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The Alexis FB as it was when received into the shop

Russell-Alexis #AT/FF15- Manufactured December 1967

August, 2004 -- This is to chronicle the latest addition to the Team Terrific fleet of race cars — a 1968 Russell-Alexis Formula B car. It's a great story!

In the world of car collecting, there is always the wild-eyed dream of locating and buying a "barn find", a car that is in perfect shape, but been hiding in a barn for decades. Well, that is exactly what happened to me. I feel very fortunate to now have this car because of its very interesting history and its unique condition.

The story of this race car starts back in the mid-sixties when Gene Bashor, now 78 years old, purchased the car new. Gene is a gentlemen who has been working as a tech inspector with RMVR since 1987. He is a very private fellow, always quietly doing his job (performing the required safety inspection on race cars prior to each race weekend) with little or no fanfare. Few, if any, of us knew of his interesting and extensive racing background.

As it turns out, Gene was a very active and successful club racer. He started racing back in 1947 in a Ford V8 dirt-track midget. But in the 50s he migrated to road racing and by the sixties was racing Formula Junior cars quite successfully. To quote Gene "I can't remember ever entering a race without winning either a trophy or prize money." We should all be so accomplished.

Anyway, Gene wished to move up from FJ and purchased a new Formula B race car as a roller (no engine, but complete car otherwise) in February of 1968 from Fred Opert, the renowned U.S. importer of all manner of race cars, new and used. It was Gene's intention to fit the car with a Lotus 1600 cc Twin Cam engine. But, as misfortune would have it, Gene had some heart problems that prevented him from passing the race physical and he retired from racing. So, the Russell-Alexis went into storage where it has been lovingly cared for since then.

Over the years several folks became aware of the car and tried to buy it from Gene. But for his reasons he was unwilling to sell it. However, now 36 years later, at age 78 and with some other health issues (P.S. his heart is just FINE), Gene finally decided to part with the car. And to my good luck I was able to persuade him to sell it to me.

So, I now have my project car which I've been searching for since retiring. This isn't exactly what I had in mind, however. I'd envisioned a car needing a full restoration. The Russell-Alexis project is not a restoration! Rather, it is job of re-assembly and refurbishment. But the outcome will be something truly, truly unique — effectively a brand new 1968 race car that is absolutely period correct in every regard since virtually every part will be exactly as delivered to Gene in 1968. Pretty damn neat, huh?!? This does NOT happen very often.

Gene purchased a Formula B car. It was not uncommon for FFs to become FB cars in that era (or vice versa), the only difference in the formula being wheels and tires, motor, and transmission. Chassis of the era for either FB or FF could easily be converted to the other (or to European F2 or F3 specs, for that matter). Gene's FB purchase, while a FF chassis, was provided with proper 8"F/10"R x 13 wheels and Firestone tires (which, by the way, still hold air) and with the proper MK4 5-speed Hewland transaxle. A FF would have had different wheels and tires and a 4-speed Hewland. So, it was a FB car, albeit a roller (sans engine)

This car itself is also interesting and, to the aficionado, quite intriguing. Shrewd and/or knowledge readers will have already noted that the car is actually a Formula Ford. We know this because of the car's name, a "Russell Alexis", and its name-plate serial number ("J.R.R.D., AT/FF15") both leaving no doubt that the chassis is a Formula Ford. In 1967 Formula Ford had just come into being and in order to get in on the very rapidly growing acceptance of the new formula, the famed driving school of the era, Jim Russell Racing Driving School, commissioned Alexis to build a batch of Formula Fords for school cars and for resale to customers. This car is undoubtedly one of those 57 cars ultimately produced under the Russell-Alexis agreement and badged as "Russell-Alexis" cars. 

(For a very nice history of the Alexis FF cars, and one spectacularly restored Alexis FF, click here.)

badge-4-web.jpg (23379 bytes)But there is some mystery with the car. Exactly how Fred Opert came into an unused Russell-Alexis FF chassis #15 is a mystery. And why it was already numbered with #66 is also unknown. It's possible that the chassis was unused, but the body work came off another active car. There is no doubt the chassis has never been used because no fluids have ever been in the brakes, radiator or clutch. Perhaps the body had been on another Russell school car, but the body's condition (pristine) belies that theory. Why would the body, in perfect shape, be taken off an active (barely active and most surely not wrecked) and put on an a new chassis?

