“My Experience As a TV Star”
by Ed Luce’s 1968 Lotus 51A Formula Ford
You know how they always say “the car is the star” in vintage racing, right? Well, this summer I had a chance to be a star off the race track for a change!
No sooner had we returned to Kingston from the double race weekends in Pittsburgh, than Ed Luce (my driver) was contacted by Ted Michalos, who had been in touch with a set decorator who needed to source a ‘vintage F1 race car’ for a commercial being filmed in a week’s time. As if one of those high-maintenance divas could have pulled this off. You know that type, all big noise and fast moves – real ‘Broadway musical’ – while this was going to require some restraint and subtlety for the small screen.
Unfortunately for the set decorator, the weekend scheduled for filming was also the BARC race weekend at Mosport and most of the more local cars were thus unavailable or uninterested. As we weren’t going to be competing that weekend, Ted wondered if we might be interested in appearing in a TV commercial!
After a lot of next-to-last-minute calls, it was decided that we would go to Toronto for a two-day ‘shoot’, where I was to be driven by a professional driver in a Nissan commercial. (You know how the fine print under those TV commercial scenes always says ‘professional driver on closed course’? Well, this was one of those scenarios.) I was to lead a parade of unusual vehicles up a suburban street, where a new Nissan would avoid backing into us thanks to its ‘driver assistance’ aids…
Of course, I’m no F1 race car but, as I said, a high-strung performer like that would not have suited this task at all. Fortunately, at a glance I look a lot like pretty much every other competition car that Lotus made in the mid 60’s, and I can idle along as low as 20 mph.
I spent a couple of days in make-up, first having my usual suite of CASC-OR, VARAC, etc. decals removed and my badges covered. (When making a commercial they don’t like having any other company’s logo’s, trademarks, names, etc. in shot. I suppose it’s a combination of not having license to use those insignia and not wanting to give anyone else free advertising.) Then I had a ‘flame job’ applied to accentuate my nose – already one of my best features.
Ed’s concerns about the noise levels of my un-muffled exhaust were rendered moot by the appearance on-set of an immense Peterbilt 389, a ’34 Chevy rat rod with straight pipes, and an honest to goodness M60-A3 ‘Patton’ main battle tank. 12 cylinders of barely muffled, air-cooled, twin turbo Detroit diesel make quite a racket on a city street. But a little three-wheeled Italian ‘Piaggio Ape’ delivery scooter probably made the most noise/bhp of anybody there. How can a single-cylinder air-cooled engine make so much noise? By revving flat-out to keep up with the blistering 29 mph (top speed!) pace dictated by the M60, that’s how.
The low speed of the filmed parade was a problem, as expected. By the end of a few takes, my fluid temperatures were soaring due to a lack of air through my heat exchangers, and my clutch was aching from being slipped pretty much constantly to keep speeds down so that the tank could keep up. Thanks goodness for my relatively high ground clearance, as there was construction on the route around the block and we had to maneuver over some of those 1-1/2” steel plates they use to cover open tank traps in the street. (The tank just backed down the set after each take anyway. Those babies don’t corner well!)
The film crew did camera shots from the front, camera shots from the rear, camera shots from on top of the tank, camera shots from down low on a golf cart driving up the sidewalk beside us, and camera shots from the perspective of the stunt kitten playing in the street. We must have stampeded up the street over a dozen times each day before the director was happy.
In between takes, every little kid in the neighborhood wanted to sit in the driver’s seat and have their picture taken. Lots of happy locals may have helped to smooth things over and make up for the noise and dust. And Ed got to talk to quite a few people about VARAC, vintage racing, how wonderful Formula Fords are, etc.
“Aaaaand – ACTION!”
As part of the crew for this experience my driver Ed got to learn a bit, helping with what my regular crew Dorothy does routinely – helping the driver into the car, steering wheel on, belts on, connect battery (wait for the director to say “camera rolling” to start my engine), switch over to internal battery. Then grab the starting battery and run into the bushes or down a driveway to get the heck out of shot while we stampeded up the street on cue.
After two days of shooting, it was back into my trailer (every film star has a trailer, don’t ya know). While this was all fun, I can’t wait until the next race weekend for a chance to blow the carbon out of my cylinders and to stretch my legs!