An Extra 50cc

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The Adler M200 was introduced at the Frankfurt show in 1951. It was a twin cylinder with alloy heads, helical gears connecting the primary drive to the gearbox, a wet clutch, and an innovative approach to sealing the crankcase. The M200 was well regarded by the press, but just 2 years later, Adler bumped the displacement up to 250cc, and created a real star. The perfectly square bore and stroke created a smooth engine, and a more rigid frame enhanced handling.

In 1954, sporting versions of the 250 run by privateers managed multiple top ten finishes. Those RS250 versions reached top speeds of 120mph. A few of them added water cooling to maintain full performance as the engine got hotter. By 1955, this began to change top tens into podiums and victories. However, the timing was bad. Adler was battling the rapid decline in motorcycle sales as cheap cars became available. They had also absorbed a struggling TWN in 1956, exacerbating the decline. They eventually were absorbed by Grundig, who only wanted the typewriter portion of the business and ceased motorcycle production in 1958. 

But that is not the end of the story. Amazingly, tuners and privateers continued to campaign the RS250. Men such as Dieter Falk, and Willi Klee pushed performance and created more top tens in the Isle of Mann TT, and the 250cc world championship. For more on Adler see Flight of the Adler.

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Posted on January 22, 2016 and filed under Motor Sports, Classic Vehicles, motorcycle.

Porsche Sportomatic: Visionary or Delusionary?

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Nobody asked for this. Not in a Porsche. Not in 1967. Some say that this was the emerging influence of Sales and Marketing. Some say it was just being responsive to US customers who had to deal with traffic, and who were lumbering along in high gears at low revs. Some say it was preparing for an inevitable full automatic (Porsche did call it an Automatic). Regardless, it was a relatively surprising option for the Porsche 911 in 1968.  The idea was pretty simple. Allow shifting without using a clutch. Eliminate that pesky third pedal. This was not born out of an avalanche of complaints about coordinating the clutch pedal. There was no such barrage, at least not from 911 owners. Porsche was not losing sales to Corvette because people did not want to change gears. Porsche was doing quite well.

From an engineering standpoint, this was interesting stuff. Developed by Fichtel and Sachs, the gear lever actuated a switch, which operated a vacuum servo, which operated the clutch. A torque converter prevented stalling (along with  the choke/throttle handle between the seats) and allowed the driver to start in any gear. There were 4 forward speeds labeled L, D, D3, and D4. There was also a "Park" setting which fixed a countershaft gear in position. Operation was often described as odd or quirky. The lever was sensitive to touch, and to drive in a sporting manner, you needed to keep your hand suspended above the lever. This gearbox would be fine in a VW beetle or a Karmann Ghia, but not efficient in a pure flagship sports car.  Period Porsche literature described the gears as follows :

 L (Low): For ascending and descending steep grades or for slush, mud and snow.

D (Drive): Normal driving from 0-60 miles per hour. For rapid acceleration, the transmission can be shifted through all ratios like a typical manual transmission.

D3 & D4: For highway cruising. D4 is essentially overdrive, while D3 can be used for passing and downshifting under braking.

P (Park): This is necessary since due to the torque converter there is no mechanical link between the engine and transmission.

R (Reverse): Acts as it would in an automatic. It can only be selected if the car is at a complete stop. Slight increase in engine speed may be necessary to actually move the car.

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The press was mixed. Car and Driver said "So we’re unhappy. And we’re unhappy be­cause the 911 is still something of a stan­dard for judging roadholding and ultimate cornering ability."   Road and Track liked the speed of shifting, but thought the car sounded like "A GM City Bus".  Sports Car Graphic said "Putting an automatic transmission in a Porsche is like artificial insemination: it's no fun anymore."  Motor Trend said "We'll agree with Porsche that the Sportomatic is easier to shift......But do Porschephiles resent shifting?" Motor was more positive, stating "...it doesn't detract at all from the pleasures of fast driving on twisty roads....easy to drive for those who spend a large time motoring in particularly dull conditions.." Autosport indicated that "It has proved unexpectedly popular in Europe...Only an idiot would attempt to compare the Sportomatic with the five-speed box.."

In 1972, the Sportomatic was strengthened by using the type 925 with a case similar to the 915. In 1975 it was reduced to 3 speeds and strengthened once again. It remained an offering until 1979 when full automatics were offered. Of course today, a semi-automatic transmission is common even in economy cars. Porsche went on to develop Tiptronic, and PDK, while paddle shifting is now acknowledged as the fastest means to get from one gear to the next for any marque, and in F1 at the pinnacle of Motorsport. When looked at in that light, the answer to the question that nobody asked, is now the best answer to the question of how to shift.   

