I am always moved by folk I meet who do stuff to a degree which is just the finest … I think of a pure fine artists. I mean deeply profoundly …. moved.
Fine art I think of as being provided by minds so creative, intelligent, naturally talented and capable of hi-energies & extraordinary exquisite results. Stuff that I think I could do myself, but realise – I do not, cannot come close. Not a hope. So for me, it’s on the extreme side of inspirational …
Peter Lyons is one of those. He’s just a writer (cough) – a motor sports American writer-journalist … one of the finest of our time … & for my money, ranks alongside our own Martin Roach as an ultimate wordsmith …
Recently, it’s been an absolute privilege to be back in touch, some 50 years since we first met – in the paddock of the Belgian Grand Prix of 1973. Which just so happened to be the first year I was UK Formula Supervee Champion and so we were racing that weekend of the Grand Prix at Zolder. A week or two later at the notorious 14.7 mile lap Nurburgring when I was in the middle of learning over every blind brow, did the race circuit go left – or right, Peter lent me his beloved ‘Vette. Peter sent me a couple of images; subjects I can now recall with real joy …
Here they are : 1973 Goodwood with Peter in my Supervee and (follow the story) the Peter’s wanging it around the great Targa Florio circuit in Sicily. Peter lent me his Corvette at the ‘Ring & so in return enjoyed an outing in my racecar …
But most of all, the point of this particular post, Peter’s allowed me to reprint his description of rare brilliance, of taking his revered Corvette to Sicily and the place of the greatest road race of them all … so sit back & enjoy the ride …
MY SCARLET LADY
We sealed our love one wild night in Sicily. My brand new ’73 Corvette and I had just galloped down the length of Italy, our target the Targa Florio open road race, and by the time we drove off the ferry at Messina the mountainous, mysterious island loomed in darkness. I might be a little tired, I suggested. “I’m not,” she said. So we dashed on.
This relationship was still in its first week, and neither of us was sure we’d picked wisely. To her, bred and born in Middle America, the then-unlimited roads of Olde Europe must have been…otherworldly.
For me…well, she sure was hot. But how would I feel in the morning?
Our wicked tryst began on a crazy whim. Excited by landing the Fantasy Assignment, to cover Fl, I bought and shipped overseas an appropriate set of wheels: a new Stingray coupe, high-performance small-block, close-ratio manual, paint code “Targa Red.”
It was nothing but a cold-blooded investment, I assured my scandalized other self. I wouldn’t be keeping this utterly impractical contraption. Once the rich European playboys around the GP circuit saw the flamboyant “Yank Tank,” surely they’d besiege me to buy it. Maybe then I could afford something more deft, like a Lotus or Porsche.
Meantime, I would show her the storied namesake of her hue.
The Targa Florio was endangered, I knew. Flat-out racing over 44 miles of narrow mountain roads, naked rock faces and gaping dropoffs, spectators literally on the edges of the pavement — it was a wonder that this relic of ancient times had survived this long. It seemed important to be present at what might be the last-ever running (as it turned out to be).
Did the car sense the drama of the quest? Was there some primeval motorsports spirit rising out of this battered asphalt, which had been part of the Giro di Sicilia race route as recently as 1958? Or maybe I was simply over-tired. Whatever, Mademoiselle ‘Vette seemed to come alive that night. Our drive along the incredibly sinuous road along the northern coastal of Sicily was…hallucinogenic.
Hairpins and switchbacks and blind curves, potholes and patches and fallen rocks, tree trunks and power poles and stone walls. At intervals we’d find ourselves coursing dim-lit village streets, then we’d hurtle out into blackness again. On the left, the headlights indicated towering cliffs. On the right, nothing. A wheel put wrong would plunge us straight down into Homer’s “wine-dark sea.”
I’d chosen against power steering — such choices could be made in those days — and this road was work. The corners were coming in endlessly. In defense of my tiring arms and hands, I was using more and more brake and throttle to get the car turned. The car seemed to like it.
She had grunt, that girl. Those were real muscles under those curves. Probably I didn’t need to be shifting as much as I was, but I liked the feel of the gearbox. Silky. And shifting made good engine sounds.
I liked looking at her, too, the rhythmic triple rise of her fenders and hood against the illuminated road.
This was the most exhausting piece of road I’d ever seen! Would it never end? And what was I thinking, taking a piece of American iron into the darkness of lower Europe? This car was too big for here, too heavy, too thirsty. What if it broke down? Tonight? Here on this lonely road?
“I love this road,” she said. “I hope it never ends.”
And so I did not offer her for sale, not that season, nor the next, nor the next. After we watched the Targa together, we raced back up the entire length of Italy, all the way into the Alps, in one mighty 18-hour day. We didn’t want it to end.
She’d only be 30 now, wherever she is. Bet she’s still hot.
— Adapted from “Targa by Vette,” a 2003 retrospective commissioned by AutoWeek editor Kevin Wilson to mark the 30th anniversary of my 1973 adventure.
— Pete Lyons
Sublime brilliance. It wiill be no surprise that Peter has been a corner stone of the great American motor sporting scene for all those 50 years at least. I find I have collected 3 or 4 of his titles but I would love to buy them all. See here now … https://www.petelyons.com