Sports Racing Cars Designed and Built In the 1960’s by Gene Beach and Henry Grady
By H. I. Kleinpeter - Victory Lane magazine December 1995
[Webmaster's notes by Nick England, 2002]
The collaboration of Gene Beach and Henry Grady in the late ‘50’s was a
real benefit to small bore modified racers. These two talents, both jointly and
singly, created some of America’s most interesting and successful G and H
modified sports racers.
Many of the details relative to their Begra (BEach-GRAdy) racers have
appeared in print over the years, most notably in Sports Car Graphic and Car and
Driver articles of that era. The laudatory reports on the Begra cars exceeded
many times the number of cars made, and readers who are more interested can
obtain the references from the writer.
Early in WW II, Gene Beach was an engineering student at the University of Florida and in the ROTC. Called to active duty as a 2nd Lieutenant six months before his graduation date, he was assigned initially to artillery. Before long he was transferred to Tank Destroyer development in Texas, and subsequently to Air Corps flight school. Having graduated, and while training with a Battle of Britain veteran, the engine in his P-47 fighter quit at a mere 1500 feet while returning to what is now Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C.
Gene bailed out at less than 500 feet (P47’s descended rather quickly
without their massive and heavy power plant operating) and broke his back on
impact. For six months he suffered paralysis from the waist down, and to this
day the adverse effects are with him. He returned to the university, finished up
in 1946, went back into the Air Corp for another year in connection with
treatment, then medical evaluation, and was discharged again.
With his Industrial Engineering degree, Beach opened a practice in
Clearwater, FL in association with an architect. Several years later, he passed
the state examinations and began his own architectural practice. Besides all
that and raising a family, by 1954 he was racing an MGTD. Next he built his own
racer from a Crosley to which he had made heavy modifications of his own
creation. His first real design was probably the Panhard-engined car which he
drew for Don Kearney (much later, a Datsun ace) who was working for Henry Grady
at the latter’s sports car agency in Clearwater. Thus Beach meets Grady
Henry Grady was another ex-Air Force pilot. Graduated from the University of
North Carolina in 1951 with a degree in Physics, he won commission and wings in
‘53 and spent the next three years flying the big multiengined planes like
C119’s, B29’s, C-97’s and such, mostly in the Orient. Before Vietnam was
Vietnam, Grady and his planes displaying French air force markings were doing
missions in French Indo-China!
By 1958, Grady, now discharged, with two former air force buddies,
established an auto sales agency in Clearwater, FL called Vitesse Sports Cars.
As previously mentioned, he there met Gene Beach. A little later Grady
established a foreign car parts business in Tampa at a Fiat dealership, and at
that place met Bryan Webb. These two later moved to Miami and started Import
Motor Parts. Webb went on to become, in the writer’s opinion, the best
official, Director, and Chief Steward the SCCA has ever had.
Beach and Grady teamed up to produce the first Begra (Begra MK I) in early 1959. Being the ingenious innovators that they both were, the duo realized that the best way to proceed was to capitalize on the success of others. In this case the Fiat company with their excellent little 600 model would provide basic suspension geometry and a marvelous quantity of needed components. Plus, by buying a new Fiat, the local bank would unknowingly finance the project. Even more money was available by selling back to the Fiat dealer, the still new bodywork, seats, interior, etc!
1, 1960 at Master’s Field, Miami, Florida with pleased new owner Jerry Morgan
at the wheel. Crouched beside the Begra is Henry Grady, co-designer/builder.
Standing behind is Bryan Webb, Grady’s business partner in Import Motor Parts.
Mechanic-helper Ivan Trafimof making adjustments.
The chassis of this car was a space frame of welded up square mild steel tubing. The suspension pivot points were identical to the Fiat 600. The attractive and aerodynamic body of this car was aluminum, and was personally created by Beach, who had no experience at all at this craft, by hammering it out over the famous “stump”.
The suspension, wheels, brakes, transmission, rear swing axles, steering
and engine were all from the donor Fiat. Grady enlarged the engine to 748 cc for
the SCCA H modified class and got about 40 hp. The entire vehicle with driver
aboard weighed about 800 lbs. The driver sat on the left.
Barely a week after it was completed the Begra’s first race had Gene Beach
at the controls at Cocoa, FL and started from the back of the grid. Moving
rapidly to third place the Begra was stuck there to the end, being unable to get
around two Porsches dueling for first place overall, but easily winning its
class. From then on, Grady and Beach swapped driving duties at Florida SCCA
events, refining the car and going from success to success. The car was gaining
in reputation and respect.
