MMR Blog

My Word: The Re-Discovery of Tin Cup

Posted on September 3, 2014 Comments (3)

By Denise McCluggage

Welcome to Historic Tin Cup

Car companies have gone through several stages in how they introduce the press to their new vehicles. And thus to readers of the publications represented. There was a time when the car makers spent lavishly. One might say even foolishly. The P.R. or marketing folks handed out first class plane tickets to deliver the writers to the posh resorts where the new vehicles were met with and driven. Just to prove that was foolish some of my colleagues would swap the single first class passage for two economy tickets (it was easier and fee-free in those days) and their wives were miraculously whisked to the same seaside or mountain spot.

On the q.t. (all hoped) and housed in a lesser hostelry. When his time at the “Ride and Drive” of the car company ended the writer would transfer to those more modest digs and stay on a few days. (Departure changes were free then, too.) The couple had a pleasant few days with no transportation cost to them.

One fellow journalist stretched his first-class tickets into as many miles as possible even if such a ruse involved more stops. He was compulsive about frequent flyer miles and could probably take every cousin he had around the world. My suggestion that maybe the host car company paid for first class seats so that the writers would be rested when they arrived met with a return suggestion that I mind my own business.

What the hospitality trade calls “room gifts” were equally lavish at that time. Pieces of superior luggage maybe. Almost always a racing jacket with the company logo. Wine. A welter of electronics. The European press really expected high-ticket items, even more than Americans. An oft-told story was a car introduction in which an American company was hosting a collection of European reporters. The gift was something like an iPod with a small note of “hope you enjoy this” or some such. In some rooms this was apparently left on the TV set.

Yep, you guessed it. At checkout time a few of the European journalists came off the elevators lugging a great armful of TV. Hearing of this we Americans tried to imagine embarrassed P.R. types struggling to deal with this cross-cultural misunderstanding.

All the excesses of hospitality faded even before the economy stumbled and car companies cut back to what was after all the essentials of getting a new model car into our hands in a pleasant setting with knowledgeable executives nearby to answer questions about the vehicle, its design and performance and a description of the marketing plans laid out for it. That’s what a public relations department was supposed to do.

Range Rover

The thing is some did it with more class, style and originality than others. And Louis Vuitton garment bags had nothing to do with it. The programs themselves were the draw. Bill Baker, a prince among P.R. people, ran such programs for Land Rover. Everyone wanted to be on a Bill Baker trip because his trips were always germane to the vehicle involved, always well organized and well-realized. And always great fun.

Great Divide Expedition

This week I will be in Colorado’s Rockies to celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of Bill Baker’s programs for Land Rover. The reunion is called the Great Divide Expedition. The original 25 years ago wended its way—working north to south, heading eastward now westward—over trails and passes that crossed that incredible line that split the country into watersheds, east or west. This trickle of melt from summit snowfall will find its way on this side of that pebble then farther on that side of that boulder, joining more glinting run offs, growing larger, more intentional. And quite obviously gaining a destination as these streamlets become creeks and rivers.

It’s the Atlantic ocean for one part of that tiny streamlet; the Pacific for another. That’s the drama of the Continental Divide. You see a drop join another drop, separate from another and a watershed is created before your eyes. Push down here and you’ve altered a destiny for a sun-melted Rocky Mountain snowflake.

Hey, that gets to me.

The Great Divide Expedition

When Bill Baker chose criss-crossing the Great Divide to show off Land Rover’s adept ways with steeps and deeps and rocks and ravines he did not know my family had a history with one of those passes. One called either Tin Cup Pass or St. Elmo’s depending on which way you’re heading. (Tin Cup is on the western slope.) My Daddy at seven or eight—a Kansas farm boy then—had been on a horse-drawn wagon from St. Elmo with his mother to visit his Uncle Will in Tin Cup, an active mining town as the 1800s tumbled toward the 20th Century.

Tin Cup Log Cabinc

In Tin Cup Daddy’s Uncle Will had a sturdy log house that stands to this day and had a store that succumbed to a downtown-devouring fire. The next year the other half of the downtown burned. By the 1930s Tin Cup had one year-round resident—a young man named, if I recall across the years, Ross Seton. He stayed through the snowed-in winter to keep an eye on his gold mine.

