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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Category: Motor Sports

2 Wheels and 200 MPH

Classic Velocity

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Today, you can walk into most major motorcycle dealerships, and purchase a motorcycle that will do 200 MPH. You even have your choice of options from among multiple brands. These are not super exotic homologation specials, they are standard production machines, available to anyone. Back in the 1950s, it was difficult and expensive to find a production machine that would do half that speed. The world was recovering from WWII, and Germany in particular was just getting back into producing cars and motorcycles of higher speeds and displacements. BMW, Zundapp, and NSU were competing in the showrooms and on the racetrack for dominance. At that time, success on the track was the primary advertising material to get buyers into the showroom. And it worked. One area left dormant since before the war was the motorcycle land speed record. It was still held by a BMW from 1937. NSU siezed an opportunity and established a new record of 180.10 MPH (289.85 KPH) in 1951 with Wilhelm Herz aboard blasting down the autobahn.  With 200 MPH in sight, there were several attempts by a variety of manufacturers over the next 5 years, but they all fell short.

Until 1956.  The 1951 record had stood for 4 years before being eclipsed by a Vincent, and then by a Triumph in 1955. NSU decided to go all out in reclaiming it in 1956, and sent a well-equipped team of machines, spares, and mechanics to the Bonneville Salt flats that July. They brought 6 machines with engines all based on their very successful GP racing RennMax and RennFox machines. The 500cc (actually 499cc) machine was dubbed the Dolphin III as the most recent version of the original Delphin that broke the land speed record back in 1951. The 350cc and 500cc models were supercharged parallel twins, but with an interesting historical twist. The superchargers used a troichordal rotor on a fixed shaft in a figure 8 style chamber. If this sounds familiar, it is because it was  the precursor of the wankel engine. The engine was an overhead cam with bevel-drive, fed by a single Amal carburetor. Soichoro Honda himself had been by the factory the prior year to take a look At what NSU was doing with production machines given their performance in the lightweight classes in GP racing.

Back to Bonneville. The Delphin (Dolphin) moniker was due to the streamlined shape of the fairing which produced a miserly 0.19 coefficient of drag. In fact, the major challenge was keeping the machine on the ground at speed, and weights were added strategically for this purpose. The seating position placed the pilot low, and was dubbed the “hammock” position. On the salt flats, it was a difficult couple of weeks. Conditions were windy, and NSU had a crash during the 250cc attempt with H.P. Mueller aboard. In fact Mueller was the pilot for all of the record-breaking runs except for the 500cc class. Several crashes or aborted runs took place in other classes as well. However, early in the morning on August 4th, 1956 with Wilhelm Herz once again in the pilot seat, and the winds finally calm, NSU was able to achieve a stunning 211.4 MPH, shattering the previous record by 26 MPH !! NSU had convincingly reclaimed dominance in the land speed arena, and returned home poised for continued success on the track and in the showroom.

Sebring Vintage Classic 2019

Classic Velocity

Who can pass up a weekend of vintage racing at a historic track? Not the Classic Velocity crew. The weekend is organized by SVRA, whose motto is “Some people collect art, we race it”. And that motto was in full bloom in early March as competitors and fans converged on the heart of Florida. Perhaps it is the venue, or perhaps the entry fees, but this particular event tends to have more fly-and-drive participants and more expensive cars. There were a lot of “race management” outfits in the paddock, and fewer DIY solo competitors. However, this in turn resulted in more high-end and historic art that was raced. Porsche was by far the most popular marque, but Ferrari and Aston Martin were also well represented.

 As always, it is the people that make these events so enjoyable. I had a chance to speak with the owner of the lovely 914 pictured here. The owner did all of the work himself other than paint, trailered it from Phoenix, ran it, wrenched it, and still had time to tell me all about it and swap 914 stories. Commendable indeed. At the other end of the spectrum, I got to spend some quality time with one of the Audi suspension technicians for the WEC LMP car of Tom Kristiensen and Alan McNish. I got up close and personal with the car and changes they had to make to the suspension for the relatively bumpy Sebring circuit. Suffice it to say that there was not a lot of suspension travel on those cars, and not much seat padding either!! It gives you new appreciation for what it must be like to do a multi-hour stint in a car like that. Oh, and the rear suspension arms cost more than the 914 ! 

