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I saw that your recent book on the Shelby DeTomaso P70 Sports Racer won the Gold Award by the Automotive Heritage Association. Congratulations! Now that you’ve seen the new DeTomaso P72 at Goodwood, what do you think of it? Some reviews say it’s an homage to your P70 but I’m not sure I see a resemblance.

First, thanks for acknowledging the book award. Time passes so quickly we haven’t had a chance to even post the news on our own social media pages. The award is a real honor, especially considering the competition it was up against and that it’s a reasonably priced soft cover book. I never thought it would be a contender but thankfully the judges focused on the content and quality.

The book covers my years of design at Shelby's. Several cars are covered in detail such as the Nethercutt Mirage, Lang Cooper and of course the Shelby - DeTomaso P70. My time designing the P70 in Modena, Italy was some of the most educational and enjoyable of my life.

To celebrate the Gold award and the excitement around the DeTomaso P72 being at Monterey next week we’re offering a special on the book. This applies ONLY from the time of this posting through Friday August 30th 5pm Pacific Time. 15% off brings the price of this “awarding winning!” book to only $29.71.  Get yours now!

Jown Wong and Peter Brock with DeTomaso P72Now on to the DeTomaso P72. When I saw the car at Goodwood I was really impressed. I evidently wasn’t the only one as the DeTomaso people just informed me that ALL 72 cars they plan to build have been sold! Pretty incredible if true. What interests me about this success… oh wait, let me address the comments about the P72 not having any resemblance to my P70.

I don’t think Jowyn Wong, the P72’s designer, ever had any intention of following my lines exactly. The P72 is simply an homage to the mid ‘60s era in GT form.  Yes, there are a couple of subtle details but this is Jowyn’s creation completely and I think it’s pretty wonderful. It’s a return to the soft sensual forms of those cars that were built in Modena back then. There were really some fine, sharp-edged designs being created in that era by Giugiarao, like his fabulous Mangusta, but those were created as forms that could use the crisp-edge tooling P72 Posteravailable for production cars like Tjaarda’ s Pantera.  Cars being hand-built in Modena were, by necessity, much softer as each was essentially a hand hammered form.

Others have commented that the P72 looks similar to Ferraris’ P3 and P4. Possibly… if so that’s a real compliment but I feel that Wong had his own ideas of what a “retro looking” GT DeTomaso should look like. Government regulations continually change, so cars have to change to keep up. In addition, new technologies (e.g. lights and lower profile tires with larger diameter wheels) allow for different shapes to be created. I think the comparison images of the P70 and the P72 in inverse seen to the right  (which will be offered as a limited edition poster at Monterey next week) show some inspirational “resemblance”.  Pretty cool…a real honor for a design that’s now more than 50 years old!

Now back to what I find amazing about the success of the P72.  It’s acceptance and success is all based on the car’s visual appearance; its aesthetic DESIGN. The car’s power plant and chassis details haven’t even been released . The P72 concept shown at Goodwood was based on the same organization’s Apollo car, which is more of a racing GT.  The P72 is a real GT designed for the street.

The P72 will be shown at Monterey next week for the first time in the U.S. We’ll be there at a press event at Pebble on Thursday and with the car at the Concours Italiano on Saturday. Friday we’ll be at the Bonhams auction at the Quail when the original DeTomaso P70 will be auctioned (approximately 11:30am). It’s going to be a very DeTomaso week for us at Monterey. Very exciting!  We hope to see you there.

The Race - Trans Am 1971

Q: Recently a video of “Against All Odds”, the brief documentary on the BRE Datsun team in ’71-’72, was posted online. Some of the responses people posted reminded me of the controversy that keeps coming up about your BRE team winning the ’71 season-ending Trans-Am race at Laguna. The “winning” Alfa was disqualified in a post-race inspection with an illegal oversize fuel tank. What are your thoughts on this race; what happened and why do you think this story never dies down?”

