Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Monday, October 29, 2012
|Driver and Sponsor- Arlene Hiss and Pete Reynolds|
So when we happened to find that she was living in Lake Elsinore, we thought it would be more than a little bit of fun to go down and take her to lunch. So with retired dealer Pete Reynolds, his son Don who is now in charge of all day to day activities, and retired Sales Manager Spence Lyon who recalls her from back in the day, we did exactly that. We wanted to fill in some of the background of the story.
We found out that Arlene wasn't just a lady who decided to race her daily driver, but that she began racing Austin Healey Sprites in SCCA right after college around 1962. She had gotten interested when she had a boyfriend who raced SCCA, and the racing bug outlasted that relationship. Although she became a teacher, it probably wasn't random that she married a race driver, and it wasn't random that she came in and bought that white Opel 1900. She thought it was the best performing car in the Showroom Stock class and that's how we came to meet her- on our showroom floor, where we've met so many friends over the years.
It was only after she bought the car that she saw our name on the sides of other Opels and asked Pete Reynolds if he would sponsor her- he readily agreed. It was primarily a monetary donation, although there was one race day when she rolled across the service drive in full race attire for a quick repair. It must have gone well, because she did win the SCCA Showroom Stock Championship that year.
The little German Opel that had done so well in SCCA Showroom Stock was replaced in 1976 by a Japanese made product, and our Opel racing story came to a close. Arlene went on that year to be the first woman to drive an Indy Car in a USAC race, the Jimmy Bryan 150 USAC National Championship Race in Phoenix, on March 14, 1976. Although she did finish the race, she didn't find the open wheel racer to her liking and switched to more conventional USAC Stock Cars for the remainder of the season.
Arlene switched gears again after the 1976 season, and parked the racing cars in order to pursue an acting career. She later built a recording studio in Lake Elsinore and played in Bluegrass and Dixieland bands. Today she teaches for online colleges and remembers her racing days fondly. It was a great pleasure to spend the afternoon with her and relive another chapter of Reynolds' racing history.
|Pete Reynolds, Arlene Hiss, and Don Reynolds|
|Arlene Hiss with her SCCA Champion Reynolds Opel, circa 1975|
|Arlene Hiss in her Indy Car , 1976|
|Arlene behind the wheel of a USAC racer, 1976|
Monday, October 22, 2012
There were lots of beautiful Buicks on display at the Casual Concours Car Show in Palm Springs last Sunday. They spanned the era from a 1938 Century to a 1990 Reatta, and included a bevy of Rivieras, an 1961 Electra 225, a 1965 Wildcat, a stunning 1955 Roadmaster coupe with factory air and wire wheels, and even a rare 1962 Invicta Custom convertible with leather bucket seats. The Buick woody fans were treated to a lovely 1947 Estate Wagon, and even a limited production 1990 Reatta convertible took the field.
Held at the Desert Princess Resort, there were over 125 classic and special interest autos on display, and the level of quality was quite high. All in all a great day and a great show that benefitted the Friends of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter. Take a look at some of the beautiful Buicks at the Casual Concours:
Monday, October 15, 2012
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.