they brought 11 of them. At this time, FIAT was already the owner of more than half of the company and that means money was not a problem. Just like Porsche, some of the cars would be racing under the official factory support and others would be driven by private teams. The 512s was a very similar car to the Porsche 917, it was equipped with a V12, liquid-cooled engine, basically the same 3.0 L engine used on the Ferrari Formula 1 cars but with displacement increased to 5.0 L and “detuned” in favor of the reliability but still able to crank up 550 horses. The 512s also had a similar performance to the Porsche 917, with max speed around 340 km/h.
Alfa – Romeo.
The most Italian of all Italian brands, Alfa-Romeo, with a tighter budget than Porsche and Ferrari, brought only four cars to Le Mans. The newest version of the T33 proved to be an excellent race car, powered by a 3-liter, all-aluminum V8, developing 400 HP. The “longtail” version gave it a bump of 25 km/h (15 mph), pushing the car to a top speed of 300Km/h
Matra – Simca
Matra was facing some financial difficulties in 1970 and was decided to withdraw from the championship and focus exclusively to win Le Mans. The French team enrolled three cars, one brand new MS660, and two older version MS650. Extremely proud of their roots, Matra gave the new car to two French drivers, Henri Pescarolo and Jean Pierre Beltoise. Both models were equipped with a Formula-one 3 L, V12 engine, detuned back to 420 HP. The MS660 had an enormous potential and the next version, the MS670 dominated the Sportscar racing scene for the next few years, winning the championship in 1973 and 1975 and also scoring victories in Le Mans for three years in a row, 1972, 1973, and 1974.
Bellow the “Prototypes” there were the “GT” classes for production cars, divided by engine size: bigger than 3,000cc and smaller than 3,000cc, both categories were dominated by a massive number of Porsches 911 and 914. Among the “unusual” cars the most noticeable were the Chevrolet Corvettes equipped with 7L Big Block V8, cranking up 560 HP. The Corvettes were clocked at the Mulsane straight at 300 plus Km/h, but they have a hard time keeping up with the Porsches on tight corners.
Holywood Goes to Le Mans.
The 1970 edition of Le Mans became famous for a variety of reasons and one of them was the presence of Solar Productions Comp. owned by the American actor (and notorious gearhead) Steve McQueen. They were at Le Mans with the purpose to record real, on track, race footage to be used in the future movie “Le Mans”. McQueen bought a Porsche 908/2 and installed three 35mm cameras on it, one in front (as seen on the picture) and two in the rear.
The camera car was entered as a regular competitor and McQueen wanted to be one of the drivers, after all, he was an accomplished race driver (he finished second on the 1970 edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring) but his insurance company prohibited him to compete again. During the race, the Solar’s Porsche had to stop at the pits more frequently than the other competitors in order to replace the movie rolls in the cameras. To make matters even worse, the car was plagued by a faulty starter. At the end of the race, the camera Porsche failed to qualify but the team had gathered several hours of footage to be used in the movie.
Note of the editor: If you are a true car guy and haven’t seen this movie yet, do yourself a favor and rent it ASAP; but here is a friendly advice: “Le Mans” was a box office flop when it was released in 1971, basically because it has no plot; the movie is just a huge collection of stunning footage (both real and staged) of the Golden Era of Sportscar Racing.
In 1970, the traditional start in Le Mans, when drivers run from across the track toward their cars, was abolished and the “static start” was adopted, with drivers already buckled up in their cars at the dropping of the green flag.
As it was confirmed during practice, the performance of the Porsche 917 and the Ferrari 512 were pretty similar and for the first couple of laps, the cars were clocking lap times very close to each other.
The race had barely started and bad luck struck for both teams: after only 7 laps, Vaccarella pulled his Ferrari at the pits with a broken crankshaft and after 23 laps, Pedro Rodrigues also had to quit the race when the cooling fan of his Porsche failed. Both drivers were fast and experienced and real contenders for the trophy.
It always rains in Le Mans. *(a quote from the movie “Ford vs Ferrari”)
When the race started, the weather was overcast but fine, even if there was rain and possible thunderstorms on the forecast, all the cars began with “slick” tires. At 5:30 the rain came and suddenly the hell broke loose. Remembering, we are talking about powerful and lightweight cars, with no electronic driving assistance whatsoever, no ABS, no traction-control, nothing, and that can be a deadly combination on a wet race track.
On a quick succession of accidents, Ferrari lost four prototypes, Porsche one and Alfa-Romeo one, thank God nobody was seriously hurt.
As night falls the situation did not improve, at this time there were only three surviving cars from the top 10 qualifiers. Around 10 PM all three Matra-Simca had to retire with the same problem: compression leaking through the piston rings.
By midnight, the rain was pouring heavily and a couple more cars were involved in accidents. The Team Gulf-Oil Porsche #20 driven by Siffert and Redman was leading the race and another Porsche 917 driven by Elford and Ahrens in second and a distant Ferrari driven by Jack Ickx in third. Every driver was slowing down at this point, thanks to the horrible weather conditions, but the Ferrari driver saw it as an opportunity to close the gap. Ickx started to “drop the hammer”, imposing an insane pace. He was a very talented driver indeed (had won Le Mans in 1969 driving a Ford GT40) and he was using every bit of his skills to drive fast at night and in the pouring rain. After a few laps he was in fact getting dangerously close to the leaders, when Ahrens had to stop to change a flat tire, Jack Ickx assumed the second position and now he had a clear path to hunt down the leading Porsche driven by Jo Siffert.
Ickx (who was also the official driver for the Ferrari Formula-One Team) closed the gap at 1:45 AM, and during the fight to take over the first position, the rear brakes of his #5 Ferrari failed and the chasing came to a tragic end: he lost control of the car, hit a sandbank, was launched airborne and burst into flames when it hit the ground, killing a track marshal who was nearby.
All four 512 prototypes from the official Scuderia Ferrari were out of the race and Jo Siffert, driving the remaining Gulf Oil Team Porsche 917 was leading with a comfortable 10 laps lead over the second place.
After so many hours of constant pressure and battling the elements, it’s normal for the drivers to succumb to tiredness and that was exactly what happened with Siffert. At 2:00 AM, he missed a gear change, crossing the RPM red-line and irreversibly damaging the engine.
The Austrian Porsche-Salzburg Racing Team car # 23, driven by Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood jumped as the race leader. Not too bad for a car that started at 15th position.
In second place was taken by the Martini Racing Team “Long-Tail” Porsche 917, wearing the amazing psychedelic livery, driven by Elford/Ahrens. The car was affectionately called “Hippie Car” by the fans.
In third position came the Martini Racing Team Porsche 908 driven by Lins/Marko. The car was also first in its class (prototypes under 3L).
The race hasn’t reached the 12 hours point and it seemed no other team could take the trophy from Porsche. For the remaining last half of the competition, the first 3 cars didn’t change their positions, and at the end, the German cars finished Le Mans in a fantastic 1-2-3 victory. Porsche lost in one class only: the GT production above 3L, won by the Big Block Corvette #2 from the French Team “Greder”.
The best qualified Ferrari came in fourth position, the 512s #11 driven by Posey/Bucknum, from the “North American Racing Team”.
The victory at Le Mans in 1970 was just part of the Porsche’s amazing performance during that year; the cars from Stuttgart won 9 out 10 races of the season.
The race was a turning point in Sportscar racing, Ferrari started to focus more on the official Formula-One Team, to the point of completely quitting the Sports Prototype in 1974. The Italians would never overall win at Le Mans again while Porsche became the most successful manufacturer at this legendary race track, with 19 overall victories.
Recently, they won in 2015, 2016, and 2017 with its hybrid 919. Porsche also retains the longest winning streak with 7 consecutive victories from 1981 to 1987. It doesn’t seem that Porsche will abandon competition as advertisement tool any time soon and that means they have no intentions to let any other brand take this record away.
When Willys unveiled the “CJ”, in 1944, it was basically the same car the company was producing to fight in WW II. Only small changes were adopted, the most visible ones were: the tail-gate, which created the necessity to move the spare tire to the quarter-panel, the ” Sealed-Beam” headlights which were bigger than the military version, seven-slot grille ( the MB had nine slots), and obviously, the buyers had a few different colors to chose from, other than the Olive Green.
At first, Willys advertised the Jeep as a “utilitarian” vehicle, something like the perfect “farm car” and in fact, the Jeep was tough enough to plow fields but also was fast enough for shorts trips and with great “off-road” capabilities it became the perfect car for some weekend adventures like going fishing or camping in some remote location.
The “CJ” quickly became the “workhorse” of the rural North America but didn’t take long for the customers from the big cities to see it as the only option for the recreational vehicle and the “off-roading” as a form of motorsport was officially born.
A Simple Machine.
Behind the Jeep’s success, there was a fairly simple car, the construction is “body over chassis”, which was the norm on American cars until the 1960s. The CJ was equipped with “live” axles on front and rear and the suspension was the traditional “leaf springs”. The engine was the reliable 4 cylinder, 2,200cc, Willys “L-134” nicknamed “Go-Devil”, able to produce 60hp, more than enough to give the light-weigh “CJ” a decent performance, the engine is bolted to a 3-speed manual transmission. To stop the car, drum brakes on all four corners got the job done.
The real “cutting-edge” equipment was the transfer case, this device is installed alongside the transmission and gives the driver the option to engage the “4X4” mode just when it is necessary, allowing the Jeep to be a regular rear-wheel-drive car most of the time, providing fuel economy. The transfer case also gives the option of “Low Gears”, for more torque at slower speeds, designed to be used on more intense off-road situations like when crossing a swamp or climbing a steep hill and “High Gears” intended for more basic off-roading situations. Modern 4X4 pick-up trucks are still equipped with similar transfer cases, the only difference is the mechanical levers were replaced by electronic switches.
… and the SUV was born.
When Willys decided to sell the Jeep to the civilian market, in 1946, they knew the car alone wouldn’t be able to generate enough business to keep the doors open. The “CJ” was a good “tool”, either as a workhorse or as an “adventure partner”, but it was far from a regular car: it has no back seats, the trunk is too small, and the ragtop offered little protection from the elements.
In the same year, Willys released a new car that brought together the off-road capabilities of the CJ plus all the functionality of the family Station Wagon. The new Jeep Wagon was based on the same mechanical platform of the “CJ” but in order to improve comfort, Willys adopted the independent front suspension, with coil springs.
Without knowing Willys had just created the “SUV phenomenon”, a movement that many decades later would deeply transform the auto industry. The Jeep Wagon started a tiny segment in the market in the mid-40s that grew so strong and therefore became the front runner in sales in the 2000s. The SUV will, eventually, be responsible for the extinction of the most traditional form of automobile: the sedan.
Also in 1946, Willys started selling the pick-up truck version of the Jeep Wagon and once again the company set another standard for the industry: nowadays the absolute majority of all pick-up trucks sold every year are 4X4.
The Fancy Jeep
In 1948, Willys created a very interesting “crossover”: the Jeepster. The idea was to offer a car that could bring together the same -the spirit of adventure- from the “CJ”, plus some of the convenience of a normal passenger car. The car shared most of its parts with the Willys Wagon, which means it was equipped with the new Hurricane engine and independent front suspension. The name probably came from blending the words “Jeep” and “Roadster”.
Since Willys didn’t have the industrial capacity to process the sheet metal into a more flowing, curvilinear forms, the Jeepster’s design was a bit rough, perhaps too rough for a family car. The new Jeep failed to please the customers and the production was terminated after two years.
The Jeep conquers the World… Again.
The “CJ” Jeep was kept in production without much modifications from 1946 through 1952 but in 1953 Willys-Overland merged with Kayser Motor (we already talked about it on the first part of this post) and in the same year, the CJ received its first major update: Willys replaced the legendary “Go-Devil” engine with a modern unit called “Hurricane”. The customers were pleased with the new engine since it has 15 more HP than the old one. The only problem was: the “Hurricane” was a much taller engine and it created the necessity of higher hood. The new Jeep was called CJ-B3.
The new company dropped the name “Overland” and it became Kaiser-Willys Motors and they began aggressively marketing the CJ overseas, and the World was waiting for the “Old Warrior” with open arms. Willys established factories in Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Iran, and Egypt. The CJ-B3 were produced under license by Volkswagen in South Africa, by Mahindra Motors in India until 2010 and by Mitsubishi in Japan until 1998.
The French also produced their own licensed version of the Jeep, called Hotchkiss M201. The CJ-B3 became the most exported Jeep built by Willys.
The Jeep also inspired a couple of automakers to produce similar vehicles, in the UK, Rover created a prototype that was actually built on the chassis of a battered war-surplus Willys “MB”, on a Welsh farm. The model was presented at the 1948 Amsterdam Auto Show an soon after Land Rover started the production.
In 1950, the American administration in Japan asked Toyota to build a utility vehicle based on the Willys CJ, resulting in The Toyota BJ and later the Toyota FJ which was kept in production until 1974.
The CJ 5
In 1955, Willys gave the CJ a little “facelift” and the new car was named CJ5. To the untrained eye, it looks like the same old Jeep and in fact, under the skin, all the mechanics remained unchanged, but the new design was so right, so spot on that it was kept in continuous production for 3 decades without major changes.
