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Old-School GT Imports - Long Beach GP 2019

Wide bodied, engine swapped, production-based racing machines from a generation ago take to the streets in the Historic IMSA GTO Challenge

Apr 18, 2019

If one of our jams is import cars from 20 to 30 years ago, it follows we also like to see those same vehicles stretched out and reconfigured for racing. Motorsports has always been a muse for people who like to modify, and a production-based race car—complete with aero and all the extreme go-fast goodies—is about as goals as they come. It's like this now and was like this in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, during the rise of non-domestic car brands in the United States. Accordingly, the era also witnessed an influx of Japanese and European platforms into the ranks of racing series across the country. Cars like the FC generation Mazda RX-7 and Nissan S13 240SX and 300ZX rose to prominence in competition, especially in the International Motor Sports Association's, or IMSA's, GT championships.

At the 2019 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Historic Motor Sports Association brought out a handful of those classic imports to take part in the weekend's Historic IMSA GTO Challenge, a 20-minute, Saturday afternoon affair that also included Fords and Chevys, and long-dead Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, Buicks, and Mercurys from the period. The race appeared to have more than just GTO-class platforms, which is a category limited to grand touring-type cars with engines of 2.5L (and later, 3.0L) displacement or more; in fact, the S13 seemed to be from the GTU class (engine under 2.5L/3.0L displacement), while the Z32 had the sticker for the GT-S1 group, that is Grand Touring "Supreme," a marketing move by onetime series sponsor Exxon.

Long beach GP 2019 old school GT imports Nissan 300ZX GTS Photo 2/37   |   Long Beach GP 2019 Old School GT Imports Nissan 300ZX GTS

Craig Bennett from Milford, Michigan drove the no. 76 Clayton Cunningham Racing 300ZX GT-S1 to victory lane in the GTO Challenge, a car that once carried Steve Millen and Johnny O'Connell to sports car wins throughout the early 1990s. Joel Miller from Irvine finished in second in the no. 62 RX-7 GTO, an entry powered by the same four-rotor engine found in the famous 767B Group C prototype that won the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans and currently resides in the basement collection at Mazda North America's research and development building.

Long beach GP 2019 old school GT imports 300ZX IMSA GTS Photo 3/37   |   Long Beach GP 2019 Old School GT Imports 300ZX IMSA GTS
Long beach GP 2019 old school GT imports Mazda RX 7 IMSA GTO Photo 4/37   |   Long Beach GP 2019 Old School GT Imports Mazda RX 7 IMSA GTO

Elsewhere in the pack, Martin Lauber from Tiburon piloted his no. 64 1976 Porsche Carrera 935 RSR to 12th overall, a car that has an extensive history in the IMSA Camel GTO championship from 1981 until 1985, including several appearances in the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring. Philip Mendelovitz from Tarzana brought home the no. 95 1991 240SX GTU in 16th, a full tubed chassis "S13" with Nissan VG30 power (Z32 engine) under hood and 16-inch Panasports all around.

Long beach GP 2019 old school GT imports 1976 Porsche Carrera Photo 5/37   |   Long Beach GP 2019 Old School GT Imports 1976 Porsche Carrera
Long beach GP 2019 old school GT imports 240SX GTU Photo 6/37   |   Long Beach GP 2019 Old School GT Imports 240SX GTU

This Audi 200 Quattro from the Trans Am series was not on the track but in the GTO Challenge paddock and has a great story. In 1988, Audi entered Trans-Am by contracting Bob Tullius Group 44 Racing, and under the command of hot shoes Hurley Haywood, Walter Rohrl, and Hans-Joachim Stuck won 8 out of 13 events that year. Audi moved to IMSA by the end of the season, but its sanctioning body—the SCCA—would change class regulations to limit it to two-wheel drive only, thus outlawing the 200's Quattro AWD system.

Long beach GP 2019 old school GT imports Audi 200 Quattro Trans Am Photo 7/37   |   Long Beach GP 2019 Old School GT Imports Audi 200 Quattro Trans Am

As for the actual race itself, this was our first time actually paying attention to a historics competition, and it was kinda weird. The owners of these vehicles are generally their drivers, and they're more hobbyists than hard chargers. While most of them would get on the throttle on the straights and open up their babies, most of the time they were extremely cautious around traffic and the street circuit's wall-lined shoulders. Seldom have we seen so many wave-bys in a race—enjoy the gallery of cool imports from the Historic IMSA GTO Challenge at the 2019 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Bob Hernandez
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