These 1966 photos, never seen before, reveal a Ford GT40 test session at Riverside

Laura Dapkus was sorting through some slides her late father-in-law had left behind when she found images from Ford GT40 test sessions at Riverside International Raceway.

“They were developed in March and June of 1966,” Laura explains while sharing them with us. “You can still see snow on the mountains.”

It startled her to find these pictures. She and husband Don had seen Ford v Ferrari, but until then she had no inkling her father-in-law had been part of the behind-the-scenes effort to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. As “a brilliant former airman” educated as an electrical engineer, Don Sr. was dispatched by Ford Motor Co. to observe GT40 test sessions and stand shoulder to shoulder with team members. And, crucially, he carried a camera.

Don Dapkus Sr. at Riverside International Raceway

She says, “I DID NOT EVEN KNOW ABOUT ANY OF THIS until the Ford v Ferarri movie came out and he was like, ‘Oh yeah, he worked with those guys.’ I’m like, ‘What the hell?'”

Laura’s messages, written in her signature exuberant style, are an enduring pleasure and often screamingly funny. She may be self-conscious about it and all that it reveals, but she’s an American original and I’ve pushed her to let me share the details without bowdlerizing.

It so happens that I know Laura and Don from a VW New Beetle crazyfest car show in Roswell, N.M., way back in June of 2000. I covered that one for the late and much-lamented Automobile magazine. Sometimes you leave on business and return with new personal friendships. The car show wrapped up with an alien-themed costume party on that Saturday night, so I dressed as a futuristic beatnik in sunglasses and a silver lamé tam and smock. As a magazine reporter without a date, I asked Laura to dance. Don wasn’t moving from his seat, but I thought she might like to shake it.

Don and Laura Dapkus archival photo.

Twenty-three years later, Don seems to have forgiven me for cutting in; we’re still friends, always learning new things about one another and following one another’s adventures.

Our recent exchange found Laura further describing her archival discoveries among the transparencies.

“I was going through his slide boxes and I’m like HORSE CAMP?! Whose pool is this? A camper? A boat? ICE FISHING? You know where I went? Indian princess day camp put on by the City.”

Laura was an only child in Torrance, also the offspring of an engineer. She grew up to follow Exene Cervenka and John Doe in the L.A. postpunk band X. She loved VW Beetles. With an MBA, she immersed herself in corporate work until becoming something of a refugee from it, spending a few years raising sheep on an 18-acre farm northeast of Dallas.

She shares another thought about Don Sr.: “He was a super interesting dude. He went ice fishing on the Arctic Circle and things like that.”

The Shelby American crew makes adjustments to a GT40 during testing at Riverside. Photo by Don Dapkus Sr.

The Ford GT40 swept the top three places at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 19, 1966, just weeks after some of the photography shown here. Fifty-eight days after that race and the controversial finish, Ken Miles died at Riverside during another test session. In the new book Shelby American: The Renegades Who Built the Cars, Won the Races, and Lived the Legend, author Preston Lerner notes, “He was the third driver to die in a Ford prototype in five months.”

“Don’s dad was so devastated, he changed jobs,” Laura says. In fact, car magazine editors gradually shifted away from coverage of fireball wrecks and dead drivers to consumer-friendly new-car coverage and genteel sporting events and shows.

Laura points out details about the photos. For example, the white jeans. “I want to say that anyone who wears white jeans to deal with cars is cool AF.”

We see Don Sr. in a portrait with a distant GT40 poised to strike. It is impossible to determine whether he has a pocket protector.

This low-slung car, which may be a Lola T70, was nearby in the pits. Photo by Don Dapkus Sr.

The blue number 12 looks like a Lola T70, and we can’t explain its presence. The Union 76 trash can is a special ornament (and choice way to convey the brand message).

Laura Dapkus photo.

The pit lane scene depicts a crew member in the “Cobra” shirt and the brimmed hat. Matt Damon’s portrayal of Carroll Shelby in Ford v Ferrari includes wearing a wristwatch on the right arm, but we showed the photo to Lerner, who thinks Shelby wouldn’t be wearing a uniform and we may be looking at engineer Carroll Smith. In an early 1965 photo included in Shelby American, Smith is seen also with a watch on his right wrist, the “cool AF” white jeans that even Shelby is wearing, and tasseled loafers. And Lerner adds that Smith wore a bush hat.

We are struggling to I.D. the others. At far right is the Goodyear tire man. And who is that photographer?

