From timeless Formula 1 racecars to vintage American muscle cars and classic drag racing vehicles, motorsports boasts a host of four-wheeled legends that all classic car enthusiasts can appreciate, but it’s the prolific drivers behind the wheel that elevated the cars into true icons. Among the revered history of the sport, many names leap to mind, but five prolific vintage racecar drivers demand recognition most of all for their impact on the pastime and their dedication to the craft.
Born February 15, 1929 in North London, British racing driver and team owner Graham Hill’s rise to the racetrack reflects the same need for speed drivers across the world have felt their first time behind the wheel. According to Formula 1, Hill first tried racing in 1953, taking a F3 car for a few laps around Brands Hatch motor circuit. As the story goes, he then bought a 1934 Morris, taught himself how to drive and finally got his license. He quit his job, collected unemployment and talked his way into a job as a mechanic at a racing school.
There, he eventually met Colin Chapman, an English design engineer, inventor, and builder in the automotive industry, and founder of Lotus Cars. Chapman hired Hill to work for Lotus and, in 1958, when Chapman decided his company was ready to truly test their mettle, Graham Hill became a Formula One driver.
In 1962, Hill collected a World Championship with wins in Holland, Germany, Italy and South Africa racing for British Racing Motors. He is also the only driver to win the “Triple Crown of Motorsport” : the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix
In 1973, Hill created his own Formula One team, Embassy Hill Racing, and raced with the vintage racecar Lola T370 designed custom for the team; but after failing to qualify for the 1975 Monaco Grand Prix, Hill finally retired after many years of renown.
“I am an artist. The track is my canvas, and the car is my brush,” he had said about his career.
Inspired by his uncle, a great driver in his own right, Pierre Bouillin adopted the racing name Levegh in memory of his uncle, who had allegedly rearranged the letters of his surname Velghe into a more French-sounding name.
The dedication of Levegh endured far beyond the legendary driver’s career. He had attended every running of Les Vingt-Quatre Heures, as he knew The 24 ours of Le Mans as a young man in Paris, since it began in 1923. He represented Lago-Talbot in four consecutive races (1951 to 1954), including the epic 1952 event. There, at the 24 Hours Of Le Mans, Levegh drove for the duration of the race on his own, and was well in the lead when a gear-shifting error blew his engine minutes from the finish line. Not only did the malfunction cost him the race, but also a place in the record books as the only driver ever to win Le Mans single-handed, though “close enough” has earned him eternal renown in the purveyors of racecar lore. Today, no contestant may drive for more than four hours in six, and 14 hours total out of the event, so no other driver may ever achieve that which Levegh was minutes shy of winning all on his own.
After driving Talbot for most of his career, Levegh drove the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, an iconic 2-seat sports race that Hall Of Fame Formula One driver Stirling Moss called, “the greatest sports racing car ever built — really an unbelievable machine.”
It was in that legendary racecar that Levegh passed away, on June 11 ,1955, during the infamous 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans automobile race, which took his life as well as 83 spectators when an accident during the race launched Levegh’s car into the air and its wreckage into the crowd.
Raised on a family farm in Goldsboro, North Carolina in the ‘40s and ‘50s, Malcolm Durham gained his mechanical experience working on tractors and later employed his skills to accelerate into a classic American rags-to-riches tale of motorsports renown.
Durham began racing in 1957 at Easy Street Dragstrip in Newton Grove with a 225-horsepower ’56 Chevy, a brand he would forever champion throughout his racing career. He even began working as a mechanic for Chevrolet, then in sales, which afforded him more time to race. He campaigned Chevy racecars under his own series of Super Stocks with the moniker Strip Blazer, beginning with a 427-cid Z-11 ’63 Chevy, one of only 57 ever built according to Robert Genat’s book, Vintage and Historic Drag Racers. Durham continued representing Chevy even after Chevrolet and the rest of General Motors pulled out of factory-supported in 1963.
Nicknamed “The D.C. Lip,” a title given to him by his public relations director, Durham was awarded before his death a Lifetime Achievement Award at NHRA’s Hot Rod Reunion, both for his prolific accomplishments behind the wheel as well as for challenging racial discrimination as drag racing’s first African-American superstar.
“Drag racing was and still is very exciting,” Durham said in a 2006 interview with NHRA months before he passed. “I am amazed at the current popularity of yesterday’s muscle cars and the level of participation in the nostalgia racing. Amazing. It says a lot about the growth of the sport.”
Even those who do not immediately recognize the name of the prolific racecar driver, anyone remotely aware of the motorsports culture has seen the lasting impact of Dan Gurney on racing everywhere with the iconic spray of champagne post-victory.
