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MG TC Racing in the 1950s by Larry Watts

Harley Watts in 1955 with family and his MG TC

MG TC Racing in the 1950s

McDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida, 1951

By Larry Watts

(Editor’s note:  Younger readers might not appreciate just how fantastic today’s tires are.  In the 1950’s one would have expected an average set of automobile tires to last no more than a few thousand miles.  Tires have only become as long lasting and reliable as they currently are within the past 30 to 40 years.­)

Harley Watts and Bob Fergus, both from Columbus, Ohio, were two of a group of about eight guys in central Ohio that all owned MG TCs in the early fifties.  Harley was a gifted tuner/car prep guy and Fergus knew how to make a TC sing and dance.  Not that Harley wasn’t a talented driver in his own right.  Together, they campaigned Fergus’s TC for a couple of seasons. (In the picture above is Harley and his family in 1955, with the car as it would have appeared after having been driven to a typical race meeting)

One of the races that the pair entered that year was at the track laid out on the runways of McDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Florida.  After Harley’s usual immaculate car preparation, w new set of four tires was fitted to the car and they set out for Tampa from Columbus, driving the TC.

You see, in those days, NOBODY trailered a race car to an event.  I suppose that there were a few teams with lots of money that had transporters, but that wasn’t the norm.  You drove it to the race, took off the bumpers , taped over the lights, raced all weekend, reversed the process and drove it home on Sunday night.

Anyway, back to Harley and Bob Fergus.  Harley never commented much about the drive to and from Florida, so it must have been uneventful.  The interstate highways were still a dream fifteen years into the future, so all the trip was on two lane highways.  I’m sure that they had to restrain themselves in the twisties in order to conserve the tires.

The race at McDill was a six hour endurance race.  Their TC was entered in F Production.  A LeMans type start saw all classes mixed, same as today.  The faster stuff consisted of Ferraris, Allards, Jaguars, Cunninghams, Porsches, Oscas and others.  At the end of the race after the dust settled and the checkered flag flew, Harley and Fergus won their class bay a lap and a half margin over the second place car, never having been overtaken.  It was Harley’s first National Road Race.  John Fitch driving a Cunningham was the overall winner.

Nothing broke during the weekend thanks to excellent car prep by Harley, one of the best in the business.  Sunday evening they prepped the car for the drive home which proved to be as uneventful as the drive down.  But, think about this.  They drove the car 1300 miles home on one set of 1950’s vintage 4.24 x 19 Dunlop tires!

Yeah. In the 1950s, men were men.  And the drivers were fat and the tires were skinny.

The Fast Ones Embracing Motorsports


The Fast Ones – Embracing the Entire Vintage Motorsports Community

Harley Watts in a 1953 SCCA hillclimb event in his MG TC

Embracing the Entire Vintage Motorsports Community

Initially, “The Fast Ones” was envisioned as a venue under which owners of vintage competition motorcycles might get together for track days and/or competition days a few times a year, and have some fun on the pavement.  That’s a great idea!  We do plan to do that!  There are a lot of potential vintage motorcycle  racers, and most motorsports enthusiasts do not restrict their interest purely to motorcycles.  So we asked ourselves, “From whence might we draw some new enthusiasts? How might we draw new and fresh interest into the world of vintage motorcycle racing?”

The author, having a broad range of experience in numerous motorsports venues, can vouch for the fact that there is a lot of crossover interest among racing enthusiasts.   We will be talking about all aspects of motorsports competition, from race car preparation or motorcycle racing preparation to driving and riding.  So, why not include everyone and invite all those who are interested in all types of vintage motorsports  to join us?

On that note, upcoming posts will feature a variety of subjects in the world of vintage and classic racing, including two, three, and four wheels.  Having enjoyed a lifetime of exposure to motor racing in various forms, the editor is getting the ball rolling with some posts on motorsport experiences from our own family, beginning with some anecdotal and fun stories about what we experienced of sports car racing in the 1950s and 1960s.

Want to see a feature on a particular automobile or motorcycle manufacturer?  Do you have vintage racing history or information that you would like to share with the public? What tickles your fancy?  Sidecars?  Historic sports cars?  Rally?  Enduros?  Flat track racing?  Speedway?  Sprint cars?    What would you like to explore or discuss?  Contact us!

But for now we are going to add content relative to our own experience.  Stay tuned!


A Car Nut Household by Larry Watts

Classic Italian Sports Cars, Alfa Romeo 6C 2500, Lancia Appia, Lancia Ardea

Inteoduction to “A Motorsports Heritage – A Car Nut Household” by Stirling Watts

The following article was penned by my brother to describe the unique childhood we enjoyed as members of a car nut family.  Our Dad, Harley Watts, was one of the founding members of the Ohio Valley SCCA, and in the early 1950s developed quite a reputation for himself primarily as an all around go-fast mechanic and tuner, as well as a national class SCCA driver.  Here’s  a little bit of how and why we all grew up with gasoline in our veins.  Larry only scratched the surface in this short piece.  I have a few car and motorcycle related memories of my own, for  those who would care to listen.  I have memories of all of the cars mentioned below except for the 1947 Alfa, which was gone before I was born.   When I got my driver’s license in 1972, the last Series 3 Lancia Appia which Larry recalls below, was one of the cars I was permitted to drive regularly until I purchased a car of my own (also Italian of course).   The Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce to which Larry refers was not the car we currently own, but was probably owned by one of Dad’s racing friends.   Later, in 1975, Dad bought one.  I can proudly say that it is still in my garage, and in original daily driver condition.  We will do a piece on that car later.