Posted on January 10, 2016 and filed under Classic Vehicles, car.

AWO - Simulating Simson

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The story of the split between BMW and EMW after WWII is well known, but a similar story impacted other manufacturers as well. The Simson (see The Simson Saga) factory was badly damaged during the war, and part of the rebuilding effort moved under Russian-control in the Suhl area of East Germany. They founded Awto Welo (car and motorcycle) which became abbreviated to AWO, but essentially they made Simsons. Tooling was also shipped back to Russia where more replicas were made. 

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The main products under the AWO brand initially were small mopeds.  In 1950 at the Leipzig Spring Fair, AWO introduced the 425T model, which was a single cylinder, 250cc, 4 stroke, shaft drive machine producing 12hp. It featured a plunger rear suspension, and bore more than a passing resemblance to the BMW R26. They entered production in 1952, and were generally well-regarded. They also produced a Sport version called the 425S. This version had a rear swing arm and dual shock suspension. It also produced an upgraded 15.5hp. Variations of the machine were also produced for road racing, enduro racing, and special uses. A uniquely faired version was successful in competition in East Germany. It was modified with dual overhead cams to produce over 30hp. In total, the factory produced somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 of the 425 models over its ten year life, mostly for distribution throughout the eastern bloc.

The combined use of the Simson, AWO, and Simson Suhl brands, caused a real mixture of machines using either or both to be released, so it is common to see both AWO Simson and Simson AWO, as references. However, the East German government ended production in 1962 when it decided that all future production would be two-stroke. The Simson brand continued, but AWO was officially over. 

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Posted on January 1, 2016 and filed under motorcycle, Classic Vehicles.

Audi Fox

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1972 introduced a new platform for the Audi 80 dubbed the B1. It was the replacement for the F103 series covered previously in this blog (see Audi F103). The US and Canada  had to wait another year for the introduction in 1973, and the marketing wizards decided that it should be renamed the Audi Fox in those markets. This was the first time that an Audi had been named, and it was reportedly quite the battle at Ingolstadt, The Fox was powered by 2 engines; a 54hp inline 4 cylinder 1.3 liter, and a 74hp 1.5 liter. Both featured a cast iron block with a single overhead cam aluminum head. Enhanced versions of both produced a good variety of power options for the platform. In late 1973,  The Fox/80 was also the introduction of the water-cooled front-wheel-drive format that served Audi and Volkswagen well for decades. Audi added a sporty GT model featuring a 1.6 liter engine and putting out 99hp.

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The Fox had a handsome design with a generous greenhouse due to relatively thin pillars. It had well=proportioned front and rear overhangs, and looked good in both coupe and sedan form. The combination of front-wheel drive and tall roof created a roomy car on the inside despite relatively small proportions. There was also an "Avant" or estate version with copious amounts of space. Suspension wise, it had torsion bars in the rear with McPherson struts up front. The Fox was good enough to earn European Car of the Year in 1973.

 The Fox/80 was a very significant car for Audi and VW. Volkswagen was facing declining revenues as the air-cooled beetle was waning, and the type 411 was not the replacement that they had hoped. The previous Audi platform was showing its age and had roots in even older DKW technology. In addition, the exchange rate was making German exports very expensive. The Fox/80 was in many ways the vehicle that bolstered the company, and allowed it to survive the rough patch. Based on its success, VW even badged its own version called the Dasher. The restyling in 1975 was also well received with square headlights and more muscular styling. A GTE variant was introduced as the top of the line. The cars were now fuel-injected as well. The platform continued to sell well, and persisted well into the late 1970s. 

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Posted on December 24, 2015 and filed under car, Classic Vehicles.

Geier Werke

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Geier began operations in Lengerich Germany in the early 1900s producing bicycle frames. In the early 1930s they began producing their first motorcycles which utilized 74cc Sachs engines. However, their trikes proved to be much more popular. The motorized tricycles were used for deliveries and even as people carriers. The trikes were equipped with 125cc Ilo engines, and later with more powerful DKW engines. After the war, the company resumed production in 1948 with basic motorcycles bearing 98cc Ilo engines, and then telescopic forks in 1949. However, mopeds were their bigger seller, and they continued production until 1953 when declining sales made them no longer viable. Geier did continue to produce machines for other manufacturers into the 1960s.

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Posted on December 15, 2015 and filed under motorcycle, Classic Vehicles.