Fast forward to 1963, the company decided to drop the name Willys and it became Kaiser-Jeep Corp.
In the mid 60s, the “Muscle-Car” movement was in its beginning but it was clear that the customers, more than ever, were hungry for power, not only for performance cars but for any kind of car. The company decided it was high time to give the old CJ a little more “punch” under the hood. In 1965, Kaiser bought a license to produce the Buick 225 cu in (3.7 L) V6 engine, capable to produce 155 hp, doubling the power from the old Hurricane engine. By 1968, the V6 was so popular that 95% of the CJs sold that year were equipped with the new engine.
The American Motors Years.
If Kaiser-Jeep decided to freeze the CJ’s design in time, the same didn’t happen with the Wagon, from the rugged first generation, the car evolved to the elegant Grand Wagoneer. It was big, powerful, and luxurious. That was the car that created the term: Sport Utility Vehicle.
By the late 60s, the Wagoneer was all by itself in the SUV segment, none of the other American automakers had anything like it offer. The bright future of the car caught the attention of some other auto companies but the American Motors Corp. decided to go act faster than the competition. AMC started the process to acquire Kaiser-Jeep in 1968 and the deal was finalized in 1970.
American Motors is, nowadays, a forgotten brand, but it was quite popular back then. AMC was born when two small automakers: Nash-Kelvinator Corp. and Hudson Motor Car Comp. merged in 1954.
AMC kept the Jeep vehicles pretty much unchanged for the first two years after the acquisition, it was only in 1972 that the Willys Hurricane 4 cylinder and the Buick V6 were phased out. In order to accommodate the new AMC engines, the CJ’s wheelbase was stretched by 3 in (76 mm), and the fenders and hood were stretched by 5 in (127 mm), pushing the firewall two inches closer to the rear. The base model CJ was equipped with the 3.8 L, inline 6 engine producing 140 HP. The next option was the 4.2 L, inline 6 with 150 HP output.
By early 1970s the American “performance car” movement was pretty much dead, thanks to a severe global oil crisis, but that didn’t seem to have affected the AMC’s will to give more and more power to the Jeep lineup, by the end of 1972, a 5.0 L V8 was available for the Wagoneer and also for some special editions of the CJ, like the Golden Eagle. With 210 HP, the new V8 CJ had a power-to-weight ratio comparable to some Muscle-Cars from the 60s.
In 1975 AMC unveiled the Jeep Cherokee, a 2 doors version of the Wagoneer: In the future, the name Cherokee would grow so strong among the utility vehicles to the point to overshadow the CJ’s popularity.
By the early 80s, the CJ was completely adapted for the big cities, it could be equipped with air conditioning and automatic transmission, powerful engines and comfortable seats, but it never lost its off-road capabilities.
In the SUV segment, American Motors had consolidated itself as the main player with the Grand Wagoneer, but in 1984 the company gave the Cherokee its first major update in almost a decade. The car lost the “body-over-chassis” concept and received a modern unibody platform. It was a bit smaller and lighter than the previous generation and became more agile on either the urban commute and on off-road situations. On top of all that, the new design was an instant hit among the customers and the sales skyrocketed.
The Chrysler Years.
Even if the Jeep vehicles were a big success, the situation on American Motors wasn’t so good, the company was struggling with its passenger car lineup in face of fierce competition from the “Big Three” (Ford, GM, and Chrysler). Not even an alliance with the French Renault, solidified in 1977, seemed enough to save AMC from bankruptcy.
By mid-80s, Chrysler was the only American automaker with no options on the SUV segment, the solution for this situation was a no brainer: it was much easier to buy a successful line of off-road vehicles from a moribund brand than to came up with their own SUV. It didn’t take long for Jeep to change hands once again and in 1987 Chrysler became the fourth owner of the brand.
Instead of imposing their own police, Chrysler wisely decided to keep the AMC’s mentality toward the Jeep lineup. Not only that but the AMC’s engineers also had the freedom to work on the Dodge pick-up trucks and they are considered responsible for bringing the “RAM” truck back to life.
The last year-production for CJ was 1986, American Motors Corp. applied a commemorative plaque on the dashboard that says: “Last of a Great Breed”. Together, Willys, Kaiser, and AMC put together around 1.5 million CJs, the car became the most successful off-road vehicle in history, a true icon.
The substitute for the “CJ” was ready even before the AMC-Chrysler deal was done, the car hit the showrooms in the summer of 1986. AMC had done a very good job of modernizing the car as a whole, suspension, chassis, and body. The “TJ” Wrangler was more enjoyable to drive and also safer than the old “CJ”.
The name “Wrangler” was decided after AMC had gotten permission from Goodyear -which makes a line of all-terrain tires with the same name – and obviously, Goodyear became the main supplier of tires for the new Jeep. But AMC didn’t ask permission to Wrangler Jeans, which resulted in a lawsuit that lasted several years.
The Wrangler had only two engine options: a 2.5 L, 4 cylinder and a 4.2 in-line 6, those engines were AMC products that Chrysler carried over. The V8 became an option only for the Cherokee but as a matter of pride, Chrysler replaced the AMC V8 with their own line of small-blocks, basically the 318 cid and the 360 cid. The only controversial point on the new Wrangler was the square headlights, which the most hard-core fans considered a “blasphemy” to the original design.
In 1997 came the second generation of the Wrangler and finally the round headlights were back and the in-line 6 engine came down to 4.0 liter, but the real change was the adoption of Cherokee’s coil-spring suspension.
Switching to coil springs was indeed a huge improvement, not only enhanced the Wrangler’s urban ride quality but gave to the off-roader customers a massive seven-inch increase in suspension articulation for both its front and rear axles.
For the following years, the “TJ” Wrangler didn’t change much, in 2003 it received a modern 4-speed automatic transmission and the old 2.5 AMC engine was replaced by a modern 2.4 L Dodge engine.
In 2007 Chrysler released the Wrangler’s third generation, called “JK”, the car got wider and longer, in order to accommodate an extra pair of doors. The new 4 doors model was very well received by customers, finally, the Wrangler could be used as a real “family car”. The other change was a bit of a shock, the old faithful, bulletproof AMC in-line 6 engine was replaced with the 3.8 Dodge V6. The “new” engine wasn’t exactly new, after all, it had been around since 1991, powering the Chrysler minivans, the decision behind this swap was simply to optimize the assembly line.
For 2012, the ancient Dodge V6 was replaced by the modern Chrysler “Pentastar” V6, capable to produce 285 HP, becoming the most powerful Wrangler to date. New transmissions were also made available: a 5 speed automatic or a 6-speed manual.
The latest Wrangler generation, called “JL”, came in 2017 with a few improvements like 2.0 L turbo-four engine, more spacious interior, reduced weight, massive 33 inches wheels and, of course, a throwback change that certainly touched the hearts of the more traditional fans: the foldable windshield, just like the old CJs.
The Latest Family Member.
In January 2014, the Italian automaker FIAT bought the Chrysler Corp. and became the fifth owner of the Jeep brand. The reason for this deal was once again the profitable line of utility vehicles: Jeep and Ram.
Since 2015, FIAT-Chrysler has been teasing the fans with rumors of a pick-up truck version of the Wrangler, after all, Jeep trucks have been around since forever, either from Wagoneer or from Cherokee models, but pick-up truck from the CJ/Wrangler is quite unusual.
From 1981 to 1986, AMC produced the “Scrambler”, out of the CJ8 platform and the car became a good option among a niche market dominated by small Japanese 4×4 trucks.
Finally, in 2018 FCA unveiled the “Gladiator” and judging by the fuss among the Jeep’s aficionados, the truck will be another huge success.
The name Gladiator was revived from the Jeep full-size pick-up truck based on the Wagoneer, built from 1962 to 1988.
It is not an easy task to write about a car that has been in continuous production since 1941, well Jeep skipped the 1996 model because some issues with the engine control management software, but the car has been around for over 7 decades. I had to leave behind a myriad of variant models and “special-editions” of the CJ/Wrangler, otherwise, I better had written a book instead.
The FIAT-Chrysler Auto. is doing a fantastic job in perpetuating the legacy of the Jeep. After all those years in production, the CJ/Wrangler became not only the most successful off-road vehicle ever, but it can be placed itself in a special chapter in the history of the auto industry. A CJ/Wrangler doesn’t matter which year-production, can be instantly recognized anywhere in the world, perhaps only the VW Beetle enjoys this kind of popularity.
December 2018, Jeep releases the sales numbers of its most successful year in history. In total, Jeep sold 973,227 vehicles. By the end of that year, the Wrangler became the brand’s best-selling model, with 240,032 units delivered to the customers, outselling even the Jeep Cherokee.
Jeep is, nowadays, one of the most lucrative brands among the Fiat-Chrysler conglomerate, and the Wrangler became its most iconic model.
From its roots as World War II hero to the status of the most emblematic off-road vehicle ever, the Wrangler traveled a very interesting road. Let’s remember some important facts throughout more than 7 decades of uninterrupted production.
World War I (1914-1918) is the event that marks the beginning of the mechanized warfare, to haul troops, guns, and supplies, horses were no longer a match to the petrol-powered trucks and tanks brought a new terror to the infantrymen on the trenches. But a soldier on horseback was still a hard to beat courier, the horse is nature’s best “off-road” vehicle, it can go up and down stony hills, travel on muddy roads, cross rivers and still can be quite fast on unpaved roads. It was only after the war that the armies around the world started to consider the idea of a light, all-wheel-drive vehicle to be used on a myriad of applications.
During the 1920s, the US Army tested several options, including motorcycles and even modified versions of the Ford Model “T”, but it was only in the early 1930s that the shape of the future Jeep started to take form.
The Marmon-Harrington Company came up with a very capable prototype when they adapted a 4×4 system into a 1935 Ford 1/2 ton pick up truck. The vehicle was approved by the US army and became operational not only in the States but was also exported to Belgium. This truck is considered to be the “grandfather” of the Jeep Wrangler.
The 1/2 ton. Marmon-Harrington truck was indeed a good “multi-purpose” combat vehicle but it was too heavy and insufficiently agile on certain off-road situations, the US Army needed a lighter vehicle, a 1/4 ton., 4×4, with a crew capacity of 3 soldiers and armament and able to tow a light piece of artillery.
With the war against Germany looming on the horizon, the United States Department of War formalized its requirements for this lighter reconnaissance vehicle on July 11, 1940, and submitted them to 135 U.S. automotive manufacturers.
Initially, only American Bantan (subsidiary of the British automaker “Austin) and Willys-Overland entered the competition to secured the millionaire US Army contract. Bantam had a very good advantage since most of the Army requirements (wheelbase, ground clearance, etc) were very close to the company’s compact truck already in production. The schedule was extremely tight, the government gave only 49 days to show a prototype and 75 days to start production. Willys asked for more time and was immediately disqualified.
Using as many “off-the-shelf” parts as possible, Bantam delivered its “BRC 60” (Bantam Reconnaissance Car) prototype by September 23, 1940. The little car met all the Army’s requirements but one: the engine, with only 22HP, wasn’t powerful enough, a problem that could easily be fixed, adapting a bigger engine from another automaker.
The BRC 60 was the car the Army was waiting for and Bantam even delivered it on time, the only problem was: the company didn’t have the production capacity to meet the Army demands. The conflict in Europe was already in full steam and the War Department was desperate about this new vehicle; in order to increase the industrial capacity, they invited Willys-Overland and Ford to participate in the trials of the Bantam prototype. The government made clear that at this stage, the 3 participants should work as a team and not see each other as competitors. Ford and Willys were allowed to check and copy every detail of the Bantam car and transfer it into their own projects.
By November 1940, Ford and Willys delivered their prototypes to join Bantam in the Army’s trials.
In a very controversial conduct, the US military took possession of the Bantam’s blueprints and handed them freely to Ford and Willys; all in the name of the “War Effort”. No wonder all 3 prototypes, Bantan BRC 60, Ford ‘Pygmy”, and Willys “Quad” were quite similar in design and performance.
At this time the American participation in the conflict seemed inevitable and the War Department was under such pressure that all three cars were declared acceptable and orders for 1,500 units per company were given for field testing.
Bantam initially produced 2,605 “BRC 60” and they were mostly delivered to Allied nations under the “Land-and-Lease” program. Once again the diminutive size of American Bantam proved to be the biggest obstacle since the company would never be able to meet the Army’s demand for 75 vehicles a day.
Willys renamed his official vehicle “MA”, for “Military” model “A”. Some 1,555 ” were built, many of which were exported to the Soviet Union under the “Lend-Lease” program.
The colossal industrial capacity of Ford should have played a big role in this project, but their final product was a bit of a disappointment. The car, now renamed “GP” (Government Program), was a better vehicle overall, but in order to get the “GP” done as soon as possible, the car received an “off-the-shelf” engine, the same unit used on the Model “N” tractor. The decision proved to be a mistake: the engine was underpowered and unreliable. Ford initially built about 4,458 units and the US Army decided to keep them at home. The cars were delivered to military units for more field trials, but the GP’s performance fell short of expectations.
The “Jeep” name was born.
