Tutti Frutti - 1981 Bobsy FJK Rainbow Rollerskate
The Canadian American Cup Challenge, or Can Am for short, has gone down in history as one of the most liberal and extreme categories of racing the world has ever seen. With very little in the way of restrictions, designers were free to try out whatever crazy idea they could come up with, sober or otherwise.
From 1966 to 1974, the series saw massively powerful and unconventional machinery appear, from the 8.0L V8-engined, go-kart sized AVS Shadow MkI, to the four-engined, all wheel drive, air-cooled, two stroke, twin-transmission MAC'S-IT Rotax Special, and the 1580 horsepower-capable twin-turbo flat-12 Porsche 917/30. The sky was the limit.
However, the 1973 oil crisis spoiled the party quite quickly. The formerly dominant Porsche and McLaren teams had both left for 1974, and interest waned as a result. With the American economy taking a massive hit as well, budgets similarly went down.
After Shadow took an unopposed title that season, Can Am collapsed under its own weight. And with it, the extraordinary FIA Group 7 sportscar class was relegated to the history books as well. But the name wasn't gone for long.
At around the same time as the rise of Can Am, North America had seen the advent of the Formula A series, also known as Formula 5000. In 1968, the Sports Car Club of America amended its single seater Formula A regulations to up the maximum allowable displacement from three liters to five liters, provided the engines used were derived from "stock block" production car units.
Though other makes and types of engines were used as well, this change lead to an influx of modified 5.0L Chevrolet smallblock V8-equipped chassis, built by a wide variety of small manufacturers. The formula became very successful over the years, as it even made the jump across the Atlantic.
By 1976 however, it too had outstayed its welcome. Though Indycar's United States Auto Club had joined forces with the SCCA to jointly sanction the series from 1974, the partnership didn't last very long.
As USAC left, SCCA pondered what to do next. A proposed ten round championship was abandoned, with the governing body instead choosing to revive the Can Am name for the 1977 season. Using the readily available F5000 chassis as a base, a new single seater, closed wheel Can Am was born.
Even though the new concept had a lot more restrictions in terms of engine capacity than the classic Can Am, designers were still allowed to think freely in other areas. After the first few seasons, the re-bodied F5000 and F1 chassis were steadily wiped from the championship as bespoke designs took the forefront. With this steady move towards more specialization, teams were liberated from the bounds imposed by the borrowed monocoques.
The renewed creative freedom proved attractive to eccentric budding racecar designers, one of which was Jeremiah T. Smith. The small town driver/fabricator had been active in a variety of grass roots racing series in his native North Carolina, and had found his way to single seater racing through the exciting methanol-infused world of Sprint Cars.
When the Can Am revival started to garner publicity, Smith saw his chance to move up into road racing. He pawned off his prize combine harvester, which had been given to him by his uncle Jeb, and proceeded to acquire a badly bruised March 763 Formula Three chassis.
Jeremiah patched the car up, fitted a modified 200 horsepower, 1.7L Volkswagen four cylinder engine taken from a crashed Dodge Omni, and started in the Under 2 Liter category at Mid Ohio Speedway for the second round of the 1980 SCCA Budweiser Citicorp Can-Am Challenge.
Fitted with spats to cover the wheels, entirely new sections of chassis and a trick aero kit, Smith's modified March was the class of the U2L field. Sadly, a spin and an impact with the barriers took him out of the race, just as he was starting to catch the slowest of the five liter cars.
However, his effort had not been in vain. His driving prowess and the car's surprising speed had attracted the attention of a wealthy backer, which was just what the cash-strapped Smith needed. Just like that, he was in negotiations to start a major Can Am operation.
That man was Fritz Jurgen von Kitzbuhel, an eccentric Austrian millionaire with a big passion for motorsport. Von Kitzbuhel had made his fortune as part of the avant-garde proto-punk electronic fuzzfunk band Die Dicke Senf Schniedels, which had become a big part of the underground dance scene of German speaking countries Austria, South Africa, Switzerland, Germany, Namibia and certain regions of Belgium.
Despite a string of successful records and tours starting in 1973, the controversial group had broken up in 1979 over creative, romantic and sexual differences. From that point on, Fritz Jurgen embarked on a brief solo career, taking the stage persona of "The Divine David", a flamboyant British omnisexual. After some minor success, he decided to give up on performing, and simply enjoy life in the scene he had helped create.
Despite some initial reservations over the exuberant character, Jeremiah T. Smith eventually agreed to a deal. Smith would help set up Von Kitzbuhel's new team, taking a role as a driver and engineer. The Austrian entrepreneur encouraged Smith to think creative for his first clean sheet design, adamant that the weirdest thing he could think of couldn't be anything less than the best.
