By TOM STAHLER
Editor’s Note: Tom Stahler wrote this story for Turnology in 2016. One of the owners of Grand Prix Originals, Jonathan Sieger, also owns this amazing car.
So have you ever been in a racecar before?” I half shouted out of my full face helmet. I peered out of the the comfortable RaceQuip brain bucket, looking at the gauges and the tach, while welcoming the enlisted Navy serviceman to the passenger seat of this legendary racecar.
“Yes I have,” he said, looking ahead at the pit exit of the airfield track at Coronado Island, in San Diego, while getting out his phone to take video of the ride.
“Then expect to be bored out of your skull,” I retorted. I generally drive OP’s (other people’s) cars with a certain amount of respect. U27 was no exception.
Needless to say, in my hands was a very valuable car. U27, a resurrection of the Porsche 901-series race car that Tony ‘a2z’ Adamowicz drove to his first professional national championship; the 1968 under-two-liter SCCA Trans-Am Championship, that is! During that season, Adamowicz would win six races and podium in two more — an absolute shock to the establishment! So much so, that Porsche’s factory engineers examined and took notes on the phenomenal car that was beating their best efforts in their 1968 North American campaign.
Here at Coronado Island — the birthplace of Naval Aviation — the Annual Fleet Week Celebration is several great events all rolled into a week of Celebrating all things Navy. For the past 19 years the Speed Festival has become a integral part of the Fleet Week Celebration. Featuring 10 classes of historic racing cars including everything from NASCAR, Can-Am to Trans-Am and International Sports Racers, the Speed Festival adds the sensation of ‘ground-based speed’ to the many amazing flying machines that surround the airport circuit.
We got the signal to head out, and my right foot squeezed the throttle to about 2,500 rpm as the towering Solex carburetors mixed air and gas over the pistons. I slowly engage the clutch with my left. The clutch grabs right at the end of the pedal’s upward movement and the throaty, air-cooled 1,995 cc flat-six purred and U27 began to move. Out the pit exit and up the main straightaway of this unique track was a sweet taste of sound, torque and speed as I pushed and pulled the Porsche shifter from first through fourth. Gently braking and blipping to third, the Orange rear-engined beauty tracked perfectly through the first corner. The 24 inch stainless steel trumpets, swept upward from the headers, and made a Porsche hot-rod noise like no other! Like the finest musical instruments — tone baby!
The original U27 began its’ life as a Porsche 912 street car. In a long ago interview I did with Tony Adamowicz, he explained the concept of U27: “The Porsche started out as a shell from the NY City Impound,” recalls Adamowicz. “In fact, the chassis was a 912 that we converted to 911 engine. Car owner Marvin Davidson had totaled his previous 911 in a horrendous night crash at Daytona, so we transferred all its technology to this ‘junk yard dog chassis’ to becoming a Porsche Trans-Am winner.”
The innovation that went into U27 turned every head in the paddock in 1968 — particularly the Porsche factory team — who couldn’t keep up with the Marvin Davidson clan. “Porsche had no suspension parts available,” says Adamowicz, “so we made our own, using larger torsion bars, and sway bars, plus custom suspension bushings.” What it made was a Porsche ‘Hot-Rod’ that skirted legality with the SCCA and intense scrutiny by Porsche.
Racing on an ‘airport course’ is a completely different animal. It recalls the days of transition from racing on public roads to the great road racing circuits of the late 1950s to the 1990s. Because of a spectator fatality during a road race in Watkins Glen NY, the general public and even the United States Congress offered up a rebuke to racing on public roads. Thankfully General Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command, and an Allard racer himself, provided a number of Military Airfields for races to be held. Soon after, the great North American racing circuits were constructed as purpose-built race tracks. these included Road America, Watkins Glen, Lime Rock, Meadowvale, Riverside, Laguna Seca, Bridgehampton, Sears Point and so many more…
Perhaps the highlight of the weekend was the parade through downtown Coronado. U27 Owner Jonathan Sieger was accompanied on the parade route by Captain Dan Cheever, a 20-year veteran of aerial combat in F-18 fighter jets. On the way back from the parade, Jonathan invited the ‘flyboy’ to drive the Porsche back to its spot in the paddock. With all due respect to the well-seasoned jet pilot, when he got out of the car, we though he was going to shed his flight jumpsuit and run around like Ricky Bobby ‘on fire.’ He was undoubtedly impressed with the vintage race car — to say the very least!
1968 was the beginning of the “gilded era” of Trans-Am — manufacturer wars like motor sports had not seen in the United States with a real “win on Sunday sell on Monday” mentality. The star studded cast of drivers, which included Tony Adamowicz, was a virtual who’s who of that era’s racing royalty: Mark Donahue, Peter Revson, George Follmer, Horst Kweck, Sam Posey, Ronnie Bucknum, Jerry Titus, Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, Jim Hall and Peter Gregg — just to name a few.
Because the Coronado course is temporary, it is a combination of Concrete ‘K-rail’ guardrail and traffic cones. The best way to find the line around the course is the rubber laid down by other cars as there are no rumble strips. But considering my drive of U27 was essentially the first session of the weekend — military personnel ‘hot laps’ — there was little rubber on the tarmac. This made for having to find visual cues for shifting, braking and turning amongst the pylons and barrels along the track’s edge.