There was also a car show sponsored by Hagerty which included an eclectic mix of vehicles from an Austin A35 to a VW Westfalia, to a Ferrari to a Pontiac Grand Safari (one of the largest of the behemoth station wagons of the 1970s).  There were enough items of interest to keep any gearhead engaged over a few days, and the access and approachability of those in the paddock made this a special event. 

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BMW 700RS

Classic Velocity

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If this seems like a good model name for a motorcycle, you are partially right. The BMW 700 was a very important vehicle for the company and we have previously covered it (see BMW 700). In that article, we pointed out that it was a successful combination of a car’s body wrapped around a motorcycle engine. We also mentioned that it enjoyed some racing success with the GT and RS models.

The 700RS was built specifically for hillclimbs, and featured an aluminum space frame chassis bearing little resemblance to the production 700 that shared part of its name. In true testament to the racing ethos of the time, it retained the 697cc motorcycle engine but managed to produce 70 hp from that unit. With a curb weight of just 1213 lbs, it had 100 hp per liter of displacement, and 127 hp per ton. Amazing numbers at the time, and very much aligned with racers like Lotus. It also handled very well given that it was mid-engined, and low and sleek.

The 700RS went on to numerous victories in the early 1960s, piloted by such racing luminaries as Alex Von Falkenhausen, and Hans Stuck. 

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Sebring Historics 2018

Classic Velocity

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The local BMW club, FSCBMWCCA, organized an outing to the Sebring Historics, and we tagged along. Sebring is a historic track with a rich legacy. The Historics event is an opportunity for historic and vintage sports cars to enjoy a race weekend in the central Florida “fall” weather. This translated into foggy mornings with sunny days with highs in the low 80s. The event also features a vintage aircraft fly-in with most from the WWII era.  The display area for these machines was interesting by itself. Radial aircraft engines in particular are fascinating for their simplicity and reliability. And that brings us back to endurance racing where both of those virtues can help you to emerge victorious. 

The racing portion of this event is organized by Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR).  In the sprint races, a couple of Porsche 914/6 cars dominated group 2 and 3 with  a BMW E36 sandwiched in between. A Porsche 911 RSR was on the podium in group 5 and 7, and there was a Classic RS race. A couple of 2002s were sprinkled among the field, but none managed to run at the front. The highlight is the Classic 12 hour, and a pair of Lola’s finished 1-2. The entire field was interesting with Ginettas and GT40s and Elans and longhood 911s and Cobras battling it out. 

Like all historic events, the pits provide an opportunity to get up close and personal with some very cool machinery. Owners, drivers, and mechanics are all very tolerant of onlookers and questions. We had a great conversation around a BMW M Coupe, and got to climb inside an RSR. Very cool. Back at the club corral, there were some interesting machines as well. Not one, but two Z8s graced us with their presence, along with a couple of nice original M5s and an M2. Cool people, cool cars, cool competition. Not a bad way to bring in December. 

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Dakar Rally Record Setter

Classic Velocity

One of our favorite cars of all time is the Porsche 959 Rally Car (see Porsche 959 Paris Dakar). Partly because it is so far from the intent of the production car, partly because it is a rally car, and partly because it looks great in Rothmans livery. Even the replicas are cool and expensive. Porsche was always pretty good at keeping track of its race cars, so we guess it just waited for a special occasion to let one of these machines change hands. And this is why the Porsche 70th Anniversary auction included one of the 1985  Paris Dakar cars, and then it sold for $5,945,000 ! And this was not a winning car, just one of 3 that all retired with issues. There are four more of the seven produced in the Porsche Museum. We were narrowly outbid, but maybe next time ;-)

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Barber Vintage Festival 2018

Classic Velocity

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If you are a fan of old motorcycles, there is no better place to be in October than the Barber Vintage Festival. It grows each year and has seen more than 70,000 attendees. The reasons are simple. A best-in-the-world vintage motorcycle museum. A well-designed race track. Vintage racing. Beautiful grounds. Great camping. Thousands of vintage gearheads, ensuring tremendous variety and great discussions. It is all here in one place.

