Jim has held a life-long passion for all things automotive and over the years has built up a substantial collection of scale models by various diecast, resin and white metal manufacturers.
Back in 2007 he decided to mix a little business with pleasure and setup his own online model retail store, Diecasm LLC, with a percentage of sales donated to select good causes. This neatly tied in with his Chicago-based consultancy, Aqubanc LLC, which offers streamlining advice, donation processing, gift entry and operational solutions for nonprofit and charitable organizations in the US and Canada.
Acutely aware however that manufacturers have long overlooked many of the more esoteric marques and models, along with some previously covered subjects that are now crying out to be modelled more accurately, in 2009 Jim took the next step. Teaming up with partner Raffi Minasian, the pair launched Automodello, their very own range of hand-built, limited edition, high-spec scale resin models. Working closely with auto and racing legends, the Automodello brand is now dedicated to honoring their achievements by offering collectors an exciting program of miniature masterpieces.
Clearly a multi-tasker and all round good guy, Jim also fulfills the role of chauffeur to his daughter (who’s will be entering teendom and has already informed him she will be taking the keys to his Mini Cooper Convertible once she’s passed her test or to the Mustang she is eyeing from afar!), while even managing to find time for the odd track day with his treasured 1974 Lotus Europa JPS.
Raffi Minasian is a freelance designer, widely published illustrator and educator. He holds degrees in both Product and Transportation Design. His impressive 25 year career includes aircraft interior design for Boeing, toys for Mattel and McDonald’s, consumer products for Microsoft, Polaris, and Rainbird, and car designs for Toyota, Subaru, Moal Coachbuilders and The Franklin Mint. He was Director of Precision Models and Engineered Products at The Franklin Mint, the position formerly held by Gordon Buehrig.
Raffi has taught design and product development at several notable universities and design colleges and has been featured on television programs “World of Wheels”, “Speed Vision Network”, TLC “Rides”, and the “Fine Living Network”. Raffi has designed more than 300 different model cars, several full-sized cars, consumer products, toys, and home accessories. Raffi has been awarded the “Award of Excellence” from Car Styling magazine and recently was part of the design/build team for the 2005 AMBR – 32 Ford Hot Rod “Sedeuced”.
Raffi has devoted much of his professional energy to educational programs for young people interested in design professions. He is an advisory board member for public school programs, Professor at California College of the Arts and San Jose State University, and Board of Director member for the Collectors Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving youth involved in the automotive community through scholarships, grants, and museum support. Recently Raffi was awarded the "Educators Who Make A Difference" award by the Yuba County Office of Education for his efforts supporting the Automotive Academy.
Raffi lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington with his wife and two daughters where he maintains his design consultancy.
Matt is the cofounder and former editor of
DieCast X Magazine. He now works as a freelance journalist
and has written extensively on collectible scale modeling,
design and industry trends, and reviewed literally hundreds
of models for every major brand in the diecast industry. In
addition, he has published a number of articles on
full-scale motorsports, automotive history and a handful of
other non-automotive genres.
Not surprisingly, Matt is a
lifelong automotive enthusiast and diecast collector. An
eclectic fleet of family transportation ranging from a
Volkswagen Microbus to a ‘70 Dodge Challenger to a Porsche
914 2.0L—among numerous others—gave him an early
appreciation for automotive diversity. Matt exercised that
appreciation by cultivating his own fleet in scale—first
with 1:64 Hot Wheels and Matchbox diecast, then graduating
to plastic kits of every shape and description, and then
finally to diecast in a variety of larger scales—the only
prerequisites being four wheels and charisma. That
collection has been growing for more than 30 years and Matt
merged his love for scale models with an education in
journalism when he helped launch DieCast X.
lives in Danbury Connecticut, and when not adding to his
collection he can often be found hurtling his Volkswagen GTI
through the cones at his local autocross club or camped out
on the hillsides overlooking the historic road race course
at Lime Rock Park with camera at the ready.
Lifelong modeler, collector, photographer and reviewer. Rich is a practicing dentist, husband and father of two wonderful girls, and Vietnam vet.
Cara is an award-winning graphic designer with over 20 years experience, focusing mainly on print and web media in a variety of different industries. For the past decade her work has been largely connected to various automotive enthusiasts. Most notably, for the past 10 years she has been the graphic designer for Concorso Italiano, a popular event during the Monterey Car Week in CA. She has also worked closely with Dalton Watson Fine Books for the past 9 years as webmaster, social media manager and book designer of “The Bahamas Speed Weeks: Revised Edition”, “Mid-Atlantic American Sports Car Races: 1953-1962” by Terry O’Neil, "Cobra Pilote: The Ed Hugus Story" by Robert D. Walker, "The Golden Days: Thompson Speedway and Raceway" by Terry O'Neil and "Meister Bräuser" by Tom Schultz.
Cara currently lives in Hall, Montana with her husband and youngest of 3 daughters. She enjoys riding horses and spending time with her family. In 2019 she founded Montana Mustang Connection and Rescue, a non-profit rescue for wild horses and burros, and rehabilitates, trains and finds loving homes for these once-wild equines.
Alan Andrea was born and raised in the north suburban Chicago area. He graduated from Marquette University with a business degree, and immediately went to work in the family automobile business. His experience as a dealer includes Buick, Chrysler, Nissan, VW, and Subaru among others. He worked with his father and two brothers since the 1970s until selling the business several years ago.
Alan’s interest in cars has not been limited to his business pursuits. He started with model cars at the age of 5, “helping” to build kits with his father. He has been a model builder and collector ever since, and has an extensive collection of models in various scales. He still builds the occasional kit.
His other automotive interests involve car collecting, restoring, and racing. He successfully raced formula, production and sports racing cars in SCCA for over 30 years. His pride and joy is a 1966 Jaguar E-Type, which he has owned since college. He attends and participates in local concours and automotive events such as vintage rallies and Cars and Coffee. He also travels to national events and collector car auctions. Alan particularly enjoys Monterey car week, and has attended the Amelia Island concours events several times.
Alan has two grown children, and continues to live in the Chicago area with his wife of many years.
Azzariti’s interest in Intermeccanica cars dates back to the late 1960’s when he was largely influenced by one of his older brothers. His brother had a friend that worked for Griffith Motor Cars and talked about the legendary cars often. Early Griffiths were often seen in the neighborhood on Long Island where he grew up. Dan’s brother was always a fan of the TVR based Griffiths, but he never actually owned one himself. When the Griffith 600 GT was introduced, he liked the body style, but unfortunately, very few 600s were available to purchase. Soon after Griffith Motor Cars closed its doors, 33 of the remaining bodies were transformed by Holman Moody into Ford powered Omegas. The coach builder (Intermeccanica) transformed other bodies into convertibles called the Torino and eventually the Italia. His brother purchased a beautiful convertible Italia that resided in their parent’s garage. He spent an enormous amount of time around that car. As a child, the seed had been planted.
As an adult, Dan began to search for one of these cars. He read what limited information was available at the time. Finding unusual cars was difficult prior to the internet, but he continued to search. Dan’s first choice was a Griffith 600, but based on the low numbers produced he did not think it would be possible to find one. While looking at an advertisement for an Italia coupe, he noted that the car was equipped with a Plymouth 273 commando engine. Could he have stumbled onto a Griffith that was misadvertised? After several communications with the seller, he was convinced that the car in question was indeed a Griffith 600. Dan bought Griffith 600, #004 over the phone after looking at some photographs. The Griffith 600 had been cosmetically restored, painted an incorrect color, but the drive train was intact and left basically untouched. It was a fortunate find. In addition to the 600, Azzariti was able to purchase several other Intermeccanica cars.
The Griffith 600, sat motionless in a corner of the garage for a very long time. By the time Dan was ready to restore the car, he had already spent countless hours speaking to previous owners and learning everything he could about the cars. Most people don’t realize how much the vehicles differ from year to year. In addition to the cars owned, Dan has personally viewed numerous cars, consulted with experts, disassembled, assembled, and read all available information on Intermeccanicas. Over the years, Dan came to know the numerous refinements of these vehicles.
