Go to 500 Owners Home PageFormula III Racing In North America
by Harry C Reynolds


Received wisdom is that the Americans never quite “got” single-seater racing, preferring sports cars and oval roadsters, and were largely ignorant of the European and South American stars. So it may come as a surprise to learn that they were not only aware, but also as thrilled by Moss, Fangio, Ascari et al as the European fans. Moreover, for some 15 years single seaters played a key role in the developing post-War motorsport scene, with 500s, Juniors and Formula Vee all playing their part.

500s began appearing in the USA in 1951 and soon enthusiastic communities had formed on both the East Coast and West - the latter sub-divided between Southern California and the Northern states. As in Britain, the little cars punched well above their weight, surprising many and attracting scorn from the sports car snobs. Although a selection of Effyhs and Coopers arrived on the East Coast first, it was when “Mr Five Hundred” Harry Morrow founded the 500 Club of North America from Burbank, California that interest really took off. On the West Coast, several effective specials (“homebuilts”) were built, culminating in the LeGrand/Cheetah Mk 1. The series would run until 1965, surviving the rise and fall of Formula Junior and the popularity of the Vees in the early sixties. Now, the series is represented by a small but enthusiastic group dispersed across the continent.

Until now searchable history has been almost non-existent. Much of the source material is not available - the governing body SCCA having literally skipped it - and only with the internet helping researchers connect and collaborate has serious progress been made.

Now period racer and long time 500-enthusiast Harry Reynolds has finally published his guide to the complete history of the American series - and what a long and incredibly complicated story it is. Rather than focus on a driver or marque, Harry has attempted to document the entire history of everything. From general overviews and driver profiles to chassis histories and as many race results as possible, Harry has tried to record it and build it into a readable tale. It’s an impossible task, but someone has to at least try so others can criticise and develop it.

The main story is built in chronological order with a chapter for each season, divided between East Coast (which stretched across to the Mid-West) and the Pacific Coast west of the Rockies. Each chapter is generously loaded with detailed results, photos (properly captioned - a boon for researchers), and line drawings of cars, circuit plans and more - some more relevant than others. Whilst clearly not a professional writer, Harry does a good job of unpicking a complicated and unfamiliar story into something the reader can comprehend - having done some of the research that contributed to the book, I can say that is no small feat. Combined with the period photos, the reader gradually builds an understanding of the history. Commendably, Harry has not fudged his way through gaps in the story in an attempt to present this as the definitive guide. The question mark, indicating either “not sure” or just “don’t know” appears regularly - but better this honesty than trying to unpick errors in the future. There are some errors, but more by omission than anything else, and craftily a web page has been set up so corrections and new information can be published.

The main section of the book is completed with a summary of the revival of the 500s in historic racing. It then documents every 500 chassis known to survive in the USA - there’s a certain irony that whilst the 500 Owners Association has assisted the Americans greatly with research, several of the cars listed have already been pirated away to the UK, limiting options for our colleagues in the colonies.

The book weighs in at 270 pages, and is a good read. For the serious researcher it is a required purchase as the only book available on the subject. But for the casual reader it is still a fine first attempt to document a tale that has almost been forgotten. Review by Richard Hodges

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