There are a few theories about how the 1/4 ton military truck adopted the name “Jeep”. It is a fact that the name as been part of the US military vocabulary as far back as WW I, loosed used to call any kind of new vehicle still in the phase of testing, it could be trucks, airplanes, and even boats. Some historians believe the name came from the Eugene the “Jeep”, a character in the Popeye comic strip. A mysterious animal with magical or supernatural abilities.
I rather stick with the most technical theory, that the name came from the letters “GP”.
Even if the Ford GP didn’t deliver the expected performance, it was the car that American soldiers spent more time behind the wheel during the trails, since the Bantam and Willys models were mostly exported to friendly countries. During the time the car was being extensively tested, the name “GP” became famous in every Army unit around the US; naturally those two letters phonetically morphed into”Geepy” and latter on into “Jeep”.
Decades later a similar situation happened with another military vehicle: the HMMWV, which stands for high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicle. The soldiers quickly nicknamed the truck “Humvee”.
By July 1941, the War Department came to the obvious conclusion that it was a bad idea to have multiple automakers producing the same car. The environment of a global war can be, to say the least, chaotic, and to supply spare parts for 3 different brands of Jeep on the battlefield could be disastrous. The chosen brand to carry on the production was Willys, primarily because the “MA” easily outperformed the other o competitors. The car was equipped with the fabulous 4 cylinder, 2,200cc, “L-134” engine, capable to produce 60 HP. The trial teams nicknamed the engine “Go Devil”.
For its final product, Willys incorporated some designs solutions from the competitors, for example: to make the headlights less vulnerable, they were moved from the top of the fenders to the grille panel, a solution copied from the Ford GP. The new car was renamed Willys “MB”.
The new “Jeep” introduced a few ingenious solutions that later became standard on all off-road vehicles: the “constant-velocity joints” on the front-driven wheels and the transfer case to control the “4X4 mode”.
By October 1941, it became clear that Willys-Overland didn’t have the capacity to keep up with the US Army’s demand, and Ford was called to once again join the program. The giant automaker was instructed to use all the Willys blueprints, drawings, specifications, and patents, including the Willys engine. The Ford car was then designated “GPW”, with the “W” referring to the “Willys” licensed design and engine. During World War II, Willys produced 363,000 Jeeps and Ford some 280,000. Approximately 51,000 were exported to the Soviet Union, under the Lend-Lease program.
Tough, reliable, agile, unstoppable, the list of attributes goes on and on. The Jeep was sent to Europe, Africa, and Asia and saw action in every single battlefront during the war.
Jeeps were used in as many tasks as the GI’s could think of: towing supply trailers, carrying water, fuel, and ammo, and pulling through the most difficult terrain. They performed scout and reconnaissance duty and were also frequently used as ambulances for the wounded and did hearse service. The Jeep was perfect as a weapon platform – either with mounted machine guns or pulling small artillery pieces. The Jeep’s flat hood was used as a commander’s map table, a chaplain’s field altar, the G.I.s’ poker table, or even for field surgery. The car was considered (along with his rifle) the soldier’s best friend and many of them enjoyed driving the nimble jeep, appreciating its powerful engine, low-cut body sides, bucket seats, and manual floor-shifter. The “MB” was as close to a sports car as most GIs had ever driven. Enzo Ferrari famously called the Jeep “America’s only real sports car.” All these “sports” qualities would later be very well appreciated during the Jeep’s civilian career.
Pulitzer Prize-winning war journalist Ernie Pyle wrote: “It does everything. It goes everywhere. It’s as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule,, and as agile as a goat. It constantly carries twice what it was designed for, and still keeps on going.
The green-olive Jeep, with a big white star painted on the hood and a GI wearing an unstrapped helmet at the wheel, became one of the most iconic images of WW II.
President Eisenhower once calling the Jeep: “one of the decisive weapons the U.S. had during WWII”, placing the little ” 1/4 ton” truck among noble machines like the P-51 Mustang and the aircraft carrier.
General George Marshall called the car: “America’s greatest contribution to modern warfare.”
The “MB” became the crown jewel of Willys-Overland, never before a car from its lineup received so much praise and recognition. The company decided to stretch this success beyond the battlefield and in 1944 Willys unveiled the “CJ” (civilian Jeep). Two years later Willys finally registered name “Jeep”.
The original Willys MB and Ford GPW still saw a lot of action during the Korean war (1950 – 1953) before receiving some updates.
In 1953, Willys merged with another small, independent American automaker: Kaiser Motors and two years later both companies phased out their passenger car lines. The idea was to focus exclusively into the military / off-road vehicles.
Understandably, Willys was afraid of deep changes on the successful “MB” and in 1955 the car received only minor design updates, bringing the Jeep closer to the modern “Wrangler” we know. The military version was renamed M38 and the civilian was called CJ 5
In 1959, Ford was the winner of a massive US Army’s contract, intended o replace the old “MBs” and “GPWs”. The new project was called by the government: “MUTT” (Military Unit Tactical Truck) and received the official name Ford M151. Even if it was quite similar in design with its predecessors, this “Jeep” was a new car all together, Ford adopted some modern solutions like unibody platform and front and rear independent suspension.
Remembering the old times from WW II, when the demand was too high (like during the Vietnam War) the “MUTT” was also built by other companies, like Kaiser-Jeep and AM-General. Together, the 3 companies put together more than 100.000 cars from 1959 and 1982.
The MUTT represents the end of an era, even if Kaiser-Jeep kept suppling other vehicles to the US Department of Defense, the military career of the old war hero was officially over.
In the next chapter lets talk about how Jeep consolidate the “CJ” as the most popular recreational vehicle in North America.
September 2nd, 1945, the Japanese foreign affairs minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, signs the Instrument of Japanese Surrender, aboard the American warship USS Missouri, formalizing the end of the World War II.
Among many different kinds of weapons employed by the Allies, the airplane played a pivotal role to win the war. Together, United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union produced several thousands of aircraft throughout the conflict and in order to fly those machines, the Allies also had to produce thousands of pilots.
Upon returning home, the survival pilots had many stories of bravery, honour and selfless service defending the free world from tyranny.
Naturally, a whole generation of kids were deeply influenced to pursue one dream: to became a pilot. For those who were really serious about making the dream come true there were only two options: one is to join a military academy and the other is to join a civilian flight school.
Either way, in the late 1940s, an aviator student had to learn his first lessons in a 1930s era biplane. Most of them were crude, heavy machines and to make matters worse the open cockpit provides plenty of wind and noise from the big radial engine. For some “true to the core” pilots, an old biplane can be a delight to fly, but for a “green” student it can be quite scary.
The Almost Perfect Trainer
The Cessna Aircraft Company had a good answer for this lack of a modern trainer, the Model 170. Built from 1948 until 1956, this little airplane was a nice surprise not only among student pilots but also among customers looking for an affordable and reliable aircraft. The 170 had some modern features like all-aluminum construction ( the first year of production the wings were still covered with fabric), an encapsulated engine, a closed cockpit, and the best feature for rookie pilots: high-mounted wing, which allows a perfect view of the ground while landing the aircraft. This concept was a copy of some reconnaissance aircraft from the war, like the German Henschel Hs 126.
The Cessna 170 is a very docile and forgiven aircraft to fly, it was the perfect choice for a trainer or as a personal plane.
The qualities of the Cessna 170 soon caught the attention of the US Department of Defense, its low operational speed and excellent visibility made it a perfect surveillance/reconnaissance plane. A huge order of 3,200 were initially placed, the airplane was renamed L19/01 “Bird Dog” and delivered to the Marine Corps and Army, just in time to see action during the Korean War in 1950.
The Bird Dog was also extensively used during the Vietnam War, primarily for reconnaissance, target acquisition, artillery adjustment, radio relay, and convoy escort.
After 24 years of active service in the US military the CL19 Bird Dog retired, but it is not hard to spot a restored one, nowadays, at air shows around North America.
The Cessna 170 was an awesome little airplane but wasn’t perfect, just like most of the planes from the 1940s, it was born as a “taildragger” (see picture above).
This is not a problem per se, after all, most of the notable fighters of WWII (Spitfire, Mustang, BF109) were taildraggers. The biggest concern for a novice pilot flying such machine is: there is no clear view of whatever might be in front of the plane while taxiing. This is a detail that could easily be fixed, or should I say, improved.
Between 1948 and 1956, Cessna produced 5,174 model 170 (not mentioning the military production), the plane can be considered a commercial success but it was time to evolve.
In 1956 Cessna released the Skyhawk model 172 (4 seater) and model 152 (2 seater), equipped with the tricycle landing gear. The plane was an instant hit, it retained all the good qualities of the 170 but was the new arrangement of the landing gear that made the new Cessna the favorite aircraft among the flying schools around the world. The airplane is a pleasure to fly and especially easy to land, so easy that Cessna marketed it as “Land-o-Matic”.
During the 1960s and 70s, the sales of the 172 skyrocketed as it became the primary learning tool around the world. The plane isn’t just easy to fly, it is also extremely robust, it can withstand hundreds of taking off and landings on the hands of inexperienced students before going through some maintenance.
Just like its predecessor, the 172 also had a military version. In 1964, the company unveiled a new version specifically for the U.S. military dubbed the T-41 Mescalero. At this time the aircraft was not used as reconnaissance but as a trainer instead. Since military pilots are, in most cases, trained to fly high-performance aircraft, Cessna decided to replace the original 145HP Continental engine for a “spiced-up” version with 220HP. Aside from the engine, the new training aircraft for the Air Force and Army was nearly identical to the platforms civilian students were already flying. The plane was very successful and stayed in service with the US military for over 30 years. The Mescalero was also exported to several Air Forces around the world.
The Cessna 172, is not fast, is not pretty but it is reliable and affordable. As a friend of mine used to say: “Think of the Skyhawk as a flying VW Beetle. Back in 1966 you could buy a brand new, basic 172 for US$ 12,450.00; just to give an idea, a Fastback Mustang of the same year had the tag price of US$ 2,713.00.
The capacity of the 172 to operate on short, improvised runaways attracted some less than honourable customers: the drug lords of South America adopted the airplane to transport their “stuff”, easily crossing the borders of different countries, while flying over the Amazon Jungle.
During its career, the Cessna 172 was involved in some unusual adventures.
A world record of reliability.
In December of 1958, the pilots Robert Timm and John Cook decided to take advantage of the 172’s reliability to break a world record and stay airborne on the aircraft for 50 straight days.
They dubbed their Cessna “Hacienda” (farm in Spanish) and installed an extra 95-gallon fuel tank to the belly of the aircraft with an electric pump that could transfer fuel to the internal tanks in the wings. They also replaced the co-pilot’s door with a special accordion-style setup that allowed them to hoist fuel and food from a truck.
After 50 days of keeping the 172 in constant flight, they secured the record, but they decided to push it a little bit further. After 64 days, 22 hours, and 19 minutes, the two men finally brought their little plane in for a landing. Their record, which stands to this day, is a testament to the reliability of the Cessna 172 Skyhawk.
Flying against the Soviet Empire.
At the peak of the Cold War tensions, during the 1980s, Mathias Rust, a German teenager and amateur pilot with only 50 hours of flying experience, made one of the most incredible stunts in the name of the World Peace. On May 28, 1987, he climbed aboard of a rented 172 in Helsinki, Finland, and at some point he drifted away from his pre-planned flight course and headed straight toward the capital of the USSR.
The world thought the air space over Moscow was, at the time, was impenetrable, but Mathias proved it otherwise. His Cessna was repeatedly mistaken for a friendly aircraft and by the time the Soviet Air Force finally scrambled a pair of interceptors it was too late since the “enemy” Cessna was too close to a populated area, the fighters were not given permission to fire.
Mathias landed his Skyhawk on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge right next to the world-famous Red Square in Moscow, he had fooled one of the most advanced air defences in the world and lived to tell the tale.
It was a tremendous embarrassment for the Soviet Union and as a result a few top military leaders were immediately fired.
Mathias was arrested and charged in multiples accounts of violating air regulations and illegally crossing the Soviet border. He received a sentence of 4 years but was pardoned after 14 months in jail.
It seems Rust’s intentions to promote world peace was indeed very successful, according to William E. Odom, former director of the U.S. National Security Agency and author of The Collapse of the Soviet Military, says that Rust’s flight irreparably damaged the reputation of the Soviet military. This enabled Gorbachev to remove many of the strongest opponents to his reforms. Minister of Defense Sergei Sokolov and the head of the Soviet Air Defence Forces Alexander Koldunov were dismissed along with hundreds of other officers. This was the biggest turnover in the Soviet military since Stalin’s purges 50 years earlier. Two months later, Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to sign a treaty to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe.
Mathias Rust’s Cessna 172 Skyhawk is in a permanent display at the German Museum of Technology, in Berlin.
The production of the 172 was interrupted 1986 as the result of the rising cost of insurance for personal airplanes but eleven years later Cessna restarted the assembly line and they don’t have plans to stop it any time soon. More than 44,000 model 172 were produced and sold since 1956, making it the most successful aircraft in history. Several variants were released throughout the years in order to keep the plane up to date with new technologies, while the basic design remained pretty much unchanged.