The guy in the light blue jacket at far left must be looking for spies from Maranello.

There’s a reason this report posts on Valentine’s Day.

“The Ford pics,” Laura says, “I am making 3 of them into gallery wrapped prints for Don for Valentine’s Day. It’s going to be a very cool arrangement.”

Happy Valentine’s Day to everybody: Get up and dance!

A Galaxie in all its fullness is enough to overfill the garage

Isolating the model and trim level isn’t always easy, but my reference source leads me to say the car pictured with this post is a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 XL. Mid-1960s Fords always appealed to me, although this didn’t mean I learned to distinguish every detail. The cars looked fast and must have passed by too quickly. Yes, that’s it!

Not long ago I happened upon a Galaxie in repose and had the chance to admire it. The odometer says 40,030 miles, and it’s easy to believe that’s total mileage and the car is original. A color chart suggests our present convertible wears Wimbledon white with the interior in light BlueMet. (A dark blue metallic was also offered.)

A “390” badge on each front fender indicates the XL’s optional 390-cubic-inch V-8, although there were two versions of this engine. The 275-horsepower one was a $78 option while the mighty 315-horse was $158.

Base price for the convertible was $3,493, and some 5,161 units of the XL were produced.

Lesser models were the Galaxie 500 V-8 with the 289 c.i. engine and the six-cylinder Galaxie 500. A convertible version of each was available.

I always wondered about “Galaxie.” A surprise from Ford, use of the French word may have been intended to suggest vast potential, and it did add charm.

Even a hardtop would be a great collector car, although a quick measurement of my garage shows the maximum length of 18.5 feet to work with. The Galaxie 500 stretches to 17.75 feet, leaving eight inches to play with.

As we know from Einstein’s theories, the way around galaxies is through wormholes, and that’s approximately what would be left for transiting past the parked collectible on the way from the kitchen to the trash cart.

Amending a slight to the Studebaker Champ: it was a ‘handy, husky-built beauty’

Yes, I sure did put my foot in my mouth last week when writing about the 1960 Ford F-100 and never being a fan of pickups with carlike styling. Chevys and Dodges of the latter 1950s were too fussy. Studebaker Champs that looked like Larks were also off-putting.

Oops! In response, from Bob Merlis, I received a photo of his pickup doing the hard work of hauling landscaping material. The photo came with a caption: “Have owned this 1960 Studebaker Champ pickup for the past 17 years. It’s rough but it works … if I remember to put gas in it.”

He may be referring to the time I helped out by shuttling him to his stranded truck with a gas can. Or was it his Studebaker Avanti that was stranded?

Bob’s Champ–what a great name for a truck!–is seen above (his photo) in MFH Merlis for Hire livery. The logo represents his music publicity firm in Los Angeles.

Studebaker had made trucks as early as 1914 but not in large volumes. The company’s pickups emerged in 1937. The Champ was new in 1960. My reference source, Standard Catalog of Light-Duty Trucks, gives this interpretation:

“Borrowing from the concept of the original 1937-39 Coupe-Express, Studebaker took the Lark body and converted it to a truck front end and cab. Except for being chopped off behind the front door and featuring a brawnier grille and bumper, the styling, including the instrument panel, was identical to a 1959-60 Lark four-door sedan. The new cab was called the ‘T’ cab.”

Two models were available: the standard T4 and Deluxe T6. Distinguishing the T6 is easy: look for the gaudy touches like chromed instead of painted hubcaps. Other luxuries were the bright metal windshield trim, sliding rear glass, and dome light.

In worthy original condition, Bob’s Champ is a rare beast: 8,294 units were produced for 1960. To blame for the low volume was the steelworkers’ strike from July to November of 1959, leading to model-year production being delayed into the spring of 1960 (and to the importation of steel that would nearly wipe out the domestic industry).

“No matter what Studebaker did, they had no luck in increasing truck sales,” Standard Catalog says.

Four engines were available: 170-cubic-inch flathead six, 245-c.i. flathead six, overhead-valve 259-c.i. V-8, and overhead-valve 289-c.i. V-8.

Like the Ford, which came with the Lifeguard steering wheel, the Champ also featured a “safety steering wheel.”

Bob’s Champ scampers around its home base of Palm Springs with the small six. Fitted with the single-barrel Carter carb, it generates a “whopping”–says he–90 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque.

“Yes,” he says, “it was the Raptor of its day.”