We will try to research how Fred came into this early-build (i.e only #15 and built in Dec. of 1967) car which was never raced and sold to Opert and in turn to Gene as a FB chassis.

When I received the car the nose number was 93 (not 66 as on the sides -- see picture at top of page). It turns out that when Gene raced, he used #93. So when he got the car, he turned the nose numbers over (they were vinyl), and the first 6 in 66 became a nine and he modified the other 6 into a 3, creating 93. He told me he wanted to see what it would look like as 93, but, of course he never got to race the car.

Anticipating use in his new FB, in 1968 Gene purchased and rebuilt a Lotus 1600 cc TwinCam engine which he still has. But it was not part of my purchase. Rather, I will be building a period correct Lotus Twin Cam for the car.

I will add to this story as the car is completed. It is my goal to have it done by spring of 2005 and to let Gene take some laps in the car which he purchased 37 years prior. Happily, the number 93 is available from RMVR so the car will be able to run with his intended number on the car (nose and sides this time around!).

The Refurbishment Begins
 
windscreenchg-web.jpg (45537 bytes)Early Sept., 2004 -- The first item was to re-fit the windscreen.  While leaving the car as original as possible is a goal, the raw unfinished lower edge of the windscreen bothered me.  So it was trimmed in black and welting added.  (I would have done this in 1968 too!)

The Car Number Mystery Solved?

Late Sept., 2004 -- In talking to Gene recently, he reminded me that when he purchased the car in 1968 the Opert salesman (or Fred?) said that his car had actually been used for a "New York show" of some sort. When cleaning the car I noted some residue of a rectangular sticker on the side which I suspect was the "Fred Opert Racing" logo/sticker. (I have one of those original "Fred Opert Racing" logo/stickers and it was the right size.)

The fact the car was used at a show would, I believe, explain why the car arrived with numbers on it although it had never been run. It would simply show better with racing numbers and a promotional Opert sticker. While he doesn't remember doing it, Gene no doubt would have removed the Opert sticker (but left the numbers) as soon as he got the car since he and Fred got a bit crossways over some aspects of the car deal.

An added element of the number mystery:  Note on the picture at the top of this page that "93" was on the nose but "66" on the sides.  Hmmm?   Turns out Gene had always raced using "93".  So, when he got the car, he was able to turn the vinyl number on the nose over -- the 6 became a 9 and he trimmed the other six to turn it into a 3 and voila -- "93".  Gene told me he just wanted to see what it would look like, but never altered the side numbers.

 

Progress On The Foot Box

Sept. 27 -  The footbox is now done.  The brake and clutch master cylinders were rebuilt.  Whilefootbox-04-web.jpg (51624 bytes) never used and they never had any brake fluid in them, after 36 years the rubber bits inside were badly deterioriated by the assembly grease.  Re-build kits were essential.  The metal cylinders and pistons were in perfect condition. 
 
The car didn't come with a radiator shroud (to stop air from going around the radiator), but one was fabricated from aluminum with an integral resting pad (across the top of the shroud) to better carry the fiberglass nose (rather than having the nose beat up by the radiator corners.) 
 
Also, a steering shaft closure fixture was fitted where the steering rod goes thru the front bulkhead.  This was to prevent hot air from entering the footbox via the somewhat large hole in the bulkhead.  No "hotfoot" for this guy!
 
Also, a contemporary fire bottle system was fitted to conform to current safety standards.
 
New Engine Arrives

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The Lotus Twin Cam engine has arrived from California.  It's a pretty little thing, huh?   Can't say I'm real fond of the yellow block (gloss black is most tidy).  Note the very lightened flywheel. 
 
While the engine is fresh and recently put on a dyno, Bill Bradford will go thru it to be sure everything is to our liking and probably replace valve springs.  This engine has been a 5-year work in progress and valve springs can go bad when the engine is not regularly run or turned over.  Also, it now has a wet sump pan and oil pump which will be replaced by a dry sump pan and pump.
 