They sold it to Jerry Morgan of Eau Gallie who raced it for awhile with the
original uprated Fiat engine. Continuing their interest, Beach and Grady
convinced Morgan to install a Saab 750 which Grady brought up to near factory GT
performance levels with no help from Saab. Problems related to an electric
tachometer installation plagued the Begra’s performance for awhile. But like
Grady said “when it worked, it out-accelerated everything on the grid”. Once
the revlimiting problem was behind them, about 55 hp was available to propel
the car to win after win.
Paul Kneeland, then in Silver Springs, MD next owned the car, swapping a
Bug-eye Sprite for it. Kneeland replaced the 750 cc with an 850 cc Saab as the
former blew up at the first race. Kneeland says the Chris Custer tuned 850 was
so powerful that it frequently tore up the Fiat 600 transmission gears. Other
immobilizing problems came from the exhaust system which frequently broke due to
the chassis flexing.
Kneeland raced the car in the Washington, D.C. area for several years and
said, “when it went, it went incredibly fast.” He made changes to the
bodywork during that period as the original alloy body had suffered over the
years. When Kneeland bought the car it came with a spare nose in fiberglass,
apparently a MK II item. As he recalls it was slightly wider and longer than the
original which he replaced. The tail section was built up a bit over the tires
to provide more clearance and used as a plug for mold from which a fiberglass
tail was made.
About 1964 the car was sold with the replacement bodywork to one Wesley
Glantz of Albion, NY. Its present situation is unknown.
[Webmaster's note - click here for more
photos of Mk I]
[Webmaster's note - click here for more photos of Mk I]
“Sebring” Begra on the grid prior to the 1961 Sebring 12 Hour. Standing beside the car (l. to r.) are Bryan Webb, a future important SCCA official, Gene Beach, co-designer/builder/driver, and Bill Orr, master race car mechanic.
The “Sebring” Begra, or Begra MK II as it is also known, was the next
joint effort and was made in early 1961. The success of the first car and the
promise of Saab powered performance encouraged construction of a new car
destined to race at the legendary 12 Hours of Sebring in March of 1961. With
only one car to their credit Beach-Grady had acquired the status of Constructors
and had an entry accepted.
By this time Grady had moved to Miami and the car was being constructed in
Clearwater, some 5 hours drive away, necessitating a tiring night trip Friday
and Sunday to work on the car and return. During the week telephone conferences
had to suffice. A new stronger and somewhat heavier chassis was created to
withstand the rigors of 12 hours over the deteriorating concrete of the Sebring
bomber field runways. A deal had been struck with Saab to provide not only a
factory GT engine but a factory technician for the race to boot.
Brakes and suspension were beefed up. Whereas the Begra I used Fiat 600
the Begra 11 used Multipla brakes and 1100 front suspension. Rear suspension and
transaxle remained Fiat 600. Left and right side fuel tanks of 17 gallon
capacity went into pontoons. The driver still sat on the left hand side but the
bigger of the two fuel tanks on the right helped to cross balance the car. The
engine was again rear mounted (behind the gearbox).
A new fiberglass body was constructed based mostly on the earlier version,
but with a prettier nose, and painted a brilliant blue. The promised Saab engine
arrived at very near the last moment. Grady took a week off, and final
preparation began. The drivers for this happening were Beach and Grady, plus
John Bentley, who was an 8 time veteran of the 12 Hour race and had won the
Index of Performance the previous year in an Osca.
Mostly an undiagnosed engine problem plagued the new car during practice. It would not start, and when it did start it would not run under 1600 rpm. For a lap it would run fine, then the next badly. The Saab mechanic showed up after the race was under way and was of no help at all. But around and around it went for 4 hours and 52 minutes until the Saab engine exploded.
Grady summed it up by saying, “We’re not happy with Saab, and Saab
isn’t happy with us”. End of the Begra/Sebring adventure.
A borrowed twin-cam 750 Fiat was next installed in the car and a driver’s
school was attended with this power plant, but it had to be returned. Grady then
took the car to Miami and fitted a Ford 105E bored to 11 1100cc. In an effort
to reduce weight, an aluminum Aquaplane cylinder head with twin Webers was
fitted, along with a Holbay spec camshaft. The cam was borrowed from the engine
in Charlie Kolb’s 1961 Sebring Formula Junior Gemini, with which he had
trounced everyone there, and sent to Harvey Crane for copying. Begra 2 was
acquired by the writer and ran with drama in SCCA events in Florida as a G
Modified. It invariably led every event, besting the area Lola MK I and similar
Modifieds except when the engine broke and the time the incredible Kolb showed
up in a new Merlyn and just drove away.
