Wednesday, November 26, 2008
As some of you may have noticed in my profile, I make mention of the fact that I have a 1971 Chevelle Super Sport that I've owned for quite some time. 21 years to be exact. A long time to own anything in this day and age when most things are made to be used until they break and then disposed of. When people find out how long I've had it they are always surprised, and frankly I am too. The funny thing is, I don't have a good solid reason why. It just worked out this way.
I think some of what happened is that the longer I had it the less sense it made to sell it. Kind of a "well I've had it this long, I guess I'll keep it a little longer" mentality. It really wasn't until the last few years that I realized I'll probably have it forever. Not that this is a good reason to keep anything, but it's getting kind of novel, and that can be fun. I can't tell you how many people have launched into,"Oh, I'd give anything to have my first car back", and it feels kind of nice knowing that I still have mine because I know that I'd be saying that too if I'd sold it.
Now, to be clear, it's somewhat debatable whether or not it actually is my "first" car. I stand by it somewhat because, well, here's the story. The first car I ever had that was mine to drive, pretty much anytime I needed it, was a 1964 Rambler Classic 770 4-door sedan. This was a car that our family had inherited from a great aunt who bought it new. It was actually a very nice low mileage survivor car that was well kept enough to place at local car shows, but it really wasn't mine, it was a family "extra car" that got passed around to whoever needed it. So, I think it's unfair to call that my first car.
Here's where it might get tricky. Observing how well my father did buying cars that needed a little attention and could be cleaned up and turned for a profit, I thought I'd give it a try and maybe that could get me into a respectable car that I was proud of. So, looking through the local paper I spotted a '77 Monte Carlo that sounded like a good candidate and had a very low price. I knew, because of where I lived at the time, I could sell this quickly when it was done. So, off I went and $650 dollars later I was the owner of a pretty clean old Monte that sounded like it was firing on 6 or 7 cylinders... at least that's what my Dad said when we started it. A set of plugs and wires fixed that first try and that was the only mechanical attention it needed. I remember that the passenger rear quarter had a scrape down it and I took my first body shop lessons from my Dad on that and got it to look and match pretty OK... in the shade.
Being honest, I never really thought of that as my car, I thought of it as a project. Almost as much as I would painting a house for some extra money. I don't remember how long I owned it but it was probably a few months. I did drive it for a while, always detailed to the 9s with a For Sale sign in it, and before I knew it I felt the tug on my line. $1,800 from a high school classmate and I was once again borrowing the extra family car.
The first time I saw my Chevelle was the same week I sold "project Monte". It passed me on high school road at an obscene rate of speed and I immediately set out to find the owner. See, our family already had a Chevelle in the garage and it was a car that I was a big fan of, so these cars were very much on my radar.( BTW, that car is the '69 L-78 convertible that is mentioned in my profile ). The next day at school I see it pull into the parking lot with a buddy of mine by the name of Daniel Sipes behind the wheel. After talking with Daniel about it I quickly learn that this was a customers car that had been sort of abandoned at his Dad's body shop. Apparently some kind of very strange deal was going on between the owner and Daniel's Dad. If memory serves, the guy dropped off the car to have it painted, had no idea what he was getting into, so he gave Mr. Sipes the title and told him to either sell it as is or paint it and they could split the profit above the bill. No kidding, it was something like that and it still doesn't make complete sense to me. I do remember Daniel saying he thought he was going to try and end up with it either way. It's funny to think back and realize that I saw the car, if just for that day, completely original, wearing its original Placer Gold paint with its vinyl top peeling up at the edges. I also remember that for whatever reason the grill was missing.
A few weeks go by and, just as I'm starting to forget about the car, I see it sitting out in front of Sipes body shop looking like it just rolled off the showroom floor. I can still see it, just gleaming in the sunlight, arrow straight body with fresh paint, a new shiny black vinyl top, and re-chromed bumpers front and rear. They even put an NOS grill in it... back when you could just get one from the local Chevy dealer. I couldn't have pulled in any faster. I walked around it several times and couldn't believe it was the same car. I ran up to the shop office and found Mr. Sipes to ask him what the story was on the Chevelle. He said the car was mine if I could come up with enough to pay the shop bill on it. Again, I'm sure I'll never know what really happened between this customer and Mr. Sipes but I do know that he seemed ready to just have it over with. The balance on the bill? $2,200.
The next day I had my Dad at the shop at daybreak to inspect the car. He looked it over, drove it, thought it was a good deal, and loaned me the $400 I needed to make it to the asking price. We drove it home that day! ( See attached passenger rear three quarter shot taken same day )
As I stated earlier in this post, that was 21 years ago... and how funny is it that I just returned to my house a couple of hours ago in that same car with a load of groceries in the trunk. No kidding. As you can see in the accompanying photos, it has had a major rebuild and face lift over the past three years... far and away the longest time I've ever gone without driving it and it is good to have it back, even with its whole new outer personality. It has been a fun journey, and I know it's a cliche', but that car really is full of memories. Too many high school adventures to count, including being my wheels for the senior prom. After a full under hood and under carriage detail, it exposed me to the world of the weekend car show as a participant, and then slowly morphed back into a street car by the early '90s, when it drove me to literally thousands of bar and club gigs all over the midwest. In 1993 it moved me, and more stuff than you'd believe could fit into a '71 Chevelle, to Nashville and continued to be my main car for several more years. Eventually, you realize you have to have a truck and then you end up with more and other cars, but the Chevelle has just never gone away, and as I've said, I like that idea more every year.