Most of the pilots crossing the skies around the world today had their first lessons on a 172 and the future of the little Cessna continues to look bright, as it is still considered to be the perfect trainer. If you have the desire to become a pilot, just spend some time flying a 172, and the plane itself will tell if you have what it takes.
In July 2015, my wife and I moved from our hometown in Brazil to Winnipeg, Canada and one of the first things we noticed was the number of classic cars on the streets on any given day. Perhaps because the cars are kept in storage for the whole winter, which here is extremely harsh and way too long, so when the springtime finally arrives the owners don’t miss any opportunity to drive them. It is not unusual to see classic cars being used as daily drivers, going back and forth to work and to grocery shopping.
Naturally, on weekends, classic car meetings happen all over town and just like any other city in North America, those gatherings happen mostly on the parking lots of shopping malls.
No worries if you miss a meeting, you can catch the cars parading up and down on Portage Avenue on a “Sunday Night Cruise”. You must get there early to find a good parking spot since it gets pretty crowded alongside the road with families having a nice tailgate party while watching the cars.
In 2016 we had the opportunity to attend a very interesting meeting called “Collector’s Day”; the organizers closed a couple of streets around a square, right in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building, for the event. The place proved to be perfect since there were lots of parking spots for the cars and even for some food trucks and the square is a very nice place to seat and take a break from walking around and enjoy an ice cream. The only thing I didn’t understand was it happened on a Friday, from 5 pm to 8 pm. Why not on a Saturday???? Anyway, here you can check some photos of the meeting (The pics were edited by my wife Estela).
World War I, the conflict that dragged pretty much all the major powers in Europe, Asia and the Americas into a total war. The carnage lasted from July 1914 to November 1918 and an estimate of nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a direct result of the war.
For the first time in history nations were capable to inflict mass destruction against their enemies. Weaponries such as machine guns, tanks, submarines, and airplanes were readily available. The gallantry of armies riding on horses and holding swords gave way to the unimaginable terrors of chemical and biological warfare and aerial bombardment.
At the beginning of the war, the airplane was a fairly new invention, it was on December 17, 1903, that the Wright Brothers, in the USA, managed the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft.
The airplane, as a weapon of war, initially faced some opposition from the top military leaders around the world; they thought those flimsy machines were nothing more than a novelty with little use in battle. Their point of view was easily understandable: the first generation of airplanes was very fragile, the frame was made of wood and covered with fabric, the engines were underpowered and quite unreliable, their payload for bombs and ammunition was very limited.
On the other hand, some open-minded younger officers saw the airplane as an effective weapon and all those limitations would soon be overcome by the ingenuity of the engineers.
Airplanes and pilots have always been subject of great fascination in all of us, we tend to see pilots as some kind of special people, and of course, in some aspects they really are. As a former Air Force personnel myself (not a pilot!) I can assure you, they are seen and revered as an elite group. In the case of war, we mortals will have to fight on the ground but, they will fight in Heavens.
During WW I this fascination was way more intense. Airplanes had this magic Aura and the men who were in command of those machines we’re seeing as superheroes.
Naturally, the pilots flew high on this blind admiration (well, they still do), it didn’t only feed their egos but also fed their imagination. Pilots during WW I saw themselves as a higher breed of warriors, some sort of reincarnation of the medieval Knights, full of military honor and bravery, and this thought was passed on, years later, to the pilots of World War II.
Based on this code, they had a different understanding of the aerial combat: for them, the real purpose was not to kill the opponent, but simply to defeat him, to show your superior skills. There are numerous accounts of pilots who, after shooting down an enemy airplane, were very pleased to see the other pilot bailing out safely from the crippled machine.
A fighter pilot needs to score at least five victories to bear the title of “Ace” and the World War I produced quite a few of them, on both sides of the conflict. Those men were feared by their foes and admired by the people they were fighting for. Their stories of courage and honor are the result of a mixture of facts and a little dose of fantasy. More than a century has passed after the end of the war and the names of those aces have vanished from the memory of their people and became nothing more than random names written on History books. All of them but one: Manfred von Richthofen, the German fighter pilot considered to be the “Ace-of the Aces”; most famously known as “The Red Baron”.
Richthofen was the most victorious ace of the WW I with 80 victories. He became a legend not only because of his talent as a pilot but also because of his controversial personality. His popularity transcended beyond the war, and even after more than a century after his death his name is still around us.
Manfred Albrecht “Freiherr” von Richthofen (Freiherr stands for Baron) was born in Kleinburg, near Breslau, a region that was part of Germany but now a days belongs to Poland, on May 2, 1892. His family was part of the Prussian aristocracy and had deep military tradition. His father was an Army Cavalry Major and so was his grandfather. He was an average student and truly enjoyed hunting and sports, especially gymnastics. He excelled at parallel bars and won a number of awards at school.
At the age of 11, his father enrolled him at the Imperial Army Academy in order to continue the family tradition, but Manfred didn’t like the idea of his father deciding his future without asking any opinion. As a personal vendetta, Manfred decided to dedicate himself as little as possible to his new military career, and as result he became a mediocre cadet, giving no reasons whatsoever for his family to be proud of him.
What kept Manfred in good terms with his superiors at the academy was his talents in sports, but he had another talent that was constantly putting him in trouble: he was a daredevil, not afraid to perform stunts like climbing the town’s church tower with his bare hands. Later in life, he would find out that the daring side of his personality was an essential part of being a fighter pilot.
Richthofen was 22 years old when he was sent to the front lines as Cavalry Lieutenant. He served at a Reconnaissance Regiment of the Imperial Army and saw action in Russia, France, and Belgium. The warfare in the mid-1910s had already shifted from horseback to mechanized vehicles and the Army decided to dissolve Manfred’s unit. He was reassigned far away from the front lines, serving as dispatch runners and field telephone operators and after that he was once again transferred, this time to the army’s supply branch, helping with the food logistics. He grew extremely frustrated for not being able to fight in the front lines and soon he found out the “Fliegertruppen des Deutschen Kaiserreiches” (Imperial German Army Air Service) was looking for volunteers to become pilots. He immediately wrote a letter to his commandant asking for a transfer and once again he wasn’t afraid o show him in; in his letter he wrote: “I have not gone to war in order to collect cheese and eggs, but for another purpose.” In spite of this unmilitary attitude, and to his own surprise, his request was granted. Manfred joined the flying service at the end of May 1915.
From June to August 1915, Richthofen served as an observer on reconnaissance missions over the Eastern Front with “Feldflieger Abteilung” 69 (69th Flying Squadron). On being transferred to the Champagne front, he is believed to have shot down an attacking French aircraft with his observer’s machine gun in a tense battle over French lines; he was not credited with the kill since it fell behind Allied lines and therefore could not be confirmed.
Manfred started his flight training as in October 1915 and in the beginning his instructors were not very impressed, he was considered to be a below-average pilot. On his first solo flight, Manfred lost control of the aircraft during the landing and the machine flipped over.
Eventually Richthofen graduated as a pilot in March, 1916 and was assigned to the “2nd Bomber Squadron”, flying a two-seater light bomber Albatros C III. A month earlier he had convinced his brother Lothar von Richthofen to quit the Army Infantry and join the Air Service. Later on the two brothers ended up flying in the same squadron. Despite a disappointing start, Manfred rapidly became a fine pilot and soon his stunts made him quite popular among his peers, for example, he once completely ignored the advice of more experienced pilots and flew his bomber through a thunderstorm, just for the thrill of it. To his superiors Manfred was just an inconsequent rookie pilot that sooner than later would get himself killed but instead his boldness paved the way for a more exciting role as a pilot.
TheFather of Air Combat
By August 1916, the German Ace Oswald Boelcke was touring the airbases looking for talented pilots for his newly formed “Jasta 2” (“Jagdstaffel 2” or Fighter Squadron #2) and Manfred was chosen on the spot.
Oswald Boelcke was an extremely talented fighter pilot, during the war he developed a series of tactics and maneuvers and published them as a study called “Dicta Boelcke”. Some of those rules are still relevant nowadays. As the Squadron Leader of the “Jasta 2” Boelcke passed on his expertise to all his pilots and the guys revered him as some kind of god. Oswald was a national hero and considered to be the best pilot not only in Germany but in the World. According to Manfred own words: “Whatever Boelcke told us was taken as Gospel.”
Flying for the Jasta 2 Manfred finally found his real purpose in the war, he became an accomplished fighter pilot and started to accumulate victories.
After some time Richthofen earned a superstar status in the squadron and naturally, he acquired some rather weird traditions. For example, for every plane he shot down, he had a Berlin jeweler make him a small silver cup. However, after 60 of these, the jeweler was forced to tell him he could no longer make them due to a silver shortage. He also had the habit of following his victims down when possible and collecting some sort of souvenir from their totaled plane or lifeless body. But following the “Medieval Knight” tradition, all the enemy pilots shot down over German territory received full military funerals.
The Baron’s Machines
The name Red Baron is immediately associated with the bright red triplane, that is the image we have logged in our memories, but Manfred von Richthofen actually flew a variety of fighter planes.
Albatros “D” Series
The fighter Manfred flew the most was the Albatros “D” series (from DII to DV). This plane was the main German fighter from 1914 until 1917, it was fast, well-armed and quite reliable.
Armament: Pair of Schwarzlose 8mm machine guns, mounted on top of the engine hood, firing in synchronicity through the propeller. 500 rounds each.
After the death of Qswald Boelcke in October 1916, Manfred became the top German Ace and just like his mentor, he also became a national hero.
On 23 November 1916, Richthofen flew against his most formidable foe, British Ace Major Lance Hawker, described by Richthofen as “the British Boelcke”. After a long dogfight, Hawker was shot in the back of the head as he attempted to escape back to his own lines. After the combat, Richthofen flew back to his base victorious but he knew one thing: Hawker fought in disadvantage, he was flying an older version of the DH 2 (picture above), far inferior to the Albatros DII, Manfred was convinced that he needed a fighter aircraft with more agility, even if would come with a loss of speed. In the following months he switched to the newer versions of the Albatros fighter and he even tried the Halberstadt DII.
The Imperial Army Air Service decided it was the right time to make Manfred a Squadron Leader, on January 16, 1917, Captain Von Richthofen was promoted as Commanding Officer of the “Jasta 11”. Once again his flamboyant persona played a big role in his career, to commemorate his promotion he ordered his Albatros to be painted in red and without knowing that was his first step toward immortality.
In no time the red Albatros made Manfred even more famous, the French called him “Le Petit Rouge” (The Little Red) and at home, in Germany, he was known as “Der Rote Pilot” (The Red Pilot). Since his title as Baron was legit, it was just a meter of time for him to became The red Baron.
All this new notoriety was good for the German war propaganda and a boost to Manfred’s ego but also made him a prized target, the allied anti-aircraft gunners naturally concentrated their fire on the little red fighter and the allied pilots also gave a special treatment in pursuit to Manfred. The pilots at the “Jasta 11” tried to convince him to go back to the standard livery but he refused. In an effort to divert the attention from Manfred’s plane some pilots also painted their machines in red. Some other bright colors were adopted as well such as yellow, purple and orange.
On 6 March 1917, Manfred’s brother Lothar joined “Jasta 11” and by that time Manfred had become a true leader, a cool, calculating pilot, in contrast with his brother, an impulsive and aggressive pilot. The German high command appreciated the propaganda value of two Richthofen’s fighting together in the same “Jasta”.
The Flying Circus.
On June 24, 1917, the Imperial Air Command created the “Jagdgeschwader I” or in short “JG I”, it was a fighter wing composed by four “Jastas” (4, 6, 10 and 11) and Manfred was promoted as commanding officer of the new unit. He was only 24 years old.
The “JG I” was highly mobile, planes could rapidly be disassembled and loaded into trains with spare parts, fuel, and ammunition and then sent to different battlefronts and upon arrival, the soldiers would set the base with tents. All that resembles the same logistics used by traveling circus and that is the reason the unit became known as “The Flying Circus” or “The Richthofen’s Circus”. Of course the bight colors of the aircraft helped to consolidate name.
A Close Call.
Richthofen sustained a serious head wound on 6 July 1917; during a combat, a bullet grazed his head causing instant disorientation and temporary partial blindness. He regained his vision in time to ease the aircraft out of a spin and execute a forced landing in a field in friendly territory. The injury required multiple operations to remove bone splinters from the impact area.
During his time in convalescing he wrote his autobiography “Der Rote Kampfflieger” (The Red Fighter Pilot, 1917) but scholars believe the manuscript was heavily altered by the German military and therefore it is not a reliable source of information.
At this time Manfred von Richthofen was already a legend and his superiors feared that losing him in battle would be a big blow to the morale of the German people. The Air Service offered him a desk job, which he obviously refused.
The Red Baron returned to active service against doctor’s orders on 25 July 1917, his wound is thought to have caused lasting damage; he later often suffered from post-flight nausea and headaches, as well as a change in temperament. There is a linking of this injury with his eventual death.
Fokker “Dr” Series
In September 1917 all the German fighter units started receiving the new Fokker DR I Triplane, the machine that would forever be attached to the image of the “Red Baron”.
The plane was a nice surprise for all the German pilots, even if it was slower and less powerful than the Albatros, the Fokker was way more maneuverable.
