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Chequered Pasts

Chequered Pasts: Sports Car Racing and Rallying in Canada, 1951-1991

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 382
  • Book Info
    Chequered Pasts
    Book Description:

    Based on extensive research into the CASC's records and dozens of interviews with former competitors and officials,The Chequered Pastopens a window into the rich but virtually unknown history of the auto sport, and claims for it a place in Canadian sports history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8488-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    On a sweltering August night in 1993, the famous and not so famous of Canadian and international auto sport gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto’s trendy Yorkville area for an event that all agreed was long overdue: the inauguration of a Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame. In a glittering ballroom awash in black satin gowns and too-tight tuxedos, a veritable who’s who of former competitors, officials, sponsors, and fans mixed and mingled, many seeing old friends for the first time in decades. The distinguished guests included John Surtees, the British Formula One champion, who raced frequently in Canada...

  6. PART ONE: THE AMATEUR AGE, 1951–1960

    • 1 The Visionaries and Their Vision: The Founding of the Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs
      (pp. 15-22)

      On 17 June 1951 eight men gathered at the old Frontenac Hotel in Kingston, Ontario. Two – Jack Luck and Jack Fidler – were local men; Luck was a member of the St Lawrence Automobile Club (St LAC). Three – Bert Punshon, Hugh Young, and Tom Pearce – representing the Sports Car Club (SCC), hailed from Toronto. The other three – Norm Hain, Jack Fee, and Jim Gunn – members of the Sports Motor Car Club (SMCC), were from Montreal. They met to ‘explore the possibility of the formation of an Organization, National in scope, to concern itself with automobile...

    • 2 Canadian Club: Origins of the Sports Car Subculture, 1950–1960
      (pp. 23-37)

      From that chance meeting the Western Ontario Sports Car Association (WOSCA) was founded. And that experience was repeated across the country. The London Automobile Sport Club (LASC) began in September 1956, when ‘six gentlemen met together with the purpose of forming a sports car club for the London district whose members would be actively engaged in the competative [sic] aspects of the sports car fraternity.’² The staff of Canadair in Montreal formed a company car club. Les Stanley recalls: ‘Canadair ... had an old disused hangar that they allowed us to use. This would hold six to eight cars. It...

    • 3 Run What Ya Brung: Sports Car Competition in the Amateur Age
      (pp. 38-55)

      The founders of the CASC may have had a grand ‘vision’ of the future of Canadian auto sport, but Roy McLaughlin’s recollections capture neatly the spirit of the sport in the ‘Amateur Age’ of the 1950s: ‘Run what ya brung’ and have fun. It was strictly amateur, accessible, and affordable. As a result, the sport grew rapidly. In 1954 six CASC clubs in Quebec and Ontario organized thirty-seven events. Five years later, thirty clubs from the Maritimes to the Prairies were running 125 races, rallies, and other competitive activities.² There was an event for every enthusiast, every kind of car,...

    • 4 Rules and Regs: Professionalizing the Amateurs
      (pp. 56-71)

      Frame by frame in a grim photo sequence, the racing accident that prompted Callwood’s bitter tirade unfolds at the head of her 1960Maclean’sarticle. Tapped from behind entering the twisting chicane at the Harewood race track, Ted Pope’s modified Triumph TR3 swerves, then rolls over three times. Trapped in the open cockpit, a fixed metal tonneau cover preventing him from ducking down into the passenger compartment, Pope – a CBC television producer and the senior driver for the CBC Car Club racing team known as Group Three – is fatally injured.²

      Pope’s death outraged Callwood. Calling it a ‘blood...

    • 5 Powershift: The Rise of Commercial Professionalism
      (pp. 72-84)

      In the brilliant sunshine the line of colourful cars, parked side-by-side for the Le Mans start, stretches as far as the eye can see. The silver and red Gorries-sponsored Corvette is in the foreground, but most of the entries are British sports cars – Triumphs, MGs, and Austin-Healeys. There are a handful of ‘specials’: built-to-purpose race-only cars. In the background, across the wide tarmac of the Harewood airport circuit, the crowd of 10,000 – huge by the standards of the day – waits expectantly for the start. It is May 1959, and they are about to witness a ‘first’ in...


    • 6 Behind the Wheel: Power Politics in the CASC
      (pp. 87-100)

      At six feet tall and two hundred and twenty-five pounds Milt Wright was one of the giants of Canadian auto sport, and more than in just physical stature. He was the CASC president during the turbulent mid-1960s, when Canada was breaking into professional international racing in a major way. As the quote above suggests, he put his stamp on the CASC during this period, asserting its leadership role, but not without some controversy. Wright had joined the BEMC in 1954 and was later involved with the Twin Lakes Motor Club and the Burlington Autosport Club. From 1957 to 1961 he...

    • 7 Trans-Canada: The Shell 4000 and the National Rally Championship, 1961–1966
      (pp. 101-118)

      It was not supposed to end like this, sixty miles from Vancouver and the finish of the 1962 Shell 4000 ‘Trans-Canada’ car rally. Not with the Manufacturer’s Team Award in their grasp. The other factory teams – the Studebaker Larks, the Hillmans, and the Volvos – had lost at least one car each, so they were no longer eligible. But the first two Renault team cars had completed the rally. All that John Charters and his navigator Ian Worth had to do was to reach the finish, and the prize would belong to Renault. But as they lifted the rear...

