Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Beginning of a Mystery

I read an online bulletin board about vintage H Modified racecars pretty much every day.   'H Modified' was the racing class designation (500 - 750 cc) that most Crosley-powered sports cars fell into back in the fifties, when racing a Crosley was something much more common than one might suspect.  The Crosley Hotshot and Super Sports models were aimed at the emerging US sports car market, and, despite flaws, did pretty well when first introduced.  A bone stock Crosley Hotshot won the very first internationally sanctioned US sports car race-- the 1950 Sebring Race-- and set in motion the dreams of thousands of American sports car fans who suddenly found a true sports car that was within reach of their finances.  

That moment when a stock Crosley Hotshot was actually competitive on the track lasted all of about ten minutes.  Before long, racers were dumping that heavy steel body in favor of a handmade fiberglass or aluminum one, adding extra carburetors and bigger wheels, and doing everything allowed in the SCCA rulebooks, and then some.  By the mid fifties, homebuilt Crosley 'specials' dominated the H Mod class, wiping up the track with the smallbore Euro machines that they were competing against.   The mid fifties was the heyday of the Crosley homebuilt, with geniuses like Harry Eyerly racking up win after win, often against cars with twice the engine displacement!  Eyerly didn't earn the nickname the Porsche Duster for nothing! 

Successful backyard specials (of all kinds, not just Crosleys) were very common in Class H racing all the way up into the early sixties when racing became much more professionalized. By that time high end small displacement racers like the Osca were making even the best homebuilts obsolete, and many one-time trophy-winning cars were stuck in barns, backyards, garages or junkyards because their value as competition cars was nil.

The H Mod bulletin board I frequent is populated by people who never lost their love for those tiny underhorsed racers of yore.  Some posters were active racers back in the fifties, and are eager to share their knowledge and their memories.  A larger group of posters restore old sportscars and race vintage H Modified cars in historic auto racing events.  I pretty much listen and stay out of the way.  The knowledge that floats by in any given week is astonishing-- absolutely valueless to 99.99% of even the auto-enthusiast world, but absolutely essential to people who are trying to learn as much as possible about these tiny bolides.

As I was lurking last March, a very interesting post showed up with the header, 'Can anyone identify this car?'  A guy was trying to help the widow of an old friend sell a vintage Renault racecar project that had been lingering since at least 1973.  There was a link to a few tantalizing photos and a line that the car had originally been built with a Crosley sheet metal engine....

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