To get in the writing mindset, I reread a couple articles in The Ultimate Classic. I especially enjoyed The One Family 2002 by James Laray from the Fall issue where he shares the history and soul of his 2002. To remind myself of the history and soul of my racecar I reread, The History of the Hyde Park BMW 2002 #34 from the Spring 2022 issue. In it, I highlighted all the previous owners and thanked those who helped me with the research. Since then, a lot has happened. Some good, some less than good but, all is good when you own a classic BMW.
The short story:
Bought the Hyde Park 34 race car in 2021. Raced it at Laguna Seca with SVRA in April 2022. Embarked on a "whatever it takes" ground-up restoration in June of 2022. Finished the restoration on October 12th, 2022. Crashed it two days later October 14th, 2022, during the practice session. Still a little bummed out. The end.
The long story:
After acquiring the race car from Steve Walker in 2021, I felt we should race it at least once in its most recent configuration. Ken Blasko of Blasko Racing helped us get the car in racing condition for the SVRA race at Laguna Seca in April of 2022. Other than some issues with the pressure plate, the old work horse ran great. While at the event, the founders of the Historic B & C Sedan racing organization (Dave Stone and Glenn Chiou), informed me that Velocity Invitational was considering a special run group for B-Sedans with Trans-Am history in their upcoming event in October at Laguna Seca. While I would have preferred a year or two to complete a ground up restoration, the opportunity to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the last Trans-Am 2.5 Challenge race with Velocity Invitational was too good to pass up. Thank God I had no idea of the workload needed to make the deadline. Ignorance was bliss. Fortunately, Ken was on board to quarterback the project. While he was busy working on the car and communicating with the team of restoration specialists, I was spending hours online looking at historical photographs of every inch of the car.
I settled on the livery from the years 1971 & 1972. As you can see in the photographs, the race car was prepared by Hyde Park Motors but was sponsored by the Macmillan Ring Free Motor Oil company. Their can of oil is blue and orange thus the cars were painted those colors and not blue and black like the Alpina livery that is more commonly found. I reached out to Arthur Porter for guidance on the colors because he found and restored the Hyde Park 35 several years ago. I wanted to match his work and he was happy to inform me the correct colors are INKA Orange and Atlantik Blau.
While removing the white paint from the rocker panels, we found the original orange. That made my day. One of the biggest challenges was finding the SCCA number stamp on the roll cage. Unfortunately, because the cage had been modified by the previous owners, we never found the SCCA stamp. The good news was that we were able to start with a clean slate regarding the cage. After stripping the car down to a rolling chassis, Ken shipped the car to Mano Agulian of Manofied Cars. While I knew of Manofied from some of his shops' amazing BMW 2002 and E30 street builds, I had no idea he was a world class fabricator. My goal regarding the roll cage was to replicate the design of the original cage so that if you held up an old photograph from Riverside or Laguna Seca, you would see the same angles. Fortunately, Mano has a Minor in Archaeology with an emphasis on Roman history, so he enjoyed the research part of the build as much as I did. In the end, Mano recreated the original roll cage by inspecting every millimeter of the race car and found all the original anchor points. He also made the chassis stiffer and the cage safer using modern techniques. What you would not see unless you dropped in on him was, he used the former Trans-Am racecar as a platform to teach the younger guys at the shop the way things were done 50 years ago. In addition to the cage, we had to contend with 30-40 holes in the floorboard. Mano knew we had to keep as much metal as possible so rather than ordering replacement panels, he and his crew did the tedious work of filling every one of them.
It seemed like the more I researched the car, the more we had to remove from it. For example, the car came with a late model nose, for added stiffness a previous owner extended two roll cage tubes into the engine bay that were welded to the frame, and it had coil-overs in the rear. It also needed sections of the rear panel removed for improved fender clearance because we were installing the Alpina style pig cheeks flares and a replacement roof that didn’t look like the surface of the moon. After removing period-incorrect items, it was time to install a few things to be 100% accurate with the SCCA Trans-Am rules from those years.
