1960-1964 Super Stock Drag Racing in Vintage Colour

James Kraus

1963 Plymouth Belvedere. Image: George Klass Collection

As colour film ages, a phenomena known as curve crossover frequently occurs as fidelity of the three colour dyes age at different rates. This often results in an evocatively ethereal colour palette. Such is the case with these photos from the heyday of Stock Car drag racing in the U.S.

In the 1950s when 1/4-mile drag racing was gaining legitimacy, there was little interest in racing the family sedan. No official records were kept, nor was elapsed time recorded; the winner was the car with the highest trap speed.  Continue reading

A Gem from the Vault: The Young Racers

James Kraus

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Vincent Vega walks by a vintage poster of The Young Racers at Jack Rabbit Slim’s diner in Pulp Fiction, 1994

Four years before John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix, Roger Corman shot The Young Racers. Unfortunately, the latter film remains all but unknown among most enthusiasts. I believe it is time to give the movie its due.

As soon as the opening credits end, viewers are transported directly to Monte-Carlo to observe the running of the 20ème Grand Prix de Monaco.  Continue reading

Advent of the Downforce-Inducing Aerodynamic Appendage

by James Kraus

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Ferrari 250 GTO

While aerodynamic efficiency was occasionally a consideration in the design of road cars as early as the 1920s, it was only from a perspective of achieving reduced air resistance. Interest in generating aerodynamic downforce did not manifest itself until the 1960s. Not surprisingly, experimentation and development first occurred in the competition arena.  Continue reading

The Wankel Motor: 1960’s Engine of the Future

by James Kraus

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World’s first Wankel-powered production car: the NSU Spider, 1964

Automobiles can trace their reciprocating-piston engines back to the early days of steam power. As internal combustion replaced steam as the preferred method of powering transport, the concept of using reciprocating pistons to convert energy into motion was carried over.

As the automobile matured, the efficiency and operating smoothness of the reciprocating piston engine gradually improved through the use of a multiplicity of smaller cylinders, shorter piston strokes, counterbalanced crankshafts and other refinements. By the dawn of the 1960s however; the automobile was seemingly falling behind aviation, which had switched to smooth continuous-combustion jet engines. A number of auto manufacturers experimented with gas turbine engines, but none entered mass production.

Continue reading

Gourmet Grand Prix: Courses for Courses

by James Kraus

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1966 Theatrical Release Poster for “Grand Prix”

I had a scrumptious multi-course feast last week while watching Grand Prix (1966), my favourite motor racing film. This is the third time I have done so.

And it was all due to Olivier Gendebien. Olivier was one of the top racing drivers in the golden era. He was an accomplished driver across the spectrum, winning the Rome-Liège-Rome rally of 1955 in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, securing second place at the 1960 French Grand Prix in a Cooper-Climax, and claiming victory for Ferrari at Le Mans in 1958 and from 1960 thru 1962.

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Porsche, the Targa Florio and the Crocodile

by James Kraus

Umberto Maglioli and Vic Elford savor their victory at the 52nd Targa Florio, 1968. Photo: Vic Elford Collection

Many manufacturers offer polo shirts these days, but they are all knock-offs; all but one, that is. The one true authentic original short-sleeve mesh polo shirt is the Lacoste Classic Piqué L1212 Polo. It’s been around for 77 years.

It was invented by René Lacoste, a French tennis champion who twice triumphed at Wimbledon, won the U.S. Open on two occasions and thrice took victory laurels at the French Open. He was ranked Number One Player in 1926 and 1927.

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When Reading Playboy was de rigueur

by James Kraus

Hugh Hefner, Editor and Publisher, Playboy Magazine

There is no periodical today either in hard-copy form or ‘new media’ that is the equivalent to what Playboy was in the 1950’s to early 1970’s. In its heyday, Playboy contained some of the best contemporary writing of the mid-twentieth century, and was read by every man who wanted to stay au courant in the world of gentlemanly pleasures.

This of course included the top men of motorsport.

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Jet Age Turbine Power

by James Kraus

1963 Chrysler Turbine Car

1963 Chrysler Turbine Car

The 1950’s and early 1960’s were the dawn of the jet age and the public clamoured for anything new and futuristic. What could be more alluring than gliding down the road in a jet-powered automobile?

A number of manufacturers toyed with gas turbine developments at this time including Rover, Fiat, Renault, General Motors and Chrysler.

Turbines are ideal in jet aircraft as they run at nearly constant speed. To adapt them for automotive use they had to be modified to provide much faster throttle response and quicker transition times from idle to maximum power. Provision for engine braking was also required as was the necessity for lower exhaust gas temperature.

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A Look Back: When New York City was a Nexus of the Sports Car and International Motorsport Fraternity

by James Kraus

View of Midtown Manhattan from the Empire State Building to the Chrysler Building and Queensboro Bridgeand

View of Midtown Manhattan from the Empire State Building across to the Chrysler Building and Queensboro Bridge

There are very few who would immediately associate the canyons of Manhattan and its environs with sporting motoring. New Yorker’s today are largely content with ambling about in conveyances that enthusiasts of the past would rightly describe as tow vehicles, while driving is seen as little more than a distraction to be endured while telephone calls are dispatched and text messages deciphered. Manual transmissions are but a relic and spirited driving eschewed in fear of capsizing Starbucks Caffè Grande’s.

This was not always the case. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, it was quite fashionable among the New World cognoscenti to drive, deliberate over, and otherwise enjoy the world of sporting cars and international motorsport. This was, of course, the halcyon days of Sports Car and Grand Prix racing, when drivers were gentlemen (often of independent means) and competition cars had yet to transform themselves into mobile advertisements. The hub of such activity in the U.S. was New York City.

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The AC Cobra: Myth and Reality

by J Kraus

AC Cobra

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”

 John F. Kennedy, Commencement Address, Yale University, 11 June, 1962

Octane recently conducted a poll of their readers to select the “Greatest Race Car Ever” (with the Maserati 250F ultimately receiving the accolade). To guide the readers toward machines with suitable pedigrees, a number of automotive luminaries were assigned the task to nominate appropriate candidates. Columnist Carroll Shelby thereupon put forth his own progeny, the AC Cobra.

Upon hearing this news, my mind drifted to years past. I was around when the Cobras were competitive and while I recall them being worthy contenders, I also remember them often struggling on rough or undulating surfaces such as one would encounter at the Nürburgring or Targa Florio. I also could not recall any major outright victories.

Thus, on a chilly evening with little on the agenda, I poured into my glass the remains of a bottle of Vin Jaune, cut some slices from a block of Compté and retrieved the appropriate volumes of Automotive Year and back issues of Autosport. I was consoled to find that my memory had not in fact deceived me.

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