5 forgotten ’80s classics

Automotively speaking, the 1980s were certainly better than the mid-1970s in terms of quality and innovation. Still, few cars from the era have emerged as true collectibles. Here are five of our favorites that we think deserve more attention:

1.1988 Pontiac Fiero: The Fiero may have been one of the few instances in the 1980s when the product guys at Pontiac truly stuck it to the man. Hemmed in by bean counters, unimaginative Roger B. Smith-era GM brass and militantly pro-Corvette Chevy partisans who wanted to maintain their division’s monopoly on two-seater sports cars (the stillborn Pontiac Banshee sports car was still a recent memory), Pontiac got the Fiero produced not as a sports car but as a mid-engine, two-seater “commuter car.”  Sadly, with that designation came brake and suspension parts from GM underachievers like the Chevy Citation and Chevette. But like many of the other cars on the list, the last model year was what the designers wanted all along. 1988 Fieros are notoriously good sports cars with upgraded suspension to go with the good looks.
2.1987 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe: After an abysmal 1980-82 T-Bird that came off as a fancy Ford Fairmont, Ford once again got serious about its off-and-on halo car. Still based on the otherwise good Fox platform (like the Mustang), Ford came up with a sleek 2+2 coupe body that even the Japanese stole cues from.  From a performance standpoint, the Turbo coupe was the one to have, particularly from the last production year of 1987 when it gained an intercooler that boosted horsepower to 190. Coupled with a five-speed, the ’87 T-Bird Turbo Coupe was a sensational big GT that almost nobody remembers | Benn Piff
3.1986 Mercury Capri: Fewer people remember the Mustang’s near-identical twin the Mercury Capri. Those who do often argue that it was actually the better looking of the two, particularly in the last model years when the car gained a new and unique hatch design with a large glass window. Engine options largely followed those of the Mustang. ASC/McLaren Capri coupes and convertibles are rare and quite special.
4.1982-85 Buick Riviera Convertible: The Buick Riviera and Cadillac Eldorado from this period were actually very nice. Not quite fully downsized, they had great presence and finally became the size that they probably should have been all along. GM famously got out of the convertible business in 1976 with the Eldorado. Much to the chagrin of ’76 Eldo owners (some of whom resorted to legal action), these cars marked GM’s return to some semblance of top-down glamour.  While not a powerhouse, the V-8-powered Riviera convertible still looks great — on the odd occasion when you actually see one — and deserves far greater attention from the classic car world than it gets.
5.1988-91 Buick Reatta: The Reatta was the product of an era when Buick was actually making a play for people not in the market for their last car (see the Regal Grand National).  This thinking was quickly nipped in the bud, but the Reatta was too far along to kill when the wind changed at Buick. As a result, though, the Reatta never really realized its potential as a sporty car. Still, it was a bold move for Buick and was a clean and handsome design that came with some interesting technology for the time in the form an electronic dash with touchscreens. Convertibles are particularly rare | Mecum

Reborn Carlisle Auctions scores $3.2 million sale

 The Car Corral included hundreds of vehicles for sale spread across the 150-acre Carlisle Fairgrounds | Carlisle Events
The Car Corral included hundreds of vehicles spread across the 150-acre Carlisle Fairgrounds | Carlisle Events

The return of Carlisle Auctions to the Spring Carlisle Swap Meet and Car Corral reached a $3.2 million result for its April 24-25 collector-car auction, with 72.5 percent of the 300 cars sold on the block.

Held during a sparkling spring weekend that provided a welcomed break after an unusually hard Pennsylvania winter, the Carlisle Auctions sale was an active addition to the automotive country fair held every spring at the Carlisle Fairgrounds since 1977. The Fall Carlisle swap meet and car corral celebrates its 40th anniversary in October.

More than 100,000 people turned out for Spring Carlisle, a four-day spectacular that started up April 22. The 150-acre fairground was filled to capacity with a busy automotive swap meet of parts, collector’s items and memorabilia (the 8,100 vendors spaces were sold out), and a sweeping car corral filled with hundreds of vehicles for sale ranging from antiques and classics to street rods and exotics.

