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Galdi’s McLaren M23-9 in Spotlight at The Glen

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 9 2021

Greg Galdi’s McLaren M23-9 F1 car is at center stage in Watkins Glen. (RacinToday photos by Martha Fairris)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Formula One fans of a certain age will readily recognize the centerpiece of Greg Galdi’s car collection as it sits, quiet and quite majestically, inside the International Motor Racing Research Center.

The high-airbox No. 11 McLaren M23-9, resplendent in its trademark Marlboro orange-and-white livery, started 29 F1 races at the talented hands of Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt and Jochen Mass between January 1975 and January 1977. The M23-9 chassis was penned by legendary designer Gordon Coppuck. Its Cosworth DFV engine was engineered by Keith Duckworth.

That is racing provenance, times five. 

“And provenance in race cars is everything,” Galdi said during a phone interview with RacinToday.com. “I am unbelievably fortunate to be the caretaker of that bit of history.”

A member of the IMRRC’s 16-person Governing Council, Galdi has loaned the McLaren to the center in downtown Watkins Glen as a prelude to the Hilliard U.S. Vintage Grand Prix weekend, starting today and running through Sunday.

World champion Emerson Fittipaldi’s name graces the outside of the cockpit of McLaren M23-9 in Watkins Glen.

“The Birthplace of North American Road-Racing” is playing host to one of the largest vintage events in the country this weekend. Paired with Friday’s Grand Prix Festival downtown, the Grand Prix weekend is a celebration of the cars and people who have made motorsports history and those, like Galdi, determined to preserve and pass it on.

The IMRRC’s mission is to collect, preserve and share the global history of motorsports. The center’s extensive collection includes thousands of hours of film and video, hundreds of thousands of photographs, as well as thousands of cubic feet of periodicals, newsletters, rare books, race results, race programs, artwork and trophies.

The center’s research and archival staff assists scholars, journalists, authors, documentary film makers, drivers and race car owners with inquiries about motorsports history every year. In addition, the center periodically sponsors lectures with guest speakers and special events open to the public at 610 S. Decatur St.

“The history of these cars is something special. And as I get older I realize the history is something that is easily lost, especially in context,” said Galdi, a businessman/gentleman racer from Roslyn Harbor, L.I. “That’s a great segue into this car because it’s a rolling piece of history. It sat in the Brooklands Museum (in Weybridge, Surrey, England) for 25 years before it came to me. I’m the first owner outside of the McLaren group. It’s a special opportunity.”

Galdi, 67, owns and operates a 35-year-old Long Island-based IT business that services kindergarten through 12th grade schools, along with state and local governments and hospitals. Galdi is an avid collector of vintage sports racers, sedans and F1 cars and an iRacing devotee. Greg also is a member of SVRA, SCCA, FIA and Masters HGP.

Galdi’s fascination with cars began at age 11, when he attended a Can-Am race featuring fellow-New Zealanders Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme, among others, in Bridgehamton, N.Y.

“By the time I could drive it was in the 1970s,” Galdi said. “Muscle Cars were just a bit earlier and I gravitated more to cars like the Lotus Europa; I was a glutton for punishment. Believe it or not, I still have my 1972 Lotus Europa, just finished doing a complete restoration on it, too.”

A lot of great Formula 1 drivers saw this view of the No. 11 McLaren.

Formula One’s annual autumnal trek into Watkins Glen International for the U.S. Grand Prix became a natural camping magnet during the 1970s for Greg, older brother Joseph and assorted schoolmates and friends.

“We were there the year they burned the bus, although we were not involved,” said Galdi, recalling the rowdy days of The Bog. “Every year someone would bring a convertible to burn in The Bog. One year they convinced whoever the driver was of this bus to drive it into The Bog and they set it on fire. After that, The Bog got filled-in and that was the end of that. But between the track and the Seneca Lodge, it was just great stuff.

“Unbeknownst to me, that was the first time I saw the M23-9. It was 1976 and Jochen Mass was driving it.” Mass wheeled the No. 11 to a fourth-place finish in the U.S. Grand Prix on Oct. 10, 1976 _ the last time the car would finish a GP at full-song.

“I love these high-airbox cars,” Galdi said. “Back then if you were on the main straightaway, you’d see these high-airboxes come over the Armco (barriers) first, and then they would burst into view coming at you and go down the straightaway. Man, that was so exciting.”