*Note: The radial-rotary engine (not to be confused with the Wankel rotary engine) is an interesting concept in which the crankshaft is attached to the airframe and the whole engine spins with the propeller. To better understand how it works please check the video: https://youtu.be/W3elogQimk4
Most of the pilots fell in love with the agility of the new fighter, but the plane had some serious flaws. It was rushed into production and the quality control at the Fokker assembly line was really poor and quite a few triplanes were delivered with structural weaknesses. The Air Service reported multiple accidents as a result of broken wings and in some cases the whole fuselage folded in half. Fokker eventually fixed the problems in the later models of the “Dr”. Out of the Manfred’s 80 victories, only 3 were achieved while flying Fokker triplane.
The Jagdgeschwader I was the most effective fighter wing in the WWI, from June 1917 until November 1918, JG I claimed 644 Allied aircraft destroyed, while losing 52 pilots killed in action and 67 wounded. But was during the time Richthofen was in command that the JG I became truly legendary.
Richthofen’s final battle happened on 21 April 1918 while flying over Morland Ridge near the Somme River, in France, while engaging a few Royal Air Force fighters flown by Canadian Airmen.
During a fierce dogfight, Manfred and his cousin Wolfran von Richthofen pushed a couple of Canadian pilots to a field near the village of Vaux-sur-Somme, France, in a sector defended by the Australian Imperial Force. Since the aircraft were flying in low altitude, the Australian infantry open fire against the Germans and a few minutes later they witnessed the red triplane landing on the field.
The autopsy revealed that a single .303 bullet hit Richthofen, damaging his heart and lungs so severely that it must have caused a quick death. In the last seconds of his life, he managed to retain sufficient control to make a rough landing.
The Royal Air Force credited the flight commander, Canadian Captain Arthur “Roy” Brown with shooting down the Red Baron, but it is now generally agreed that the bullet which hit Richthofen was fired from the Australian soldiers on the ground.
The nearest Allied air unit was the No 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps and assumed responsibility for the Baron’s remains.
Manfred von Richthofen was buried in the cemetery at the village of Bertangles, near Amiens, France, on April 22, 1918. Six Australian airmen with the rank of Captain — the same rank as Richthofen — served as pallbearers, and a guard of honor from the squadron’s other ranks fired a salute.
He was later moved to a cemetery in Berlin. By 1930s, the Nazi government placed a huge monument to honor the notorious German pilot. After the war, the grave fell on the Soviet side of Berlin and the communist government tore down the monument. In the early 1970s the family moved the Baron one last time to the family plot in Wiesbaden. Each year there is a memorial service around the anniversary of when he was shot down.
Le Mans, 1952; besides all the financial hardship of the “post-war” era in Europe, a good gathering of the most significant sports-car brands were there: Ferrari, Jaguar, Lancia, Aston-Martin, Talbot, Cunningham and perhaps the most coveted presence that year was the return of the Mercedes-Benz to Le Mans after 22 years of absence. The Germans brought three “W-194”, the gorgeous prototype that later became the iconic 300-SL “Gullwing”, but this might be the subject for another post here at TCM.
Going down to the smaller engine classes we would see some French brands like Gordini, Peugeot and Renault and among them there was a tiny Renault 4CV, driven by a guy named Jean Rédélé, who would finish the race in 17th overall, a very good result by the way.
The 1952 Le Mans was only one more chapter in Rédélé’s career, throughout his life he had competed all over Europe, from the Dieppe Rally to the Monte Carlo Rally; from the Mille Miglia in Italy to Le Mans in France. After a short period of time he became a truly accomplished driver and a good team manager, always behind the wheel of a Renault.
All this loyalty to the brand is easily explained: his father Emile had served as a mechanic for the Renault first ‘factory’ racing efforts and was subsequently granted a dealership in the seaside town of Dieppe.
In 1946, after graduating in business, Jean got a job at Renault where he distinguished himself with his hard work, catching the eye of CEO Pierre Dreyfus. As a result, he was appointed Renault’s official dealer in Dieppe, at the young age of 24.
Rédélé truly believed that whatever wins on Sunday will sell on Monday and for him, as a passionate race driver, it was an easy job to promote his dealership at the race track.
His car of choice was the 750cc rear-engined Renault 4CV, one of the most popular French cars during the 50s. He not only had the support of his own dealership but Renault itself was providing him with some “race-ready” engines. The displacement was getting bigger, from the original 748cc to 845cc, the package would be complete with aluminum head, twin carbs, a spiced up valve cam, and higher compression ratio, the peak power of those engines was around 45HP. The Rédélé’s team was at this point facing an interesting problem: the original 3-speed gearbox from the 4CV wasn’t enough to handle all the power and torque of the new engines; the solution came when Rédélé and his race partner Louis Pons (also a Renault dealership owner) prepared his cars with a five-speed gearbox licensed from André-Georges Claude.
Now the little machine was ready to face even bigger opponents. Jean Rédélé won the first edition of the Dieppe Rally and after that his team started to collect good results all over Europe, not only in rallies but also in endurance races as well.
The team came to the point where there wasn’t much left to modify on the 4CV to make it faster, they came to the conclusion the only thing that was holding up the car’s performance was the car itself.
The 4CV had the typical design of the European cars from the 50s, tinny but “bulky”, not exactly the kind of car you would expect to see on a race track. It was light but of course it could be even lighter and definitely more aerodynamic.
The Beginning of Alpine.
What Rédélé needed was a sports-car and since Renault had nothing like that in his catalog at the time, he went to the right people looking for help: the Italians. He got a deal with the emerging stylist Giovanni Michelotti and from this endeavor was born the Renault Spéciale.
The aluminum body was built by coachbuilder Allemano, in Turin, Italy and the cars were put together by Rédélé’s team in Dieppe. The car’s debut was at the 1953 Dieppe Rally and it score a overall win, leaving behind the more powerful Porsches and Jaguars.
Renault was overseeing the production of the Spéciale to the public but they just couldn’t keep up with the demand.
During the 50s, America was in love with the European Sports-Cars and Renault tried to cash in. They realized it would be too costly to import the whole car, so they came up with this idea: to produce the body in fiberglass in the USA and bring only the chassis and power-train from France. They even renamed the car “Marquis” to be more appealing to the English speaker customers. Above is a piece of advertisement giving emphasis on the three major victories of the car in 53/54: Dieppe Rally, Rouen Cup, and Lisbon Circuit. Unfortunately the enterprise never went further than the advertisement and not a single Marquis was produced in North America.
In 1954, Rédélé was once again at the wheel of a Renault 4CV and he won the Mille Miglia and the Critérium des Alpes. He had a special predilection for competing in the Alps and that passion would play a big role in the future when he had to choose a name for his new car.
Also in 1954 Rédélé’s father-in-law Charles Escoffier, another Renault dealer (yes, it was just like a big family), had commissioned his own sports coupe based on the 4CV. The body, this time in fiberglass, was the work of French coachbuilder Chappe et Gessalin.
The original Michelloti’s design was way more beautiful and refined but the new one was cheaper and had the patriotic factor that it was a creation of a French company. On top of that there was family pressure. Finally, Rédélé gave up and on July 6, 1955, he formalized a partnership with his father-in-law and the “Societé des Automobiles Alpine” was born. He didn’t choose the body design but at least he chose the name.
To prove the intentions of this new company were serious, the very first three A106 produced were sent to the courtyard of Renault’s Boulogne Billancourt headquarters. The cars were painted in the colors of the French flag, the CEOs were pleased with the display and also impressed with the quality of the cars. The big bosses gave Rédélé green light to start the production of the A106.
The most desired A106 was the coach “Mile Miles”, the car was equipped with a stronger suspension (4 shocks in the rear), competition engine and 5-speed gearbox. The “5 speed” A106 was not a very popular choice since the gearbox alone cost as much as a brand new 4CV.
In 1956 Renault had released the successor of the 4CV, the Dauphine. As expected the new car was a huge improvement compared with the 4CV, it has better brakes, better handling, the 760cc engine was replaced by an 830cc with an improved cooling system. Renault kept the same concept of rear-engine/rear-wheel drive of the 4CV, but the new car was structurally stronger.
Suddenly, Alpine had a better platform for its coupes and naturally, that was the perfect time for an update on the A106. The project for the new car sparked a little battle of egos between the top CEOs: Rédélé wanted to bring “Michelloti” back to the drawing table, his father-in-law wanted to keep “Chappe et Gessalin” working for Alpine and the top guys at Renault wanted to give the job to the “Studio Ghia” in Italy.
As the battle progressed, a few prototypes from all 3 coach-builders were produced, but in the end, Rédélé won the war and Michelotti had the opportunity to draw the new Alpine.
Michelotti’s first official prototype was a gorgeous cabriolet version and the car proved the Jean Rédélé’s choice was the best one.
The Ghia prototype wasn’t that bad either and the design eventually saw the production line, not as an Alpine but as the Renault Floride/Caravelle.
The new Alpine was named A108 and the production car was a bit different from the prototype, the front facia became more aerodynamic. The car lost a bit of its original elegance but gained an aura of “race ready” sports-car. The 108 was produced from 1958 to 1962 in France and from 1962 to 1967 in South America.
The A108 was offered in 3 different versions:
And the Fastback officially called “Berlinette”.
Throughout the A108 life, the Berlinette was the most popular version, not only among regular customers but especially among the race teams.
The Renault Dauphine was a huge success, between 1956 and 1967, more than 2 million units were sold. The car was produced all over Europe, Central America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania; it was a global car even before the term was created, but the brand Alpine wasn’t as easy to sell: the car was expensive and not practical for a family, just like any other sports car in the World. The A108 was exported to all over Europe but just a few landed in North America since we aren’t actually very fond of French cars, but there was another market that was waiting for a European sports car: South America.
Both models, the Dauphine and the A108 were produced in Brazil from 1962 to 1967 through a very unusual partnership with the American automaker Willys Overland.
The Dauphine was renamed Willys “Gordini”, a name deeply related to Renault as we will see later on.
The A108 was renamed: Willys “Interlagos”, to honor the most famous race track in South America.
The Interlagos had a very successful racing career in Brazil, especially the ones that competed for the official Willys race team. The cars were painted in a very patriotic yellow and green livery, the same colors of the Brazilian flag.
The A108/ Interlagos was powered by the 830cc, 4 cylinder Renault engine called “Ventoux”, attached to a really good 4-speed transmission. The engine was capable to produce 40hp for the street version, it might not sound much nowadays but was pretty impressive at the time, just to give an idea, at that time, the Germans only got 36hp out of the 1200cc Beetle engine. But the little “Ventoux” has some serious limitations and the worst of them was the crankshaft was supported by only 3 main bearings, which means the engine is prone to failure under severe abuse.
The little French car could go from 0 to 100 km/h in 26 seconds and reach the max. speed of 160 km/h. The real trick here wasn’t much the power but lightweight, the A108 weighs only 575 kg.
In 1962 Renault unveiled the Dauphine’s substitute: the R8. The car would be the last one built on the concept of rear-engine/rear wheel by the French automaker. The R8 was equipped with a completely new 1100cc engine with 60 hp output and the crankshaft now sits on 5 main bearings. This new engine, called “Cléon-Fonte”, proved to be tough as nail, being able to withstand some severe punishment.
The R8 also brought some innovations to the market, it was the first car in Europe to offer a full sealed coolant system, and for a car intended to the economy class, the customers had some interesting options like 4 wheels disc brakes and automatic transmission.
Alpine had now some really good equipment to create a killer substitute for the A108.
In 1961 the Alpine A110 prototype was already done. Jean Rédélé tried to keep as much as possible of the original A108 design for the new car.
Besides the addition of fog lamps, the other visible difference with the A108 was restyled rear bodywork. Done to accommodate the A110’s larger engine.
The new 1100cc engine wasn’t only larger in displacement, it was larger in its dimensions too. The engine block is really robust, with thick walls between the cylinders. It seems Renault had one thing in mind when designed this engine: to make race teams able to machine the block to increase displacement, and that was good news to one guy in special: Amédée Gordini.
Gordini was an Italian born race-driver/engine-technician that worked as a mechanic for Maserati in the early 1920s. In 1926 he moved to Paris where he proved to be a more talented mechanic than race-driver. He worked tunning race engines for the French FIAT and SIMCA and became so good that the teams called him the “Wizard”.
But only when Gordini was working for Renaut that he reached the peak of his career. His team was responsible to prepare specially tuned street engines for the A106, A108 and A110 and also race engines for both brands, Renault and Alpine.
Gordini became the performance brand for Renault, something like what AMG does for Mercedes-Benz.
The “Wizard” didn’t waste time when he received the new 1100cc R8 engine, quickly he increased the displacement to 1300cc and with a few more tricks the engine was pumping out 120 hp, more than enough to push the A110 to a top speed of 190 Km/h and from 0 to 100 Km/h in less than 12 secs. Rédélé and Gordini had one target for all this firepower: Porsche; the Alpine A110 was capable to leave a Porsche 356 eating dust on any given day.
The A110 excellent performance became well known at the race tracks around the world but was at rally racing the car proved to be a real warrior.