I was there in the ‘30s when I was just a few years older than Daddy had been his first visit. Memories pulled my Daddy back to the Colorado ghost town which his mother had not liked. She kept whispering promises of watermelon if he would say he wanted to go home to Kansas. Or so he would tell us as the sun, which oddly seemed to set in the East in Tin Cup, turned the mountain opposite a rosy pink every night.

Daddy’s grandmother is buried in Tin Cup in one of those mountain cemeteries with oddly elevated wooden fences around each grave. We found it on the Land Rover expedition when we went through Tin Cup on the way over the Continental Divide yet again. To St. Elmo. Hey, my kinfolk are in that rugged outpost that Bill Baker had sent a collection of Land Rovers through. And new Land Rovers will do the same this week with old people to drive them.

Tincup PAss Continental Divide

I don’t know if the anniversary visit to the Great Divide will visit either Tin Cup or St. Elmo this time. I’d rather just find out than ask. I’ll have memories stirred either way. There will be some of the original expedition drivers on this return. And Bill Baker will be among them which will represent a strong will and a stalwart spirit. He has spent much of his recent life in a battle with cancer and is recovering with effort.

As for me, I’ll be returning with a right hip and a right knee that are not original equipment. And a left hip soon to be discarded in similar fashion. I’m a lot older than my Daddy ever got to be. I haven’t been to Tin Cup since that first Land Rover trip. No matter what it will be a memorable weekend.

I wonder if the mountain is still pink as the sun drops into a mysterious East.

I know there will be no one lugging TV sets out of any hotel. And I’ve got an iPod, thanks.


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on August 22, 2014 Comments (2)

In the opinion of some, there may be a better concours than Pebble Beach, and there may be a better racetrack for vintage racing than Laguna Seca. There may be a better celebration of Italian cars than Concorso Italiano and there may even be a better street show and setting than Ocean Drive in Carmel, but all believe there is nowhere else in the car world where they all come together as well as at Monterey Week.

This week we have a wonderful American car story by Denise McCluggage, who judged at Pebble Beach last weekend, and an image (below) from Michael Furman of a 1922 Bugatti T23 Brescia 1361.

Image from Michael Furman of a 1922 Bugatti T23 Brescia 1361

We hope Porsche fans took advantage of the individually signed Porsche poster we offered in last week’s MMR Newsletter. There are very few left and the offer goes out next week to the 12,000 subscribers of Sports Car Market.

Racing

F1 returns this weekend for the Spa-Belgium GP, one of the best on the F1 Calendar. While little testing is done during this period, look for the teams to be much closer in speed at Spa.

The Milwaukee Mile:

Will Power for Team Penske

Before sports car road racing came to places like Pebble Beach and Watkins Glen, there was already a rich history of oval track racing on wooden boards and dirt flat tracks. Founded in 1903, the famous mile was paved in 1954. Front engine roadsters with skinny tires put on a far different show than the modern Indy cars with high down force and fat tires. There really was only one line around here and Will Power took pole and that line to lead most of the race. That single lane limited the passing opportunities and, though a good race, it was not judged to be an exciting one. On camera, the grandstand appeared sparsely populated but organizers announced that attendance was 30K, 2K more than last year.

IndyCar has two races with 200 points left to hand out to the winners; Will Power of Team Penske has a 39 point lead over teammate Helio Castroneves. Stay tuned to your sets for the next two weeks as the battle continues. (Check our MMR Calendar for details.)

Concours

Monterey: Lamborghini wins!

This has been a huge year for Lamborghini in America. Continuing their tradition of unpronounceable model names the Huracan (hoor-a-can) made its North American debut at Amelia and was an instant hit. Two months later Bonhams sold a vintage Countach (Kun ta) for over a million dollars at Greenwich. Gooding sold one for almost $2M and a 400GT for almost $900K. Plus another Lamborghini 400GT won best of Show at the Concorso Italiano. Word on the street is that a Huracan sold today will be delivered in 12 months. Lamborghini is doing well.