Galdi’s success in business allowed him to go racing approximately 30-plus years ago. “I started with a Lotus 11 and then I went to Lotus 23,” Galdi said. “I had a string of race cars, a number of Porsches including a Porsche 917. And then I wanted a Formula One car. I had raced enough that I felt confident enough (to drive one).”

To that end, Galdi called upon the expertise of friend Neil Trundle, McLaren’s oldest employee, whom he had met at several races. “I said I’m looking for a Lotus 72. I thought that was the car because Lotus was in my blood, right?” Galdi said. “He said to me, ‘Why would you want one of those? First, they bottom on every bump and second, they’re like birds _ they’re always going to be breaking and you’re going to be repairing them.’

“He said, ‘What you really want is an M23 _ it’ll be nice to drive, very responsive and a very robust design.’ I listened to him and we started looking around. We found a couple of cars out there about 15 years ago…and then all of sudden he calls me excitedly and says, ‘The car we have over at Brooklands Museum for the last 25 years _ since the crash in Brazil (the car’s final start on Jan. 23, 1977) _ that’s become available.’

“So, there was no question, again because provenance in race cars is everything. Most of them are like George Washington’s axe _ they’re original, except the handle’s been replaced twice and the head three times. Here was a car that had sat in plain view since its last race. It had its original engine in it, was just spectacular.

“So that was an easy decision. I had Kerry Adams of Adams McCall Engineering (now Kendle Adams Motorsport) _ who did work with Neil with the McLaren team back in the day _ do the restoration in England. And Nicholson McLaren, which used to do the engines for McLaren, I had them rebuild the engine. 

“So now I had this fabulous original piece of history and I managed to drive it for a good 10 years at speed without hurting it. I’ve had it up to about 189 on the straightaway at Road America (in Elkhart Lake, Wis.). It’ll do like 210 or something like that, but not with me in it. It’s quite an experience to drive that car.”

Of course, this car is most closely associated with Brazilian Fittipaldi, F1 World Driving Champion in 1972 (with Lotus) and 1974 with McLaren. “Fitti,” as he was nicknamed during his F1 days, won the Argentine Grand Prix in the M23-9s debut on Jan. 12, 1975. Fittipaldi logged 11 starts in the car that season, including a second victory in the British Grand Prix on July 19 and runnerup results in Brazil and on the famed Streets of Monaco.

Fittingly, Fittipaldi was reunited with the car in 2016 during a McLaren event for clients at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, home to the U.S. Grand Prix since 2012.

“They hired Fittipaldi to come out and drive it,” Galdi said. “We got there a day early to fit him in the car. So, out from the entrance of the garage, here comes Emmo. It was so surreal, just over the top. He gets out of the car after he ran it for the first time, and says, ‘You know Greg, I got to tell you something. This car is exactly as it was when I stepped out of it last.’ I realized this was when he won his last grand prix, which was in Silverstone in the rain in this car.”

Flamboyant Brit James Hunt scored victories in the non-championship Race of Champions event at Brands Hatch and the International Trophy Silverstone in England in three early starts during his World Championship 1976 season. “Hunt the Shunt” then was replaced by teammate Mass, whose best finish in 13 starts was third in his native German Grand Prix in August.

“This car is the second-most raced M23 beside Emmo’s (1974) championship-winning car, which is at the (McLaren) factory in their museum,” Galdi said. “And I’m sure they’re probably sorry they sold this car. They’ve actually called me a few times if I wanted to sell it. It’s priceless to me. I think an MP4 (also known as the McLaren-Honda MP4/4) just sold for $6-million to $7-million, something like that. And there are a lot more MP4s around than there are M23s. I’m so fortunate.”

The M23-9 chassis was crafted by design chief Coppuck in Great Britain during the pre-computer era of motorsports. “They’d go to a race, see what Lotus and Ferrari were doing and the next race, they would try it out,” Galdi said. “There was one year I went to a few races and you’d see the progression. There’s two winglets in the front, but it isn’t what you’d call aerodynamic.

“It’s mostly a gravity-based traction system, which makes it very drivable. Very approachable. You can start off slow and go faster and faster, which is really what I needed to get to a point where I could actually break the rear end loose a little bit and actually get up to maybe 70 percent of the car’s potential. As long as you’ve got the (Avon) tires heated up, you pretty much know what kind of grip you’re going to have. And when it lets-go, it lets-go fairly progressively.”

