12 March 2011
1950 Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special
- Chassis no. 79456
Sold for $198,000
To be auctioned on Saturday, March 12, 2011
- From the Estate of John M. O’Quinn
- An innovative early special conceived and driven by racing legend John Fitch
- Jaguar XK120 chassis, lightweight hand-formed aluminum body
With an ancestor who developed one of the first commercially viable steamships and being the stepson of a former Stutz executive, Indianapolis-raised John Fitch was fascinated by racing early on. A WWII fighter pilot, Fitch joined the burgeoning American sports-car scene and raced an MG TC in 1949.
In 1950, Fitch teamed with famed commercial illustrator Coby Whitmore to race Whitmore’s new Jaguar XK120. While the XK120 was a capable performer and the team won their class at Sebring in 1950, Fitch knew that aggressive weight reduction would unleash greater performance. A lightweight aluminum racing body, hand-formed by Andy Salada at Fitch’s own Sports & Utility Motors shop, reduced weight by some 800 pounds. New wire wheels widened the car’s track, larger “Alfin” drum brakes were fitted, the front torsion bars were reset, the rear was lowered, and hotter cams were added to the 3.4-liter DOHC six-cylinder engine.
The highly modified car was originally intended for Le Mans, but Fitch and Whitmore soon realized its exposed wheels and cycle fenders presented a clear disadvantage on long straights. Accordingly, the car was repurposed for use on the shorter American road-racing circuits of the era. In this element, the Fitch-Whitmore Special provided excellent acceleration, braking and handling, with remarkably flat cornering.
Still in its natural aluminum finish, the Fitch-Whitmore Special made its racing debut at Bridgehampton on May 26, 1951, where Fitch drove it to a class victory and fourth overall. Fitch’s international career quickly skyrocketed, with several drives for Briggs Cunningham at Le Mans, victory at the 1951 Argentine Grand Prix, the GT win for Mercedes at the 1955 Mille Miglia and a stint developing Chevrolet’s racing Corvettes. Nonetheless, Fitch raced this car three more times. Whitmore drove it as well until late 1952 when the car was sold to Gerry Georgi of Nyack, New York.
Mr. Georgi fitted a Buick V-8 engine and raced it at Lime Rock for a few years. The car remained in his family until 1973/1974 when it was sold to Jim Haynes, a family friend and former manager of Lime Rock who raced it occasionally and swapped in a Jaguar 4.2-liter engine and four-speed gearbox before selling it to Bob Grossman, who had raced with Fitch at Le Mans in a Corvette. Next, the Special was acquired by Joel Finn in the late 1980s. Finn made no modifications, entered a few races and used the car mostly for spirited driving. Randolph Lenz acquired it in 1990 and engaged Vintage Racing Services, Inc. to restore the car for VSCCA and HMSA-sanctioned events. The work was completed in 1991, and a period-correct 3.4-liter Jaguar DOHC “six,” rebuilt by Sasco Motorsports, was fitted.
Under Mr. Lenz, the Fitch-Whitmore Special often raced successfully against higher-powered cars. In 1992, it was entered at the Monterey Historics and displayed at Pebble Beach during the same weekend. It was also profiled in the March/April 2002 edition of Vintage Motorsport and aptly described as “one of the very finest early American pure road racers – and it would have been even more famous had John Fitch been a less impressive driver and raced it a few more years.” In 2009, it joined the private collection of the late John M. O’Quinn. As described in the aforementioned Vintage Motorsport article, it truly remains “one of the breakthrough examples of early American road-racing innovation.”
Please note this car is offered on Bill of Sale only.
AddendumPlease note that this vehicle is sold on a bill of sale only.
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