The small-six SE5 variant fetched $1,875 in standard T4 trim and $1,912 in deluxe T6 get-up.

A poetic ad campaign supported “America’s Lowest Priced Pickup–Bar None!”

Brand New Champ by Studebaker

handy, husky-built beauty–

yours for thrift and rugged duty

How interesting to see the sign painter at work (and the Merrick & Son title) in the pictorial. Note the Lark lurking in the background. Doesn’t it looks like a two-door?

The ad copy suggested that, like my friend Bob, “You’ll be mighty proud to take the wheel of this husky, handsome Champ.”

Nicked here, inscribed with rust there, this ’60 Ford pickup is still on the go

I came from a Ford family and have always loved Ford trucks. They looked purposeful yet had personality. Chevy and Dodge trucks were too fussy; I was never a fan of carlike styling for pickups. Studebaker Champs that looked like Larks put me off, too. International Harvester trucks were somewhere in between, and I had no particular objection to them. But from the very first, every Ford had an appeal, and this continues to the present: I’m nuts for the Maverick compact truck.

The F-100 series from 1957 to 1960 was my favorite when I was a youngster. The previous F-100 series from 1953 to 1956 looked a bit old-fashioned with their semi-pontoon fenders. When hot-rodders got hold of any of them, it was a different story. That shape begged for amplification from customizers.

The full-fendered 1957 model and its successors made more sense to me. There was something of a big-truck look. The 1960 model with quad lamps was the best of the bunch.

I stumbled on this example Sunday, Nov. 6 at the Palm Springs Vintage Market. Looking it over inside and out, I was struck by the simple steel stampings. You might say “cheap”–and price was an important consideration in the day before $100,000 electric pickups. The 1960 models spanned the $1,850 to $2,250 range. Buyers wanted attractive design, for sure, but utility was paramount.

Among merits of the ’57 F-100, it was wider and lower than its predecessor. Various improvements were adopted in the chassis (new spindles and kingpins) and suspension (longer, wider leaf springs). The wider windshield wrapped around at the corners. The driver benefited from pedals that were suspended from the dash rather than being floor-mounted. Buyers could choose from 10 colors. Flareside and Styleside models were available with steel or wooden bed decks.

It looks as though sales came in at about 110,000 units in ’57, which is trifling compared to today’s figures. But back then, no one was buying a pickup as a lifestyle accessory.

The quad lamps were introduced in 1959. For 1960 the front was restyled with sturdy-looking bar connecting the headlamp pods. Below is a grille with rectangular grillwork.

My reference book, Standard Catalog of American Light-Duty Trucks, says “improvements were made to the springs, door seals, electrical and exhaust systems.” Among included luxury feature were the dome light, driver-side sun visor, coat hook, and white plate covering the instrument cluster. The Lifeguard steering wheel with spokes that would flex and the double-grip door locks were safety advances. Forget about an automatic transmission, although four-wheel-drive was optional.

The best-seller was the Styleside at 113,875 units.

Lots of innovation was occurring in the truck market. In 1960, Ford introduced the Falcon Rachero pickup and the next year ushered in the Falcon Econoline van, station bus, and pickup.

You have to love the intact F-100 that was at the the Palm Springs Vintage Market. Somebody’s practically a genius for leaving it in original condition. Too bad there aren’t hubcaps though.

Leaving the auction stage, how could the driver not pause for a glory shot?

One of the best cars I ever drove was a vintage racer, but instead of being on the track, it was in an auction and I didn’t drive very far.

In saying “best,” I mean “favorite.”

The sale was conducted by Auctions America and held in Burbank, California, Aug. 2 to 3, 2013.

I went undercover for the late and much-lamented Automobile Magazine as a driver in the auction and reported on my experience.

Now my notes seem to be lost, and I can’t find the story.

From the two days of the sale, I remember driving a Ford Model A, a Fiat 1100 station wagon, and the single-seater pictured above. I don’t remember what else.

We drivers were supposed to receive random assignments, but I made sure to get the race car. It stirred up long-dormant feelings of excitement from my youthful days at the local speedways.

This car had a rasping, inline six-cylinder Ford engine, probably from the 1950s. It was easier to drive than expected. The engine wasn’t “cammy” and the clutch throw was not an athletic event.

When I got onstage I handed my phone to a publicist, asking for a picture after the lot was hammered down. (No recollection of the price.) It was a glory moment, and I’ve always treasured the picture.