An interview with VARA racer Hans Glaser,
The Vintage Voice issue fall 1997
(by Alan Bolté)
The year was 1957.
Home from the Hill.
Hill Climb History.
Our Vintage Auto Racing Association
The early onset of motor madness.
Now Hans’ father was a particle businessman; a manufacturer of road asphalt and tar paper for roofing, He didn’t share his son’s desire to be a driver, but he loved racing. Hans grew up somewhat isolated from his family’s business until a large contract was won by Glaser Industries to pave the new Autobahn! "Every expansion seam and off-ramp needed asphalt on this concrete, high-speed public raceway," said Hans. Oskar was not one to hand the family fortune to his untried heir, nor was our young racing champion eager to be pushed around in business like the little fellow he once was in the family. Early on, Oskar had noticed some of the company cars seemed to mysteriously move from one parking spot to the next. The wheels from one of the plant boxcars disappeared and a soapbox derby racer appeared with beautiful boxcar wheels ! The police began escorting little Hans home in "borrowed Glaser Industry cars". The black fedora, Havana cigar and aviator sunglasses Hans wore to conceal his age didn’t fool the local police.
One Sunday afternoon, Oskar discovered his 15-ton Mercedes grading truck and attached trailer were missing. He realized he had to crack down on his 14-year-old with traditional German strict rules and restrictions. From that day onward, Hans never got quite what he wanted from papa, as the masculine test of wills between father and son began in earnest. "It was all a part of growing up and gaining independence," said Hans. "I was not an easy child. My father became very rigid and strict."
This seemed to fan the ember of desire to get in the cars and somehow succeed with automobiles. Hans would eventually have the largest fleet of Cadillacs in Germany and a tidy British sports car racing team as well. His automotive career started almost by accident, when he traded an M42 machine gun he found for a 1949 Harley Davidson. The hog needed extensive work, and thus began a restoration business that has lasted almost 40 years. Today, the business is based in Newport Beach, California. Hans recalls that the Harley backfired with such vigor that it used to blow his shoe off!!
Because papa and Hans didn’t see ‘eye to eye’ on the little Alfa he’d hoped for, his 18th birthday present turned out to be a flacid DKW sedan, instead. Within his first week as a licensed driver, our future champion had the car full of girls, on two wheels, and heading for a large wall in a very small town. "Not the wall", he remembers yelling. They missed it, and the car came down on all four wheels, only to flip the other way twice and land on its roof. No one was hurt. He righted the car, dropped off the girls, and sheepishly went home to face papa. Naturally, Oskar was very angry. As punishment he refused to replace the DKW. As retribution, Hans drove the repaired and beaten mongrel to the Schauinsland Hill-Climb "totaling" it on the way home. Those were to be the only two accidents he ever had. "I think it was a mental thing," spoke Hans, "I just needed to rid myself of that DKW 1000 with its 55 peewee BHP and oddball 3-cylinder 2-stroke engine." To quote Hans, "Show me a man who has never made a mistake, and I’ll show you a man who never did anything." Oskar was really angry now.
The ever-resourceful Hans spoke with his grandmother Margaret about the need
for a then new Austin Healy Sprite. It was the start of a lifelong love of
British sports cars that makes up a significant percentage of Glaser Motors’
25 collectable cars now in stock at Costa Mesa, California. Hans remembered more
than the car deal with Grandmother Margaret. When he did well in Grundschule
(basic school) and went on to Hauptschule (senior school), his grandmother
rewarded him with his favorite German syrups such as raspberry, chocolate and
cherry ice cream; a full range of German sausages, blanched asparagus, friese
with imported cheese served with cool summer drinks. Grandma Margaret grew
grapes and peaches, made Irish soda bread, marmalade, dulse and pate-de foie
gras. Hans used to sit at grandma’s long dinner table and eat homemade apricot
ice cream until he felt the hiccuos. He was guided through the culinary world by
this sweet woman who taught him flavors: dried ripe fruit of pimento used for
baking and, in seasoning some meat, allspice.
"What I thought about most, I eventually became."
Now the Alfa Giulia, with its aluminum block and five-speed all synchromsh
gearbox, had an honest 104 BHP and was good for 105 mph. It didn’t warm up
very fast. The engine was balky on power when cold, and it lacked good weather
protection, all of which precipitated Hans’ jump to a Mini Cooper S by 1965 at
age 22. He began racing full time, but his career was not without difficulty. A
dispute over his racing activities led to a break with his family that lasted
more than a year (however, that breach has since been mended). In his second
season of full-year competitions, Hans won a series of Formula III and Formule
II events, where he bested Jochen Rindt to win a race at Reims.