Born on April 13, 1931, Gurney first began racing when, after moving to California as a teenager, he quickly got caught up in the West Coast hot rod scene. At age 19, he built and raced a car that exceeded 130 miles per hour at the Bonneville Salt Flats, a timeless destination to set land speed records. He was discovered by Ferrari North American importer Luigi Chinetti who, after watching him finish second in the inaugural Riverside Grand Pix in 1957, invited Gurney to race at Le Mans in 1958.
Gurney was the first of three drivers to have won races in Sports Cars (1958), Formula One (1962), NASCAR (1963), and Indy cars (1967). According to All American Racers, Gurney drove in 312 races in 20 countries in 51 makes of cars (and also winning 51 of those competitions). Perhaps most enduring of all his deeds, Gurney started the motorsports trend of spraying champagne following a win in 1967, after winning the 24 Hours Of Le Mans together with racing partner A. J. Foyt. In that same year, Gurney won the Grand Prix of Belgium in a 416-horsepower American Eagle, which he had designed and built himself, becoming the first American in 46 years to win a world championship in an American car.
“Race driving is a form of brinkmanship, I suppose,” he told The New York Times in 1967. “First you use your judgment to determine where the brink is. Then you use your skill to approach the brink and stay at that point.
A self-described trouble-child from upstate New York, Shirley Muldowney has aptly earned the title the motorsports world has given her as the First Lady Of Drag Racing. Born June 19, 1940, Muldowney earned many firsts in her career, including the first woman to receive a license from the National Hot Rod Association to drive a Top Fuel dragster; the first person to win two and three Top Fuel titles, with a total of 18 NHRA national events, and Championship titles in 1977, 1980 and 1982; and more.
Muldowney began street racing in the 1950s in Schenectady, New York. When she was 16, she married 19-year-old Jack Muldowney, who eventually built her first dragster for her. She debuted her racing stripes in 1958 on the dragstrip of the Fonda Speedway, forever changing the world of racing with her fiery determination and defiance of gender expectations. She was bestowed such awards as an induction in the Automotive Hall Of Fame in 2005, as well as many more.
Though she pressed in an interview with Hot Rod Magazine in 2009 that her favorite car was the twin-engine dragster she competed in the U.S. Nationals at Indy with in 1970, fans and followers have said that her career truly launched with the purchase of her first nitro car from fellow racecar legend Connie Kalitta. Nicknamed the Bounty Hunter and the Bounty Huntress, the two competed together in the Funny Car racing class with her vintage 1972 Buttera Chassis Ford Mustang.
“A lot of competitors were ugly to me. What they didn’t realize was they were making it worse for themselves. The angrier they made me, the more pissed I was, the better I was in the car. Driving came naturally for me. I was not afraid or unready to deal with the unexpected. That’s where I think I had an edge on some other drivers, the new guys who came along every few years and many of the veterans, too. I could make a decision. Nobody held my hand,” she said to Hot Rod Magazine.
When we think of “classic” cars, cars of the late 1990s surely don’t come to mind. Our minds go straight to carburetors, roll-up windows, and non-synchromesh manual transmissions. However, in the eyes of the law, a car only needs to be 25 years old to be considered a “classic”. How’s this for mind-boggling: next year the Mazda Miata turns 30 years old. 30! You kiddin’ me? Today we’re going to look at two modern, at least in our eyes, roadsters that just recently crested the 20-year-old mark, the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z3. In just a few years we’ll be seeing Boxsters and Z3s with classic plates; I can’t be the only one rattled by this realization.
Seriously? The Boxster is already 20 years old? Little did the public know that when the water-cooled Boxster was introduced in late 1996, it prefaced the impending demise of the beloved air-cooled Porsches. The Boxster was soon followed by the 996, the first 911 to be water-cooled rather than air-cooled, which caused a stir among the Porsche faithful. Interestingly enough, the mid-engined, 2-seater Boxster was Porsche’s first road car originally designed as a roadster since the legendary 550 Spyder. You may have noticed that Porsche just recently changed the Boxster and Cayman names to the “718”, a homage to the 718RSK racers of the late 1950s, the 718RSK being a racing variant derived of the 550 Spyder.
