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Triumph and Nissan: How It Happened

By Kas Kastner, August 2019

After years and years with Triumph I resigned at the end of 1970 and started my own racing company, Kastner-Brophy, Inc. with my old friend John Brophy. This was a hard work time... getting a building set up with 2 engine dynos; trying for sponsorship for the Formula 5000 car, the Lola 192 that we intended to race; and, of course, the Triumph work on the GT-6 and TR-6. I had another brainstorm then to run a Triumph Vitesse in the Professional Series of Under 2 Liters Trans-Am racing. It was a good category, but I was really extending myself too much and we did not do well at all with the Vitesse. We had the power but could not stop burning the rear tires off in five to six laps; seeing 300 degrees is not good for race rubber. The Triumph contract overall was paying bills and going okay, but not wonderful. The F-5000 car was quite good and paying its way and winning the USAC Road Racing Championship. That championship was comprised of two heats; we won the first and were second in the second heat which gave the title to Kastner-Brophy Racing. But that was about the end of that. No sponsorship and far too expensive to continue on the prize money.

By chance, a meeting occurred with another racer, Roy Woods. Woods had found a new big sponsor in Carling Black Label Beer. But Woods did not have the shop nor the personnel to run the program that he was required to have in order to serve out the contract. It was perfect for Kastner-Brophy Racing. We had the engine department, the dynos and the fabricators ready to take this on. The Lola 330 race car in the 5000 series, a McLaren M20 in the Can Am series and a Gurney Eagle in the three separate five-hundred-mile Indy Car races. Writing it now, it sounds like a lot. Trust me, it was a HUGE series of projects as I was to be the team manager and leader for ALL of the teams, and we were to build engines for all these cars.

David Hobbs was hired to drive the Indy Car and also the Can Am M20 McLaren. Old friend and ex-Ferrari endurance racer, Tony Adamowitz, got the duties in the F-5000 car. Sometimes I was flying from one race to another on the same weekend. It was hectic. The cars were all painted black with red trim and the Roy Woods name had to be prominent as he had the sponsor contract. Woods was of no use at all; he was never around and being a playboy was the job he did best. In my initial agreement with Roy, he specified that he wanted to run the Indianapolis race and especially qualifying at the race. I agreed and was happy to pass that big job off. Roy was supposed to run the Indy team, but when the date came up for this race, he phoned me and said that he could not make it. So, in the end with no warning, I had to take that on also. Other than the Indy screwup the deal was okay, but we were never outstanding and never won anything big. Several 2nd places in the Can Am because of the 1000 HP Turbo Porsches and then the Indy ranks were all the top people and they were TOUGH. We were running 3rd at Indy in 1973 but a bad coil in the ignition dropped us to 11th almost at the very end. Too bad, it was going pretty well, and Hobbs was pretty good to deal with. I do remember that the prize money for the 11th place was not enough to cover the hotel bill. I had too much on my plate then with plenty of money worries, and mixing of some of the Woods personnel with the KBI crew did not work wonderfully as there was a difference in the work ethic. Always money worries, just like racing in this present day.

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Kastner-Brophy Racing

Kas and partner John Brophy in 1971 by the new shop.

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F-5000 Lola

The F-5000 Lola for Carling Black Label Beer and Roy Woods which was run by Kastner-Brophy Racing in 1973 for Tony Adamowicz.

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Mclaren M-20, 1973

The Can-Am car is a Mclaren M-20 driven by David Hobbs, 1973, entered for the Roy Woods Team and run by Kastner-Brophy Racing. Sponsor is Carling Black Label Beer thus the paint jobs of the Carling cars are all black and red.

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1973 Indy Race Team

This is a shot of the 1973 Indy Race team. Carling Black Label Beer was the major sponsor. The driver was David Hobbs, who also drove the McLarin M-20 in the Can-Am series that year for me. David is now one of the announcers on Speed for the F-1 races and other racing stories on the Speed Channel. From left to right: the late Max Kelley, Crew Chief; Jerry Schwartz, Head Mechanic; Kas Kastner, Team Manager; Crew Man; in front, the rep from Castrol Oil, sponsor, P.R. from Carling; David Hobbs, Driver.