“I feel fortunate that those that built these cars gave their time to explain the idiosyncrasies about these fine automobiles. Each time I spoke with one them, I was enthralled by the stories that were told about the construction and history of the cars. I was also able to spend many hours with the early historians of the Intermeccanica brand. At some point, I found that I was becoming more than just an enthusiast.
I always enjoy speaking to owners of these fine cars, and continue to learn new bits and pieces about them.”
Larry's fascination with motorsport research began many moons ago, when a friend asked if he could look into the previous ownership and race history of a Jaguar XK120 he'd owned since 1957. This began a voyage of discovery, in more ways than one… For during the course of tracing the car back to Sherwood Johnston, a Cunningham team driver, Larry also came to realize that he had real passion and talent for the task in hand. A subsequent project inevitably followed – this time undertaken on behalf of a particularly special friend, the legendary John C. Fitch. Larry's tenacity enabled him to collate details of the numerous cars driven by Fitch over the years, along with background information on all of the 141 races he had completed in. Since Fitch also drove for Briggs Cunningham, in fact on 64 different occasions between 1951-1966, Larry naturally developed a major in interest in Cunningham racing. This in turn led to him becoming involved with
www.briggscunningham.com, a website he has, since 2004, researched for and contributed to.
The term “Renaissance man” was coined to encapsulate the talents of those who had mastered multiple artistic disciplines during that like-named historical period. To be sure, painting, sculpting and architecture are demanding, and those who show an affinity for all are justly lauded. But what do we make of a man who mastered the art of driving during the talent-laden renaissance of sports car racing in the 1950’s, then retired to design and build his own street cars, then changed gears again to pioneer one of the most effective and widely utilized highway safety devices ever conceived. And for good measure, was also an accomplished fighter plane pilot—one of an extraordinary few allied pilots to successfully shoot down Germany’s legendary Me-262 jet fighter. And one of the designers of one of America’s legendary road-racing circuits. And the very first Corvette Racing Team principal. Somehow, ‘Renaissance man’ seems too trifling a descriptor.
These are just some of the accomplishments of John Fitch, one of the first, and certainly one of the most respected, American racing drivers to gain acceptance on the world stage. Names like Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, Phil Hill count among John Fitch’s fans and admirers. Men who knew him, raced with and against him. Men whose victories meant more when he competed against them, and whose respect was earned when they not infrequently trailed him across the finish line.
Though John Fitch would quietly become one of the most influential names in sports racing and passenger-car safety of the 20th century, it was not in cars where he first made his mark. One might suppose his natural inclination would be nautical—John’s namesake great-grandfather had been the inventor of the steam ship (a feat often misattributed to Robert Fulton, the man who some years later successfully commercialized the senior Fitch’s invention). And John did have aspirations toward the sea. As the spectre of World War II approached, John—barely into his twenties—bought a 32-foot schooner, christened it Banshee, and sailed around the Gulf of Mexico until the turmoil of the coming war could no longer be avoided at sea.
But John was not one to ignore world events and, feeling a responsibility, attempted to contribute by joining the RAF Eagle Squadron—a unit of American volunteer airmen stationed in Britain. Turned away due to the Eagle’s lack of sufficient airplanes to equip volunteers, John instead enrolled in the US Army Air Corps in Florida, and received fighter pilot training in preparation for the inevitable conflict with Germany. Fully certified, John was already scheduled for deployment to Europe when December 7, 1941 arrived. And within days of the Pearl Harbor attack John was on a ship to Europe, among the first American pilots to serve in the European theater. Eventually he would be assigned a P-51D, America’s most capable and prestigious fighter of WWII. Showing aptitude that foreshadowed his skills at the wheel of a race car, John was one of a rare few to shoot down one of Germany’s fearsomely fabled Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighters! He was subsequently shot down by anti-aircraft fire while strafing a supply train early in the spring of 1945—a story he readily recounts with rueful good humor. He spent the final weeks of the war as a prisoner of war before being liberated by none other than General Patton himself.
Such exploits would be enough material to make for an exciting life, but John was just getting started. During a brief post-war stint as a dairy farmer on his step-father’s farm in New York he bought an MG TC sports car. So impressed was he with its panache and performance that he decided to establish an MG dealership inside a sporting goods store in White Plains, NY to sell the diminutive British roadster to like-minded enthusiasts. He also decided to campaign the car in a local sports car race at the circuit in Bridgehampton, NY in June of 1949. John had never raced before, but if anything that was all the more reason to do it. He finished 5th overall, found his life’s calling, and proposed to Elizabeth—the woman he would spend the next half-century beside—that very evening.
JOHN FITCH THE RACER
John entered numerous more events with the MG during the remainder of 1949, taking the first of many victories at the track in Thompson, CT. 1950 saw John taking the grid at another dozen races, in a variety of vehicles ranging from his MG to a homebuilt special powered by a leaky Flathead Ford to a friend’s Jaguar XK-120. He moved up the sports racing ranks and began to draw notice for his skills—enough for Tom Cole to tap John to pilot his ferocious Cadillac-powered Allard in the Argentine Grand Prix in March of 1951, winning the event outright and earning a congratulatory kiss from Evita Peron to accompany the trophy. John then returned to Bridgehampton for the Memorial Day event, taking to the track in his good friend Coby Whitmore’s XK-120 once again, though to trackside observers the car was scarcely recognizeable. John had been impressed with the Jag’s performance the previous fall, but felt the Coventry sheetmetal was much too heavy and was holding the car back. Together with Whitmore, an accomplished artist, John designed an all-new fuselage-like body out of aluminum, shedding an estimated 800 pounds from the XK. The Fitch-Whitmore Jaguar was special by trouncing the competition and easily winning its class.
That performance caught the eye of racer/team-owner Briggs Cunningham, who enlisted him to drive a Cunningham C2-R at Le Mans a month later. From there John was on his way. He drove for Cunningham a half-dozen times that year, as well as several stints at the wheel of a Ferrari. Along the way he enjoyed enough success to become the SCCA’s very first national champion in 1951.
John drove Sebring, Le Mans, Elkhart Lake and Watkins Glen for Cunningham in 1952 and although that car proved unreliable in most of the longer endurance events, it nevertheless helped John make an important step forward in his career. Having tremendous respect for the exceptional feat of engineering Mercedes chief engineer Rudi Uhlenhaut had achieved in building the Le Mans winning Mercedes 300 SL, John made a point of personally congratulating him at the conclusion of the race. Uhlenhaut had noticed John as well, and invited him to drive the 300 SL at a test session a few weeks later—at none other than the Nürburgring, the notorious “Green Hell.” Of course John didn’t hesitate for a second. An invitation for an American driver to test with the Mercedes factory team—and a source of national pride for Germany! Such was the respect John was garnering in the racing community. John had never even seen the ‘ring, but a welcome invitation to drive a Porsche 356 in a support race for the Grand Prix being held just days before gave John some badly needed reconnaissance of the infamous track that featured more than 100 car-devouring turns. He finished 3rd in the Porsche event, and learned enough to impress Uhlenhaut and the rest of the Mercedes brass at his test session, including team boss Alfred Neubauer. John, confident in the sturdiness of the SL, suggested Mercedes campaign it in the notoriously rugged Carrera Panamericana that fall. John eventually convinced the skeptical Neubauer, and just three months later the Mercedes team would finish 1-2-4, with John piloting the 4th place car! This would mark the first time in history an American was hired to drive for the German factory powerhouse team, and the successful relationship would continue for several years.
This was the golden age of sports car racing, and John’s career soared as well. He continued to get drives with top-shelf teams, including the Mercedes factory, Cunningham, as well as factory drives for Sunbeam-Talbot, Cooper and Nash-Healey, Chrysler maven Carl Kiefhaefer, a run at Indy in a Curtis-Offy and numerous privateers. The list of cars he raced reads like a wish-list of sports racing dream cars: Ferrari 195, 2.9 340, 375 and 250 Testa Rossas; Maserati 200S, 250F, 300S, Tipo 60 and 61s; Jaguar D- and E-Types; Porsche 356 and 904s; Corvette SS; and Cunningham’s C-2, -4 and 5 racers. The list of events a travel atlas of the world’s most important races: Sebring, Le Mans, Indy, Daytona Beach, Mille Miglia, Monte Carlo, Targa Florio, Carrera Panamericana, and the Belgian, French and Italian Grands Prix.