A Chevy resto-rod sedan crosses the block | Carlisle Events
A Chevy resto-rod sedan crosses the block | Carlisle Events

The Carlisle Auctions sale was the third held since the auction was reorganized in November 2013, with two held earlier in Zephyrhills, Florida. The home-grown collector-car auction company had conducted sales during Carlisle events until 2010, after which Auctions America by RM held sales for three years. Carlisle Auctions plans four annual sales, in spring and fall at Carlisle and two  in Florida.

A special selling-friendly feature of Carlisle Auction is a “Free Unless Sold” policy that takes some of the pressure off consigners whose vehicle don’t meet reserve prices.

“We’re not just bringing back the logo and the brand, we’re introducing some cool new features, such as Free Until Sold,” said Michael Garland, a spokesman for Carlisle Events.

The Spring Carlisle auction was a low-key affair with quite a few of the cars selling in the four-figure and low five-figure range. Corvettes were top sellers, with a ’65 convertible gaining the highest sale of the auction at $77,000 (plus buyer’s fee). A 1962 Pontiac Catalina went for $71,000, a 1965 Ford Mustang sold at $60,000 and a pair of ’57 Chevy Bel Airs hit $61,000 and $60,000.

The 40th annual Fall Carlisle swap meet, car corral and Carlisle Auctions sale happens October 1-5.

Son of DAT: Nissan showcasing part of its heritage at Carlisle Import celebration

Photos by Randy Sweetman courtesy Nissan North America

Last year, to support Peter Brock’s appearance at the Carlisle Import & Kit Nationals, Nissan North America took the Brock Racing Enterprises-liveried Datsun 510 that’s part of the automaker’s historic collection and hauled it from the basement of the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville to the Carlisle fairgrounds in Pennsylvania.

This month — May 16-18 to be specific — the automaker is going back to Carlisle, and this time with six other vehicles from the Nissan Heritage Collection.

“We have about 57 vehicles at the moment,” Dave Bishop said of the heritage cars. Bishop’s day job is senior manager of product development for Nissan North America’s Parts & Service Division, but the long-time classic car enthusiast also is the curator of the company’s collection of historic vehicles.

“We’ve always held onto some vehicles,” Bishop explained. “We had cars in California from the very early days, and then probably in the late ’70s or early ’80s we started adding a few historical vehicles. We got up to about 60 cars.”

But when Nissan moved its American headquarters from the West Coast to the Midwest, where the company has assembly plants, about half of the collection was “dispersed” — some to museums, some to long-time Nissan dealers and a few to employees, “because we didn’t have a place to put them when we came to Nashville,” Bishop said.

But after learning that the Lane museum also was located in Nashville, a deal was struck to store the Nissan Heritage Collection cars in the Lane basement.

“We had a lot of racecar heritage (such as the BRE cars) and (Datsun 240, 260 and 280) Z heritage,” Bishop said of the collection. “But we couldn’t not have remained profitable selling only the 240Z and 260Z and 280Z.”

“It was cars such as the B210 that kept us going and I’m trying to fill in the collection with those sort of bread-and-butter vehicles (in fact, he’s searching for a mid-’70s 720-series pickup truck that’s still in its original configuration). They’re not glamorous, but are very important to our history.”

But they also are turning out to be very hard to find, at least in the original stock configuration that Bishop needs for the Heritage group. So many, he said, have been modified and hot-rodded.

“It’s important to preserve our heritage.”

— Dave Bishop


“I’ve been adding vehicles whenever I could find something that was in one of our design studios or tech centers that I thought potentially was useful or interesting for the collection,” Bishop said. In addition to vehicles that had been squirreled away by designers or engineers, he’s arranged for the purchase of other vehicles that have historic significance for Nissan.

“It’s important to preserve our heritage,” he said.

And to share it.

Like an iceberg, the bulk of the Nissan Heritage Collection is hidden from public view at the museum, with only between 3 and 5 of the cars rotating through the facility’s public exhibition area. But Bishop is working with the Lanes staff to find a way to put many more if not all the Nissan cars on display.

But for Bishop, it’s not enough for those cars to be on display. They also must be driven.

“My goal is keep them all street worthy so they are a living asset and not a static display,” he said.

Nissan North America sent more than half a dozen of its heritage cars to the Nissan 360 international press event last year in California. When the new Nissan Versa Note was introduced (in Nashville), it was joined by a B-210 for the unveiling because, as Bishop explained it, that car was “the market segment equivalent of 35 years ago.”

