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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 back –ed.). 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.