DARK DAY AT LE MANS
The most prestigious chapter in John’s driving career would also prove to be one of the most tragic and most influential. For 1955 he was again tapped by the factory Mercedes team. In the season-opening Mille Miglia he again drove the production-based 300 SL, winning the GT class and finishing an impressive 5th overall. That performance in part convinced Neubauer to promote John into the brand-new prototype 300 SLR for the 24-hours of Le Mans. He would be teamed with Frenchman Pierre Levegh in a third factory SLR behind cars fielded for Juan Manuel Fangio/Stirling Moss and Karl Kling/ André Simon. The SLR was a sleek, state-of-the-art machine featuring such innovations as a driver-deployed air-brake and an ultralight magnesium skin—its speed, innovation and its world-class driver lineup made it the heavy favorite against rivals from Jaguar and Aston Martin.
Sadly, the anticipated victory was not to be. Less than 3 hours into the event, John’s teammate Levegh clipped Lance Macklin’s Austin-Healey 100S as the latter swerved to avoid the D-Type Jaguar of Mike Hawthorn as he made a last-second dive for the pits. Levegh was bounced into the earthen embankment that bordered the pit straight and launched into the concrete abutment around the pedestrian tunnel. The car shattered, hurling fiery debris into the dense crowd adjacent to the pit straight. The resulting carnage remains, to this day, the worst accident in racing history. Levegh was killed instantly. Pieces of the car—many of them virtually inextinguishable burning magnesium—rained down on the crowd. In the end, 83 spectators perished, and at least 120 more were injured. Out of respect for the loss of life the remaining two SLRs were withdrawn—including the Fangio/Moss entry which was leading the race by more than two laps at the time.
John was profoundly affected by the tragedy, and it was this event, perhaps more than any other, that led him to dedicate much of his later life to the development of road and race safety. But horrific as that June 1955 day was, it was hardly the end of John’s racing career. He would continue diving competitively until 1961, notably serving as both driver and team manager for the very first factory Corvette racing team in 1956 and the memorable Corvette SS Le Mans effort in 1957.
John’s transition to his post-racing career was a gradual one. For several years John split time between driving professionally and a number of other race-related occupations. John’s extensive racing experience on several continents gave him unique insight into what makes a successful racing circuit. That knowledge was put to use when John was engaged to help design a new road course in the hills of northwestern Connecticut—not far from the area where he had grown up. In laying out Lime Rock Park, John took into consideration elements that would make for exciting racing, but also factors that would maximize the safety of competitors and spectators. The result is a fast and challenging course that sprawls beneath scenic hillsides. John had a unique opportunity to gauge the success of the track, as he raced on it regularly even as he served as the track’s first competition director. Barely a decade later Lime Rock would be one of the first venues to install energy absorbing safely barriers of John’s own design.
And John wasn’t just designing race tracks; he was also designing race cars. When Ed Cole went looking for someone to head up the very first factory racing program for the Corvette in 1956-57, John was his ideal choice. In selecting John, he got a talented and experienced American driver who was internationally respected. But he also got someone who had designed his own racing cars, and who had been a member of the Mercedes-Benz team—surely one of the best organized, most professionally run, and best engineered operations in racing history. Who better then to build a professional team for Corvette? But even for a man of John’s experience it would be no easy task. In factory form the first-generation Vette was a far cry from race-worthy (so much so that Zora Arkus-Duntov was rumored to have opposed factory involvement). The debut was to be at the brutal Sebring, and the Vette required extensive strengthening just to survive a single lap at speed, let alone 12 grueling hours. John headed up a team that methodically went through the car, discarding any production pieces that were suspect (and there were many.) In the end, his ruthlessness paid off not just with a finish, but with a class victory and a 9th place overall for John and his co-driver Walt Hansgen.
The success spurred GM to throw more resources and support (including Duntov’s) behind the Corvette Racing program, and in 1957 John would return the much more exotic Corvette SS—essentially a purpose-built sports prototype with a magnesium body, a tubular spaceframe chassis and a completely custom suspension. The car weighed just 1850lbs and looked almost nothing like its namesake. About the only thing the SS shared with the road-going Vette was a 283ci smallblock V-8, but the race unit had been massaged to produce 307hp—enough to push the svelte and slippery SS past 180mph! But all that weight savings came at a cost; the unproven technology turned out to be no match for Sebring’s bumps—the SS retired with suspension failure after just 23 laps.
Later that year GM withdrew from direct involvement in racing, so the factory Corvette Racing effort was suspended. It was not, however, the end of John’s involvement with Corvette, as he and longtime friend Briggs Cunningham would return with a Cunningham-owned privateer team of Vettes for Sebring in 1960, in preparation for an all-American assault on Le Mans. The Sebring effort was thwarted by an accident, but the Le Mans campaign was a rousing success. Aided by inclement weather, the heavy but bulletproof Vette excelled in the wet, bringing John and teammate Bob Grossman the class win and an 8th overall—the first ever for Corvette at Le Mans.
JOHN FITCH THE CAR BUILDER
It was John’s strong connection to Chevrolet and Ed Cole that springboarded him into the business of tuning and modifying cars for the street. Surprisingly though, it was not the Corvette that was his target subject. John had raced a number of mid- and rear-engined sports cars from Europe, and he appreciated their inherent advantages in weight and balance. Porsche in particular had managed to extract impressive performance from its rear-mounted, air-cooled boxer-engine formula. Coincidentally, Chevrolet had just recently introduced a compact sedan that emulated that formula—the Corvair. Chevrolet had made some half-hearted attempts and performance variants of the Corvair, but its focus was more on economy. John felt with some modest improvements the Corvair could really shine as a European-style GT, and he christened his creation the Corvair Sprint.
In the 1960s, most tuners of American cars focused on horsepower, often to the exclusion of all else. That was fine for drag-strips and stoplight wars, but that wasn’t what touring car performance was about. John wanted a car that could perform with all-around composure—something that a typical Detroit boat with a heavy cast-iron V-8 up front and a clumsy solid axle out back would never do. The Corvair, with its fully independent suspension and 1000 lbs less mass to heave around was the obvious choice. From there he made targeted improvements. He shortened the steering ratio by 50-percent to make it more accurate and responsive. He revised the suspension geometry and added stiffer shocks and springs to dial out most of the factory understeer and give the car a neutral balance. He offered a beefed up brake package to give the Sprint more stopping power and fade resistance. Unlike many tuners who played with engines until they were all but undriveable on the street or threatened to violently expel expensive parts without constant maintenance, John chose to leave the Corvair’s powerplant largely unmolested. Minor adjustments to timing and a freeing up of the restrictive stock intake plumbing uncorked about 15 extra horses—a respectable 10-percent increase from stock with no loss of smoothness or reliability. For those that wanted more, an optional set of Weber carbs (in place of the stock Rochesters) would add about 15 more. To these performance items John also offered a host of style and convenience items to dress up the Sprint.
The improvements utterly transformed the Corvair, and press of the day justly lauded the improvements. But effective as the Sprint mods were, there was one thing they could not do—make the Corvair bodyshell smaller or lighter. For that John would need to design something all new—so that’s just what he did! John had the idea to craft a new two-seater sport scar body to utilize the Corvair powertrain and suspension parts. By doing so he would eliminate that from the Corvair which he did not need—namely the back seat, a foot of wheelbase and about 600lbs. Enter once again John’s longtime friend and co-conspirator Coby Whitmore. John gave Whitmore the parameters and he designed the swoopy, progressive targa-top beauty that would become the Fitch Phoenix. The body was steel, giving it a fit and finish that far surpassed any fiberglass competitor. Despite that, it tipped the scales at just 2150 lbs. That gave the Phoenix a better power-to-weight ratio than a contemporary Porsche 911! And the 40/60 front/rear balance gave it nimble, confident handling. Because it employed the Corvair suspension and powertrain, most of the refinements (and parts) that went into the making the Sprint carried over.
