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In the early 1950's, sports car racing was just getting started in the US. There were few rules, few clubs....and few cars to race. The car in the photo was the concept of two enthusiasts....John Fitch and Coby Whitmore. Fitch was an ex-WWII fighter pilot, who owned an imported car dealership in White Plains, New York. Coby Whitmore was a magazine illustrator. They were friends, and often raced Whitmore's XK120 together.
In 1950, they drove the 120 to Sebring to run in the Sam Collier Memorial Grand Prix. The car won it's class, but that wasn't good enough. Back home, designed a new lightweight body for the 120. The body work was carried out by Andy Salada, who hand formed the chrome moly frame and aluminum skins in his Bronx workshop. The finished car weighed just 2100lbs.
Although dubbed the "Le Mans Special" by it's builders, it has never been raced outside of the United States. After completion, the car was taken to Bridgehamption, where it placed fourth, first in class in it's very first race. Although it was raced several times in New York, and Connecticut events, it's career was cut short when John Fitch joined the Briggs Cunningham team in 1951. It continues to be raced in vintage competitions in the Northeast.
John Fitch went on to become an ace driver for Cunningham, placing as high as third with a C4R in Le Mans competition. In 1954, he was recruited as a team driver by Mercedes. His greatest triumph for Mercedes was winning the GT Class in the 1955 Mille Miglia, smashing the previous GT record by an hour. Fitch was partnered with the tragic Pierre Levegh for the 1955 Le Mans. In that race. Levegh was killed when his 300SLR left the track and crashed into the spectator stands. Over 80 spectators were killed, one of the greatest disasters in the history of auto racing.
Returning to the Cunningham team in 1956, he drove their new D-Types. Fitch racked up four second place and one first place trophies in US venues, such as Thompson and Elkhart Lake. Most of those second places were one-two Cunningham victories, with ace Walt Hansgen usually taking first.
Fitch continued racing and winning for many years. In the '60s he joined with Coby Whitmore once again to produce a limited series of high-performance Corvairs. Today, Fitch continues to take an interest in Limerock, a race track that he helped establish. He also owns and manages Impact Attenuation, Inc, a company that manufactures highway safety barriers.
Acknowledgement: This automobile is presented through the courtesy of Automotive Restorations, 1785 Barnum Avenue, Stratford, CT 06614. AR is a fully equipped automotive restoration shop, with expertise in Jaguar and other fine collectible cars. They can be contacted at 203-377-6745.
2001 Michael Frank, New York, all rights reserved.