The engines didn’t stop getting bigger, from 1300cc they grew to 1500cc, 1600cc and 1800cc. The 1800cc Gordini engines were able to produce 220 hp.
The A110 started to collect local rally victories all over Europe, and Alpine won the World Rally Manufacturer Championship in 1971 and 1973. Alpine was the last “production” car to win the WRC. In 1974 Lancia won the Championship with the mid-engine Stratos which was the first car designed specifically for rally racing.
Alpine kept the production of the A110 until 1977 with few changes from the original. The car was also produced in Mexico, Bulgaria, Spain. In total 1,782 A110 were sold all over the world.
Since 1971 Alpine was producing the A310, the car supposed to carry on the heritage of its predecessors. From 1971 to 1976 it was equipped with the same 1800cc four-cylinder engine of the A110. Being larger, heavier, and no more powerful than its predecessor, the A310 was generally considered underpowered and the customers showed little interest in the car.
In 1977 a new A310 model hit the showrooms across Europe, equipped with 150 hp, 2.9-liter V6 engine. The performance improved and so did the sales but still wasn’t enough to recreate the magic of the A110.
In 1984, the last year of production, only 500 A310 were sold across Europe while Porsche sold 1,600 units of the 911 model.
The oil crisis of the 1970s made a number of victims and Alpine almost became one of them, in order to save the brand, Renault acquired 70% of the company in 1973.
The new owner immediately dissolved the Alpine’s competition department which was one of the financial wounds of the company. Racing would no longer be a priority for the future Alpine cars.
But the lessons learned by Renault during decades of competition resulted in the powerhouse Formula 1 team that we know now today.
Renault tried to keep the Alpine name alive as much as possible and some models like the 1990s GTA, equipped with a twin-turbo V6 was actually a decent sports car but it failed to bring back the customers. By 1995 the name Alpine vanished from the market.
At the 2017 Geneva Auto Show, Renault presented to the world a modern interpretation of the legendary A110.
The new Alpine is a gorgeous sports coupé with the right combination of modern design and styling cues from the original Michelotti’s masterpiece.
Following the Jean Rédélé’s recipe for speed, the new Alpine weighs only 1,100 kg, thanks to a platform and body made of aluminum.
As expected, Renault abandoned the rear-engine layout of the original A108/A110 for the mid-engine concept instead, drastically improving the car’s driving dynamic. The new A110 is powered by a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 250 horses and 236 lb-ft of torque, the little French coupe will zip from 0-100 Km/h in just 4.5 seconds. The engine is attached to a 7-speed dual-clutch, pedal-shift transmission.
Renault is wisely using competition once again to boost sales, in 2018 the company released the track version GT4, powered by a specially tuned 1800cc turbo engine pumping out 300 hp.
Reviving the long-dormant brand was a gamble for Renault in an era of declining sports-car sales, but the retro-styled A110 has proved to be a hit since being unveiled in March 2017.
This demand has created a backlog stretching 14 months, in response Alpine has increased the production from 15 to 20 cars a day and they are ready to create another shift at the Dieppe assembly line if the high demand continues.
Renault has done a terrific job bringing the Alpine brand back. The new A110 lives up to the original models, it has the style, the personality, and the performance to carry on the Alpine heritage to the next generation of customers.
What makes motorsport so fascinating is the combination of the incredible talent of the man and the power of the machine, but since a machine will perform as well as it was designed for, it is the human talent that will prevail at the end. We can easily spend hours, even days passionately discussing who was the greatest racer of all time; on 4 wheels we would be talking about Hamilton, Schumacher, Senna, Fangio and a few others. On 2 wheels we would be talking about two guys only, Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini and nobody else. In this post, I will try to show you why Hailwood is considered one of the greatest motorcycle racers in History.
Stanley Micheal Bailey Hailwood, born in April 2nd, 1940 in England; to the world of motorsport he was Mike Hailwood, to his fans he was simply Mike “The Bike”.
His resume is nothing short of amazing: 9 World Championships, 76 Grand Prix wins and 14 Isle of Man victories. These numbers are the unquestionable proof of his talent but they don’t tell the story of the man.
Mike had the perfect environment to become a “bike fanatic”, his father was a motorcycle racer before World War II and later became a successful motorcycle dealer. As one could imagine Mike learned to ride at a very young age on minibikes, in a field near his home. Mike’s first paid job came when his father sent him to work at Triumph motorcycles.
He started his career as soon as he was old enough to compete, he first raced on 22 April 1957, at Oulton Park when he was barely 17, he finished in 11th place. In 1958 he won ACU Stars at 125 cc, 250 cc, and 350 cc classes, earning him the Pinhard Prize, an honor awarded to talented motorcyclists under the age of 21.
In 1961 Mike won his first World Champion in the 250cc, riding a bike from an Asian brand that still had a long way to became popular in Western Hemisphere: Honda. For the next 6 years, he completely dominated the Motorcycle GP, racing for either Honda or the Italian brand MV Agusta.
1961: 250cc – Honda
1962: 500cc – MV Agusta
1963: 500cc – MV Agusta
1964: 500cc – MV Agusta
1965: 500cc – MV Agusta
1966: 250cc, 350cc – Honda
1967: 250cc, 350cc – Honda
It was also during the 60s Mike Hailwood forged a huge rivalry with another fantastic biker, the Italian racer Giacomo Agostini, also know as “Ago”.
Giacomo still holds the record of 7 consecutive World Championship on 500cc and 14 total World Titles in moto GP, but it is at the “Isle of Man TT” event that Mike jumps ahead.
Isle of Man TT
Before we move forward, let us try to understand the mystique about this event, just like the sports car universe has the “24 Hours of Le Mans” and Formula Indy has “Indianapolis”; motorcycle GP had the “Isle of Man”.
The Isle of Man is a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland. The races are held annually since 1907, usually in May/June. A series of narrow public roads are used as “race track”. Since 1911 the Isle of Man TT was transferred to the Snaefell Mountain Course with 37.40 miles (60.19 km) (current length 37.73 miles (60.72 km)). The “TT” stands for “Tourist Trophy” and it follows the “time trial” competition where the bikers run against the clock, leaving the starting line one by one or two by two. If other traditional races in motorsport are well known for endurance and glamour, Isle of Man is considered the scariest race on earth.
The narrow roads of Snaefell Course were not, by any means, designed to be used as a race track. The turns have no run-off area, in fact, some of the turns are surrounded by stone walls. There is no room for mistakes, but mistakes happen and the numbers of racers killed since the event was created is astonishing: Between 1907 and 2019 there have been 151 fatalities during official practices or races on the Snaefell Mountain Course, and 260 total fatalities (this number includes the riders killed during the Manx Grand Prix, and Clubman TT race series of the late 1940s/1950s). In 2016, 5 riders died on the course during official practices or races, bringing the total number of fatalities to 252.
Thanks to the immense popularity of the event, The Isle of Man TT became the official British round for the Moto GP Championship in 1949. The extreme challenge of the race gave this death-defying aura to the event and quickly the “TT” became one of the most anticipated race of the Championship calendar. By the late 60s, Isle of Man TT was at its peak and so was the rivalry between Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini and the 1967 edition of the “TT” became the most emblematic battle between the two bikers. By this time Honda had established a good reputation on the lower classes, 250cc and 350cc, but in the “Big Dog” league, the 500cc, MV Agusta was the dominant brand. Mike and Ago used to be team mates for MV but Honda made an offer to the Englishman that was impossible to refuse and now he was riding for Honda in all 3 categories. His machine was the RC-181, powered by a four-cylinder, four-stroke engine capable to deliver 85 horsepower. Ago was riding the MV Agusta model “Three”, with a brand new three-cylinder, four-stroker power plant producing 78 horsepower. The Italian bike was less powerful but it was bulletproof, unbreakable, Honda on the other hand was a real rocket but unreliable. (What? An Italian bike more reliable than a Japanese one? How things have changed!)
As soon as Ago hit the track, he broke Hailwood’s record on the first lap at a speed of 108.38 mph (174.42 km/h). Hailwood responded with a second record lap at 108.77 mph (175.05 km/h) but Agostini still led by 8.6 seconds. After the first six-lap race, Hailwood had cut Agostini’s lead to a couple of seconds, but he then lost time at the pits fixing his bike. Agostini’s lead was back up to 11.6 seconds. The two bikers kept the fight going on at every single lap and the riders appeared close to a dead heat, with the closest of finishes appearing likely.
Then disaster struck Agostini on the mountain section when his chain broke at the Windy Corner. He was able to roll his bike back to the pits, but he was disqualified for taking a short cut. In the heat of the moment, Agostini threw his helmet to the ground. Hailwood went on to win at a record lap of 109.77 mph. His record stood for eight years and was only beaten in 1975 by Mick Grant. Hailwood’s original Honda RC181 is owned by the Hailwood Trust and occasionally ridden at public events by his son David.
The 1967 event is considered the most exciting “TT” ever, when the two most talented bikers in History fought each other at every inch of the course, but the future of the Trophy was uncertain at this point. As the years go by, the race bikes were becoming faster and faster and naturally, more and more dangerous to ride them at the Isle of Man course. There were six fatalities among racers in the 1970 event alone, making it the deadliest year in the history of the “TT”. In 1972, Agostini announced he would never race again at the Isle of Man, declaring it too dangerous for international competition. He declared it is outrageous that such a race should ever be part of the Moto GP calendar and professional riders were forced into it. Soon more bikers joined him at the boycott and not only them but also the government and even the church were asking for a complete ban of the races in Isle of the Man.
Even under great pressure, the organizers took another 4 years before removing the official status of the “TT” and transferring the British Moto GP to Silverstone in 1977.
The car racing years
Mike Hailwood also pursued a career as Formula One driver but in the beginning, it was more like a side job. His debut in Formula One was in 1963 driving for Reg Parnell’s privateer team. In his first Formula One race, Hailwood finished eighth in a Lotus 24-Climax at Silverstone. The following year, Hailwood finished sixth in the Monaco Grand Prix, driving the team’s Lotus 25-BRM.
In 1968, Honda had decided to withdraw from motorcycle racing for a while, but they wanted to keep Mike as their exclusive rider for an eventual return. Honda paid Hailwood £50,000 to keep him at home, not to compete in any motorcycle series. Mike saw this as the perfect opportunity to go full throttle on 4 wheels.
When Ford crushed Ferrari at Le Mans for 4 consecutive years, Mike Hailwood was part of it; he finished third in 1969, driving one of the Gulf GT40, in partnership with David Hobbs.
In 1971 Mike was back to Formula One, driving for Surtees and in his first race, he finished fourth at Monza. The 71 season was disappointing because the Surtees cars had some reliability issues, but when things clicked he was up with the front runners and four of his five finishes were in the top six.
In 1972 Mike went to Formula Two and he won the European Title, which gave him some confidence to go back to Formula One, driving once again for Surtees in 1973.
Mike, just like many other fellow racers from this generation, came from a wealthy family and for a while, he lived his life as a “playboy”. He was a well-known party animal, rumors say he was the one who thought James Hunt how to party. But underneath this “bon-vivant” image there was a guy who was willing to risk his life to save a friend.
At the 1973 South African Grand Prix at Kyalami, Mike Hailwood was involved in a collision, on the second lap of the race; on the following lap, Clay Ragazzoni crashed his car onto Mike’s Surtees. Regazzoni was knocked unconscious and his BRM caught fire. Hailwood rushed to Regazzoni’s car and tried to pull him out only for his own clothing to be set alight. A race marshal tried to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher without much success while Hailwood runs away with his race suit in flames. As soon as Mike extinguished the fire on his suit he rushed back to a second attempt to rescue his friend whose car remained engulfed in flames. This time he managed to pull the Regazzoni out.
Hailwood’s actions saved Regazzoni’s life and for his heroic act, he received the George Medal from the British Crown, the second-highest civil award for bravery in face of danger.
In 1974 Hailwood joined The Yardley – Mclaren team and had a very good season start with three top-five finishes, including his best result ever, third in South Africa, and fourth at the Dutch Grand Prix, but it didn’t take long for him to run out of luck, he was in the fifth position at Nürburgring when he crashed, sustaining serious leg injuries which eventually forced him to retire from competition.
Mike and his family moved to New Zealand where he started a boat business and for a while, they lived a quiet life, but behind the scene, “The Bike” was planing his comeback to the race track.
The Return of the King
Hailwood had everything set for his comeback in 1978, and naturally, he chose the Isle of Man for his stage. But at this time all the odds were against him, the last time he competed professionally was 11 years ago and now everything has changed, the bikes were completely different, engine, brakes, tires, everything was new for him. On top of that he, at 38, was considered an old man for the sport and he was even out of shape, had cultivated a little “potbelly” that made riding not so comfortable.
By 1978, his former team, Honda, was the dominant brand at the competitions, followed by the other Japanese brands, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki, but none of the big players were willing to sponsor Hailwood. What he got was a “non-official” Ducati 900 SS, provided and prepared by a provincial motorcycle dealer, Sports Motorcycles of Manchester, which was owned by Steve Wynne. Everybody knew Mike had no chance of victory, going against the mighty works Hondas ridden by Phil Read and John Williams. Some friends and family were fearing for his life and some other friends believed Mike was, actually, not going all out for the victory; in their minds, he just wanted to be part of the TT one more time. But Hailwood wasn’t the kind of guy who would wear the helmet just for the fun of it.
