Print This Post Email This Post
Phil Remington REM Remembered By His Friends
Edited and Published by Phil Henny
Published by Editions Cotty 2014*
234 Pages with a 35-minute interview DVD included
Review by Doug Stokes
The late Phil Remington was a legendary motorsports fabricator whose long career spanned some of the most glorious, interesting, and productive years of American racing. This new, 234 -page book, put together by former Shelby employee Phil Henny, is a tribute to the man in chapters written by a number of people, many of whom had worked with this remarkable racing man over the years.
This is the latest in his series of books about well-known racing personalities who Henny has known and worked with personally, including Bob Bondurant, Al Bartz, and Carroll Shelby himself.
As one might expect of any collection of individual letters covering seven decades of one man’s life; the book is a bit uneven, even disjointed at times. There are a number of factual conflicts between writers, a misidentified (or under-identified) photo or two, and a few (sometimes vexing) misspellings. In truth, there’s a certain charm to the jumbledness of the entries, this convocation that author Henny has called all have a need to talk about one man … and they do.
I’m pretty sure that Henny knew and expected such gaffes when asking such a broad collection of prominent people to relate personal stories about the late fabricator. None of the minor mistakes here hurt the overall picture of this remarkable racing man. There are more, but here’s quick run up of about 20 of them, many of whom you might know or have heard of: Raul “Sonny” Balcaen, Bob Bondurant, Pete Brock, Ray Brock, Chuck Cantwell, Gordon Chance, Colin Comer, Dave Friedman, Dan Gurney, Gordon Kirby, Rick Kopec, Bill Krause, John Lamm, Frank Lance, Preston Lerner, John Morton, Ed Pink, Jean Stucki, Ted Sutton, and Linda Vaughn.
Many of the above contributors worked side-by-side with Remington, others related to him as journalists, and still others as friends. Although every story is different and nicely personal; there’s a central theme across the board: everyone’s complete and everlasting admiration for this man’s talent as a designer, builder, and consummate race car problem-solver.
With that preamble out of the way, this is a very worthwhile book that adds additional (very personal in some cases) information to the crazy quilt that was race car building and racing (mostly) in southern California.
Phil Remington, the reader will find out from the text, was the guy who literally rebuilt (re-engineered) the comely but anemic AC Ace sports car into the redoubtable world-beater Shelby Cobra*8. Of course that was after he worked for Lance Reventlow’s vaunted Scarab team, a “let’s give a show” idea that Remington, along with Chuck Daigh, Warren Olsen, Bruce Kessler, Dick Troutman, and Tom Barnes turned into a world-class racing sports car named after a sacred Egyptian dung beetle.
At the Shelby job, he not only led the team that set the Cobra on its road to stardom and racing immortality; he was instrumental in the grooming and upgrading of the Ford GT program as well as the redesigning almost the whole aero package of the brutish Ford MkIV that ended up winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt at the keyboard and that gave the world its very first (and now mandatory) champagne-spraying victory celebration.
When the Shelby racing connection with Ford Motor Company ran its course the redoubtable Mister Remington went on to work for Dan Gurney at his All American Racers HQ in Santa Ana where he worked his fabricating and design magic on a very wide range of projects (the race cars of course, and everything else from motorcycles to some secret military stuff) almost until the day that he died on February 9 of 2013.
By all accounts Phil Remington was not so much a mentor as an example to those around him. He was not, according to most, a wonderful teacher. He was almost always way too busy actually solving problems and getting it done to take the time to show others how to do it. He really expected everyone on the shop floor or at the race track to be working at a high professional level. He was not there to teach. But the ones who watched what Phil Remington did and how he did it, the ones who watched this master and taught themselves from his example, are his lasting legacy.
There are hundreds of great photos here, some you’ve seen and many others that are quite rare, virtually unseen shots from a number of private collections. All of them carry this story told in many voices forward.
A few more close-up shots of his handiwork would have been nice, but, I suspect that the same thing that kept this man from having the time to coach young mechanic/fabricators was his single-minded passion that got his handiwork into the cars and out onto the racetrack before anyone could get a nice, clean, detailed high-res photo of his work. Effectively: “We’re racing here, not posing for damn magazine layouts.” (That last sentence almost went in as: “Please, excuse me, but we’re racing here, etc” but word is, that Remington would not have had the time nor the patience for those first the niceties.)
