Staged for the first time 40 years ago as the Historic Races, the annual Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is one of the longest running events of the classic car week on the Monterey Peninsula.
Spread over four days, this year’s edition welcomed around 550 historic racing cars, some dating back to the dawn of motoring, while the most recent machines on track were from the early 1990s. Taking center stage this year were the Maserati centennial celebrations, while the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang was also marked.
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Although neither was highlighted by a dedicated race, Maseratis and Mustangs were prominently represented in many of the 15 groups (seven on Saturday and eight on Sunday).
Two is a company
Packard 30 leads a group of very old cars.
Early competition cars were very straightforward machines, consisting of little more than a large engine and a pair of seats strapped to a steel ladder frame. Filling the second seat was the essential riding mechanic, whose responsibility it was to maintain fuel pressure and often also to ensure crucial components were lubricated. By the early 1920s, technology had evolved to the point riding mechanics were no longer required.
The brave men were called back in a decade later as, between 1930 and 1937, the riding mechanic was mandatory in the Indy 500. At the Motorsports Reunion, one of the great traditions is to run these early cars with riding mechanics.
This year, these included two Nationals (one of which ran in the very first Indy 500), George Wingard’s 1914 French Grand Prix winning Mercedes and a Packard. Their display left us wondering how great it would look to have a full field of these early cars, potentially complemented by 1930s Indy cars, all running with a riding mechanic. This is certainly something worth considering for a future edition of the event.
McLaren M6A Chevrolet leads a group of Can-Am cars through the Corkscrew.
With every aspect of today’s motorsports detailed in regulations, people often reminisce of the days of the Canadian-American Challenge Cup (Can-Am). Bound by just of a handful regulations, the Can-Am cars are considered the last of the no limit racers, piloted by the all the great drivers of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Nevertheless, they do not feature every year at the Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Fortunately they did in 2014, and the field boasted quite a few championship winning cars; the ex-John Surtees Lola T70 used to win the inaugural 1966 Can-Am, the McLaren M6A used by Bruce McLaren the following year, the McLaren M8F of 1971 and a pair of DN4 Shadows as used by Jackie Oliver to win the final edition, in 1974.
In addition to the well known machines, lesser known cars like the Sting and the Bill Leonhart Special were also on hand. Craig Bennett proved fastest of all on Sunday afternoon with his ex-John Follmer Shadow DN4, beating three McLarens, including the often dominant ex-works M8F of Chris MacAllister.
A Maserati Tipo 151 navigates its way around the course.
With a special display in front of the Rolex Driver’s Club, the Monterey Motorsports Reunion marked the 100th anniversary of Maserati. In addition to many classic models, the display also featured a brand new MC12 competition car with a special livery. During the breaks, the car was demonstrated by owner and hugely successful MC12 racer Michael Bartels.
From his native Germany, no fewer than four beautiful Maserati racers had been shipped to compete in the races. Among them were a very rare ‘Piccolo’ version of the 250F and one of just a handful of mid-engined Tipo 63 Birdcages. Fittingly, the Piccolo had American racing history and was driven to victory in its race by owner Jos Koster, narrowly beating Jeffrey O’Neill in a ‘full size’ 250F.
Most of the Maseratis featured in the race for 1950s and early 1960s sports cars, which included no fewer than three Tipo 61 Birdcages, two 300Ss (one driven by Derek Bell) and one of the mighty 450S Maseratis. Although the Birdcages featured strongly, the race was ultimately won by local Don Orosco in his well-honed Lotus 15.
A Mazda 787 leads a group of cars during the GTO reunion.
GTO was an abbreviation on the mind of many during the Monterey Classic Car week. Although this was usually in reference to the record breaking sale of the Ferrari 250 GTO, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion also fielded a particularly strong field of 1980s GTO cars.
These silhouette racers came in many different shapes and sizes, powered by engines as diverse as good-old V8s, turbocharged four and six cylinders and also a four-rotor rotary. Among the star cars was one of the ex-works 300 ZX Nissans, originally built for the factory by the very well funded Clayton Cunningham team. The car out on track was the winner of the IMSA class at Le Mans in 1994 and was reunited with original driver Steve Millen.
Also on hand was one of just three GTO Toyota Celicas built by Dan Gurney’s All American Racers, which was joined by one of the all-conquering Eagle-Toyota GTP cars. Race track owner Mazda was also very well represented in the joined GTO and GTP race with no fewer than three cars. All three featured in the top five, with Weldon Munsey eventually taking top honors in the RX-792P Mazda from 1992.
Now in its 40th year, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion remains the finest historic race meeting in North America. Although the event still attracts a grid that is equal to none, the effects of the ever rising prices are visible as many of the most priced historic competition cars now fall in the hands of collectors who have little intention on racing them. One thing we would love to see in 2015, is the GTP/GTO race moved to Saturday afternoon for once, so one of the very best groups can be enjoyed by the biggest crowd.