For a couple of years, the TransAm campaign of Chevrolet was successfully operated by the team of Roger Penske (another former Chaparral Chap). They were the 1968 and 1969 champions. When Roger closed a deal with American Motors to race their Javelins in 1970, Chevrolet asked Hall to take over the Camaro team (according the story in Chevrolet = Racing? from Paul van Valkenburgh, Penske tried, unsuccessfully, to lay his hands on the original Chevrolet R&D vacuum traction car for his own CanAm campaign …). At the time Jim and his small team were already very busy developing the 2J. For some reason he didn’t say no however and because the 1970 type Camaro was a totally new car, very much time and efforts went into developing the racing sedans, meaning the development of the 2J didn’t go as fast as needed. Only Don Gates and Tom Dutton were left to sort out the very complex Group 7 car and as a result, in the end neither TransAm or CanAm series brought very much success. The performance of the vacuum cleaner we all know. The Camaros did some better and even managed to score a win.
One reason Jim didn’t say no was that he wanted to drive a race car again. To test himself behind the wheel after recovery of his Las Vegas accident in 1968. After seven races in the Camaro he decided to stop because the road to full recovery and being fully competitive again would be too long. He turned his attention to 2J development and hired Vic Elford to drive both his Camaro and the 2J.
The other Chaparral Camaro seat belonged to Ed Leslie, a sports car and endurance ace of the Sixties. I think I’ve read somewhere that he already drove for Penske and “came with the deal”. Leslie retired from racing at the end of the 1970 season. He passed away in 2005 (being born in 1921).
Karl Ludvigsen writes in his book ‘Chaparral, CanAm Racing Cars from Texas” that Milt Minter was another Chaparral Camaro driver. But I think this is not true. According to the book Race Report #4 Milt drove a ’69 Camaro during the 1970 season. The Chaparral team used type ‘70 cars and only two cars were entered. Or at least … I thought so, because …
I found some very informative websites (I trust you’ll return to The Chaparral Files) about Chaparral Camaro and vintage TransAm racing! Look at
http://trans-amseries.com and www.hemmings.com.
You will see lots of hot stuff including extensive tech specs. Nice detail on the Camaro is the transparent front spoiler. I bet they are the same Lexan stuff as already used on the skirts system of the 2J.
And yet more Chaparral mystery is added! It seems we’ll never get rid of it. Like it is said there have been THREE Chaparral Camaros. And Joe Leonard would have been a team driver too. But he isn’t mentioned in the list of drivers of RaceReport. In another book he’s present though (see results).
The sole remaining car is restored to the expense of $100.000 and still hits the track! The new owner is quoted: “The single biggest item that proved this car was real, other than all the documentation I have, is the dash, molded from fiberglass by Hall. It is the prettiest dash ever built for a race car."
Lucky guy, he has the real thing … But we’ll all have the opportunity to own and race a Chaparral Camaro as well! On our own track at home! Product developers of Scalextric: speed up a little please …