Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Harry Eyerly: Movie Star

One other thing I did while Liv was out of town: watched a car flick that's been on my 'to see' list for a long time: the original 1955 Fast and the Furious.  Liv is a movie nut, and she'll watch almost anything, but I couldn't ask her to sit through a movie this bad.  If it weren't for the racing scenes (OK, and Dorothy Malone) I probably couldn't have made it through.
Screenwriter Roger Corman lifted the basics of the plot from Hitchcock's 1942 classic, Saboteur: innocent man (John Ireland), accused of murder, escapes and kidnaps a young woman and steals her car.  As they travel together she begins to believe his story.  In this version, the car is a race-ready Jaguar XK120, and the goal is to drive the Jag in a road race that enters Mexico, and then just keep going south.
Whatever.  The plot is pretty thin and the only thing holding the flick together are the scenes with race cars.  I held out for an hour, almost, but not quite falling asleep, when WHAM - I was wide awake!   When  our hero pulls his Jag into the starting lineup, what should be directly behind him, but Harry Eyerly's legendary #54 Crosley special, the Porsche Duster, with  - I'm fairly certain - Harry Eyerly at the wheel!  After the Jag is out of the way, Harry idles up to his space in line and then rolls offscreen.  It's brief (15 seconds, maybe) but it was awesome to see Eyerly's car totally in context.
I hoped that the car would show up again in the racing footage that followed, but it only flashed by once as the cars took off.  I can't be 100% sure it was Eyerly driving, but it sure looks like his helmet, and, why would they have someone else drive it? 
I watched the movie on Netflix instant play, but it's also on HULU and even on You Tube, although the picture quality is lower on You Tube.  If you don't want to sit through the whole thing, Eyerly comes in at almost exactly the one hour mark; in my book, he's the star of this flick.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Watkins Glen in the Gold Country: Marty Stein's '52 Siata 300BC

I took advantage of Liv being out of town this weekend to do something that's been on my list for years: I drove up to the Gold Country to visit Marty Stein and check out his Crosley-powered 1952 Siata 300BC.
Marty has been in the West Coast Crosley Club almost since the beginning, and he and his Siata were at the the very first meet I ever went to, back in '97.  The Siata was in good company back then: Ernie Mendicki brought his Siata, Des Telmont brought his Jabro and Don Baldocchi had his '53 Nardi.  I remember thinking at the time that I'd have no problem finding a Crosley-powered sports car since they seemed to be everywhere!

It seems like it's been forever since Marty's had the Siata out to the meet so I've been itching to take a close gander at the car since I've started to learn a bit more about Hmods.  Marty's car is a far cry from the homebuilt specials like the car in my garage (for one thing, the Siata has a slick aluminum body), but it was cars like the Siata that inspired the special builders.  And the Siatas were probably very inspiring: they weren't called 'baby Ferraris' for nothing.
Though Siata was a prominent player among the etceterini, they were not like factory-built cars.  Like most postwar Italian small special makers Siata tended to borrow some components from Fiat Topolinos, but there was plenty that was scratch built.   One thing I hadn't realized is that these particular Siatas were delivered sans engine.  Marty explained that the buyer simply installed the powerplant of choice... which explains how some Siatas ended up with Crosley engines.
Marty got his car over 30 years ago - in boxes.  His pal Ernie Mendicki had encouraged him to buy the Siata even though it was a 'roller,' meaning a project car that was partially disassembled.  Mendicki offered to help with the restoration, but an ugly divorce sidelined Ernie, so after six months of looking at the hulk Marty decided to start tinkering.  He'd never restored a car before, but amazingly, he not only got the car together, but got it on the racetrack.

