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For the love of vintage cars

Community: Castaic man reflects on years of car racing and car collecting

Posted: July 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.

James Degnan, of Castaic, sits in his 1952 Allard K2 race car. Degnan has collected and raced vintage cars since the 1980s.

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James Degnan had been thinking about getting into vintage car races.

So in 1982, he took a trip to the Monterey Historics, a premiere race in Northern California, to check out the Mustangs, Jaguars and other vintage cars that looped around the course.

It was then that the 1950s-era roadster Allard caught Degnan’s eye as it navigated corners and gained speed on the curvy track.

“There’s nothing like it,” 78-year-old Degnan recalled Tuesday, as he thought back to his first glimpse of the Allard. “You may not be going fast, but you’re the center of attention. You hope someone is watching you.”

Three years later, Degnan, of Castaic, came across an advertisement for a 1952 Allard K2, a rare find with only 113 ever made.

“It’s history,” he said of his love for the bright red, two-door roadster parked outside his Castaic home.

On the driver’s side door is the No. 88 in white, which he created by tracing coffee cans.

Above the number is his signature.

The windshield is adorned with a stack of stickers identifying the races he’s competed in.

For more than two decades, Degnan spent his weekends attending vintage car races from Riverside to Willow Springs and Del Mar. Racers typically went up to 20 laps at speeds that hit 90 miles per hour, he said.

At one point, Degnan competed in 30 races a year, all with his wife of nearly 50 years, Karen, in the stands.

While vintage car racing is more for the camaraderie than the speed or the winning, Degnan admits there are moments of competition.

“I got some checkered flags,” he said. “And that really is a great feeling.”

Degnan added to his collection in 1989, when he came across a 1967 Lotus Formula Ford at a swap meet.

The Castaic resident grew up with a passion for cars dating back to high school, when he had a hot rod.

He enlisted in the military in the 1950s, and while he was stationed in Germany, he developed a love for Porsche.

“It’s unique in the way that it’s put together,” he said.

By the 1960s, Degnan was living in Glendale and turning rundown Porsches into show cars.

Though he’s over his Porsche era, Degnan is now working on a 1964 Reno Gordini, a blue roadster that was one of 14 delivered to the United States.

The car sits on a jack without wheels and a torn-apart interior as Degnan tinkers with the vintage car. Along with the Lotus, Gordini and Allard, Degnan takes care of a 1964 Sunbeam Tiger and 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado.

And while Degnan is done with his vintage racing days, he’ll always remember the feeling.

“It’s a blast, I’ll tell you,” he said. “Going out there.”

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