Timanus inspecing Cheater Alfa
Click for entire Autoweek Nov 6, 1971 article

It amazes me how this race still sets off people’s passions. No one would probably even remember it today if it weren’t for those hard-core Alfa fans who mistakenly insist the cheating Alfa was robbed of the championship.  More than 10 years ago, after a Trans-Am panel discussion at the Petersen Museum, we sent out a newsletter that mentioned how the driver of the cheater Alfa admitted it was a cheater car. We couldn’t believe the mail I got from people saying they had thought more of me than to make something like that up! The whole discourse is on tape. All of us who were there heard it but of course we knew the whole story because we were so deeply involved in the controversy.

Alfa and Datsun head to headThere are so many rumors still circulating about that race, like how I paid someone off to have the Laguna Seca race added to the calendar at the end of the season so we’d have a chance to get more points and beat the Alfas for the championship. I wouldn’t even have known how to do that and I certainly wouldn’t have done anything the Japanese (the honorable Mr. K at Datsun) would have thought inappropriate. For those that don’t know the story of what happened let me digress. In our first year of running the BRE Datsun 510s in the 2.5 Trans-Am series in 1971 we were behind the seasoned and favored Alfas in points almost to the end of the year. But, thanks to our amazing team and driver, John Morton, we were steadily gaining on them as we improved our cars. We had a really good shot at winning the last race at Laguna Seca. Winning that crucial event would give Datsun/Nissan the necessary points to win the SCCA’s 2.5 Trans-Am championship.

Alfa spins out 510
Click for entire Autoweek Nov 6, 1971 article

During the race the lead Alfa, driven by Horst Kwech, and our leading 510 with John Morton behind the wheel, were battling hard. Kwech kept trying to run John off the track (another controversy is whether or not Kwech was doing this intentionally). Kwech knew that even if he crashed into Morton and they both went out, there were several other fast Alfas running. If we went out and any of them finished, Alfa would win the championship. This championship battle brought thousands of fans to Laguna to see this final race. The race was a barn burner that still has those who were there saying it was one of the greatest races they’d ever seen. After a lot of trading paint Kwech’s Alfa hit John right at the top of the corkscrew, spinning him out but John quickly recovered and was back on track re-passing the Alfa which then hit him again! That’s when I decided these two needed to be separated because it was obvious that Kwech would continue hitting John and it didn’t matter if he took himself out in the battle. I signaled John in for the one pit stop we’d have to make for fuel. That put Kwech well in the lead, but I knew he’d also have to stop for fuel as there was no way he could run the distance on the 15 gallons the cars were permitted to run. Only Kwech never stopped! His Alfa cruised on to an easy win and miraculously sputtered out of fuel just past the finish line! It appeared that Kwech had gambled on having enough fuel to finish the race. But I knew better.

If this had happened earlier in the season he might have gotten away with this but by the end of the season we had learned the Alfa could only run about one hour and seven minutes on a full tank. I pulled John in for fuel at one hour and ten minutes knowing by then something wasn’t right with the lead Alfa. We weren’t the only ones to notice. I had a protest written at the close of the race but I needn’t have bothered as another team beat me to it. When the SCCA officials checked the Alfa’s fuel capacity it was much larger than regulations allowed. The Alfa was disqualified. The next day the official results were posted. BRE had won the race and the 2.5 TransAm championship for Datsun/Nissan!

You may wonder how I can remember such details, like how long the Alfas could run on a tank, almost 5 decades ago. The experiences of the BRE team were captured in detail that season (and the next two years) by talented author, Sylvia Wilkinson, in her book “The Stainless Steel Carrot”.  We first came to know Sylvia when she approached me at the beginning of the season about being, what is now called, an “embedded journalist”. She wanted to write a book about an up-and-coming race car driver and had astutely recognized John as a good candidate. It’s not possible to adequately describe how brilliant this book is in capturing the activities and thoughts and feelings of the team as we worked our way through the entire season to become champions.

The chapter on the Laguna race exposes how some team members thought I had pulled in John to fuel early because they thought I didn’t have enough confidence in his driving when it was exactly the opposite. I knew John was fast enough to again pass Kwech but I also knew Kwech would probably take him out again and there simply wasn’t enough time left to gamble. The book also shares how a team member got on John for not being more upset with Kwech continually hitting him (car-to-car), but if you know John you know he’d never lose control of the situation. Sylvia also heartbreakingly describes what it was like for John to not win the race on the track.