If the reviews of the Sprint had been good, the reception of the Phoenix was stellar. Sadly, just as momentum was building, new government regulations were handed down regarding passenger-car safety. Unsure how they would affect Phoenix production, John put it on hold and soon thereafter Chevrolet pulled the plug on the Corvair, effectively cutting off the supply of running gear. And so Phoenix production ceased with only the single prototype having been completed. But so thoroughly and thoughtfully engineered was the design, it still runs flawlessly today—45 years after its debut!
John also worked up prototypes for a couple other modified GM cars—namely the Olds Toronado and Pontiac Firebird. The Toro tweaks centered on battening down the handling of the big cruiser by installing bigger wheels and tires and stiffer shocks. Sturdier brake linings and recalibrated boost settings gave more positive feel. Uncorking the restrictive intake and exhaust freed up an extra 20hp. It also incorporated a host of interesting luxury features like forced-air seat ventilation, a burglar alarm (in 1966!), a sliding sunroof and a 4-track stereo stashed in the glove compartment. The Firebird was a proposal to GM for a special 1967 high-performance version—what would essentially become the Trans Am two years later. It featured suspension upgrades focused on high-speed stability, stronger brakes, a 30hp boost in horsepower from a new camshaft and exhaust modifications, and dramatic C-pillar extensions that give the car a distinctive fastback profile. The extensions weren’t just cosmetic—they had air extractors for ventilating the cabin and intakes for rear brake cooling.
Perhaps John’s most important accomplishments—arguably even more so than his racing success—came in the area of safety innovation. Whether for the track or for public roads, his contributions have saved lives and pushed forward the science of understanding and preventing injury. Being so close to a tragedy like the ’55 Le Mans crash is bound to influence a person, but John’s response—so proactive and pragmatic—is perfectly in keeping with his personality. Identify what has gone wrong previously, and what can be done to minimize the chance of it happening again. To hear him describe the events, one of the most addressable aspects concerns retaining walls and barriers that better control a car in an impact. In racing terms, that means a barrier that absorbs and dissipates as much impact as possible, and redirects any residual energy in a harmless direction. In the case of the Le Mans crash, the earthen barriers with their woven surface served to snag and twist the crashing car, sending it in an unpredictable direction that ultimately resulted pieces sailing into the crowd.
John envisioned something entirely different—a wall that deflected on initial impact to absorb the energy, then directs the sliding car parallel to the wall rather than rebounding it perpendicularly back into traffic. His study of the problem eventually resulted in the Fitch Displaceable Guardrail—a system of skid-mounted barriers that slide back—not unlike a football tackling dummy—and progressively reducing the angle of impact and channeling the car in a safer direction. The design has been employed at a number of tracks and has been credited with saving drivers’ lives.
The concept of energy absorption and controlled redirection is just as valid on public roads, and it is here that John’s safety work has made its greatest impact. The Fitch Inertial Barrier is a staple on highways—the ubiquitous yellow barrels we see at exit ramps and bridge abutments across the country. The idea is simple—each barrel holds a volume of sand (or water in some cases). The barrels are positioned in front of a hazard in layers so that each layer (or row) of barrels contains an increasing volume of sand, thereby producing a gradual deceleration in the event of an impact. The size and shape of the barrels resists ramping or rebounding the vehicle in an unsafe direction. And their design makes them easy to position, maintain and repair. Almost every state now employs some version of the Fitch Barrier, as well as several other countries. The design has earned John awards from the National Academy of Sciences, as well as an award from the President of the United States for his lifetime contributions to public safety.
Few people have been able to successfully navigate the strenuous demands of America's highly competitive automobile industry while still producing artistic, visionary and imaginative automotive designs. The gregarious Herb Grasse was such a man. His automotive and transportation design career began in 1968 following his graduation from the world-renowned Art Center College of Design in California. Over the next 40 years, Herb mastered not only the creative aspects of automobile design, but the nuts-and-bolts business acumen necessary to make his designs a reality.
Herb lent his talents to the giants of the industry including Chrysler where he worked on the original Dodge Challenger and Ford Motor Company where he worked on the XD Ford Falcon, the original Ford Laser and the Ford Telstar. Each success was rewarded with more demanding assignments including a twelve-year overseas stint as principal designer of exteriors for Ford Motor Company Asia-Pacific and as chief designer for Nissan Australia.
In addition to his commercial automotive design career, Herb applied his creativity to the more fanciful design of custom and show cars including work on the "Batmobile" for George Barris, the Spice Girls Cadillac and the Waltzing Matilda Jet Truck (which held the land speed record for trucks in Australia). Herb also worked closely on dozens of other projects for the United States military, various movie studios and concept-car entrepreneurs.
Herb's pinnacle achievement, however, was the design of the Bricklin SV1 automobile in the mid-1970's. Working closely with Malcolm Bricklin as his director of design, Herb breathed life into the concept, design and manufacture of this dynamic, forward-looking sports car. From creating rough sketches, to clay models, to business considerations, to the production line, Herb was involved in every aspect of making this dream car a reality. His singular efforts were recognized by his being named the Industrial Designer of the Year in Product Design by Industrial Design magazine and recognition by his alma mater, the Society of Art Center Alumni with their "Orange Door" award for Best Transportation Design.
When Herb retired from the commercial automotive industry in 1990, he started his consulting firm, Herb Grasse Designs, where he was involved in many other automotive design projects. Also, capitalizing on his years of design work and modeling of concept cars, he fabricated highly detailed architectural scale models for up-scale homes and businesses for architects in Arizona and across the country. And, as a purely creative outlet, Herb produced dozens of beautiful fine art paintings.
Herb approached his business like he did his life…a solid mixture of sometimes flamboyant fun, creativity and passion, yet always tempered with a clear-headed dose of reality. It was Pancreatic Cancer that finally claimed his life at 65. He is survived by his wife Terrie, a son and three grandchildren.
There’s not much in the automotive world Jack Griffith hasn’t done in his 60-plus years in the industry. He has owned dealerships for everything from Packard to Jaguar to Shelby. He has operated a wildly successful race team and helped launch the brilliant driving career of none other than Mark Donohue. He conceived of and then built his own series of high-performance sports cars. Then, in his “retirement,” was instrumental in founding what has become one of the most prestigious and well-respected classic auto shows in the world—The Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance.
I sat down to chat with Jack as he reflected on his amazing odyssey, and looked forward to the tribute to Griffith motorcars at this year’s Concours. Jack is best known for the trio of sports cars he developed with his Griffith Motor Company—the Series 200, 400 and 600—so I asked him how it all began. At the time Jack was a dealer for Carroll Shelby’s Cobra, and as he tells it, that relationship was instrumental in the creation of the first Griffith—though not in the way we might imagine. “Ford used to hold a big affair in New York City each year, and they would ask me to bring my Cobra for display in the Lobby. And of course Shelby was there for the Ford gathering. After the thing was over Carroll and I were in the bar drinking. After several drinks, I looked at him and said, ‘You know, Carroll—I can build a car that’s faster than yours and cheaper than yours!’ And he said, ‘Okay Jack. Go ahead.’ The next morning I thought to myself, ‘what the hell did I say!’ But that’s how it started.”
Jack had the inspiration, but he still needed the components. The first piece came courtesy of his neighbor and east coast TVR distributor Dick Monnich. “Dick was in Hicksville, NY, where my Ford dealership was—where we had the Cobra racecar—and he used to come around the shop. One day we were sitting around talking, and I said ‘I wonder if we could put a Ford V-8 in your car.’ He said, ‘I don’t know—you want to try?’ And I told him to bring it in. A couple of my boys got together and took the English 4-cylinder out and put a V-8 Ford in it. And we got it running, so I took it to Detroit—to Ford. I had a lot of friends at Ford, but they told me that they got calls every week from guys telling them they were going to build a car. So they asked, ‘do you really want to do it?’ I said, ‘Yes—and if you want to drive one its down at the curb!’ They took the car out, and when they came back they were all smiles, and said they’d be happy to provide engines and transmissions and so forth.” And with that, the Griffith Series 200 was born.