 
 
 
Re-Fitting The Suspension
 
Nov. 5th -- While Gene had taken the suspension off the car at the pickup points, reassembly was started totally from scratch.  This permitted all the suspension bits being taken completely apart for cleaning and inspection.  Also, I wanted to address a couple of alignment issues about the way the suspension had previously been put together. 
 
First, the front suspension, as delivered, had FAR too much caster (about 8 degrees) making for very heavy steering.  So, when reassembling, the front A-arms were completely readjusted to get caster down to a more normal 4.5 degress (Thanks Scott Sanders for this tip).  And on the rear suspension, all the heim joints were too tight into A-arms and trailing links, leaving no room for final  adjustments.  
 
But beyond those setup adjustments, everything went well.  Reassembling is a tedius job, measuring, remeasuring, adjusting, and then readjusting, but ..... nothing dramtic.   Actually, it's really fun trying to make sure everthing is square, aligned to specs, etc.
 
 
Here's the completed left front assembly.   Note the springover shock has been temporarily replaced with a fixed link (fixed at ride height) so that the shocks can be sent out for inspection/re-build and so that the car can be set on the wheels and rollalex-sus03-lf-web.jpg (37255 bytes)ed around.  FYI, none of the suspension parts had a spec of rust.  All the chrome is in perfect shape. 

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The picture on the right, a front view with both sides completed.   This is when you really start to envision the project as a real race car. 
rearsus-3-web.jpg (54732 bytes)Nov. 23 -- Moving to the back of the car, here both sides have been mated to the frame with alignment dimensions very close to final.  The engine block is a "loaner" block, not from the final engine.  Thanks to Jimmy Stienmetz for the loan of the block, identical to block used in the California engine which will eventually go in the car.  Having this dummy block allows the luxury working on the engine and chassis simultaneously.  It also facilitates mating the Hewland Transaxle (tranny) to be sure everything fits.   It did!  This was a nice feeling since this car never really had an engine fitted.  Thankfully the motor mounts were spot on. 
 
The Hewland needs to be in place to start hanging the rear suspension.  While the Hewland was brand new (never even had grease in it) it was taken completely apart for inspection and cleaning.  As you see in this picture, it is the case only with just the left side-plate fitted.  This means the left half-shaft and left side suspension could be aligned perfectly to the gearbox.  Previously the right side-plate was fitted to align the right side half shaft, upright, and suspension.
 
Again, note the use of temporary fixed-links in place of the spring/shock to aid in setup and, after tires are mounted, being able to roll the car around. 

tranny-2-web.jpg (46777 bytes)Here's another view of the back end a few days later. The Hewland has been cleaned up (OK, so I painted it!), the adapter cleaned and a flywheel timing inspection hole drilled, and the rear suspension very much aligned at ride height. In the meantime the shocks have been sent off for inspection and rebuilding and I'm in the process of specifying new springs front and rear. The springs that came on the car would have been coil bound on bump. Arrrgh!  Note the temporary aluminum TwinCam head now fitted to the temporary block (Thanks to Dave Rosenwinge for the loaner!).  This will enable construction of the roll-bar, back brace and rear engine cover.  The car is now ready to attach the wheels and deliver it to fabricators for the roll-bar and exhaust system.

Off The Horses
 
Dec. 10th -- Finally, fitted with the cleaned up original wheels and tires, the car comes off the metal saw horses and becomes a "roller" for the first time in 36 years! 
 
Prior to fitting the wheels and getting the car off the horses, the graphics were applied.  As noted above, 93 was the number Gene raced with and, fortunately, was available from the club.  So.....93 it is.  Also note the Fred Opert sticker.  I'm convinved that since the car was used for a NY car show by Fred, his logo sticker would have been on the car. wheels-1-insignias.jpg (50680 bytes)
 
 
 
 
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Finally, with the original  wheels (magnesium American Racer Libre) and Firestone tires cleaned up and bolted on, the car was set on the ground.  This is a significant event in the life of the car, sitting as a roller for the first time in 36 years.   Da-da!!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

wheels-7-onground-rear.jpg (48142 bytes)Viewed from the rear, the car takes on a menacing look with the fat 10" rims and 12" wide tires. Still with the dummy engine and block, the tranny still in need of a gear set. Also rear sway bar is not yet fitted. And, of course, the rear engine cover is lacking. However, Vic Cooper is in the process of building the rear cover identical in form to the original FF cover, but altered to accommodate the TwinCam power plant.