The Trans-Am under two liter category in 1968 was highly competitive and and saw manufacturers from all over the globe descend upon the series. Porsche 911’s, Alfa Romeo 105-series GTA’s, Datsun 510’s, Triumphs, Lancias, BMW 2002’s and Volvos all took part in going for the gold! But U27 and its’ pilot, Tony Adamowicz scored a dominating number of wins and podiums, handing Porsche the championship — from an independent team!
Sadly, the original U27 vanished some three years after the championship. Racecars did not have the same type of value to a team then, as they were onto newer technologies and speed. Needless to say, ‘original’ racecars from that era are now amongst the most coveted by collectors. In 2006, knowing that the original U27 would likely never be seen again, the original U27 Championship crew including Tony Adamowicz, Mac Tilton, Don Breslauer got together with Porsche Master Builder, Marc Zurlinden. From the ground up, with a 1968 donor chassis, they re-constructed U27, duplicating the car to the last bolt.
Tony would drive the car in the Monterey Historics, Rennsport II and a number of other high profile historic racing events. Right about that time, Tony was reunited with the iconic number seven Eagle that he drove to clinch the 1969 Formula Continental (Formula 5000) Championship with Doug Magnon at the Riverside International Automotive Museum. Tony’s focus went entirely to the Eagle and Historic Formula 5000 racing and he clinched four Historic F5000 championships.
Meanwhile U27 changed hands a couple of times — while a replica car, represented as the “real” U27 car was circulating at a few events as well. For clarification: the resurrection car, by all expert standards, is the only car with the original team DNA, and the real car that won the championship is nowhere to be found — despite a bunch of ‘used car salesmen’ claiming their car is the ‘real deal’.
(Above) U27 Owner Jonathan Sieger
Ultimately U27 was purchased by California Porsche collector/broker Jonathan Sieger. With little knowledge of Adamowicz, and racing in general, he was intrigued by the story and bought the car. Within days of his purchase, he found out that Tony Adamowicz was to be the Grand Marshall for the 2013 Coronado Speed Festival. Efficiently, Sieger reunited Adamowicz with the car for parade laps and executed a display of the car to honor the veteran racer. It was an amazing success!
By March of 2015, Doug Magnon, who owned and entered Tony Adamowicz in the number seven Eagle, passed away from cancer. The Magnon family had little interest in cars and Tony ended up losing his ride — but was scheduled to run the 2015 Rolex Reunion in Monterey, then retiring the Eagle. Sieger and Adamowicz discussed the possibilities of carrying on in vintage racing with U27 — then tragedy struck again. A seizure in June led Adamowicz to be hospitalized, and the culprit was stage-four brain cancer.
The 2016 appearance of U27 at the Coronado Speed Festival was by design to keep awareness of Tony Adamowicz’ legend and recent suffering. The static display and memorabilia allowed many fans of the ailing driver to pay respect to the legend of that championship, nearly 50 years ago.
Which led to my humble opportunity to drive U27. Turns out that of the three of us, Jonathan Sieger, Crew Chief Mark Allen and me, I was the only licensed race driver. Both Sieger and Allen got a few laps in the car during the promotional part of the event, but lucky me, I was charged with doing the military personnel ‘hot-laps.’ This gave a great chance to put the car through its paces and relate to you, how this feels.
1968 was the beginning of the “gilded era” of Trans-Am — manufacturer wars like motor sports had not seen in the United States with a real “win on Sunday sell on Monday” mentality.
Once through the long carousel/hairpin at the end of the front straight, you find yourself wide at the exit, upshifting and swinging the car right to clip the apex in the next downshift to left hander. The rear engine is laying down nice power and the steering gets a bit light as the car slides a bit under acceleration into the wide corner. Rear-engined-Porsches are notable for their ability to literally ‘pivot’ through corners. Once the front wheels are planted in a corner, the rear-end swings around and catches right at the apex. Much of the cornering can be done from the right foot as opposed to the steering wheel. This is apparent as the next 2nd-gear 90-degree right-hander points you toward hard acceleration and upshifting as you scream down back straight away, leading to two tire walls acting as a chicane to slow you for the next right-hand hairpin.
On a couple of occasions I had to make use of “quick hands” to correct through the second gear 90-degree right hander. Naturally while driving such a precious piece, I was not trying to re-capture the 1968 Trans-Am Championship — instead it was more about feeling and hearing an unfamiliar car on an unfamiliar track. So in essence it was about bringing the car back in one piece.
Needless to say, with all that pressure, I still wanted to put on a little bit of a show for my passenger, but in hopes of doing it without spinning, crashing or any number of “journalist mistakes” that can end your career. We have a saying at the Motor Press Guild: “Don’t be THAT guy!”
Jonathan Sieger takes a turn at the wheel. With little racetrack experience, he proved to have a natural feel for the course.
All Said, that did not prevent me from getting that delightful flat-six ‘howl’ as I climbed through the gears and the venom-spit as I blipped for the downshifts. Even through the helmet — and subsequent views of the video footage, I get excited when I hear that noise.
The course snakes through an S-corner and suddenly there is K-rail again on your left as you slightly pivot the car through the final left-to-right corners and headed again up the straightaway. Back up through the gears to the sound of those mazing trumpets again, playing LOUD flat-six music. What a ride! The enlisted man riding shotgun, seemed to be enjoying it as well — and in the end, I hope Jonathan Sieger and I have inspired another ‘car guy’….
(Above) Mark Allen and Jonathan Sieger get the ‘view from the bottom”.