Over the next few weeks we will share stories and images of our Monterey adventure.

Pebble Beach

Ferrari wins!

John Shirley’s 1954 Scaglietti bodied 375 Ferrari Coupe won the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and became the first post war car to win Pebble Beach since 1968.

Maserati was the featured marque but John Shirley’s 1954 Scaglietti bodied 375 Ferrari Coupe won the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and became the first post war car to win Pebble Beach since 1968. It was commissioned by Italian film director Roberto Rossellini and was Scaglietti’s first for Ferrari. The car is a fitting winner as no other car on the field matched it for the combination of style and story. At the time Roberto Rossellini owned it, he was married and involved in a notorious affair with actress Ingrid Bergman. Legend has it that the two were driving along the Italian coast and stopped the car to walk on the beach. Upon their return they found a lovely fresh fish, wrapped in newspaper, had been left on the passenger seat with a note thanking them for leaving such beautiful car for them to view.

Twenty Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa’s made for a rather spectacular presentation. All but one had been restored.

Concorso Italiano

Nothing Succeeds Like Excess.

Amidst a sea of red 308-355-360-430-458 and other Ferraris, some rarer pearls do appear. This is a joyous show populated mostly by Ferrari Club of America member cars. The invited designer was Zagato and they displayed a gaggle of Zagato designed cars. The most sought after car of the weekend was the new Alfa 4C. While, like many others, we applaud, nay celebrate, Alfa’s return, we cannot say that we are impressed much by the Lotus derived styling. Here is an image of a Zagato TZ3 Stradale Alfa that really did impress.

Alfa

Also an Intermeccanica Italia with a 351 Ford engine that reminds us all of the glorious ISO-Bizzarini, Apollo, deTomaso era of Italian chassis-American engine cars are also appreciating.

Intermeccanica Italia

The winning car, deservedly, in the heart of Ferrari country, was a lovely Lamborghini 400GT.

Lamborghini 400GT

See you next week.

Peter Bourassa


My Word: Serial Collecting

Posted on August 21, 2014 Comments (1)

by Denise McCluggage

It seemed to Joe Marchetti it was about time to get the Breadvan back. Joe, who died way too early at 68 in 2002, ran the Como Inn—a huge Chicago eatery—as well as more intimate restaurants. He also set up some terrific car events at Elkhart Lake because he probably liked cars as much as food and he knew how to celebrate both.

Como Inn Restaurant

As for the Breadvan, it was a Kamm-backed special Ferrari based on a 250 SWB Ferrari and was a GTO beater in some circumstances. Joe ha­­d maybe owned it a couple of times by then because that’s the way people collected cars in those days; they’d have a handful of interesting cars at any one time and sell them to each other for a few years while they experienced other fare. They’d buy them and drive them until someone else expressed an interest in them or they had a yearning for one they’d owned back when and want another go at it and let the word out.

Ferrari Breadvan

It was a sensible way to experience an assortment of entertaining vehicles and I was fascinated to hear Joe tell about the time when such serial collecting was the way to go. Amassing more permanent collections required more space to keep the cars, more commitment for long-term care and certainly tied up more money. Serial collection done in the pass-it-on mode also offered more flexibility and variety in rolling stock. A good thing for people who liked to experience what they owned, not just list it to impress others.

But the change in collector style inevitably came. When Joe went looking for the Breadvan he’d discovered what seemed like downright treachery. The latest owner instead of enquiring around to see who might want it next had quietly sold it for a goodly sum to a Japanese collector who in turn had swept it off to his home country. The unlikelihood of it ever returning to the US darkened the sky.

The Japanese, heady with a booming economy, were buying everything then—ski areas, Rockefeller Plaza. But those more fixed-in-place purchases didn’t bother car people as much as the portable collectibles did. Cars just disappeared into ship holds without a beep. Prices soared. And that ended the friendly turns-taking approach to collecting. The temptation to literally sell out was hard to resist. Money doesn’t talk; it sidles up to whisper sweet everythings in your ear.

Actually, many of the cars swallowed by Japan at that time found their way back to the US as fortunes changed and the Japanese economy weakened. But I don’t think Joe ever had another crack at the Breadvan before his untimely death.

Not that I had started out in these ramblings to write about the Breadvan and Joe Marchetti’s serial ownership of some appealing Italian machinery. What I had intended to do was write about how you could tell the year that bidders at car auctions had been in high school by the cars they bid on. But did anything up to now even hint I was heading there? No.

But starting now I’ll write about Muscle Cars and how popular they suddenly were on the auction circuit, lighting up the eyes of ball-cap wearers in easy-seat jeans and marking up record prices. And how I never liked the damned things. As a driver I had grown fond of brakes with stopping power. And I admired cars that took to cornering with a pleasing kinesthetic feedback. I found Muscle Cars awkward. Even brutish. You might say their power was a guy thing but I thought it simply loutish.

Yes, going fast in a straight line has its appeal but that quickly fades when you get used to the speed and fast doesn’t feel fast anymore. Phil Hill called that becoming “velocitized” in stories he told me about the Mexican Road Race and how he relied on his tach when going through villages so he knew his actual speed and not how fast he felt he was going. That kept him out of village plazas at the end of long black skid marks. He did go off the road rather dramatically once but everyone was exiting there because on-lookers had taken to removing signs from the highway, especially those warning of sudden road changes. He soon learned to use the size of a collected crowd (and its visible anticipation) at any given spot along the road as an indication of the risk involved. As good a marker as sign posts with sharply bent arrows or exclamation marks.

I think I’m meandering again so let me say that I’ve always preferred “quick” to “fast.” Quick is an esthetic without numbers. You’re not fooled by it, just pleased. Fast can suck you into trouble and wrap you around trees. Quick works with you if you let it. And it has that collected canter feel. Quick is rarely a characteristic of anything called “Muscle”.

When muscle cars at auction started pulling such large numbers some participants in Keith Martin’s client sessions at the auctions started asking questions. Will this surge in prices for these cars hold up? Keith is my favorite expert on values of collector cars. He’s been putting out “Sport’s Car Market” magazine since it was a typed newsletter. He knows the field and I admire his integrity. Living up to that he told his group a simple “no”. He said that the blossoming of muscle car values was the product of guys who cherished the cars when they first appeared and the guys were in high school. They craved them but couldn’t buy them. Now they’re older and richer and can pay anything to realize their high school dreams. And do.

As powerful as such whims can be (especially when you can now afford to be the coolest guy ever if you were still in high school) such whims are not makers of sustainable value. And that’s what Keith in effect told his students. The boom won’t last. But that’s not at all what the auction guys—rubbing palms together—wanted known. Hey, moneeee is involved here. The auction guys, making a lot are ready to make more.

Someone overheard Keith’s questioning the endurance of the muscle car’s popularity and told the auction guys. The auction guys then ordered Keith to leave the building. (Yep. Leave.) And in effect “shut up”. And that after all the good he had done for what is known as “the collector-car hobby”. Thank you from the auction houses. Greed is a powerful whatever.

But all that was several years ago. Both Keith and the auction guys may be okay again. I don’t know. But Keith was right about muscle cars and their bubble of extreme popularity. Didn’t last. Golly, what power high school wields, even in memory.

But what got me thinking about muscle cars in the first place is their return – not as vintage cars but new ones. Will the return bring on a new boom in auction prices when today’s high school kids get rich and nostalgic down the line? No. Because cars don’t seem to matter as much to today’s high school kids. Or the kids today have the ability to get what they want at the time they want it and thus forget the forgettable. It’s only our unresolved yearning that power memories.

Anyway, the new muscle cars are certainly better cars than the old ones. But then all cars are better in that they stop better, take corners more neatly and still go as fast in a straight line as the current culture allows. Old or new muscle cars, I still don’t like them much. Most are still more crude than I like a car to be. Except for one instance which I’ll be getting to after circling the barn another time. A well-mannered but manifestly muscular Muscle Car.

Shoot, I might as well jump right in: 2015 Chrysler Challenger SRT Hellcat.

