10 Things we learnt at the 2014 Monterey Pre-Reunion
Monterey Car Week is on most car enthusiasts’ bucket lists. Some go for the car shows, some go for the auctions, some go for the racing. At Motorsport Retro, we went for the racing… starting with the Pre-Reunion.
Here are a few of the things we saw, some of which we doubt you’ll read about elsewhere.
1. Everything’s low key. Except the cars. The Pre Reunion is like a club race meeting… except for the cars (we’ll get to that shortly). The stands are empty. You can choose your viewpoint anywhere around the circuit and it will always be free. Want to catch the action at the world-famous Corkscrew? It’s a bit of a climb, but it couldn’t be easier. There’s a fleet of carts to take you there driven by the friendliest guys you’ll ever meet (just remember to leave a donation for the vets when you get off). Parking’s easy. There are no queues anywhere (okay, once there were two people in front of me at the café).
2. Star cars are everywhere. A glorious Aston DBR1 rubs shoulders with the Alfa driven by Nuvolari to win the 1935 German Grand Prix. Next car under the same awning is Romulus, one of Prince Bira’s ERAs. Nearby, the 1954 Ferrari 750 Monza bought by a young and upwardly mobile Jack Brabham. It’s Maserati’s centenary this year, so it’s the featured marque at the 2014 Reunion; here in the paddock are a pair of Birdcages, a 300S and other slightly less exulted models too.
3. There’s plenty of American iron too. Suddenly there’s a giant thunder clap, the roar of angry V8s on the circuit. They’ve opened up the throttles for the rolling start for the first race for TransAm class muscle cars. The course commentators have already warned that they wouldn’t be saying much for the next few minutes. Within seconds, you realise why. Among them are cars with extraordinary history driven by the biggest names in America. Meanwhile in the paddock there are plenty of Corvettes… but another star is a little further away. It’s the 1964 FIA homologation Shelby Cobra. Don’t even think about what it must be worth these days.
4. There are cars you’ve probably even heard of, let alone seen. One that caught our eye was Jeff Rothman’s Forsgrini. In fact, Jeff hadn’t heard of them either until he saw one advertised. But he’d been looking to move from his Alfa GTA into a sports racing car and this one came up. Apparently six were built, of which three survive, Jeff’s car qualified on the front row for its first race in 1964, only to be taken out in the first lap. As you can see from these shots, it’s conceptually rather like a Lotus 23 (not a bad starting point, you have to admit) but while it may not be as pretty, it looks a bit sturdier, to our eyes. The twin cam Ford engine makes it a pretty rapid device… and yes, we’d own it in a heartbeat.
5. A nice pair, well prepared. Ever seen a Pooper? You won’t see one on every street corner; they only built three. But the centre steering sports car intrigued me, as did the name. Back in 1953, they started with a Cooper F3 chassis, added an all-enveloping body and Porsche 356 power. The result is, hardly surprisingly, a bit like a Cooper Bobtail.
Alongside the Pooper was a Porsche 908/3. One of eleven built for 1970/71 to complement the heavier 917, the 908 was Porsche’s weapon of choice on circuits that favoured nimble cars. This one was entered in the 1970 for Elford/ Hermann in its current sunburst livery. It crashed out, but the other two team cars finished 1st and 2nd. Van Lennep and Marko took the car to 3rd in the Nurburgring 1,000km race.
These days, the cars have several things in common. They’re both owned and raced by Cameron Healy from Portland Oregon, both superbly prepared by Rod Emery and both won their races at the Pre Reunion. What they’re not is remotely similar to drive. Cameron Healy told us, “It’s like day/night. To drive the Pooper fast, you have to slide it through corners; it’s very light, and very sensitive to acceleration. The 908, on the other hand, is all about precision. With its mid engine mounted so far forward, the handling is neutral.” At the end of racing, Cam Healy looked pretty pleased with the weekend – as well he might. But the biggest grin was reserved for Rod Emery.
6. Racing’s in the blood. Take Alex Curtiss, for example. Alex is a lovely, self-effacing guy, but hey, he raced his 300SL Gullwing at the Pre-Reunion and he’ll have his Chain Gang Frazer Nash as well next weekend, Alex didn’t really stand a chance. His dad Ned raced at Watkins Glen in the late 40s and early 50s, and at Sebring in ’54 with an MG TC. Later came a Healey road car, but the first Monterey Historics reignited his interest in racing. Soon a Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica was pressed into service and he continued to race until 1997.
Meanwhile, Alex got the bug and started racing Mustangs until he “grew up and decided to do gentlemen’s racing in the 300SL.” It’s a lovely car, not over-restored and with a gorgeous original interior. The day after the Pre-Reunion, Alex drove by in his Frazer Nash which he showed me with obvious pride. The unusual thing about this car is the twin overhead cam 6-cyliner Blackburn engine. Just 18 Frazer Nashes were delivered with this motor, and Alex says that only 50 of the motors were built. “Parts are non existent,” said Alex, “but luckily I own a machine shop so I can make them.” When racing’s in the blood, you’ll do anything to keep a car on the track.
7. You meet the most amazing people. Wherever you travel to historic motorsport events, you meet terrific people who love to have a chat. At Monterey, the people who owned the cars, the people who worked on the cars and those with a foot in both camps couldn’t have been friendlier or more forthcoming. Meeting the people at Monterey is as much a part of the event as the cars themselves.
8. A lovely ‘works’ MGB rubber nose. If you’re not American, you probably didn’t realise that Leyland actually had a couple of works MGBs to promote the brand in 1976. Well, we didn’t anyway. They were built by Huffaker Engineering for BL, but all was not as it seemed. They actually utilised a ’64 shell – these were lighter than later models. Scott Brown’s car was the third, built for a customer at the end of the season – and it is still maintained by Huffaker to this very day. And it’s quick.; finishing 5th ahead of the most of the 911s in its race could only be described as “punching above its weight”. Why are we telling you about a relatively humble MGB at an event where so many exotics are present? Because it proves you don’t have to own a multi-million dollar car to be part of Monterey,
9. A day at the office. Take a walk around and look at the famous names on some of the cars. These are cars in which the immortals have sat.
10. The Americans love a show. And about the best show of all was put on by Australian Ron Goodman who not only bought his Porsche 356 all the way from Sydney, but also everything it took to transform a humble container and two gazebos into ‘The Outback garage’, complete with boxing kangaroo and cattle dog. By the way, Ron’s immaculate Porsche was never out of the top eight on the track, either.
Should you go to the Pre-Reunion? Definitely. It means you’re in town for the car shows, the auctions and everything else that happens during Monterey Car Week… and as they used to say about Brooklands in the thirties, you’ll find “the right crowd, and no crowding.”
Note: the writer travelled to Monterey with Ron Goodman’s team