The Heritage Cars Of BF Goodrich

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Thanks to BF Goodrich, I am in Phoenix, AZ to test out the new Comp 2 All Season tire (don’t worry, a full review will be coming shortly). Last night, however, there was no driving being done, just an orientation on the tire, a history of the company’s revolutionary and perhaps radical application of technology in racing, some dinner, and a few drinks. As part of that orientation, BF Goodrich trotted out a few of their more important “Rolling Historic” touchstones. I certainly enjoyed being in the same room as a Le Mans winner, a Pikes Peak winner, and a tire innovation watershed car all in the same evening. I only have these questionable phone camera snaps of the cars, but hey, better than nothing, right? Click through the jump to see what else they brought (Don’t worry, it’s well worth your time!)

As of the time of writing, I don’t have any experience with this tire at all. I remain skeptical that an all season tire can perform even half as well as a dedicated summer performance tire. We’ll see if what they claim is indeed true. We’re running autocross events in the dry and in the wet, as well as performing some braking tests in a series of cars, including a 2015 Mustang V6, a Scion FR-S, and an Audi A5. I’ll tell you all about how I feel after I’ve given the tires a testing. Honesty is the best policy, and you shouldn’t expect anything else from the Hoon!

Car #1: The BF Goodrich “BFG Radial Tire Bird” 1970 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (First Production Car to win on radial tires)

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Supposedly nobody is quite sure how many Tirebirds were made, but this one appears to be the same one that was advertised through Hemmings back in 2010. Since then, the car has apparently fallen into the clutches of Mr. Bruce Canepa, who was more than happy to loan the car out to BFG for this week. He even made sure the car was in tip top shape by touching up a few rock chips and giving it a thorough concours quality detailing before shipment. It was presented in a near perfect state. Gosh, what a lovely car.
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This car raced in a number of Trans Am events, some SCCA nationals events, and even the Daytona 24 and Sebring 12 hour races. It’s been around the block a few times, and it’s conquered a few of those blocks.
This car was the first production car to win a race, any race, on a set of belted radial tires. Way back in 1970, radial tires were still new tech, and this car won the Watkins Glen SCCA national A Sedan race outright using them. Of course, they were BF Goodrich, because of course they were.
I’m hereby issuing a mandate that all muscle cars be run on a set of minilite wheels. They just look the bit, don’t they?
How do you keep your drivers cool in the 1970s? Direct more airflow into the cabin, of course. If a modern day aerodynamicist were to see something like this on one of their cars, they just might blow a gasket.
Tidy cabin, though. Not much to control in those days. Check out that short back seat. I can’t imagine what kind of support that would offer in a collision. Especially one with something like a wall.

Car #2: Rod Millen’s 1998 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Toyota Tacoma (Pikes Peak Winner)

I was absolutely honored to even be in the same room as this car (Truck? Car. Yeah, car.). Rod Millen is a legend, and this truck is part of the reason for that legendary status. In 1998, Millen drove this truck up Pikes Peak like a madman, not quite breaking his own record, but still winning overall. In 1999, he repeated the feat, giving him his fifth Pikes Peak title.
While the Tacoma bodywork is nothing more than a carbon fiber shell on a chrome-moly tubeframe (Because #Marketing), it is a development of the Celica bodied racer that ran before it from 1994-1997. The Celica won three times (94, 96, and 97) leading the way for the Taco truck to win.
It may be difficult to tell from this photo, but the tires on this truck are deeply grooved. In order to be fast on the mountain in those days (back when a lot of the course was still dirt), you needed to have traditional grip for the paved section, but had to have grooved tires with solid sidewalls and tread blocks for the gravel section. These tires looked really interesting.
These tunnels were HUGE. I’m pretty sure they were for a pair of massive radiators. Cars start running pretty hot at altitude, as there is less air to flow through and cool the radiators. Turbo cars create a lot of heat, on their own, I can only imagine how hot this thing was after just over 10 minutes of hard acceleration and braking. The Toyota engine du jour for this exercise was my favorite, the 3SGTE mill.
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Even by the late 1990s, there wasn’t much in the way of switchgear in this high tech carbon monster. It looks pretty comfy in there, if a bit close quarters. I can just imagine the Good Rod Almighty sitting there amidships with arms flailing about on his way up the hill.
It is worth noting that the sister car to this one was Down Under at Rod’s relatively new “Leadfoot Festival of Speed”.

