Some of the best sports car racing ever to come out of America
The Trans-Am series has come and gone numerous times, yet it was never better than it was during the heyday of the SCCA’s original incarnation, which most classify as 1966-72 or so.
I’ve often asked myself what makes that era so magical, but it just – is; the cars were great fun, the driver names and talent big, and the racing action spectacular.
Why has no sanctioning body or group of owners/promoters ever been able to revive it successfully? The reasons are many, and the answers relatively straightforward, IMHO.
Attend any vintage or historic race meet, and if there’s a Trans-Am class, you’ll find it heavily populated with great cars, with that race well attended, action-filled, and enjoyed by the drivers and crowd alike. So that original T-A Formula had The Right Stuff.
The series’ greatness was founded in the original vehicle formula. The cars themselves needed to be homologated production coupes and 2-door sedans, with engine sizes limited to 5.0-liter (305 cubic inches) or less for the top tier class, and 2.5-liters for the primarily import group. All of this meaning they were built out of real cars, not tube-framed, plastic-bodied, semi-NASCAR silhouette racers.
Every early gen Trans-Am racer began life as a factory body/chassis in white, or a production example pulled straight off an assembly line (or in a few cases, a dealer showroom floor).
In the 5-liter group, that means American branded muscle/pony cars: Mustang, Cougar, Camaro, Firebird, Challenger, ‘Cuda, Javelin, AMX, and such. Rear-wheel-drive cars that already had a sporty image and a thundering V-8 engine. Cars that looked genuine and that spectators and sponsors could relate to; “Win on Sunday” and all that.
Building and running these cars were attractive to and attainable by a wide variety of teams. Of course, the big factory teams participated: Penske, Bud Moore, Holman Moody, All American Racers, and other big gunner outfits, yet, these were cars that capable backyard teams could build and maintain. Obviously it wasn’t always easy going against the well-financed, big-game teams, but on occasion, the little guys won, and they always played hard.
And how about those names behind the helmets: the incomparable Mark Donohue, three-time Trans-Am champ George Follmer, Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, AJ Foyt, Ed Leslie, Jerry Titus, Sam Posey, Peter Revson, and dozens of others that fans knew and cheered for.
The series attracted the big game drivers because the money and sponsorship opportunities were attractive, the big Indy and NASCAR teams played, and the racing was hard and fast. Finally, the series was a traveling circus, and the action played out on the most iconic racecourses in North America.
This formula would work today; they still make Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes, and Challengers. This or that Porsche or BMW would also likely fit the formula.
Use the 5-liter engine spec, or perhaps step it up to 5.5 or 6.0 with some equivalency factors to accommodate turbocharged machines. Strip them down, cage them up, and uncork those exhausts, just like they did in the beginning – but build the series around real cars, not tubes, fiberglass, and stickers.
Invest the money to offer competitive, attractive pay and prize packages for the teams, drivers, and sponsors. Back it up with a killer television/streaming service broadcast plan which attracts both sponsors and fans.
It wouldn’t have to be the fastest or most high-tech racing in the world, but the action would be (pardon the reference) fast and furious.
There are similarities here to the Australian V8 Supercars Championship Series, which is currently based on 5.0-liter V-8 powered production chassis GM and Ford models.
I do not doubt that if the right series owner/promoter/sanctioning body built a modern Trans-Am series based on the authenticity and tenets of the original, that it would be a success. Great racing with cars we know, contested by the best in the biz. Now wouldn’t that be something?
Photos Courtesy of Follmer Collection, Ford Motorsport Archive, Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance