Editor’s Be aware: Once in a while, it is good to hit the PAUSE button. This week is a kind of instances (as in, Cease the world – I wish to get off). So this is a particular, unvarnished missive from The Autoextremist, and a glance inside his incomparable high-octane life. Take pleasure in! -WG


By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. I’m the passenger. I’m a Technicolor Dream Cat driving this kaleidoscope of life. I’ve seen some issues, certainly, greater than most. Magic issues. Loud issues. Quick issues. 

I as soon as appeared up at a ghostly twister finger drifting overhead in Flint. It was ominous and past scary. Lots of people died that day too. However then, a number of years later, I noticed my first 707 hanging within the sky. It was majestic and highly effective. And the Jet Age was on.

I bought launched to horsepower, facet pipes and chrome, and I fortunately bought sucked in. Corvettes and 409s, GTOs and Starfires. And Sting Rays. Ceaselessly Sting Rays. And within the midst of all that, I purchased and rebuilt a Bug go-kart, had the Mac 6 engine rebuilt and hopped-up, painted it vibrant orange, and spent one summer season terrorizing our neighborhood. I dubbed it the Orange Juicer Mk 1, and discovered how briskly 60 mph felt that low to the bottom. It was every thing, on a regular basis. 

It was good. And laborious. And quick.

Woodward wasn’t only a factor. It was Life. In 0 to 100 bursts. All of it got here alive at night time. Open pipes, rumbles and roars, dares and boasts. The drive-ins smelled like burning rubber and French fries. Ladies leaned and preened. Boys slouched and crouched. To get a greater look. Driving shotgun with my brother, it was a world that referred to as me. 

From there, it was driving with The Maestro, Invoice Mitchell – our neighbor – within the authentic Sting Ray racer, considering it was regular and understanding it was not. However I soaked all of it in anyway, and it was only the start. There have been Mako Sharks, Monza Tremendous Spyders and GTs; and XP-700 Corvettes and XP-400 Pontiacs. And on and on. It was all beautiful to take a look at. And be in. The grass was greener and the sky was bluer, and the sounds had been intoxicating.

It was good. And laborious. And quick.

After which got here the Cobras. All lithe and tiny subsequent to the Corvettes. And a brand new form of quick. Blistering, neck-snapping quick. A two-car-length leap off the road quick. Open-top roadsters lurking for a combat. It was the odor of English leather-based and burning tennis sneakers when operating the Cobras within the cool of the night time. And consider me, there was nothing else prefer it. 

After which highway racing got here calling. My brother Tony’s driver college at Watkins Glen in June of ’64. In a Tuxedo Black Sting Ray that had been personally massaged by Zora and his troops, full with straight pipes to put in after we bought there. Driving on Goodyear Blue Streaks the entire method. The Glen Motor Court docket beckoned, however the monitor was the factor. That Sting Ray barked and blurted out pace, and Tony was the quickest man there. There was no turning again at that time.

It was good. And laborious. And quick.

Subsequent up was a “A” Sedan Corvair that we flat-towed throughout hell and again. Beginning out at our native Waterford Hills raceway, after which on to Nelson Ledges, Mid-Ohio, Lime Rock, Vineland, Grayling and even a 12-Hour endurance race at Marlboro, Maryland. However that was simply the pre-game. 

The true stuff was coming in 1967. We ordered what turned out to be the primary of simply 20 427 L88 Corvette Sting Rays constructed that 12 months. I bear in mind after we went to Hanley Dawson Chevrolet in Detroit to see the bad-ass Sting Ray for the primary time. It had simply been unloaded off the truck and it was beautiful. We hopped in it simply to see, and suspicions had been conformed: It was a wild, unruly beast. We dismantled it over a weekend and had a roll bar welded-in, put in a set of American Torq-Thrust racing wheels and bolted-on some OK Kustom headers. We added a number of different tweaks and we had been off to our first SCCA Regional race in Wilmot Hills, Wisconsin. In “A” Manufacturing. There was a 427 Cobra there, too, but it surely was no match for our Tremendous Sting Ray. Tony received going away. After which it was off to the races, actually: Mid-Ohio, Street America, Blackhawk Farms, Nelson Ledges, Watkins Glen, Daytona.

It was good. And laborious. And quick.

After which every thing modified. Owens/Corning Fiberglas grew to become our sponsor. And the races bought larger. Twenty-two straight wins in “A” Manufacturing, with twelve 1-2 finishes with teammate Jerry Thompson, who would go on to win the Nationwide Championship in ‘69. Then it was the foremost endurance races with GT class wins at Daytona, Sebring and Watkins Glen. And the Trans-Am collection in 1970 with Camaros, and in 1971 with ex-Bud Moore manufacturing facility Mustangs. And at last, the notorious Budd-sponsored Corvette in 1973, with Tony sitting on the pole at Sebring for the all-GT 12-hour race that 12 months. 

They had been fleeting moments in time, however they had been unforgettable. Pouring a bucket of water over my head after gasoline spilled throughout me throughout a pit cease at Marlboro. Waking up within the cab of our semi on the Ohio Turnpike in the midst of the night time on the way in which to Lime Rock solely to see that my brother was quick asleep as we had been operating diagonally off the left shoulder and headed for the median. I yelled. We made it. However that was simply the way in which it was again then. No sleep for days on finish getting the vehicles prepared – to the purpose of exhaustion – solely to then need to load up and drive to the following race. It was relentless. 

Then there was the notorious Pontiac road race in 1974. It was a doubtful monitor at greatest, with haybales and guardrails providing little safety for the drivers, or the gang. Tony was passing a slower automobile through the race and the driving force moved over on him. The transfer compelled Tony into some haybales, turned him sideways, inflicting his Corvette to barrel roll 20 ft within the air taking out a lightweight pole. That influence with the sunshine pole saved him from going right into a spectator space of at the least 100 folks. I used to be a good distance away once I noticed a flash of his automobile going end-over-end (after the sunshine pole influence) down the straightway on Extensive Observe avenue. I sprinted to get there, solely to see the automobile burst right into a fireball. I arrived to see my brother laying on the bottom. He had gotten out in time, barely a second earlier than the automobile burst into flames. It was solely later that we discovered {that a} man who was retaining the automobile in Florida in-between Daytona races had eliminated the check-valve within the gasoline cell “to save lots of weight.” Fool. 

Evidently, that was a darkish day, particularly since a reporter on the occasion referred to as one in every of my dad’s GM PR staffers – my mother and pop had been at an out of doors social gathering together with his whole PR employees – and knowledgeable him that Tony had been killed in Pontiac. (He by no means noticed Tony get out of the automobile.) My dad’s right-hand man knowledgeable my dad and mom that they needed to go to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Pontiac instantly. They feared the more serious, in fact. In order that was me on the hospital seeing the ashen look on my dad and mom’ faces after they arrived. I took them to see my brother on a gurney within the hallway; he was alert however battered and very sore. My dad and mom had been relieved, and so was I.

However that was solely a part of my experience on this kaleidoscope of life. There was the time we constructed a prototype ’69 L88 Corvette roadster (in black/black, in fact) referred to as the “Daytona GT” with the intention of promoting buyer variations. It was principally one in every of our racing vehicles outfitted with a number of extra consolation choices. We even bought show area at Cobo Corridor through the Auto Present to indicate it off. However the pressures of operating the racing group meant that the undertaking was shelved. The Corvette was ultimately rebuilt to totally race-prepared OCF racing group specs, given a psychedelic paint job and offered to a German Lufthansa pilot who used it to terrorize native and nationwide racing occasions over there. However earlier than that each one occurred, I used to be tasked with retaining it in operating order and exercised. Evidently, I relished that project and I fortunately terrorized the realm with open headers on my “train” jaunts.

It was good. And laborious. And quick.

Then I veered off alone and have become enchanted with the Porsche 911. I purchased a used ’75 911S and proceeded to drive that automobile throughout hell and as quick as it might go. I spun-out as soon as going 100 mph on a two-lane highway as a result of unbeknownst to me the shoulder had simply been graded and there was filth everywhere in the highway in a left-hand sweeper. I got here to a cease with the rear wheels proper on the sting of a 20-foot drop. After which there was the notorious late-afternoon run from East Lansing to Ann Arbor that I did flat-out, hardly ever going under 100 mph all the distance. I made it to my vacation spot in slightly below half-hour, door-to-door.  And it’s simply as vivid for me at this time because it was once I did it. Fleeting moments certainly.

After which there was the time throughout my advert profession that I spent capturing commercials on the Nurburgring Nordschleife, for a full week. We had been brief efficiency drivers, so I spent the week helping with the driving whereas tearing across the circuit for the filming. And if that wasn’t particular sufficient, NATO jets had been utilizing the wide-open terrain to apply high-speed, low-level maneuvers. How low? We might see the helmet marking on the pilots as they banked over us at tree-top degree. It was a week-long orgy of pace that I’ll always remember.

The purpose of all this? I’m nonetheless a Technicolor Dream Cat driving this kaleidoscope of life. This column gave you fleeting glimpses of some fleeting glimpses. There’s lots extra to inform and a protracted, lengthy option to go. And I am not near being completed.

It was good. And laborious. And quick. Certainly. 

And that’s the Excessive-Octane Reality for this week.

The Autoextremist. March 1976, East Lansing, Michigan. (J. Geils referred to as; he desires his look again.)


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December 2022