The car is powered by the venerable Ford Cosworth DFV, a 3.0-liter, DOHC V-8 designed by Duckworth in England. “That engine was in service for over 10 years,” Galdi said of a powerplant widely considered F1’s most versatile. “This DFV starts right up and is very serviceable. We have it tuned to around 460 to 480 HP; I short-shift it because I want the thing to last. I like people to be able to hear that engine, so I bring it up to Lime Rock (Conn.) occasionally…and you can hear me all around the track.”

Galdi said the McLaren’s livery is mostly original, with the exception of the airbox, which the factory built for him. “If you look at that livery, it was all hand-painted back in the day. Someone painted that,” said Galdi, including the strategically placed Marlboro and Texaco logos.

It was a tight squeeze for those getting into the cockpit of the M23.

And here’s a bit of trivia about the M23-9’s cockpit. “That tub is tiny _ it only fits size 10.5 shoes, not size 11, which is what I have,” Galdi said. “I have a pair of 10.5 shoes that I wear in that car. There’s no other choice. I’ve seen pictures of some of the Formula One guys back in the day and they would cut the tops off of their shoes so they could fit in there. So they (McLaren) cut a little scallop out of one side and hammered a curved piece in there, I believe for Jochen Mass.”

Fittipaldi has autographed one of the sidepods, as have Mass and Coppuck.

Racing provenance, indeed.

“I bring the car out whenever I can because I like people to be able to see it,” Galdi said. “But the high-point was having Emmo say this car was just as it was when he got out of it. That was a special moment. A very nice gentleman, absolutely! Higher praise you can’t look for.”


1-12-1975 _ Argentine Grand Prix/Emerson Fittipaldi (1st)

1-26-75 _ Brazilian Grand Prix/Emerson Fittipaldi (2nd FR)

3-1-75 _ South African Grand Prix/Emerson Fittipaldi (19th UNC)

3-16-75 _ Brands Hatch (Race of Champions)/Emerson Fittipaldi (5th)

4-27-75 _ Spanish Grand Prix/Emerson Fittipaldi (DNS)

5-11-75 _ Monaco Grand Prix/Emerson Fittipaldi (2nd)

5-25-75 _ Belgian Grand Prix/Emerson Fittipaldi (7th)

6-8-75 _ Swedish Grand Prix/Emerson Fittipaldi (8th)

6-22-75 _ Dutch Grand Prix/Emerson Fittipaldi (Retired, engine)

7-6-75 _ French Grand Prix/Emerson Fittipaldi (4th)

7-19-75 _ British Grand Prix/Emerson Fittipaldi (1st)

8-3-75 _ German Grand Prix/Emerson Fittipaldi (Retired, suspension)

8-17-75 _ Austrian Grand Prix/Emerson Fittipaldi (9th)

3-14-1976 _ Brands Hatch (Race of Champions)/James Hunt (1st)

3-28-76 _ U.S. Grand Prix West/James Hunt (Retired, accident)

4-11-76 _ Silverstone/James Hunt (1st PP FL)

5-2-76 _ Spanish Grand Prix/Jochen Mass (FL Retired, engine)

5-16-76 _ Belgian Grand Prix/Jochen Mass (6th)

5-30-76 _ Monaco Grand Prix/Jochen Mass (5th)

6-13-76 _ Swedish Grand Prix/Jochen Mass (11th)

7-4-76 _ French Grand Prix/Jochen Mass (15th)

7-18-76 _ British Grand Prix/Jochen Mass (Retired)

8-1-76 _ German Grand Prix/Jochen Mass (3rd)

8-15-76 _ Austrian Grand Prix/Jochen Mass (7th)

10-3-76 _ Canadian Grand Prix/Jochen Mass (5th)

10-10-76 _ U.S. Grand Prix/Jochen Mass (4th)

10-17-76 _ Japanese Grand Prix/Jochen Mass (Retired, accident)

1-9-1977 _ Argentine Grand Prix/Jochen Mass (Retired, engine)

1-23-77 _ Brazilian Grand Prix/Jochen Mass (Retired, accident)


(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing
in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth
Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story
of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the
National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house
Star-Telegram honors. He also was the inaugural recipient of the Texas
Motorsports Hall of Fame Media Award (2010). His list of freelance
clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News,
New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 9 2021
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