The museum has been covered here before (see Bowing to Barber), so suffice it to say that it is worth a road trip or even a plane trip by itself, and you should find your way there. The fact that it is just part of the reason to go to the festival makes this an even greater event. Like the Goodwood Festival (see The Revival), it is a multi-day event which surrounds the perimeter of the race track. The racing, which is part of the AHRMA series, involves several vintage classes including sidecars, novice classes, lightweight, heavyweight, and more. A stroll through the pits is an experiential history of motorcycle racing. And craftsmanship. Solutions often need to be invented and/or fabricated.

Vintage clubs of all stripes also make this event a formal gathering. You can hangout on Norton Hill, or join the VJMC contingent or the AMCA encampment, or the Airheads, to name a few. The Ace Corner catered to a lively gang of grey-haired rockers! If you can’t find members of your tribe at this event, they may be on the verge of extinction ;-) The larger gatherings had judged shows and their own mini festival. Manufacturers and vendors are also there in abundance. You could test ride a new Harley, KTM or BMW, you could enjoy an Enfield, or use a Ural. But you could also pickup some cafe racer parts or a vintage style helmet. 

If, however, you were after original bikes and parts, the swap area was the place to do it. It is now expanded due to growth, so there are two separate areas. This is nowhere near as large as Mid Ohio, but there is a significant array of machines and parts in every condition from NOS to COBAR (corroded beyond all recognition). Every other stall seemed to have a Honda Trail or a Cub for sale. And speaking of original, just like Goodwood, the parking lot can be as interesting as the show field. I have not seen so many Laverdas in one place in a long time, and not one, but three BMW R1200STs! The interesting choices for touring machines, and the innovative storage solutions in the camping area could be its own article. 

This is a must-do event for anyone in North America who is into vintage motorcycles. Whether you like racing, or concours, or touring, or swap meets, or just walking around for days looking at old bikes, this is a worthwhile event. Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it, there is the world’s best motorcycle museum with close to a thousand on display. 

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Rows and rows of interesting motorcycles from near and far

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Zundapp parts

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Signed by Kenny Roberts

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A Meticulous Munch

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Gorgeous Guzzi

A Norton awaiting its racing class

A Norton awaiting its racing class

A Birmingham Small Arms in Birmingham

A Birmingham Small Arms in Birmingham

Globe circling BMWs in the museum

Globe circling BMWs in the museum

What is your tribe?

What is your tribe?

I’m betting that you have not seen a Tornax in the flesh recently !

I’m betting that you have not seen a Tornax in the flesh recently !

An Adventure Scooter ?

An Adventure Scooter ?

A beautiful Indian

A beautiful Indian

DKW with a pillion seat way off the rear….

DKW with a pillion seat way off the rear….

Artwork was interspersed among the vintage iron..

Artwork was interspersed among the vintage iron..

Honda Cubs and Trails were everywhere….

Honda Cubs and Trails were everywhere….

This Classic Velocity post is brought to you by Motocron : For Enthusiasts By Enthusiasts

Don Garlits Museum

Classic Velocity

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Your eyes do not deceive you. You may be asking, what could the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing possibly have to do with a blog about classic and vintage German vehicles, and why is a Karmann Ghia the lead photo? Good questions, I am glad you asked. 

First, it has been our experience that museums in general often have surprising content despite their main theme. In fact, we have yet to visit a car or motorcycle museum that did not have some unusual items related in some way to this blog. Check out this link to museum posts, and you will see what we mean. Second, it is a museum about cars going fast, so there is an automatic interest. With that said, we did not have very high expectations about this unplanned stop. Going as fast as possible in a very short straight line, is not exactly where our motorsports interests lie. It is the conceptual and philosophical opposite of the Dakar, Formula 1, Moto GP, and World Rally. However, it is serious business, the speeds are ludicrous, it is dangerous, and the machines are incredible manifestations of brute force.

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The main theme of the museum is to provide a chronicle of the life and times of Don Garlits, who is probably the most famous drag racer period. From the late 1950s into the 1980s, he created and refined the most dominant machines in the sport. He started with a repair and service shop in Tampa, FL but soon started to build hot rods and that naturally lead to faster quarter mile machines and drag cars. "Big Daddy" as he came to be known, and his "Swamp Rat" machines as they came to be known has a long and colorful history, and his personal and political views have often been controversial. Like all forms of Motorsport, the early days had crude machines and astounding levels of risk. Steel frames from 2 street cars welded together to create length, highly volatile fuel mixtures running through rubber hoses secured by hose clamps, an exposed engine 12 inches from your face, overalls and goggles for safety gear, etc. Garlits began in those days and moved with the sport into the modern era.  However, he paid a price in losing half of his foot in an accident where his transmission exploded and cut the car in half. He went rear-engined after that and continued to race!