The car itself never required any attention, but the engine suffered two
problems: blown head gaskets and broken crankshafts. The mechanics for the
Team Rosebud Formula Junior’s had told Grady that a Holbay cammed engine could
be taken to 9000 rpm. What they did not reveal was that they were using a steel
crankshaft and not the 105E hollow cast crankshaft! In 1963, the writer raced
the car at the Nassau Speed Weeks but suffered a piston failure in practice
and the racing itself was without accomplishment. Besides the engine problems
which were resolved by lowering the shift points to 7500 rpm, there was a handling
problem (oversteer) because of the rear engine mounting with the skinny tires
which was all that was available then. If it rained, Grady’s advice was to
“park it”. Later the next year the car was sold to insurance adjuster
Philip Cree of Coral Gables, FL who raced it irregularly for about a year and in
turn sold it to a buyer whose name was soon forgotten. The car was reported at
one time in the Key West, FL area. Present owner and location is unknown.
[Webmaster's note - click here for more
photos of the Mk II]
[Webmaster's note - click here for more
photos of the Mk II]
While Grady was developing the Ford in the “Sebring” Begra, it was
principally driven by Jack Landers, later killed in a student’s car while
instructing at an SCCA school at Palm Beach International Raceway. Gene Beach on
his own was creating the Begra 3. These cars were a fresh design and probably
should have been named “Beach’s”. Whereas the earlier Begras were rear-engined,
these were mid-engined in a redesigned frame. A fully independent suspension
all around, Fiat front uprights with purpose designed steel fabricated rear
uprights and Fiat drum brakes and wheels were used. The front suspension was
conventional wishbone hung on bushings. The rear used simple transverse links,
top and bottom, with a single lower trailing arm.
The driver sat on the left in a fiberglass body much like the “Sebring” Begra but sporting a handsome new tail section featuring a little “porch” or step at the back. The rear wheels/tires were now completely exposed by the rounded wheel arch. A Fiat 600 gearbox was inverted and Beach designed his own adapter which he had cast in aluminum.
Roosevelt Begra 3-01 powered by a 750cc twin cam Flat-Abarth engine, being
driven by Gene Beach, designer/builder in 1962 at a Florida race track, probably
Beach made two of these cars in late 1961 and 1962. Begra 3-01 was built for
Team Roosevelt manager, John Norwood. It was fitted with a 750cc Fiat Abarth
twin cam, and entered in the December, 1961 Nassau Speed Week event. It did not
race, a minor but unresolved engine problem occurring. The Begra spent the
next six months or so in Beach’s possession in Florida. With the engine
resolved both Beach and Bobby Richardson raced and won with it in SCCA events.
Now fully competitive it was returned to Team Roosevelt. This car is now owned
by Ed Gavin of Yuba City, California, but at present is not being raced.
[Webmaster's note - Bil Mundus bought 3-001
from Beach in 1965]
[Webmaster's note - Bil Mundus bought 3-001 from Beach in 1965]
Begra 3-02 was built for George Avent of Kingstree, SC. He installed a 750cc
twin-cam Fiat Abarth purchased from Team Roosevelt at Washington, D.C.
Meticulous and determined in his racing, Avent won the SCCA Southeast National
Division title in his Begra in 1962 and 1964. In 1963 and 1965, he was runner-up
to the Champion. Prior to selling the car in 1967 or ‘68, he had converted the
drum brakes to disc units and replaced the fabricated rear uprights with
Beach’s new cast alloy uprights. Present situation of the car is unknown.
[Webmaster's note - 3-002 photos]
[Webmaster's note - 3-002 photos]
Two more Begra 3’s were sold in kit form. One to Frank Stark of
Mechanicsburg, PA in 1962. Stark installed a 750cc Saab mated to an inverted
Fiat gearbox, and used Triumph Spitfire front uprights and disc brakes. The
Begra 3 was raced by him until 1967, having taken the 3rd place in Divisional
Championship points in two of those years. He sold the car to a Gene Leavens in
New Jersey in 1967. The whereabouts of this car at this time is unknown.
According to Gene Beach’s recollection, a Begra 3 kit was sold to a buyer in
Wyoming, but nothing else is remembered or known about this car. In all, only
four Begras were completely constructor built, two by the joint effort of Grady
and Beach, and two by Beach alone, but a total of five or six existed.
[Webmaster's note - Stark's car 3-003 was
later destroyed in a hillclimb accident, and the 3-004 kit car was bought
in 1962 by Andy
Anderson in Missouri (not Wyoming) and is now in Hawaii]
[Webmaster's note - Stark's car 3-003 was later destroyed in a hillclimb accident, and the 3-004 kit car was bought in 1962 by Andy Anderson in Missouri (not Wyoming) and is now in Hawaii]
Now doing business as Competition Components in Clearwater, FL, Beach penned
a production series of totally new cars - the MK 4’s. These were to become his
most successful cars and 17 of them were made. [Click for car
history by serial number]. Two of the MK4’s, then an
upgraded model called the MK4B of which five were created. One MK 4C (2 liter
BMW), six MK 4B Series II, plus three 4B SRV’s which were identical to the
Series II cars except that they utilized VW engines and the front and rear axle
assemblies from the VW Beetle. All of these cars were for SCCA F, G, or H
Modified categories, but the original idea behind the SRV’s was that buyers
would purchase entire cars or kits and run them as fun road cars.
