June 18, 2021

Linkage Mag

Geared for the Automotive Life

Stratas Auctions Offers Sebring Batmobile

Image: Stratas Auctions

Select cars from the Henry Schmitt Collection of rare and significant motorsport BMWs is heading to market via Stratas Auctions.

Of the cars to be offered, the highlight is a special 3.5-liter CSL Batmobile — chassis #987 — the very car that was driven to victory at Sebring in 1975 by Hans Stuck and Brian Redmond.

Image: Stratas Auctions

The car’s identity wasn’t always clear — in fact, it wasn’t identified as the Sebring race winner until 2016. Schmitt, who has owned the car since 1997, at first just assumed the car was a Motorsport-built IMSA CSL without race-winning provenance. He bought it to race, and that’s what he set about doing starting in 1998, making modifications to keep it competitive in historic events. However, the real history — as is often the case — was just under the surface.

Schmitt always wondered about this car’s earlier days — and he suspected it had not been a spare. “There isn’t a corner on it that hasn’t been brazed, hammered, straightened or welded,” said Schmitt. “That car was driven hard and put away wet.”

At the close of the CSL program, BMW wasn’t all that interested in either saving or documenting its old race cars — and all but one were sold off to privateers. This car, #987, and another, #988, made their way to South Africa, where they were raced and then stored for two decades by BMW racer and dealer Vasek Polak. Polak’s estate sold #987 to Schmitt in 1997 along with a bunch of spares.

After years of running the car in anger, Schmitt found out the truth in 2016. The car was confirmed by BMW to be the Sebring race winner — while it was built later than #985, the car widely thought at the time to be the Sebring car, that car hadn’t made it to the U.S. until May of 1975. The higher-numbered cars were actually the older CSL racers, and #987 had some real provenance. 

This car, alongside #988, worked at the hands of Stuck, Redman, Posey and Moffat to take out Porsche at Sebring in 1975. Chassis #988, driven by Stuck and Posey, ran flat-out, while #987 held back from top RPM to preserve the car’s mechanicals for the long haul. The plan worked — #988’s fury took down the Brumos Porsche before taking itself out, and #987 remained in the fight, finishing the race with all the drivers participating. It reportedly cruised across the finish with a bad wheel bearing, a pegged axle temp and a dead alternator. But it was three laps ahead of the nearest challenger.

Image: Stratas Auctions

Fitting, then, that it kept racing for the long haul with Schmitt — but that history weighs heavy on a serious racer. “I don’t want to use my 15 seconds of fame being the guy who crashed #987, the Sebring winner. Now that I have a duplicate that doesn’t have that history and that can be just as if not more competitive because it has a stiff new chassis, I can still be out there vintage racing a CSL.”

Image: Stratas Auctions

Learn more about this car, and the others planned for auction, at www.stratas.auction.