Anyone who’s heard me talk about this race knows how emotional I get when I feel for how John was robbed of his rightful place on the podium, being handed the trophy, kissing the girl, shaking Mr. K’s hand, waving to the cheering crowd and the public acknowledgement of winning the Trans-Am 2.5 Championship in his first year with the Datsun 510. The reaction of Alfa fans was much worse. I understand it in the moment when most had no idea what had really occurred but there’s no excuse for it in the years past.

I will leave you with the following excerpts from Sylvia’s book below. (note: The second, and final, printing of the book is now sold out except for two copies we have available on our website plus a few copies we offer that are personally signed by Sylvia, John, myself and 7 other BRE team members, two who are now deceased).

The Stainless Steel Carrot
The Stainless Stee Carrot
Team Signed Stainless Steel Carrot
Team Signed Edition

Sylvia WilkinsonThe Stainless Steel Carrot by Sylvia Wilkinson: page 75, where the Laguna race has just ended, the Alfa has been challenged and SCCA officials are checking it.

The BRE crew runs back and forth with information to the camper trailer where John sits smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee.  John Knepp sticks his head in the door smiling. “The fifteen-gallon tank on the Alfa just went to sixteen point one gallons and they covered up the gauge”. (note: later it was disclosed that the Alfa’s tank was THREE gallons over!)

On Sunday morning it came over the loudspeaker “The number three Alfa driven by Horst Kwech has been disqualified in the Two-Five Challenge Trans-Am race for having an illegal fuel tank. The official winner is John Morton in the BRE Datsun.”

During Sunday’s Can-Am race, John and his wife Jan walk to the back of the track to watch the race from different turns. Walking down by the fence below the people on the hillsides, the first crowd reaction, the delayed reaction to the victory comes. There is some applause, a few cheers from guys wearing Datsun jackets. But most of the them, as soon as they see his name on the back of his jacket, start hissing.

“I shouldn’t have worn this damn jacket” says John.

Jan says, “I didn’t think people would be that way. Wanting a cheater to win. I’m not prepared for people to be like that.”

“You got him on the fuel tank, huh, Morton?” A spectator walks up to John. “I didn’t get him. The officials got him.” John replies.

“He was outrunning you.”

“We were close. If he’d stopped, I think I would have won.” John pulls away. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore. It’s bad enough already. I’m sick of talking about it.”

Going to the post-race gathering when the Can-Am race ended, leaving the elevator, the comments on the Datsun win start up again as John walks through the crowd.

“That’s Morton. He’s an average-looking son of a bitch, isn’t he?”

“I wouldn’t walk around with that name on my jacket.”

“Default. Won by default.”

John and Jan leave the party after the checks are passed out. The next day, someone mentions that Stirling Moss gave a speech on cheating after they left, how there was no room in the sport of motor racing for such actions. He commented that during his participation in the sport from 1947 to 1962 “… although I heard mumblings from time to time, I cannot remember one occasion when anyone was proven to have knowingly cheated. I don’t know whose fault it was that Horst Kwech’s car was running an illegal gas tank, but I was absolutely appalled that anyone could consider cheating in motor racing.”

John: “I’ve gotten disappointed before in different ways but not getting to drive a car or having a mechanical failure are different kinds of disappointments from not getting to win a race. Getting it, like those people said, by default illustrated one thing. You win and everybody waves. I guess I never knew that people were so damn fickle and two-faced. But that’s because I had always been an underdog until this year and people thought it was nice to see an underdog win. Now with Brock, I become the favorite; people expect me to win. But in these little cars I won’t be the favorite anymore unless it’s some guy who owns a Datsun and wants to feel good; from now on out, people are going to want to see me lose. I don’t think I’ve ever cheated at anything.”

Peter Brock commented later on the crowd’s reaction. “These people have been following the series too long for it just to be a motor race. They have all chosen sides by now and you can’t blame them. It’s like the World Series; they call the umpire a son of a bitch because he made a good call.”  Before the truck left for Los Angeles, Brock had lettered on the van – 1971 2.5 TRANS-AM CHAMPIONS. His sign painter had come prepared to do the job, just in case.

Above excerpt from the Stainless Steel Carrot by Silvia Wilkinson. A great book.