In 1971, Hans began racing in Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobile Club (ADAC) sports car races and won almost every time for a year – a "quite successful" year. He humbly added to this remarkable win record and did not go unnoticed by the racing community. "It was prudent for car company executives to reward young drivers of different countries with factory backing. This sold automobiles in my native land." Than came the dream hatched in the mountains as a teenager ….. a works ride in an Austin Healey 3000.
Sixteen trophies later, Hans would get an upgrade to a Lola MK1 and again excellent success with nine wins to his credit. Then he bought a unique Jaguar Coupe, that he still owns. For once Oskar wasn’t mad!
In 1954, the men of Coventry were tweaking (what was then well-know sportsman Lofty England’s) XK120 in their endless search for a British Constructor Championship after WWII. "The 1950s presented something of an anomaly for Jaguar," Hans said. Unlike Ferrari or Aston Martin, Jag never won the Sports Car Championship. By 1060, they had five victories at Le Mans to their credit, against Ferrari four wins and only one for Aston Martin. They achieved little in the Mille Miglia and their sports cars were never at home on the Nurburgring, that is until Hans J. Glaser appeared with his Jaguar XK120/140 unique red coupe. This big cat was a rolling test bed for the Jag works and Dunlap Testing Division. It was the only XK120 with four disc brakes. As such, it was able to hang with the very fast crowd, the SWB Ferraris and Zagato-bodied DB4GT Astons.
With the Jag, Hans upset the establishment. He so soundly trounced the Italians in vintage races at Zolder, Nurburgring, Spa and at the little Bugatti, and full circuit at Le Mans, that he became very unpopular with tech inspectors who were under great pressure to prove the car illegal. It wasn’t. Along the way to the winners circle, and while collecting 68 trophies, the "Red Baron" of VARA has garnered appropriate respect from his European competitors. Hans and his straight six Jaguar have been invited to the 50th anniversary of the XK120 at Donington Park race circuit, on June 25, 1998. With plans for shipping the car to the UK by ocean liner, Hans, whose car is featured in the race brochure, will once again avenge his title as the fastest "Jag Man" in Europe.
Fast forward to the present: seldom a month passes without a call or an order from Germany to Glaser Motors to build an endurance vintage racer. He has prepared two GT40s (which ran VARA's Phoenix race in February), a rally car (a Mustang GT which raced Panama to Alaska in 1997), a V-12 (yes V-12!) XK120, and a Lolo center seat Can Am car, to name a few. The list is long and the range of machines impressive, including his D Jag seen at Pomona.
As clichés go, "Teutonic thoroughness" has probably been used more often than any when describing aspects of either the German national character or details of a German automobile. In this case, Hans continues to make history for his venerable old British Jaguar Coupe. Perhaps the only real flaw in this story is the "Old Cat" from the United Kingdom of all places. It seems out of character. The Ferrari contingent at Le Mans in the vintage 1000KM GT race in 1972 still remembers Hans Glaser. He began upset the world order that day.
He has over 400 on-track events to remember, 409 to be exact, and a 38% podium finish rate. For a perspective on this record, consider Stirling Moss. He started 494 events and won 222 of them. In the vernacular of baseball, Moss would have a lifetime batting average of .449. Hans is a major leaguer with a .380 average ( a .300 average is solid evidence you can swing the big wood.) True baseball fans will tell you that not since Ted Williams, 57 years ago, has anyone had a .400 batting average.
Hans and VARA.
Scheduled for completion in 1998, is a "wire-wheeled" lightweight E-type Jaguar. His plan is to drive to VARA races, run his Jag, and motor on home to the serenity of Costa Mesa with his beautiful friend Margaret. "The E type should be the end of my childhood fantasies that were so thwarted by that dumb DKW. "E jags" are so gorgeous, sleek and quick, surely the opposite end of the scale from a DKW." Now that’s an understatement!
The rhythmic snapping of huge propellers beat the morning air as the gigantic silver airship beside us gently surged upward. Slowly, gracefully, the zeppelin slipped through vapored mists and disappeared into a new day. Its five engines thumping a steady beat that still lingers in the morning light. Our interview is at a close, and so ends the story of little Hans and his climb. This healthy, vigorous driver, restorer, entrepreneur and restaurateur can be found in Newport Beach, California.