A lost era and lifestyle that cannot return.

(there is m43 and Olympus content in this blog, you just have to find it!)

Once again, I was not looking for a watch but something posted on a FB watch group triggered a long latent memory and after a journey down the rabbit hole resulted in yet another acquisition – the 1984 Walter Wolf Racing Citizen Quartz Analog Chronograph. There is very sparse information on this particular watch although I did find one that sold on a Japanese auction site very recently for half of my purchase price, but that watch had a completely unknown operating condition so I think I still came out even.Screen Shot 2022-10-18 at 9.20.12 AM

The Walter Wolf Racing branding also appears in a Citizen Promaster case reminiscent of a Bullhead chronograph.   These watches also represent the earliest models operating with the 12 jewel 35xxA movement with second hand zero reset mechanism and able to measure in 2/100ths seconds in a 12 hour interval.   This was Citizen’s response to Seiko’s 7A28 movement which was introduced in 1983 as the world’s first quartz analog chronograph. Likely these branded watches were made for just one year but the regular line continued for some time and the movement is also found in many other watch brands including the Breitling Navitimer Jupiter Pilot.

The more available mechanical Walter Wolf Racing chronographs were made in 1982/83 using the excellent but venerable 28k bph 8110A automatic movement with flyback function that I visited in https://jimchungblog.com/2020/03/29/vintage-watches-the-last-word/.   These watches have a presence in the collector market and can fetch several thousand dollars.   Accompanying them was also a line of Walter Wolf Racing dress watches.  Fascinatingly, all versions are painted with Promethium-147 lumes as marked on the dial face P-Japan-P. It is a radioactive isotope with a half life of only 2.6 years and a beta emitter although gamma emission has been observed but is not a health concerned as long as contained within the watch case and crystal.   The lack of alpha emission meant that the radioluminescent paint partnered with it would not degrade over time and provide illumination as long as the Pm-147 was active. The advantage, in particular to dive watches, is no need to expose the dial to a light source to get it to glow.

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Over the past 40 years there is much less than 1% of Pm-147 remaining in the watch and the photoluminescent paint glows briefly when exposed to bright light. Citizen phased the product out in 1998 shortly after Seiko developed the current nontoxic doped strontium silicate aluminate oxide material known as Luminova.
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The chronograph in action, followed by setting the alarm time and then reverting to real time.

The question remaining is …. who is Walter Wolf?  Why does he have all this notoriety?

Walter Wolf is a true rags to riches Canadian immigrant story that occurred in an era where such success was often accompanied with flamboyant behavior and conspicuous displays of wealth.   As such it’s hard to determine where the truth ends and the self constructed myth begins.  Wolf was born at the onset of the Second World War to an Austrian father and Slovenian mother.  He grew up in stark poverty in Yugoslavia.  The family finally emigrated to West Germany after the Soviets released his father as a POW in 1955, after 11 years of incarceration (clearly the Soviets and the current Russian leadership are not a forgiving people).  With little formal education, he became an aircraft mechanic’s apprentice and left Germany with a pilot’s license (he flies both fixed wing and helicopters) and arrived in Montréal in 1960 with only $7 and no command of English. He was a ski instructor in the Laurentians, and a hospital orderly and construction worker in Ottawa where things were so dire he once had to quit a new job after only 4 days because he couldn’t wait two weeks to get paid and eat. In 1963, he talked his way into being a labourer and diver for KD Marine Ltd, a diving company specializing in installing intake pipes and building bridge foundations.   By happenstance or design, he became the son in law to the president of Northhumberland Ferries Ltd in PEI and leveraged that connection to borrow $25k from Scotia Bank for a one third stake in KD Marine.   He worked at reduced wages in trade for more control of the company as it floundered towards insolvency. He gained full control of the company and turned it around by 1965 and in 1970 he signed a $100 million 5 year contract with Shell Canada to operate six deep sea diving vessels for oil exploration off the Atlantic coast.