And now, six cars from the collection are going to Carlisle:

  • A 1961 Fairlady roadster
  • A 1969 1600 roadster
  • A 1972 240Z
  • A 1972 510
  • A 1977 B210 GX
  • A 1995 300ZX SMZ

Though it’s not making the trip to Carlisle, the oldest car in the Nissan Heritage Collection is a 1937 Datsun Konut roadster.

“In the 1930s, Datsun products were essentially knockdown kits of the Austin Seven built under license,” Bishop said, adding that Nissan North America’s Konut roadster is undergoing restoration. “It’s running and driving and going to paint and trim fairly soon.”

Oh, and it’s not just Nissan North America that is working to preserve and to celebrate the company’s heritage and history. Nissan Motor Corp. itself is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year and has set up a website that celebrates not only its cars but the people who made them.

It was Masujiro Hashimoto, an American-educated engineer, who established a company to build Japan’s first cars. Funding came from three Japanese investors whose respective last names began with D, A and T. Thus the cars — production began in 1914 — were branded as DATs.

When a new two-seat roadster was launched for 1918, it was called the “Datson,” or son of DAT. Soon, Datson became Datsun.


Detroit carmakers don’t seem to care much about their heritage

Chrysler Museum was terrific, until it closed | Larry Edsall
Chrysler Museum was terrific, until it closed | Larry Edsall

Each day, I receive a Newspress email. Actually, two of them. One comes from England, the other from within the United States.

Each Newspress email is a newsletter-style compilation of the press releases produced in the previous 24 hours by automakers on those two continents, including the respective European or American branches of Asian automakers.

Having spent the last five months as editorial director of the ClassicCars.com blog, I’m struck by one major difference I see between those daily European and U.S. news feeds: The European automakers embrace their heritage; the American OEMs pretty much ignore theirs (one big exception: Ford’s celebration of the 50th birthday of its Mustang).

This attitude of seemingly historical disdain is not a new phenomenon by any means. Think of all those rare 1950s concept cars that Joe Bortz had to resurrect from salvage yards after Detroit’s automakers discarded them.

One the other hand, nearly every day at least one of the European automakers calls attention to cars it produced years ago, cars that have come to be considered classics, or to some aspect of its history in auto racing. It may be Mercedes celebrating the 125th anniversary of its racing program or BMW buying one of its old manufacturing plants to turn into a center for classic cars, or a new display at the Porsche Museum showcasing that company’s Le Mans-winning racing cars, or Porsche’s “rolling museum” that takes cars from the museum and puts them on roads and race tracks.

Oh, and not only does Porsche have a museum to display its heritage, but so does Mercedes, and for that matter so do Ferrari and Volvo and Toyota and Honda and Mazda and I’m sure there are others. And those are overseas. Toyota also has a museum in California, and Mercedes-Benz has its Classic Center there as well, and Porsche is building a museum/test track complex near Los Angeles.

Nissan is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year and has an entire website devoted to its heritage. Nissan North America has a Heritage collection of nearly 60 cars significant to the company’s history and is showcasing several of them at a big import car show.

Meanwhile, Chrysler closed its museum. But at least it had one. Ford doesn’t (although there are some cars at the Henry Ford museum and lots of Model Ts at Greenfield Village).

Once upon a time, Cadillac saluted its heritage by turning part of its old Clark Street assembly plant not far from downtown Detroit into a museum. Not anymore.

Some of the cars at the GM Heritage Center | Larry Edsall
Some of the cars at the GM Heritage Center | Larry Edsall

General Motors does have a Heritage Center with a car collection and terrific reference library, but it is not open to the general public, though car clubs and civic groups can schedule a visit.

Speaking of the public, even the car-buying public, I see a lot more — exponentially more — classic car photos being posted on Facebook than I see friends posting photos of cars they just drove home from dealership showrooms.

For years… decades, proposals have popped up from time to time been for an American car museum to be built if not in Detroit then somewhere near Motown, a place to showcase the history of American cars and those who have produced them.

You’d think it would be a no-brainer. Instead, it remains a pipe dream. And fortunately there are many private museums and car clubs that keep Detroit’s heritage alive.