From the very beginning of the race, “The Bike” set an insane pace, not giving the smallest chance for the other Bikers. The only time he did not lead the race was on lap one at Ballacraine, where he trailed Tom Herron by five seconds.
Trying to keep up with Mike, Phil Read pushed his bike beyond the limit and he was forced to retire. Williams on the second Honda completed the race in second but his machine was literally falling apart, he almost lost the fuel tank of his Honda. Hailwood finished 1 min 59.4 seconds ahead of Williams. At the end his Ducati was also at the edge of break down, according to the mechanics, the transmission chain was so stretched it wouldn’t last another lap. He scored an average speed of 108.51mph, a new race record and also set a new lap record of 110.62mph. He had done the impossible. There were a lot of grown men crying when Mike’s name was announced as the winner. Mike himself broke down in tears when he pulled over at the end.
In 1979, Mike came one last time to the Isle of Man, winning the Senior class on a Suzuki RG500. With the same bike he fought really hard with Alex George who was riding a Honda twice as big (1100cc), they swapped the lead for all six laps but in the end, Mike lost it by two seconds in another epic TT battle. Then he truly did retire, leaving the scene as the biggest rider of all time. He went to the small English town of Tanworth-in-Arden, with his wife and two young children.
For me, Mike “The Bike” was no stranger, I knew about some of his achievements but obviously not that much. As I researched and wrote about him, my admiration grew considerably. As a result, it became very hard to write this final part about Mike Hailwood’s death. I really wish the guy was still here with us, enjoying his retirement with his family.
On the evening of March 23, 1981, Mike left his house with his two kids, to pick up dinner, an order of fish and chips. Before reaching the destination a truck made an illegal U-turn and crashed head-on with Mike’s Rover. Michelle, aged nine, was killed instantly. Mike and David were taken to hospital, where Mike died two days later from severe internal injuries. He was 40 years old. David survived with minor injuries. The truck driver was fined £100. During his funeral, three of his closest friends helped to carry the coffin: James Hunt, Giacomo Agostini, and John Surtees.
Motor Sport magazine wrote, “He was and always will be the greatest motorcycle racer of all time. You cannot destroy a personality like Mike Hailwood by simply killing him. Hailwood finished his career with 76 Grand Prix victories, 112 Grand Prix podiums, 14 Isle of Man TT wins and 9 World Championships, including 37 Grand Prix wins, 48 Grand Prix podiums, 6 Isle of Man TT wins and 4 World Championships in 500cc.
The Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme named him a Grand Prix Legend in 2000. He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2000 and the International Motorsport Hall of Fame in 2001.
In 1981, part of the TT course was named Hailwood’s Height in his honor.
After Hailwood’s victory at the 1978 Isle of Man, Ducati offered a 900 SS-based Mike Hailwood Replica. Approximately 7,000 were sold.
PS: As I write this final words, the Australian actor/producer Eric Bana is working on a movie about Mike’s epic return to the Isle of Man in 1978, Eric will write, co-direct and star this movie. I can hardly wait for it; It has got to be good since Eric Bana himself is a bike rider and a fanatic gearhead.
The year was 1984, I was coming back home from downtown by bus and on my hands I had something very important, well, it was very important to me anyway, it was the latest issue of the most popular auto magazine in Brazil: “Quatro Rodas” (Four Wheels). As a centerfold of that magazine there was an application for the 1985 edition of the Camel Trophy, the biggest off-road event on the planet.
Obviously I put my name on that form and sent it out by mail, even if I have no chances whatsoever to be chosen. I was just a teenager with no drivers license going against thousands of skilled adventure seekers; all I wanted was, to somehow, be part of it.
1985 was a special year for us, for the first time a Brazilian team was invited to participate, even if the Camel Trophy has deep roots in Brazil from the very beginning.
The event was born as a piece of publicity for the cigarette brand Camel. The tobacco companies around the world came to the conclusion, during the 1970s, their product was losing its appeal to the younger generation. Just like any other tobacco company, R.J. Reynolds, the owner of Camel, was desperately looking for something that could bring the young buyers back.
The marketing department of Camel in Germany decided to once again take advantage of the traditional link between smoke/booze and motorsport and they came up with this idea of an Off-Road adventure, in some forgotten corner of the world, where man and machine would overcome all the challenges of the inhospitable terrain.
The first Trophy happened in Brazil, six selected Camel customers were sent to the Amazon Jungle and there they were divided in 3 teams, a driver and a navigator, the task was to cover 1600 Km through the jungle driving on the “Transamazônica” Hwy. To keep the costs as low as possible, the vehicle should be supplied locally, the problem was: at that time, the Brazilian auto market didn’t have access to import cars and the only reasonable off-road vehicle was the “classic” Jeep CJ, produced in Brazil by Ford. The car was equipped with the well known 2.3 liters 4 cylinder Ford engine. The CJs were painted in “Sand Yellow” with the “Camel Trophy” stickers applied on doors and hoods, a very simple livery that became as iconic as any other in motorsport.
At some point of the journey one of the Jeeps caught on fire, the team had one “Jerry can” full of gas strapped on the hood and somehow it leaked and the gas poured on top of the engine, igniting the flames, thankfully nobody got hurt. Besides the accident, the event was a success, the teams performed well and so did the CJs. The Camel Trophy made the headlines in Germany and R.J. Reynolds CEOs were happy.
For the next year, the “Trophy” adopted the off-road vehicle that became synonymous of the event and after a while, it completely overshadowed the “Camel” name brand: “Land Rover”. In 1981, 10 Germans were sent to Sumatra and the chosen vehicle was the V8 powered Range Rover.
At this time the Camel Trophy made headlines not only in Germany but all over the world. The R.J. Reynolds CEOs at the American Headquarters noticed the publicity and they saw the event as a wonderful opportunity to make the brand known worldwide.
Thousands of applications poured in for the next adventure and now there were 4 countries participating with 2 teams each: Holland, Germany, Italy and the United States. Thanks to the excellent performance of the V8 Range Rovers in Sumatra the Camel Trophy didn’t see the need to try other models. In the end, the Italians won the 1982 edition.
As the Camel Trophy was getting bigger and more famous after each edition, the challenges of the adventure grew larger as well, now the teams had to face stretches of thejungle where the path was definitely not intended for motor cars and some stretches had no open path at all. The competitors had not only to fight many horrors of the “road” but also clouds of mosquitos, poisonous snakes, alligators, sleep deprivation, and less than great food.
After 1980, the candidates were selected not only by their resumes but they have to face a week of tests in a “boot camp” were the final members of the teams were chosen.
In the 1980s, the average duration of each event was around 2 weeks to cover 1500Km and it followed the rules of the “regularity rally”, also called time-speed-distance or TSD rally, which is a type of motorsport rally with the object of driving each segment of a Course in a specified time at a specified average speed.
Despite the event being a “competition”, there was a huge sense of camaraderie between the teams, no man, or Rover should be left behind.
In 1985 The Camel Trophy had 16 teams classified for the event, with 3 rookies countries: Japan, Brazil and Canary Islands. The teams were sent to Borneo to face the hardest Trophy to date.
At some point of the trip, the complete convoy of Land Rover Ninetys became marooned on a low rise within the flooded forest ahead, without any chance of moving forward, the teams had to be airlifted using an old Sikorsky helicopter from the local government.
In 1985 we saw the introduction of the “Team Spirit Award”, presented to the team who embraced the most the fellowship and camaraderie of the event. The first Team Spirit prize was awarded to the likeable Brazilian team of Carlos Probst and Tito Rosenberg.
In 1989 the Trophy was once again back in Brazil and more than one million would-be explorers around the world applied for the adventure. In terms of advertising both companies, Camel and Land Rover, have achieved beyond their goals and for the adventure junkies around the globe, the Camel Trophy motto: “One life, live it” would be forever remembered.
The camel Trophy also helped to bring countries together, the 1990 event was held in Siberia and the Soviet government was strongly committed to cooperate. The Air Force sent 4 massive Antonov cargo planes to airlift 34 land Rovers (23 competitors and 11 support cars) plus all the spare parts, tools and clothing from England to Russia.
During its 20 years, the Camel Trophy went to all corners of the planet, South America, Asia, Africa and since most of the visited countries were (and still are) poor, the organization didn’t forget the social part; R.J. Reynolds and Land Rover in association with many ONGs brought to the local communities food, supplies, medical assistance. They helped either building or repairing schools, bridges, and roads. In Africa, many Land Rovers were given away to National Parks.
Land Rover had the opportunity to test every product in its line-up during those years. It was only on the last event, in 2000 that another brand was allowed to participate.
Toward the end of the 1990s, the event started to focus more on some parallels activities like mountain biking, climbing, and canoeing, putting aside the old school off-road exploring and slowly the popular interest for the event started to fade.
The 2000 edition of the Camel Trophy was the last one and it diverted completely from the original mold, the traditional alliance with Land Rover was broken and Honda supplied 20 CRVs for the event, and even more strange was the fact the cars were no longer the main vehicles, but boats. The idea was to explore a few islands in the Pacific Ocean, between Vavu’a in Northern Tonga and finishing at Malolo Lailai in Fiji, covering some 1,000 nautical miles. In terms of adventure, the 2000 edition was amazing, but for the traditional “gearheads” the Camel Trophy had lost its magic.
One of the main factors that contributed to the end of the Camel Trophy was that sports teams and events sponsored by “controversial” products like alcohol and tobacco came under severe criticism at the time.
In 2004 Land Rover tried to revive the old Camel trophy vibe with the G4 Challenge. This new adventure followed the same core as the “Trophy” but the length of each event was way longer, crossing different countries on different continents, over the course of a month. In order to detach the G4 from the Camel Trophy, the cars were painted in bright orange. Land Rover canceled the program in 2008, victim of the global financial crisis.
The Casual Hero
Back in the 80s surf became a fever in Brazil, after all, the country has 7500 Km of coastline and Tito Rosenberg as a surfer and photographer was a familiar face on the pages of the surf magazines. By the time when he was chosen to part of the Brazilian team to the 1985 edition of the Camel Trophy, he had already traveled around the world in search of the perfect wave and the perfect photo.
Tito came back home not only with the honor of being part of the first Brazilian team at the Trophy but he and Probst won the “Team Spirit Award”. I immediately eleveted him to the same level of my other heroes, like Emerson Fittipaldi and Nelson Piquet. The Camel Trophy was never meant for the professional race/rally drivers, it was an amazing event meant for the amateurs and Tito epitomized the image of the typical Trophy contender: an easy going, adventure seeker, always ready to help you.
He wrote a book about his 1985 adventure in Borneo.
In this final chapter, we will take a look at another traditional British sports car company that changed Formula One in many different ways.
The company was founded by engineers Colin Chapman and Colin Dare, both graduates of University College, in London, 1952, but had earlier start in 1948 when Chapman built his first racing car in his garage.
Lotus was born during a time when the popularity of British sports cars was at its peak. In the beginning, the company focused on producing race cars for private teams and drivers.
The original factory was situated in old stables behind the Railway Hotel in Hornsey, North London. In 1959, the Lotus Race Team split from the main company, this way the priorities of the competition department wouldn’t get mixed up with the growing production of road cars.
Back in the mid-1950s, the most promising Lotus was the “Eleven”, the car was super light, only 450Kg and equipped with a Coventry- Climax 1.1 liter 4 cylinder engine, producing 140 HP. This combination gave the car a top speed of 230Km/h, a pretty respectful performance back then.
The car enjoyed some success on the race tracks around Europe, in 1957, the Lotus Eleven won the performance index in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, proving true Colin Chapman’s words: “light is right”.
The cars that came as successors of the Eleven, the “Teen Series” : the 17 and the 19, also had a relatively successful careers on race tracks.
If Lotus had a less than brilliant career in the Sports Car arena, it was in Formula One that Colin Chapman could show how talented he was as a race car builder.
By the end of the 1950s, the 4 cylinder Coventry-Climax engines had grown to 2.2 liters and were powerful enough to challenge the other brands at the Grand Prix arena.
The Lotus debut in F1 was in Monte Carlo, 1958, Chapman brought an all British team to Monaco: two model 12, one for Graham Hill and the other for Cliff Allison. In the end, Allison finished in 13st and Hill on 15st.
In 1960, Colin Chapman created the car that became the turning point for the company: The Model 18, it was the company’s first mid-engined Lotus and it was a great evolution from the front engine cars, besides the obvious better handling, the model had a much improved front and rear suspensions and the capacity to handle more powerful engine, since the Coventry-Climax reached 2.5 litters and 250 HP.
The first F1 victory for Team Lotus came on April 8, 1960 when a Lotus 18 driven by Innes Ireland won in non-championship Glover Trophy. Its first World Championship GP win happened six weeks later, on 29 May, Sterling Moss dominated the 1960 Monte Carlo GP, driving for Rob Walker’s private race team. Walker had leased a Lotus 18 from Colin Chapman for the season. Moss also won the USA GP at the end of the season helping Lotus finish second in the constructors’ championship.
