Saturday, July 26, 2014

PITTSBURGH VINTAGE GRAND PRIX: RAIN & SHINE!

Mike Matune was trackside for this year’s race on the streets of Schenley Park.
The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix (PVGP) in Schenley Park is the culmination of a week-long celebration of the Automobile each July. Held on park roads, the whole venue is reminiscent of the early days of road racing in America. The Greater Pittsburgh Automobile dealers presented this year’s race with the Mini as featured marque. As in years past, it benefited the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and the Allegheny Valley School. Dennis Racine’s Cooper, right, in all-Mini race, epitomizes the car’s competition lineage.

The circuit twists and turns, rises and falls through 20 turns, over about two and a third miles. Further complications come from the surrounding trees, poles, hydrants, curbs and what not. Like any other surface street, it is crowned for run-off and contains numerous slick-when-wet painted lines. Nothing epitomizes the PVGP more than a tree, a hay bale, curbs, surface streets and a classic Jaguar vintage racer, hard at it, top.
And just to increase the course’s degree of difficulty, the skies opened up on Saturday to pose another challenge. Undeterred, Sarasota Café Racer Bill Stelcher braves the torrents of rain to traverse the hay bale chicane on the back straight in his ’29 Ford-Riley Model A Speedster. 
Mike Kaske’s Causey-Porsche B/Sports Racer looks like a Ferrari endurance racer of the 1960s, moving through the part of the course they call German Hill. That is where the German portion of the car show is held simultaneously with the racing action.
The nature of the tight confines of Schenley Park can play havoc with bigger cars, like Roy Maloumian’s ‘57 Corvette. His car was converted to a racecar in the mid-1980s and has history with both the SCCA and SVRA sanctioning bodies.
By transplanting a Ford 260 & 289 V8s into the Sunbeam Alpine chassis, Rootes Group, with input from Carroll Shelby, created the Sunbeam Tiger. Brian Dolan does an admirable job of putting down all that power as he splashes through Turn One.
The 914 was Porsche's attempt at an entry-level car. Originally it faced opposition from the Porsche faithful based on its somewhat uninspired styling and VW parts bin engineering. Later, the 914-6 made things a little better with a Porsche powerplant. And still later competition flares, spoiler and unique front bumper made it more appealing. Chuck Kelly is moving off the “false grid” in his brilliant orange racer.
 Here is one you don’t see every day: Dennis Baglier brought his ‘77 Skylark with Buick V6 power. PVGP is the car’s sole outing each year. This isn’t unheard of, as other cars and drivers compete only at Schenley Park, its allure being that strong.
Jerry Smith’s Devin bears tribute to the cars constructed by Bill Devin. It uses turbocharged Corvair power to move its VW underpinnings. Smith admits that the car may be more competitive if updated, but feels it best showcases the true Devin mystique.
John Guehl’s ‘39 Mercury Flathead-powered Sprint car has all the appropriate goodies; Flathead power, solid beam axle, wire wheels, lever shocks and traverse springs.  In this case, his helmet, color photography and the modern parking meter in the background likely detract from the illusion of "back in the day." Pre-War class vintage racing has become really popular.
Japanese cars are now becoming commonplace at vintage races and concours. Dan Helman’s Datsun 510 recalls the breakthrough Peter Brock’s BRE racing team made in capturing the 2.5-liter Challenge title back in Trans-Am days.
James Dolan climbs the hill towards Turn 13 in his Triumph GT6. Dolan’s car is an original Kas Kastner 1972 factory racecar with period paint and markings. The GT6 was a result of Triumph putting the straight six used in the larger TR6 into a chassis based on the smaller Spitfire and revising the styling to include a fastback body.
When you see a racecar in pale blue paint with orange accents, you think Gulf Oil. They sponsored a number of famous racecars, like GT40s, that live on in our memory. As Gulf was headquartered in Pittsburgh, a car in their colors wasn’t unexpected. Randy Evans added the color scheme to highlight his Porsche 911’s styling cues: Fuchs wheels and a “ducktail” spoiler.

Words & photos by M. M. “Mike” Matune, Jr.

For more information about the GP and sponsor organizations, please visit:
http://www.pvgp.org/
http://www.vrgonline.org/
 http://www.autismsocietypgh.org/
 http://www.pittsburghparks.org/schenley
http://avs.nhsonline.org/

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