I earned the name “Stirling” in honor of Sir Stirling Moss, the most famous and natural racing car drivers of all time never to have earned a world championship title, who as quite well known in the racing world when I was born in 1956.  Harley even had the privilege of driving as a fellow competitor with Moss on at least one occasion of which I am aware, namely, the 1954 Sebring 12 hour event.  I thought highly of Dad in many ways.  May he rest in peace.  He departed from this world 9 years ago, in October 2004 at the age of 80.

Car Nut Household

By Larry Watts

I’ve been spending time in front of the word processor lately writing about the early days of the sports car  movement in the USA.  I grew up in the 50s and remember when sports cars were interesting cars!  They were everywhere.  The English manufacturers, MG, Triumph, Austin, Morris, Rover, Austin Healey, etc. outnumbered the rest by a good margin.  Still, the rest of Europe was well represented with Simcas, Peugeots, Opels, BMW Isettas, Renaults (4CVs, Caravelles, Dauphines),  Porsches, and of course Volkswagens everywhere you went.  The majority of Americans though, drove American cars. Looking back on my childhood I realize that I was a member of an unusual family.  At least when it came to cars.

I grew up in a working class neighborhood on the west side of Columbus, Ohio, where the majority of our neighbors worked at either the GM plant or the Westinghouse plant.  The GM people of course, all owned GM cars.  The others owned mostly American iron.  It was the 50s and the post war economic miracle was in full swing.  Everybody wanted a new car and Detroit was keeping them happy with their annual  model changes.

Our driveway was different.  An MG TC was our daily driver.  No heater.  No defroster. Side curtains.  Right hand drive.  Lift the hood every morning and tickle the SUs until they puked gasoline all over your fingers and the driveway.  If you’ve even owned an old British car you are now nodding your head and smiling.

In our garage I remember some really interesting cars.  We had a 1947 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Berlina with coachwork by Pininfarina.  Around 1955, Dad sold the car for $50 because he didn’t have the storage space to keep it!  What would that car be worth today?  A hundred grand?  Who knows.

We had a 1948 Fiat Topolino with a rollback top.  Five hundred seventy seven CCs flathead inline four with, get this, twelve horsepower.  Top speed  45 mph.  Touring speed  35 mph.  No water pump, cooling by convection.  Crashbox transmission with no synchronizers.  This was the first car I ever drove at the age of 9 or so with the car in my Granddad’s woods.  Had to sit on a phone book to see over the wheel.


We took a trip to New York City when I was about eight or nine years old.  The reason for the trip was to pick up a 1948 Lancia Ardea berlina that my Dad just bought from a guy named Hudson Mills in East Orange, New Jersey.  The Lancia was classic Vincenzo Lancia engineering.  One thousand cc narrow angle V4 engine mounted out front with crashbox transmission, no sychronizers ,and rear wheel drive.  Sliding pillar front suspension.  Suicide doors in the back.  No door pillar.  Aluminum  bumpers, hood, and trunk lid.  Wool upholstery that smelled of mothballs every time you entered the car.  This car would run 75 mph all day.  Beautiful car!  Pretty to look at and so easy to drive.

Later we had a pair of Lancia Appia berlinas.  The first was a 1959 Series II.  The second was a 1962 Series III.  The coachwork on both Appias was identical from the A pillar rearward.  Only the nose was changed.  The earlier car had the classic vertical grill and was a much prettier car.  Lancia and Fiat in those days styled the sedans (berlinas) in house.  Only the spyders and coupes were farmed out to carrozerias like Bertone and Pininfarina.  Both Appias had identical running gear.  Again classic Vincenzo Lancia engineering with 1100 cc narrow angle V4, sliding pillar front suspension, suicide doors in the back with no door pillar.  Not as pretty as the Ardea but still fun to drive.  They would run 85 mph all day and get 40 mpg doing it.

When I was a kid, it was not unusual to see a Type 35 Bugatti or a Frazier Nash in the driveway on weekends.  I first rode in a Pininfarina bodied Ferrari 4.9 Superamerica  when I was 8 or 9 years old. I also remember a ride in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce.  I thought this was normal.  I also remember a lot of cars being dragged to our house on the end of a tow rope on Friday night and driven home on Sunday night.  My Dad was Mr. Fixit. He had a reputation far and wide as one of the sharpest mechanics around.

My own kids today are now in their mid twenties (mid thirties now – this was written a while backed.).  It is not unusual today to have one of them drag a daily driver home to my house on Friday night and drive it away on Sunday.  I fix ‘em just like my Dad did. The big difference is that modern cars are boring.  Reliable and economical maybe, but boring.

Motorcycle Track Days