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Turbocharged TR-6 Engine Kit

This is a turbocharged TR-6 engine that was designed by Kas and made available as a kit from his company ARKAY, Inc. Several cars are still running this kit after thousands of high performance miles. The kit uses a IHI turbocharger unit and a two inch S.U. carburetor for the draw through design.

All these teams and cars went away at the end of 1973. The oil crisis had hit the USA and sponsorship was almost impossible. We lost over a million dollars in 6 days due to corporate cutbacks. I sold the cars, the equipment, the tools and the dynos. In 1974 I was back to square one, by myself in a little development area with 1100 square feet and no work.

There was no work for an expert in motor racing. I went to the Speed & Equipment (SEMA) show in Las Vegas and became very interested in turbocharging. It was the new and coming thing I thought. I started a new company named Arkay, Inc. My company designed and manufactured aftermarket Turbo Systems that you could bolt onto your street car and, in some cases, double the power in a single day. At the time I sold the company I had tooling for 24 different cars including the TR-6, The GTI, VW Van, VW Diesel Rabbit and, a mainstay, the Mazda RX-7. I did prototype fittings for several manufacturers; the Chrysler for Carroll Shelby, my old friend from early days; the TR-7 for Triumph, the Subaru for Subaru USA; and, of course, the Mazda for the RX-7 and the 626 sedan. This was a fun time. I really enjoyed doing the prototypes such as the special Porsche 928 and a very nice Maserati. It was very tricky to accomplish and required first class work; I loved the engineering and development part. But I could see a problem coming just over the hill: turbocharging was catching on in Detroit.

One day a fellow came in who thought he'd like to be in this business of turbocharging. He wanted to buy my company. I was ready to sell as I saw that Chrysler was offering seven-year warranties of their street cars that were turbocharged. How could I possibly compete with this, as other manufacturers were catching on and going into production of turbo cars. I wanted out before the dam broke. I sold the business. The new owner had a hard time and never did very well at all in his dream of be a turbocharging expert. He never realized the hard work and long hours it takes to keep a business up and running. I had moved out at just the correct time.

Several months went by and I was dreaming up projects to do; small jobs but paying the bills and back to just myself again. Then the phone rang... it was an old friend from the Triumph days at Cal Sales. This man, John Borgen, was a Director in Marketing at Nissan North America and wanted to know if I could help him with a list of candidates for the position of Nissan National Manager of Motorsports. I remarked that he could put my name at the top of the list. John was surprised that I would be interested in going back into the corporate world and I remarked, "Let's talk."

After haggling with the executives, I hired out to Nissan in 1986 as the National Motorsports Manager. All of the Nissan racing in the USA came under me in this department. I was at home again, doing what I knew best: managing racing teams and producing results for advertising and upper management, including several off-road truck teams, showroom stock teams, amateur racing with the Sports Car Club of America, and, the prize, the IMSA GTP team.

This GTP team was the real reason I was hired by Nissan. At that time the team was owned by private people and the company was Electramotive Engineering. They had developed the Nissan V-6 engine to make almost 1100 bhp highly turbocharged. The car was a Lola supplied from the Lola factory to the teams' specification. One of the owners had driven for me in the past in the GT-6, and after that had won several National Championships driving various Nissan products. We were at home with each other and I smoothed out a lot of wrinkles in the business end of his team. Then I really took charge and stopped a lot of company in-fighting and also the interference of Nissan corporate with the teams' operations. Everyone really welcomed a director to tell them how and what and when. I was that man.

When I hired out to Nissan, I was 56 years old and they were retiring 55-year-old Vice Presidents. I explained to them that "I was to be in charge, no one else; no talking to drivers or crew and no interference from advertising or marketing. I will give you the Championship in three years or you can be at liberty to fire me." That was a big call at the time. I figured I had nothing to lose. The team had never even come close to winning; a 7th place finish was, to them, a good result and also was their best result up to that time. I made a point of telling the Marketing V.P. that they needed to paint the GTP car. I explained while black was okay when you can beat everyone regularly, black was also menacing. In this case red, white and blue might be a better combination as the performance to date was miserable. Frank Honsowetz was in this meeting as he was the temporary head of the Motorsports Department. I always thought it was Frank who went right out and had that color change made. My recommendation made sense to him. Anyway, the car was repainted right after our meeting.