In the early 1990s, Porsche wasn’t quite the economic powerhouse we know today. As a matter of fact, they were on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1993, Porsche sold just 3,000 cars in the United States, total. In an effort to turn things around, Porsche looked to introduce a new, more affordable model. They looked to Japanese automaker Mazda, who was having tremendous success at the time with their Miata, an entry-level 2-seater roadster. Mazda had proven that there was a strong market for small, sporty roadsters, and Porsche recognized an opportunity. The Boxster would, in some senses, become the German Miata. It was similar to the Miata in that it was small, convertible, and relatively inexpensive, but it featured a mid-mounted flat-six producing nearly twice as much power as the Miata, had near-perfect weight distribution, and above all, wore a Porsche badge. The Boxster was a massive success, and quite likely saved the company from financial ruin. By 2003, when the first generation of Boxster was phased out, Porsche had sold more than 120,000 of them. Ironically, the Boxster, the car originally intended bring Porsche ownership to the masses, is now one of Porsche’s lowest volume sellers.
While it may seem a bit odd, as BMW has been such a prevalent automaker and household name for decades, the Z3 was actually BMW’s first mass-produced, mass-market roadster. It was also the first new BMW model to be manufactured in the United States, having been assembled at BMW’s South Carolina plant. The roadster was introduced in late 1995 and was an instant hit; by the time the car came to market for the 1996 model year, over 15,000 orders had already been placed. Just under 300,000 units were produced over the course of the car’s seven year production run, a huge success. While the Z3 Roadster sold very well, the Roadster is likely not the model that the Z3 platform will be remembered by. The Z3 M Coupe, with it’s hate-it-or-love-it “clown shoe” shape, was the ultimate development of the platform. The M Coupe was essentially a Z3 powered by an M3 powertrain; the combination of the M3’s massive power (320hp in the Z3M’s later iteration) and the Z3’s sub-3000lb weight pushed the Z3M to supercar-like levels of performance. In recent years, the Z3M Coupe has seen a phenomenal appreciation in value, and, as the market currently sits, there’s no sign of values ever dipping back down.
Today, twenty years after the Z3 Roadster’s inception, they’re still a common sighting. And because of the high production numbers, there are bargains to be had; higher-mileage examples can be had for as little as $3k. With the Roadster now at the very bottom of its depreciation curve, if you can find a nice, original, low-mileage example, you can only win. While it probably wont be the next Ferrari Dino or Porsche Speedster in terms of rapid appreciation in value, there’s no better time to buy than now.
Written by: Jake DePierro
Prior to the widely-acclaimed debut of the Lamborghini Miura’s rolling chassis at the 1965 Turin Auto Show, the mid-engined layout was reserved for racing specials; never before had a production sports car had the engine mounted just behind the front seats. The radical design of the Miura created quite a stir in Turin; show-goers were placing orders for the car having only ever seen the chassis. The following year, at the Geneva show, the public got their first glance of the full product, the Miura P400 prototype. With then-25-year old Bertone protege Marcello Gandini’s sleek, flowy styling and the revolutionary mid-engined design, the Miura was an instant hit. It captured the hearts of show-goers and the automotive press alike, and in doing so, effectively created the “supercar” segment as we know it today. Read more
Who wants a free Bimmer? Anyone assembling a LeMons team? We have a 1978 BMW e12 530i Automatic that isn’t doing us any good just sitting here. It’s a rusty non-runner, but it’s largely complete and hey, it’s free. We’d love to see it go to somebody that’s going to have fun with it, rather than let it continue to be a lawn-ornament. There’s a couple holes in the floor pans; it’s not quite Flinstone-mobile level but it’s worth noting. Seats are torn, dash is cracked…ya know how it is. We’re not interested in parting out – somebody just come take the thing!
The 1968 box-office hit Bullitt, in which Steve “The King of Cool” McQueen starred, has gone down in film history as one of the most influential car-related movies of all time. The car McQueen famously piloted in a high-speed pursuit through the hilly streets of San Francisco, a 1967 Ford Mustang GT, was thought to have been lost in the annals of time, having been scrapped following a thorough thrashing during the filming of the movie. There were only two Mustangs used in the filming of Bullitt; a camera car, which has long sat in a private collection, and the scrapped stunt car.
That very stunt car of chase-scene fame, thought to have been long since destroyed, was recently discovered by a couple Mustang enthusiasts in the Baja region of Mexico who had bought a rusty and wrecked ‘67 Mustang to turn into a Gone In 60 Seconds “Eleanor” tribute car. As any used car dealer would do, they Google searched the VIN to see if they could uncover any history on the car. What they found would change their lives. The VIN matched that of the missing stunt car, which Steve McQueen himself had unsuccessfully attempted to track down and purchase prior to his death in 1980. Of course, this VIN information was taken with a grain of salt, as it seemed too miraculous to be true. The finding of the Bullitt Mustang instantly caused an uproar in the car community; most people assumed the VIN tag was a fake. Kevin Marti, noted Ford historian and go-to source for Ford originality verification, flew down to Mexico to see for himself. His findings shocked the automotive community, “I am 100% sure it’s authentic”.
