There's something romantic about cars that signify the end of an era, the last and greatest of their kind, yet doomed by the coming revolution


The year was 1961. Jim Hall was an ambitious young man from Midland, TX, who had done well in oil and was determined to do even better in pro racing. He had already waded deeply into the waters of going very fast in very powerful cars, racing a 5.7-liter Maserati and a supercharged Lister-Chevrolet. Hall was not bashful about using massive horsepower to get to the front.
He had watched Lance Reventlow's beautiful and powerful front-engined Scarabs, built by brilliant Southern California craftsmen Dick Troutman and Tom Barnes, dominate racing. Hall saw it was not enough to have talent and drive the wheels off a car, but the successful racer must have technology to give him an "unfair advantage." So in a November 1960 meeting at Riverside Raceway, he discussed the idea for a new sports racing car with Troutman and Barnes. A short time later, Hall agreed to underwrite the project and his new partners were commissioned to design a prototype.
Just as the P-51 Mustang was "fast" one minute before the revolutionary Messerschmitt 262 jet (which was 100 mph faster) appeared, the Chaparral debuted just as the 2.5-liter Cooper Monacos and Lotus 19s were proving rear-engined cars lighter, more agile, and faster. But in American racing, the inevitability of rear engine (more properly mid-engined) design was not yet confirmed. Big-bore, front-engined cars remained dominant, rather than the desperately fragile, small-bore European sports racers.
In the golden age of front-engine sports racers, the Chaparral 1 stands as the highest achievement. The Chaparral 1 on offer here, with chassis 003, was one of two team cars, that together with 001, were campaigned by Hall and his partner Hap Sharp. It is currently owned by Skip Barber, one of just five produced. It was restored in the 1990s, with much technical and historical research carried out, which is reflected in the finished product. Selected suspension and other parts were refabricated to return this Chaparral to its original specifications and condition; all of these replaced components were retained and will accompany the sale.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1961 Chaparral 1
Years Produced:1961
Number Produced:5 (2 Chaparral, 3 Troutman and Barnes specials)
Original List Price:$16,500
SCM Valuation:$1,000,000-$1,200,000
Tune Up Cost:$700
Distributor Caps:$25
Chassis Number Location:n/a
Engine Number Location:on pad at right front of engine
Club Info:Sportscar Vintage Racing Association, 257 Dekalb Industrial Way, Decatur, GA 30030
Investment Grade:A

This 1961 Chaparral 1 sold for $1,111,000 at the RM Monterey sale held Aug. 13-14, 2004.
There’s something romantic about cars that signify the end of an era. These were the last and the greatest of their kind, the embodiment of everything that had been learned to that point, executed with knowledge and passion, yet hopelessly doomed by the coming revolution. The Chaparral 1 is just such a creature. Of course, there’s another way to look at this largely unsuccessful race car-as the last dinosaur hatched, a car that was obsolete before a wheel was ever turned in anger.
While the auction catalog asserts that the jury was still out on front vs. rear engine design when Hall and company set out to build the Chaparral, that’s not really true. Jim Hall was (and still is) one of the great American race car engineers, and I’ve had occasion to speak with him about race car design. The truth of the matter is that when they laid out the blueprints, Hall knew full well that the front-engined sports racing car was obsolete. He had only to look at Cooper and Lotus to know that. Heck, by 1960 even Ferrari, that most conservative of race car constructors, had started work on the mid-engined Dino SP series of sports racing cars.
Hall’s problem at the time was simple, but unsolvable. In order to have the engine behind the driver, you have to use a transaxle, with a combined gearbox and differential. In 1961, the most available transaxles were Cooper’s Citroën-based “Jack Knight” and Lotus’ Colotti “Queerbox.” These units were struggling to handle the torque of a 2.5-liter engine, and there was just nothing out there that was capable of putting down the power of the Chaparral’s five-liter V8.
So Hall was stuck with using a front-mounted engine with a conventional transmission bolted to it and a differential out back. Within this constraint, Hall, Troutman and Barnes did a wonderful job. The engine was set back as far as possible, and the mass distribution was kept as close to the center of the car as could be, mimicking the mid-engine advantages.
But as might be expected of an outdated design, the Chaparral 1 was never as successful as its designers had hoped. It was a strong and dependable racer and showed well in endurance races on long, fast tracks, but the Cooper Monacos, Lotus 19s, and Maserati Birdcages that it ran against were clearly better handling cars. (I should note that the Birdcage was also front-engined, but it used a transaxle and a very light engine that was set way back in the chassis.) As soon as a reasonably strong transaxle was available, the Chaparral 2 was born-and front-engined cars were consigned to amateur racing.
Even though the Chaparral 1 was not a great race car, it’s a pretty wonderful collectible, an unrepentant, all-American, made-in-the-USA, real man’s car with a Texas drawl. Though it’s probably not the prettiest design of its era, it’s effective enough, sleek, and the aluminum bodywork counts for a lot. Furthermore, the Chaparral 1 is the progenitor of one of the great racing dynasties of the era and it has only a couple of siblings.
It’s also a fairly useful event car. With real international racing history (at Sebring), the Chaparral 1 pictured here will be welcome anywhere in the world, and the Chevy V8 and T-10 transmission make it relatively easy and cheap to keep running. It will never, however, be mistaken for a Ferrari-whether this is good or bad depends on who is telling the story.
In the netherworld of big money collector race cars, values are invariably subjective. There seems to be a hierarchy for roughly equivalent examples, with Italian cars on top and American cars on the bottom, and the English and Germans fitting somewhere in between. The only American sports racers to even approach the values of European cars are the Scarabs, which are flat gorgeous and have wildly romantic associations, as well as dominant histories.
The Chaparral 1 is a far cry from a Scarab, but it is about as valuable an American racing special of that era as you’re going to find. It’s particularly attractive to the more patriotic sort of collector, the kind of guy whose garage is filled with Detroit iron. The only real downside here is that there doesn’t seem to be much of an appreciation factor. Owners of these cars have been trying to push their values up past the $1.1 million mark for years without much success. That said, I’d say this car was fairly bought but fully priced.
(Historical and descriptive information courtesy of the auction company.)

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