A Fine Racing Vintage


Getting ready for a race at Circuit of The Americas. Images: SVRA

Some racing fans favor NASCAR, some Indy, and still others Formula 1. But there’s another area of racing they may not have considered: vintage racing.

Vintage cars aren’t just for auto shows, they’re also for the track. The Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) is hosting about 20 events this year. Technical director Roger Linton knows what goes into getting cars race-ready. The son of well-known racer Otto Linton, who competed from 1948 to 1968, Roger Linton has also worked on cars for many races and competed in a good amount of vintage races himself.

“Vintage cars are amazing but don’t have the important techniques we take for granted today,” he says. “Some were beautiful like the Italian stuff but didn’t have flow dynamics and the machining capabilities. Sometimes it’s a workaround that makes it interesting.”

In vintage, Linton says a problem is that car makers didn’t imagine these vehicles would run for 60 years and some even have “oil and water eating in the piping.” Looking at Lotus, for example, he says they would take every bit of weight out of the car and many of the rear engine cars ran the oil and cooling fluids through the frame.

Vintage cars also have to adjust for safety. “Take 60s models. The design needs roll cages to take full impact,” he says. “In some cases, it adds stiffness for a car but a fair tradeoff for protecting the driver. We also need fire-compression systems that are easy to get to and a fuel cell or tank with a bladder in it are also required.”

A 1937 Alfa Romeo. Image: Brian Snelson / Wikimedia Commons

In terms of maintenance components, an “Accusump” can be vital, making sure the oil pressure doesn’t drop in the corners, he says.” A strong once-over is important between races, commonly resetting or changing the brakes on vintage.

And the racer he found to be among the most impressively engineered of all vintage? A 1937 Alfa Romeo. “Engineered as a supercharged full-blown car from before the war running flat out this many years later with no modern development on it,” he says. “Original engine, original blower, not significantly altered from the original design.” It still reaches a top speed of 130-140 mph, Linton says.

The first race of the SVRA for either of its two coast seasons this year starts February 13 with the 2015 “Duel in the Desert” in Pahrump, NV. “As a competitor, what you find are a lot of ex-racers and people who wish they could have been racers,” he says. “It’s a chance to live out a hobby or get back into a car they raced when they were younger.”

And though Linton has been admittedly busy, his next possible race might be in a 1960 BMW he’s excited to be working on. “With a two cylinder airpulled motor, the production car had 39 horsepower. I’ve spent a great deal of time running computer simulations to figure out how they got that much horsepower out of that engine.”

He’s adjusting with modern pistons fitted and modern ring technology but the challenge continues in how much more work there is to do. Says Linton: “I’ll get it to where it needs to be. And it’s going to be fun.”

And as many vintage aficionados would agree, that last part is the point of the whole industry.

Eric Butterman is an independent writer.

Vintage cars are amazing but don’t have the important techniques we take for granted today.

Roger Linton, technical director, SVRA


February 2015

by Eric Butterman, ASME.org