The Elusive BFG #49
by Wayne Ellwood
The history of the BFG/John Greenwood #49 racer was the subject of some debate back in the 90s. Different magazines carried references and articles citing other possible owners for the #49. In the final analysis, it was Phil Currin of Gainesville, Florida, who came out on top of this debate.
The story seems to go like this. The three BFG cars were sold by John and Burt Greenwood after the 1973 season. They didn't all go at once, however. John, and his brother Burt, ran #48 for a number of additional races. The trail can be easily confused by the fact that there were several other "Greenwood" cars built between 1969 and 1973, and at least two of these were very similar to the BFG cars. For example, prior to building the three BFG cars, John Greenwood had two specific cars which he ran between 1969 and 1971 on his way to two sequential SCCA championships. These two cars were sold to Mike Murray and Denny Long. It is unclear if Denny Long bought another "customer" car or if he only bought the one original car from 1969. The lack of documentation from thirty years ago is now a significant barrier to being absolutely precise on how many non-BFG cars there were and on saying where these cars ended up.
Phil picks up his story in late 1973 when he and Bruce Morton formed a partnership to buy a running race car from John Greenwood, in time for the 1973 SCCA run-offs at Daytona. Phil believes that the car they acquired was the Greenwood's #49 BFG Lifesaver Radial race car. The #49 car was the t-top variant of the BFG racers which was raced at Le Mans in 1973. A number of interesting points emerge as Phil tells his story of the initial purchase, the partnership and his subsequent repurchase of the BFG car in 1979.
One of the most interesting points which Phil relates is that throughout the entire period, up to the point at which Lance Smith spotted the old rear clip in Phil's garage, neither Phil nor Morton knew that this was possibly the #49 car.
Another point of some importance is the fact that Phil states that he has the receipts necessary to prove the ownership trail on the car. While some debate continues amongst other interested parties, Phil is clear enough as to which car he now owns.
So how did it all come about?
Bruce Morton was a friend of Phil Currin. In the early '70s Bruce often rented a ride from Phil and others; he was young, impetuous and wanted to race. Phil wasn't that much older and he knew how to prepare a car. The fact that this arrangement was more than a financial deal was also evident during my interview with Phil.
Late in 1973 Phil retired his 1963 which had been winning consistently over the years. A new ride was in order. Bruce was also looking for further excitement and, quite quickly, he came to Phil with a proposition. In effect, he told Phil that he had found a car and that they were going to be partners. Bruce put up somewhere around 92% and Phil put up the balance, along with the use of his truck, trailer and mechanical skill.
Phil was astonished at the speed with which Morton signed a deal for the Greenwood car. It seems that Bruce had simply called John Greenwood and asked for a car. The BFG deal had ended in July and there were several cars available. The white bodied t-top that was purchased was race ready.
In one of those fortuitous moments of clarity, Phil asked John for a receipt for the car. Normally a race car with no serial number just belongs to whoever has the key to the trailer; in this case, however, John stamped #01 on the cage and gave a receipt to that effect. On the way home, Phil was stopped by the Michigan State police and the value of documentation was proved for the first of many times.
In addition to the car, Morton/Currin bought a certain amount of equipment to go with it. They obtained John's special fueling rig which comprised a 6 foot long canister standing about 8 feet tall in order to get the full ram effect during refuelling. The Minilites which came with the car (plus 2 spares) were originally a four bolt pattern, apparently built for Roger Penske's Javelin program. When the sale did not go through, Greenwood had picked up the wheels at a good price; the holes were freeze-filled with a similar material and a five bolt pattern was re-drilled. Another distinguishing feature (at the time) was a special stainless steel fuel cell with dual pickups. This tank was subsequently moved to the Swiss Cheese car and then went astray.
Once back in Florida the car was given its final prep before being taken to Daytona. It was numbered as #99 (Phil's IMSA number) and, with John Greenwood on hand as technical adviser, they entered the run-offs.
Phil started and finished the race, while Bruce drove the middle section. Results for the race were not spectacular and, for unrelated reasons, the partnership was dissolved by mutual agreement shortly afterwards. Morton took the car back to John Greenwood's shop in Levonia, MI where a slab-sided wide-body conversion took place over the winter.