P.S. For those of you who care to know, I'll lay out some of the cars mechanical/ownership history here;
Sold new in Bedford, Indiana to a 17 year old Steve Pinick. He later sold it, via Sipes body shop, to a 17 year old me. I remember that he liked that. We've had many good phone conversations over the years as he is always happy to talk about his first new car. One thing that always makes me cringe is that he once told me that, while filling out the order form for the car, he got to the point where he had enough money for one more option. It was between air conditioning and a vinyl top! I just spent the last 3 years, on and off, repairing all of the rust that the vinyl top caused. I'm also often reminded of this story when driving the car, windows down, in the sweltering heat of the Nashville summers.
The car was delivered with the Super Sport option, Placer gold, no stripes, vinyl top, bucket seats with floor console, L-48 350 ci 270 hp engine, T-350 transmission, F41 suspension, power disc brakes, power steering, 2.73 posi, door edge guards, raised white letter tires, AM radio, remote mirror, sport steering wheel. Pretty bare bones. Cost on the original bill of sale, $3,114. I have the POP and build sheet in addition to the BOS.
Car now has a mild 406 small block, same trans but with 3,500 conv., 3.73 posi. Oh, and as of this year, a radically new look.
I've really enjoyed today's reminiscing and I hope you did as well. I'll be taking the rest of the week off from the posts to celebrate the holiday in Indianapolis with my Mom. Good news for the blog is that I plan to visit several race and restoration shops while up there and will be reporting back in the coming weeks. Thanks again, and have a great holiday!
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Nice that it all went to plan today. I picked up my new trailer tires, went over to my old place of employment ( Latondrus Auto World ), refreshed my memory on using the tire mounting machine, got them on the trailer, and I was off and running. Today was one of those days when I was glad I didn't trade my enclosed trailer for that really nice open lightweight aluminum one, as I nearly did several years ago. Something about the fact that it was pouring rain most of the day here and the Bronco is not only an open vehicle but doesn't have a top to its name. Did I mention Gary was from southern California? I can tell you with great confidence that where I was born and raised, you had a top for your vehicle no matter what it was.
My friends and my boss would laugh out loud if they heard me say this, because they've been hearing it for the past couple of months, but we really are getting close now. This time it's as true as that statement can be. I mean, when you're running out of things to do you're getting close. Simple as that. The carpet looks great in the truck and was an excellent choice made by Gary. His instructions were, find a really high quality, almost felt-like, black, Mercedes kind of carpet. Fortunately for me we still have people left in the hobby like Bill Hirsch. Hirsch Auto has been the gold standard source in our hobby, for a lot longer than I've been alive, for quality interior fabrics. Whether you're doing a Duesenberg for Pebble Beach or a hot rod, Bill Hirsch has what you need. What I could never say enough about is the kind of old world service I got from him when ordering this material. Yes, I meant to say him. When was the last time you called a business and not only didn't get an automated service from the down beat, but were instantly speaking with the person whose name is on the catalogue? Really, try and remember. I know I can't.
That simple happening when placing the order really made my day. I guess I'm funny this way but, I enjoy speaking with people who are completely knowledgeable about what they're selling. Even with what I'm sure was an exceedingly vague description ( more musician speak than restorer ) of what I was looking for, I quickly got an,"Oh yeah, I know what you're looking for... we've got that in stock." - Hirsch Auto part number MB21 for anyone who cares. I told him the size of the inside tub of the truck and he told me what I should need to cover it, I placed the order, he told me off the top of his head when it would arrive ( he was spot on by the way ), and we were done. Just like that.
Again, I don't know what this says about me. Old soul? I've certainly been called that before. Nostalgic for another time? Definitely. And I'm not talking big idea "we need to go back to what we were like in WW2" nostalgia, not that that isn't a fine idea in some ways, I just mean a basic humans helping humans existence. Sorry, but I have to quote Dennis Miller here and say,"Now I don't want to go off on a rant here but..." It just reminded me of when I first took on my own projects as a teenager and would end up thumbing through my Dad's Hemmings Motor News until I found the number to call for whatever part or service I needed. Half the fun was talking to the guy who answered the phone who was usually running a small business out of his home, was a car guy just like you, except that he'd been around the block a lot more and would share his knowledge with you as you were in the middle of a project that he'd done a hundred times.
Discovering that, in the Hemmings community of my youth, was a great early lesson about the hobby and it not being just the parts and the projects and the cars, but the people. I'm not saying that world is gone, because it's not. I still deal with a lot of individuals who are out there keeping the faith and doing business in a personal way, but I can't help but notice that that kind of service is slowly tapering off. I'm also not saying that I don't have consistently good dealings with businesses like Summit, because I do. It's just different.