 

 

 

wheels-5-firestones.jpg (53103 bytes)This is a great view of the wonderful American Racing wheels and original Firestone tires.  They cleaned up beautifully, requiring only some intense elbow grease.  The centers of the wheels are painted and what you see is the original paint -- just cleaned.  The gold lettering on the Firestones is original.  Way cool.  [Ed:  There's a great follow up story on these amazing new condition "NOS" Firestone tires.  CLICK HERE for that great sidebar--the tires went to California to be mounted up on an historically important Sunbeam Tiger!] 
 
 
 
  

wheels-6-gene.jpg (49169 bytes)A nice view of the cockpit, windscreen and front of the car, again showing the neat Firestone tires and American Racing wheels. Note the "Orig. Owner-Gene Bashor" graphics on the nose.


 

The last major component is the engine work, which is coming along fine under the tutelage of Bill Bradford. Talked to Archie Hodge in Washington state today and he is putting the original Armstrong adjustable shocks back to new and they should be done by Christmas (And perhaps put under the Xmas tree as my gift from me to me before being fitted to the car.) Next week the car will be delivered to Tom Beauchamp (Colorado Springs) and he will fit a custom built exhaust system using the lost art of sand bending. Then, when he's done, J.D. McDermott will get the car to fit the new rollbar.  Both should be done my mid-January.

February 15, 2005 -- Well, when it comes to race car preparation, things don't always go as planned. We're behind schedule on the car at this point, but still OK for April instead of March completion. The car now has a lovely exhaust system (shown mounted on the dummy block and head). Also, I've fabricated a bottom frame cross brace to hold the bottom of the fuel cell and the sub-belt attachments. The pictures below show the very nice new fuel cell, fabricated by FuelSafe, and the lap and sub-belts in place prior to fitting the seat.

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Engine Completed and Installed

 

April 6, 2005 - Well, not much has happened in the last couple of months. Actually, that's not true. A lot was happening, just not in my shop. So nothing to report on recently.

As already noted, things get behind schedule on race car projects. But, the exhaust system was completed (Thanks Tom Beauchamp) and the beautiful new rollbar fabricated (A big thanks to J.D. McDermott at Front Range Motorsports). J.D. fabricated it, but only tack welded it to the chassis. It was then taken off and sent out for chrome plating and then attached permanently. It is magnificent, going so well with the other chrome suspension and bits on the car.

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Dave & JD at Front Range Motorsports

Also over the past couple of months, work on the engine progressed. There were many little problems and delays. While the motor, when purchased, was "fresh" and had been run on a dyno, my good friend Bill Bradford went into the engine to be sure everything was spot on. It wasn't. Before it was over we decided to put in new cam shafts which meant redoing all the valve lash adjustments. (No small task on a Twin Cam!) Bill worked his butt off to set the engine straight and I'll be forever beholding to him. But, don't ask Bill to do any work on a Twin Cam. He'd long since sworn off any more work on Twin Cams and only worked on this one as a favor to me. Thanks, Bill. The favor fully reinforced his previous decision -- NO MORE TWIN CAM WORK.

Adding to the engine saga was my decision so sell the twin Dellarto carbs, which came with the engine, and replace them with twin Webers. That to required some heavy duty eBay activity. The Dellartos were sold to a fellow in the Netherlands. I also sourced a couple of Webers. Having prior experience on Diane's twin Webers, rebuilding them wasn't difficult and they turned out fine.
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IT'S ALIVE!!!
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Make note: THE LAST BRADFORD TWIN CAM.
So now, very much on purpose, the engine is completed to a mild state of tune. Reason? It will last a LOT longer than a wild motor. This means I shouldn't have to mess with the engine for several years. It should be pretty bullet proof. The engine ran well on Bill's dyno and produced a few more horses than the predicted 140 HP.

There's an old race axiom "To finish first, first you have to finish." Many a highly tweaked Twin Cam cars (170+ HP) will bite the dust during a race weekends and yours truly will win the war of attrition. Yuk, Yuk. Too bad, so sad.

