Simanaitis Says

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Legends of Speed AT PHXART

THE PHOENIX ART MUSEUM is highly regarded by motor sports enthusiasts. There’s the Copperstate 1000 vintage car rally, run annually since 1991. Wife Dottie and I took part in this neat event’s first ten years. Back in 2007, I had the pleasure of being docent-for-a-day at the museum’s Curves of Steel automotive exhibit. This time around, the Phoenix Art Museum has Legends of Speed, a racing car exhibit running from November 3, 2019, through March 15, 2020.

Here are tidbits on three of the cars and events that brought them fame.

1911 Franklin. As described in, Ralph Hamlin’s Franklin placed second in the grueling 1910 Desert Classic, a race from Los Angeles to Phoenix long before Interstate 10 was the gleam in the eye of federal highway planners.

This and the following Franklin images by David Traver Adolphus from Hemmings, December 2010.

The Franklin bristles with fascinating technicalities. For one, its 301.5-cu.-in. six-cylinder engine is air-cooled, not water-cooled. For another, the Franklin has a peculiar array of exhaust ports.

Exposed valve gear wasn’t out of the ordinary for the era. But count the number of exhaust pipes.

Pipes 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8 are linked to the engine’s conventional six exhaust ports. The larger pipes 3 and 7 collect spent gases from auxiliary exhaust valves at the bottom of the Franklin’s six cylinders.

Unlike other Desert Classic competitors, the Franklin didn’t have to arrange stops to replenish water in the 100-degree heat. With its seaside portion, the 1911 event of 542 miles likely had more spectators than along the 1910’s 418 miles.

David Travis Adolphus reports in Hemmings that the Franklin’s “exhaust pulses are distinct and, thanks to the Franklin exhaust valve at the bottom of the cylinder, slightly irregular. Just at idle, it’s akin to having someone toss lit firecrackers at your head—snap, snapsnap, snap.”

Alfa Romeo P3. When I wrote about the Alfa Romeo P3 here at SimanaitisSays, I cited its “Winning Eccentricities.” Both words are easily confirmed.

Tazio Nuvolari and his Alfa P3 won the 1935 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. This and following images from Cars in Profile: Collection 1, edited by Anthony Harding, Profile Publications, 1973.

The Alfa P3’s domination between 1931 and 1935 had its greatest triumph at the 1935 Nürburgring against the German Silberpfeile, the Third-Reich-supported Silver Arrows of Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz. Masterful driving of Tazio Nuvolari played a role. But so did the design genius of Vittorio Jano.

This and the following illustration by L.C. Cresswell.

With eccentricities and all: The P3’s differential is mounted directly behind its gearbox, and twin driveshafts angle aft to bevel gears at each rear wheel. Benefits include reduced unsprung weight for enhanced rough-road handling and a driver’s seat nestled low between the vee for improved center of gravity.

The Alfa P3 2.6-liter twin-supercharged inline-eight.

Jano formed the P3’s inline-eight from two four-cylinder layouts, with power and auxiliary drive taken from their central mating. One benefit of this was eliminating the inherently whippy nature of a straight-eight’s long crankshaft.

1952 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. Just as the Alfa P3 was exemplary of Vittorio Jano’s wizardry, the 1952 Mercedes-Benz W194 racing car, and the production 300 SL which followed, were products of another engineering genius, Rudolf Uhlenhaut.

This Mercedes-Benz W194/300 SL won the 1952 Le Mans 24-hour race, with another W194 second. One of ten built, it’s exhibited at Legends of Speed. The W194 also placed 1-2 in the 1952 Mexican Road Race, later called the Carrera Panamericana. Photo from the Phoenix Art Museum by Bill Pack/V-12 Enterprises.

In the early 1950s, Uhlenhaut was given the responsibility of designing a Mercedes-Benz sports car, albeit powered by the 3.0-liter inline-six out of the staid 300 Adenauer sedan. Uhlenhaut fitted the engine with triple Solex carburetors. He also positioned it at a 50-degree angle for enhanced aerodynamics and low for an improved center of gravity. This required a dry-sump lubrication system rather than a conventional oil pan, but the tradeoff was beneficial.

Turning to the rest of the car, Uhlenhaut realized that lightness adds performance. He designed a space frame of triangularly positioned aluminum tubes and clothed it in bodywork of aluminum/magnesium alloy left over from wartime Junker bomber production. The W194’s greenhouse was lightweight plastic, not glass.

As an aside, the English Dellow sports car also profited from a post-war glut of aluminum. What’s more, its chassis made use of steel tubes from war-surplus U.K. rocket-launchers.

Uhlenhaut’s space frame would have been weakened through provision for conventionally hinged doors. So why not put the hinges in the roof—and have the doors open like gull wings.

Why not indeed.

Exhibit Details. Legends of Speed is in the Steele Gallery of the Phoenix Art Museum, November 3, 2019, through March 15, 2020. General admission to the museum is $23 for adults, $20 for those 65 or more, $18 for students with ID, and $14 for children ages 6-17. There are also Voluntary-donation times; see for full details.

And imagine the sounds these fabulous cars made, from the air-cooled Franklin’s collection of firecrackers to the Alfa P3’s complex snarl. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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