Monthly Archives: March 2021


Cars We Love & Who We Are #18

So it’s late summer of 1977. A bright eyed blonde haired young man just out of his teens with a gift for things automotive had become known for his accomplishments while working with his father restoring vintage Jaguars. One afternoon a customer approached him mentioning knowledge of a Ferrari being prepped for IMSA class endurance racing. He asked if the young man would be interested in interviewing for the team? With his father’s blessings, young Bryan Maletsky left work at closing and headed off to meet the Ferrari 512 Berlinetta Boxer (512BB) that would ultimately bring him to the 24-hours of LeMans in 1978.

LeMans 1978, a young man’s memories

Bringing the Ferrari to the starting grid

Bryan Maletsky entered the workshop of Randy’s Motors in Clifton, New Jersey. Surrounded by the Ferraris, Maseratis and Lamborghinis in which Randy’s Motors specialized, Bryan arrived to meet the IMSA class Ferrari’s Chief Mechanic, Randy Randazzo, owner of Randy’s Motors.

After Bryan acknowledged to Randy that he had little experience on Ferraris but had considerable electrical troubleshooting experience Randy said, “Good, you can start tonight. Let’s see how you do.” “Do what?” asked Bryan. He was directed to rewire the Berlinetta Boxer’s instruments and dashboard, put in new connections and correct all the wiring that had been improperly done previously, re-solder all the connections and secure all the wires. At the end of the night Bryan had earned Randy’s respect and a place on the racing team.

Randy’s 512BB began life as a NART (North American Racing Team) car built and campaigned across America by famed Chinetti Motors for the 1975 and 1976 seasons.

Acquired from Chinetti in 1977 by new owner Howard O’Flynn the 512BB shipped from Connecticut to Randy’s where the car would be prepped for the 1978 season with hope but no guarantee of going to LeMans.

As a new team member Bryan’s days filled up quickly. Still committed to supporting his father’s East Rutherford, New Jersey Jaguar restoration business Bryan would leave there around 5:30 and head straight to Randy’s where the team worked into the wee hours of the morning focused on getting the Ferrari sorted out and ready for the 1978 IMSA endurance race season.

Born to run and bred to run fast, this 512 BB got life from a seriously worked 5-liter, flat 12-cylinder with 12 Webers. It far exceeded the stock 340 horsepower delivered through the 5-speed manual transmission.

“Swiss cheesed” rear panel

Running fast not only meant adding power but equally critical it demanded losing weight. Weight reduction meant anything that did not contribute to structural integrity or performance would be lightened or removed. With the interior already gutted, attention turned to any flat piece of steel that had no structural purpose. It would immediately be “swiss cheesed” using an array of different size hole saws to remove as much metal as possible. The lightening process got down to stripping paint from any part that did not need to be painted. It got to the point where any bolt that extended needlessly far past the nut would be replaced with a shorter bolt. Lightening efforts resulted in a weight reduction of 70 Kg.

With the Ferrari ready and the season upon them, the O’Flynn team faced an IMSA endurance race schedule that included Daytona, Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta and Talladega. Now, late nights would be spent making the car ready for each subsequent race.

The road to LeMans for a prospective competitor must be paved with high levels of competitive performance at major endurance races. The O’Flynn Berlinetta Boxer proved its mettle on the track and earned an invitation to LeMans. The car was going and So was Bryan.

The invitation put all hands on deck and all things in crates. As Bryan recalls, “Tool chests, tools, no matter what you thought you had was enough, it was always doubled or tripled.” All needs, every contingency had to be accounted for.”

Then in what Bryan says, “Felt like a blink,” the prepped Ferrari, parts, tools and team found themselves high over the Atlantic headed for touchdown at La Sarthe the small regional airport convenient to LeMans.

Bryan Maletsky at driver’s door pushing 512BB to starting grid

With the Ferrari on a separate plane the team focused on getting to their accommodations. They would be staying at the home of lead driver Francois Migault’s parents. Work on the car would be performed at a local Renault dealership.

For Bryan and the rest of the team, hitting the ground sent them into a whirlwind of car support activity that would not subside for the coming week and half right through race day.

Bryan says, “We really didn’t even have time to think about the race except to make sure that the car benefitted from everything being done and done properly.” “By properly” means that every nut and bolt tightened would be marked with the specific personal color identifying the team member who secured the nut, bolt or fitting.

In preparing the car, a serious problem arose when lead driver Migault took the Ferrari out on a local airfield to shake the car down and run it at some race level speeds.

When Migault pulled in and exited the car after a number of runs, he clearly lacked enthusiasm for the 512BB’s engine’s ability to deliver the goods. He felt the engine, one of three the team had brought, could not deliver the power needed to be competitive. Interestingly this engine had been provided by Ferrari in Italy. Acting to rectify the problem the team swapped out the Ferrari built engine to be replaced with the engine that had been prepped back in the States at Randy’s. After some serious testing, Migault returned to announce that this engine had the guts to chase the glory.