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The dragsters are the most ungainly looking masters of speed. They have massive engines originally in front of and now behind the driver. They have a 25ft wheelbase. Today they are estimated to generate north of 10,000 hp in top fuel form. In order to put that power down to the ground, the massive 3ft wide slicks run at 5-7psi !!  The top fuel runs are over in 3.7 seconds or less, but the driver is subject to 5.5g at the peak, 4g sustained, and speeds exceed 330mph !! Fan, or not, you have to respect the engineering and marvel at the spectacle that such numbers represent.  

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Tucked into one small area amidst two buildings of pure Americana, are a Volkswagen Beetle, a beetle chassis cutaway, and a pristine 1974 Karmann Ghia. The Beetle is one that Garlits restored, but the 1974 Ghia was purchased from a bank auction of a new car dealership, driven for 27 dealer test miles, and has never been titled ! Arguably, the best example in the world, located in a museum dedicated to the exact opposite of an under-powered non-american street legal air-cooled basic transport. Who would have guessed?

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East African Coronation Safari 1953-1954

Classic Velocity

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With the Dakar underway, long distance endurance rallies are on the mind. Going back in time, these rallies were really extended reliability trials. If you finished on Sunday (winning was even better), it went right onto a poster for the sales department to use on Monday. Even today, I wonder how many manufacturers would send a bone stock production sedan vehicle off to race across sub Saharan Africa, wth just a couple of tires and a gas can strapped on the back. But I digress.....

The East African Coronation Safari was first run in 1953 crossing Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika. It was initially held to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, since She was in Kenya and became Queen, when King George died. It became widely regarded as the toughest Rally on the circuit, if not in the world. 3000 miles, punishing terrain, and unpredictable weather, all combined to cement the reputation of this Rally. However the first two instances of this Rally really set the stage. The initial rally had three starting points, although the majority started in Nairobi. It wound its way around Lake Victoria. Performance on the cars was required to be showroom, meaning no mods. Four classes were determined based on vehicle price. There were only 57 entrants for the first Rally, including DKW, Ford, Mercedes, Peugeot, Tatar, and Volkswagen. There were only 27 finishers, with the top spot (least penalties) going to the split-window Volkswagen Beetle of Alan Dix and Johnny Larsen. In 1954, Volkswagen triumphed again but this time at the famous hands of Vic Preston and D P Marwaha. Average speed decreased due to the increase in mandatory rest stops and control points. The following year, the Rally adopted FIA rules and an RAC permit was required, effectively ending the initial minimal regulations approach. 

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Limerock 2017

Classic Velocity

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For us, Labor Day weekend is synonymous with the Limerock Vintage Motorsports Weekend. The event has graced these pages many times before (see Lapping Limerock or Limerock 2014), and always delights. This year represented an abbreviated visit, as we were going to miss Monday racing (the circuit has a long time noise ordinance which effectively bans racing on Sundays), and the remnants of hurricane Harvey drowned out the Sunday car show. The auction that has now become part of the weekend took place under tent as the rain came down on all sides.

However,  Friday and Saturday were perfect, with temps in the seventies and a mix of sun and clouds.  We have been to this event when the sun was blisteringly hot, and we have been to this event when everyone was huddled up in winter clothing. Saturday's blend was great for walking around the paddock, and for watching the racing from multiple vantage points around the track. Indicative of the variety that you find at Limerock was one of their last run groups, which was an eclectic mix of machines together on track. It included a Ford GT, a few MGBs, a Lotus Elan, a few Porsche 911s, and a Tatra!

Of course like any great event, the parking lot can be almost as interesting as what is inside. No disappointment here. Something about New England brings out the anglophiles, so the early Jags, and Healeys, and Land Rovers were abundant. Even a nice Rover TC graced the grassy parking area. Clubs also showed up in force, so Porsches and BMWs were everywhere. A few interesting Italian cars were there, in addition to the Ferraris and Maserati ( is the plural of Maserati, Maserati?), including a rare Fiat 130.  The Fiat was large and wide, and could have easily been a product of Detroit Rather than Italy.

