The Monterey Historic Automobile Races are the premier vintage car races in the United States. They draw more than 450 rare and exotic entries cumulatively valued at more than the gross domestic product of some third world nations. Yet the biggest attraction last summer wasn't a race car; it was a race car transporter that less than two years earlier had looked like the rusted-out, shot-up, long-forgotten relic of a third-world civil war.
In August 2008, after an insanely labor-intensive restoration worthy of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, the transporter - built on a Fiat truck chassis and customized by an Italian coachbuilder - trundled through the teeming paddock at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Riding on the open, double-decker bed were not one, not two, but three of the Scarab race cars that it had been designed to ferry around Europe in 1960. A hot tub full of naked umbrella girls couldn't have made a much bigger impression on the crowd that flocked around it.
"People went nuts!" recalls Cris Vandagriff, owner of the Historic Motor Sports Association. "We finally had to ask them to move the transporter so race cars could get on and off the track."
In an era when just about every important historic race car already seems to have been discovered, race car transporters are emerging as the Next Big Thing in high-end vintage motorsports. Recent years have brought elaborate restorations of the haulers used by the Écurie Écosse and Tyrrell teams, for example, and there are several mouth-watering vintage Ferrari rigs making the rounds. But for American fans, at least, the Scarab transporter is the most significant vehicle of its kind on the planet, and it features an intriguing backstory that begins with the first American Formula 1 car, continues with America's most successful GT racing cars, and ends with an epic family feud.
Two years ago, vintage racer Don Orosco - probably the world's foremost Scarab collector - bought the derelict transporter and invested 8000 man-hours in its restoration.
"This is probably the only truck that's ever been restored to Pebble Beach standards," he says. "What made it such a daunting task was that it's thirty-eight feet long. That's like simultaneously restoring three Packards that are rusted hulks. Now, it looks like a forty-third-scale children's toy - except it's the real thing. I have about $600,000 in it. But in terms of its impact on the Scarab collection, its value is incalculable."