It makes me think back to my local NAPA store when I was a teenager. First of all, I knew every person who worked there by name, and most of them were builders, restorers, or were car enthusiasts in general, and they knew me and knew what I drove. There were no computers on the counter and when I asked for a part it was very rare that they ever had to flop the giant parts book out onto the counter. It usually went like this... "Hey Steve, I need a set of valve cover gaskets for a small block Chevy." No exaggeration, somewhere in between the word small and block, Steve would start to turn away from the counter and would head back into the parts shelves. Halfway to where my gaskets were you'd hear him say,"Yeah, we got those."
Fast forward twenty plus years and this is how it usually goes for me... "Hi. I need a set of valve cover gaskets for a small block Chevy." While talking on a cell phone, a completely uninterested teenage kid asks,"What year?", I say,"Well, to be honest, it doesn't really matter, but lets say a '79." The kid then pecks around on the keyboard, looks up at me, and asks,"Does it have air conditioning?"
It just makes me appreciate people like Bill Hirsch that much more.
PS; Sorry for the poor quality photos of the Bronco's new carpet... camera troubles that I couldn't seem to fix.
Also, a great big thanks to follower SS62 who posted a stunning top 25 list in the comments section of the Nov 24 post( actually two ) that you just have to check out.
Monday, November 24, 2008
For the record, the 1960 Corvette pictured here is the Steele family example. As I stated in the post, my father owned this car for nearly 30 years before my brother took possession. By that time it was in need of a full restoration. I'm proud to say that I performed the restoration between 2001 and 2003 and its holding up well. It now lives with him and his family on the north side of Indianapolis where I'm happy to report it gets driven often and, thanks to my brothers love of speed, with great spirit.
The second photo is of my dear friend Al Bunetta and his very cherry 1940 Ford coupe. Al is one righteous guy and is an old school hot rodder from way back. He bought this car in the early 1980s when he found it languishing in a southern California hot rod shop. Al really likes to drive his cars and has been known to make last minute 500 mile runs for not much reason. Al and I go back to the days when I was playing guitar for the great John Prine. Al and John are longtime friends and partners in Oh-Boy records, John's record company, where Al runs the business and manages John's career. If you're looking for good music, look them up on line.
Monday Monday... and now the song will be in your head for the next several hours. Sorry about that. Thanksgiving week and it's really off to the races isn't it? No question now about whether it's that time of the year or not. It is. If you don't already feel the collective panic when you walk outside get ready to start feeling it in traffic. Understand, I'm not trying to be a scrooge, it's just that... well... you know what I mean.
Hitting the ground running this morning as the Bronco will, hopefully, be coming home from the trim shop and I have to put two new tires on my trailer before it moves again. Trailers have hard lives. Unless you have the good fortune of indoor storage for your tow rig, you're faced with having to repack wheel bearings annually and buy a set of tires nearly as often. No surprise I suppose as it sits outside baking in the sun and then is suddenly awoken by having to roll its own weight around ( about 3,600 lbs in the case of my 26ft Interstate ) with the additional 3-4 thousand pound cargo on its back all while binding and scuffing its way around every corner you take. A handy tool, though, as it has not only hauled many a car, its also been responsible for moving not only myself, but many a friend of mine in and out of various homes. If you think you're asked a lot of favors because you have a pick-up?- try letting the word out that you have an enclosed trailer. You'll suddenly have friends that you never knew you had.
Like I said regarding the Bronco coming home today, I'm hoping this will be the case. Even though I was sure that I over-ordered when purchasing the carpet, they couldn't quite get it done with what I supplied them with. So, another order into Bill Hirsch and we should be good this time. The wheels that we ordered shipped out last week and came on Wednesday as 3 boxes. Now, if I were building a BMW Isetta this would be fine, but I'm not. For some reason, UPS decided it would be good to split up the shipment somewhere along the way. The stray wheel arrived on Friday. No big deal with either of these but it's the little setbacks like this that ad up quickly and can really make you feel like a build is dragging on... especially when you're as close to completion as I am. Anyway, more on that later.
I'm happy to say that I received some really fantastic responses to the Fantasy Friday post, loaded with many choices that had me saying aloud, "Of course! How could I have forgotten one of those?" Unfortunately they came to me in my e-mail and I'd really looked forward to the posting of these for all to see. I shouldn't be the only one who gets to see these and I also think it will inspire some good debate. So for those who have responded, feel free to repost in the comments section if you'd like. Speaking of, I've had all weekend to think about my next five so I suppose they better be good. You be the judge.
6) 1933 Packard Twelve coupe roadster
For my money, one of the most beautiful pre-war open American classics. Obviously the Duesenberg J series cars are pretty hard to beat, but I feel the big senior Packards are nearly their equal on curb appeal and, I believe, superior mechanically. Talk to anyone who has had the opportunity to drive both and they will go with the Packard every time. Lighter steering and more refined for sure and, although the Duesenberg engine is much more advanced and a true work of art, you get a smoother and lower maintenance powerplant with the Packard 12. Speaking today to my good friend Mark Lambert, ( a highly respected Packard specialist, collector, historian, and Pebble Beach judge ) he had this to say on the subject,"I think most people would agree that the high water mark for Packard, in execution of design, was 1933. It really all came right in this year as far as cleanliness and overall balance are concerned." I agree. Built during the single greatest era of American automobile production, when labor was our cheapest resource, and highly skilled, thoughtful craftsmen were the norm. The cars from this era will forever be our country's greatest automotive acheivement and the Packard is in the top of the lot. Again, I'll take mine in a 12 with seating for two and a top that goes away... preferably in black with black walls.