But except for something along the lines of the Mustang anniversary, or the annual Woodward Dream Cruise weekend or maybe in the rare year that a Detroit vehicle is featured at the Monterey Historics (or whatever that vintage racing weekend is being called these days), Detroit automakers pretty much seem to ignore their history.

In Detroit, the focus is on the next 30-day sales report. Well, that and too frequent appearances before Congressional investigating committees.

By the way, did you know it’s the 50th anniversary of the Pontiac GTO, the car that launched the muscle car movement in America? I just did a search for “Pontiac GTO” on the General Motors media website. “Your search – ‘Pontiac GTO’ did not match any images.” was the response.


The Interview: McKeel Hagerty

McKeel Hagerty
McKeel Hagerty

McKeel Hagerty is president and chief executive of Hagerty Insurance, which is based in Traverse City, Mich. Since 2000, he has served as a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for the Federation Internationale des Vehicules Anciens (FIVA) preservation class and was the youngest person ever to be asked to serve in such a roll.

He is executive publisher of Hagerty Classic Car magazine and has appeared numerous times as a classic car values and trends commentator for ESPN, SPEED and the Discovery Channels.  He serves on numerous boards and advisory groups, including the Automotive Restoration Program at McPherson College, LeMay Museum, REVS Institute, and is a judge for the International Historic Motoring Awards.   Continue reading

Keith Richards’ Ferrari Dino goes to auction

Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones owned this Ferrari Dino for 14 years | Coys
Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones owned this Ferrari Dino for 14 years | Coys

The stars are aligned for the no-reserve sale of a low-mileage 1972 Ferrari Dino 246GT at Coys’ May 9 auction in Monaco because the sports coupe comes with the highest order of rock ‘n roll celebrity provenance.

This Dino was originally owned by none other than Keith Richards, legendary guitarist for the Rolling Stones, who bought it new, kept it for 14 years and drove it about 25,000 miles. Now with just 28,000 on its odometer, the mid-engine Ferrari is in pristine condition after an extended time in a prestigious Japanese collection, according to the British auction company.

Accompanying the car is a letter of authenticity from Rolling Stones’ manager Alan Dunn confirming Richards’ ownership and mileage up until April 1986.

Values for the V6-powered Dinos have climbed in recent years, along with the values of all classic Ferraris, as collectors re-discovered the car’s exceptional drivability and attractive styling. Dinos now range in value from around $250,000 to $400,000, depending on condition, according to the latest price guides, although the Keith Richards connection has the potential of blowing it through the roof.

“A Dino offered at no reserve is rare enough in itself and would make this is a highly desirable and collectible item in its own right,” said Chris Routledge, managing partner at Coys. “But when one adds to this proven long-term ownership by rock and roll aristocracy, the Keith Richards’s car has to be the ultimate Dino and will surely give any car collector and rock enthusiast a great ‘Satisfaction’.”

Boomers vs. Gen Xers: The cars

Gen Xers are poised to inherit the classic car hobby. It’s already starting to happen. As I mentioned in “For Sale by Boomer” in the March issue of Car and Driver, the market for 1950s Americana is already starting to fall flat as the oldest boomers (now pushing 70) start to cash out. Gen Xers (those born from 1965-85) are starting to gain some disposable income, and guess what? They don’t want the cars of their dads. They want the stuff that was on their bedroom wall posters as kids. That places the cars built between 1976 and 1996 squarely in the cross-hairs of impending serious collectability. The dirty secret? In some cases, the Gen Xer cars are better.  Here are five of our favorite Boomer vs. Gen Xer compares:

1.1964 Pontiac GTO vs. 1976 Pontiac Trans Am: According to John Kraman, the consignment director for Mecum Auctions, “Smoky and the Bandit”-era black and gold T/As are white-hot — easier to move than the granddaddy of muscle cars, the 1964 Pontiac GTO. Makes sense; this being the 50th anniversary year of the GTO, the guys who bought them new that first year are all septuagenarians. Bandit T/As on the other hand are revered by Gen Xers who grew up watching Burt Reynolds’ toupee blowing in the T-top slip stream, humming “East Bound and Down.” To them, it matters little that most malaise-era T/As-- save for the 455-cubic-inch versions-- were toothless tigers compared to the GTO. They’re cool and that’s enough.
2.1965 VW Karmann Ghia vs. 1992 Volkswagen Corrado VR6: The Karmann Ghia is an extremely pretty car, but at the end of the day, it’s a Beetle in an Italian suit. The Corrado, on the other hand, is like a Scirocco that’s paid a visit to BALCO — it’s totally juiced. With a delicious narrow angle V-6 and very little torque steer, it may be one of the most desirable front-drivers ever built. Only the motorized-mouse passive restraint seatbelts detract. Unlike Barry Bonds, the VR6 enhancement of the Corrado won’t keep it out of the Hall of Fame of collectible cars. Find a good one now (if you can) | Ben Piff
3.1972 BMW 2002tii vs. 1988 BMW E30 M3: The BMW 2002 has deservedly acquired a big reputation as the seminal German sports sedan. The fuel-injected tii is nearly mythical. Fun cars, but they have non-existent ventilation and the phony wood dash appliqués are a bit chincy. In addition, the carbureted cars feel  a bit anemic today and 2002 4-speeds are unpleasant on the highway. The E30 M3, on the other hand, is more high-strung than a thorobred race horse and it only gets better the harder you thrash it. An E30 M3  with just 40,000 miles sold at the Russo and Steele auction in Monterey last year for $40,000. It seemed like a ton of money at the time. A half a year later, it sounds like a screaming deal.
4.1970 Datsun 240Z vs. 1992 Mazda RX-7: The 240Z was a phenomenal car when it came out in 1969 at a price of just over $3,500. It was well-built, reliable and did everything well. It was the comet that killed the dinosaurs for the Opel GTs and Triumph GT6s of the world. In actuality, though, its performance envelope wasn’t that astonishing: 0-60 in about 8.7 seconds and around 125 mph. Not that much better than an Austin-Healey 3000 MK III. By contrast, the third-generation RX-7 offered supercar performance and looks at a bargain price, much as the Jaguar E-Type had in 1961. Most have been thoroughly thrashed and run into the ground (like most 240Zs had). The kicker is that far fewer RX-7s made it to the U.S. A good one at under $20K is a steal.
5.1965 Toyota Land Cruiser vs. 1984 Toyota 4Runner: We love the FJ40 Land Cruiser and, in truth, with its near 30-year production life, it spans both the boomer and Gen-X eras. Insanely overrestored FJ40s are showing up at hoity-toity catalog auctions and bringing close to six figures. As a result, some of us are over the FJ40. Enter the first-generation Toyota 4Runner. Essentially just a Toyota Hilux pickup with a fiberglass shell, many came to the U.S. sans rear seats to skirt passenger-car import duties. There are probably fewer than 1,000 of these left with under 200,000 miles, no rust, and their original paint and tape stripes. We’ve already seen good ones break 20 grand.

An all-new ClassicCars.com newsletter experience

There’s so much happening at ClassicCars.com that we’re moving to a daily newsletter just to keep everyone up to speed.

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Each day features a different aspect of the ClassicCars.com experience: spotlights of classic car dealerships, photo galleries, upcoming events and more. Plus, the new newsletter makes it easy for the ClassicCars.com community to provide feedback and tell us how we’re doing.

In short, the all-new ClassicCars.com Newsletter is your daily dose of steel, rubber and soul.

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Indy Speedway celebrates classic cars

Indy Speedway provides glamorous setting for classic car show |IMS
Indy Speedway provides glamorous setting for classic car show |IMS

There was a time when Indianapolis’ claim to being America’s “Motor City” seemed every bit as strong as Detroit’s. Sure, Detroit had Henry Ford and his Model T, but Indy had Duesenberg and Stutz and Marmon and National and others who specialized in luxury vehicles, plus a group of major, what now would be referred to as Tier I automotive industry suppliers. And just up various Indiana roads were Auburn and Cord and Studebaker and Haynes and Lexington.

And while the Chevrolet brand of cars were made in Michigan, the Chevrolet name that made those cars appealing was made in Indianapolis, at that city’s “Brickyard,” the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Chevrolet brothers Louis, Gaston and Arthur raced to fame. But don’t forget, the track was built as much as a year-around proving ground for Indy’s budding auto industry as it was for racing 500 miles once a year.