I started a day earlier than agreed because I said the team should go test rather than spend the time and money to go to a race when they were not prepared to do well. The test was in Arizona and the weather that day was bright sunshine and 90 degrees. I came to the track ready for business. I wore a white shirt and tie, jacket and slacks and dress shoes. Great contrast to the team members' golf shirts, t-shirts and work pants. I never removed my jacket all day long. The idea was to show clearly that there was a new boss. It impressed the folks. I took over and it was like I had never left the pit lane for a few years. Everything came back in an instant. One change I made that day was to stop my assistant from Nissan telephoning in every hour to tell the Nissan VPs the results of the test. I told him, "No other manager has to do that, and we will stop it right now. What they learn about this test is what I will tell them tomorrow."

I did make a lot of changes; the team brought in different crew members, promoted some and released others, and brought in new drivers, including Geoff Brabham as recommended by Trevor Harris, the racing designer and engineer. It was almost exactly one year later that the team won their first race ever, the Miami Grand Prix. Through the streets of Miami, Florida the team won handily, and it appeared we were on our way. But troubles developed in the shape of race tires.

Bridgestone was the tire sponsor and they were in love with the independents that were all running the 962 Porsche cars. Everything was developed for the Porsche cars. We, Nissan, got the leftovers, and the tire construction and compounds never really worked well on our car. At the end of 1987, Bridgestone told us they did not want to bother with us anymore and that they intended to go F-1 racing in the future years. I had several tire companies as sponsors for the truck teams. Bridgestone would not be missed. Goodyear was foremost in my mind. They had worked so well with me with the Triumph cars and with Don Devendorf, owner of the Electramotive team. Goodyear jumped at the chance to get into the GTP category with a manufacturer team because Jaguar and Dunlop had just come to the USA from Tom Walkinshaw Racing and had won the 24 hours at Daytona. Tire advertising was going to be tough for Goodyear after that result. They needed a contender and we were it.

The first time we tested the Goodyear tires we were two seconds faster that very first day. It was wonderful. The construction and compounds flattered our car and the drivers loved it... and the Nissan National Motorsports manager, old Kas, was thrilled to see the tires make this difference. We were going to be tough to beat.

One program I instituted before we had enough crew or funds to run two cars: I had the second car entered officially but waiting with driver strapped in the car in the pit lane with the engine running, so that if our on track race car crashed or something happened the second car could go right out and take position on the track. I waited five laps then pulled that second car off. We needed it one time only, but it made the difference in several championship points for us to finish fifth when the main car broke on the second lap.

About this time, two engineers from Electramotive, Don Devendorf and Wes Moss, had finished the design of an aluminum block for the Nissan engine. This allowed us to run higher revs. This new block was not only a lot lighter but a lot stronger than the modified stock cast iron block. For the first time in my life I was not directly involved in the mechanics and engineering of the race car. Devendorf, Moss and Harris supplied plenty of great engineering, my part was changing racing attitude and attacking the weak spots in the team performance, and racing tactics.

