COAL: The Brougham Antidote, Part Four – Run, Rabbit, Run

The fearsome “Shoe’s” Rab at the 1981 Bilstein Rabbit Cup race at Mid Ohio.

I really liked my Rabbit and was interested in exploring its higher-performance aspects. (This was well before the arrival of the first American GTI, in 1984.) I was back in Chevy Chase, MD, having finished both my stint in San Francisco and a full four-day course at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Sonoma, CA. In Maryland I met one of my wife’s co-workers, who campaigned a Rabbit in the SCCA-sanctioned Bilstein-Rabbit Cup. He liked my credentials and “hired” me as his wrench and crew chief. Shortly after I showed up at his home-based garage, I discovered a milk crate containing his tool collection; it comprised a variety of crappy open-end wrenches, and also his crowning glory: a dog-bone wrench from some bicycle tool kit. I had met “The Shoe”.

Given the car’s “Malibleu” paint job, as team “designer”, I had no option but to model the car’s looks after the Le Mans Gulf Wyer Porsches. From my contacts within the screen-printed vinyl biz, I was able to get all the markings gratis.

At Charlotte, the first race of the 1981 season, we finished 13th–just one position behind a friend whose very potent car was partially sponsored by Calloway Turbo.

“The Shoe” at Mid Ohio, just cruisin.

Our next race was Mid Ohio. On the drive there from my friend’s home in West Virginia, I asked him just what his local mechanic had done to prepare the car. He answered that the mechanic had gone over the car thoroughly, at a cost of $50. I knew right away that we’d have some work to do once we got to Mid Ohio, where we qualified 27th in a 31-car field. I told my friend that we wouldn’t be going out for practice Sunday morning because I’d be tuning the car. After some protest, he eventually relented and ceded to my demands, perhaps since he seemed more interested in chasing skirt.

I spent three hours tuning up the car. The valves were off, the points shot, the condenser garbage, the plugs crap and the timing way off. I did my best to get the piece of dung ready to race while my driver was sniffing female pudenda.

Mid Ohio 1981.

The race began, and the mighty #18 began advancing. By mid-race we were 13th, but still equidistant from the lead pack and the back markers. Given the futility of the situation, our driver decided to cruise. Not a bad move; we finished 13th.

After the race, I was visited by a Texas team that had been pitted close by. They said they’d seen me working all morning and knew that I was responsible for improving our car’s finishing position. Wow! I felt special, sorta like A. J. Watson, but then again not. That was my last race with “The Shoe”.

At Mid-Ohio I became better acquainted with the man who won the race, Ed Mautner. He said he’d like to have me as his crew chief for next year’s race. Our first collaboration was at the first (and last) race of the season, at Road Atlanta, in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

Ouch! Doesn’t look like this will buff out.

Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of Ed’s car before the BIG EVENT, which occurred on the last corner of the last lap of the race. After Ed made a seemingly successful pass on the seventh-place runner, the guy lost it, slid into the guardrail and came back across the track to collect Ed. Kaboomshah!

The driver and car owner makes a futile adjustment.

This chassis would not race again. The drivetrain went on to win in the following year at Mid-Ohio.

My Rabbit, which was two years old in the camping photos seen above, went on to serve me another 14 years. By then I had grown tired of cleaning and waxing it: De facto patina. And the tin worm was no longer just a cosmetic nuisance, it was terminal. The driver’s-side floor had rotted away, and from the driver’s seat I could see the tarmac below. What’s more, I was listing seriously to the left. I found a conveniently sized 2 x 4 in my shop and jammed it between the side sill and the seat. Que maravilla! I now sat square with the car. It was kinda like brand new! Then, on my two-mile commute to work one morning, I felt a big bang. I thought, hmm, must have hit a pothole. But the intersection where the big bang occurred was recently repaved and smooth as a baby’s butt. I got to work and went in to think about larger issues. That evening, I had my friend shine his headlights on the car’s right rear wheel/tire assembly. It was not where the factory said it should be, centered in the wheel well. The wheelbase on the right side was decidedly longer than that on the left. Once I got home I look a closer look at the damage. The right-hand mounting point for the twist-beam suspension had ceased to exist and was no longer connected to the body, apparently due to corrosion that had resulted from clogged sunroof drain tubes. So, at 136,000 miles, El Conejo Anaranjado was muerto. I picked up the phone and asked my dad if his ’88 Olds 98 Touring Sedan was for sale. “Silly Rabbit” was his response: Every car that he had ever owned was for sale. For five grand I became the proud owner of the Olds, and I put a ton of miles on it. But that’s another story.