The Lotus 18 became the standard design for Formula 1 cars and was copied by numerous race car makers. According to Chapman’s own words: “The Lotus 18 is my real Formula 1 car, the front engines I built before were just rubbish “.
The Lotus 18 is also credit as the car in which Jim Clark took his first-ever single-seater victory. The scene of the victory was Brands Hatch on August 1960.
The cars that came as the evolution of the “18” were equally successful on the race tracks. In 1963 Jim Clark scored 7 wins during the season and won his first World Championship, driving the Lotus 25.
The 1964 title was undecided to the last race in Mexico but problems with Clark’s Lotus gave it to Surtees in his Ferrari.
In 1965, Clark dominated again, winning six races driving the Lotus 33 and claiming his second world title.
In 1967 Lotus adopted the engine that would become the most successful in Formula One history: The Ford Cosworth V8.
The model 49 was basically constructed around the Ford engine and while 1967 season was spent developing the car, in 1968 Graham Hill won the driver’s World Championship as well as the constructor title for Lotus. That season was the last time Lotus were painted in Moss Green; for the most part of the year the cars received the livery of the new sponsor: “Gold Leaf” tobacco company.
The Lotus dominance in the 60s came with a terrible cost, the Chapman’s lightweight mantra resulted in cars with serious structural flaws. The number of top drivers injured or killed in Lotus cars was considerable – notably Stirling Moss, Alan Stacey, Mike Taylor, Jim Clark, Mike Spence, Bobby Marshman, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, and Ronnie Peterson.
In Dave Friedman’s book “Indianapolis Memories 1961–1969”, Dan Gurney is quoted as saying, “Did I think the Lotus way of doing things was good? No. We had several structural failures in those cars [Indianapolis Lotus 34 and 38]. But at the time, I felt it was the price you paid for getting something significantly better.”
The amazing performance of the Lotus Formula One cars continued throughout the 1970s, the team won the constructor World Championship in 1970, 1972, 1973 and 1978, always wearing the famous black and gold livery of the sponsor “John Player Special”.
The Team Lotus never won a Championship again after 1978 end its operations were officially terminated in 1994. There were several attempts to bring the brand back to life in Formula One but none of them were successful.
In this chapter, I will talk about another British brand that wore the traditional Green on their cars: Aston Martin.
The company was founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, and their very first car was produced in 1915 in the newly acquired facility in Kensington District, London. Aston Martin debuted in motorsport at the 1922 French Grand Prix.
The team raced the TT2, a car equipped with a “state of the art” 1.5 liter, twin-cam 16 valves engine.
Aston Martin was basically born in financial trouble and the company changed ownership several times. Fortunately, all the different owners always had one thing in common, they believed racing was the best advertisement to boost sales. The brand became a traditional sight on the race tracks around Europe, either as an official race team or in the hands of private drivers.
In 1947 the industrialist David Brown acquired Aston Martin and during his ownership, the company created a series of coupes that became its trademark: The “DB”.
In 1952 Aston Martin debuted in Le Mans, with a purpose-built sports car, the DB 3S. The car didn’t win but had shown very good potential in other races of the season. The was equipped with a “Lagonda” in-line 6 engine with 205 HP.
The victory at Le Mans finally came in 1959, when the seasoned Aston Martin Team outperformed its major competitors, Ferrari, Jaguar, and Porsche, finishing the race with a 1-2 win.
The winner car was the Aston Martin DBR1/300, equipped with the traditional in-line 6 engine capable to deliver 250 HP.
In the end, the number 5 Aston driven by Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori crossed the finish line in first, followed by Aston number 6 driven by Maurice Trintignant and Paul Frère, 25 laps behind the 2 Astons came the third car to finish the race, a Ferrari 250 GT from the Belgium official team. Besides all the difficulties faced by the drivers, Shelby had to deal with dysentery for the whole weekend and he had even driven with a nitroglycerine capsule under his tongue in case he had heart problems (which he omitted from telling his team). Salvadori, who was also ill with flu, drove for 14 hours but the privilege to receive the checkered flag went to Shelby.
In 1959 Aston Martin not only scored a victory at Le Mans but the team also won the World Sportscar Championship.
Fast forward to 1991, Ford Motor Comp. bought Aston Martin, and just like it did with Jaguar, the Americans reorganized the company and went full-throttle on the Racing Department.
In 2007 Aston Martin entered Le Mans with three gorgeous DB”R”-9, painted in green and with a big Union Jack on the fenders. The cars received the numbers “006”, “007” and “009”, very possibly to honor the most beloved secret agent from the silver screen, who made Aston Martin famous worldwide. No, it doesn’t get any more British than that.
In the end, the DB # 009 driven by D. Brabham, R. Rydell, and D. Turner won the GT1 class at Le Mans, 2007.
The DB”R”-9 were equipped with a 6.0 L, naturally aspirated V-12, capable to produce 625 HP.
2007 also was the last year of Ford’s ownership and to keep track of all the benefactors who took over the company over the years would be a rather tedious task. But most of them kept Aston Martin’s racing division busy.
It took another 10 years for the company to be victorious at Le Mans once again. In 2017 the team won the “GTE Pro” class in one of the most thrilling race in recent years. At 45 min to the end of the race, the Vantage number 97 driven by Jony Adam, pulled to the pit at the same time as the yellow Corvette number 63, from the official Chevrolet Team, for their final fuel stop, but he Corvette left the pits in front of the #97.
“We nearly got the jump on the Corvette at the stop, but we had to pull in behind it.” recalls Adam. “Then my engineer came on the radio and said: ‘to win Le Mans, you have to pass that Corvette.“
What followed was an epic battle for the first place, decided within the final 2 laps to the end when Jony Adam secured the victory for the British Team. The GTE Vantage was equipped with an all aluminum, 4.5 L V8 outputting 450 HP, a modified version of the 4.3 L V8 from the production car.
The racing tradition of Aston Martin is still going strong, as I am writing these last lines, the Rolex 24 at Daytona 2020 is at 41 minutes to the finish and even if the Aston Martin Team is having a less than great weekend, it is still a satisfaction to see the brand fighting among the most prestigious teams in the world.
But the cars are no longer green.
In the next chapter of this series, I will talk about Lotus Race Team during the time the cars wore green.
When the UK joined the Gordon Bennett Cup, all the most popular colors were already taken, even yellow was unavailable since it was given to Belgium. The only option on the table was green and the color actually fit perfectly since the UK was one of the leaders of the industrial revolution in the late 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s and olive green was already a trademark for British trains and farm tractors.
The Brits proved they were not fooling around, the first year they came to the Cup, in 1902, Selwin Edge drove the green Napier 6.5 liter to victory. Actually, the British car was the only one to survive the race, all others broke down along the way.
According to the rules, the winner nation should host the next year’s race and that means for the first time the Gordon Bennett Cup would happen outside France.
The only problem was England had banished car races and the team had to choose somewhere else in the UK.
Ireland was the chosen location for the 1903 edition of the cup and the Irish people couldn’t be more proud of it. Some historians say this race still holds the record of the biggest sports event in Ireland when more than 150.000 attended to see cars crossing the finish line. Even though the home team was beaten by the Germans, the 1903 Cup was considered a spectacular success, and to honor the hosts the British team decided to paint the cars on a darker shade of green, similar to the national Irish Emerald Green.
As time passed by, the UK became a superpower in motorsports and the unofficial “Home of the Formula 1”. Most of the teams that disputed the 2019 F1 season have their headquarters in England. Since the 1960s, every year dozens of young drivers flock to the old island hoping to climb all the way to the top of the sports pyramid. Pretty ironic for a country that had banished car races in the early 1900s.
Some of the most iconic British automakers, wearing the “Moss Green” on their cars, contributed to build this heritage.
These automakers, at some point, went through some serious financial turmoil and were forced to sell the brands to foreign companies. Fortunately, the new owners are trying as much as possible to keep the legacy alive and very often we can have the satisfaction of watching them competing on the most prestigious races around the World. Here I will try to talk about the achievements of four iconic British automakers.
The super luxurious brand was born in 1919, in Cricklewood, North London and it has been racing ever since.
The company’s founder, Walter Owen Bentley, attended Le Mans’s inaugural race in 1923 and he was very skeptical about the idea of endurance competition: “I think the whole thing’s crazy,” he declared. “Nobody will finish. Cars aren’t designed to stand that sort of strain for 24 hours.
Nevertheless, just a year later, Bentley had put together a fine race team that leads his car to the podium of the 1924 Le Mans edition. Bentley’s victory turned out to be an epic event considering that the automaker with 1 year in business had beaten the most traditional brands in the most traditional auto race.
The team would win Le Mans again in 1927, 1928, 1929, and 1930. The 1930 edition will always be remembered by the brutal battle against the 7 litter “Kompressor” Mercedes-Benz.
Jumping to modern times, in 1998 the Volkswagen Group acquired Bentley and it didn’t take long for them to push the brand back to the race tracks.
In 2003, Bentley was once again at Le Mans, with a 1-2 victory. The cars were painted in Moss Green and wearing the same numbers (7 and 8) as the original winners of 1924.
The new car was powered by a twin-turbo Audi V8 engine, producing 600 HP.
Jaguar is another fairly young British automaker, founded in 1922 in Whitley, Coventry, England and also has a solid tradition in motorsport.
Le Mans was and still is the natural target for any brand which wants to “win on Sunday and sell on Monday”. Race still is one of the most important in the world and consequently a fantastic showroom for the automakers. Jaguar won there for the first time in 1951 with the legendary XK-120C (“C” stands for competition), the car was equipped with a 3.4-liter twin-cam, straight 6 engine producing between 160 and 180 bhp and a more aerodynamic body than the regular production XK-120. In the early 1950s, the competitors were swiftly changing their car at Le Mans, from the modified touring models to a more purpose-built sports car.
Jaguar won Le Mans again in 1953 with a lighter version of the 1951 car and the team also broke the 100mph average speed barrier at the track. To make 1953 even more memorable, all four factory Jaguars finished the race.
The replacement for the XK-120c was nothing less than legendary, the “D Type” was Jaguar’s first car to use a monocoque body, it was lighter and more aerodynamic and obviously faster than the XK, even if it was powered by the same inline 6 engine.
The D Type won Le Mans in 1955, 1956 and 1957. It is well known the car was a superb piece of engineering but some facts outside the Jaguar’s reach may have contributed to those victories.
Le mans 1955
This year everything was all set to an epic battle between Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar but this race will be forever remembered by the most horrific crash in the History of motorsport. On lap 35 Mike Hawthorn pulled his Type D to the right and started to brake in order to get into the pit area, right behind him was the Austin-Healey driven by Lance Macklin who swerved avoiding the collision with Hawthorn’s Jaguar but this maneuver put the Austin on the path of the Mercedes-Benz driven by the Frenchman Levegh. With no time to react, Levegh rear-ended Macklin’s car at 200Km/h catapulting the Mercedes towards the crowd. The car flew over the fence and disintegrated when it hit the ground, throwing large pieces of debris into the packed spectator area killing 84 people plus the driver and injuring 180. The race’s director decided to keep it going despite the carnage. Later on, Mercedes-Benz’s team manager Alfred Neubauer decided to withdrawal the remaining cars from the race as a sign of respect for the victims, even if the team was leading the race at that point.
Mercedes-Benz’s chief engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut went to the Jaguar pits to ask the team to also call their cars in, Jaguar team manager, Lofty England, declined. With Mercedes out and all the Ferraris broke down, Jaguar easily won the race.
The Le Mans organization tried to explain the reason they decide to keep the race going on: They said if the event was finished, thousands of fans leaving the race track would have clogged the streets, making it impossible for the emergency vehicles to move around.
The tragedy also prompted Mercedes-Benz to completely retire from motorsport until 1989.
With the Germans out of the competition, Jaguar scored two more victories in Le Mans with the D Type, in 1956 and 1957.
Jaguar wouldn’t strike another series of victories again until 1987 when the Brazilian driver Raul Boesel won the Sports Car World Championship driving the V-12 powered XJR 8. That year Jaguar lost Le Mans to Porsche but they won 8 out of 10 races of the season, easily securing the constructor title as well.
Jaguar also won Le Mans in 1988 and 1990. This performance was a gigantic achievement considering the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. During this time Jaguar had to rely on money from sponsors and the cars could no longer wear green.
The Formula 1 years
In 1990 Ford Motor Comp. bought Jaguar and the company went through a major reorganization. In the late 1990s as part of its global marketing operations to promote the British brand, Ford decided to appeal to Jaguar’s rich racing heritage.
In 1999 the Jackie Stewart’s Formula 1 team, “Stewart Grand Prix” was bought and rebranded “Jaguar”. The name and the green color were back on a stunning livery but that was pretty much it, the car was powered by the Ford Cosworth V8 engine and there was not a bit of Jaguar engineering there.
After 4 disappointing seasons (2000 – 2004) Ford pulled the plug and the program was shut down.
E – Formula.
In 2008 Jaguar was sold to Tata Motors and once again the new owners are using racing as a way to promote sales. Since 2016 the brand has been consistently competing in the E – Formula and the green color is (kind of) back, in a pale, turquoise shade.
In the next part of this series, I will talk about two more British brands, Aston Martin and Lotus.