7) 1960 Chevrolet Corvette 290 fi
I will admit that this choice comes from a somewhat more personal place. I grew up with one of these being owned by my father throughout my life growing up and remains in our family to this day. Someday I will get into the colorful history that 1960 Corvette #155 had in the hands of my father and continues to have in the hands of my brother Rob. There's a lot to tell and I'm sure it will be one of the more epic blog series that I'll write. What Chevrolet, and the people who raced them, were able to achieve with what is basically a Chevrolet passenger car from the day with a low slung frame, a hotted up engine set back and low in the chassis, and a two-seater fiberglass body, is nothing short of remarkable. In 1960 Briggs Cunningham fielded a team of nearly stock production Corvettes in the GT class for the 24 hours of LeMans. With some backdoor help courtesy of Zora Duntov, something he was famous for with racers, they were able to achieve an incredible first place in GT and eight overall. For the record, these nearly stock 1960 Corvettes were clocked at over 160mph on the Mulsanne straight! It would be almost 50 years before a Corvette would again place that high in an international endurance race. Most people who have spent time at the wheel in one of these probably won't agree with me here but I really like the size and layout of the cockpit in these early Corvettes. Everything you need is right at your reach and the gauges are large and easy to read. In good condition, the steering is amazingly light and responsive ( with or without the quick-steering adapter ) especially considering it's made entirely of the same parts as the passenger cars. Of course the early Chevy 283s are a dream. Very high revving, very responsive, they take to modification incredibly well, and seem to happily accept endless abuse. When I visit my brother and have a chance to drive the old car, I can't help thinking about a young Bob Bondurant, Dick Guldstrand, or Dave McDonald, drifting these cars around west coast road courses back in the day and winning a lot of races. Without question, the greatest bang for your buck sports car of their day and it's nice to know Corvette have recently regained that title. I think I'd like mine in triple black with the 290 fuelie, big brakes, big tank/hardtop only, 3.70 rear.
8) 1968 Chevrolet Nova Super Sport 396/375
We've come a long way from the Packard haven't we? While we're somewhat in American muscle mode, here is one of my all time favorite muscle cars. For me, this is the very definition of what a muscle car should be. Brutally fast, ridiculously overpowered for the rest of the platform, dangerous, and rude. I love it! I've been around only one of these cars in my life but I'll never forget it. It seemed to have the power to weight ratio of a respectable motorcycle. I remember going through the gears with a friend in the car and we laughed and howled at the idea of Detroit selling these to kids all across the country. Brazen! I have a friend who had one new in '69 with a turbo 400 and 4.10 rear. He went mid 12s in the quarter the first week he had it with slicks and headers. Those were the days. I love these for their sleeper quality, simplicity of design, and underdog status as they're not a Chevelle or Camaro. The L-78 375hp 396 is a very special little beast. As anyone who knows them understands, they are a completely different animal than their hydraulically cammed brethren. The only big block Chevy that equally mixes the responsiveness and rpm range of a healthy small block with the grunt and torque of a big block and an exhaust note only found with a high compression solid lifter BBC. I like the '68s for their one year only rocker moldings and relatively low first year production. I'll take mine in forest green with a black bench seat interior, dog dish caps, a 4spd, and 4.10 posi.
9) C-Type Jaguar
My all time favorite Jaguar racer. I can never see enough of these, especially on the track. Easily one of the cleanest, most timeless designs from an era of tremendous competition in both performance and appearance. An important car for Jaguar as it really put them on the 1950s international sports car racing map showing themselves as contenders to the big boys from Italy. Upon its debut in 1951, it won its first attempt at the 24 hours of LeMans and followed with another win in '53 where it broke the 100 mph LeMans barrier by averaging 105 mph for the race. The C-type also showed the way of disc brakes to the world with its dunlop braking system, which would soon be copied and adopted by all of the major manufacturers. A great great car with a proven and reliable drivetrain, docile enough to drive around town but with world class performance on tap when needed... oh and that shape, from any angle! Is there a color you would want for this car other than BRG?
10) 1940 Ford coupe
How could someone not want one of these? The all time champ of fat fendered pre-war Fords. A car so beautiful that even the most tasteless of street rodders can't seem to bury its charm. From the waterfall grill back, these cars are exactly right- especially in coupe form as that body style seems to allow all of the cues to intertwine from bumper to bumper. I just love them. Great touches of art deco sprinkled in by way of the dashboard and tail light designs, a body littered with inspiring lines, all mixing together to almost eliminate the usual Ford conservatism. Never ceases to amaze me how many different forms these can be presented in and still have nearly everything in tact from their stock form. From moonshine runner to '50s cruiser to custom to gasser, they almost always stand up. I'm picturing a very subtle hot rodded example for my garage. Maybe a light, almost battleship, period non-metallic grey with an oxblood interior. 3 inch drop axle, the right amount of leaves taken from the rear, '40 wheels and caps, '39 trans with 59AB full house flat-head, duals with Smithy's... I can almost hear it at idle right now.