Abandoning the Fiat components for suspension, Beach went to Triumph Spitfire
front uprights and disc brakes. At the rear, major improvements were the single
upper trailing arm and a lower wishbone, plus transverse camber link. For the
bodywork, the nose was lowered and flattened. The tail was the same as the Begra
3 except that the mudguard area behind and beside the tires was cut off
at the axle line. Once again, the chassis was subtly redesigned. The inverted
Fiat 600 gearbox with custom adapter was offered. The driver sat on the left in
front of a single width anti-roll bar (still without brace) and the car had two
Beach as the designer, constructor, and frequently driver of his cars readily perceived areas where improvements could be made. As a consequence running changes and upgrades were standard operating procedure at his small factory. He only made two of the MK4 cars, before he introduced the MK4B. Within two years, further changes warranted another new designation, the MK4B/Series II, and before another year passed, the SRV model. All the while he was turning out Formula Vee’s by the hundreds, and found time to create a lovely little GT Coupe - the MK8
Photo above - original Mk 4 - Jim Downing at Bainbridge?
Elmer Jenkins and Roy Schecter owned Sports Cars International in Miami
Springs, FL and as BMW distributors had acquired the Hans Stuck/Hill Climb 700
coupe, using a 2 cylinder, air-cooled, engine producing 65 Bhp. The first and
only Beach built MK 4 went to them with the 700cc coupe engine installed. The
car with Jenkins aboard was featured on the single page sales flyer for this
model. Schecter, Jenkins, and Jeff Stevens alternatively raced the car in
Florida SCCA events.
Jenkins sold the car to Eben DeGrasse who sold it to the now more than then
nationally known IMSA Champion, Jim Downing of Atlanta, who removed the BMW and
installed a D-B which had greater displacement and raced it in SCCA in 1965. The
next owner, Bill Hobbs, installed the now popular Sunbeam/Hillman Imp engine. Ron Pinto of
Palo Verdes, California has owned and raced this car since 1988, still with an
Imp motor. [Webmaster's note - This Mk4 is s/n 3-005]
[Webmaster's note - This Mk4 is s/n 3-005]
The other MK4 was sold as a kit to Hugh Grammer of Dallas, TX. This car was apparently the first Beach sports racer to have an identification number, “100”. Still uncompleted, Grammer sold the MK4-100 to Fred Cox, the Jaguar, Sunbeam, etc., dealer in Nashville, TN. [Webmaster's note - this paragraph is mistaken. Grammer received a Mk4B (not Mk4) kit s/n 100 in 9/64 and completed and raced it himself in 65-66 - he did not sell it to Cox. Cox's original Mk4 (4-001) was evidently a kit originally sold to Lotus Southwest, explaining the Texas connection.]
Cox installed an Imp mated to a Fiat 600
gearbox and proceeded to win the H Modified SCCA Southeast Division National
Championship in 1965. Cox sold it in 1967 to Dr. Philip Porch who finished 2nd
in division to Cox in 1968 and ‘69.
In December of 1969, Porch sold the MK4 Beach to Dean Hanson in Corvallis,
OR. Revisions and restoration were done and the car raced in the SCCA Oregon
region in ‘70 and ‘71. Hanson says the car was fast but engine problems
prevented much success. Doug Van Dyke next owned the car and raced it for six
years, winning the Regional Championship in three of those years.
Early in 1983, he sold the car minus the Imp engines to Tom Ellis, well known
in historic restoration circles, of Boulder, CO. Ellis installed a 1200cc
Datsun engine and VW gearbox and raced it for awhile with that powerplant. At
this time a Ford 1500cc engine and MK4 Hewland is about to be installed.
[Webmaster's note - this Mk4 (4-001) is currently owned by Steve Gesse in
[Webmaster's note - this Mk4 (4-001) is currently owned by Steve Gesse in Colorado]
To be continued. Part II, the Beach MK4B, MK4B/Series II, MK4C, MK4B/SRV, MK8
GT Coupe, Grady Alfa, and the Grady Honda.
“Hugh” Kleinpeter, the author, is President of Royale Racing and Restoration Ltd, specializing in the restoring of historic Beach and Royale racing cars. His involvement as mechanic, driver, constructor, and restorer spans 39 years.
[Webmaster's Note - Unfortunately, Hugh died in 2002 without ever writing Part II. He passed along his notes to me and this web site is my attempt to pull together more history on Beach and Begra sports racing cars. - Nick England.]