Jack’s racing credentials, and his friendship with Mark Donohue also grew out of his involvement with the Shelby Cobra. But as Jack tells it, what led to him racing the Cobra was actually the local Chevrolet dealer. “The Chevrolet dealer in town was Brown Chevrolet. Bobby Brown was his son, and Bobby raced a Corvette. I was selling street Cobras and had one that I was driving myself. I was also in the Kiwanis Club with Bobby’s father. One day when we were talking at lunch, I told him I’d love to be able to test my car on the track. And he said, ‘My son is going out to Bridgehampton to test his Corvette for Sebring. If you want to go out there, I’ll tell him you’re coming.’ So I took my Cobra—which was a regular street model—out to Bridgehampton with a friend, and we played with it for a while. As Bobby was packing up to go, I felt I owed it to him to offer him a run in the Cobra. I told him to take it out for a couple of laps to see how he liked it. Well, he didn’t come back for 12 laps—until the Cobra was damn near out of gas—and he said, ‘This is fantastic! Can you get a race version of this so we can go racing?’ I called Carroll and he said, ‘Sure Jack—I’ll sell you one of the factory race cars’ and he did.”
Jack was now the owner of a fully factory-prepped race Cobra, and he took it racing with Bobby Brown as driver. But Brown was young and Jack felt he was perhaps not fully committed. So he began a search for a replacement driver. Dick Monnich had a friend in New Jersey who raced, and he told Dick about a talented young driver and engineer who had been driving an MG for him named Mark Donohue. Jack invited Donohue up to Long Island for an interview, and was impressed enough that he offered him the job. He would drive the competition Cobra for Jack, and serve as engineer for the Griffith Motor company during the week. Immediately Jack knew his instincts about Donohue were correct. “The first time out with the Cobra he won. And we went on to win races all over the place.” In their second season with the Cobra they entered 15 races—and won 13 of them! “Mark just had a natural knack for driving. He was one of the best drivers I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget one race at Bridgehampton. That track starts on a straightaway and then curves downhill to the right. For some reason, Mark had to start all the way in the back, and it was a standing start. But by the time we got to the turn—down the hill—Mark was in second place!” When Jack decided to stop racing after that second season, Mark continued on as engineer for Griffith Motor Company, and with Jack’s blessing went to drive for Roger Penske’s new Trans Am Camaro program.
It is particularly fitting that the first public event in decades to feature all three Griffith models should be Amelia Island, as Jack helped Bill Warner found the event and sits on its board of directors. But it is not the automotive tribute that Jack is most proud of. In talking about Amelia he points to the growth of the event over its 16 years, and how that success has generated revenue for the event’s charities—particularly Community Hospice, which Jack estimates has received about $1.7 million since the event’s inception.
Of course the cars are what attendees are here to see, and there are four Griffiths notable on display at this year’s Concours. Representing the original Griffith model is Randy Hartigan’s Series 200, but this is no ordinary Griffith (if there could be such a thing!) This car has been meticulously restored after more than 40 years in storage, then graced with the exact paint and livery of the competition Cobra that Mark Donohue raced for Jack back in the 1960’s. Though Jack himself never campaigned a Griffith in competition, this Series 200 tribute car represents as authentic an interpretation as one could imagine. It is bathed in the exact Ford paint scheme of the Cobra, features the same number and racing livery, and has been equipped with Griffith competition-grade factory options like a roll bar and the super-rare lightweight magnesium wheels. Jack acknowledges that if he had raced a Series 200, Randy’s car represents how it almost certainly would have appeared.
The Series 400 was a subtle evolution of the Series 200, with the most notable difference being the revised TVR bodywork at the tail, giving the car a slightly more flowing, less truncated profile. Tom Shelton’s Series 400 is an excellent example, and mechanically it is virtually identical to the Series 200 save a few slight refinements to improve reliability based on feedback from the original Series 200s. The Series 400 is considerably scarcer, as shortly into its production run TVR suffered a series of financial setbacks that brought their ability to supply Griffith bodies and chassis’ to a virtual standstill. Despite that, Jack readily admits that the Series 400 is the best driver and performer of the Griffith models.
The final—and rarest—of the Griffith models is the Series 600, and the Concours features Dan Azzariti’s immaculate example. The Series 600 was a clean-slate design for Jack’s company—it was not based on a chassis from TVR (or any other manufacturer.) Instead, Jack engaged Robert Cumberford’s design firm Carrozzeria Intermeccanica to render the all-steel body (another first.) Jack and Mark Donohue were in close consultation with Bob Cumberford during the design process, and the resulting shape is an uncompromised representation of Jack’s vision for the Griffith. Sadly, supply and logistics problems prevented more than a handful from being produced. This display at Amelia will likely be the only opportunity for many to ever see a Series 600 in person.
The fourth Griffith at this year’s event is a fanciful interpretation of what might have been. Craig Johnson has just finished development of a modified Series 200 featuring a 427-cubic-inch big-block Ford V-8! Jack never produced such a monster, but Craig is a friend and called Jack for his blessing before commencing the engine transplant. Jack happily gave it, knowing Craig from his previous award-winning Series 200, and confident he would undertake the project with appropriate care. Jack’s only stipulation was that he be allowed to try it out at least once when Craig got it running!
A final treat in celebrating this Griffith gathering is something that attendees of this year’s Concours can not only share in, but also take home with them. Automodello™, a manufacturer of precision scale resincast replicas, has produced 1:43 renditions of Randy’s Series 200 tribute car as the official model of the 2011 Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance. Just 85 units will be produced, and they are available exclusively at the event and afterwards at Automodello dealers worldwide. The model was developed in consultation with Jack, and each piece is available either unsigned, or, with a numbered certificate of authenticity hand-signed by both Jack and Amelia Island Concours co-founder and event chairman Bill Warner. In addition, a brand new casting of the gorgeous Series 600 will make its debut at the event, marking the first time this car has ever been replicated in scale. It joins the Tribute Series 200 and the two previous Griffith Series 200 models in helping to round out the Griffith line. Be sure to check them out when you stop by to meet Jack and see the full-size Griffith display!
Matt Boyd is a regular contributing editor and photographer for The Diecast Magazine, and is the Automodello™ Editorial Director. He is a frequent contributor to automotive and diecast-related publications.
A personal note from Jim Cowen of Automodello™ about Jack Griffith: When I first met Jack one of his frustrations is in all the articles ever written about him, no one had bothered to sit-down one-on-one and interview him. This chat finally happened when Matt Boyd visited with Jack Griffith in March 2011 to compile this definitive retrospective and history. Thank you Jack for all your help.
Daniel Sexton Gurney was born April 13, 1931, in Port Jefferson, Long Island, to John Gurney, a Metropolitan Opera star and his wife Roma Sexton.
From early on Dan liked music of a different kind. The sound of 12 cylinder racing engines were much sweeter to his ears than any aria. As the grandson of F.W. Gurney, manufacturing magnate and inventor of the Gurney ball bearing, it made perfect sense.
Following Dan’s graduation from Manhasset High school in Long Island, his family moved to Riverside, California, where Dan developed his driving skills by weaving through Southern California orange groves. He graduated from Menlo Junior college and served two years with the United States Army, most of that time overseas in the Korean War.
Dan has had 3 very successful careers, A) Racing Driver, B) Racecar Manufacturer / Inventor and C) long term team owner. He is the CEO of his company All American Racers and still at his desk on a daily basis in the year 2012. In 2002 he made his son Justin Gurney, now 39, General Manager. AAR is involved in designing, engineering and manufacturing projects for the car, motorcycle and aviation industry. At the start of 2011 the company is employing 90 skilled craftsmen, engineers, and technicians.