Well that was a rangy one now wasn't it? Hope you're still enjoying. Off to work. Look for major Bronco happenings and updates in the coming two weeks. Stay tuned!
Friday, November 21, 2008
I know what you're going to think, that this kind of discussion is for you and your most like minded of gearhead friends to have during the closing hours at the pub. Well sure, it is that, but I was inspired to throw down the gauntlet on this one, here in the blog, for a number of reasons. First off, I've found myself on tour in central Illinois and had planned to visit Mike Yager's Corvette collection in Effingham. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I wasn't able to make it but it did get me thinking about car collections and the process of amassing one. Second would be that the past few posts have been both a bit dreary and very hot rod heavy and my aim with this blog has always been to cover the entire range of vintage motorsport no matter what form it takes.
So, with all of that in mind, I began thinking back to all of the spirited debates and late night throw downs that I've had with friends on this subject of assembling the ultimate collection and how interesting it always is for me. Everyone has their favorite dream rides of course, but what really gives the conversation spark is how passionate the arguments for the inclusion of a particular choice oftentimes are. Of course it's the collectors choice to assemble a lot to his choosing and it's true that some of my favorite collections that I've walked through have had a distinct theme or leaning. The Barber collection would certainly fall into that category. Then again, some of the most interesting collections are ones that are all over the map.
So I guess the rules are that there are no rules, other than the following... a list of the 25 machines that you would assemble if given the chance. I'm going with 25 as top ten lists are overdone and, even at 25, I'm sure most of us will just be scratching the surface. Feel free to get as specific as you'd like in description and don't be shy when stating your case for the significance of the vehicle whether it be historical or personal. So away we go. I look very forward to everyone's responses out there. Don't be shy folks, it's only the truest look into a car guy's soul! No pressure.
I suppose I'll go first. Oh, and these are in no particular order:
1) 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB
I think this is possibly the greatest looking, best proportioned, GT car from the golden era of sports car racing. I absolutely love this car from any angle and I don't think Ferrari made a better drive to the track, race it, and drive it home, closed car ever. Every inch of the shape is so timeless that I believe it has been borrowed from more than any other design of the last nearly 50 years. And of course the sound and the look when driven in anger! A '61 because that's the year it took the Constructor's Championship and I'll take mine in Navy Blue with black inside thank you.
2) 1965 Shelby GT 350
I know, it would appear that right off the bat I'm doubling down as these cars, to me anyway,( don't faint when I say this Ferraristas ) have a lot in common. It really is the American SWB in a lot of ways. Same idea in shape, same class of racing car but done with more primitive mechanicals and a ton of American brute force. Another car that looks complete from any angle, was highly successful on the race track in its day, and has an awe inspiring sound. Just a gorgeous car, I can't say it enough. I owned a California black plate '65 Ivy Green fastback 4spd 3.50 geared hi-po 289 that rode on 5 spoke torque thrusts for several years. I drove it everyday, raced it, and still miss it. It may be the most enjoyable car, overall, that I'll ever own. Mid 14's in the quarter, 18mpg, as reliable as an anvil, and again, gorgeous, timeless styling.
3) Late 1930s Indian 4
As pre-war bikes go, these are the kings. Four cylinders right in a row, centered in the chassis. What a striking machine. I have a friend who has, I believe a '39, and has spent a lifetime around these bikes riding and restoring them. To see and hear these bikes in top condition and top tune is unforgettable. I'll take mine without the skirted fenders.
4) Mid '50s Norton Manx
While we're in bike world, here's one most folks would probably have to go with. A holy grail bike to many, surrounded by romantic stories of conquering all the great races of the day including the Isle of Man for which it was named. Would have to go with the mid-late'50s shorter stroke examples.
5) Pre-war B type ERA
It is nearly impossible to find a favorite in this class. Practically every European single seater race car from the 1930s is to die for. A stunning time for design, and mechanical advancements that were moving so fast it seems you can chart the progress from race to race. There is just something about the simplicity of the early ERAs that gets me, they look thrilling to drive and seem to request an almost dirt track style approach to cornering. Equipped with a 1.5 litre supercharged engine, they go down in history as one of the great giant killers of all time and remained competitive long after their day.
Alright folks, well that should get us started. My first 5. I'll admit that I had foolishly planned on posting all 25 from the down-beat. I should have known my internal editor was not up to the task of keeping me in check... I have a tendency to go on when it comes to stuff like this. I'll be feeding in the rest of my 25 throughout next week's posts. Until then, have a great weekend and I look forward to hearing from you with your 25 picks.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Man oh man, Thursday already. Or as the late great John Hartford once sang,"My oh my how the time does fly." Speaking of the late and great and flying time, I've been thinking a lot this week about the time we live in and what our generation's footprint will look like to future generations of motorsports fans. I think a lot of this has come up, and oftentimes does with me, because we lost another one of our legends of the sport this week with Jocko Johnson's passing. I can't help but think we're existing in an interesting time as we're the last generation to walk the planet with the actual pioneers of hot rodding... the one truly American motorsports creation. We are the transition team and I don't think we can give too much attention to this fact or the people who developed this sport for us, especially knowing how many of these folks are still out there, active, and willing to pass on their knowledge. To me it's a bit of a no brainer, and I can't think of a better way to honor our pioneers than to keep the history alive.