    • 8 Making Tracks: Commercializing Canadian Racing
      (pp. 119-132)

      If 1961 was notable for marking the tenth anniversary of the CASC and the launching of the Trans-Canada Rally, it was also a banner year in Canadian racing. Simultaneously in June it saw the opening of the Mosport race track in Ontario, the first Player’s 200 international sports car race, and the debut of the first commercially sponsored national racing team and their remarkable Canadian-built racing car. A few months later, Canada’s most promising driver won the inaugural Canadian Grand Prix for Sports Cars. In short, it was a year of superlatives. How it all came together, where it led,...

    • 9 Reach for the Top: Canadian Racing Driver Development in the 1960s
      (pp. 133-147)

      What does it take to be a racing superstar? If it takes good looks, charm, and a raw, unbridled talent for driving – then Peter Ryan had it all in spades. And in the fall of 1961 at Mosport, the blond-haired, blue-eyed boy from Mont Tremblant, Quebec, won the first Canadian Grand Prix for Sports Cars. Beating the likes of European stars Olivier Gendebien and Stirling Moss, Ryan served notice on the racing world that he was on his way to the top. More than fifteen years before Gilles Villeneuve burst upon the Formula One scene, the world sat up...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 10 The Cutting Edge: Bill Sadler and the Can-Am Series
      (pp. 148-160)

      Chuck Rathgeb thought he knew a good thing when he saw it. And what he saw in the fall of 1960 was the Sadler Mk. V: a rear-engined sports racing car on the cutting edge of racing car design. In his hobby that had become a business, Bill Sadler – a self-taught race car designer – had been building fast, powerful cars by hand for years. Rathgeb believed the Mk. V could put Canadians into the winner’s circle, so he paid for one and agreed to underwrite the costs of racing two of them for the 1961 season.²

      The Mk....


    • 11 Coming of Age? Canadians and International Racing
      (pp. 163-172)

      ‘It wasn’t the most spectacular Grand Prix race in history, dripping more with rain than with drama.’² But like the rather dull race at the first Player’s 200 six years earlier, that probably mattered little to the organizers or to the 58,000-plus fans who crowded the Mosport hillsides for a glimpse of history in the making. Although the rain slowed the pace for all but a brief dry spell, they were not to be disappointed. All the world’s fastest cars and drivers were there. The grid included no fewer than six former and future world champions: Jack Brabham, Jim Clark,...

    • 12 Winning Formula: Formula Racing and the National Championship
      (pp. 173-187)

      Lionel Birnbom’s photograph has immortalized the moment: under a steel grey October sky the fire-engine-red Ferrari streaks towards the finish line, Gilles Villeneuve’s fists punch the air, the chequered flag is about to drop, and the hometown crowd is on its feet. You can almost hear the thousands of cheering voices obliterating the howl of the Ferrari engine.

      There had never been a moment like it in Canadian racing. For the first time a Canadian driver had won the Canadian Grand Prix for Formula One. With Villeneuve’s victory in Montreal on 8 October 1978, the vision of the CASC’s founders...

    • 13 Stage by Stage: Transforming the National Rally Championship
      (pp. 188-202)

      Robin Edwardes’s account captures graphically the character of national championship rallying from the mid-1970s to the present. Like the national racing championship, it became professional, commercial, and highly specialized. Stage rallies replaced navex and endurance rallies, and turned the ‘thinking man’s auto sport’ into a spectacle of speed that could entertain an audience. Little more than time-trials on bad roads, these high-speed European-style driver’s events demanded a different kind of competitor: a racer at heart. They also pushed up the costs of car preparation – and repair. As it became more expensive to compete at that level, fewer did; for...

    • 14 Downshift: The Crisis in Amateur Auto Sport, 1969–1975
      (pp. 203-220)

      Bob Hanna’s comments from his report to the 1972 AGM highlight the study in contrasts that was Canadian auto sport in the first half of the 1970s. On the face of it, the sport was flourishing. The Canadian Grand Prix for Formula One and the Can-Am series were bringing the world’s best drivers and fastest cars to Canada and drawing huge crowds to watch them. The national championship was developing talented racers and evolving into the highly successful Formula Atlantic series. Rallying was at an all-time high and the rally championship was being completely reshaped into a demanding, professional European-style...

    • 15 Final Laps: The Decline and Fall of the CASC
      (pp. 221-246)

      Even by the standards of auto racing it was a horrific crash. ‘In the final minutes of qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at the Zolder circuit, Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari touched the right-side tires of Jochen Mass’s March at about 140 mph on the approach to the difficult Terlamenbocht corner. Gilles’s car was catapulted into the air for over 100 metres, crashing nose down into the ground, then continuing a series of cartwheels. The chassis disintegrated, the front end of the car was sheered off, and Gilles himself was hurled another fifty metres through the catch fencing. A helicopter whisked...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 247-260)

    Forty minutes west of Saint John, New Brunswick, along the often fogshrouded Bay of Fundy shore, the highway rises sharply up a short escarpment to cross the wind-swept plateau that is Pennfield Ridge. There, barely visible amid the scrub brush and spindly trees, you will find an abandoned wartime airfield. Fifty years later, the runways hum to a different tune: the thunder and whine of racing car engines. For a few weekends in the 1990s, the Atlantic Region racers left the relative comforts of AMP and returned their sport to its roots.¹

    Turn off the highway down the rutted track...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 261-306)
  11. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 307-320)
  12. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 321-322)
  13. Index
    (pp. 323-348)