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Old 06-25-2010, 04:43 PM
winmutt's Avatar
85 300D 4spd+tow+h4
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: Atl Gawga
Posts: 9,331
The coolest old guy you have never heard of, drives a 240d.

John Fitch is a legend. He's been kissed by Evita, done time in a POW camp, designed cars, and saved lives on the highway. He raced for Mercedes-Benz. Stuart Fowle at Kilometer spoke with him. Need a hero? —Ed.

John Fitch isn't as much of a household name as Mario Andretti or Juan Manuel Fangio, but he's a racing legend and a hell of a guy in his own right.

His list of accomplishments reads like something out of a John Wayne movie: He flew P-51s in World War II and was thrown in a POW camp. (George Patton liberated him.) He's been kissed by Evita. He won his class in the 1000-mile Mille Miglia Italian road race, designed five cars, and invented those yellow barrels of sand that keep people from dying when they drive into bridge abutments or the ends of guardrails on the highway. He was a factory driver for Mercedes-Benz when the company was racing its remarkable 300SL Gullwing sports cars, and despite hauling ass over thousands of miles of pavement all over the world, he managed to live through an era that killed off most of his competition.

Racing Stories From The Coolest Old Man You've Never Heard Of

John Fitch is now 92. He still lives within spitting distance of Lime Rock Park, the Connecticut race track that he once managed. We had the chance to interview him during a Mercedes-Benz press event; because he's such a great storyteller, we've turned our interview with him into a series of thoughts and statements.
This is one man's long life behind the wheel:

"My first racecar was an MG TC. It was horrible. Solid axle up front, solid axle at the rear, and a very loose body. But it did look good."

"I raced for Briggs Cunningham at Le Mans in 1952. In the pits afterwards, I congratulated [legendary Mercedes-Benz designer] Rudi Uhlenhaut on the success of his improbable racecar [the original Mercedes-Benz 300 SL], which he conceived using sedan parts. He invited me to come drive it at the Nürburgring. That's how it started."

"Seven years after I left a German POW camp, I was running races for Mercedes-Benz."

"I had dinner with Orville Wright once in the 1940s, shortly before he died. I walked into this friend's living room and saw this old man playing around on the floor with someone's children. I didn't realize who it was until he got up. When he found out that I had flown P-51s, he spent most of the meal asking me about the air war in Europe. He wanted to know what it was like, how it worked. He was fascinated."

"That '52 Cunningham — an American car, an American engine, run by an American — should have won Le Mans that year. It was the fastest car out there. But engine trouble related to the octane of fuel put us out of it."

"The 300 SL [Gullwing] was a terrible concept for a racecar. With all of its parts borrowed from a sedan, it was far behind on power, and its solid rear suspension was no good. We cheated that by adding fabric straps — they limited the movement of the suspension. We lost a lot of travel, but it made it a much better race car. The car didn't win because it was fastest. It won on durability."

"We also won by not crashing cars. I could have been doing some legs of La Carrera Panamericana [the legendary Mexican road race run on open, often unfinished roads] at 160 mph, but I took them at 120. I was saving the car so it could run the next day. That's what [Alfred] Neubauer, the team manager, appreciated. I could have been faster, but I could have also not finished. We were smart about it. Sure, we were all going at ten-tenths, it's just that some drivers took it even further. They got injured, or even killed."

"You couldn't pre-run the Panamericana. It was too long. You just had to be careful. If you blew a corner, you were out of the race."

"The biggest problem with La Carrera was tires. If I wouldn't have had tire problems, I think I could have won the whole thing. But we were changing tires constantly. I chose my co-driver not on navigation skills, but how fast he could change a tire. We could do one in a minute and forty seconds."

"The people (spectators) were crazy. We'd come [racing] into places like Mexico City, and they'd crowd the streets as we were coming in. They didn't leave a path. There were, at times, some moral dilemmas involved..."

"I averaged the last leg at 135 mph. It set a record, but it was too little too late."

"I raced in a special Grand Prix in 1951 in Argentina for Juan Peron, who enjoyed auto racing. I was given the trophy and kissed by Evita Peron, shortly before she died of cancer. No one knew she was sick."

"Picking a favorite race car could mean two things. There are good race cars to drive, and there are good race cars for winning. My favorite for winning was the 300 SLR, because it was so durable."

"I once crashed an SLR tail-first, pretty bad, and just kept on driving. We averaged the same times as before it was crashed. Turns out one of the spare tires in the rear absorbed most of the impact."

"I was given an Allard early on as a racecar, but it was wrecked. We didn't have any frame-pulling machines then, so I chained the damaged corner to a tree and gently pulled that corner back into place. That's how we did things then."

"I can't appraise the [current Mercedes-Benz AMG supercar] SLS unless I get it on a circuit. Hopefully one I know, like my home circuit at Lime Rock."

"I don't expect much out of my road cars. I have a Mercedes 240. It's a good car."