The controlling organizer of the races, IMSA, decided to slow down the top speeds of the turbocharged cars. They were finger pointing at the Nissan with its 1100 bhp. To do this they applied a restrictor to the air inlets, a specified diameter, and this cost over 200 bhp. But it was an excellent situation for our team. The engines before were very perishable because of the high revs needed to make the power. Now, with a inlet air restriction, the revs were lowered to 7500 rpm and the engines were bulletproof. We built the engines for torque and reduced the revs even more. The car was dynamite. I had brought in my old friend Trevor Harris as the race engineer for Nissan working for me and the team. On the side, I asked him to design a new chassis for the car using the existing bodywork. We did all of this in secret and I finally got funds from Nissan to go ahead with the project. I did not even inform the team that this new chassis was in progress so that no word of it could be leaked out. Having the team involved would have introduced arguments, changes, and speculation, and I wanted results - not more arguments or theories. The new chassis was 40% stronger in tonsorial rigidity. The odd quirks of the old Lola chassis were now GONE. You could change the engine in a couple hours as opposed to the old chassis and eight hours need for this job. It was a very nice handling car that could be tuned for any track. The Electramotive engineers had their own scale model wind tunnel and had come up with better wings and bodywork. We could run harder tires than everyone else and still make better lap times. It was glorious. We won and won, again and again. During 1988 we won eight straight races and then 10 out of 13 events. In 1989 we won everywhere... even with stronger competition from the Chevrolet group and, of course, the new Jaguar from Walkinshaw. But we went to Sebring for the 12-Hour and won 1st overall, and then again in 1990 and 1991. It was a thrill for me as I had raced there so often with my Triumph teams, and now to have this type victory in a car that most thought was too perishable for endurance events. It was great.

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Motorsports Hall of Fame, 2003

Kas and Geoff Brabham on stage at the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2003 when Geoff was inducted. In the background is the original Nissan GTP Geoff drove in 1988 winning 8 races in a row.

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Miami Grand Prix

Winning the Miami Grand Prix with the Nissan GTP car, Geoff Brabham driving. Photo by Hal Crocker.

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Nissan GTP

Studio photo of the Nissan GTP car for advertising.

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Testing...

Testing at Riverside Raceway on the backstraight just before going to Sebring for the 12 hour win.

Check out some great photos of the race here. Video and photos courtesy of Andre Rousseau.

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Group C Sports Car, NPTI

This is the Group C sports car that was designed, built and developed at Nissan Performance Technology in Vista, California. The designer Trevor Harris is shown on the far left. I am standing next to Trevor, then the head of Motorsports in Japan, and some of his engineers who came to see the final product. The car was powered by a Nissan-built V-12 engine that never really came to the top of the power needed and the car was never raced.

The P-35 was tested several times, including Daytona, where laps of 1:37 seconds were recorded. Those laps were faster than anything else at the time. The car was built for the Japanese to use in their International Competition, but the cars were sent to Japan for the Nissan Motorsports Museum and the project totally cancelled. Nissan curtailed almost all of the motor activities for financial reasons and shortly thereafter closed the NPTI facility laying off over 225 employees and leading to my retirement in 1995.

At the same time the GTP cars were winning, I also arranged for a team of highly modified 300ZX cars running in the GTO category. Frank Honsowetz was in charge of this team. In the SCCA Trans-Am series. Paul Newman, the movie star, was a high-profile public figure driving for Nissan Motorsports through the Bob Sharp team of 300ZX cars at this time. Great guy to work with and drove very well. Paul and I had a type of reunion as I had furnished the camshafts for his TR-6 when he won the SCCA National Championships in 1975. He came to my little shop and took me to lunch on his 53rd birthday. We did have a very nice friendship and that made our work at the track that much easier. (See Fun With Paul Newman for more on this.)

We repeated the 12-Hours of Sebring win for three years running... now something new was on the horizon. Nissan finally decided they would capitalize on our successes. They did a big advertising campaign and the executives were very happy: street banners and racing parties for all the employees on "Motorsports Day." It was all new and they loved it. As Motorsports manager, I had easy access to the top American and Japanese executives and was invited to many special meetings discussing the future paths for the company.

To further their publicity and take more credit for the successes of the team, Nissan bought out the private owners of Electramotive and the team was now a part of Nissan corporate.

I explained very patiently to the Nissan executives that you cannot run a race team like a corporation... it must be guided by one person; there must be one person, one head man that is in charge of the planning and the execution of the program and schedule. This was so true with the new Nissan Performance Technology, Inc.

