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Holiday Party Dec 3

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The Road to Mosport—A Cure for the Assembly-Line Blues

Photos and story by Harry Kennison

1967 was my first summer working the swing shift at Ford's Wixom, Michigan assembly plant where they made "Tweety Chickens" and Continentals. It was also my first summer when my trusting parents afforded me the privilege of opting out of their now-annual trek to Tincup, Colorado (See the November 2007 Vintage Corner for Harry's escape from Tincup). To make this summer ever more memorable, my Dad had decided to leave his one-year-old Porsche 912 in my care during his month away in Colorado. (Thanks Dad!)

Most nights on the Ford assembly line, I'd hang front fenders on Thunderbirds and pop a few spot welds onto the firewalls of the Continentals as the chassis passed through the body shop three birds to one Continental in a seemingly endless parade of Detroit iron. Aside from the time when my spot welder got stuck in the windshield frame of a passing Thunderbird which went unnoticed until two more Birds had plowed into it causing the foreman to shut down the line, it wasn't what you'd call a challenging position.

Sometimes I'd fill in for a worker on vacation in the Thunderbird interior trim line, which is when I realized that assembly-line work was not for me, and I'd better stay in school (Michigan State). On those occasions, I was responsible for putting a speaker into the passenger-side door of two-door Thunderbirds (two screws) and then screw on a brushed aluminum trim plate over the speaker (four screws) as the nearly finished car chugged by on the assembly line that never stopped. At first I didn't realize that I was also supposed to put a speaker (two more screws) and trim piece (4 more screws) into the back door on four-door Thunderbirds in the same time it took me to do a two-door. This lapse of judgment on my part was quickly pointed out to me by the quality-control manager (I use the term loosely!), who came screaming down the line to find out "What idiot isn't doing his job right?!!!" Try as I might, I rarely succeeded in securing the front and rear speakers, both trim strips, and twelve screws before the hydraulic hose on my power screwdriver was stretched to its limit.

If your parents happened to be one of the unfortunate owners of a '67 four-door Thunderbird carrying my "trademark" mosaic signature left behind by my power Phillips Head on that right rear door, back chrome panel, I apologize. I'm fairly certain none of our readers would have been affected, or they wouldn't be in the Porsche Club.

It was after one of these interior-trim evenings in August that I decided I needed a vacation before going back to East Lansing for the fall semester. According to my Autoweek, Mosport, Ontario would be hosting the first-ever Formula 1 Grand Prix, and I intended to be there. So it was on a cloudy Friday morning that my younger brother and I set off for Mosport in my dad's yellow 912 with its resplendent factory chrome wheels.

We avoided the downtown Detroit traffic and cut up to Port Huron and across the Blue Water Bridge and into Canada. With the little 1600 SC engine humming away in back, we headed toward Toronto on the Queen's Highway. Now in 1967, Porsche's new 911/912 body style still turned a lot of heads, and one such head was a guy in a '60 Chevy who thundered by us at about 70 mph about 50 miles east of Toronto. With minimal urging from my brother, I passed him back at about 80. Being passed by some "fur-in" sporty car that was obviously nothing more than a hotted-up VW was more that he could take. Putting pedal to metal, he re-passed me going up a hill at nearly 90, only to find on the other side a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, complete with "Smokey the Bear" hat, planted squarely in the middle of the road with arm extended in a universal "halt" hand signal. As the Chevy driver pulled over, my brother and I innocently motored by and acknowledged the Mountie with a brief wave. After that encounter, we decided to maintain a more sedate pace.

The race weekend was everything I'd hoped for, nothing like the multi-billion-dollar commercialized business that it has evolved into over the past 40 years. Why these cars ran in the color of the countries from which they came, with little more than a tire or sparkplug decal discreetly placed on their flanks. And did I mention no wings! Can you imagine having a $8.00 general admission ticket and peering into a V-12 Eagle Weslake engine standing next to Dan Gurney? That's just what happened to my brother and me. Ever the patriot, when Dan found out we'd driven over from Michigan for the race, he thanked us for our support.

The drivers were a proverbial "who's who" of international racing—names like Surtees, Brabham, Hulme, Hill, Gurney, McLaren, Rodriguez, Amon, Stewart, Rindt, and my favorite, Jim Clark. Sadly, many of them wouldn't live to see the end of the decade, but on that weekend at Mosport, they put on an incredible display of car control in extremely soggy conditions. Clark jumped away to an early lead only to be stopped on the circuit by wet electrics. McLaren then assumed the lead in a new car of his own design powered by a banshee-sounding BRM V-12, but his battery would soon go dead. That would open the way for Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme to finish one–two in their Brabham-Repco V-8s. Hulme would go on to win the championship that year.

After the race, my brother and I loaded up the front boot of the Porsche with our damp tent and sleeping bags to head for home. Instead of merging onto some dirt access road, we were miraculously directed out onto the back straightaway along with dozens of other charged-up Canadian fans. It didn't take long for me to realize that I may not get this opportunity again, so like everyone else around me, we tore down the rollercoaster back straight with rain pouring off the windshield only to have to brake hard at the track exit. For a brief moment, I thought that I was part of the Formula 1 circus.

All in all, it was a weekend I'll never forget, and it sure beat the heck out of putting speakers and trim strips on '67 "Tweety Chickens."

 


  Click on any photo to enlarge it

The 1966 Porsche 912 at rest on the Queen's Highway on the way back to home from Mosport, Ontario.

The field dives down the hill past Mosport's turn 2 on the opening rain-swept lap of the inaugural 1967 Canadian Grand Prix. Here Jackie Stewart leads Jack Brabham, Dan Gurney, Mike Spence, Bruce McLaren, and Chris Amon among others. Jim Clark, Graham Hill, and Denny Hulme are already past.

The great Jimmy Clark in his Lotus-Ford was in a class all his own until wet electrics sidelined him for the day.

A young David Hobbs throws up a rooster tail of spray in his BRM down Mosport's long back straightaway.

Author (at 19) doing his best "Steve McQueen" impersonation standing next to the Porsche 912.