There was yet more drama before the engine/tranny could be installed. Turns out the transmission adapter had a goofy starter bolt pattern which had to be redone and also the stupid input shaft bobbin was too short. So I had to redo the adapter and also fabricate a bobbin extender. (Thanks to Mike Henry for this neat little fix!)

Photo here show tmotor-fin05-in-notran-web.jpg (61739 bytes)he engine (sanes tranny), the nice roll bar work by Front Range, and the pretty exhaust, all in place.

Now it's just a matter of fitting all the oil and water hoses and connecting wires from the harness. It should easily be ready to fire, run and take it out for test & tune in a couple of weeks. Engine tuning is already done on the dyno, but no doubt the chassis set up will require some adjustment.
 
 
 
FINIS!!!
 
April 21, 2005 -- Finally, the car is done! It’s been a very long and interesting journey. I would have never imaged that getting an NOS (New Old Stock) race care ready would be so involved. It might as well been a ground up restoration of an active race car -- every detail took almost as much time, and some things even more time, as I was trying to sustain as much originality as possible.

But it was worth it. The Alexis (Oops, the Russell-Alexis) is a very unique race car because of its interesting history. Not a race history, but one of uncontested originality. And, of course, the fact that the original owner, Gene Bashor, was involved from the beginning to the end is indeed unique.

 

Done, at last!
And the final product is lovely. The car has the classic “cigar shape” of the 60s that is so totally correct and proper. Just plain beautiful!

The car was completed on Thursday April 21st, firing the engine in the car for the first time with everything completed. It was then loaded up and taken to the RMVR race at LaJunta the next day and on Friday I drove the car for several test & tune sessions to be sure that the wheels wouldn’t fall off, check for any last minute details, make sure it handled OK, and to be sure the car was race-ready at long last.

For a first outing in the car, it went very well with only minor things needing attention. The Lotus TwinCam engine is, indeed, a very sweet power plant and the additional power (vs. the Formula Ford) is quite exciting. By my fourth session in the car I was flogging it pretty hard and everything seemed to be in order.
Gene Gets His Laps
 
The story wouldn’t be complete without Gene returning to the cockpit of his 1967 purchase. This was a promise I made to him when buying the car. So, after successfully testing the car on Friday, the club’s Lunch Worker Ride Session on Saturday was used to let Gene take his long-delayed laps in #93 (the number he would have used had he raced the car).

 
gene-lj-04-test-web.jpg (42794 bytes)The car was not entered to race for the weekend since were to leave for California the following Wednesday to participate in a special Formula B race (Held in conjunction with the Titan Reunion at Thunderhill.). As such, I didn’t want to risk breaking something in LaJunta. The main purpose of taking it to LaJunta was to be sure it was race-ready and, most importantly, to give Gene his chance to take laps in the car which he purchased 38 years ago and cared for so well all these years. The picture at the right shows me getting ready to take the car out on its maiden voyage, Gene looking on.

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John Mihalich photo
It was a grand event. Saturday morning we "fitted" Gene in the car in the pits to be sure he was familiar with everything. Then during the lunch break he was sent on his way, having the track to himself for several laps and with every one in the paddock at trackside to cheer him on. Shown at the left, Gene is getting help belting in, getting ready for his laps.


A huge turnout to cheer Gene on.

John Mihalich photo
As Gene later said, he never thought he'd see the day that he'd be driving his car after all those years of seeing it in the barn. And as the supreme complement to me he said, "I think that's probably the prettiest Alexis in the whole darn world." Well, it's certainly the lowest mileage Alexis, that's for sure!
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John Mihalich photo
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Diane and Bob welcome Gene in after his many laps. A happier man you'll never see. The expression on Gene's face made the whole project well worth the effort.

Thanks, Gene, for taking such great care of the car and for giving me the privilege of bringing it to its intended use as a living, breathing, active race car. It’s been a great adventure.

Now, it’s off to the races.
 
 
P.S.  A couple of years after completing the project, Mark Brinker (Houston) was kind enough to write up the Russell-Alexis in his wonderful monthly column, "Hidden Treasures,"  published in Vintage Racecar magazine.  To read that nice article, click here.
 

