18 VINTAGE MOTORSPORT Nov/Dec 2009
G. BABINEAU METALSMITH
BECAUSE YOU CAN'T LOUVER FIBERGLASS!
Babineau Metalworks LLC.
18 VINTAGE MOTORSPORT Nov/Dec 2009
The New Edition
PHOTO STEVE ROSSINI
p18_BrockYates_096:vms_ 9/23/09 8:58 AM Page 18
Throughout the course of my long and storied career I have offered my sometimes-volatile opinion and often questionable expertise to the field of automotive journalism. I have written at times under a deadline and at other times for the pure love of the craft. I have driven at awe inspiring speeds in legendary automobiles, and clunked along clogged interstates in pale shadows of racing’s noble brethren. In light of these experiences, I am always fascinated by the question I am most asked; “What is my favorite?”To those of you who are curious, I will offer a little insight. I have never been prone to picking favorites. Of all the tracks and drivers and cars, I have never picked one as a favorite. Of course I have preferences, but my interests evolve, technology improves, and times change, making favoritism transient. This inability to make a declarative number one pick has never hindered me, but has instead allowed me to welcome variety into the mix of vehicles I choose to own. While never a hoarder, I do have a penchant for collecting ... hotel keys, matchbooks, photographs, books and, given my career—cars. Although much of my collections are based on happenstance and sentimentality, the vehicles I own are chosen with forethought, based on historical relevance, rarity, accrued knowledge, and an indescribable emotional connection. Given the criteria I implement in collecting cars, the process can be laborious but each addition to my collection becomes a treasure. My newest addition, and passion, is a 1956 Kurtis-Kraft 500F rear-drive Novi that was replicated from the ground up by noted automotive builder, Gary Babineau. The Novi, considered the “fastest car never to win at Indy” has a notable history, including a curse that lingers to this day.
The Novi was created through the determination of one man who believed he could win the Indianapolis 500. Lew Welch, a factory owner from Novi, Michigan, who manufactured parts for the Ford Motor Company, believed he had the skill, ambition, and contacts to create a winning Indy racer.
Over the span of two decades, with the help of Fred Offenhauser, Jean Marcenac, Leo Goosen, A.J. Watson and the Miller Engineering Company, Welch was able to create, recreate, and ultimately fine tune the Novi into one of the most exciting race cars to never fully live up to industry expectations and yet always whet the crowd’s appetite for more. The Novi was reproduced through collaboration between myself and Gary Babineau, who is a truly gifted artisan with the insight, brains and talent to get the job done. This is one sexy vehicle. Babineau is a craftsman in the truest sense of the word and his skills and workmanship are much sought after in not only the auto industry, but also in the fields of medicine and defense. He kept me apprised via photo documentation and email, methodically
chronicling his process and intent throughout, while enabling me to watch the transformation step by step. The No. 31 Novi is a pearlized crème brulee in color, the gold leaf numbers outlined in red. We tried to get an original Novi engine, but at a quarter million dollars, we chose a more wallet friendly Maserati engine for aesthetics even though it does not have quite the same power. This replica boasts a DOHC V8 that produces 600hp, topping out at around 185mph, and although Gary has only driven at 150mph to date, he feels strongly that it can comfortably do more. Exacting in his detail, this Novi, unlike its front wheel drive predecessor, has a rear drive chassis with solid front and rear axles, a 96-inch wheelbase, torsion bars, a front mounted supercharger, a scoop nose which feeds air to the carburetor, and a scoop on the cowl which cools the magneto. A master engineer and machinist,
Babineau created every part of this vehicle recreating not just an automobile, but also a piece of racing history. We introduced the Novi at the 2009 Greenwich Concours d’Elegance, and like virgin brides on our wedding night, we eagerly, yet nervously, awaited the event. The response was amazing and we left the event feeling confident we had paid tribute to not only the original Novi, but also to Ralph Hepburn and Chet Miller who died racing automobiles they truly felt could make history.
The Vintage Grand Prix at Watkins Glen enabled a larger audience to view the Novi and the response was electric. The SVRA, aided by Bob Wilson and Carl Jensen, facilitated the event, allowing us to run the Novi on the world-renowned track. My crew, consisting of Gary Babineau, Andy Hurtubise, Oscar Roberts, myself and automotive photographer Steve Rossini eagerly approached the weekend and it lived up to expectations. The highlight was, of course, watching Andy Hurtubise, son of famed race car driver Jim Hurtubise, take a solo lap around the Glen. Jim Hurtubise drove the original Novi and watching Andy, who looks so much like his father, alone on that track ... time stood still. Andy wore an exact replica of his father’s original uniform created by Hinchman Uniforms and the resemblance was uncanny.
A number of people who knew Jim Hurtubise stopped to watch the son walk in the footsteps of his father. It was a memorable day for everyone involved. All along its been about the Novi but I realized as I watched Andy drive down the straightaway that it is also about the people and the history behind the car ... keeping that alive, and the connections that we all have to this sport is what we can memorialize. We’ll take the Novi to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance next and hopefully blow the doors off the competition. Although many purists may scoff at a replica with its modern day brakes and safety measures, this car remains true to its origins, paying homage to its past, and I proudly stand by the newest addition to my collection.