Carbs and Coffee

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The carburetor is a device that executes a simple concept. Mix air and fuel so that they can be passed on to the combustion chamber. Simple. In the early days, they just dumped fuel and air in indiscriminately, and hoped for the best. Even as cheap as gas was back then, it didn't take long to realize that a lot of fuel ended up coming out of the exhaust unconsumed. Smart engineers then began to devise ways to control how much fuel, and how much air would be available at any given time, for any given combustion chamber. That meant that the carburetor needed to become a bit more complicated than a funnel.

Subsequently, some fantastic designs began to emerge for metering out fuel, the Bernoulli principle was applied, and carbs gained passages and mechanical moving parts which responded to throttle controls. Engineering and metallurgy evolved, fuel became progressively more expensive, and the carb became more sophisticated. I am going to stop this story in the early 1950s which is when Bing Vergaser designed the carb on the BMW R26 that inspired today's topic. It is a simple device operated by a cable and a spring, which operates a cylindrical slide, which in turn exposes (or covers) a jet. It has a separate idle control, which is another small jet, and it has a fuel storage chamber with a float which controls when to top it up and when to stop topping it up. The only other parts are a few gaskets and o-rings to ensure good seals on some of the chambers.

The R26 is a single cylinder motorcycle, so any issues with fueling are immediately noticeable and dramatic. It is the ultimate manifestation of one fuel injector per cylinder. Once I safely coasted over to the side of the road, it was obvious that there was nothing obvious. Going by the old adage that most carb problems are actually ignition/timing, I checked the coil and plug for spark. Looked good. Points ? Looked good. I kicked it, and it ran perfectly for a half mile before dying. Then it started again. repeat. I drained the float bowl. Two more repeats got me back to the garage. The next day, I got a strong cup of coffee and went out to the garage. It reaked of gasoline. The R26 had a small wet spot below it, but it was obvious that gas had leaked onto the gearbox case, and dripped to the floor and then evaporated. The petcock was fine, so the only gas available to leak was what was in the carb. As I am sure you know, it does not take much gas to smell like a Shell tanker has crashed inside your garage.

With the second cup of coffee, and the garage aired out, I had the carb off the bike and it seemed like the float was the culprit. It had somehow taken on fluid by condensation or by a pinhole leak, and no longer weighed the prescribed 7 grams. An o-ring was also suspect. I ordered a rebuild kit and a float from Bing. The resulting package had only a few parts as you might expect, but it was the right stuff. For a moment, I thought it was surprisingly expensive for what they were. However, I am pretty sure that in 60 years, you will have no chance of diagnosing any issue with today's motorcycles unless a dashboard icon tells you what is wrong. In 60 years, there will be no rebuild kit for your 2015 motorcycle's fuel injection system, and it will cost you a good bit to print a new one at the cyber depot. While waiting, you can inhale some caffeine and download Rocky XXXVII to your neural network.

Perhaps in 60 years no one will care about such matters, but I am personally glad that I can still diagnose a 60 year old machine, almost incinerate my house, order parts not delivered by a drone, and scald myself with hot coffee.

Posted on December 6, 2015 and filed under Commentary, motorcycle.

Wartburg 311

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The twisted history of German car manufacturers would lead you to believe that at one point in time or another, they were all intertwined in the various configurations and permutations.  In this case, the Wartburg 311, which was styled to compete with (read emulate) the handsome Mercedes sedans of the time (see the pontoon rear fenders), was a direct descendent of an EMW which in turn was a BMW before the war split the company. It used a design from a DKW which was acquired by Auto Union, which we now know as Audi, and which is of course owned by Volkswagen, which also now owns Porsche.

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The Wartburg 311 was introduced in 1956 and was a body on a frame, at a time when most were transitioning to a monocoque. The frame was an evolution of the EMW 309, while the body was an evolution of an Auto Union design. The primary reason for the body-on-frame was so that a number of different variations and body types could be produced. Those body types eventually included a sedan, a coupe, a roadster, a pickup, a limousine, and a station wagon (estate). Today, this would be hailed as smart platform engineering. 

The drive train featured a 900cc two-stroke 3 cylinder engine which produced aroud 37hp. It was good for a top speed of around 72mph. The gearbox options were a 3 speed manual or a 4 speed manual. With the weight just north of 2100 lbs, this was no sports sedan, but it was solid reliable transportation, and a relatively large car at the time in East Germany. 

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Posted on November 18, 2015 and filed under Classic Vehicles, car.

The Broom Factory

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The surprises are the best. These are not the places that you have heard about, and long to visit, and then finally had an opportunity. They are the places that you have never heard of, that you did not know existed, and that you stumble across.  These are the hidden gems, the best kept secrets that are not secrets. Such is the case with the broom factory, a museum/storage facility/workshop. It even has the kind of beginnings that many of us gearheads would appreciate, being the idea of a few guys who got together around a common love of enduro machines from Spain. These are guys who restored and used and maintained the machines. They did, and still do, vintage race some of them. With too many machines and not enough place to store them, they found a willing host in a building called the broom factory. It is a fascinating old building which has been converted to offices and shops, and is a great story in it's own right, but that is not why we visited.

