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Posted on: July 11, 2014 at 12:43 PM
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“Why Buy a Race Car?” she asked.

MIDFLORIDA President and CEO Kevin Jones daydreams about the sports car racing era of the 50's and 60's while bringing a vintage race car roaring back to life.

Many people have a time in history they relate to – maybe they see themselves as an explorer, gunfighter or famous quarterback. The time in history that stirs me is the late 50’s and 60’s when sports car racing gripped the world. It was dominated by automakers like Ferrari, Ford and Jaguar with drivers like Andretti, Shelby and Moss.

At the time, there were very few limits on the cars and there was a fierce battle between the automakers to have the fastest cars and to win the big races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Race car drivers were like gladiators back then – only the fastest got rides and they were expendable, winning was the only thing that mattered!

Part of this history resides right here in central Florida. The Sebring Race has its roots during this period. It actually hosted the first US Gran Prix, which is an international race today and synonymous with famous race tracks like Le Mans. This is pretty incredible when you consider how remote Sebring was in the 1950’s.

The story goes that to get cars from Europe they would be shipped by boat to New York or Miami and then moved by rail or truck to Sebring. Often the race cars would be used for transportation once arriving in Sebring. According to historical accounts, it was a common sight to see race cars parked at the old Kenilworth Lodge.

A few months ago, I saw that a retired vintage race car that once raced at Sebring was for sale. My wife’s first question was “Why would you buy a race car?”

“I might vintage race it or maybe bring it back to street legal,” I hedged. It was an MGB GT and I had always wanted one. Plus, I liked that it had a high performance engine, since the GT was notoriously slow.

In the back of my mind, the real reason to buy an old, retired, non-running Sebring race car was the same reason people go to fantasy baseball camps – it’s the idea of being close to a dream. It’s the emotions you feel while looking at the car and imagining yourself on the Sebring track back when MG’s slogan “Safety Fast” was emblazoned on the bridge across the front straightaway.

Well, we went to look at the car. The carb and headers had long been removed and sold, and the spark plugs were missing, but the car was solid. I made a low-ball offer that was immediately accepted. The next week, we retrieved the car and garage-full of vintage racing parts. I splurged on an Italian side-draft Weber carburetor and ceramic coated headers. A neighbor helped set the timing, and after many years my race car fired back to life with an earsplitting roar.

I may never race the car, but I will often look at my MGB GT and feel close to those incredible men who built and raced cars in a simpler (and more dangerous) time.

Jones Garage is a column by Kevin Jones, President/CEO of MIDFLORIDA and certified car guy, to talk about his cars and automobilia and the cars of MIDFLORIDA’s members.