The 512BB running at Daytona

While Bryan’s lack of French fluency for the most part served as a hindrance, it did offer a few key benefits particularly during questioning by the scrutineers (French judges who determined if a car complied with all rules and requirements). Anything that the team did not want discussed became a troublesome language issue that would frustrate the French officials to the point that it would usually result in the judges simply walking away.

As well, a little theatrics came to the rescue when the team realized that their rear end body dimensions fractionally exceeded the width limit. As the scrutineers approached, Bryan got into a boisterous shouting match with a fellow team member. French officials wanted nothing to do with the crazy Americans and simply walked on by. Disqualification averted.

At last, race day arrived bringing a confluence of spectacular cars, world class drivers, iconic signage, thunderous engine noise, screaming crowds and the pungent smells of high octane auto racing in the air. Drivers for the O’Flynn team would be Francois Migault and Lucien Guitteny. Bryan says, For me it was an event of a lifetime.”

Strong and nimble the 512BB attacked the course. It effortlessly clocked over 200 mph on the Mulsanne straight. Tire swapping played an important role in a strategy designed to promote the survival of the car to the end of the race. Taller tires would provide a higher top end. Shorter tires would provide quicker acceleration. So depending on day or night and the car’s position in the race tire choice played a major role.

Disaster would strike midway through the race when the Ferrari’s driveshaft broke away from the pits. When a car breaks and does not make it to the pits, LeMans rules demand that any repair must be performed by the driver. The only thing a team mechanic can provide is verbal direction. With a replacement driveshaft in hand a team member took a service road out to the broken Ferrari’s location and stood by the driver providing point by point instruction which Driver Guitteny carried out flawlessly.

With no further problems destined to occur, the Ferrari roared back to complete the race third in class and 16th overall. No Ferrari finished higher in the standings. Actually no other Ferrari, factory sponsored or otherwise, even finished the race.

To the nationalistic displeasure of some competing European teams, Bryan and his team members draped an American flag on the car as they toured the track.

In reflecting on the experience 40 plus years later, Bryan says, “Simply to be part of that international racing experience was an honor and then to be competing and finishing? Oh my God. That we finished, made us feel like we won the race.”

By |2021-03-25T11:31:07+00:00March 25th, 2021|Comments Off on Cars We Love & Who We Are #18

Conversations With people We Value #19

In retrospect, Ed Jurist’s Vintage Car Store clearly stood way out ahead of its time in the 1960s and 70s. Unlike today when a sprawling worldwide collectible vehicle business pretty much blankets the globe, the Vintage Car Store in Nyack, NY ranked as one of few top tier go-to places for connoisseurs seeking high quality classic cars. Ferraris, 4½-liter Bentleys, Rolls Royce Town Cars and Maseratis mingled with a 12-cylinder Allison air craft engine on display and striking transportation themed wall art. However, even in this rarified atmosphere of vintage collectibles, Jurist’s exterior display area featured a real show stopper, a 1943 M4A3 Sherman Tank, for sale.

A Sherman tank’s incredible journey from Nyack, NY to the final episode of M.A.S.H.

Bill Wahnish in his Sherman tank


Note 275 GTB for $35,000

While sitting in Ed Jurist’s cozy almost cramped Vintage Car Store office in the early 1980s I noticed a brass ring mounted on a wooden plaque. Inquiring of Jurist, I learned that this treasured artifact had been attached to the ripcord of a parachute that had safely floated him to earth after his WWII B-17 bomber had been shot down over Nazi Germany. Taken prisoner by the Germans, Jurist subsequently succeeded in escaping his captors. This pretty much tells you all you need to know about Jurist the pioneer classic car and vintage military aircraft aficionado. After taking ownership of the Vintage Car Store in 1961, Jurist traveled all over the world seeing South America, India, Europe, Middle East, Far East and Australia to set up agents and ferret out salvageable military equipment and locate desirable classic cars.

When I spoke with Jurist in 1982 the tank had been sold two years prior (February 1980) to Bill Wahnish, a gentlemen with a large film industry car rental business (Bill’s Car Rental) in Hollywood. In  1979 Bill had flown back east slammed a hatch or two, kicked the treads and said, “I’ll take it.” It would be two almost three months before Bill would take delivery in Los Angeles.

For Jurist selling a 73,000 pound Sherman tank with a seized engine is one thing. Moving it is quite another.

Jurist laughed when recalling and said, “It’s not like the town will let you drag it through the streets or over the sidewalks.” Transporting the M4A3 would require winching the tank onto a low flatbed. Jurist said, “That may sound easy, but how do you get that low bed into position? The flatbed is a huge trailer. It would require the street to be blocked off.