Encouraged by Von Kitzbuhel's fervor, and his seemingly limitless amount of funds, Jeremiah started digging through old motorsport and automotive magazines for inspiration. In a December, 1980 issue of Autosport magazine, he found the insane 12-wheeled Lion Grand Prix car. The article went on to explain the mad vehicle would have been fitted with an Allison gas turbine engine, which would have powered all twelve wheels.
Jeremiah presented the images to Fritz Jurgen, who was immediately over the moon with the boldness of the design. In love with the idea of a multi-wheeled Can Am racer, he offered the humble builder a blank budget to create anything even remotely similar.
Using his old March as a base, Smith started developing a ten-wheeled Can Am racer, using 10-inch racing wheels normally meant for a classic Mini Cooper. The tuned Volkswagen motor was retained, but only two of the wheels were driven, as Jeremiah felt driving more of them wasn't practical.
Instead, he wanted to test his theory that ten small wheels would offer a better contact patch, and therefore more grip, than four bigger ones, thinking back to the Tyrrell P34 6-wheeler. To this end, he acquired a second chassis, and modified it in a similar way to the Tyrrell.
Initial testing at Virginia International Raceway proved successful, giving Smith the go-ahead to start adding even more wheels. Since he wasn't much of an aerodynamicist, Von Kitzbuhel arranged assistance for Smith by contacting March. The British firm arranged for a young Adrian Newey to aid in the new car's design.
Newey drew up an unconventional, but striking shape, intended to shield the ten wheels from elements, thereby reducing drag. Though the iron-shaped machine sported a sizeable rear wing, most of its downforce was generated by a ground effect venturi tunnel, situated between the two rows of wheels.
Unfortunately, development of the innovative car took far too long. Despite his promises of giant mounds of cash, Fritz Jurgen von Kitzbuhel was far too busy engaging in hedonistic behavior in the London underground club scene to contribute much to the project. By the time Smith got a hold of him, the popularity of Can Am was already fading.
In its place, the IMSA Camel GTP series was starting to take control of the American road racing scene. Fresh from another binge, Von Kitzbuhel decided the team should move to IMSA, because he like the sound of it. This meant the open top car Smith had come up with had to be modified to adhere to IMSA's closed roof regulations.
With a fresh check from his Austrian sugardaddy, Jeremiah Smith went back to March and asked them to help modify the car. Together they modified the chassis to accept a 5.9L Chevrolet V8 engine taken from a stock car, tuned for a healthy 580 horsepower and mated to a Hewland LG600 five-speed transmission.
Much of the initial bodystyle was retained, with the addition of a large bubble roof, a windshield taken from a small sports plane, and two gullwing-style doors. With Von Kitzbuhel finally returning from his drug-fueled, passion-filled psychonautic adventure, the team was ready for the 1984 Lumbermen's 500 at Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course.
Fritz Jurgen arrived five minutes before the start of first practice in a haze, screaming and waving his arms in the pits. Jeremiah slapped him out of his trance, and asked the Austrian what the hell was wrong. Von Kitzbuhel replied that he'd forgotten to name the car. Smith reassured him, explaining he named the car "Bobsy" after his favorite Playboy centerfold.
However, Von Kitzbuhel insisted his initials would be added, and added the name "Rainbow Rollerskate" as a statement of defiance to their former sponsor Red Roof Inns. The family friendly hotel chain had broken ties with the team after finding out about his risque alter ego, something which had bother Fritz Jurgen ever since.
With the name sorted, Smith steered the magnificent Rainbow Rollerskate onto the track for its first ever practice session. Sadly, after just three full throttle laps, several of the right side wheels collapsed under the immense downforce generated by the Newey-designed body. Several of the suspension mounts were damaged as the car dragged itself back to the pits, preventing it from taking part in any further sessions.
IMSA officials didn't have much of a sense of humor over the failure, as it had damaged the track surface and put several GTO competitors at risk due to flying debris. In the end, Divine David Racing was barred from competition outright, ending the brief career of the extravagant ten-wheeled car prematurely.
Furious, Fritz Jurgen von Kitzbuhel found out which particular official had overseen the ban on his car, and called up a bunch of his most outrageous friends to take revenge. As Divine David, he gave a highly suggestive musical performance on the unnamed officials front lawn in Flagstaff, Arizona, which quickly escalated into a 300-man strong all-night dance, drink, and drugfest.
This resulted in 24 arrests for disorderly conduct, public indecency, disturbance of the peace, public intoxication, possession of narcotics, possession of an offensive weapon and several parking offences. Von Kitzbuhel posted bail for most of his friends, and promptly left the country, never to return again.
Jeremiah T. Smith remained behind with the wreck of the Bobsy, which he sold off to facilitate his return to farming. The car would later reappear as a World Sports Car in the hands of Fred Derpp, modified with an open roof and four conventional wheels in practice for the 1996 Daytona 24 Hours. After this final appearance, the strange car would never be seen again.