|The Sebring Swede, part 2
Richard Allen Hayden, the Automotive Archeologist
Monterey was fast approaching, and our entry had been accepted for the '55-'62 under 2-liter GT class. Out of all the Triumphs, MGs, Porsches, Alfas, Morgans (etc.) sports and GT cars in the country, Art's Volvo was to be among the select 32 to be presented in this glorious 27th year of the event, to feature the Maserati marque and 14 separate race groups; ours admittedly one of the lowliest. Marriage of the original Riley engine bits to a first-year block was behind schedule, so a stock-rod "mule" engine which was at the class 2-liter limit and last freshened in "ought '92" was temporarily installed, replete with the old "prototype" intake manifold which later became available through Volvo Competition Service in the late '60s, and a pair of ancient Weber DCOEs. The car was dumped on the doorstep of Ian and Eric Hamlet's Hi Performance Automotive Service in Torrance for final assembly. If an old Volvo part exists, they either have it or can find it; if anyone can make an old Volvo run -- fast -- they can.
Instruments gone through by Margaret Lucas' (no relation to The Prince of Darkness) MOMA in Albuquerque were fitted to one of the last uncracked early vinyl dashes left (they don't survive the Southwest's heat, and must be found elsewhere -- this from Greg Galinsky in cool, shady Wisconsin, where cars are actually garaged, and where there is actually a winter). The early troublesome tach guts in the Riley instrument were replaced by the same modern solid-state mechanism used by Carroll Shelby in his continuation Cobras, calibrated 1000 RPM low to allow the tach to be usable in the higher rev ranges. All instruments are restored originals from Art save the clock, and *14*'s oil pressure gauge is curiously Swedish and calibrated in Bar, lending credence to reports that certain of the very early cars -- *13* for sure -- were disassembled at the end of the Castle Bromwich production line to provide parts to keep the line moving! Lemon Grove Plating of National City south of San Diego did a commendable job on the chrome, of which there is, perhaps, too much on the P1800, penned as it was in 1957 by Pelle Petersen under divergent Detroit and Maranello influences. All the glass was smashed in the wreck, but new glazing is still available from Volvo at reasonable cost. The original white interior could not be replicated in time, there being no equivalent material out there in upholstery-land, so a black interior was loaned by Hi Performance to get the job done.
The Firing-Up Ceremony was a roaring success, down through some of Jere Stahl's first Volvo headers and a suitable straight pipe dumping out the side in front of the right rear wheel at the precise 27-degree angle found by the Navy in their WWII tests to be optimum for maximum extractive effect in their Dauntless divebomber and Hellcat fighter radial engines. The First Tenet of the Tuner proved troublesome: Ensure Full Throttle. Getting the butterflies full open when the accelerator is floored, while maintaining some semblance of idle, would not have been accomplished without the bits and pieces in the late Ken Griffin's Weber toolbox, secured shortly before this great Volvo circletrack racer, tuner and repairman passed untimely from our midst.
Steve Earle, in his infinite wisdom, had assigned us to the Thursday Skip Barber Driver's School at Laguna Seca for both first-timers at the Monterey Historic and the Rusty Guys who had not raced in a while; a lagniappe to ensure everybody has a good time and nobody gets hurt, and The Cars -- which are The Stars -- remain undamaged. He stood before the small group and asked us not to be offended by being assigned to the school; indeed, right at the front of the class was the legendary John Fitch, to drive a recreation of his Carrera 300SL! The roster also showed Augie Pabst, to reprise his role as Maserati Tipo 63 pilot, and 3-time Indy winner Roger Ward, out to have some fun among us spear-carriers in a Porsche 356D.
Barber's Laguna operation uses Dodge Vipers for the instructors, and while trying to hang on to the tail of one of those snakes at an ever-increasing pace, the Volvo started to lose power, then to miss and a much-too-late glance at the gauges showed the water temp pegged! Andy Chan, the other neighborhood roadracer (whose day job is crackerjack mechanic at a Mercedes dealership), later said, "You never take a brand-new racecar to a race." Sigh. Shut-off at the top of the corkscrew and dead-stick into the pits with that poor cast-iron slug so hot it could have melted all the snow in Gothenburg in the dead of winter. The upper radiator hose had blown off the neck of the thermostat housing at the front of the cylinder head, and the water pump had emptied the cooling system in short order. During the two-hour cool-down, it was easy to deduce the cause as a combination of a too-smooth early housing from the original *14*, made from shiny new molds, and the smooth inner surface of the brand-new early hose, coupled with insufficient torque on the clamp. After cool-down came time to determine whether we had an engine or a weldment: plugs were pulled and WD40 squirted into the cylinders to wet-down the baked-out rings, and the mill slowly pulled through by hand it was free!
