Vintage cars set off TV series nostalgia

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If you are of a certain age, you may remember a television series entitled, “The Naked City.” On the air from 1958-63, the program used a docu-drama format — commonplace now, groundbreaking then — to follow the work of a group of supposedly fictional New York City police detectives.

Car guys (and gals) may be interested to discover that the same production and writing team behind “The Naked City” also was responsible for the “Route 66” television series that aired from 1960-64.

We share such television nostalgia and TV trivia because we want to share the line that ended each episode of those “Naked City” telecasts — an anonymous voice telling us, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.”

We use that line, and the tie between “The Naked City” and “Route 66,” to inform you that a record 94 cars participated in the Copperstate 1000 vintage sports car rally this year, the 23rd annual mille miglia tour of Arizona highways and byways, and that each of those cars — and its driver and co-driver — came home with a story.

We share one of them (well, actually, as it turns out, two of them) below:

John and Peg Leshinski of Scottsdale are Copperstate regulars who this year decided to do the drive in a 1951 Allard K-2, one of only 35 such open-cockpit roadsters built by British racing driver and sports car constructor Sydney Allard still known to exist. This particular Allard was purchased new by Al Unser Sr., who raced it up Pikes Peak (and who later would win the Indianapolis 500 four times).

Because the Allard not only has on open cockpit but only a pair of very small wind deflectors instead of true windshield, John Leshinski wanted Peg to be both as comfortable and as protected as possible, so he decided they should wear period-correct helmets on the rally.

He found a French company that makes just such helmets, and with clear and full-face wind visors. “They looked like what Phil Hill wore,” John Leshinski said in reference to the only native-born American ever to win the world Grand Prix driving championship, in 1961.

This year, the Copperstate route included not only Arizona roads, but a stretch of northbound pavement across the Mohave Desert in California. It was on that stretch that a big, southbound semi and its trailer created turbulence so strong it dislodged the Allard’s hood, which broke the leather strap across the bonnet (the British term for a car hood), and the loose hood slammed back over the passenger compartment, smacking John and Peg Leshinski in their heads, or, more accurately, in their helmets.

Peg compared the impact to be “hit by a railroad tie.”

Somehow, John got the car stopped safely, neither of them was injured, so, with help from others who stopped, they removed what remained of the hood and continued on along the route.

Remember the earlier mention in this article of Phil Hill? Well, his son, Derek, was part of the Copperstate contingent this year.

Chris Andrews of Fort Worth, Texas, brought two cars to the event. He and Jennifer Moore drove Andrews’ 1962 Shelby Cobra 289 while his 1962 Aston Martin DB4 was assigned to Wayne Carini and Hill. Carini is a car restoration specialist and host of the “Chasing Classic Cars” television show. Hill is an auto racer and was the driver in those Cadillac commercials that sent a ATS to challenge some of the world’s most spectacular stretches of pavement, for which Hill and the Cadillac film crew traveled from Monaco to Morocco and from China to Patagonia.

Oh, we also must mention that Derek Hill is the son of Phil Hill.

We also must mention that the first car Phil Hill drove and raced in Europe was a 1953 Ferrari 340 MM Le Mans Spyder.

And guess what? The very 1953Ferrari 340 MM Le Mans Spyder that Phil Hill drove and raced in Europe is now owned by Michael and Katharina Leventhal of Chicago. Not only are the Leventhals regulars on the Copperstate, but they regularly drive the route in the 340 MM. On the second day of the Copperstate this year, they asked Derek Hill if he’d like to drive his Dad’s car.

“That was very special,” Derek Hill said after the drive, “driving the very same car that my was the first car my Dad drove and raced in Europe.”

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at ledsall@cox.net.