One man who is doing a whole lot for this cause is Steve Memishian. Steve is as avid a hot rod enthusiast and historian as you'll find and has a particular passion for what I was just mentioning earlier in this post... history. Several years ago Steve began to realize that no one was taking the time to sit down with any of the original hot rod pioneers to collect their stories and, sadly, they weren't getting any younger. Fortunately for all of us, Steve jumped into action and took it upon himself to single handedly start the American Hot Rod Foundation. At his own expense, this non-for-profit foundation was established in 2002 to preserve, promote, and celebrate the history of hot rodding.
Soon after the foundation was established, Steve assembled a staff which included documentary film maker Henry Astor and intrepid motorsports historian and racer Jim Miller, to go out and find every hot rod pioneer they could, sit them down in front of the camera, and capture their stories on tape... and they did just that. So far the American Hot Rod Foundation has collected hundreds of hours of taped interviews with some of the most legendary names in hot rodding. Even better news is the fact that Steve and his crew built a website around these pioneers and the interviews that they captured.
You can log on to www.ahrf.com and, for no membership or trial fee, browse through the pioneers page, click on a name, and watch a segment of their interview. It's a hot rod historians dream come true and is one of the reasons people have called Steve Memishian the "Tom Brokaw" of hot rodding. For all of us, he has helped to document the greatest generation in the history of American motorsports.
This post is dedicated to Bobby Meeks, Ray Brown, Ed Justice, Barney Navarro, Jocko Johnson, Chuck Daigh, Tony Nancy, Ak Miller, CJ Hart, Robert Petersen, and Wally Parks.
PS... I hope the three photos I'm including help to capture the spirit of this post. The letter to Wally and Barbara Parks I spotted taped to the windshield of a 20 something So-Cal hot rodder's roadster at last years Throttlers picnic in Burbank. The last two photos I took are of some equally young guys who were keeping the faith out on El Mirage drylake this past summer. If the background weren't visible in either of those shots, would you know what year that was? ... celebrating our history, what a great idea.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Unfortunately it's true what the title of this post says, we have lost another one of our hot rod pioneers. Robert "Jocko" Johnson, master cylinder head porter, developer of early streamlining, artist, and all around master craftsman, passed away over the weekend. A true genius and one of the great innovators from the early days of hot rodding, Jocko's many talents helped him to excel at nearly everything he tried throughout his life.
Johnson grew up in southern California and was just coming of age when hot rodding was taking off. Completely taken by this new youth movement based around speed and performance, Jocko dropped out of high-school to go to work in a speed shop porting and relieving flat head Ford engine blocks. As the OHV V8s were coming on, Jocko quickly learned the art of matching combustion chambers by hand... long before the idea of CNC porting was invented. Soon his talents were so sought after that he was able to open his own shop, Jocko's Porting Service in Long Beach California. As his business grew, Jocko became more and more interested in taking his ability to sculpt cylinder heads to another level and onto a larger scale. Much to the surprise of many a hot rodder, Johnson began his quest by carving wood sculptures... a talent that he quickly found came quite naturally to him and would ultimately bring him world wide notoriety. I have a feeling that the number of hot rodders who didn't know this about him is equalled only by the number of people in the art world who would never believe a word of his delinquent drag racer past.
By 1956 Jocko Johnson began one of his ultimate sculptures, a fiberglass all enveloping streamliner body that he would fit over a Hemi powered dragster chassis. Known as "The Jocko Porting Service Special" ( later to be sold to Dean Moon and run under the name "Moonliner", and BTW, it's still around ), the GMC blown Hemi streamliner fed by 6 Strombergs and burning a heavy dose of nitro, would make its debut at Riverside raceway. With Jim "Jazzy" Nelson at the wheel, the revolutionary streamliner would turn an impressive 8.35 et @178mph. That's in the late '50s folks! This idea of a streamlined dragster would have its best chance to show its true potential in the early 1970s when Jocko joined forces with drag racing legend Don Garlits to build the Wynns Liner. Unfortunately, due to some Jocko-Garlits disagreements, the car was never properly sorted, and therefore never had a showing at an NHRA event.
Sometime in the mid 1970s, Jocko became disheartened with the world of big time drag racing and hot rodding in general. He sold his business and moved himself and his wife out to the desert near Joshua Tree to concentrate solely on his wood sculpting. In classic Jocko Johnson fashion he soon became one of the leading artists in the country doing hand carved furniture and artwork. How respected is Jocko's art you might ask? I recently saw a hand carved rosewood and English walnut table that Jocko had done in the '70s for sale and the price was just under $30,000!
Not bad for a high-school drop-out delinquent-hot rodder. Godspeed to you Robert "Jocko" Johnson... you'll be missed.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
It is hard to believe how long it's been since the current traditional hot rod movement began in southern California. Some folks say it was as early as the late '80's, others point to between '91-'93. Either way, it has shown itself to have some serious legs, and I doubt it will ever fade. I say this somewhat because the movement is populated by a lot of folks who are young enough that it's the only scene they've ever known, and they seem to have an almost custodial attitude towards it, but mostly I think the beauty and simplicity of an early hot rod is something that is timeless and attractive to almost anyone.