The paddock continues to expand, with the two areas now consuming most of what was the swap meet area. Sadly, there is less of a swap meet these days, but it is due to increasing numbers of on-track competitors. This makes the paddock more interesting, and the chance to see your favorite marque and model, greater. Limerock's mix of elevation changes, esses, and a long straight, ensure that you need a well sorted machine to dominate, and that the racing stays interesting each lap.  

Want to browse through our photos from the event? View the Full Limerock Vintage Weekend Album

Lancia ready to race

Lancia ready to race

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Green on green  

An impressive tape job on the headlights! 

An impressive tape job on the headlights! 

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A classic beauty in Motorsport livery

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Renault Alpine

Beetle with a Porsche engine at the auction

Beetle with a Porsche engine at the auction

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Ford Angelia with a Cosworth inside..

An Auto Union 1000 for sale

An Auto Union 1000 for sale

Neue Klasse Homologation Special

Classic Velocity

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In 1962, BMW broke even for the first time since the war thanks to a strategic infusion from the Quandt family, and some surprising success with a few models (see Birth of the Bavarian Sports Sedan and The Halo and the Hail Mary). This allowed them to introduce the Neue Klasse sedans in 1963 which immediately began to sell well. A 1500 model was introduced in various trim levels, all using the now famous "3 Box" design, and the M10 engine. The 1500 gave way to a 1600 model (except in countries where 1500cc was an important tax limit), and the a 4 door 1800 was eventually introduced. 

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A homologation special, the 1800 TI/SA, was introduced in 1964. It was produced to support the factory works effort, and took the TI (Turismo Internationale) production version and upgraded it to SA (SonderAusführung) specifications. This involved higher compression (10.5:1), twin Weber carbs rather than the twin solex TI, larger brakes upfront and rear disc brakes, a 5 speed gearbox, and a hotter camshaft. In the cockpit, there was a special tachometer and sport seats. On the exterior, there were no bumpers, and plain wheels without trim or covers. The end result was 150 hp compared to 120 hp in the TI. Only 200 of these specials were produced, and they were sold only to race teams.

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The TISA was successful in competition, winning the German national championship in the hands of Hubert Hahne in 1964, and coming second at the Spa Francochamps 24 hour race. In 1965, the TISA won Spa in the hands of Pascal Ickx (yes, father of Jacky Ickx). Today, you can still find the TISA at events like Goodwood and the Monterey Historics, but they are mostly tucked away in private collections and museums. 

Weekend Warriors

Classic Velocity

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Being in the midst of building a street car that can go to the track and pass tech inspection, I am struck by the contrast of what this process was like when I last did it 20+ years ago, and what it was like 20 years before that. First a few obvious contrasts, so that you know this is not just another luddite diatribe about how much better things were back then... 

Racing is safer today. Despite having fewer tracks today, there are probably many more track miles driven per year, and with far fewer injuries and deaths per mile driven. Cars are better today. Even in the arena of vintage racing where my interest lies, we are running better tires, better brakes, and better lubricants than the original cars ever did. Tracks are better today. I ran the new Watkins Glen, and the new Lime Rock Park in recent years, and the historic sharp edges of those tracks have been removed. It is very hard to run into a stand of trees these days, or hit Armco barriers that have no energy absorption. The new tracks such as Thunderbolt in NJ are designed so that Indy cars are safe, much less your 1969 BMW 1600. That is not to say that vintage racing is completely sanitized. There are accidents every season, and there was an unfortunate fatality at Lime Rock in the last 2 years. Things are better on all fronts, but this remains a sport with risks. 

In order to participate in this safer arena for a few weekends per year, the current project car has to have some significant modifications. It must have a roll cage of specified thickness, which rises above head height, and which has an inspection port so that the thickness can be validated at tech inspection. It must have a cutoff switch and a fire extinguisher. It must have no leaks of any kind, a multi-point safety harness, and must have catchment bottles, etc, etc. In order to be competitive at the sharp end of the field, the car would have to be made virtually unusable as a street car.