Car #3: 1984 Lola-Mazda T616 (Le Mans C2 Class winner)

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After our initial orientation in the room with the Tirebird and the Pikes Peak wonder, we were shuffled into a second room next door where two further cars were waiting. I had my suspicions that this one would be there, but I still didn’t believe it when my eyes locked on it. I have loved this beauty for a long long time. Back in 1984, the car proved a few things. First, that a Japanese manufacturer had the ability to produce a Le Mans winning engine (Mazda wouldn’t win overall until 1992). And second, that BFG had a serious contender in its T/A Radial tire.
Who doesn’t love a bit of front-wing downforce? While this concept hasn’t exactly lasted the test of time in modern motorsport, it was pretty much everywhere in the late 70s and early 80s. Lamborghini even put a front wing on the Countach for a while.
In order to keep the car on the ground, the T616 used a massive underbody tunnel system. It was a bit dark in the ballroom, but I probably could have crawled up into one of the tunnels on this car and taken a nap. I’m not sure why I didn’t, now that I think about it.
After dinner, when most of the rest of the group was milling about with drinks in hand schmoozing, I wandered back over to the Lola Mazda and had a more in-depth look at things. Nobody was really paying attention to me or the car, so I popped the driver’s side (right side) door open and had a peek inside. I guess you could say I took a page from the “Longroofian’s Guide To Begging Forgiveness Rather Than Requesting Permission” manual. There’s an old adage that applies here; “If you look like you know what you’re doing, you can get away with anything”. I’m still not sure if I should have opened it up and gotten in, but I didn’t hurt anything, so hopefully BFG and the car’s owner don’t mind.
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This is just an old aftermarket wood knob that has been heavily modified to fit on the shifter. I wonder if Jim Busby could tell me if this is as he’d designed the car, or something that was added on later. Either way, I thought it was supremely interesting that the car used a dogleg 5-speed manual trans. How many shifts must it have endured in a 24 hour race?
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Right side radiator inlet just aft of the door opening. An interesting viewpoint, in my eyes. I really do wish I’d had a better camera with me for dinner and better lighting with which to show off some of these details. Sometimes working with what you’ve got is the name of the game.
Yeah, this is cool. I got to sit inside a Le Mans winner. Yeah, okay, I didn’t fit all the way, and yeah, okay it wasn’t an overall winner, but I can still say that sentence and it’s technically true.

Car #4: 2015 Radical SR3 RSX

While not exactly historic, this car was on hand, and it was on a set of BF Goodrich tires. It looked lovely.
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A 1.5 liter bike motor in a lightweight open top track day toy? Yeah, I’d like a hand at the wheel of one of these.
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Another bit of interesting anecdote. I was told that attempts were made to track down the Miller High Life Porsche 962 (the one in the middle of this picture) for the event, but the owner of the car couldn’t justify shipping it over to the states from The U.K. where it is currently stored. If BFG had managed to get a 962 in the room, I’d still be sitting there drooling all over the carpeted floor. I might have broken down in tears.
All photos ©2015 Hooniverse/Bradley C. Brownell, All Rights Reserved.

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  1. smokyburnout Avatar

    Looks like the Tacoma was shined up for this show by the man himself

  2. jim Avatar

    “This car was the first production car to win a race, any race, on a set of belted radial tires.”
    Am i missing something ? The 1950 Lancia Aurelia (the first production car factory equipped with radial tires) won boatloads of races between 1950 and 1963.

    1. Bradley Brownell Avatar
      Bradley Brownell
      I defer to keepers of history, Canepa Design.
      Perhaps there is some further qualification of that record, I’m not sure.

  3. Kazo Avatar

    “The Toyota engine du jour for this exercise was my favorite, the 3SGTE mill.” Slight nitpick: the engine used in this vehicle as well as most of Toyota’s 4cyl race cars is the 503E. Only loosely based on the 3S-GTE, it’s made from magnesium and hardly resembles the 3S in any aspect.

    1. Bradley Brownell Avatar
      Bradley Brownell