To some it's easy to see what inspired this movement towards the traditional. If you went to any hot rod or street rod event in the late '80's, you would have found yourself in an ocean of neon-colored, mostly fiberglass, kit-car hot rods or street rods constructed from catalogue mail order parts. Now, the good news was that more people than ever were getting involved in hot rodding. The bad news was that hot rodding seemed to be losing its way and its soul. At that moment, history stepped up and repeated itself by assembling a youth movement to tell us that we were screwing up... and the traditional hot rod movement was reborn.
But how did these people know what to do? That to me is at least as interesting a question as why it happened. Somehow this younger generation stepped in and started building very similar (period correct) cars to ones built half a century earlier by another younger generation. And as everyone knows, to build a car that accurately represents a specific era of a specific scene from a very specific region of the globe takes a lot of research and understanding.
Did these kids all go to the Pomona swap meet every month and buy every period Rod and Custom, Hop-Up, and Hot Rod magazine they could find? Yeah, some of them probably did. Did they find out where the original hot rod pioneers were hanging out and go talk with them to find out about build techniques and what the right parts were to use? Well, fewer probably did that, but I know some who did. What I do know from having asked a lot of the guys who have been in it since the start of this re-birth is that one name comes up again and again... Don Montgomery.
It seems that one kid who was there and was part of the original southern California hot rod scene did as much to document it as he did to live it and, to our benefit, Don Montgomery decided in 1987 to publish a book of photographs that he'd taken of he and his friends and their hot rods. Done in a casual, scrapbook style, this wonderful book (which became a series) has very little, but very informative, text and truly gives you a feel for what the early days of hot rodding were like by showing the cars and the people in their natural habitat... not in a pose or mock-up photo shoot situation. These are shots from not just the dry lakes but of cruising, street racing, club outings and reliability runs. There are shots of light servicing and repairs going on roadside as well as great backyard engine swaps and full-on builds happening the way it only did then. And thanks to either his great record keeping, amazing memory, or both, almost every photograph is captioned in detail. It's no wonder these books have become the gold standard source of photographic research for the traditional hot rod builder.
I'm tempted to say it could probably be taken a step further, and a case could be made that these books may be responsible for actually inspiring some of this movement. Either way, we're lucky to have Don Montgomery's photo collections and first-hand knowledge out in the world and available to us... because if given the choice between seeing hot rods in neon or hot rods in black and white, I'm gonna have to go with good old black and white every time.
For help finding any of Don Montgomery's books on the early days of hot rodding check out the following...
Monday, November 17, 2008
Yes, another manic Monday kicks off. If it makes anyone out there feel any better ( and I know it won't ) mine will have started at 5:30 am as I have to get the Bronco loaded into the trailer and to the door of the trim shop by 7. That's right, the trim shop. I hardly remember it not being a gutted metal hull. It will be so nice to get it back and have some part of it that is plush and finished.
Speaking of plush, I have to applaud a great product that I just used for the first time. Don't worry folks, I'm not going to turn this blog into an infomercial. I just have to say something about this Dynamat stuff. It is just fantastic. Anyone out there who has used this knows what I mean. I just can't get over how user friendly it is. It trims out easy, does not clog up scissors, and with the aid of the small roller that they provide, lays out nice and flat and even. The adhesive that is built into it is very strong but somehow forgiving as well. When I screwed up and had to pull a section back off, it came right off but kept its adhesive qualities. Pretty cool. Obviously what you end up with is really the business. I have ridden in cars that have Dynamat throughout and it really is like riding in a modern car. It just makes everything feel more solid and quality built. The stuff isn't free but what you ultimately end up with in return, too me, is worth way more than it costs and it certainly makes your car feel more expensive.
Anyway, there you go. Dynamat. I guess you could say I recommend it. As you can see in the photos, I put down a full layer of Dynamat original which is a heat and sound shield. Then I put down another layer of Dynaliner which gives you even more protection in both departments but also gives you a nice quarter inch cushion under your carpet and it does not take on water. Again, pretty cool stuff. The icing with this product for me is knowing that the owner and inventor, Scott Whitaker, is a knuckle buster like the rest of us. If you go on their web site you can read some great stuff about the cars that Scott builds and his tendency to want to drive them across country and back on a whim. And I'm not talking about finished out modernized street rods, Scott's cars are pretty hard core, usually flat-head powered, and, if they have a top, are lucky to have windows.
So enjoy the photos of where we are with the Bronco at this point. I'm sure just with what you can see in these shots it will be obvious that we've come a long way. By this time on Tuesday we should have fresh new Mercedes Benz black Bill Hirsch carpeting throughout the inner tub and then you'll hear all about what our new paint is, what modifications have been done to the body, and of course, what's now under the hood.
Friday, November 14, 2008
First of all, I want to thank a few folks who sent me e-mails asking about the Bronco project mentioned in my profile that I'm currently finishing . I hadn't intended on doing a post on it until it was done but I suppose the journey of a build can sometimes be as much fun as the driving... almost. I'm sure a lot of this interest has to do with the owner and that's OK, I won't take it personally when no one is interested in the stuff I'm building just for me. ( I think right here is where the younger set would type in "lol"? ) .