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His company became involved with maintaining oil rigs and with the large number of contacts that he developed he became an energy broker for the government of Nigeria. Rumour has it that he purchased a tanker full of crude oil just before the October 1973 OPEC oil embargo and made a $100 million profit overnight.   The embargo caused oil prices to surge 400% and ultimately motivated Western governments to a large scale expansion of offshore oil exploration.
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Wolf was a childhood F1 fan and with his new wealth tried to convince Lamborghini to field a team in 1975. Gian Paolo Dallara, their Technical Director introduced Wolf to Frank Williams whose team was £140k in debt. Wolf began with purchasing 15 Cosworth DFV engines and then acquired a 60% stake for $1 million in Frank Williams Racing Cars after merging with the Hesketh Team.   If you are familiar with the recent Ron Howard directed movie (2013) Rush you will understand the events of this era.  Recently crowned world champion driver James Hunt had left Hesketh for McLaren and the noted Hesketh car designer Harvey Posthlewaite merely rebadged the Hesketh 308C as the new Frank Williams FW05 but the 1976 season was very unsuccessful.   Frank Williams and his Chief Designer, Patrick Head, parted ways from Walter Wolf Racing to form Williams Gran Prix Engineering and future fame and success.  In this photo we see a rare image of Frank Williams dressed in Walter Wolf Racing uniform talking with driver Arturo Merzario at Fuji, during the 1976 Japanese GP. 
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(appearing from left to right) For the 1977 season Walter Wolf promoted Harvey Postlewaithe to Chief Designer, South African Jody Scheckter as their sole driver and Peter Warr from Team Lotus as Team Manager – along with a small team of only 80 people. Walter Wolf Racing was the only self sponsored F1 race team and Wolf spent $2 million of his own money to finance his F1 journey with the few sponsors barely covering tire/fuel/oil. Even with dollars adjusted to 2022, this pales in comparison to how much Team Red Bull spent in 2021 and now stand accused of exceeding the annual team budget cap of $145 million and facing a $7 million fine from FIA.
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Wolf became a Canadian citizen in 1967 and like most Canadian immigrants wanted to thank his adopted country for the opportunities and success that he found in it. In fact in a very unCanadian manner, he wanted to shout out his pride and happiness at being Canadian by festooning the Wolf WR1 with multiple Canadian flags including a massive one on the rear spoiler. WR1 won its premier race in Argentina (by a 43 second margin!), as well as the prestigious Monaco and Canadian GPs with Scheckter taking the podium ten times in the 16 race season, finishing second to World Champion Nicki Lauda. The team placed 4th in the Constructors Series despite running only one car.  It’s actually better than that.  Every race that the car finished was a podium finish so the reliability issues of a brand new car actually contributed greatly to its points finish, it was that competitive. An unprecedented F1 freshman performance.

Enzo Ferrari recognized early in the season how competitive the Walter Wolf Racing team would be and bet Wolf a new Ferrari car that his driver, Nicki Lauda, would take Monaco.   When he lost the bet, Ferrari did send Wolf a brand new Berlinetta Boxer 512 … but with an invoice several weeks later!   That was Enzo, the master manipulator.   Make a bet, lose the bet, and still make you pay for it.

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The 1978 season was not nearly as successful and Wolf blames Scheckter and Posthlewaithe for harbouring secret ambitions to end up with Team Ferrari.  Scheckter did sign with Ferrari for 1979 and became World Champion that year and Postlewaithe went to Ferrari in 1981 and was instrumental in correcting their chassis issues.  Shown here is the new WR5 ground effects car which debut at the Belgian GP in June, 1978.  They earned 4 podium finishes: 2nd in Canada /Germany and 3rd in USGP and Spain.
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In the 1979 season, the board of directors ruled against his perfect choice of Québécois Gilles Villeneuve driving in a Canadian team/car in favor of former world champion James Hunt who also brought a $1 million Olympus sponsorship with him.   However Hunt would retire completely from driving midseason after being haunted by the death of Ronnie Peterson at Monza the year before whom he had collided with during a bad race start.  Villeneuve had driven for Walter Wolf Racing in 1977 in the WD-1 Can-Am car built by Gian Paolo Dallara and finished as high as third place at Road America.  Wolf believed Villeneuve was as talented as Aryton Senna, but too passionate and too aggressive in his desire to win.  Besides Villenueve had already signed with Ferrari.  The disastrous 1979 season ended with Wolf selling the team to Emerson Fittipaldi and no longer attending F1 races thereafter.   Shown here is Keke Rosberg in the WR7, who replaced the broken James Hunt.

During this period, Wolf was a minority shareholder in Lamborghini but it was his passion for their creations that allowed the company to survive those financially precarious times.   Lamborghini in turn indulged this potential suitor and actually built him the very last Muira SV for his wife in 1975 (Chassis 5092) from spare parts after the model had ceased production in 1973!

In 1974, Wolf bought one of the first Countach LP400 with the 4 L V12 engine and 225mm wide tires.  He was very unsatisfied with it, simply not enough grip, power or speed.  This is NOT the Countach of everyone’s childhood poster (well, everyone my age).  Marcello Gandini’s original design of the Countach was a daring angular and futuristic shape with trademark scissor doors powered by a midengine inline V12 with a 4 L displacement chosen for reliability rather than outright power.   The car was svelte and unadorned without the brutality of the elements that we have come to expect from a Countach.  Walter Wolf was responsible for that transition.

He demanded and received a custom made red model in 1977 (Chassis 1120148) with a massive adjustable rear wing and black front spoiler.  He petitioned Pirelli to make custom P7 tires in a then unheard of 345 mm width, for an exorbitant cost that were mounted on wider Campagnolo Teledial rims which in turn required black carbon fibre wheel arch extensions.  The parallel link suspension was reengineered, the engine bored out to 4.8 L to produce 447 bhp at 7900 rpm, blue Willans 4 point seat belt harness installed with an F1 steering wheel and fire extinguisher to round out the specs.  And Walter Wolf Racing badges including a Canadian flag at the nose and the rear of the car.

