Alongside the great Porsche discussion on the Canadian Motorsport History group on Yahoo, there has been another thread about some early racing Alfa’s in Ontario. Our old friend George Commachio’s Alfa was brought up, as was the Fiat 124 he raced prior to the Alfa.
The car was a late Sixties (George thought ’67 but wasn’t sure) Fiat 124 Special. Twin cam, 5 speed, 4 wheel discs. A neat machine that did indeed later become the Lada, but missing a cam, a gear and had drums in the back. George eventually sold his 124 to Lloyd Service who then raced the car. There is a tale that perhaps he had a major crash with the car in turn 3 at Mosport.
I can’t remember the name of the guy Lloyd sold the car to, but I think the next guy only raced it once. It was then sold to a guy named Neil Burns. In fact, we met because of the car, when as a teenager I poked my head into the shop where he kept it.
Years later, I convinced Neil to finish the car up and race it. I don’t recall any evidence of heavy crash damage at that time so I’m not sure about Lloyd crashing it. Neil was on a tight (ie none) budget and struggled to get the car to keep running without blowing head gaskets. Even then the car ran in the high 1:50’s.
Finally Neil listened to the crew and sent a spare head out to be planed. Then, we spent some time with it, a dremel and some photos I had of an Abarth head. Once bolted back together and with a fresh set of slicks, the car finally started moving and I think his quickest time was a 1:42. More than a little respectable for that little shoebox.
Neil and Don Horner in a red rabbit were battling hard back and forth when they both spun in Ken Stahl’s coolant at the exit of 3. There is apparently a video somewhere of the crash. The Fiat was stopped facing west on the east side of the track. They say that you can see Neil look down to see what gear he was in, look up to the right and then the car jumped forward in front of Ahmad’s 240. Perhaps his foot slipped off the clutch or being disoriented from spinning a few times, he popped the clutch. Regardless, there were about 6′ of skid marks. Ahmad later said that he had just upshifted to 4th, which was about 110 mph. The impact was so hard that Neil was hit with the passenger door.
I have heard that there was discussion about the “wingnut” in the Fiat at the CASC AGM that year and the fact that he didn’t have side intrusion bars. As I have pointed out to the guy (also a friend) who made the comment, that Neil was a young guy with no budget and the car was built to the rules. Mandatory side intrusion bars on both sides were introduced the following year. I believe it was a direct result of that crash, though I don’t know that for sure. The most a young guy with no budget is going to do is spend money on anything that isn’t required by the rules.
Some folks have wondered if the car currently racing in VARAC was this same car. There is a photo of the car after the crash in the gallery. The shell was badly crumpled in many places. We stripped anything usable from the shell and it went to a local wrecking yard. All of the other parts, spares, wheels etc were sold to the Buso brothers who had just brought a beautiful red X19 to Ontario. So no, this car is not the one currently racing in VARAC.
Best part of that whole deal was delivering all the stuff to the Buso family’s Milano bakery and leaving with a truck full of yummy goodies!