• Candy Tangerine Crusher

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    OK, now this is pure conjecture, but lets run with it anyway. When John Bishop and his guys at the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) first drew up the regulations for their new Trans-American Sedan Championship (Trans-Am) in 1966, they adopted, virtually word for word, the FIA Group 2 touring car (sedan) rules used elsewhere throughout the world, and most commonly in Europe and the Great Britain.

    But the SCCA made a couple of important amendments for Trans-Am that weren’t included in Group 2. First, they stipulated a maximum 116 inch wheelbase. Second, they stipulated a maximum 5,000cc engine capacity. And in doing so the SCCA eliminated all big block powered full-sized domestic cars.

    Now, this wasn’t an uncalculated oversight. In fact, quite the opposite was true. These changes were concise and specifically targeted. At the stroke of a pen, the SCCA definitively blocked any chance of the Trans-Am series being gate-crashed by the stock car fraternity. But just what exactly was it the SCCA were trying to avoid? Was it the stock cars themselves, or was it the people who raced them?

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    The Sports Car Club of America was established in 1944, and intended for amateur enthusiasts who wanted to exercise their mostly spindly British sporty cars in an environment that allowed a little more spirited driving than was legal on public roads, but at the same time, still be conducted in a gentlemanly manner. Importantly, there was no prize money on offer, and professional drivers and teams were shunned. And this remained so until 1962, when professional championships began being carefully introduced. But even then, the decision was divisive, with many in the SCCA highly critical of the notion they align themselves in any way with professional racing. And as such, separate events continued for amateur racers.

    So when SCCA executive director John Bishop and his crew were drafting up the Trans-Am rules, which were announced publicly in early 1966, they were careful that, although intended as a professional road racing sedan championship, they attracted racers and teams predominantly from sports car or open wheeler road racing backgrounds, who were a good fit with the clubs directives. In Europe and the UK, where Group 2 rules were in common use, sporty and nimble performance sub-compact cars such as the Lotus Cortina, Mini Cooper, Alfa Romeo and the like shared track space with gracious MkI and MkII Jaguar saloons, and swarms of tiny high performance continental pocket-rockets; Fiat 600s and similar ‘etceterinis’.

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    Interestingly, however, a gaggle of Holman-Moody built Ford Galaxies converged on the British Saloon Car Championship in 1963, beginning with the Silverstone International Trophy event, round 5 of the series. Entered by the experienced John Willment Racing and Alan Brown Racing teams, and driven by a raft of international superstars including Dan Gurney, Denny Hulme, Jim Clark, Roy Salvadori, and Jack Sears, they proceeded to win all the remaining seven races on the calendar, fending off the previously dominant Jaguar MkIIs.

    The Galaxies continued their barn-storming performances throughout the 1964 BSCC, although Jim Clark, now driving a Lotus Cortina for Team Lotus, had the measure of them on occasion. It was an impressive demonstration by these unlikely behemoths in an environment that should not have suited them. But although the crowds loved them, the establishment did not, and the Jaguar teams protested the Galaxies roll cages, citing a structural unfair advantage not in compliance with the regulations. The Galaxie teams, grudgingly, cut various bars from the cages, until only a single hoop remained at the B-pillar. And then they kept right on winning.

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    The case of the BSCC Galaxies and the various attempts by rival teams to have them removed from the series (or at least made less competitive) was not so much one relating to the teams, as it was the cars themselves. Indeed, John Willment and Alan Brown were highly respected within British motor racing circles. But with regards the new Trans-Am series, was the SCCA’s additional ruling put in place to prevent monstrous 7 litre Galaxies rubbing door handles with Mini Coopers and Fiat 600s, or was it simply because the SCCA didn’t want to associate themselves with the stock car community? Were they aiming these rules at the cars, or at the people? And almost certainly, had the Trans-Am rules allowed such vehicles, there is no doubting the majority of them would be entered by NASCAR and USAC stock car teams out to win a few bucks prize money on an otherwise quiet weekend, and not by the likes of John Willment or Alan Brown Racing, and their host of clean-cut Formula 1 and sports car drivers.

    Lets give the SCCA the benefit of the doubt, and assume their decision making related purely to the cars themselves, and not the people racing them. Was this a decision based on safety grounds? Did they fear the implications of a Galaxie versus Fiat 600 collision? Or perhaps it was a decision based on performance? How would massive domestic big block monsters, with their sizable heft and questionable brakes, fare against nimble, svelte European machinery in a road course environment? Those glittering Galaxie performances in the 1963 and ’64 BSCC races suggested they had the measure of the very best racing sedans in Europe, on European soil. But the tracks they competed on in the BSCC were fast, flowing, and open, and probably better suited to masking the Galaxies various inefficiencies. How would they compare on home turf?

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