[As discovered in Mexico – white car]
With the 50th anniversary of Bullitt’s release coming next year, this iconic Mustang is expected to eclipse seven-figure dollars at auction. There it is folks, miracles do happen.
The late 1950s through early 1970s were a bright time in automotive interior design, both literally and figuratively. Read more
Henry Ford’s name has always been synonymous with innovation. While he’s best known for bringing automobiles to the masses with his Model T and for streamlining the manufacturing process as a whole, there’s so much more to the man, the myth, the legend, Henry Ford. Here’s a few interesting bits of information that you may not have heard.
He Repaired Watches in His Youth
On his family’s Michigan farm, Ford constantly found new ways to feed his mechanical curiosities. At age 13 his father gave him a pocket watch, which Ford disassembled and put back together in an effort to learn more about the inner workings of the timepiece. He quite literally wanted to know what ‘made it tick’.
He quickly mastered the complexities of the pocket watch. It wasn’t long before neighbors heard of Ford’s developing talent, and he soon became the town’s go-to person for fixing broken timepieces.
He Was Influenced By Thomas Edison
In 1891, the Edison Illuminating Company had gotten word of Henry Ford’s engineering prowess. They then brought him on as a night engineer. There he gradually climbed the ranks, until he became a chief engineer. During his time at the Edison Illuminating Company, Ford and a few friends developed what they called a Quadricycle, or in other terms, a horseless carriage.
The Quadricycle would be a self-propelled vehicle, with four wire wheels and boat-like steering. He presented his design to a small group of Edison Illuminating Company executives, including Thomas Edison. Edison was impressed with Ford’s vision and encouraged him to continue pushing until he ironed out the design flaws, like the lack of a reverse gear, for example.
Edison’s encouraging words helped steer Ford on the path to his eventual success.
He was No Stranger to Failure
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” -Henry Ford.
Prior to Ford Motor Company, Ford actually had two other failed business ventures. His first was a company called Detroit Automobile Company. Ford struggled to fill orders, which upset customers. He simply couldn’t build cars quickly enough to satisfy demand.
The second company, the Henry Ford Company, fell apart because the shareholders wanted Ford to only strictly on customer car production, rather than his own racing activities. Eventually, the shareholders forced Ford from the company. You may have heard of that company, though under a different name, The Cadillac Automobile Company.
He Helped Create Our Current Economic System
After perfecting the assembly line, Ford had issues with production of the Model T. He found that while specialized duties proved to be the way of the future, employee turnover became a huge issue. Workers were worn down, they didn’t handle Ford’s one-task-and-one-task-only division of labor very well. It was said that Ford hired a thousand workers for every 100 jobs. Ford increased his workers wages to $5, which was significant at the time, which drastically improved workers’ performance.
The raise increased the quality of life for his workers, who often had minimal education or skills. This expanded the middle class, who now had money to spend on leisure items, like the Model T for example. Ford eventually gave his workers eight hour shifts and a five day work week.
His Stubbornness Nearly Destroyed Ford Motor Company
Ford refused to hand over complete control to his son, Edsel. Edsel tried to get him to expand the model line to include more than just the Model T, but Henry Ford refused. Meanwhile, Chevrolet was diversifying their model line.
Ford then saw a massive decline in sales, which put him behind both Chevrolet and General Motors. This decline forced Ford to fire thousands of workers and shut down Model T production.
The release of the Model A brought Ford back into the game. Ford was able to use the success of the Model A to ride out the first two years of the Great Depression. However, business soon slowed down and Ford struggled. It didn’t take long for him to get back on his feet though; in 1932 Ford began to mass-produce their flat-head V-8 engine, which brought Ford back into financial stability while simultaneously jump-starting the “Hot Rod” movement.
Vintage steering wheels: Take a look at an old Nardi or Momo wheel, they’re just gorgeous. Simple yet elegant, vintage steering wheels have a real charm to them. When looking at the interior of a classic car, the eye is immediately drawn to the centerpiece, the steering wheel. No longer. Airbags rained on their parade. Read more
We are happy to announce the release of our December wallpaper calendar, featuring a 1961 Mercedes 300SL Roadster from our good friend Shelly.
A few months back we received a call from a man who told us he had an “old Mercedes” tucked away in a storage unit in Mississippi. Of course even with the as-vague-as-could-be description, we started getting excited about the possibilities of what the car could be. The seller gave us a brief run-down of the car’s history; he had driven it while working on oil rigs in the 1980s, stationed in Mississippi. When he was forced to relocate, the seller could not take the car with him and decided to hand it off to one of his engineers. The car remained in Mississippi until we got the call and shipped it up to Chicago. Read more