During the 1971 and 1972 Trans Am era, the fuel filler neck for front engine cars had to be on both sides of the rear quarter panel or on the rear panel. We could easily see where the fuel filler was during it’s IMSA years but not for the years it ran in Trans Am. If you looked inside the trunk, the large circular filler hole that was employed during the IMSA years was still there, just covered up with Bondo on the exterior. Fortunately, the Peterson Museum Archives had a couple photographs of the race car with the 2 ¼ inch external fuel filler neck and breather tube. That was all Mano needed to get to work fabricating the rear panel for both form and function. That said, we decided to not connect the filler tube to the fuel cell, only the breather tube. With Mano almost done with all the major fabrication items, it was time to prepare for the next stage.
With such a short timeline, there was little room for error. One of the blessings of SoCal is the weather, beaches, and the number of talented men and women who own and work on classic cars. It was early July and the shop that was on deck was better known for his surfboards than for his BMW 2002 carbon fiber components. That is quickly changing. After meeting Paul Lefevre of Son of Cobra at the SoCal Vintage last year, I asked him if he would like to assist with the fender flares. I think he said yes before I could finish my sentence. Paul really knows his stuff when it comes to BMW 2002’s. I believe his sea foam green 2002 that has won every car show entered, is his 5th BMW 2002. As a surfboard designer, he couldn’t find body panels that met his standards. So, he designed and made a set of carbon fiber flares, hood, trunk, and roof. For the Hyde Park 34, Paul hand crafted a set of fiberglass front and rear flares that are thicker and stiffer than off-the-shelf Alpina flares and they fit perfectly. Carbon is not legal in vintage racing. After seeing the flares in person, we quickly asked him to make us a fiberglass hood too. Feel free to visit his website to learn more about his product offerings at sonofcobra.com. He, like Mano, is a hidden gem of an artist.
(Mano, Rial, Paul & Ken)
After installing the flares, it was time for Ken to re-install the new subframe, engine, and transmission. An interesting wrinkle was the upcoming month-long vacation to Italy that Ken and his wife Laurie had planned a year prior. Fortunately, Ken got the car ready for paint and body right before his departure. We interviewed 4 different painters and decided to go with Best of Show in San Diego. I was referred to the owner, Matt Alcala, by a mutual friend. Finding a shop that understood the historical importance of the job was one thing. Finding a shop that could start right away was another. Matt understood both. He took delivery of the race car on August 22 and got to work on it immediately. By September 20th, he was done with the body and paint. He even arranged to have the numbers and lettering hand painted like they did back in the day. To confirm the numbers and letters were indeed hand painted, I spoke with Joel Martin who was the Hyde Park crew chief. He said Hyde Park Motors owned a body shop and would hire hippies to do the hand stenciling and lettering.
My goal for the interior was to match what was commonly found in the Alpina race cars. I found a blurred photograph of the HP 34 and could tell there was a factory dash with additional gauges to the right. So, Ken removed the metal dash and added a dash that he had in inventory. A 3-piece VDO gauge cluster was also added to house the additional gauges. We had door cards made for the two front doors and Ken was able to get a custom set made for the rear side panels. Unfortunately, the intrusion bars hit the door handles so Ken had to move the handles as we both felt keeping them was mandatory. Period correctness with an emphasis on safety was our default. Since we now had an early nose, it was time for the grills and side markers to be installed. Ken had a set of custom front metal bumpers made so that we could recess them like the Hyde Park team did in 1971 and we added a windshield wiper on the driver’s side. With the fuel cell and fire suppression system now installed, all that was needed was to be fitted for the Recaro racing seat. I am glad I went with the Halo model even though it was not a style available in the 1970’s. More on that later.
It was now October 8th, and my good friend John Meehan of Sticky Fingers was on his way to meet me at Ken’s shop to apply the decals. In the weeks prior, I had sent John a few photographs of the car which he used to replicate the decals perfectly in size and style. One of the coolest realizations of working with folks like Ken, Mano, Paul, Matt and John is that if you can dream it, they can make it. I would be remiss if I didn't add Forrest Koogle of KoogleWerks into the mix. Yes, you can, and we did order doors and various body panels from him but that is not where he shined the most for us. Forrest wanted to be a part of the build and was willing to fabricate a custom chin spoiler that was not available off the shelf. Additionally, he was coincidentally designing a 3-piece Borrani style wheel that looks better than the steelies and weighs 7 pounds less. They are beautiful wheels on and off the car. If you want to see them up close go to kooglewerks.com or on Instagram at @forrest_kooglewerks.
