Monday, October 15, 2012

Reynolds Raced Opels, Too

The drag racing days of Reynolds Buick came to and end after the 1972 season due to a number of events coming together- first, the decision by GM to reduce compression in order to burn unleaded fuels effectively ended the Factory's interest in racing. Second, the gasoline shortage of the early 1970's made performance cars temporarily out of fashion, and third the retirement of Lennie "Pop" Kennedy left the effort without a car, a purpose, or a driver. Racing had been good for Reynolds, but the landscape had changed. So clearly it was time to rethink.

It was around this time that the Sports Car Club of America introduced a new "Showroom Stock" class of road racing, and it turned out that some of the most competitive cars turned out to be the Opel 1900 and Manta. Reynolds happened to have a lot full of them, so it wasn't long before the boys were back at the races.

Exept this time, there was a girl as well. Arlene Hiss was a schoolteacher who was not only married to a racing driver- Indy car racer Mike Hiss, but was a driver herself, and a darned good one at that. She bought a new Opel 1900 to drive to school during the week and race on weekends. She recalls that she took the numbers off the sides for commuting, but left the roll cage and five point harness in place. In time she was introduced to Pete Reynolds and he agreed to assist her with a sponsorship. Reynolds also sponsored racers John Hall, Bill Johnson and Fred Tervet in the 1972-75 SCCA seasons.

Arlene was the standout of the bunch. She won the SCCA Showroom Stock Championship with her white Opel 1900 and then moved up to a red Reynolds Opel Manta in 1974 and won with that as well. Some say she was so successful that the SCCA disqualified the Manta the following year, although the rising prices of German made cars in the mid-1970s might also be culpable. She was forced to step down to a 1.9 litre sedan, which she still campaigned quite successfully before losing the championship to Ron Smaldone in a Mustang II.

The following year Arlene herself moved on to USAC Indy Car racing and became the first woman to compete in an Indy Car race, finishing 14th in the Jimmy Bryan 150 USAC National Championship race on March 14, 1976. She didn't really care for open wheeled Indy cars and switched to USAC Stock Cars for the remainder of the season, driving a Charger, a Chevelle, and Camaros for the rest of the season.

The fast little Opel was replaced in 1976 with an Isuzu designed model from Japan, and Reynolds discontinued their efforts in SCCA racing. But it was a fun chapter in their long history and is a story well worth remembering. Although known for the big ones, Reynolds raced the little ones too.

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