Hellcat

I’ll let you Google it and note all that appeals to you. Basics: It’s fired by a Hemi 6.2 liter V8 and Chrysler says it is the most powerful production car ever. Doubt them if you like but it does have this: 707 (707!) HP and 650 pound-feet of torque. You can have a six-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic. And a lot of clever engineering.

I find all that quite amusing because what I said to the Chrysler people was “What a sweet car!” And I meant it. Never thought ‘til later they might be insulted that their hairy new beast, their halo car, should be called “sweet”.

I like the 707 HP. It says “flight” right off the bat and it does move instantly and rapidly. I’m more an admirer of torque than horsepower (and why don’t they simply list power-to-weight ratio?). This Challenger has the ability to wreathe the departure zone in billows of smoke and shorten your tire life if you wish, but there are controls that allow you to simply reduce the world as seen in your rear-view mirror at an impressive pace without a lot of showing off.

I put that in the sweet column.

It also is simply a handsome vehicle. Inside and out. Simple. Larger than I like but it is a Challenger and needs some presence for those with memories. Actually it drives small. Neat turning circle which matters to me. (I’m a fan of four-wheel steering, you know.) This is not a show-off hey-watch-me car. It simply performs. Results without visible effort. Now, by damn that is Sweet!

The Challenger comes it two lesser levels of performance but for highway dot to dotting quite adequate. For similar duties the Hellcat can be a slit-eyed pussy too at a sun-bathed purr. That’s another sweet attribute. You rumble when you want. Blast when you wish. The capability is there but you summon it quietly as desired or needed. That’s a trait I found “sweet” in two other vehicles—the GT-R (hoping the Infiniti Eau Rouge follows) and the 1001 HP version of the Bugatti Veyron. Ultra capable non show-off cars.

So that’s my view of muscle cars. Come to think of it there was one I rather liked in that original go-round of the breed—a Barracuda. I can claim a little consistency here. But I’m not sure what all this has to do with Joe Marchetti and his Breadvan.


My Word: Like a Child

Posted on July 24, 2014 Comments (2)

By Denise McCluggage

When Niki Lauda berated Sebastian Vettel for “screaming like a child” while on the radio to his pits I had an aha moment. Seb was grousing to his pits about the way Fernando Alonso was conducting himself in the pair's remarkable dice at Silverstone.

“Child,” Lauda said. That was the key.

This Formula 1 season, one of the best for some serious racing never mind the obvious dominance of Mercedes-Benz, keeps scratching at something in my memory. And the remark by one three-time champion (Lauda) about a four-time champion (Vettel) and his extraordinary mid-pack 14-lap set-to with a two-time champion (Alonso) put me—zap!—with my big sister in the backseat of a 1936 Oldsmobile on a hot Kansas highway headed for Colorado’s mountains. (“Mama, make her move her foot. She stuck her foot on my side on purpose!” “You touched my arm!” “You touched mine first!”)

Sebastian Vettel    Niki Lauda

Both the champions were complaining to their pits. “Screaming like a child” Lauda said. We were children screaming at a beleaguered Mom in the front passenger’s seat. So “child” fits the scene. But still that wasn’t the element that had been bothering me a few weeks before as I watched a petulant Lewis Hamilton snub a suddenly luckier-than-he Nico Rosberg. “Child” covered that, too.

But Lauda’s remarks swirled it all into focus. These grown men treat competition like children. Just read a few articles by child psychologists on childhood and competition. Some have written books on the destructive effect competition has on little developing egos. You’ve probably seen protectors of self-esteem introduce prizes-for-everyone at kiddy parties—which I certainly don’t object to. Parties are parties. And if you’ve seen kids you’ve seen tears when losing a game is something they can’t quite handle.

Today’s drivers started racing as tots, with helmeted heads barely balanced on reedy necks. Probably their hand-eye coordination developed faster than the neighbor kid’s did. And probably they had the sort of parents who noticed who had greener grass or played more holes of golf on a given weekend. Not competitively really, just noticing.

Kids just notice, too. Particularly how doing something better or earlier or faster or more often can put that special look on Dad’s face. Competition seems to produce the most varied reactions in similar people as anything I can think of. Kids learn early and easily what’s important to parents and that is a guidepost to behavior. Even parents who don’t overtly push their kids in competitive situations (my sister when she was a director of a children’s theater group in California called those parents “Dancing Mothers”) can communicate crushing disappointment to a child. Some kids can handle it, some can’t.