This operation called for serious planning, coordination, wide load clearance and timing. Local Nyack Police, NY State Police and NJ State Police stood poised and ready in the dark early morning of February 29, 1980.

Quiet streets allowed the loading to proceed smoothly though achingly slow. Once loaded, the flatbed with Sherman tank firmly lashed in place moved through the silent streets with all the dexterity of a house being relocated.

After slowly creeping towards and across the New York/New Jersey state line, the heavily burdened flatbed then made its way to a Paterson, NJ, rail head. As the railroad lacked the equipment to lift the tank, the Sherman had to be positioned on the loading platform so that the railroad flatcar could receive the beast.

With the tank loaded and firmly secured including the turret which had to be turned around to face backwards like a catcher wearing a baseball cap, the tank would head west. What could possibly go wrong? The answer, plenty, as time would show.

One day into the journey from Paterson, the tank broke loose. It took another week for riggers to lash it down again. After just ten miles of its rail journey to Chicago, it broke loose again. Another week’s delay. Just outside of Chicago, the tank came loose and was almost sideways on the flat car as the freight train rumbled towards the Windy City. Conrail was traveling west but the tank was facing south. Finally Santa Fe sent out a crew to lash the tank down once and for all. This added one more week. Lashed properly at last, the tank arrived three days later in the Los Angeles Rail Yards.

Bill Wahnish a warm and friendly bear of a man began in Hollywood as a truck driver for the movie studios. By 1980 Bill and his wife of 42-years Beverly had been restoring old cars as a hobby for over 25-years. During that period Bill’s collection of cars had attracted the attention of the film industry. By the time the tank arrived that hobby has morphed into a full time car rental business for the film industry with credentials that including the contracts to supply period vehicles for films like “Chinatown” and “Day of the Locust.” Bill’s Car Rental now had over 130 vehicles available.

When asked about the tank Bill said, “I have wanted to restore a tank for over twenty years.” At that time probably no more than a half dozen Sherman tanks could be found in the country that ran. Bill said, “I just wanted the feeling of accomplishment that I had restored one.”

Bill first set eyes on his new purchase as he drove down the Long Beach Freeway and saw it in the rail yard from an overpass. With the tank loaded by railroad crane onto his flatbed the tank began its journey to Bill’s storage lot. Crowds formed as the flatbed bearing the tank slowly navigated its way.

With all hands on deck the restoration took about 6 months. Happenstance and good fortune certainly helped in speeding the restoration. Job one for Bill? He needed to replace the seized 1100 cu. in. 500 horsepower Ford V8 that propelled the Sherman up to 24 mph.

1100 cu. in. Ford V8

Bill thought he would get some tips from his friends down at the local Fred George Military Surplus store. Indeed he did. When he asked a counterman for any suggestions, the counterman called to the back asking, “Do we still have that rebuilt 1100 cu. in. Ford V8 in the crate back there.” “Yes,” came back the reply. Clearly with the wind to their back, Bill’s dedicated team of employees and volunteers poured an enthusiastic 2,000 man-hours into the restoration.

Interestingly, Bill had never driven his completed tank. Bill said, “I just love to look at it go.” When I got my own opportunity to ride in the tank, it would be driven by, then, 23-year old Craig Michelson. Craig’s father, Donald Michelson founded the American Society of Military History Museum which gave young Craig incredible access to and experience with military vehicles of all types.

Craig Michelson at controls

Craig arrived and climbed up onto and down into the Sherman. It fired up with an angry growl. That served as my invitation to climb aboard. Bill’s storage lot provided a large open area for my test drive. Poised at the open turret hatch, I had a General George Patton-like vantage point to savor the opportunity to take a spirited ride in military history. The best part came when the Sherman under Craig’s capable control stormed up to the end of Bill’s property and pulled alongside the McDonald’s parking lot bordering Bill’s property. He locked up the tank to an abrupt stop and rotated the decommissioned 75-mm turret gun towards the parking lot with the customers munching away in their cars. You had to see the looks on their faces. Priceless.

Sherman in one of many feature film appearances

Bill’s Sherman had made many appearances in feature films but its most famous appearance resulted due to a serious forest fire in the Malibu hills where the M.A.S.H. set was located.

Much of the final episode had been shot for the 1983 finale. In the episode, a Chaffee light tank has been driven into the camp by a wounded soldier. With the tank in the M.A.S.H. camp, enemy mortar fire begins to rain down on the medical facility. The shot that had not been filmed before the forest fire required images of the tank being driven out of the camp by Hawkeye. However, not only was the M.A.S.H. set destroyed, which could be rebuilt, but so was the Chaffee tank. A call went out to Bill’s Car Rental and Bill and his Sherman tank answered the call. If you ever look at a rerun of the final M.A.S.H. episode take notice that the tank driven into the camp is not the same one driven out. Did not catch that the first time did you?

By |2021-03-11T12:10:23+00:00March 11th, 2021|10 Comments