The Trans-AM 2.5 Challenge
The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) created the Trans-AM series in 1966 and continues to manage and promote the series today. The original Trans-AM series was divided into 2 classes; the Over 2.0 Liter (O-2) and the Under 2.0 Liter (U-2). Both classes ran in a single run group.
The first year of the Trans-AM series was 1966 and Alfa's were the dominate marque. The Under 2.0 (U-2) was pretty much B-Sedan with one notable exception, the Porsche 911. For reasons that aren't clear, the 911 was classified by both the SCCA and the FIA as both a sports car and a sedan? The 911 dominated the series in 1967 and 1968. In 1969 a number of events occured that would shape the 2.5 series and for two brief years allow this series to provide great battles between Alfa's, BMW's and Datsun's. The most notable change was that the Porsche was no longer allowed in the U-2 group.
In January 1969 a critical loss to the series occurred when SCCA Chief Executive John Bishop left the SCCA in disgust and formed what would become IMSA. Bishop provided the vision and leadership to get the Trans-AM series off the ground and had built the series on a solid foundation that would attract deep pocket sponsors. Unfortunately he had also been a professional among amateurs that really did not understand how to run a successful pro series. However Bishop's IMSA activities would be a major influence on the Trans-AM series a few years later.
1970-Trans-AM flourishes and Under 2.0 becomes a separate race group
The American car manufacturers moved into Trans-AM (O-2) in a big way. 1969 and 1970 proved to be the best years of the O-2 series with great racing and large amounts of factory sponsorship. 1970 also saw the beginnings of great sedan racing in the U-2 series with battles between Alfa's and BMW's. Other cars that competed that year were; Fiat-Abart, Mini-Cooper, English Ford Escort, Datsun 510 and Volvo PV-544
As the muscle of the "pony cars" began to arrive on the scene, they began to outpace the U-2 cars by a wide margin. Not only did this make for a bad show, it was not a very safe condition. For this reason the U-2 class was removed from the O-2 group and became a separate race group.
Notable events in 1970
Alfa wins Manufacturers Championship and most every race. There was no drivers championship however Horst Kwech drove his Alfa to a top 4 finish in every race of the season! He had 3 wins, six seconds, one third and one fourth.
1971-The 2.5 Challenge Begins
The old saying that a light bulb burns brightest just before it goes out could easily be applied to the 1971 and 1972 Challenge. Rule changes allowed larger motors and new cars would come into the series during the year that would make for an exciting points race. However storm clouds were brewing for the O-2 series that would impact the entire Trans-AM series. Pollution laws, the Nader crowd complaining loudly about high horsepower cars and the ever present mis-management by the SCCA would take their toll before the end of the season. By the start of the 1971 season only AMC (Javlin) provided significant factory support and sponsorship to an O-2 Trans-AM team. But for a brief period the 2.5 Challenge would be a shining star of great sedan racing action.
Datsun wins the Manufacturers Championship. They had tied with Alfa in points but were awarded the Championship because they had won more races (6 for Datsun, 4 for Alfa).
The Laguna Seca Story
The original schedule for 1971 did not show Laguna Seca. This race was added after the Kent (WA) race was canceled. The story is that Peter Brock, owner of the BRE Datsun team, approached Laguna Seca managment with a Datsun backed guarantee to buy $6,000 (typical 2.5 purse) worth of tickets if they would add a 2.5 race to their scheduled Can-Am race. It seems as if the cancellation of the Kent race put the Datsun team out of the championship points race and they needed another race to have a chance to win.
A tight points race would mean a high probability of a great race. And it was. There was enough "rubbing" to bring tears of joy to a NASCAR fan. This included one hard hit by Kwech on Morton that almost put Morton out at the corkscrew. As the race progressed the Datsun made its only pit stop for fuel but the Alfa did not stop and Morton was now far behind Kwech's Alfa. The Alfa did not stop for fuel as the car had a problem with their track side fueling location and the SCCA would not allow them to refuel the car unless the filler was changed to a pit side location. The Alfa team didn't change and therefore could not stop for fuel. Kwech ran out of fuel just after he took the checkered flag for what appeared to be a win.
Not stopping for fuel had raised a few eyebrows and attracted the interest of the tech inspectors. When Kwech's fuel tank was tested for its capacity it was found to slightly over 18 gallons. The rules provided that the maximum capacity was 15 gallons, clearly Kwechs fuel tank was illegal. He was disqualified and Morton was promoted to the winner which allowed Datsun to win the Manufacturers Championship.
1972-The Challenge Shines an the O-2 Class Slides
The slide of the O-2 series that began in 1971 continued into 1972. In fact things were so bad the O-2 series ended early for lack of interest. The 2.5 Challenge continued alone and put on quite a show with drivers such as Bobby Allison, Herschel McGriff, Bob Sharp, Sam Posey and Peter Gregg driving and winning using a celebrity car provided by BRE.
Datsun wins the Manufacturers Championship.
1973-The 2.5 Challenge Ends
The SCCA took another of its famous ill-advised turns and switched the Trans-AM series to FIA groups 1 through 4! This odd turn of events had the SCCA rules patterned after IMSA's rules. Remember that in 1969 the founder of the Trans-AM, John Bishop, left the SCCA to form IMSA and now the SCCA was trying to one-up him. The SCCAs effort failed and IMSA flourished.
There were only 6 races in 1973 and that number was cut in half in '74! Fields seemed to be made up of IMSA drivers using the Trans-AM for test and tuning. IMSA did run a "Baby Grand" series sponsered by B.F. Goodrich that was very similar to the 2.5 Challenge. It featured big purses and drew top drivers and cars but small sedan racing was done in the Trans-AM series.
Where to find Info on the Trans-AM 2.5 Challenge
The SCCA maintains a web page that lists the National Champions for each class since 1964. This listing includes the B-Sedan class.
Probably the best look at the Trans-AM series was published by Vintage Motorsports Magazine as a series of articles beginning with the July/Aug 1995 edition. The 2.5 Challenge is detailed in the May/June 1996 ('71) and the July/Aug 1996 ('72) issues.
The Stainless Steel Carrot; an Auto Racing Odyssey This book by Sylvia Wilkinson chronicles the early career of John Morton, the lead driver of the BRE Datsun Trans-AM 2.5 team. Although out of print this book is available within a week or two from order via the Amazon.com locator service.