The Platypus Porsche Sports Racing car
By Kevin Triplett | Photos by Dennis Gray
The Platypus Sports racing car routinely appears historic car racing events on the West Coast; it is a great story of an American home-built race car improbably named after the Australian mammal.
At the 1953 Paris Auto Show, Porsche introduced the 550 Spyder, a lightweight, two-seat, mid-engine, ladder-framed chassis with agile handling and a clean aerodynamic shape. In the years that followed, the Porsche 550 Spyder, and its successor, the 550A won many major sports car racing victories in Europe and the United States that included the 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans and earned the nickname “Giant Killer.” By the early 1960’s, most of the 90 Porsche 550 Spyders had become race-worn and obsolete, and many small shops built more modern tube-framed chassis utilizing the powerful Porsche 547 engine and reliable transmission / transaxle.
One such shop was PAM Foreign Cars at 708 North Sepulveda Boulevard in Manhattan Beach California. PAM was a foreign auto repair shop in which the three owners – Scooter Patrick, Hans Adam, and Don Mitchell – were also accomplished racers. Scooter Patrick was the driver – he started racing in 1954 in an MG TD, and quickly moved up through the sport car racing ranks, Hans Adam was the fabricator, and Don Mitchell the engine wizard. In 1961, the PAM trio bought a wrecked 550 Spyder and built the PAM special that dominated under two-liter sports car racing in Southern California for several years.
In 1964, the trio built a new car, a chrome-moly space frame creation on sawhorses using a tape measure, hacksaw, and gas welder in the PAM shop. Its chassis design borrowed heavily from the PAM team’s Merlyn Mark 4A sport car, but with larger diameter tubes to add rigidity. The unique low-nose short-tailed fiberglass body design led the creation to be named after the duck-billed, beaver-tailed mammal, the Platypus.
The Platypus debuted at the September 1964 Santa Barbara Road Races driven by Miles Gupton and raced up and down the West Coast until late 1966 with a Porsche 2.0 liter engine. The Platypus was the 1964 under 2-liter West Coast runner-up and attracted enough attention that PAM eventually sold two Platypus customer cars.
The Platypus was a ‘special’ in the truest sense of the word with modifications as time and money were available. At one point, PAM purchased and fitted a Lotus 19 body, which lead to some later confusion with the car being listed as a Lotus in some racing records. Eventually, the Platypus was fitted with an Oldsmobile V-8 engine to race in the United Road Racing Championship Series and the SCCA Can-Am series before being retired in 1967.
The Platypus replacement, the PAM Project Group 7 machine was built for California Porsche dealer John Masterson. The Group 7, powered by a 289 cubic inch Shelby Ford engine, used the major components from Masterson’s wrecked Lotus 30. Enclosing the space frame was a beautiful fiberglass body designed and built by Skeet Kerr, formerly of Shelby American, which utilized a low pointed nose and an adjustable wing over the cockpit roll bar. The PAM Project Group 7, painted dark blue and numbered 56, debuted at the Laguna Seca round of the 1966 SCCA Can-Am series, where it fell out after 44 of the 106 scheduled laps. At the season finale two weeks later at Riverside, the PAM GP7 suffered a spectacular blow-over on Riverside’s long straightaway during practice. Guldstrand was severely injured and the PAM GP7 was destroyed.
Later Dick Guldstrand, Hans Adam, and Scooter Patrick reunited in 1968 and 1969 at the short-lived James Garner American International Racing (AIR) team – Adam and Guldstrand as team managers and Scooter Patrick as the lead AIR driver. Based on his growing reputation, Scooter Patrick later raced at Sebring and Le Mans in factory Porsche 904’s and 908’s. Scooter Patrick remains very active in vintage racing circles, but Hans Adam passed away in December 2004. The former PAM Foreign Cars shop location is now a Benjamin Moore paint store.
The Platypus itself amazingly survived and was restored to its four-camshaft 2.0-liter Porsche configuration. Arthur Connor of British Columbia owns and drives the Platypus at many West Coast vintage events.
[Source: Kevin Triplett; photo credit: Dennis Gray]