Four years ago, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which houses one of the world’s best classic car collections in its Hall of Fame and Museum (if you think The Vault beneath the Petersen Automotive Museum is something, you should talk your way into the basement of the IMS museum), began staging an annual event — The Celebration of Automobiles — to showcase classic cars and the city’s automotive as well as motorsports heritage. The fourth annual Celebration is scheduled for the May 8-10 weekend.

The focus for the event is cars produced between 1910 and 1970. The actual Vintage and Classic Car Show, with judges awarding honors in a concours d’elegance-style list of classes, is May 10.

A special emphasis this year is cars built in Indiana. New this year are classes for open-wheel race cars, Indy 500 pace cars and 1910-70 motorcycles. Also new is an automotive-artists pavilion.

Four-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Sr. will serve as honorary head judge for the show and will determine which car gets the Driver’s Choice Award.

Cars arrayed in front of the Brickyard pagoda | IMS
Cars arrayed in front of the Brickyard pagoda | IMS

“I’ve loved everything about cars since I was a kid,” Unser said in a Speedway news release. “It’s going to be so exciting to evaluate all of these incredible vehicles and learn their stories from their owners at a place that has meant so much to me and my family for more than 50 years.”

The Celebration of Automobiles is being held the same weekend as the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis IndyCar Series race on the Speedway’s revised road course. The Grand Prix is designed to kick off the month that culminates with the 98th Indianapolis 500 on May 25.

As part of the Celebration weekend, classic car owners can drive their own cars on the famed Speedway track. The weekend also includes a driving tour in central and southern Indiana, an awards dinner with Indy racing stars, and a question-answer session featuring Unser and track historian Donald Davidson.



Sam Posey to talk about forgotten racing series

The Le Grand Mk7 raced by Sam Posey in the F5000 series in 1968 | IMRRC photo
The Le Grand Mk7 raced by Sam Posey in the F5000 series in 1968 | IMRRC photo

The car he initially raced may have been among his least favorites, and the series in which he raced may have been motorsports’ best-kept secret, but that won’t stop Sam Posey from sharing stories about the F5000 series at the International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen, New York.

Posey — racer, architect and television commentator — will speak at 1 p.m. May 10 about the racing series that, as he wrote several years ago in an article in Road & Track magazine, “no one outside the racing world seemed to know F5000 existed.”

Writing about the series in that article, Posey noted that, “Although I never won the championship, some of the achievements I’m most proud of as a driver came in F5000. The cars were fast, challenging and evenly matched because so many teams could afford the components you needed to win. The racing was terrific, and the opposition included some of the top drivers of the period.The F5000 was the professional version of the Sports Car Club of America’s Formula A category and featured open-wheel, Grand Prix-style cars powered by stock block American V8 engines. Cars came from McLaren, Eagle, Lola, Chevron and others and were driven by the likes of Posey, Mario Andretti, the Unsers, Jody Scheckter, Brian Redman, David Hobbs, Tony Adamowicz and others.

Posey was series runner-up in 1971 and 1972. But in 1968 he drove the Le Grand Mk7 that J.C. Argetsinger, president of the research center, called “one of Posey’s least favorite race cars.”

However, Argetsinger added, “The Le Grand was an early and important step in the development of Formula 5000 race cars. The reunion between Sam and the Le Grand is certain to be a memorable experience for all.”

In addition to Posey and the car itself, Bob Mayer and Jacques Dresang (Mayer and Dresang’s father, Rick, own the Le Grand) will talk about the car’s place in American racing history and the story of its restoration.

Also participating in the program is James Stengel, who is researching the Formula 5000 series and who drives an F5000 in vintage races.

The presentation featuring Posey is part of the Center Conversation series, which on June 21 will feature vintage car-event organizer Murray Smith. Others giving talks in coming months include Cary Agajanian, son of famed team owner J.C. Agajanian, Steve Zautke of the Milwauke Mile track, and Michael Martin, who will discuss the U.S. Road Racing Championship race series of the 1960s.

The Racing Research Center is an archival library dedicated to the preservation of the history of motorsports through its collections of books, periodicals, films, photographs, fine art and other materials. For more information visit the www.racingarchives.org website.