I had two nephews, brothers, who responded as differently as possible to competition. One was blithely oblivious to the pressure. He swam as well as he could that day and sometimes did better than most, but he always had a great time. The water got them equally wet but his older brother would brood the rest of the day if he didn’t win. Yet both as young adults and in different years won a title setting them apart as the best trombonist in all of California. Guess which one—retired from a marketing career now—still plays his horn. And owns a sweatshirt that reads “I may be old but I heard all the great bands.”

The little brother of a friend of mine was a star Little League pitcher. Made the newspapers and local TV. He loved the acclaim. Then he outgrew Little League. The new baseball program he was eligible for found him at the bottom of the heap starting over. Not for him. He simply quit playing baseball. The son of another friend, after he finished second in his first ski race, announced he didn’t like it and would never do it again. And he didn’t.

My own childhood competition was a lot of ping pong with my Dad. And we both were serious. Bright-eyed and eager. When Daddy won he shouted: “Game. Set. Championship of the Wor-r-ld!” That didn’t seem extreme to me. So I’d do the same thing. Girls were not supposed to be competitive and the rules for women’s basketball then allowed only one bounce per dribble. Yes! We could use only half the court (lest we perspire in an unladylike fashion) so we played either defense or offense. Stupid dumb game. Driveway backboards were common enough so after school I played HORSE with the boys. New kids might have to get used to playing with a girl but the regulars were fine with it.

I think I had a healthy attitude toward competition.

Briggs Cunningham Time Magazine cover

But the most unique, and I think healthiest approach to competition I ever encountered was that of Briggs Cunningham, a Corinthian in the original sense of sportsmanship, particularly of yachtsmen. On the water is where Briggs first excelled and he was the skipper of the Columbia when the America’s Cup competition was revived in 1958 after the prewar era of the huge 12 Metre boats.

I was racing some of Briggs’ cars at that time—OSCAs, Formula Juniors and Porsche Spyders. The Columbia was taking on the British yacht in Long Island Sound. And was beating it all hollow. This bothered Briggs terribly. “It’s no fun if the competition isn’t close.”

It was said that the British boat was confounded by the light air; all would be different if there was some serious weather. Yet came a big blow and the Columbia beat the Brits as badly as ever. Now here was Briggs in all seriousness suggesting that to shake things up the American and British teams should swap boats. Maybe the results would be different.

Can you imagine Ted Turner, an American team captain a few years later, suggesting that? His idea of competition was to leave the opponent bloody and pleading for mercy. Nor could Dennis Connor, long an America’s Cup skipper, be called a “sportsman” in the sense Briggs exemplified. Yes, he wanted to win, but mostly he wanted to compete. A challenge.

Here were Vettel and Alonso at Silverstone competing tooth and nail. And complaining to their pits about the driving tactics of the other. Or at least Vettel was “screaming like a child.” What I had felt through this season was an unpleasant tension that made me wonder if these people were actually having any fun. Were they hating what they were doing and who they were doing it with? Is racing only about the boundless money they are pulling in, the rewards, the accolades. I recall falling in love with everyone I had close dices with. At Meadowdale near Chicago Don Yenko (Corvette) and I (250 GT Ferrari) had a terrific go. The race was red-flagged because of some serious incidents among smaller cars also in the race, and we had to stop on the course. Don and I jumped out of our cars and grabbed each other like bears and danced about in what might best be described as glee. That was maybe the most fun I’ve ever had in a race.

Denise McCluggage    Don Yenko

I know racing stopped being a sport and became a costly business when Bernie and his moneymoneymoney culture took over. I was trying to pinpoint just how racing differs today from the days when I was following the scene more intimately and indulging in it myself. Lauda’s “child” remark gave me the answer.

As I said, most of today's drivers started their careers as children—Vettel began his astonishing collection of helmets especially designed for him when he was just eight and already a star. Children like attention, like being told they are wonderful, but they rarely really like competition.

