The 1976 Spirit of Le Mans
by Steve Goldin
The Spirit of Le Mans car is really the former Rick Mancuso car. It is chassis #007 in the customer car series.
The customer cars are really a whole separate issue. They share a lot of the same technology and design as the Spirit cars, though. On the "customer car" series the roll cages extended beyond the front suspension mounting points to the front of the chassis. Front suspensions were standard GM A-arm style with springs and shocks mounted as separate units. Of course, Greenwood always used the Koni double-adjustable shocks and the needle-bearing bushings. They included both "trailing arm" conventional leaf spring and "coil-over" (rear-only) suspensions. Some of the rear "coil-over" cars even have a vestigial transverse leaf spring to meet specific series rules which required stock suspension configuration but also allowed supplemental springs. You'll have to follow that up separately, though.
Getting the story on the Le Mans car wasn't difficult, really. The ownership trail was fairly clear and when we were sanding down the panels for restoration we uncovered most of the earlier colors. Both the "Spirit" cars had been kept so close to the original configuration that we didn't really have to figure out very much. In fact I got the original CIBIE lighting for Le Mans as part of the purchase. We haven't put them on because they are so delicate.
I got the Le Mans car from Jack Boxstrom, also around 1992 -'93. He had bought the car from a guy in Atlanta, George Nuse. The car was drop shipped to Tampa and Jack didn't really get a chance to do much with it.
The car is chassis #007 and we have the original ID tag to show this. The car was built for Rick Mancuso, who runs Lake Forest Sports Cars in Lake Forest (near Chicago), IL. I think it was probably early 1975 when he bought the car from Greenwood. A lot of the body pieces look like they came off a 1973 or that era. Rick raced it for a few years and then sold it to Kerry Hitt, in Pennsylvania. He ran Trans-Am with the car. When he finished with the car, I think it went to Paul Canary (I'm guessing here) but I think he had an investor partner who wanted to restore the car and sell it. I think it went from there to George Nuse and then to Jack Boxstrom.
When built the #007 chassis was a basic GM-style frame with coil-over rear suspension and standard-style front suspension.
There were a couple of modifications done to the car when Kerry Hitt had it. He cut off the front chassis and body. He changed the front clip (chassis and body) to be able to move the engine further forward. He kept the original clip and when Paul Canary bought the car, Paul put it back to original spec. Greenwood looked at it when we were in Daytona and said that It's an original car. The driver's door still has the Le Mans running light. Most of the panels are original, although I think the car also took a pretty good hit at Daytona in 1977 or 1978 going into turn #1 but the restoration work seems to have been very good. The suspension and other pieces have all been verified by Greenwood. So we know we have the right car.
About the only thing that is not original on this car is the dash. John built the cars with the panels for buttons and switches "under-dash" but Kerry pulled that out and put in a panel box on the passenger side floor to keep his knees from hitting them. When we found the Sebring car, the original dash was all in tact so we saw how it was supposed to be.
The Le Mans car is much wider than the Sebring car and the wings on back are really tremendous. They work. We also "built-up" the engine a little on this car while it was being pulled apart.
The story about how the car got to Le Mans is also pretty interesting. I guess John Greenwood was about the only car owner ever to be paid to bring his car to Le Mans. In 1976 there was the fuel crisis and not many cars were signed-up. This was affecting projected attendance so one of the organizers, who had helped John in 1973, called him up and solicited some of that raucous North American iron. John's cars were always a bit hit with their big blocks and flag motif.
There are a few interesting stats on the Le Mans car but, unfortunately, there was not a whole lot of press coverage in the US. Also, because the car was a late entry, there is not much in the official program about it. I know that It did a 215.6 down the Le Mans straight. That engine was another Gary Smith (Carolina Racing Engines) product. It qualified 8th on the grid but did not finish. The magazines of the day reported that the car experienced damage to the fuel cell and that caused its withdrawal from the race.
While the car was being restored by Mark Cody at Creative Motorsports in Tampa, there was one small incident that was heart-stopping. Apparently, a storm front just a little weaker than a hurricane passed through and picked up the front clip (which was off the car) and moved it to the other side of the shop and then set it down without a scratch. They only told me about that one much later!
Another interesting story about the restoration is the paint job. We had to use a model car kit for the race car and copy the decal pattern. Apparently when the model companies were building their models they would come and take photos of the car and then make the model from that. So we just worked backwards to get that specific configuration.
We did take the Le Mans car entirely apart and do a more thorough job of repairing and restoring things as we put it back together. The injections systems on this car is original but I am not so sure about the injection system on the Sebring car.
In conclusion, I plan to take the cars out and have a good time with them. Some of the vintage racing is getting pretty intense these days, but I think I can stay cool enough to avoid crashing. At least that's the plan. I can only run them in one of the Historic Racing or SVRA series. But both cars are sitting there ready to go. The only thing I need now is a little help from John in getting them setup.