Dan's racing career, which started with a Triumph TR2 in 1955, spanned 15 years. During that time he became a top road racing star in America as well as one of the most popular F1 drivers of the era. He raced for the most prestigious Grand Prix teams of the time: Ferrari, BRM, Porsche, Brabham and later EAGLE bringing a maiden F1 win to Porsche, Brabham (twice) and his own marque. Gurney etched himself a place in racing lore with exciting battles against drivers like Stirling Moss, Jimmy Clark, John Surtees, Jack Brabham, Graham Hill, Phil Hill, Jackie Stewart and many others on the classic European road racing circuits like the Nuerburgring, the Targa Florio, Monaco and Monza. He drove with equal success in Formula 1 and the Sports Car World Championship Series overseas and the Indianapolis, NASCAR, Can-Am and Trans-Am Series at home in the US, The cars he drove and the races he participated in are astonishing in their variety, more astonishing is the fact that most of the time he pursued these different venues within the same season which made him a busy international world traveler year after year.
With his success, the Dan Gurney fan club flourished, with a worldwide membership that included people from behind the Iron Curtain. His boyish grin, his handsome face graced countless magazine covers, in fact, at one point, Car and Driver magazine launched a "Dan Gurney for President" campaign that is periodically resurrected.
By the time Dan retired from active driving in 1970, he had raced in 312 events in 20 countries with 51 different makes (more than 100 different models ) of cars winning 51 races, and 47 podiums.
Among his most important victories: 7 Formula One races (four Grand Prix World Championship events), 7 Indy Car races, 5 NASCAR Winston Cup stockcar races (all 500 mile races in Riverside, California), and two second place finishes at the "Indy 500".
Additionally he captured wins in Trans-Am, Can-Am and Sports car races including the endurance classics at the Nuerburgring, Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. He claimed 42 career pole positions and started on the front row of the grid an additional an astonishing 58 times! (see details “Gurney Statistics” ) The many "races that got away", i.e. those that Dan was leading - often by a considerable margin - but could not finish due to mechanical problems, made him almost as famous and popular as his wins.
In the 1960s the technical reliability of race cars was by no means what it is today, on average not more than 30% of the cars entered were around when the chequered flag fell.
His versatility behind the wheel combined with his curiosity to find out what racing in the top echelon of various racing series was like, made Dan the first driver to post victories in the four major motorspsorts categories: Grand Prix, Indy Car, NASCAR and Sports Cars.
To this day he is one of only three drivers in history (the other being Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya) who have accomplished that. From all the great victories one stands above all the others: Dan’s win of the 1967 Grand Prix of Belgium in an Eagle Gurney-Weslake V12. It was and remains the first and only time that an American citizen built and raced a car of his own construction and put it into the winner’s circle of a World Championship F1 race.
While his second and third career as a race car manufacturer of the Eagles as well as team owner of AAR started while he was still actively driving, it went into full gear upon his retirement in 1970. At that time he bought out AAR co-founder Carroll Shelby and has been sole owner, chairman and CEO of the company ever since. AAR has been designing and manufacturing race cars with great success during the last 30 years, winning 8 Championships and capturing 78 victories and 83 pole positions, including the Indy 500 and the 12 hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Daytona. 66 drivers from around the globe have been employed at AAR between the years 1965 and 2000, the last one being Dan's son Alex Gurney who raced in the Atlantic Series.
Eagles bought by customers raced on the Indy circuit and Formula A/5000 circuit with great success, capturing numerous victories, most notably the Indy 500 twice with Bobby Unser in 1968 and Gordon Johncock in 1973, plus 3 Championships in Indy Cars and Formula A. All American Racers built 157 Eagles, many of them are beautifully restored and exhibited in private collections as well as museums here and abroad.
A member of various Motorsports Halls of Fame, Gurney has been a pioneer of racing innovations. In 1971 he developed the Gurney Flap (wickerbill), an invention which has been adopted by the automobile racing and aviation industries throughout the world.
He was the first race car driver to introduce a full-face helmet (Bell) to Indy Car racing as well as Grand Prix racing. He was instrumental in launching the rear-engine revolution in Indianapolis in 1963 by bringing Ford and Lotus to the Speedway.
His exuberant gesture of spraying champagne into the crowd from the victory podium in Le Mans 30 years ago has been emulated worldwide by winners ever since.
One of the original founders of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), Gurney came up with the name and acronym. He was instrumental in bringing Monte Carlo-type street car racing to the United States and became a co-founder of the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1974 where he continued to serve on its Board of Directors for 24 years.
In 2002 Dan surprised the engineering world when he introduced a revolutionary new motorcycle called the “Alligator” which he designed, developed and built over 2 decades. (see the “Alligator” home page)
Gurney is no stranger to Hollywood either. A member of the Screen Actors Guild since 1965, Gurney has appeared in such motor racing films as 'Winning', 'A Man and a Woman', and 'Grand Prix'. His win of the 'Cannonball Run' across the United States in 1971 inspired his friend and co-pilot Brock Yates to write the screenplay for the 'Cannonball' movies.
An avid reader of political and military history, Gurney loves old movies, opera, cigars, traveling to historical places and riding motorcycles. Gurney and his wife, Evi, who was a junior executive in the public relations/press department of Porsche in Stuttgart and a well-known motorsports journalist in Germany during the sixties, have been married since 1969.
They have two sons. Dan has four children from his first marriage and has eight grandchildren. They live in Newport Beach, California.
Aptly called “Captain Curiosity” in 2008 by Classic and Sports Car Magazine (UK, Worldwide), and “The Snipe Hunter” in Tom Cotter’s 2010 bestselling book, “Corvette in the Barn”, Geoff Hacker has been the king of automotive snipe hunters for the past many years, bringing back to life dozens of rare and historically interesting cars that most enthusiasts either never knew existed or had written off as extinct.
Geoff’s been passionate about cars since “driving” his first one, a plastic hot rod pedal car, down a hill in the backyard of his Carbondale Illinois home when he was five years old. Things were never the same.
His parents were students of Buckminster Fuller, famed designer and inventor, as well as creator of the famous Dymaxion car of the 1930’s. Geoff grew up hearing stories of the Geodesic Domes (which his parents helped build in Southern Illinois) and the Dymaxion car too. Ultimately, this led Geoff to locating and purchasing two long lost streamlined teardrop cars of the 1930’s.
His grandfather sold Chevrolets from the 1950’s thru the 1980’s, and many a weekend Geoff spent at the Keystone Chevrolet in Chicago learning more about cars from his grandfather, Morrie Hacker.
With his grandfather’s help and his mother’s support, Geoff bought his first car at age 14 which was a 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood, serial number 556044492 (currently in Arizona) and restored it under the guidance of lifelong friend and famed Packard/classic car collector Paul Terhorst. He kept this car, his first car, for twenty years before parting with it to another collector.
At age 17, his family moved from Chicago Illinois to Clearwater Florida where Geoff found and purchased an obscure fiberglass car called a “Shark”. Immediately after the purchase, Rick D’Louhy tracked Geoff down and provided key details on the cars’ history. This led to a fast friendship that has lasted more than 30 years.
Ultimately, the purchase of the “Shark” began a three decade quest researching the history of the car, locating other examples, and discovering the family that designed it and others related to its building and fame. This car ultimately debuted at the Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance in March 2007.
In its entirety, this experience led to a greater appreciation of unhearalded fiberglass cars, sports cars, and the families which designed and built them.
Geoff soon became good friends with Jon Gruel who had been researching an obscure fiberglass sports car called a LaDawri Conquest.
After locating the family that designed and built the Grantham Stardust, Jon asked Geoff to turn his attention to helping locate the family of Les Dawes who had designed and built the LaDawri Coachcraft company in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Jon and his group had been looking for Les Dawes for over 25 years.
After several weeks of searching, Geoff located Joan Dawes, the wife and partner of Les Dawes who together with his wife created the LaDawri marquee. It was from this foundation that in the summer of 2006 Geoff moved forward in his research project with Rick D’Louhy in documenting the rich and interesting history of fiberglass cars.