Chapter Two

Summer of 2013

 

Well, it's now over ten years since this unique racecar came into the Team Terrific stables.  The car has provided to be a lot of fun.  But, alas, last May the TwinCam engine threw a rod. Since I've had about as much fun as I can stand with the Lotus TwinCam engine, a decision has been made to return the chassis to its originally intended (pre-Fred Opert) purpose, a Russell-Alexis Formula Ford.

 

Returning the car to Formula Ford trim will be relatively simple; some bits of the twin can can be salvage and sold and the very rare wheels and equally rare MK-4 Hewland 4-speed gearbox can be also be sold to someone who has a more appropriate application for these unique items. (see below for that page in this chapter)  Additionally spec Formula Ford Kent pushrod motors are readily available, the car can be fitted with the required FF wheels and tires, and an appropriate 4-speed Hewland can be sourced.  And all the new goodies easily fitted to the chassis.  Bingo, a Formula Ford.  And, the car will still retain its uniqueness as one of the very first FFs ever made (i.e. following the initial batch of Lotus 51 cars) and will continue to be one of the most original, as delivered, 1968 chassis.

 

So the project moves forward to the next chapter.   

 

While the TwinCam threw a rod, the block & crank (with modest repairs), Lotus head, and Weber carbs are quite marketable.  Pete Christensen (Total Precision Engines) will be taking care of the Lotus engine repairs, preparing them for sale.  He will also be sourcing a new Kent FF engine.

 

Dec. 2013 -- The world of vintage race cars is amazingly small.  It turns out Lou Russo in Australia has, for several years, been in the process of restoring the car in the picture below.   (Click to see larger image)

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First of all note the wheels on this 1966 picture!  Yup, the very same American Racing Libra Mag wheels delivered to Gene Bashor back in 1968 for his "FB Roller." According to Lou, here's the story on the above car, serial HF602: 

"Alexis HF602 was originally designed and built to run in the European Formula 2 & 3 series. Mauricio Gamboa was looking to run/develop a Formula B car to run in SCCA events with Ed and he was able to purchase HF602 through the Winkelman brothers. HF602 was the first Alexis converted to Formula B Spec, a series/formula in its infancy at the time. A very successful car driven by Ed Marshall and owned by Mauricio Gamboa. This car won many races and also won the 1966 Mexican Grand Prix. Mauricio and Ed made a great team.

"The car was often referred to as the Gamboa Alexis Ford. After the accident, Maurico stripped the chassis and kept some parts that were salvageable. I purchased the chassis and remains in 2009 from his family.

". . . . Alexis HF602 met with a catastrophic accident in 1967 and was never repaired, flipping end on end numerous times down the straight at Cotati raceway coming to rest rather bent and broken.

So, the wheels are on their way to Australia to be reunited with a period correct Alexis FB car.  How cool is that?  Hopefully Lou will at some point send pictures of the completed restoration with the "Bashor wheels."  And to add a note of vintage madness, the the tires from Bashor's car wound up in California on an historically significant Sunbeam Tiger. (Click here for that story)

 

Jan. 2014 -- As noted above, the Hewland Mk-4 transmission which was included in the FB roller and installed during the refurbishment isn't legal for returning the car to FF trim.  So it was put up for sale. Turns out that 5-speed transmission was used on a number of the mid-60s Formula Junior cars.  I've now sold the gearbox to a fellow in the UK who is restoring a Lotus 22 FJ of the era.  He was ecstatic to get the gearbox which will allow him to make the persnickety FIA happy.  When he sends me some pics of the car, I'll post them here.

 

The "Return to FF Trim" Project

April 2015  -  At last, the Russell-Alexis project to return it to FF trim is fully underway.  

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A new Kent motor was supplied by Total Precision Engines (Pete Christensen), and a fresh MK-8 four speed gearbox was built up out of bits and pieces I could find/buy here and there.. New water system bits were fabricated to fit the Kent engine New throttle linkage fabricated

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Found and installed an exhaust system for the Kent engine.

Mountings for a new Peterson dry sump oil tank and exhaust bracket fabricated. All new oil lines fitted.

 

Still to do is re-machining both front and rear hubs for a bolt circle to & studs to fit the nice Revolution FF wheels.   Then it'll be track ready, once again after several years (Summer of 2013) and back to its originally intended Formula Ford configuration.

 

July 2015 -- Finally, done. It's now back to being a FF. 

(Click to enlarge)

 

  

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