Monterey Car Week

August 13-18, 2019

Nothing could top the massive activities last year at Monterey when Nissan was the featured marque at Laguna Seca.  It’s an event we will always remember thanks to Nissan and the amazing Datsun and Nissan fans! This year we won’t have a booth or presence at Laguna. Our primary focus during Monterey Week this year will be the American unveiling of the DeTomaso P72.  An homage to the Shelby – DeTomaso P70 Brock designed in Italy in 1964, the P72 is a stunner. The Brocks’ current schedule:

  • Wed 8/14:  McCalls Motorworks Revival at the Monterey Jet Center
  • Thur 8/15: Private DeTomaso P72 activity
  • Fri 8/16:
  • Sat 8/17:
    • The morning begins with both Brocks being judges for the Concours d’ Lemons California, celebrating the Oddball, Mundane and Truly Awful of the Automotive World! at the Seaside City Hall (across from the Embassy Suites)
    • Once done judging the Brocks will head to the Concorso Italiano where the DeTomaso P72 will be on display
  • Sun 8/18:  The DeTomaso P72 will be displayed on the Concept Lawn at the Pebble Beach Concours.
laguna seca

What are your favorite race courses in the world and why?

Nurburgring

The length, difficulty to learn, numerous turns, elevation changes, location in the woods of Germany, amazing history.  Gayle and I went there last year for the first time in almost 20 years. We couldn’t believe how built up it is now. It used to be a place in the middle of nowhere with one hotel.  Now there are many hotel choices, restaurants, shops, etc. In addition to the great track experience it is now a comfortable place to visit.

Nurburgring

SPA

Length, high average speed, challenging corners, elevation changes. Great spectator viewing. There’s nothing quite like standing along the expansive Eau Rouge front straight as a car blasts by on its way up and over the hill to turn three.  Don’t forget to pick up some of Belgium’s finest chocolate while in the area. At the track I personally lean toward the fries with all their various sauce options.

SPA

Elkhart Lake

America’s national park of tracks.  Beauty for both the drivers and spectators.  Going to a race at Elkhart is like a beautiful weekend picnic with fine automobiles racing by. The best of both worlds. If you can, rent a golf cart as the place is expansive and you’ll want to enjoy all of it. Be sure to fit in a Johnsonville bratwurst and a frozen custard.

Elkhart Lake

Laguna Seca

The infamous corkscrew. Nothing else like it in the world.  Unlike the previous tracks I’ve mentioned, the track isn’t hidden by trees so it’s fairly easy to find a spectator location where you can view several corners and a fair amount of the track.  It’s also a place where we always see great friends and the restaurant options in Monterey and Carmel are endless.

laguna seca

LeMans

The course is mostly run on local roads that are closed to the public during race week.  The allure of Le Mans is not so much the track it’s the race that occurs there.  Running flat out for 24 hours for the cars, drivers and spectators gives this course a unique reputation and feel. The tradition and history of a race that’s been run since 1923 is evident. The racing is also good as the ACO’s quirky French rules are designed to push ingenuity vs. convention. Le Mans… it has rightfully earned its place on almost everyone’s bucket list.

Le Mans

Pikes Peak Hillclimb

It’s not really correct to say this is one of my favorite race courses. It used to be a completely different challenge before it was paved. Now, with the road fully paved to the top it’s still a race like no other. You can be sweating in the bright sun at the start line and freezing in the wind and snow at the finish line on the peak. The cost of running off course is huge as the earth falls away for hundreds of feet if you get off-line at the wrong spot!  To continue my commentary on track food…. the night before the ‘climb Gayle and I buy a box of donuts. The next morning we place the box in the engine compartment. The donuts get toasty warm and fresh as we climb the mountain at 3 a.m. to find the spot where we’ll be all race day.