Early-on post-war hot-rodder Remington himself worked under a true master of the trade, Lujie Lesovsky, the great roadster-era Indy Car builder. Lesovsky was part of the southern California chassis cabal that saw west coast cars dominate the Indy 500 for almost two decades. In a repeat of history, some 40 or so years later, Eagle race cars from All-American Racers (where guess who was working as chief of fabrication) at one point accounted for more than 50% of the starting field in the Memorial Day classic.
These reminiscences and recollections, stories and photos, draw an intriguing and nuanced picture of a true craftsman who lived to work and truly worked to live. As did an amazing number of well-known racing people of his generation, Remington joined the Army Air Force and served as a flight engineer in a B-24*** … and like many who went off to fight in that war, he seems to have spoken very little about the experience. Asked (rather strangely) what his favorite part of the war was, he said it for a whole generation of young men: “Getting out.”
In this book of memories readers will find Phil Remington working on Carroll Shelby’s still-born Indy turbine-car project along with Maxwell Smart’s quick little ride, the Alpine Tiger, a car that Shelby’s guys shoe-horned a 260 Ford V-8 into spawning a sort of a low-bucks version of the Cobra.
In a number of the entries in this anthology, Remington is singled-out as the hidden hero of the Ford GT program. His aerodynamic re-work off the “J” car (later re-christened the MKIV) made it a winner and gave the world the (now mandatory) post-race champagne shower when Dan Gurney suddenly decided to use a jeroboam of bubbly as a very expensive spray gun as he stood on the winner’s stand celebrating with his very surprised co-driver A.J. Foyt. (I know I mentioned it before, but I like using the term “jeroboam” and, besides, there’s a poster of DGS spraying the stuff on the wall in my office right over there …)
The REM stories seem endless, like the time that Dave MacDonald came in complaining of being parboiled in the cockpit of a Cobra Daytona Coupe at Sebring. Without so much as a word, Remington punched two holes in the roof with a screwdriver, cut a u-shape between them with an air chisel and bent a nice new vent into the car in about the time it took just to relate the tale. My guess is that he didn’t even take the time to say, “I’ve got it …” to the rest of the pit crew.
His own words are few and far between in this one, but there is a good direct interview with the man that was done in 1991 at Lime Rock with “SAAC” listed as the interviewer. I’m not sure who “SAAC” refers to, but the interview is first rate and a real window into what made Phil Remington tick … what got him up before dawn almost every day of his adult life to make racing cars work better than they did the day before.
Sadly, here’s another racing book that could really use an index, if for nothing else but to cross-reference the names, dates, places, numbers, and racing exploits that permeate this book.
But perhaps I should just shut up about that and revel in the fact that Mister Henny got so many wonderful people to reminisce about this remarkable man and what he had accomplished during his 92 laps around the sun. Yeah, that’s cool too. THANKS! -Doug Stokes
*This book is available directly from the author/publisher autographed and personalized by Phil Henny on request. Details at: philhenny.com
**Something that Carroll Shelby (who never was known for hiding his ego under a basket) readily told the world … that Phil Remington was, quite literally, the man who made Shelby’s audacious idea for a hot-ridded English tea-cup he called the Cobra into a living-breathing world-beater … describing him as: “The one, single reason the Cobras and the GT40’s were as successful as they were …”
***If you’ve not already read it, get a copy of “Arsenal of Democracy” by A.J. Baime, it tells the incredible story of how Detroit retooled itself into building perhaps the most important single component of the eventual defeat of the Nazis … the B-24 Liberator bomber. Of course there’s no way of knowing it now, but I like to think that Phil Remington effectively helped to pay the Ford Motor Company back for the B-24 by helping them win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
NOTE: If one is contemplating reading this book to find out how to do what Phil Remington did, they’ll surely be disappointed. This is not a “How to do it” book, it’s not even a “How HE did it” book. Very luckily one of the people who he worked with at Shelby’s did. The late Carroll Smith’s seminal series of books on the subject of race car care and feeding, known as the “…To Win” collection (“Tune to Win” is but one of the five) is where a lot of the hardware, hard work, and how-to’s of Remington’s craft is stored and available. Remington thought a lot of Smith and his work as Shelby American team manager and the two worked well together to move the needle.
My own small contribution to this story is that, at a Riverside Raceway Museum dinner that was held in Phil Remington’s honor a year or so before he died, I gave him a trick wrist watch that ran backward with the stated hope that it would work to turn his own personal clock back. -DS