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I often wonder if younger readers today are as awestruck by magazine covers as I was back in the ’60s. One of the most iconic for me was the May 1965 issue of Road & Track, which featured Carroll Shelby with three of the cars he would be racing that year: the Cobra, the Shelby 350 Mustang and the Ford GT40. He’s the reason I own those three cars today. When he visited my garage I asked him to recreate the photo, and he graciously complied.
/ #Ford-GT40 / #Ford
Another magazine cover, a bit more obscure but no less riveting, was the September/October 1965 issue of Antique Automobile, the official publication of the Antique Automobile Club of America. It featured an enormous chain-driven aero-engined monster nicknamed Rabbit-the-First. At that point in my life I was more into muscle cars and hot rod magazines than antique automobiles that puttered down the road, but this one was different. So different that I saved that copy of the magazine, which I still have. The thought that I would one day acquire that car never crossed my mind. It finally happened about ten years ago. Unlike many aero-engined cars today, this one was assembled in period. It was once thought to be one of Count Zborowski’s Chitty Bang Bang cars, an easy mistake to make because the build was somewhat identical.
The original owner, Lord Scarisbrick, had an engine taken from a German aircraft that had been shot down. Someone had buried the engine in their back yard, hoping to put it in a car or a boat when the war ended. Scarisbrick acquired the engine and had it put in a beefedup 1910 Mercedes frame. The car quickly acquired the name Rabbit One because of the name Scarisbrick called his wife. Use your imagination to figure that out. The earliest photo I could find of the car showed it in the 1940 Easter Parade in New York. After several American owners it was acquired by famous automotive illustrator Peter Helck, who first saw it in 1950. By then it had a radiator from an early Locomobile, still on the car today. Helck came up with the badge on the radiator that says ‘Benz-Mercedes’. And according to Bill Boddy, the car was run at Brooklands in 1921, we think just the once.
When I got the Rabbit it just about ran. It had a clutch that barely functioned, which I believe is the original clutch from the 1910 Mercedes, and brakes on the rear wheels only that barely stopped the car. The restoration took so long because the steel water jackets surrounding the cylinders were rusted through; you’d fill the radiator, run a mile or two, and all the water would have gone. We had to hand-make new water jackets out of brass, which took about a year. Hands haven’t changed, so I hope this hand-made engine will now last another 100 years. To make the Rabbit driveable we took off the front axle, which we saved, and fitted an axle from a 1929 Lincoln, which had front brakes. We made a periodlooking drum with hydraulic discs hidden inside them.
We can always go back to original if need be. We also fitted a modern McLeod clutch and put a clutch brake on the gearbox input shaft using a disc brake from a motorcycle, making it easier to shift the non-synchro transmission. I don’t think any previous owners drove it more than a few hundred miles, at best. After Peter Helck had made a wonderful job of restoring the engine, I don’t think he drove it much at all. Probably because of the clutch and the lack of braking.
It’s a fascinating vehicle to drive on its thin, almost bicycle-like tyres. Its most impressive part, besides the giant sprockets and huge chains, is the six-cylinder, 18.5-litre, 230bhp engine with its polished brass water jacket and four overhead valves per cylinder. Scarisbrick must have had some male brass parts himself to run this thing at a documented 113mph.
To sit behind such a mechanical beast is truly a treat. It is so unlike any modern automotive experience; 1600rpm is pretty much the end of the world and the valve springs are not covered. Oil drips down on them from an overhead spigot. You’ve seen those old photos of racers who have taken off their goggles and they look like raccoons because their faces are covered with grease and oil. That’s what it’s like when you drive this thing.
Once a group was touring my garage and an elderly man with a walking stick yelled out at the top of his lungs, ‘Oh my God! Is that Rabbit One?’ His father had seen it as a boy and told him about it. This man had researched almost all the aero-engined cars at Brooklands, but this one had eluded him. He didn’t look at another car in my collection; he just stayed with this one until the tour had finished. That’s what makes this hobby worthwhile. Fun as it is to preserve history, it’s way more fun to drive it.
‘LORD SCARISBRICK MUST HAVE HAD SOME MALE BRASS PARTS HIMSELF TO RUN THIS THING AT 113MPH’
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- Post is under moderation/ #Ford-GT40 / Book of the month / #Ford-GT / #Ford / #Jacky-Ickx / #Ford-GT40-Mk1-Roadcar / #Ford-GT40-Mk1
The Autobiography of 1075 #Ray-Hutton , Porter Press International, £60, ISBN 978 1 907085 68 0
For someone like this reviewer, born in the 1950s, race-car-obsessed in the 1960s and having a Ford-driving father, the Ford GT40 is the coolest and most wonderful racing car ever. It achieved this status by what it was, why it existed, what it did and who drove it. And the greatest of all GT40s was 1075, the GT40 that won Le Mans not once but twice.
This is the GT40 whose Gulf Oil colour scheme is aped by many a replica. It is the car in which Jacky Ickx played mind games with Hans Herrmann at Le Mans in 1969, obliging the Porsche 908 to pass him on the last lap by slowing right down, then outbraking the Porsche at Mulsanne corner, keeping the lead to the flag and scoring 1075’s second Le Mans win by a whisker. It was mesmerising, even on black-and-white TV. Now, here is 1075 in the latest of the Porter Press Great Cars series, number 11. It has followed hefty volumes in similarly luscious, archive-illustrated, deeply researched ‘biography’ format covering famous examples of cars such as a Ferrari 250 GTO, a Lotus 18, an ERA, a D-type Jaguar and two Lightweight E-types.
For 1075 the author is Ray Hutton, former sports editor (and later overall editor) of Autocar, prolific author and, until fairly recently, president of the European Car of the Year organisation. The first motor sport event he ever covered, as a new staffer at Motor Racing magazine, was the 1968 BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch, won by Ickx and Brian Redman driving, yes, GT40 number 1075.
In the book’s 320 crisp pages are the story behind the whole GT40 project, race-by-race analysis of 1075’s exploits during its active years of 1968 and 1969 (it won a lot more than #Le-Mans ), and profiles of its eight drivers: Ickx, Redman, 1969’s Le Mans co-winner Jackie Oliver, #1968-Le-Mans winners #Pedro-Rodríguez and #Lucien-Bianchi , #Paul-Hawkins , #David-Hobbs and #Mike-Hailwood . All are great stories in their own right.
There’s an analysis of the JW Gulf team that built and ran 1075 and its sisters, team boss John Wyer’s wisdom (taken from Autocar) of what it takes to win Le Mans, and a #1968 track test of 1075 by Innes Ireland (from Autocar again). The GT40’s post-racing life is documented, including the time it spent gathering dust at #Gulf-HQ after the glory had faded, and there’s a wonderful delve into 1075’s patinated anatomy today.
That last section apart, the book is illustrated with period photographs reproduced with a clarity that will take the breath away of those who pored over such pictures in 1960s magazines. I think this is the best Great Cars story yet: GT40 lovers, this is your book.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
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