Pike's Peak

Baja

The course changes every year which adds some intrigue and required research to determine where and how you want to watch. Baja is like sex….it’s all good but some is really special. Once you learn a great spot to watch you can go back each year (if they run that same part of the course). The cars run on a particular section only once so if after they go by you the first time, and you’d like to see them again, you can get on the main highway and move farther down the course to watch ‘em come by again or maybe go across the peninsula and catch them heading for the finish. It will feel like you are also part of the race just to get there before they pass. Anything can happen in Baja which is part of its allure so stay flexible and enjoy… it’s an adventure you’ll never forget and you’ll feel you’re part of it.

baja

Bonneville

There’s nothing in the world like the almost limitless expanse of the Bonneville Salt Flats. Bonneville is about getting up close and personal with the cars and teams. Everything moves very slowly at Bonneville, except the cars! Even after the cars are prepped the line to race can easily take a couple of hours. This is the time when you can spend quality time talking to the crews and drivers.  Their work is done and there’s time to talk, learn the history of each class and what makes each car so special. Watching the cars run can be interesting too, but be sure to bring a set of binoculars...and a lot of sun screen!

I’d like to hear what your favorite race courses are and why.

Bob Bondurant and Peter Brock

July 4th it will be 54 years when the Daytona Cobra Coupe won the FIA GT World Championship. What was it like for you when that happened?

I was thrilled of course but by the end of the ’64 season the Coupe was already well-proven. What I felt most about the’65 Championship was elation for driver Bob Bondurant. He went to the mat with the Coupes in Europe. Alan Mann, team owner and manager for the Cobra team in ’65 in Europe, was rough on Bob. He made it clear to Bob his English drivers were to win over him. Bob employed the adage of success is the sweetest revenge and went to work. Not only did he take the Championship win at Reims but he did it on July 4th, America’s independence day from the British. Now that’s a movie!

For myself, the highlights with the Coupe were mostly in ‘64:

Bob Bondurant FIA win
  • The Coupe’s first test day at Riverside that February where it broke the roadster’s lap record by 3.5 seconds.  Up until then few people in the shop at Shelby’s believed in the Coupe.  At that first test, Ken Miles called Shelby from the track and said: “this thing’s a rocket ship.” By the time we had the car loaded and back at Shelby’s, the center of the floor had been cleared out for it and it was decided it would race at Daytona the next month. I still met some resistance from Phil Remington on my design for a rear air foil but it was clear the Coupe was staying. Prior to this point the guys in the shop referred to the Coupe as “Brock’s Folly”. That wasn’t heard again after the Riverside test.
  • Bob Bondurant in CoupeThe Coupe’s stellar performance at Daytona (its first race) on February 16th. The Coupe was so efficient we found we could throttle back the performance to be just slightly faster than the Ferraris and be 25% more fuel efficient than our Cobra roadsters! All that was required to win was to lead the Ferraris until it was time for them to pit.  At that point we could put a couple of laps on them before pitting for fuel.  Over the hours we were some seven laps in the lead until we had a pit fire. We were so far ahead of Enzo’s Ferraris at the time of the fire the crew were sure they could repair it and still win the race. For whatever reason Carroll decided to pack everything up and the Coupe’s first win would come a few weeks later at its next race, the 12 Hours of Sebring.  With the Coupe now proven to be a winner against Ferrari we were well on our way to achieve Carroll’s goal of beating Enzo.
  • The Coupe’s win at Le Mans in June with Bondurant and Dan Gurney.  I think this says it all.

 

Heading into the end of the ‘64 season we had Ferrari beat with two more Coupes being completed. Had him beat, that is, until Enzo got the sanctioning for the late-season Monza race cancelled so we couldn’t get the points needed to take the Championship away from him that year.  We learned never to underestimate what Enzo would do to win. 1964 was the year the Coupe made Shelby American an international success even though the record books don’t quite show it. Not that anything in racing is a “given” but the Coupe winning the FIA GT Championship for Ford and Shelby in ‘65 was as certain as possible. The Daytonas’ superior speed all season long even forced Enzo to announce he was quitting GT racing after Monza. The Cobra team’s success against Ferrari in ’64 convinced Henry Ford II to hire Shelby to develop and race the prototype Ford GT40s in ’65. Enzo would focus all of his energy on the prototype class against the GT40s.  So in ’65 the question wasn’t really if the Daytona Cobra Coupes would win the championship but which driver would win the championship in them, English or American? July 4th, American driver Bob Bondurant racing in Reims, France brought home the FIA GT Championship to Shelby, Ford and America.

Happy 4th of July to the Daytona Cobra Coupes and Bob Bondurant!!