Loss of a Legend

by Tom Colby

There are in our lives people who inspire us to persevere and help us to do whatever it is that we do. John Sprinzel is one of those people in my life. John, in England in 1957, you take your mother’s Austin A35 to a Hill Climb, and win the event. This apparently scratches an itch for then soon after that Speedwell Performance Conversions begins in a tiny garage and the upstairs apartment is the main office. Sales and service of parts and racing cars go through the roof. You enter the RAC Rally and place 1st overall. You set the pace, you race and rally—and win—all over the world. Stirling Moss races the car you prepare in the Sebring 12 hour. Future World GP Champion Graham Hill buys your share of your company so you can go on to bigger and better things, like being a factory-backed rally driver. Superstars are your customers. Ursula Andress buys a Mini Cooper from you. A Playboy Bunny and fashion model comes into the showroom of your business, buys a Marcos GT from you. The two of you end up getting married—and stay married!

I, myself, was born in 1959 and raised in Southern Cali during its heyday of hot rods, sports cars, surfing, aerospace, movies and TV Industry. I got into everything I could, from building sets, stunt work, special effects, motorcycles, slot cars, rock & roll. I was able to watch much of this truly remarkable time in history unfold. I went to my first Drag Race while in the Indian Guides at San Fernando Raceway (ironically, directly across the street from my business, Speedwell Engineering), My parents never turned on the TV news when I was around, so for me, I received the bulk of my understanding of the world from ABC’s Wide World of Sports, cartoons, and three magazines that my older brother bought each month: Road & Track, Hot Rod, and MAD Magazine. Humor, racing cars, sports, and more racing cars. Combined with what at the time was a very good educational system, and a great family with two loving parents and a spectacular older brother and sister, I had so many possible options in life.

For certain, what was a huge inspiration for me was that I always noticed, either in my magazines, or viewing sports on TV, was that when the Big Event was over, the winners were being interviewed, a microphone, applause, happy people, and the Trophy. And every time in those scenes was “The Girl.” Of course times have changed more than quite a bit, and even at 10 years old I was smart enough to know that the Trophy Girl deal ended right after the congratulatory “Big Kiss,” and also that the pretty girl probably couldn’t wait to get home, take a bath while thinking, “Holy smoke was that guy hot, sweaty and stinky!”

With Mr. Sprinzel’s example seeded in my mind, I decided to try and live The Dream of my particular point in time—when hard work, imagination, hand tools, and group effort could not only bring in some sort of a living while pursuing The Dream, but also, having attaining that, going that extra step and getting the girl of your dreams and living happily ever after. That’d be just about as spectacular as can be. Very few of us will ever get there. Which I guess is why he was called “Lucky John.”

RIP, my friend. MM

The author proudly giving John Sprinzel a tour around his own version of ultimate Speedwell racecar.

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