There was a time, in the heyday of sports car racing, when you could drive your street car to the track, and race it after doing little more than placing a taped "X" over the headlights. Certainly a low barrier to entry, and the sport grew tremendously. The SCCA general competition rule (GCR) book for 2017 is 986 pages, up from 963 pages in 2016, and it is updated monthly! In 1985 it was 786 pages. Thankfully, vintage is only 542 pages today, up from 533 in 2012, but this covers machines which were last produced 40 years ago! Time marches on, and the SCCA is just one of many organizations that are in a constant battle to close loopholes, and improve safety, while not killing the racing. Not an enviable balance to strike at all. 

The perception that even the most basic form of amateur racing is expensive and complicated may not be entirely true, but a 1000 page rule book, and a paddock full of trailers doesn't help dispel that perception. In a litigious society, it is probably a pipe dream to expect cheap, easy, and legal competition, but it sure would be nice to have an option of driving to the track with just a roll of electrical tape, a helmet, and a 1 page disclaimer....

Vegas Vintage

Classic Velocity

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Although there is a pretty famous vintage motorcycle auction held in Las Vegas each January, it is not typically a Mecca for vintage two-wheeled machines. It has plenty of motorcycles, but customs, badgers, and cruisers are more prevalent in a town known for glitz and glamour. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to find a small cluster of vintage machines inside a Mega Harley Davidson dealership. It included the former race machines of luminaries such as Barry Sheene, Kenny Roberts, Steve Baker, and Paul Smart. It seems fitting that Bikini fairings are a good way to depict these classic racing machines..

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An Extra 50cc

Classic Velocity

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The Adler M200 was introduced at the Frankfurt show in 1951. It was a twin cylinder with alloy heads, helical gears connecting the primary drive to the gearbox, a wet clutch, and an innovative approach to sealing the crankcase. The M200 was well regarded by the press, but just 2 years later, Adler bumped the displacement up to 250cc, and created a real star. The perfectly square bore and stroke created a smooth engine, and a more rigid frame enhanced handling.

In 1954, sporting versions of the 250 run by privateers managed multiple top ten finishes. Those RS250 versions reached top speeds of 120mph. A few of them added water cooling to maintain full performance as the engine got hotter. By 1955, this began to change top tens into podiums and victories. However, the timing was bad. Adler was battling the rapid decline in motorcycle sales as cheap cars became available. They had also absorbed a struggling TWN in 1956, exacerbating the decline. They eventually were absorbed by Grundig, who only wanted the typewriter portion of the business and ceased motorcycle production in 1958. 

But that is not the end of the story. Amazingly, tuners and privateers continued to campaign the RS250. Men such as Dieter Falk, and Willi Klee pushed performance and created more top tens in the Isle of Mann TT, and the 250cc world championship. For more on Adler see Flight of the Adler.

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MZ Gelandesport

Classic Velocity

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Although the basics of MZ as a motorcycle manufacturer in the former East Germany have been covered here before (see MuZings) , it is time now to focus on their exploits off-road. Their greatest success was at the International Six Day Trials (ISDT), a race that had been run since 1913 and which featured nations competing in teams for a trophy. The event is a 1200+ mile test of rider and equipment in which the rider must carry out all of his or her own repairs. Today it is called the Six Days Enduro and is more of a multi-day rally. In the early 1960s, MZ (like all of the eastern block manufacturers) wanted to show that it could produce world class machines, and assigned engineer Walter Kaaden the task of building a factory racing effort for the track and for Gelandesport (off-road racing).

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One of the premiere events for building such credibility for a motorcycle was the ISDT. The team used breakthrough 2-stroke technology to create lightweight high performance enduro machines which dominated the competition. The East German team riding MZ machines earned gold medals from 1963 to 1967, usually beating arch rivals West Germany. They lost in 1968 to the West Germans who were on Zundapp machines, but returned to victory in 1969. MZ won again decades later in 1987.

  

 

Chapman's Trophys

Classic Velocity

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Although predominately a blog for German Marques, there are certain British brands that have always had a strong appeal. Regular readers will be aware of a love for the Norton brand, and when it comes to cars, there has always been an unfulfilled desire to own a Lotus. Somewhere deep in the subconscious is a sense that Colin Chapman's mantra of "Simplify, and then add lightness", is a fundamental principle of goodness that goes beyond automotive applications. Anything that is a manifestation of that principle is of interest. So when the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania announced a Lotus exhibit, it was a must see event.