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Two other similarly modified Countachs were purchased, Chassis 1129292 in Bugatti Blue in 1978 and finally in true Walter Wolf Racing navy blue with gold pin striping Countach S (Chassis 1121002) all badged with Canadian flags and Walter Wolf Racing emblems but now with an internally adjustable rear wing, custom front and reinforced rear suspension, Lockheed 8 piston brakes with cabin adjustable brake balance, a Borg & Beck double disk racing clutch, quick 7:1 ratio steering rack and a 5 L near 500 bhp engine.  This became the template for LP500 model with all the research and development road tested and financed by Walter Wolf creating the monster of a car that became the iconic bestseller for a company teetering on the edge of ruin.

The Red and Dark Blue Countach found permanent homes in Japan, the Bugatti Blue one in Germany.   The Red one was initially owned by a Buddhist monk who was accused of stealing monestary funds to finance the purchase (not to mention a prime violation of a monk’s ascetic way of life) and now owned by Eiichi “Eddie” Okado of Yokohama who owns a small Lamboghini specialist shop and drives it regularly with all the Walter Wolf Racing emblems and Canadian flags back in their proper places.

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Wolf did not hold onto his cars for very long much to the delight of collectors.  In 1979, a Kremer K3 Porsche 935 won Le Mans and Walter wanted one for road use.  Porsche would not sell him one, but Kremer was happy to build one for him, completely authentic to K3 specifications including the lightweight kevlar bodywork but with the engine detuned from 845 bhp to only 740 bhp.  This became the world’s fastest road legal car and easily attained 210 mph in 4th gear when tested on the Autobahn.  Somehow Wolf managed to get it registered for road use in Canada but used those valid plates to drive it only in Europe.  Wolf had sets of tires flown ahead of his itinerary with the car since they were consumed so quickly he had to change them often, even resorting to running rain tires in the dry just to extend the life of the tires.  He enjoyed 6000 km in the car before selling it on after paying about the equivalent of $1.8 million in today’s money for it.  Kremer sold only one other road legal K3 Porsche 935 and these are the famous 935 “Moby Dick” discussed and featured in the 1983 Daytona 24 Hour Race in https://jimchungblog.com/2019/05/15/digital-motorsports-painting/.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                           I’ve painted a one dimensional picture of Walter Wolf because of our shared interest in motorsports but his business interests are varied, numerous and concealed.  One might wonder why he would venture into the world of Walter Wolf Racing branded men’s wear, cologne, wine, watches and in Croatia, cigarettes but apparently they were successful and raised more than $6 million in sales.

This story would not be complete without some brief mention of the darker dealings of those that earn and lose millions of dollars casually.  For Canadians in particular, he financed the political toppling of Conservative leader and one time Prime Minister Joe Clark during a 1983 party leadership review by flying in two plane loads of anti-Clark party members from Quebec causing Clark to win only 67% of the ballots.  This lead the principled Clark to resign the leadership making way for Brian Mulroney to ascend and become PM at the next election.  Wolf also became the insider who introduced Mulroney to German businessman Karlheinz Schreiber, who was lobbying for the purchase of $1.8 billion worth of Airbus aircraft to Air Canada in 1988.   Schreiber later kickbacked more than a quarter of a million dollars back to Mulroney after he retired from politics although Mulroney insists it had nothing to do with the Airbus purchase, although he could not explain why the cash sat untouched in a Manhattan bank safe deposit box for years and was not declared as legitimate income to Revenue Canada for tax purposes when he used it to finance his children’s university education.

Perpetually embroiled in litigation, his most serious brush occurred in 2005 with the acquisition of Finnish armoured vehicles worth 300 million Euros by the Government of Slovenia.  The Finnish armaments company paid its Austrian representative 3.6 million Euros which was immediately transferred to Wolf’s private account who tried to disperse the funds abroad but was stopped by his Austrian bank upon suspicion of money laundering activities.  This was apparently only part of the funds used to bribe officials, some of which were destined to the Prime Minister of Slovenia himself.  In 2013 the former PM and other officials were sentenced to jail.  Wolf claimed that could not get a fair trial in Slovenia and stayed out of reach in Canada.  When an Interpol arrest warrant was issued in 2015, Canada decided not to cooperate since the statute of limitations for the case was just running out.  In 2015, the convictions were reversed on appeal.

Wolf is now 83 years old and living on his 7000 acre working ranch about 45 minutes outside of Kamloops, BC. He has suffered several strokes but was finally healthy enough to stand trial in an Austrian court this past summer.    In all likelihood, the prosecution will finally withdraw the charges of bribery and money laundering given the outcome of the other defendants.  There is justice for the ultra rich, and then justice for the rest of us.

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My friend Eddie Okado paid me a surprise visit at my new place in Toronto. He’s visiting his sister here for the next few months and then attending the Amelia Island Concours where Lamborghini is the featured marque in 2023. What better opportunity to display his very rare Walter Wolf Countach and repatriate it for a few months to its home and native land.

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