Some of the other notable automotive historian achievements in the past few years include:
- Locating and documenting America’s first postwar sports car. – 1947 Kurtis Omohundro and its nearly identical 1948 twin brother.
- Tracking down the first legendary “LeMans Coupe” designed by famed Strother MacMinn and celebrated in Road and Track Magazine by owner/editor John Bond – Road and Track cover car from August 1960
- Locating, securing, and beginning restoration on America’s most famous race car transporter of the 1960’s – the Cheetah Transporter (also known as the Moon Transporter) built by Norm Holtkamp and Troutman and Barnes, and later owned and modified by Dean Moon.
- Receating the first belly tank on the salt flats with guidance from Bill Burke who built the original wing tank in 1946.
- Support and design of the following shows celebrating Forgotten Fiberglass sports cars of the 1950’s:
- 2007 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance
- 2008 Palo Alto Concours d’Elegance
- 2008 Barrington Councours d’Elegance
- 2010: Amelia Island Coucours d’Elegance
- 2010: Petersen Automotive Museum’s “Fantasies in Fiberglass” 6 month exhibit from Feb 2010 thru Nov 2010
- 2011: Milwaukee Masterpiece Concours d’Elegance where Forgotten Fiberglass sports cars were recognized as the featured marquee for the Concours – the first time these cars have achieved this recognition and respect.
- Worked with Automodello to create first Forgotten Fiberglass car to appear in model form: Victress S1, debuts at Milwaukee Masterpiece Concours d’ Elegance in August 2011.
- Geoff and Rick are currently researching books in the following areas: Forgotten Fiberglass Volume 2: 1956-1970, Forgotten Fiberglass Volume 3-Foreign cars, America’s Postwar Sport Customs (America’s first postwar sports cars), Teardrop Cars of the 1930’s (America’s first Concept cars), American Racecar Transporters, Cool Microphone: Vintage Microphones from the 1930’s thru the 1950’s, and VAMI: Vintage Automotive Magazine Index, 1947-1960
- For more information about
Forgotten Fiberglass research and projects completed by Geoff Hacker and Rick D’Louhy.
Rick’s automotive passion was ignited by his father Richard “Dick” D’Louhy. Together they witnessed racing at its finest at Lime Rock, CT in the late 1950’s, Watkins Glen, NY in the 1960’s, and Daytona Beach, FL in the 1970’s. Receiving a subscription to “Road & Track” when he was only 9 years old in 1958 helped propel Rick to his extreme appreciation of interesting motor vehicles. Rick’s automotive tastes aren’t exactly main stream. Over the years, he’s had some fun, yet practical, American-engined British & Italian sportscars including 3 Sunbeam Tigers, a Triumph TR8, a DeTomaso Mangusta, 2 Intermeccanica Italias, and a Chevy-powered Maserati Ghibli. He’s also had an Elva Courier Mk IV and a Lotus Europa Twin Cam. His current stable of uncommon cars includes a ’65 Morgan 4/4 GT roadster, ’84 TVR 280i Tasmin convertible, ’57 LaDawri Conquest roadster, ’64 Vanguard Warrior I roadster, and ’58 Grand Prix ¼ Midget, one of the finest vintage Meteor SR1’s known to exist, and two outrageous aluminum bodied sports cars – one of which served as the prototype for the famed Bill Thomas Cheetach.
After becoming friends with the research on the Shark in the early 1980’s, Rick and Geoff’s continued their focus on unusual cars and in the early 1980’s Geoff helped Rick bring home a 351 Windsor-powered “barn find” ’70 Italia.
During the research on the Forgotten Fiberglass book, Rick and Geoff traveled the country meeting the families and individuals who built these cars back in the 1950’s. These trips took both of them to numerous states with visits to over 50 significant families from back in the day.
One of Rick’s latest barn finds is M.A. Adams’ lost Meteor SR1. You can see a video of it being built on the Forgotten Fiberglass website.
Another recent achievement is the location, restoration, and debut of a car Rick calls the 1955 California Sports Special – also known as a “Mysterion”. This is a car that Rick has found 3 of, but with an unknown name, builder, and designer. However, the lack information didn’t stop Rick and his friend Geoff from using this as an opportunity to celebrate all of the unheralded designers and builders of fiberglass cars in the 1950’s, and to this point debuted the car at the 2010 Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance to great excitement and celebration.
Since the late 1980’s, Rick has produced and promoted prominent collector car events at Zephyrhills, Florida, and at Daytona International Speedway. He is now producing a major collector car event in Florida, the Daytona Beach Dream Cruise.
Currently, Rick – aka
Dr. RPM on the Tailfins and Chrome website – is resident technical expert for a national TV show on the RTV Network. On Tailfins and Chrome, as Doctor RPM, Rick exudes enthusiasm and demonstrates familiarity accumulated over the years as an Automotive Historian & Researcher.
Mike started as an apprentice with Jaguar in l954. In 1964 he led the XJ13 secret Le Mans race car and then V12 "E" Type projects before joining Colin Chapman at Lotus Cars Ltd. in 1969.
He started as Project Manager of the highly successful Twin Cam Europa (M43) Project in 1971 after "swatting" Colin Chapman's new Bond Bug (for which he was fired & then re-instated after Colin rolled the next one 2 days later). In recognition of the success of the Twin Cam Europa project, Mike was awarded shares in Group Lotus Plc by Colin Chapman as a personal ‘thank you’.
Mike went on to become Lotus Cars Chief Engineer spanning the New Elite (M50/M52) & Esprit (M70) Projects, rising to Operations Director and then MD of Lotus Cars in 1976.
Together with Colin Chapman, Mike re started Lotus Engineering Ltd in 1977, with his first major Project being the RAC Rally-winning Sunbeam Lotus Talbot and then the Group Lotus (DeLorean) DMC12 project. Together with Colin he initiated and signed the key strategic Lotus "Close Co-operation Agreement" with Toyota in 1978 and whose support in early 1983 resulted in Lotus being able to weather the oil crisis and facilitated the refinancing of the Group.
Mike became CEO of Group Lotus in 1983 after the tragic early passing of the Chairman and was pivotal in building the post-Chapman Lotus business from 9p/share in December 1982 to 129.5p/share in January 1986, when Lotus was acquired by General Motors. As part of the General Motors family he was management fast-tracked to Harvard and, in 1992, appointed an Executive Vice President of GMOC covering the Asia Pacific region.
In 1994 he was approached to take on the role of President & CEO of Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A and was responsible for its regeneration after Chrysler’s ownership leading up to its highly successful sale to Audi AG. Mike joined the Executive BoD team of Timor Putra Nasional in Jakarta in October '96 successfully concluding nineteen major international strategic alliances /JV's and Technology acquisitions.
In August 2005 whilst concluding two years of consultancy work with Tata in India, Mike was invited to join eleven Proton Holdings Berhad BoD's one of which was Group Lotus Plc. In May 2005 he returned to Lotus to restructure and regenerate the Lotus Group and was formally appointed CEO in September 2006. He was responsible for re-aligning and turning around the business based on his new 5 year strategic business plan, initiating, developing and introducing the Lotus Evora, the first all new car for 13 years, in 2008 and returning to operating profit Y.E.2008/9. He rebuilt the engineering technology business as a truly global player with four tech centres around the world, increasing revenues by 300% before having to retire (at a young 71) due to a serious back injury and failed surgery.
Mike is a car guy who is dedicated to Lotus and its guiding principles, as laid down by Colin Chapman, which are constantly refined, updated and advanced. In particular, Lotus's unique
DNA has been developed and honed over years of creative, innovative automotive technology and racing competition which is exemplified and shown in its "world class" vehicle dynamics and high performance, exceptionally efficient sports cars and associated products.
A lifelong automobile enthusiast, John recently left the car business and went into full time ministry at a church outside of Washington D.C. He started collecting high-end, hand made models over 25 years ago and has managed to finagle, barter and bargain his way into a relatively small (600 pieces) but notable collection of mostly white metal and resin cast models with many unique 1 –of-1 and very low production Limited Editions. John has been active in the hobby and has recently been appointed to the Board of Directors of The Diecast Zone, a prominent web site devoted to scale models of all types and manners of manufacture. He's also fond of shooting high-style photos of his models and has done promotional photo work for a number of manufacturers.