The new company was formed and started in 1989. The Electramotive managers were the people in charge. The facilities were built in the Nissan manner and no dollars were spared. To the new NPTI executives it was a good deal and a chance to have every toy in the world at their feet. Trouble was brewing with this attitude though, and with little genuine corporate oversight, it turned into a mess.

To cut to the chase, I was spending a couple of days each week at the new facility 85 miles away and the balance of my time running all the other programs. As things went from bad to even worse at NPTI it finally came to a head. At LeMans in 1990 I was asked to "please go to NPTI as the Executive Vice President." Mind you, at this time there was already a NPTI PRESIDENT there and several other vice presidents. But I had the authority. So, it was my first act to demote several people on the spot. No talk, no promises. "You are no longer President" was my first act to the head of NPTI. No fun as that person removed was a personal friend who had, at other times, been a driver for me in Triumph cars. But there must be order. There must be goals and they must be met. No excuses, no crying, do it.

The race team continued to work very hard and continued winning until, in 1992, disaster struck. Tire failures caused crashes of both GTP cars at the Atlanta Raceway at very high speeds and totally destroyed them. The drivers fortunately survived okay without a scratch. But it set the program back to zero as then the only cars to race were the test team's cars and they were not prepared for this transition. But we had to do it. The season continued. The cost to replace these cars was not considered as there was just no time to bring them together. So, we raced what we had and survived the season okay. In the meantime, I was in Japan making a deal to design and build the new race car for the Nissan factory to race worldwide. This car I named the P-35.

The engine was to be a new unit built by Nissan as a 12-cylinder engine. To make this effort work, we needed a test bed to check the engine while the first P-35 was being designed/constructed. I had the team buy a previous years Indy car; the car run by Michael Andretti. This racer fit right into the size and weight package of what would become the new sports car for International Nissan Racing. The Indy engine was removed, and the 12-cylinder Nissan engine installed. It was a terrible engine. It was very difficult to get running and had horrific electronic interference problems so that the computer programming of the engine did not function as designed. The power was down also and not near what we had been promised.

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NPTI

Two of the six buildings on six acres which comprised the NPTI facility at Vista, California. The building in front is where the engineering staff and the company wind tunnel was located.

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Brrr...

Racing at the Topeka Kansas Raceway was not always a barrel of laughs with the Nissan GTP car when the temperature fell to 35 degrees F!

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Laguna

Kas working at Laguna during the Nissan days.

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Laguana Seca GTP Races, 1987

Laguana Seca GTP races 1987. On the left Don Devendorf, Kas, and driver David Hobbs who filled in for E. Forbes Robinson who was hurt the weekend before at Riverside during a horrendous crash at turn one when the right rear Bridgestone tire blew out at about 160 mph.

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Kas Kastner, 1986

Nissan racing in about 1986 first year with Nissan to run their Motorsports Department. Interesting time to say the least.

The P-35 a very pretty car, designed by Trevor Harris and had the world's first 100% carbon fiber roll bar cage system. This was checked by the FIA representative and passed with flying colors, better than the steel bars of other cars. Much less deflection in very high ton press loads. But the engine was sadly lacking in performance. As the end of 1992 into 1993 occurred Nissan's financial problems in Japan took hold in America too. Even though Nissan USA was a big moneymaker, the Japanese area was in a terrible monetary crisis and the home office cut costs everywhere. The racing world then saw the last of NPTI participation and building of any race cars. The facility went from 225 people to just over 100 in 90 days, and then down to 30, and then down to five. At the end I was still in charge of this minor little group but could see no light at the end of the Nissan tunnel, so I offered to resign and retire. The NPTI facility of five buildings was totally closed and I went into retirement at the age of 66.

Within just a few months I discovered the world of restored racing cars and Vintage racing. My wife Peggy was the person who asked me to attend one of these races. I did not want to go. Why did I need to go there to be unknown and little interested after a career in the spotlight? I was totally wrong. I went to the first event just 40 miles away and was swamped by Triumph owners hoping that I would take a little time to look at their cars and listen to their stories. I was sold on this and have been involved ever since... even to the point of reviving my old Triumph preparation manuals and writing stories about the past golden days. Good stuff to think about.



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