1987 300D Sturmmachine
1991 300D Nearly Perfect
1994 E320 Cabriolet
1995 E320 Touring
2001 Eurovan FOR SALE
1985 300D car, sold and missed.
OBK #42
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Old 06-25-2010, 04:57 PM
JEBalles's Avatar
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Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Carlisle, MA
Posts: 1,225
Like a carburetted gasoline engine, or did they forget the 'D'?
1983 240D 3.0T 4-speed manual, now sold

1989 Subaru GL Wagon 5-speed Touring Edition
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Old 06-25-2010, 05:15 PM
winmutt's Avatar
85 300D 4spd+tow+h4
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: Atl Gawga
Posts: 9,331
Originally Posted by JEBalles View Post
Like a carburetted gasoline engine, or did they forget the 'D'?
I'm pretty sure they didn't make a non D 240.
1987 300D Sturmmachine
1991 300D Nearly Perfect
1994 E320 Cabriolet
1995 E320 Touring
2001 Eurovan FOR SALE
1985 300D car, sold and missed.
OBK #42
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Old 06-25-2010, 07:36 PM
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Join Date: May 2007
Location: florida
Posts: 677
Fitch was not that unheard of,at one time i owned a "Fitch Sprint" Corvair. He took 2nd gen Corvairs stiffened up the suspension a bit,added 2carburetors (before GM made the 4 carb engine)and added a fibreglass extension to the back of the roof that made the roof line similar to the popular Pontiac 2door at the time.Great car to drive but i doubt many were sold. Don
Red Green "This is only temporary,Unless it works!"

97 E300D 157000 miles
87 300TD ?141k? miles
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Old 06-25-2010, 09:02 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 126
There is also the C class 240 gasser
1979 240D Caledonia Green/cream gone
1982 240D stick Ivory/Palimino
1999 E300D White/grey
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Old 06-25-2010, 09:40 PM
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Join Date: May 2007
Location: Out in the Boonies of Hot, Dry, Dusty, Windy Nevada
Posts: 9,585
Here is an interview with him and Jay Leno, In Jay Leno`s Garage.

there were three HP ratings on the OM616...

1) Not much power
2) Even less power
3) Not nearly enough power!! 240D w/auto

Anyone that thinks a 240D is slow drives too fast.

80 240D Naturally Exasperated, 4-Spd 388k DD 150mph spedo 3:58 Diff

We are advised to NOT judge ALL Muslims by the actions of a few lunatics, but we are encouraged to judge ALL gun owners by the actions of a few lunatics. Funny how that works
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Old 06-26-2010, 09:06 AM
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Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Lafayette Indiana
Posts: 35,141
A wonderful man who would be great to get to know!

He quit racing at the top of his game right after the 1955 lemans crash where a mercedes 300sl went into the crowd and killed a hundred or so people. Racing was really insanely dangerous in the fifties and sixties. The cars had advanced so they were very fast but there were no safety devices at all and you often sat in a bathtub of gasoline in tanks with no bladders.

John is a national treasure.
[SIGPIC] Diesel loving autocrossing grandpa Architect. 08 Dodge 3/4 ton with Cummins & six speed; I have had about 35 benzes. I have a 39 Studebaker Coupe Express pickup in which I have had installed a 617 turbo and a five speed manual.[SIGPIC]

..I also have a 427 Cobra replica with an aluminum chassis.
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Old 06-26-2010, 09:42 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Columbia, Missouri
Posts: 643

Check out the last paragraph in this article. This guy is amazing. Wonder if his mercedes wagon is a W123?

John keeps the Phoenix in a one-car garage attached to his 1767 house, but had a couple other cars he wanted to show me. One, parked in his post-and-beam barn beside his daily driver Mercedes station wagon, was his Consulier GTP, which he’s owned since new. The street version of the Consulier, it’s powered by a turbocharged and intercooled Chrysler 2.2L four-cylinder engine. He handed me the keys and pointed me toward the town of Lakeville. “I rarely drive it because I’m ashamed to be seen in it,” he said. “Women, children and some eccentric males love it. I think it’s ugly. But it goes like hell.”

I listened to him reminisce about racing as we ate a late brunch. After our test drive in the Consulier, he directed me toward a diesel-powered Mercedes sedan that he said he bought new in Stuttgart and brought to the States. He then added a Fitch fuel catalyst, an Evans waterless pressureless cooling system and modified the emergency brake to work on each rear wheel independently. “Works great in the snow now!” he said. Sitting in the side yard, it hadn’t run in a while and the tall grass underneath it had accelerated the rust along the rockers. John admitted the brake lines had rusted through as well, and wasps and hornets greeted us when the hood was lifted. Still, with a jumpstart on the battery, the diesel clattered to life. John ran it for a few minutes, proud that it didn’t emit any diesel smoke, then shut it down, headed inside and rested for a while.

1978 300D
1979 240D
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Old 06-26-2010, 01:31 PM
tankowner's Avatar
You talkin’ to me?
Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: Columbia, MO
Posts: 907
Originally Posted by yellowbenz View Post
Still, with a jumpstart on the battery, the diesel clattered to life. John ran it for a few minutes, proud that it didn’t emit any diesel smoke, then shut it down, headed inside and rested for a while.
Great story. Kind of sounds like the morning I had - if only I were half as cool.

'95 E300D ("Tank") - 231,000 miles
'79 240D ("Biscuit") - 197,250 miles (Sold)
'83 240D ("Ding-Ding") - 217,000 miles (Death by deer)

"Back off, man. I’m a scientist” ~ Peter Venkman
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