Morton then took the car to Vince Gimondo's shop in Florida to have the interior finished. The car was raced once in a special Cuban cultural promotional event in Miami, early in 1974. Morton blew the engine and the car was a DNF. It was returned to St. Petersburg where it sat until 1979. Several efforts by Morton to advertise it for sale in Autoweek generated little interest and, over the years, the price went steadily downward.
Meanwhile, Phil pulled out the 1963 car again and ran it for another half season. He then bought another Greenwood car from Mike Murray. Mike had bought one of the 1970/71 run-off cars from John around July 1971 and had taken it to the SCCA National Run-Offs in Daytona that year. It is thought that this was the same car as run by John Greenwood and Dick Smothers at Sebring early in 1971, as the Marathon Oil sponsored car.
Currin ran this car under Full Time Racing ownership until he crashed it in 1979 in an IMSA race in California, running All-American GT class. During this period Phil had lightened the chassis of the car so much that it had become known as the "Swiss Cheese" car. Phil now acknowledges that in his efforts to pare weight, the car had become too light and was not getting the traction it needed to put the power to the ground. It had also become quite flexible in the process.
Phil sold this car to collector Lance Smith who is now restoring it.
After the California crash, Phil again contacted Morton to see if the original white car was still for sale. It was, and two weeks later he ran it in the IMSA GTO class at Lime Rock.
In 1981 Phil rebodied the car with a rounded rear style and in 1982 he changed back to the slab-sided style produced by Competition Fiberglass, like earlier versions of the Swiss Cheese car.
Phil raced the car continuously as #99 (his IMSA number) from 1979 to 1989. Some notable elements of the #99 racing heritage, under Fast Phil's tutelage include:
1979 4 GTO IMSA poles + 1 fastest lap
1980 3 GTO IMSA poles, 2 GTO IMSA wins + 1 fastest lap
1981 3rd place in SCCA Trans-Am series
1982 1 pole position, tied for 2nd position in Championship; highest finish 2nd overall at Laguna Seca
1987 6th at SCCA run-offs
1988 4th at SCCA run-offs
1989 SCCA B-Prepared Autocross Championship (SE Division)
Both Bruce Morton and Phil Currin were aware that the car they had bought was an extremely good car, but neither knew that it might be the #49 car. As reported in other articles, it was not until Lance Smith spotted the original rear clip which Currin picked up with the car from Morton in 1979 that the story began to unfold.
The fact that only a few of the Greenwood cars (his own and customer cars) remain undocumented helps to narrow the trail. Also, the cage is in a style similar to those designed for the BFG racers. And no one is disputing that the rear clip is an original. The dash configuration and style of switches are similar to the other cars. And, Greenwood acknowledges that the t-top car did not receive as many of the custom-built pieces, like the floor panels.
However, the many changes which have been made to this active racing car over the years can easily confuse the lineage. One of these changes include the addition of side impact barriers to the cage. Another was the loss of the front clip, allegedly at the Miami race in 1974. If anyone has that piece of history, please call Phil right away. All of this to say that Phil's job has not been an easy one, but there are few that doubt his sincerity.
The Track Record
With respect to Le Mans history of the BFG cars, everyone knows that the #48 and #50 cars raced there in 1972 as #28 and #72. In 1973 it was the #49 and #50 cars that were sent to Le Mans and ran as #68 and #29, respectively. At the 1973 Le Mans event the #68 (US #49) car was not allowed to run after a post-tech accident on the streets of the town. Drivers Yenko/Labelle/Greendyke were disappointed by the decision but it proved pointless to argue with Gallic reasoning.
Phil adds details on the North American exploits of #49. According to his race records, #49 had also been racing at Daytona and Sebring in 1973. Car #49 was driven by Yenko and Bob Johnson at Daytona and by Jim Greendyke and Bob Johnson at Sebring. Interestingly, Phil Currin was still running the 1963 car (#99) at that time and finished right behind the #50 car. Car #49 finished 19th overall, 8th in GTO, with 183 laps completed. Phil finished 11th overall and 5th in GTO. Deductive reasoning will tell you where #50 finished.
350 CID engine
tilt steering column with handmade washer squirter and high beam switch
no specially molded pieces on interior
side impact bars added to cage
double-adjustable KONI shocks
brake master cylinder has vent tubes from each section
unique breather tube off driver side valve cover leading to canister
center support for quick release of aluminum radiator
big oil pressure gauge
modified dash with Greenwood-style gauges and protected switches
needle-bearing A-Arm bushings and steering arm bushings