Yes it's true, I am building this for my boss. Very very dangerous I know. Nothing like showing up for work to have the first thing you hear be something like,"You know that Bronco you built for me left me stranded out in the middle of nowhere last night." We, of course, hope that never happens. Actually the truth is that Gary is so laid back about it all that I can't say I've really been anxious about that part of it one way or another. Must have something to do with his So-Cal ways.
Speaking of So-Cal, that is exactly where the history of this truck, and Gary's relationship with it, are from. I believe he's had this since he was in his early 20's and it was his main mode of transport for several years around Huntington Beach. About ten years ago, when his career started to get traction, he moved to Nashville and the Bronco went into storage back in California. A few years after that a gear head joined his band and began pestering him about the truck and that he should ship it out to Nashville and start driving it again. I'm sure you can guess who that was.
So here we are, a year or so after the truck arrived in Nashville and what started out as a tune up, check-over, make sure it's roadworthy, weekend project ( how many times have we heard this one folks ?) has turned into, you guessed it, a full blown restoration. My fellow wrench turners, when will we ever learn?
As the project has finally made its way to the 9th inning, I thought I would start at the beginning and post a few shots of it from the day it arrived at my shop from So-Cal, then in some upcoming posts I'll bring you up to present day and you can see for yourselves how far we've come. Stay tuned!
Thursday, November 13, 2008
OK, maybe not required but certainly recommended reading for any enthusiast is the wonderfully entertaining Innes Ireland "All Arms and Elbows". First released in 1967, this colorful account of racing's golden era was an instant hit and became a cult classic soon after. Stories of serious premiums being paid for the book when it was out of print are legendary as collectors and historians clambered for original copies.
Seen by many as quite possibly the best human account of a motor racing scene ever written, Ireland's outspoken, almost painfully candid recollections take you so far inside the world of '50's and '60's international racing that you can almost smell the Castrol R... and the pubs and bars for that matter.
Ireland once said of other books written by fellow racing drivers,"Most of them are about as interesting as a motor show catalogue." Well, he certainly didn't write a catalogue here. In the words of publisher Frank Stroud,"Of all the drivers who raced in the Moss-Brabham-Hill-Surtees-Clark era, Ireland had probably the noisiest, most hilarious, and easily the most hair raising career of all." In addition to the many detailed accounts of great races that Ireland took part in around the world are the equally detailed and honest accounts of the colorful social life that he and his fellow drivers enjoyed.
Where else can you get the full story about the bet placed to Augie Pabst as to whether or not his car's headlights would work under water?... causing Pabst to hop into his Hertz rental car and drive it into the hotel pool to settle the wager, only to have Walt Hansgen dive in, get the keys from the ignition and swim around to open the trunk where he remembered his luggage was stowed! I guess you could say it was a different time in big league racing.
Fortunately for us, the book was put back into print in 1995 and re-released again in 2006 with additional period color photos, a new forward by Jack Brabham, and an intro re-write from Ireland shortly before his passing in 1993. The original text is unchanged and gives a whole new generation the opportunity to read about a truly innocent era in motorsport when drivers ate, drank and traveled together, were somehow each other's support group while maintaining spirited competition, and drove not for fame and fortune but simply for the love of the sport.
The following suppliers carry the new edition of Innes Ireland "All Arms and Elbows".
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Welcome back and happy hump day. As promised I'm going to continue on with some great stuff courtesy of the fine folks at the Barber Museum in Birmingham. Speaking of the Barber folks, before we go any further I want to first tell you a little about the man responsible for it all... George Barber. This is a guy who knows his motorsports and, as you can see from his collection, has impeccable taste in vintage machinery. Now before you jump to any conclusions about this man being an armchair gear head you have to understand that George is first and foremost a white-knuckle racer from way back. He was involved in racing on a serious level by the early '60's, racing, modifying, and maintaining a string of racing Porsches, ultimately racking up an incredible 63 1st place finishes. Building on this success, Barber soon found himself in the big leagues co-driving with such legends as "Peter Perfect" Peter Gregg at both the 12 hours of Sebring and the 24 hours of Daytona in a Porsche 904. His racing days would soon be put on hold though as his fast growing dairy business was in need of his complete attention.
Fortunately for all of us fellow gear heads, his ability to turn a profit ultimately became our profit in the form of this, as George Barber once envisioned aloud,"The Augusta of racetracks". In a way I find a lot of Barber's philosophy similar to comedian and collector Jay Leno's in that Barber has said,"The race track feeds the museum" much like Leno has said doing his standup keeps him in his cars. Whatever the case, I'm glad guys like this collect, preserve, and exercise these old machines and display them for the public to appreciate and learn about.
As I'm sure you've noticed by now, George Barber is heavily into motorcycles from every era and style and that does make the collection quite bike heavy. Do take some time though to notice his great taste in four wheeled machinery as well. It's true that he does have nearly 1000 bikes on display, but the cars that are there, I believe, make up in importance what may seem lacking in numbers. Oh yes, and a bit of a "name that car" for the Ferraristas who have tuned in... I believe that the bare aluminum body hanging on the wall is a 250LM. Does anyone agree?