The Formula 1 drivers I was watching weren’t enjoying themselves. Nor were they loving each other. They were doing hard work, displaying great skill. But experiencing pleasure? Not until the flag dropped and they—yippee—won. Children.

Fernando Alonso

But then I had a glimmer. Was Alonso having something of a good time? Even in that Vettel scream fest. And then in the next race, the German Grand Prix, I swear Alonso downright enjoyed himself. And drove fantastically well. 

He and Daniel Ricciardo, the Red Bull rookie from Australia, gave a workshop in tight competition, the art of dicing. And the delight—yes, delight—showed. In both of them. Actual smiles. Maybe a little love.

Now I know who to watch. And enjoy.


My Word: Being 16 at Le Mans

Posted on June 26, 2014 Comments (1)

… and elsewhere.

by Denise McCluggage

A useful capability for those who write for “publication” on the internet is the ease of correcting errors, typos or the God’s-truth you just now discovered was really not true. Try to do that with a newspaper or magazine. Even then the internet’s first incorrect version floats its way through cyberspace in parallel inaccuracy to the corrected piece. Bother.

Alas, too often no one bothers to make the changes anyway. And because many Google-it, researchers on a hasty harvest of facts choose the first source they come to, they seed their new columns and articles with old errors. Thus do the weeds of inaccuracies proliferate and are blown farther afield.

(I’ll be getting to Le Mans soon.)

I think of my mountain-side house in Vermont where I lived with my heavy typewriter and a lighter cat and mailed (mailed!) stuff I wrote to editors in New York and elsewhere. I had to drive at least 30 miles to a library of any serious use where I fingered through card catalogs; lugged bound magazines to those things called “carrels”, or fiddled with microfiche in search of Facts.

Now in Santa Fe I stay at home office-chaired before a computer, which is quicker and grabbier than a host of human searchers, and dumps before me indiscriminate information with facts, factoids, suppositions, misapprehensions, simple blunders and purposeful lies. Some of these are recognizable to me for what they are. Some require more tracking and sourcing. Throughout I wonder if truth and accuracy are really better served than when I wheeled a Land Rover, yellow like a school bus, over snowed-on New England roads to Dartmouth or the University of Vermont campuses to a library where I could check things. Were facts a truer blue then for my efforts?

In any era, GIGO.

I was brought to this rumination by an article on the internet by a colleague of mine at AutoWeek—Anthony Peacock—whose name and writing I like. It was about a 16-year-old yclept Matt McMurray who this year, 2014, became the youngest driver ever to compete in the 24-hours race at Le Mans (aha!). I read it for several reasons: For one, to me 16 is an age larded with meaning. The difference between going to bed a child and waking up with the door swinging open to adulthood. Or, more limited to my gender but of significance as you shall see—the difference between wearing high heels or flat shoes.

Anyway it was I who at 16 one late summer day boarded a Union Pacific train in Topeka KS and click-clacked across half a nation to Oakland CA. There I disembarked more or less ready to begin my first of four years at Mills College, a highly regarded women’s college for which I had landed a scholarship. I had never been to California. I was all by myself. Alone. There was a war on, as we were constantly reminded, and common knowledge had it that the Japanese were certain to bomb the West Coast any time. People thought my parents were totally bonkers to turn me over to the Union Pacific.

The train rollicked about in its mostly forward intentions, but I walked the passageways secure in 16-year-old balance and my flat shoes. However before leaving the train at the Oakland station I changed into my high heels. Nothing extreme—just workaday high heels, for those who worked days and wore high heels. I think I could count on one hand the times I had worn such shoes, but I was being met at the train by someone from College. Childhood was over.

The image I have of my disembarkation was of my portable Zenith radio, at the time the smallest version of such devices was the approximate size and weight of a Buick battery, flying halfway across the platform. I had flung it thus when I caught one of the unfamiliar heels in the top step, ripping it off the shoe, scattering everything in hand and upsetting any hope of a near-adult’s smooth arrival. Luckily for me I was dumped into the arms of a handy and helpful Pullman porter on the platform.