Marty's early racing career left a lot to be desired, and he credits the late Bob Graham with helping him get the car in competition trim.  Graham built a hot motor and advised on other tweaks, and before long Marty was running strong in the 'Over the Hill Gang' of Hmods.
All that would be impressive if the car had been nothing more than a rare Italian sportscar... but Marty's car sports an eye-popping pedigree: it was raced at Watkins Glen and Sebring.  Racer and Crosley dealer Otto Linton ran a 1951 Siata prototype at the Glen in 1951- he made enough of a splash that he took three orders for Siatas that day.  Months later, one of those three, a racer named Tom Scatchard, picked up his brand new Siata 300BC with a Linton 'Speed Craft' prepared Crosley motor already installed.  (Unbelieveably, Marty got the original receipt with the car!)  Scatchard ran the Siata as #52 at Watkins Glen in 1952, the same year a tragic accident permanently ended street racing in New York State.  He came in 25th.
Marty knew that his car was supposed to have been run at Watkins Glen, but it took years of research to track down the details.  Marty eventually got hold of Henry Wessels, one of the other racers who had also ordered a Siata after the 1951 showing at the Glen.  Marty knew that Wessels and Scatchard  had driven together at Sebring in 1953, but he was shocked when Wessels told him that they had split the driving chores in Scatchard's Siata! 
Like many old racecars, Marty's Siata has suffered some indignities, not the least of which was a fifties or sixties conversion to street car that involved hacking out a big chunk of the tub to fit the convertible top!  The car has now been in Marty's hands for more than half its existence, and Marty has put a few wrinkles in the history too.  A seized engine destroyed the rear end and sent the Siata into a barrier not long after Marty started racing, and a few years later a catastrophic brake failure caused the car to roll, flipping the car multiple times.   After each incident he's simply put it back together.
Given the car's extensive race history it's amazing how much is still original.  The grill is still the same one it left left Italy with, as are the headlight lenses!  Marty still has the unique Speed Craft branded original cam cover (not on the car) that was identified by Nick Brajevich as the second Crosley cam cover he ever made, and the original Siata logo pedals are amazing.  The original Italian welds on the firewall are stunning for their unlovely "get 'er done" quality - they may have made cars pretty on the outside, but there was some funny stuff out of sight.
All in all, a fun day of visiting the keeper of a real treasure.  Marty laughed when telling me that he paid more for the last engine rebuild than he did for the whole car in 1979 - such is the state of vintage racing these days.  Marty still races the car not infrequently (next weekend at Sears Point, for example) and if you get a chance to see him run - do it.  It looks even better in motion.
(Thanks to Cliff Reuter's Etceterini for the Watkins Glen pics!)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Enrico Nardi, A Fast Life

I've been drooling over this book (via the internet) pretty much since the day it was published - at $80 plus shipping that's all I could afford to do.  It came out just as I was editing a Tin Block Times article about the Crosley-powered Nardis, so I was already getting a little bit obsessed with them. I figured I'd find a used copy or a sale, but after two years of looking, nada.  So, tonight I finally bit the bullet and ordered a copy after I had the grim realization that once it goes out of print it'll cost me three times as much.

Two hundred pages and over 300 photos means I'm pretty sure I'll be getting my money's worth, and the few reviews I've seen have been raves.  Speaking of, has anybody else noticed this new video 'book review' trend?  it's odd, and the 'reviewer' for the Nardi book seems way more cranky than he should be - he probably got his for FREE!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Two Crosleys: Six Hundred Bucks! New York State BARGAIN

Yikes!  Here's TWO cc Crosley sedans for $600.  Or offer!  Neither has run in years, but the bodies look pretty straight, and peep that little spotlight on the green one!  Why are they always on the other side of the country?... Located in Athol New York: call 518-744-8740 to scoop 'em.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Crosley Super Sport at Bridgehampton 1951

Don't know how I missed this killer footage of the 1951 Bridgehampton Sports Car races that was posted on the Chicane racing blog, but I did. It's a very brief (minute and a half) movie, but we do get a nice shot of a Super Sport doing a spinout into the hay at about the one minute mark.

Looking for info on the race I also found a different batch of footage of the same day, but the Crosley appears only briefly - in the initial take off of the 100 mile main event. If there's not much screen time for the SS, both flicks do feature plenty of footage of Tommy Cole in his winning Chrysler-Allard. No surprise there - Allards were the car to beat in that era.  In a coincidence, Fritz Koster, co-driver of the Crosley Hotshot that won Sebring in 1950 was also in this race, this time driving an HRG.  He came in 10th.

Minutia IDs the driver of the Super Sport as Steve Lansing and says he came in 14th place, so he must have finished the event. That's pretty impressive for a Crosley in a hundred mile race, even if he hadn't danced with a hay bail. In poking around for a complete entry list I saw that the indefatigable Cliff Reuter had the program cover posted on his Eteterini site. 
Thanks to the folks at Minutia for the tip - I'd have missed this one if they hadn't featured it!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Another Crosley Road Trip - 1948!

When I mentioned my Crosley Road Trip post on the Crosley Gang message board, member Sunivroc pointed me toward a similar set of Crosley road trip photos posted on Minutia, the microcar club blog, last year.
Sadly, this set of pics came with no story, so all we've got to go on are the notes on the backs of the photos. Sadder still, the editor's note says that the Microcar Club has called it quits after 18 years. Bummer, but it looks like they still update the blog every once in a while.

The pictures are one to a page- you have to click 'next post' at the bottom of the pages to see all five images...