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It is the home of the Mid-Atlantic Ossa club. However, the Internet is not much help in tracking down this location. Even when you arrive, there are no clues on the signage, the exterior of the building, or the directory inside for that matter. You need to climb a flight of old wooden stairs beside an equally old freight elevator to arrive at a small hallway with an "On Any Sunday" poster, and a small simple Ossa logo on the door. This is the place. And it is closed....

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I eventually get Mike Slate on the phone and he drives there from a half an hour away. Once he opens the door, you begin to understand. It opens to reveal a single large room packed with vintage enduro bikes. They are mostly Ossa and spanish rival Bultaco, but they also include Pentons and a ????. Almost all are complete running motorcycles in good condition. Many are fully restored. Some are survivors. All make you want to put ona 3/4 helmet and enter the next vintage hare scramble. You would think that a theme centered around Spanish and euro bikes from the 60s and 70s would be enough, but this facility is very much dedicated to local activity, local shops, local tracks, and local heroes. The machines and the memorabilia chronicle this type of racing in the mid Atlantic area going back 5 or 6 decades. You can see pictures of the parents of the guys currently involved, on some of the bikes in the museum. A truly interesting and revealing perspective on the grass roots level of the sport. And then there are the bikes. Rare machines that we forgot existed, and pristine machines that were everywhere back in the day. Great color schemes and racing frames and weight-saving tricks from a time past, mixed with factory machines that were surprisingly competent then and fun even today. If Ossa and Bultaco are your passion, this is drool city.

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But wait, there's more. Mike leads the way to another equal size space on the floor above. It is almost as full, but houses Triumphs, and BSAs, and a Moto Beta, and a Parilla, a Greeves, a Yankee Z, and an Ariel Square Four, and a few Harleys scattered about. The enduro theme still holds, but with a more eclectic collection of machines. There are show-winning machines on both levels. The old wood floors, the exposed rafters, and the painted brick make both spaces into a pleasant space to spend time. You would almost like to sit for a while and just admire all that surrounds you, but there is no room for a chair !  

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But wait, there's more. The workshop. Whether it is a bit of metal fabrication or some media blasting, it can be accomplished downstairs in yet another space. There are five workbenches with projects in various stages of completion from rusty frame to fully restored nuts and bolts ready for assembly. And off to the side, a couple of BMW daily riders. This is my kind of place. The fact that the whole enterprise is the passion of a small group of guys is amazing. There is no charge for admission, and only a donation jar and t-shirts to offset the costs. We bought a t-shirt, but we got way more than we contributed.  We all benefit from the efforts of those who make these machines and their stories available to the public. Thanks

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Posted on November 6, 2015 and filed under Museum, motorcycle.

Opel GT

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A small German car with an international flavor that achieved success in America and beyond. That is a pretty good resume if the years are 1968 to 1973..It was a resume earned by the Opel GT. General Motors saw the popularity of small British and Italian cars in the mid 1960s, and thought that their own Opel division in Europe could do the same. A couple of GM designers headed over to Europe, and the result was a very Corvette-looking body on an Opel Kadett platform. It certainly looked the part. With swoopy lines and popup headlights, and a kamm tail reminiscent of  a period Ferrari.

A prototype (pictured above) appeared at the Frankfurt auto show in 1965, but it took another few years to make it to production. The reasons included getting the new Kadett out, and then finding a manufacturing location given that Opel was operating at full tilt. The eventual solution was to contract with France's Brissonneau and Lotz facility, lending even more international flavor to the vehicle. There were also the inevitable changes to the design which in this case shortened the tail and increased the headroom. The car featured a steel unibody with A arms over leaf springs up front, and a live axle rear.

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The production version weighed barely over 2,000 lbs, and had the front-mounted engine mounted back for improved weight distribution. It was equipped with 1.1 liter (67 hp) and 1.9 liter (100 hp) inline 4 cylinder engines, making the performance merely average for a sports car. Europe got a higher compression 1.9 liter engine making 120 hp. Depite this, sales were strong in Europe and the US. Manufacturing eventually moved to the Bochum plant.

In 1969, a more luxurious version called the Aero GT appeared at Frankfurt. It had a removable roof panel and louvers on the B pillar, making it more of a Targa. By 1971, sales were slowing, and a more spartan, lower-priced version was introduced at the Geneva show. It was called the GT/J. When production ended in 1973, more than 100,000 GTs had been produced.