He then helped me find the heel, collect my belongings and dig the sensible-for-a 16-year-old flat-soled shoes from my bag. Down a peg but no bones broken I proceeded to meet those from college—now without a capital letter—who were to meet me.

Thus 16 has been an age I pay attention to.

Almost fifteen years after that I was at Le Mans, camera in hand but also hoping to be allowed to race there the car I had been offered by Luigi Chinetti. There, too, was a pair of teen-aged brothers from Mexico who had the motor racing world agog with their good looks, keen spirit and uncommon talent. Ricardo at 16 was two years younger than his brother, adorable and spoke little English. Pedro, only a tad less dashing, had been to school in the United States and his English was fluent.

Ricardo Rodriguez Pedro Rodriguez

Ricardo (left) | Pedro and his little brother

I knew them both, raced at Nassau with them … was even photographed for Sports Illustrated with Ricardo. The title of the piece was “Look Who’s Racing” which meant a girl and a child. (Oy. What are we coming to?) Ricardo was also hoping to be allowed to race at Le Mans that year. Officials had dithered over his age despite his extraordinary experience.

When I spotted the brothers on the pit wall the day before practice was to start I had just come from the inspection site where I had watched Luigi plead my case to M. Acat, head of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, forever the race organizers. Luigi had some clout at Le Mans having won the race at that time more than any other driver (three). I watched him across the way, shoulders shrugging, his mouth shaping French words for this imperious little man before him who had a profound power over my life for the next few days. Camera or car. Then Luigi came to where I, unbreathing, awaited. He shrugged another shrug. “Monsieur Acat says, ‘This is an invitational race and we do not cho-o-se to invite women.” With Luigi’s accent it came out “sh-o-oes”.

Simple. No. You cannot race at Le Mans. Stock up on film.

I asked Pedro if he had a ride. Yes, he did. And you? No. Ah-h. He was sympathetic. And Ricardo? Head shake. Too young. So, said I: no women or children allowed. He laughed and translated for Ricardo, who smiled his so-sweet smile. After that all the weekend whenever he saw me he would smile it again and pipe in English: “No ladies or babies!”

The next year—1959—Ricardo was a year older and was readily accepted at Le Mans. I was still a woman and remained uninvited. The Rodriguez boys shared a 750 OSCA. A car like the one I was to drive in 1958. Through the years of my racing my being “uninvited” at Le Mans kept me out of a Briggs Cunningham Corvette and a Porsche factory drive there. Wouldn’t that have been cool?

Oh, dear. This piece seems to have become about me. Probably because I am writing it. But it was meant to be about a 16-year-old driving at Le Mans and Anthony Peacock writing about that. In Peacock’s article he said that Matt McMurray had supplanted, as the youngest ever to drive Le Mans, one Pedro Rodriguez who had previously been the youngest at 17 in 1959.

That was very un-Peacock. I’d always found his accuracy admirable. If he had just checked the Le Mans line-up for that year—available with a few clicks on Google—he would have seen that Pedro was driving with Ricardo. And quick click to the 1958 entries and Pedro was there with someone else’s brother: Jean Behra’s sibling Jose. No Ricardo as a starter in any car. Even if he had not known it was clear who was the elder.

I tried to email the author so he could use the internet’s post-publication ability to allow corrections, but when I searched for the story again I found another Peacock article about the youngest driver neatly correct to the right Rodriguez hermano—Ricardo—and his age now to the day (17 years and 126 days) compared to Matt’s (16 years and 202 days.) My colleague hadn’t disappointed me after all. (Check out his Mark Webber story and others on AutoWeek.)

I noticed two things. For one, the earlier Peacock story about the 16-year-old was still floating about with its error intact despite the new correct piece. And for another thing, according to my calculations, if the “no ladies or babies” rule had been overridden in 1958 by M. Acat—or the babies part at least—and Ricardo had been okayed to drive he would still hold the youngest-driver-at-Le Mans title. By 76 days.

But what if I’m wrong? (I don’t get along well with numbers.) Then I can chase all this down later with the “real fact” and have antithetical stories dancing together in the clouds. Facts may be facts but you can believe what you choose. Most everyone else does these days.