by Larry Roberts

January 02, 1999

It used to be said that an old race car only makes a good boat anchor, but that's not true anymore. "Vintage" racing machines, even those that were awkward, underpowered and relegated to the ranks of also-rans in past events, are being uncovered and lovingly restored by their new owners. And it's not only out of reverence for the past that these ancient warriors are being renovated. A "pedigreed" sports-racer that ran in the old SCCA Can Am series can bring mid-to-high six-figure prices if and when they're put on the market.

But not to be overlooked is the fact that there is a great grassroots ground-swell of interest in owning old-timers to race in contemporary low-pressure events. In almost all cases, the events are road races that emulate the events of yesteryear and offer the same sort of camaraderie and fun that sports car racing provided in the past. There are a great many types of ex-racer cars and their acquisition is only limited by the budget of the owner/driver/restorer:

PRODUCTION SPORTS CARS - Its becoming hard to find sports cars that were actually raced in the '50s to the '80s, but even cars of the era that never saw the starter's flag are welcomed with open arms by most of the vintage racing clubs if they're modified to "as-they-were" specifications. Cars like the MGA and MGB, Triumph TR-Series, Sunbeam Tiger and early Corvette can be found at fairly reasonable prices and "productionized" to provide fun and speed for the beginner.

SPORTS RACERS - An acquaintance owns a circa-60's Lotus Eleven that he has been racing for a while. Another member of his club has a near-twin and the two have been in friendly personal combat for years. This type of purpose-built racer (Jaguar C & D Type, Kurtis S 500, McLaren, etc) come in degrees of speed, sophistication and expense and although they're old, they still go very fast.

SPECIALS - In the early days of sports car racing, a large part of any pit area was made up of what were generally referred to as sports car "specials." Ostensibly built to be "streetable," they were most often built in a home garage by a group of friends and were usually assembled from the bits and pieces of a sedan or a wrecked production two-seater. No one can estimate how many flat-head Ford engines powered home-built specials back then but they're showing up in great numbers as the popularity of vintage racing increases.

FORMULA CARS - This is kind of a catch-all classification that covers all kinds of open-wheel racers from early Kurtis-built USAC midgets to thundering Formula One cars like the Ferrari 156/85 of 1985. A friend found an old Formula Vee single seater under a tree somewhere and although it took him several years to do the renovation, the car is just as fast and provides just as much fun as it did 30 years ago.

NASCAR LOOK-ALIKES - It's almost impossible to find NASCAR stock cars that competed on the Southern short tracks or at Daytona Beach back when the sport was built around truly "stock" American cars. They had short, hard lives. But recently ersatz NASCAR racers have been appearing at various events. They should be labeled "replicas" rather than fakes and they chronicle the beginning years of what is now the most popular form of racing in the U.S. All that's needed is a vintage Olds 88, Hudson Hornet or Chevrolet Impala and enough patience and research to build it right.

In these general categories there are many sub-divisions that should receive more elaboration than we can give them here. Old Indy veterans, early Trans-Am "pony-cars," quirky British sportsters of the '20s and '30s (like the delightful motorcycle-powered Morgan 3-wheelers) and a plethora of others all have their places under the heading of Vintage Race Car. Events for these machines are held all over the country and I know of one 72-year old retired bachelor who does nothing but trailer his '62 Elva Courier behind his RV to participate on tracks he was never able to race on in his working days. Who says you can't go back in time?

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