My Six Keepers
Baseball gets an all-star game and apparently so does the NBA. And since my pals in the TV compound love to make fun of me because I can’t name one NBA team, let alone an NBA all-star, I’ve decided to fight back and name my all-time, all-star non-team of superstar sports cars.
This is a dinner game we played at Radio Le Mans when commentator Paul Tarsey challenged us to name the six cars we’d like to have for our private museum. It’s the perfect sort of game to play because there are no wrong answers; just people asking … “What’s wrong with you?”
Please join our all-star game by filling up the comment spaces below with your (up to) six all-time, all-star sports cars. Here are the rules:
The cars you nominate stay in your “collection” forever; your nominations must be chosen for their automotive (not profit) virtues. No Formula cars this time around, please; just sports cars - sports racing cars, GT cars, prototypes, Group 7 racers, and so on for this pointless exercise.
Here are my six. Please feel free to ask … “What’s wrong with you?”
1. Raymond Sommer’s 1938 ALFA-Romeo 8C 2900 B Le Mans coupe. It didn’t win but lead Le Mans for 219 laps … until the right-front tire exploded and took out an oil line. But what an extraordinary piece of Italian metal. Coachwork by Touring (still my favorite after all these years) and that brilliant straight-eight from the genius of Vittorio Jano. Graceful, fast, potent, purposeful, svelte and regal at rest or on the hunt.
2. Porsche 917K. In Gulf’s livery, please. (The famous pale blue and orange are my hometown team colors.) If you never saw the 917s race during the two years they ruled the world you missed something at once magical and, on rare occasions (especially when it was raining), terrifying.
3. Dr. Panoz’s ground-pounding LMP1 from the ALMS’ first season. A spiritual and mechanical descendant of the unlimited Can-Am monsters of the 1966-1974 epoch and the red Italians of the 1950s. The Panoz LMP1 had me from the moment I walked into Road Atlanta’s press room and witnessed David Brabham thunder down the hill onto the front straight at Petit Le Mans (1999). The windows rattled and I felt the thump of the 6-liter V-8 in my chest. The Panoz won the first Petit I ever witnessed. The LMP1 shouldn’t have worked: but it worked well and was a joy to watch and hear and feel. A brute-force American Prototype with no apologies for real success through overwhelming force.
4. The Maserati Tipo 61. The “Birdcage”. Conceived as a retail project as Maserati lay at death’s door hemorrhaging red ink. The Birdcage was considered ugly by some when it debuted, but there’s a large-scale model of it on my desk, and I love the old beast and find its unusual lines more than pleasing. It was fastest down the Mulsanne in 1961 with too-brave Masten Gregory at the helm of Bertocchi’s Le Mans streamliner version. The Maser’s elegant small-diameter, tube-space frame made for a monocoque-stiff skeleton visible through the massive windscreen. Hence the name “birdcage”.
A pal of mine owned one and it broke my heart when he sold it. I used to visit it every week and will now admit that, sometimes I talked to it when we were alone.
5. As the Seven Deadly Sins go, lust is easily my favorite. I can feel it building when I’m in the presence of any late 50s, early 60s Ferrari 250GT Berlinetta, the one everyone calls the “SWB”. The rest of you will likely put its muscular and utterly glamorous cousin the GTO – the “Testa Rossa with a roof” - here, and rightly so. But there’s something about the SWB that got under my skin when I first saw one. I blame that on an early and merciless puberty - just like what happened the first time I saw a Grace Kelly movie. (Double whammy.) SWB: Grace indeed.
6. This is where the Audi R8 should go. The best for last, and all that. Sorry. But what would such a list be without a Group C car? It would be incomplete. And what was the greatest Group C car of that glorious decade? Surely Porsche’s 956/962. But this is my list and this is where the Sauber C9 goes. (Just what did you expect from a Philistine who misses the Panoz LMP1?) Mercedes-Benz has had very few times in motorsport to go with all the glory. The tragic and distant Le Mans was its darkest hour. But watching video of the winning C9 rumble around Le Mans in that pristine silver, touching 250 mph on Mulsanne on every lap, puts Merc’s muscle-bound research and marketing instrument (by Peter Sauber) at the end – but not the bottom - of my all-star roster.
And now, The Apologies: to the fans of … the Toyota TS020; and of the nearly perfect Porsche 956/962; the Ferrari 250TR; the Maserati 450S (or 300S for that matter, for the same basic reasons cited in #5); each and every one of WO Bentley’s “Le Mans lorries”; the Bugatti 57G (yes, even the one that killed Jean Bugatti); any Can-Am McLaren (especially the exquisite M6A); the Ford GT40 MK II and Mk IV; the Corvette Grand Sport, any Cobra … especially the Daytona Coupe; all Chaparrals (except the 2H); and the graceful, fast and sonorous Matra 650 … that I can still hear howling all the way around Watkins Glen’s old 2.3-mile GP circuit 43 years later (if I close my eyes). And, of course, to the legion of fans of that pristine white 917LH of Vic Elford, the real star of the opening lap of Steve McQueen’s Le Mans. Piech’s long white weapon told the rest of the world (especially Enzo Ferrari) “Everything you know is wrong!” … in a loud, raspy, universal language.
And I almost forgot the obscure T151 Maserati. Peter Brock would, quite rightly, never let me hear the end of that omission. Then there’s the whole 935 genus …