Reverse Engineering

Tony Valainis

To begin with, the original car burned to the ground (although the engine survived) in a fatal wreck in 1922. There were no engineering drawings, so all Castle had to work with were a handful of period photographs and information gleaned from similar cars of the era. Still, he was determined to be as historically accurate as possible, which meant no cutting corners with Jaguar rear ends or modern brake kits. Oh, and he also planned to do everything himself. There were limits, obviously -- he doesn't own his own foundry, for example, and he farmed out the panel-beating and heavy-duty machining, but he did all of the design, the machining and fabrication of small parts, and the final assembly himself. Which brings us to the most remarkable aspect of the project: Castle was eighty-four years old when he embarked on it, and he'd just turned ninety when he drove the car for the first time last summer.

"What Bill did was inspirational," says his friend Gordon Barrett, a former Indy-car engineer and a world-class restorer in his own right. "He approached the project differently than most people. He needed a gearbox, so what did he do? He drew it on his computer. He built a wood pattern in his basement. He took it to a foundry and had an aluminum casting made. Then he took it back to his garage and machined it. He made his own gearbox! He did the whole car like that. It's a phenomenal achievement."

Castle is a white-haired man who wears glasses and -- on the wintry Indianapolis evening I meet him -- a flannel shirt tucked neatly into chinos. He moves and speaks deliberately, but there's no mistaking the energy and intensity of the focus he brought to this project. He didn't just open a parts catalog and order what he needed. He made his own shock absorbers. He made his own brake shoes. He made his own wheel hubs. And spring mounts, and front and rear axles, and gas and oil tanks, and so on and so forth. He's justifiably proud of his car. But he insists that what makes it unique -- in fact, this is the principal reason he decided to build it -- is the engine.

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