Famous Formula One cars wow fans in Tacoma

If you’re not a racing fan, the experience of standing next to a revving Formula One race car — even a famous one — is not that much different than having a leaf blower strapped to your head.

The noise is deafening and not much else.

But for true racing cognoscenti — and there are plenty of them in Tacoma — the sound is music to their ears.

Close to 1,000 race fans showed up Saturday morning at Griot’s Garage in Tacoma for a chance to listen to two legendary machines fired up — Niki Lauda’s 1975 Ferrari 312T and Jochen Mass’ 1977 McLaren M23 — both from the Formula One international open-wheel racing circuit.

Judging from the looks on faces, the experience was an epiphany.

“There’s something about that kind of precision in an engine that just sends chills up my spine,” said Bill Hartner, all smiles moments after technicians shut down Lauda’s car on the third firing of the morning.

“It’s the harmonics of the pipes,” he said. “You can hear the valves and the pistons firing. It’s just high-performance sound. There are very few sounds like that that can just stir you to your DNA.”

Hartner is a high-performance driving coach from Portland who made a special trip to Tacoma to see and hear the Formula One cars, along with 10 other members of the Mini Cooper club he belongs to.

“I just wanted to actually be a part of that history,” he said, “to see it and hear it and imagine what it would be like to drive it.”

The two race cars are part of the collection of Tacoma’s Richard Griot, the founder of Griot’s Garage, and they’ve been lovingly and painstakingly restored by his mechanics.

Lauda’s car, which won the French Grand Prix, was an especially popular attraction Saturday, thanks in part to the recent Ron Howard movie “Rush,” which dramatizes the competition between Lauda and English racer James Hunt.

According to Tim Willard, Griot’s collections curator and the man who led the restoration process, Richard Griot bought Lauda’s famous car through a broker in England, where it had been part of the Bosch family collection.

Willard and his team restored the car in Griot’s immaculate 45,000-square foot Tacoma shop, a process that Willard said ended recently with nearly three months of seven-hour days.

“The movie kind of inspired Richard to have it finished sooner,” Willard said.

Willard said Griot paid about $1 million for the car. Now, after the restoration, he says it’s worth in the neighborhood of $3 million.

Formula One cars are works of art, said Sean O’Donnell, merchandising manager at Griot’s Garage. But, for him, he said, the real thrill is in the sound.

“It’s a lot of the experience, hearing that power, hearing it go from zero to 10,000 RPMs at the drop of a hat,” O’Donnell said.

“It’s something about the high pitch of the Formula One,” he added. “It’s just an unbelievable kind of scream. It’s straight from the engine. There’s not a lot of distance from where the power comes from to your ears. That’s about as powerful as it gets.”

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693