As you read this, I will be hurtling across the Bonneville Salt Flats in a highly modified 1991 Alfa Romeo Spider, in an attempt to set a few class Land Speed Records. Mike Besic and Craig Beilat will share the driving as we take turns flinging ourselves at a variety of goals in the 150 - 225 mph range.
Built by Alfa-guru Besic and owned by Alfa Annual Publisher Dick Kreines, the Spider has streamlined bodywork, including a full bellypan and an extensively modified suspension. Behind the close-ratio Alfa five-speed gearbox is a 3.08 Mustang differential. Several engines are being prepared for different classes, including 1470cc carbureted and supercharged, 1750cc carbureted and 2-liter supercharged.
Fuel-delivery for the blown engines is by FMS-developed injection, supercharging is by Eaton, and custom fabrication is by Besic. The car has no front brakes ("Makes 'em likely to loop above 150 mph," says Kreines) just rears and a parachute.
Given that the last time I was behind the wheel of an Alfa race car I managed to nose-plant it into a tirewall, I thought the organizers brave to invite me to drive. "Brave? There's nothing to hit on the Salt Flats. Just follow the black stripe. Even a writer should be able to handle that one," remarked Kreines.
Csaba Csere, Editor of Car and Driver, gave me a few Salt Flats tips recently. Having slid upside down across the Salt Flats in a Pontiac Trans Am some years back, he spoke from experience. "The aerodynamics of the car were just wrong above 225 mph. The front end of the car went straight up in the air, then it slammed down on its back. It took a long time to come to a stop," he said.
Csaba's enthusiast credentials are unquestionable. In true SCM fashion, he reported that he manages to turn every small project on his Jaguar Series I E-type roadster into a major one. "I'll start working on something simple in April, and pretty soon the car is in pieces, and by the time I get it running again it is September. There goes the summer." We understand.
We have a little more trouble understanding a recent feature article in his magazine, "We Test Ten Four-Door Cars Under $20,000." It makes us think of other exciting tales such as "We Eat Ten Bowls of Gruel" or "Comparison - A Dozen Kinds of Cheap Vanilla Ice Cream." But that's what happens when your book hits the big time, I guess.
LIFE IN THE EAST
To us West Coasters, it's always a surprise to find that there are great car events east of Nevada. The Meadow Brook Concours, organized by Larry Moss and a host of others, ranks as one of the grand car shows in the country, and gets better every year.
The featured marques this year were Bugatti, with the largest number ever on display at a concours, and Packard.
Best of Show went to Ralph Lauren's 1937 Type 57 SC, while the People's Choice trophy was won by a 1909 Packard Model 30 Gentleman's Speedster owned by Richard and Patricia Donahey of Belleville, Michigan. Crowds were estimated at 20,000, and the spacious greens at Meadow Brook allowed everyone to get close to the nearly-300 cars on display without the NYC subway rush-hour feeling that sometimes envelopes Pebble.
We were at the RM/Meadowbrook auction the day before (watch for a complete report next month) when a tornado whipped through the area, taking down trees and causing major power outages. By Sunday, however, the skies were clear and the weather perfect. "Classics" on Speedvision, with yours truly as host, will be airing a special on the Meadow Brook concours this Thanksgiving.
MUST BE PRESENT TO WIN
We have a suggestion for Meadow Brook as well as other major concours. As much as we enjoy looking at first-rate restorations, the shuttling of hyper-expensive cars around the country is becoming an ego-battle between wealthy enthusiasts rather than a display of cars as objects of affection.
If SCM ruled the world, we would make only those cars whose owners were at the event eligible for Best of Show. (Yes, a note from your doctor saying that you couldn't come because you had dropped your Duesenberg crankshaft on your foot would be accepted.)
It should take more than just throwing money at a car to win Best of Show. It should also take a willingness of the owner to be on site, to answer questions about the restoration, and to demonstrate his skill in operating the car, even if only for that short run from the green up the awards ramp. Pebble Beach already uses participation in its pre-event rally as a tie-breaker. Having the owner present could be another.
Is it really so much to ask?
LOOKING FOR THE NEXT KEN PURDY
SCM has an opening for a copy editor / research assistant. Duties include mind-numbing fact checking (just where was the engine number on a Maserati A6GCS?), making sure that Mr. Kerb has all his hyphens in the right place, writing subscriber profiles, examining cars at auction, making the morning coffee and answering the phones and explaining to subscribers that we do NOT mangle their magazines before we mail them out.
Professional copy editing experience and computer fluency is required, a degree in journalism or English is helpful, and enthusiasm for vintage cars is a plus. If interested, please send a resume, with samples of your work and salary requirements, to Copy Editor, SCM, 6833 SE Pine Court, Portland, OR 97215.
ON THE COVER
We feature this month a painting by Bill Neale, "Grand Cobra." Neale, of Dallas, Texas, is a founding member of the Automotive Fine Arts Society and has won awards at Pebble Beach, Amelia Island and Cavallino Classic. A retired amateur racecar driver, his work draws heavily on personal experience.
The 289 Cobra rendered by Neale, CSX2431, was raced in the '60s by driver Ken Miles of the Shelby team. 2431 appeared in the Elvis Presley film, "Spinout," where it was leased by MGM studios for $100 a day and painted black with white stripes.
Now owned by Tom Benjamin, of Boulder, Colorado, it is shown participating in the Colorado Grand vintage rally.
Twenty-by-thirty inch signed and numbered prints of this painting are available for $89 each. ( 972-701-0171, Neale at 12308 Brittany Circle, Dallas, TX, 75230, www.billneale.com.)