When Michael Keyser started in five races for the 1972 World Championship of Makes with two private Porsche 911 STs, he brought along a camera crew to have himself and the other protagonists filmed. From the resulting footage, he created the motorsport documentary The Speed Merchants and the book of the same title, both classics of their genre. For AUTOMOBILSPORT, Keyser opened his archives and recounts how filming went at the first race in Europe – the legendary Targa Florio.
My association with Porsche goes back to the late 50s when I was occasionally allowed to drive my father's red Speedster from the main road to the house. In 1966, the summer after I graduated from school, I was assigned the enviable task of picking up his new 911 at the factory. Three other classmates were in the party, and with two of them behind the wheel of a rented VW fastback, we made a Stuttgart-Strasbourg-Paris-Chartres-Tours-Beaune-Dijon-Geneva-Lausanne-Zurich-St. Moritz-Innsbruck-Munich-Salzburg-Cortina-Venice-Florence-Siena banzai "cultural" run, eventually ending up at our family's summer home on the Mediterranean coast, in Porto Ercole, Italy.
In 1969 a good friend named John Shaw had been at the Sebring 12 Hours and returned to Maryland with a hearty endorsement of the sport of motor racing. The next thing I knew, the two of us had bought a 1967 911S, converted it for two-litre Trans-Am racing and prevailed on Bruce Jennings to drive it. At the end of the season, I took the car to a PCA event at Marlboro, attended an SCCA school at the same track later that fall and another the following spring at Bridgehampton. There was no looking back after that, and for the next two years, I drove the car under the team name, Toad Hall, in SCCA regional and national events, the first IMSA races, and the Daytona 24 Hours, Sebring 12 Hours and Watkins Glen 6 Hours.
At the end of 1971, the new 2.5-litre cars were introduced by Porsche, and I placed an order for one. Figuring it would be helpful to show my face in Zuffenhausen, I took a trip to the factory in mid-December with Franz Blam. Franz had just taken over as service manager at North Lake Porsche-Audi in Tucker, Georgia, and had agreed to oversee the preparation of the car. Somewhere over the Atlantic on the way to Germany, the idea I'd been kicking around for some time crystallised in my mind. Since being bitten by the racing bug two years before, I'd made it an almost personal crusade to try and explain what a fantastic sport motor racing was to the uninitiated.
To that end I'd spent much of that time hopscotching around the United States and Europe, taking photographs for what would eventually be a photo essay on the sport entitled The Speed Merchants. Work on this book was nearing completion, and I thought the logical progression was a documentary film along the same lines. I'd seen a one-hour network television special on stock car racing called The Hard Chargers that had the cinéma vérité look and feel that appealed to me, and had tracked down one of the producers in New York to discuss possibilities. Why not, I thought, take the new Porsche, race it in a number of the Manufacturer's Championship events, and at the same time make a documentary film about the series. Where allowed, I could also use it as a camera car. It all seemed so logical at the time, not to mention that I felt money could eventually be made on the distribution of the film, Bruce Brown's surfing classic, Endless Summer, still being fresh in my mind.
Arriving at the Porsche factory with Franz, we were met by Jürgen Barth who was working in what I came to know as the "sports department". Our car was in production and I snapped a few shots of it in the metal shop where wider fender flares were being mated with the stock body. We were also allowed to inspect one of the new 2.5-injected motors. Before leaving I made an offer to Jürgen, who was already following in his late father Edgar's footsteps as a driver, albeit on road courses, not in hillclimbs. Would he be interested in driving with me in some of the races in 1972? I told him about my idea for the film, and his immediate response was positive. We agreed to communicate over the next few weeks, and with that, out the door we went, back across the Atlantic.
Between the last week of December and the first week of January, I moved ahead with what now seems like mind-boggling speed, assembling an entire New York-based film production crew and making plans to both race and film at Daytona, Sebring, the Targa Florio, the Nürburgring, Le Mans and Watkins Glen. I'd already asked Bob Beasley of Richmond, Virginia, to drive with me at Daytona, which was a 6-hour event that year, but Jürgen agreed to come on board at Sebring and co-drive in the remaining events. We ran into problems at Daytona and DNFd, but the weekend wasn't a complete loss. Hans Mandt, who had worked for Peter Gregg for a number of years, decided to abruptly part company with him and before the race was over, Hans agreed to come to work with me. Franz, whose job at North Lake would have prevented him from making the trip to Europe, graciously stepped aside.
Working out of the garage at his house in Jacksonville, Hans prepared the car for Sebring. Being a member of the PCA, I decided to run a Porsche Club of America windshield sticker in all the international events, which we did. The rough Sebring airport circuit took a toll on something that escapes my mind, and again we DNFd, this time Jürgen and I driving together. After filming the first race at Daytona with a small crew, including shooting some footage from the race car, Toad Hall Productions, as the company was called, launched an all-out assault on Sebring. I can't remember the exact number in the company's employ, but there must have been 30 or more "toads" poking cameras and microphones in every nook and cranny of the airport circuit.
Before the Daytona event, I'd written personal letters to all the team managers and principal drivers for Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Lola and Mirage explaining what it was I was trying to accomplish by making the documentary film, and enlisting their help. Basically, I asked them to "act naturally" when they saw us lurking around. To our pleasant surprise, we found most of them were genuinely interested in helping, not the least of whom was Peter Schetty, the Ferrari team manager. We'd received permission from him for one of our camera crews to place lights around their garage in anticipation of shooting the engine changes on the night before the race and other preparations of their three-car team. The camera crew hadn't finished mounting the lights when the Ferrari mechanics were ready to leave for dinner, so amazingly Peter handed the keys to the garage to the production manager, told him to lock up when they were finished and bring them to him at the restaurant where they'd be eating!
After Sebring, we had a little more than a month to prepare the car for the three European races, having made arrangements to ship the car inside a small slant-bed GMC transporter from Jacksonville to Hamburg. We were running Firestone tyres at that time, and in addition to taking spare parts and a spare engine and transmission, we packed in as much rubber as we possibly could. Hans was to fly to Frankfurt, take a train to Hamburg and return to Stuttgart with the transporter and race car. Actually, the base of operations was to be the Max Moritz' dealership, south of Stuttgart, in the town of Reutlingen. For personal transport during the month and a half I was to be in Europe, and also to use as a practice car for the Targa Florio, I'd arranged to purchase, through Max Moritz, a second 2.5-litre "lightweight" or rally 911. Both the race car and the rally car were bright yellow, the colour my Toad Hall cars had run in for the past two years…
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