The next time I would see the Hyde Park 34 would be on October 13th in the paddock at Laguna Seca for the Velocity Invitational vintage races. I remember saying to myself, I can’t believe this car is mine and I can’t believe it is parked next to the Hyde Park 35 car. Tim Brecht has owned and raced the 35 race car for many years, but this was the first time since 1973 that the two race cars would be side by side in the orange and blue MacMillan Ring-Free Oil livery. I was on cloud 9. Everyone loved the result, and it was to be featured on Saturday next to the BRE #46 Datsun 510 that John Morton drove and the number 3 Alfa that Horst Kwech campaigned. Ken and I were proud Papas, and it was the first time my wife and 5-year-old daughter had seen the car in person too. She along with many of my friends could not believe how amazing it turned out with such a short runway of time. All of that was about to change.
Friday morning was practice for all 10 of the race groups. I was in Group 8 with 25 amazing B-Sedans that each had their own Trans-Am race history. There were Datsun 510’s, Alfa GTA’s, Short Wheelbase 911’s and a Volkswagen Beetle. During my warmup lap I took it easy and let a few faster drivers pass. On the 3rd lap of practice as I was breaking and downshifting for turn 8 (the Corkscrew) the car suddenly turned right and went into the gravel where a cement barrier was waiting for me. I have entered that section of the track over 100 times with my prior race car (The Eibach Hot Wheels 1969 BMW 2002). This time I was in a new car with a new transmission to me, a close ratio ZF transmission, and only one other race under my belt for the season. I was ok but the race car was not. The front and rear of the car took the brunt of the force, and we were done for the weekend. Fortunately, I was ok and super grateful for the Recaro seat with the Halo. The safety personnel arrived quickly and loaded the car onto the tow truck. With the help of 6 friends, we loaded it back into Ken’s race trailer and that was it for me. I don’t recall ever going from such a high to a bitter low in such a short period of time.
Looking back at the video and sharing it with more experienced drivers like Jeff Kline (the 2nd driver of #34 after Nels Miller), I believe I induced what’s known as “wheel hop”. As you go up the hill and approach turn 7 and into 8, the track flattens, and the car gets light. So, if the rear tires are spinning faster than the engine is spinning when the clutch is released, it will cause the rear wheels to lock up or in my case, the rear end came around and I was along for the ride. I should have double clutched or heel-and-toed to blip the throttle to match the revs.
That said, it was a very expensive lesson. However, the biggest lesson I learned had less to do with racing a vintage car and more to do with the personal and financial sacrifices that were made along the way. I like so many who embark on a full-blown ground up restoration can get carried away with the size and scope of the project and forget what is most important in life. I took a lot of time and attention away from my family and gave to an inanimate object that ended up betraying me (ok maybe that's harsh but it’s how I felt afterward). The restoration of the Hyde Park 34 was the most frequent topic of discussion in my home for several months. I must admit, I was obsessed.
The possibility of damaging the race car so badly only hours after completion was not in my realm of thinking. I remember saying to myself as it was happening, "oh no!" I will never forget the look on my wife's face and the tears coming down my daughter’s cheek as they witnessed us trying to load the mangled race car back into Ken’s trailer. Because my adrenaline was still pumping, the magnitude of the accident was still a couple days away for me.
We will get the car repaired. I am blessed to have an amazing team led by Ken Blasko. However, this time, it will be a balanced approach. Parts can be ordered, panels can be straightened and paint can be reapplied. However, no matter how much time, attention, and effort I put into making the Hyde Park 34 the most impressive and period correct BMW 2002 race car on the planet, it will never love me back. Some may say that was the sacrifice that had to be made to make the October 13th deadline. In my case, ignorance was blissful but for only a few hours. In the end, I learned a lot and walked away from turn 7 a better man.