Feature Article, Other Motorsports, Washington — July 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Eric Schlichte (issue 97)

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97-eric-schlichte-sovren-alpines

 

By Steve Heeb

Eric Schlichte says he has always been a Ford guy. In addition to a Mustang, his stables include a couple of Ford-inspired racers in the pair of 1960 Alpine roadsters he fields in SOVREN’s pre-62 class.

“The Alpine was designed by former Ford designer Kenneth Howes and bears an obvious resemblance to the early Ford Thunderbird,” Eric says of the car’s prominent fins in back, a feature that has grown on him. “I did not like the wings at first.”

Sunbeam’s Alpine line was launched in 1953, and in 1959 they kicked off the Series models as dedicated sports cars.

In 1960, an Alpine won the SCCA G-Production title. The following year Alpines were designated F-Production and took runner-up honors in 1961; and third in 1962. In 1963, Alpines tied for first in E-Production with Porsche.

By the time Chrysler took over the company in 1968, nearly 70,000 Alpines had rolled off the line in various versions.

And of the 11,904 Alpines produced as the Series 1 variant, Eric would eventually own six.

“Originally, I had wanted a Tiger,” Eric says of the Alpine’s later musclecar cousin.

Sunbeam’s Tigers were designed around Ford’s Windsor V-8 motors, but the Alpines were all four-cylinder cars.

Eric got his first Alpine five years ago and he already knew he wanted to join the SOVREN group. His uncle, Phil Edwards, had been with SOVREN about 20 years.

About a year later, Eric picked up the two Alpines that eventually would become his main cars.

“They were going to the dump,” he laughs. “I knew they wouldn’t be good for restoring so I wanted them as race cars.”

The trio of touring cars would soon get more company.

“A few months later I got a call with more,” Eric says. “Now I had six Series 1 Alpines. Four that I use as parts cars and these two complete ones.”

His No. 233 car has a 1494-cc engine and his No. 619 car sports the larger 1592-cc engine.

“Other than that they are the exact same car,” he says. “I built them to run against each other so I can be learning as I go.”

He even plans to upgrade the 233 car so that they both have matching 1592-cc engines.

Eric’s uncle helped get the Alpines ready in time for a debut at SOVREN’s Defrost Kickoff at Pacific Raceways last April.

“We had enough parts so that wasn’t a problem,” Phil laughs. “We put them together and have been together every weekend.”

Eric fondly recalls being among 32 cars from the SOVREN group that made the trip last October to the 12th annual Concours de Maryhill Loops where the Sunbeam was the featured car.

“They had more than 25 Sunbeams there so we rushed these out,” he recalls. “That was really cool.”

The Pacific Tiger Club provided most of the examples at the museum show, but Eric says both his Alpines were very well received.

“The 233 won its class in ’41-’62 vintage race car,” Eric adds.

The cars then hit the track with Mike Deilke driving the 233 and Eric driving the 619 on its first outing as a race car.

“We made all four runs up the hill successfully,” Eric recounts. “Mike even posted two of his four times faster than a 1960 Corvette.”

Eric’s Alpines fall into the SCCA’s F-Production category at 1,976 pounds.

Eric completed the Novice program with three races at the Defrost Kickoff at Pacific Raceways in April 2010, and two races at the Spring Sprints a month later in May.

He has been gaining confidence in his driving skills ever since.

“I’m glad I started in a slow car,” Eric reflects. “I wish more people were in this class, but everybody wants the big, fast cars.”

Eric has improved his lap times on Pacific Raceways’ 2.14-mile circuit from 2:14 to 2:02, and says his goal is to cut that to 1:50.

Phil, who normally races a Mazda RX-7 in ICSCC Conference competition, also has seat time in Eric’s No. 619 Alpine.

“My car is faster,” Phil says comparing the Alpine to his RX-7. “But cars are cars.”

“You’ve got to understand that speed is relative,” Eric says, who points out that drivers all compete against cars in their respective class. “And the Alpine is a cheap way to race in comparison to a Tiger. My whole race budget is under $10,000 including cars, races, gear, etc., for the last five years. Some of the drivers I compete with will spend more on the Historics race weekend.”

Whether budget is a concern or not, Eric encourages everyone to give vintage racing a try.

“Definitely come out and race,” he urges. “Don’t wait. It is way more fun to learn at the track.”

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