Bob Lytle, Remembered

(Click here or the photo above to view a photo gallery dedicated to Bob)

Ardent Allard enthusiast, archivist, historian, ambassador, and accomplished racer – and my good friend – Bob died on December 13th with his family by his side.

I first met Bob several years ago at the Monterey Historic Races. It did not start as a face-to-face meeting, because my first view of Bob was his long legs sticking out from under his J2X. “Hi Bob. It’s Andy.” I said. “What’s going on?”

“Damn diff is coming loose. Pass me the nine-sixteens, will you?” Greasy fingernails were followed by several beers and a long chat.

Awaiting an invitation to race at the Monterey Historics was a nail-biter for many, but not for Bob. With only one exception, Bob and his iconic black Allard were Laguna Seca fixtures for every running of the MHAR from 1984 to 2008. Despite the growing prevalence of big-timers with their 18 wheelers, paid crews and lavish service facilities, Bob was perfectly comfortable showing up with his well-used “Unpretentious Racing Team” camper, towing #65. Bob did all of his driving, along with being the Allard’s sole pit-crew. The camper had enough space for him, his tools and some beer. He seldom failed to finish, and typically finished well up in the pack, at that.

Bob bought his 1953 J2X, #3162, in December of 1982, sight unseen, from a party in Florida.  It had had seven previous owners, and a long racing history. He flew to Tampa on a one-way ticket and solo drove the well-worn Allard 3000 miles back home to Los Angeles.  Much of this travel was in sub-freezing temperatures. Once home, he stripped the car down to the frame and completely rebuilt it.  No boulevard cruiser, he seriously raced it at every opportunity.

I have memory of the 2003 Allard event in Texas, where Bob dispatched an armadillo that strayed on to the track. That finished him for that race. While he was bashing out the damaged front fender, one of the track crew presented him with the cleaned corpse of his victim, and an offer to barbeque it for his dinner. With good grace and much humor, Bob declined the offer. Not so with the beers offered afterwards.

Bob was born September 21, 1925, in Ontario, California. Soon afterwards, the Great Depression arrived, and with it economic hard times for Bob’s family. He was placed in an orphanage because there was not enough food at home to feed him. After graduating from Hollywood High, he served in the US Navy until 1947. There he was a motor machinist mate on the USS LSM-396, in the South Pacific Theater.  After discharge, he then started work at his father’s garage in Hollywood, progressing through jobs of increasing responsibility at Buick, Packard, Chrysler-DeSoto, Cadillac and Chevrolet dealerships, before establishing a career at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, as their fleet manager. He retired from there in July of 1986.

The most common trait of this wonderful pastime of owning, fixing and racing old cars, is passion for machinery. Bob had this passion. He had owned or built an eclectic array of cars in his lifetime, from Baja Bugs to #65. In recent years he ‘hot rodded’ a 1935 New Zealand Ford by installing a modified flathead V8 Sixty, and in his spare time machined and built four running miniature engines from aluminum alloy billets.

Once, I had set up a time to meet him at his home in Cottonwood, but Bob had to cancel because of a court summons. As he explained it, the throttle-spring broke on his Baja Bug, causing him to blow through a stop-light.  Inconveniently, a sheriff’s deputy was a witness. I believed his story, and I hope the judge did.  I never asked so I never found out.

Bob estimated that he put more than 10,000 race miles on #65 as he ran at more than a dozen race tracks and road courses across the US and Mexico during the past 25 years, During those endeavors he claimed to have consumed only one set of Sears radial tires, but no fewer than four Buick nail-head engines. Some folks say that his log manifold topped with the six Stromberg 97’s was the culprit.

Over the years I never ever witnessed anything other than determination and enjoyment in his demeanor at the race track. He truly loved every minute of it.  This can’t be said for most of the vintage racers that I know.

More than his cars or his racing accomplishments, Bob will be remembered for his vast knowledge of Allards and his records of virtually every Allard in North America.  Bob served as the technical advisor to the Allard Register. Whenever I had a question about or where an Allard was, or its history, I asked Bob. It was very seldom that an answer was not forthcoming, and most of this from memory. All of Bob’s files have been passed on to the Allard Register, where they will be made available as part of their developing Allard data base.

When I last spoke to Bob he was not doing well, but we still managed to have a few laughs. He finished with “I’ve had quite a life, enough to fill a book, and maybe more than just one.  I’ve done pretty much what I wanted to do, and enjoyed most all of it.”

I guess it’s best to let this finish with that.

Andy Picariello – December, 2009

Bob had friends quite literally all around the world, from England to New Zealand. He is survived by his wife, Elaine Lytle of Apache Junction, Arizona, daughters Deborah Greenlee (David) of Arlington, Texas, and Diane Anderson (Andy) of Tomball, Texas, grandchildren Aron Finn, Joshua Greenlee, Michael, Megan, Stephen, Merritt, and Gillian Anderson, and four great-grandchildren.