Time to make the afternoon school session with the plugs popped back in, a water refill (they don't allow glycol or other additives here) and lots of crank on the hose clamps... and in two laps the temp is pegged again! The artful dead-stick coast gets us all the way to our paddock slot this time; at least some useful skill is being improved! It turns out that an old soft-solder patch in the top tank of the just-checked radiator has dropped in during the morning meltdown; we pumped out the system, but caught it in time. With help from Alfa driver Sid Gage, and after due consultation, a composite patch of dead-soft aluminum from the reflector of a Prius pack stove and good ol' JB Weld was applied and left to cure overnight under the weight of a bottle jack and dunnage, while the drivers and crews repaired to the Welcoming Barbecue. Jointly sponsored by Chrysler, Chopard (the Swiss watch people) and the Bernardis Winery of racing great Bernardis "Ben" Pon, the up-country feed was fantastic, and the troubles of the day quickly passed with each unpassed prawn and unsurpassed glass of Ben's Merlot, and burst bratwurst, and robust ribs, and 'kewered kebabs, and tantalizing tortes, and chummy-yummy cheese-cake Aaahhh! Ain't Vintage Racing Great!
Friday is a wonderful day for the serious spectator as the crowd is small, allowing easy picture taking in the open paddock and the ability to see each car at speed on the track. Funneling back into the paddock after the Driver's meeting, the world's senior drivers and entrants are drawn in by a captivating scene: Peter Giddings will be out in an early group this crisp morning, and has his crew warming one of the treasures that he is entrusted with and graciously shares: The Ex-Whitney Straight, ex-Prince Bira 1933 Maserati 8CM, its haunches high on a period iron-wheeled quick jack, coughs into life and settles into a throaty growl with the aid of the dense Monterey air and a few squirts of methanol from the fettler's pump can as the crew chief, briefly allowed within the monoposto's gracefully aging leather throne, carefully selects an intermediate gear under Peter's watchful eye. No one speaks in the reverent circle of cognoscenti now enveloping the scene and blotting out the surrounding modernity. All turns to a faded black-and-white in the otherwise still morning, the magnificent mount itself ebony, with the Prince's "White Mouse" stable logo still gracing its flanks -- remembered from the B&W photos in his cousin Prince Chula's books. The rear wheels paw the air and the whirring machinery begins to warm the syrupy castor oil with that heady aroma of a bygone era; yet today, in this special place, it is like it always was Magic.
The patch in the tank seems solid, but as we begin to get into a practice groove the temp pegs for a third time -- the hose blown off the housing neck once again! Bill Janowski, builder/driver of the Ferrari-beating Midwest "Monsterati" junkpile of the '50s has had the same problem and gives sage advice, and we track down Starr Cooke who, when he isn't driving his Elva Mk 7 very well (indeed, he won the Chopard award for "presentation and performance" in his group) is a mean hand with an aluminum-fed wire welder. Starr welds us a big hose-retention bead around the thermostat housing neck, and we dress it down with his bench grinder and rattail file. Installed with a vengeance and the tightest "Monsterati" clamps, that hose ain't never comin' off again!
Saturday dawns chilly and breezy under the obligatory gray Monterey marine layer of low-hanging cloud, with a drizzle, even. The catered breakfast for drivers and spouses (Wife and Pit Tootsie Carol is spoiled silly by this event!) serves to lift spirits some, and Jay Leno brightens the airwaves, being interviewed in the announce booth: "Were you here yesterday, Jay?" "Nah -- I just got here; I have a day job and had to work last night." Just another Car Guy, with a day job to pay for his habit like the rest of us. Jay had heard a rumor that Kia was to be the featured marque at the Pebble Beach Concours next year, and was really excited that he would get to see the real classics of the breed, the '88 and '89 Sephias!
Son Rick, the Younger and Smarter, has his mother's artist gene, and arrives with the just-completed historical photo-montage of "Art Riley, Volvo Endurance Driver Extraordinaire!" featuring Dave Friedman's photos and focusing on the Sebring efforts. Ken Breslauer, Sebring's Media Director and Automotive Historian (he wrote the definitive tome on the Florida endurance classic, Sebring, now in softback), has graciously loaned a '64 Sebring poster and supplied ARCF memorabilia from his personal collection to enhance the display, which includes a tableful of early trophies won by Art in *14*. Jay Leno, in trademark jeans and blue workshirt, and Randy Ema, fellow members of the Society of Automotive Historians, come by to take in the presentation; admiring the Sebring trophy. Leno quips to Carol the Better, "I see you've got the old flatware out -- are we going to have an auction later in the day?" adding, "Nice." and an approving nod as he slides quickly away from his fast-growing throng of fans. Also among the visitors is Olof "Ole" Anderson, who ran the hottest P1800 in this area in the '60s and knew the breed (and this track) like his favorite plate of Lutefisk. Sharing his hard-learned speed secrets, like clocking float bowl covers to keep from starving in the hard corners and, on the subject of rear anti-roll bars, he said, "O, no; ya don't need one a' dose; yoost da front bar -- da one-inch front bar, ya, dat's all ya need -- an' ya yoost drive da ting." Volvo's Boy-Genius designer Doug Frasher, who has done everything Swedish that has turned heads at the big international auto shows the past few years, came by with words of encouragement which included "...beautiful car." Love to hear that, especially from an Art Center grad!
