SAAC 30 at California Speedway

by John S. Allen


 

 Every year the Shelby American Automobile Club holds its Annual Convention over the first weekend in July.  2005’s edition - the 30th - took place from the 1st to the 3rd of July, at California Speedway, located near the town of Fontana, some 70 miles east of Los Angeles, and about 15 miles north of Riverside.  Remember Riverside?  It’s a name guaranteed to evoke many wistful thoughts in the minds of GT40 enthusiasts.  Sadly, Riverside Raceway is no more, and those of us who never saw it in its heyday can only dream of those halcyon days, when motor sport still had some of the sport left in it, and rather less of the technology.

California Speedway is, as the name suggests, an oval, although it also has an infield section which gives it some of the attributes of a road course.  Being a speedway, it is rather clinical, with lots of tarmac and concrete, but little in the way of grass or trees; finding picturesque backdrops for photographing cars was something of a struggle.  The upside of the speedway location was good modern facilities, with excellent garages for those who wanted them, lots of paved parking and paddock space, splendid grandstands, and a safe and spacious pits complex.

As usual, one hotel was designated as the “official” venue for the event, and the chosen one this year was the Mission Inn, at Riverside.  Whoever made this inspired choice should be congratulated for coming up with an astonishingly good venue, at a remarkably good concessionary price.  It is difficult to praise this hotel highly enough.  It features delightful Mexican/Spanish architecture, attentive staff, excellent rooms, the most wonderful restaurants with superb menus, and a host of paintings and other antiques and works of art which would grace any gallery.  Most US presidents over the last 100 years have, at some time or another, stayed within its walls.  Richard Nixon was married there, and Ronald Reagan had his honeymoon there.  Steeped in history, the Mission Inn is a recognised Californian historical landmark, and its trademark mission bell symbol has even been adopted as the badge of the city.  If ever again I find myself staying in the Riverside area it would unquestionably be my first choice for accommodation.  Absolutely superb, and highly recommended.

SAAC-30 took place from Friday 1st July to Sunday 3rd July.  The first two days were given over to on-track practice sessions and the Concours, with the racing being allocated to the third and final day.  As is often the case at these events, by early Sunday afternoon many of the participants had already left to make their way home.

 

On Friday and Saturday evenings official dinners, attended by the boss himself, Carroll Shelby, were held at the modern Riverside Convention Centre, a stone’s throw from the Mission Inn.  After the first dinner there were some short speeches by some of the former Shelby team members, followed by an auction of pieces from their memorabilia collections, including some real gems, and with some quite surprising prices.  The Saturday dinner was followed by the customary speeches by SAAC officials and others.

Alas, there wasn’t a lot for the GT40 aficionado.  Only three GT40s turned up, these being John Brice’s 1043 (still in the white livery with red stripes which it has worn for several years, but now carrying the race number 43), John Sadler’s Mark V 1124 (red, with race number 8), and green-painted 1122 (another Mark V); the latter car was present only on Saturday, and (to my knowledge) did not venture on track.

Lee Holman was there, but left his Mark II at home, bringing instead a Ford Falcon.  Lee’s display in the paddock included early prototypes of his new range of GT40 models, Chinese-manufactured 1/24th-scale Mark IIs, in Le Mans 1966 liveries; expect the production models soon. 

 

 

 However, the lack of original GT40s was made up for by the presence of several good replicas.  There was a single GTD40, blue-painted, a yellow Tornado, and a quartet of South African-built CAVs.  Three of these (red, white and blue) were lined up on the importer’s display, with a fourth, finished in silver, nearby.  CAV’s display area was looked after by Roy Sayles, of Affordable VIP Classics. It’s a small world - Roy is from Halifax, Yorkshire, and knows well my home city of Leeds.  This was the first time I had clapped eyes on a CAV, and I found the stainless steel chassis panels particularly interesting.

The GT40/Cobra race was contested by a handful of Cobras, a Daytona coupe (whether original or copy I know not), and the GT40s of John Sadler and John Brice.  An interloper was Joe Diloreto’s ex Peter Revson McLaren M6B Can-Am car.  Being built to a different set of rules from those applying to the GT40s and Cobras (with a larger engine and substantially less weight) the McLaren, not surprisingly, dominated the race, which was led off by a midnight blue Ford GT pace car driven by Rick Titus (son of the late Jerry Titus).  The two GT40s, Mark I then Mark V, followed in the McLaren’s wake, and took 2nd and 3rd places.  John Sadler, chasing John Brice, couldn’t help but notice that the Mark I was cornering rather flatter than was his Mark V, and he is resolved to make some changes to springs and dampers before the next time the Mark V comes up against the Mark I.

There were lots of other cars which were of only marginally less interest than the GT40s: Cobras and Mustangs by the score, several Daytona coupes, some at least being original, two Ford GTs, the prototype 2007 model GT500, the unique Type 65 7-litre Super Coupe, Panteras, and lots of other sporting Fords.

As might be expected, the weather was well nigh perfect, with sunshine all day and every day.  As usual, organization of the whole event was first class.  There were other SAAC-organised side events which people could attend if they chose to, and there was downtown Riverside to explore.  On 4th July, Independence Day, this delightful town, with a centre rather reminiscent of some of Europe’s prettiest, hosted a show of veteran Fords, and provided a spectacular fireworks display.  The Wednesday open-air craft fair and market was well worth visiting, too.  Next year’s Shelby convention will be held at Virginia International Raceway, but SAAC plan to return to Riverside and Fontana in three years time, for SAAC33.