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Chapman was a designer, an engineer, and a racer. Businessman, not so much. His wife put up the £25 Sterling to start Lotus in 1952. Selling parts and ideas and cars, was a way to finance the research and development conducted in his laboratory, which was the race track. The road cars were celebrated for their handling and performance. They were also criticized for their compromises to get there. These were machines for sporting drivers who were not concerned about creature comforts. Looking at the numbers on a spec sheet would mislead one into thinking that they were underpowered. They were not. And as a bonus, they were capable of being readily upgraded just by introducing more power. Brilliant.

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The exhibit featured a range of cars from early to late, and from race cars to road cars. It was great to see one of the famous "backbone" frames with everything attached except the body. It gives you a real appreciation for the design. The open wheel cars are some of my favorite race cars of all time, and are perhaps the ultimate expression of simplicity. Plus, they look stunning in the classic green and yellow livery. The most elemental road car is the Lotus 7. It is really an open wheel car with fenders and a license plate. There is a reason that it has spawned innumerable imitators and can still be purchased today. The Elans and Elites are more refined, if you dare use that word in connection with an early Lotus. The Europas and Esprits were much more sophisticated and had supercar looks and appeal. And who does not love the black and gold liveried John Player Specials ?

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The exhibit helped to articulate the amazing impact that Chapman and Lotus had on the history of Grand Prix racing, and on sports cars over many decades. Each of the cars on display was a prized trophy earned by Colin Chapman. However, my favorite trophy of the exhibit was the Lotus Cortina. It has been a dream car since childhood, and remains one today. There is something about that sedan in white with a green wedge stripe. And as a young boy, the sound of the Lotus twin cam engine with dual webers, left an indelible imprint. 

Melkus - Funding Racing

Classic Velocity

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We all think of Ferrari and Colin Chapman as people who were extremely passionate about racing and competition, and produced road cars mainly as a means to fund that passion. This is the story of another such individual. His name was Heinz Melkus, and he was born in Dresden Germany in 1928. By 1950, Melkus was already racing using a Veritas powered Volkswagen. In 1955 he started a driving school. He became German Formula 3 champion in 1958, and went on to become East German Formula Junior champion in 1960. 

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While continuing to race, he founded Melkus in 1959 to build race cars and custom sports cars for other customers based on the design that won on the track. The first road car was the RS 1000 which was powered by a Wartburg 3 cylinder two-stroke engine which actually measured 992cc. It was a mid-engined car with a 5 speed gearbox, and handled well to make up for limited power. The fibreglass body had a sleek design with gullwing doors. 

Meanwhile on the track, Heinz was East German Formula 3 champion again in 1967, 1968, and 1972. 

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Although 1300 and 1600cc versions were produced, the RS 1000 was the best seller at just 101 units. Production of cars ended in 1986, but his sons and grandsons resumed in 2006 with the RS 2000 only to end again in 2012 with bankruptcy. Although not as well known as other competition-centric names, the Melkus family continues to race today in its' third generation despite the production cars being gone. Racing is truly in the blood...

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Porsche 908/01

Classic Velocity

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For 1968, the FIA's Commission Sportive Internationale which determined rules for sports car racing outlawed the big 7 liter engines popularized by Ford, and introduced a 3 liter and a 5 liter option. Few people thought it was worthwhile to introduce a brand-new car and sell 50 (later reduced to 25 for the 5 liter) of them for homologation within one year. However, Ferry Porsche saw an opportunity, and had been getting a head start. He ordered the development of a 3 liter car, and chief engineer Ferdinand Piech sprang into action. By the summer of 1967, a flat 8 engine was being developed.  The Porsche 908/01 was basically introduced in 1968 to take advantage of the new three liter displacement option in Group 6 prototype. The older Porsche 907 had a 2.2 liter displacement, and the initial 908 was based on that car, but with the air-cooled flat eight four cam engine they had developed.

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The 908/01 enjoyed a good start to its initial season, winning the Nurburgring 1000km race. However, that turned out to be the highlight of the year. The rush to get the car ready meant that testing and development had been limited. Teething problems plagued the car, and reliability was compromised due to the heavy differential fitted to cope with the extra torque. Despite top class drivers in Elford, Siffert, and Hermann, the car did not see the podium again. In fact it was bested on many occasions by the 907 it was meant to replace. The 908 did go on to produce /02 and /03 variations, and of course the 5 liter version became the mighty 917.

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