Jerry Barker happened by just as final preps for Sunday's track time approached. Son of '50s Cal Club Porsche ace and two-time Nat'l Champion Ed Barker, Jerry wrenched for Kas Kastner on the Triumph team at Sebring in '65 and went on to become Nat'l Champ himself, garnering the coveted Kimberly Cup in '80 as well -- the SCCA's highest honor. His name is engraved on the giant silver tureen next to those of Walt Hansgen, Mark Donohue and other legendary greats, and nowadays he runs The Carriage House in Harbor City, CA. Explaining to Jerry the vexing problems that beset us over the past couple of days, we noticed a little bump in the hood right over the radiator cap and the top tank was bulged a bit no; really bulged! Must have happened just before blowing the hose off last. The JB Weld patch had held, but we had been chasing a hose problem when actually a failure to relieve pressure was the root cause. The spacer fitted to allow a 16 lb. cap to function in the deeper, stock 4 lb. neck did not seem to be the cause, but rather the proximity of the cap to the hood. Jerry opined that the first day's cook-out had probably resulted in a high-pressure blow-by from one or more of the cylinders into the water jacket as well, and there were deep suspicions that we did not have a finisher here.
Deciding to run an unpressurized system, we went out for the morning warm-up and sure enough, even though temperatures remained in the black, towards the end of the session the windshield washer nozzle started to spritz the windshield. The coolant overflow system has a tee in the top of the catch tank, which is plumbed to the washer nozzle, and, indeed, there was almost a full quart of water in the catch tank. We were pumping combustion products into the cooling system, though at a low rate. Emptying the catch tank and running a quart low (story of my life), we would start the afternoon's race from 24th position and see what would happen.
Dean Watts had the pole in his beautiful silver 2-liter Porsche Abarth Carrera, and led away in a flash that was all but invisible from the back of the 28-car pack, where the hulking Volvo felt uncomfortable among the fragile Abarths and Loti. She seemed to want to go, so with one eye on the temp gauges and the other shut tight, we gradually increased the throttle and rev range, and sought larger friends to play with. Having only the front anti-roll bar, the car exhibited marked understeer; but that's the way Art -- and Ole -- drove the things in the old days, and being carefully early in starting turn-ins while leaving adequate plowing margins on the run outs, we began to develop a rhythm. Hey! After all those years of effort, this weekend is finally starting to be fun! Being a momentum car (read: ain't got no respectable power-to-weight ratio, so once you get the speed up, you better keep it there!) made passing a bit dicey at times: the gentlemanly point-by you get from a Sid Gage as you loom in his Alfa's mirrors is worthy of a comradely salute, but coming up on a clutch of production cars, there was one that was clearly driving a blocking line. But let us be kind here and remind that one change of line per corner is not to be branded "blocking;" driving a "defensive" line is the polite way to say it. Blue flags waved mean to some "Prepare to drive defensively," and were beginning to take the fun out of all this. Over the humping bend that is the 100 mph turn one at Laguna, a move-over forced the momentous Swede into the pit-out lane, fortunately only separated from the racing line by a paint stripe and incurring no infraction. The most defensive of the bunch was easily faked into a wrong-side block and sliced inside, and we were beginning to have fun again, as temps were in good order on this cool and breezy, sunny afternoon.
Harlan Halsey in his lovely cobalt-blue Porsche 356A Carrera coupe was ahead in our next romp along the up-and-down front "straight;" there was nobody else around, and he seemed in a "consolidated position" mode, and maybe if we could get up enough of that momentum stuff we might manage a pass here. Deciding to take him on the outside, no sooner had the Swede been committed than we were in deep trouble. Harlan told me later as we exchanged apologies that he saw me coming and decided to give me the inside line down into two; just as the Volvo was beginning to overlap his right rear, he moved right; way right. Pucker time! Now, this is not only Vintage Racing, but the Monterey Historic where if you trade paint, you are both immediately excluded from the remainder of the event (I had a free lunch coming!), and you don't bother to call or write for the next 13 months. Some say your whole life flashes in front of your eyes in moments like these -- but Geof Park's Body and paint bill was all that I remembered as we gingerly moved driver's right in 100 mph avoidance. Harlan said, "One moment you were there, and the next moment you weren't!" Fortunately, the old track asphalt provides runoff here and we gently got things whoa'd down in the dusty, marbled blacktop, stupidly turning into the gravel catch basin to return to the track. Never been in one of those before; sucks you down like quagmire as we, startled, came off the brakes and straightened the steering a bit to maintain that all-important momentum stuff, which carried the hefty Volvo through and back onto the racing surface without losing a place! Next time by Start/Finish, the Starter awarded us a furled black warning -- obviously a bit too much momentum had built up, here -- and we finished in 8th, driving carefully, and admittedly defensively, in front of recently passed competitors. Dean Watts placed first, and Roger Ward started and finished in 6th, winning the Chopard watch for exceptional presentation and performance in our race group. Perhaps the award was also for nostalgic reasons but, after all, Roger is a great guy on and off the track, and he sure has a lot of momentum for a fellow his age.
What a kick! First finish for the car in over 35 years, hopefully the harbinger of many more to come as a reminder of Art Riley's deeds of derring-do in days gone by.
Back to part 1
Photos courtesy of Rick Hayden
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