Posted on October 31, 2015 and filed under Classic Vehicles, car.

Maico Grand Prix Winners

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As previously noted (see Maico On Road), Maico had a good deal of success in the motocross and enduro world starting in the 1950s and lasting for decades. The Pfaffingen based company was not as successful with road-going machines, but their racing program did produce some good results. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Maico machines were often amongst the top five finishers in european grand prix evens. However, they were seldom on the podium, and never victorious. Until 1972. Borje Jansson piloted a 125cc to victory in the German Grand Prix producing the first GP victory for Maico. 

The RS125 was a 124cc 2-stroke single cylinder machine producing 28hp and good for approximately 116ph. It had a 6 speed gearbox, and had a redline of 11,000 rpm. In 1970, it became a popular choice for privateers based on good results in 1969. The performance and reliability of the engine soon resulted in it being transplanted by privateers and others into different chassis, which swelled the ranks of Maico-powered machines running around on any given race weekend. This was pretty impressive given how new the entire platform was.

Sales of the street version also picked up as a result. This encouraged the racing efforts, and In 1971, the factory signed then world champion Dieter Braun. The team did well finishing third, fourth, and seventh in the world championship with riders Jansson, Braun, and Bender respectively.  Jansson did surprisingly well, landing second place at the Isle of Mann TT, Czech Republic and Sweden. The championship results were all accomplished with no wins, so the machine was a consistent top level finisher. In 1972 the elusive victories finally came at the German and Swedish Grand Prix. Jansson also won the Swedish Grand Prix in 1973 aboard the RS125, making it a fairly successful platform over the 4 year period from 1969 to 1973.

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Posted on October 14, 2015 and filed under motorcycle, Classic Vehicles.

The Ordinary Morning

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The birds woke me up. A couple of birds in particular who seemed to be engaged in a spirited conversation. Emerging from my tent, a misty morning emphasized the serenity and added a mysterious beauty to the landscape. This is one of the magic hours of the day. The last of the nocturnals are heading home to bed, and the first of the day timers  are up and about. Nature's shift change. I always feel privileged to witness it. 

The sun rises and the mist dissipates, revealing the full vista of the alpine meadow. More beauty as I break camp, and head back to the main trail. Rays of sun perforate the forest creating bright spots and luminous accents in random places. The trail periodically bursts into a meadow or across a ridge before returning to the forest. Down the steep descent to the valley where the forest meets a stream and the trail meanders playfully beside it. 

The biike rolled along almost silently, with just the sound of the tires on the rocky trail. Its horizontally opposed cylinders caressed by the morning air. The trail eventually ends at a paved road. I turn left toward town, and vehicles start to appear going hither and yon. I pull into town and stop for breakfast. It is nice enough to sit outside. The road, the vehicles, the town, and the people seem to be unaware of the natural splendor that is partially visible in the mountains surrounding them. Perhaps they take it for granted. Perhaps they long for the big city, the opposite of the familiar. Perhaps they are not like me, a visitor, in awe of what they consider ordinary. 

I think I will return the way I came, and taste again the extraordinary.

 
Posted on October 10, 2015 and filed under motorcycle, Commentary.

Heinkel Tourist

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A friend who always seems to find oddball motorcycles (or perhaps they find him at this point) discovered a strange scooter of German origin. As usual, it needed some work, but it was unique and interesting. Heinkel produced their first two-wheeled vehicle in 1954. It was a scooter that they called the Tourist. It featured a 175cc four-stroke engine with 12 volt electrics and an electric start. This was an impressive list of features at the time, and positioned them well in the market. They enjoyed years of healthy sales, and introduced a 150cc 2 stroke scooter as well. This did not sell nearly as well, nor did a 50cc moped called the Perle. Much of Heinkels's hopes were pinned on success in America. However, the product was relatively expensive, costing more than a Vespa or a Lambretta. Dealership woes also plagued the brand, and by the time they were sorted out, the peak of the scooter era had passed. They were also right in the midst of Honda's legendary "You meet the nicest people....." campaign. Production lasted just over 10 years, ending in 1965, but there is a healthy club scene in several countries. 

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Posted on September 27, 2015 and filed under Classic Vehicles, motorcycle.

Limerock Vintage Festival 2015

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Great New England weather for Labor Day weekend, an entire track ringed with great cars, a few great motorcycles, great noises, great vintage racing, great celebrities (Sir Stirling Moss and #722 together again), and great enthusiasts. What more is there to say.... 

See the full album

Posted on September 22, 2015 and filed under car, Events.