Jem Marsh is one of the characters of the motor industry and one of the best known figures around Britain’s motor racing circuits.
His family were Haberdashers with a large shop in Bristol, England for three generations but Jem was not interested in taking over and after leaving school at 16 became a boy seaman.
After nine years in the Navy, he became a stunt driver with a travelling car circus called the Hollywood Motor Maniacs and Rodeo, so-called because no one came from Hollywood and they had no horses!
The closure of this led eventually to the formation of Jem’s first company, Speedex, at a time when, due to excessive purchase tax on new cars, there was a living to be had from building specials from second-hand car parts. In 1958, he won his first major championship, The Goodacre Trophy for the 750 Formula Championship, in a car designed and built by himself.
A few months later, a chance meeting in a pub with Frank Costin led to the formation of Marcos, the name being derived from their two surnames. For the l960 season, Frank designed and built perhaps the ugliest car ever seen on British circuits but which, in the hands of Bill Moss, was to sweep all before it. The partnership with Frank did not survive but he was responsible for the wooden chassis which became synonymous with Marcos and it did lead to the enduring relationship with Dennis Adams, the brilliant designer who created most of the future Marcos shapes in collaboration with his brother Peter.
Some of the world’s top drivers started their careers in Marcos cars – Sir Jackie Stewart, Jonathan Palmer, Derek Bell and Jackie Oliver, to name but a few. His cars remain as competitive as they were in the l950s; in l994 Marcos launched the LM500 which, with only three months’ development and none of the massive resources of Lotus and Porche, gave them a real run for their money. In l995 the LM600 finished at the iconic 24 hour Le Mans race.
Jem’s racing career spans over 45 years, over 300 races and awards. He still help an International Racing Licence until 2001.
He is a survivor and a winner in his chosen field.
Dr. Paul Sable is an automotive historian, author, overall car enthusiast and a fervent collector of hybrid cars of the 1950’s. His current restoration projects include a 1949 Kurtis-Sport and a 1953 Fiat 8V Supersonic. Paul is also currently conducting research on fiberglass cars of the late 40’s and early 50’s, plus information on the Fina-Sport.
He is the co-founder and was the director of the Concours of the Eastern United States (1990-1995) and has been an advisor to a number of concours that began after 1995. He has judged at nearly every concours in the country including Keels & Wheels Concours in Texas, The Hampton Concours d’Elegance in New York, Buckingham Concours in Pennsylvania, Fisher Island Concours in Florida, and The Radnor Concours in Pennsylvania. He has been chief/head judge at the Greenwich Concours in Connecticut (1996-2011), chief judge at the Glenmoor Gathering Concours in Ohio (2004-2010), head class judge at Meadow Brook Concours in Michigan (2003-2011) and at Amelia Island Concours (1996-2011). Paul has also been a judge the past six years at the Pebble Beach Concours in California and has been involved and a judge at Hilton Head Concours since its beginning. He is currently involved and is on the Board of The Elegance at Hershey.
He is Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of a new 16 million dollar transportation museum, America on Wheels, which is in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and is a member of numerous automobile organizations (AACC, CCCA, etc.) and marquee clubs (Hudson, Kaiser, Nash, etc.). He was recently elected to the Board of Directors of the Collectors Foundation, a national organization supporting the hobby.
Paul has served as an advisor to a number of museums and individuals regarding their collections plus authored and co-authored a number of articles on the Dual Motor Company, the Muntz Jet, and Frank Kurtis in publications such as Automobile Quarterly, Automotive History Review and a number of American and European automobile magazines.
Retired automobile dealer [Chevrolet, Buick, Ford, Hyundai franchises] with a career spanning over 45 years.
Past regional director Classic Car Club of America. Longtime trustee - Auburn- Cord- Duesenberg Automobile Museum. Chevrolet National Dealer Council. General Motors Marketing Strategy team. Involved with many collector car committees.
Ed and his wife, Judy, have what has been noted as one of the top 50 car collections in North America.
Ed is somewhat of an automotive historian with a library of several hundred automobile related books. Also, Ed has an extensive collection of 1/24th and 1/43rd scale models, as well as a large number of vintage toys. Ed loves to talk cars!
“A Jack Griffith Story & Amelia Island Events”
As a proud owner of many TVR Griffiths my interest tracks back many years. In my teens a friend of mine had a 200 series Griffith; I fell in love with it but at the time was unable to own one of my own. As we fast-forward from the ‘70s to the year 2000, my dream was able to come true. I went to a boat show on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and lo and behold, what do I see in the parking lot, but a green 200 series Griffith. I must have stood by that car for at least an hour and no one came back to the car. I finally left a business card on the windshield and went on my way. I never got a call so I started my own search. In the local paper I found a Griffith for sale and when I called the owner stated that the car had been sold—that the buyer was, as we spoke, giving payment for the car. But, the seller said, there was a gentleman that knew a lot about these cars that they could put me in touch with: Fred McKinney, who turned out to be the owner of the green Griffith that was at the boat show. We met, and eventually I purchased my first Griffith from Fred—and that’s where my love story begins.
Fred taught me many important thinks about these cars, one being that when restoring them they must come off the frame. After many years of hard work and over 5000 hours my first 200 Series Griffith was complete. When Vince Doring, who had become friend, heard I had finished the car he stopped by to take a look. Impressed with the car, he told me that Jack Griffith was on the Board of Directors of the Ameila Island Concours in Florida, but he thought Jack had never ever had one of his cars in the show. We talked for a while but I never gave it much of a thought. A couple of weeks went by, and one afternoon the phone rang. My wife Betty answered, and she ran out the door in shock to say “Jack Griffith was on the phone!” As I talked to the soft-spoken man I was in shock –he said he had received a phone call from Vince Doring stating that I had the most perfect original Griffith he had ever seen! Jack asked me to mail him a couple of pictures.
After receiving the pictures Mr. Griffith called again and invited me to show my car at the March 2007 Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance. What an honor! So we packed and were off to Amelia Island. What an event! As we walked into the Ritz-Carlton we were greeted by Mrs. Marge Griffith. After introducing ourselves Marge found Jack, we sat and talked We were all brimming with excitement. We spent as much time with Marge and Jack as we could over the next four days. Come show day neither Mr. Griffith nor I would not leave the car. He sat next to it as proud as a new father all day, enjoying the people and the excitement of the event.
It was an honor to have our car at Amelia Island, but even more so to spend time with Mr. and Mrs. Griffith and in the years since we have remained friends and stayed in touch with the Griffiths. We meet each year in March at the Concours for special time together. During one such meeting over dinner, I asked Jack if they (Griffith Motor Car Company) had ever thought of putting a 427FE motor in one of their cars. Jack looked at me and said “Do you think it will fit?”—with a smile on his face. I thought it would, and asked for Jack’s help and blessing on the project. Jack gave the nod and off it went. The project took a lot of engineering, energy and money but Jack and I had faith we could do it. We drew up the documents for the car (based on chassis #200-5-046) and after four years of hard work—inspired by Jack’s own passion—the first 427 Ford-powered 200 series Griffith has become reality.
This car was presented in the Amelia Island Concour 2011 with three other Griffith models honoring Jack and Marge Griffith—the women behind the man that designed them. The time had finally come to honor the man responsible for these cars, teach fans where they came from and what they are about then and now.
My love for these cars keeps growing—and with it my collection! With two completely restored, one driver and several others waiting in the wings Jack has asked me “What’s next?” Remanufacturing parts, restoring these cars to better then original and educating people on what these cars are about is what I want to do.
In loving Memory of Marge Griffith, July 8, 2011. Craig Johnson will always remember her smiling face, as we drove up for Jack's presentation together in my car at the 2011 Amelia Island Concours d' Elegance and this is why Automodello has chosen to include Marge's picture too.