Friday, January 30, 2009
OK, today's post is going to be rather short and will ultimately involve you a lot more than me. In going through some of my archived racing photos, I came upon some of my favorites and wanted to share them with you. As you can see they are posted, but I'm hoping that someone out there can single handedly identify each one. I'm not saying it should be a piece of cake but I will say that each one of these guys is a giant and should be considered as famous and important a driver as has walked our planet.
So, with that, let the games begin. Oh, and please identify the cars as well... it is a partnership after all.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
I'll admit, I have a soft spot in my heart for this story, and for many reasons. The first being the simple fact that this is a classic American tale of great passion, and triumph against all odds. The other stuff is a little more personal as I grew up with, and would later restore, a 1960 Corvette that belonged to my father for many years. Having had a good bit of seat time, and even more passenger seat time, in our family Corvette, the news of what Briggs Cunningham and his heroic and talented drivers were able to do with what was already dated equipment in 1960, has always been an awe-inspiring thing for me.
Briggs Cunningham was one of the lucky few who was able to dream big and then go on to use his nearly infinite resources to help see his dreams come to fruition. One of the greatest sportsman our country will ever know, Cunningham would accomplish many of the ambitious goals he set for himself in his lifetime. A highlight would have to be winning the America's Cup in 1958 aboard the Columbia; a sailboat that he helped design, build, and would skipper to victory.
During this same time, Briggs would become increasingly driven by his ultimate goal... to guide a sports car racing team of his design, made up of American drivers, driving American cars, to an overall win in the coveted 24 hours of LeMans international endurance race. Having had many wins behind the wheel of various race cars since before WW2, Cunningham was uniquely qualified to carry out this task. He obviously had the funds, but he also had hands on experience with not only winning races, but with car set-up, race strategy, and also with identifying talented drivers.
Soon after the war Cunningham began his quest to not only conquer LeMans with this "All American" team, but he was going to do it in the most difficult way possible... with a car of his own design and manufacture. This idea came to him after having fielded two Cadillacs in the 1950 running of the French classic. Amazingly, the two cars finished 10th and 11th overall with nearly factory stock drivetrains, although the 11th place car was the fabled "Le Monstre" which sported a crude but effective early version of a low drag body.
Inspired by the success of this first attempt, Cunningham was sure that, given a proper race car, the goal of winning LeMans was within reach. A series of cars were built and fielded over the next several years starting with the Cunningham C-2R and ending with the sleek C-6R. Throughout this time the best finish by a Cunningham team car at LeMans would occur in 1952 with Briggs at the wheel of one of his stunning C-4R roadsters. Amazingly, Cunningham drove the first 20 hours of the race single handedly and without a break before finally handing over to his co-driver.
Briggs Cunningham would stop racing cars of his own manufacture after 1955, deciding instead to compete in a wide variety and style of car including the British Jaguar. As the end of the 1950s approached, Cunningham was contacted by Chevrolet Corvette designer Zora Duntov. Duntov and Cunningham had become good friends from seeing each other at LeMans and Sebring each year. Duntov knew of Cunningham's original goal of fielding an American team at LeMans and felt he had the answer with the Corvette.
After some discussion it was agreed that Cunningham would compete at LeMans in 1960 with a team of three identical 1960 Corvettes that Duntov would supply, and the Cunningham team would be supported by Chevrolet thanks to Zora Duntov's "back-door" assistance program. By 1960 all of the major American manufacturers had been banned from involving themselves in any kind of factory supported racing programs, so Duntov had to deliver all of his assistance to the Cunningham team in total secrecy.
The three cars supplied to the Cunningham team were remarkably stock examples and would be placed in the GT category at LeMans. The cars were 315hp fuel injected 283s with standard 4spd Borg Warner transmissions and 3.55 posi-trac rear ends. They were equipped with oversized heavy duty vented brakes, heavy duty springs and suspension components, quick steering adapters, and oversized fuel tanks with top mounted racing gas caps. Halibrand knock off wheels were used to facilitate quick tire and wheel changes in the pits and each car had a different color treatment over its headlights so as to be easily identified from the pit area. Small aerodynamic aids were also put in place such as a hood mounted air dam. The standard instrumentation was also replaced with large, easy to read, Stewart Warner racing gauges. I'm lucky to be able to say that I've had the pleasure to sit in friend Bruce Meyer's #2 1960 Cunningham Corvette. Knowing these cars the way I do, I was absolutely astonished at how stock the interiors were in these cars when raced. The seat, shifter, pedals, and door controls were all factory original with the only real noticeable racing modifications being a slightly undersized steering wheel and of course the SW gauges. Other than that, it was like any other 1960 Corvette inside. It is also interesting to note that most of the other equipment, like the steering mods, suspension mods, oversized brakes and fuel tank, were all available from your local dealer at the time if you knew which boxes to check when ordering.
Briggs Cunningham would go on to compete in the 1960 LeMans 24 hours with his three Corvettes ( as well as with one of the new Jaguar E2As- the very first E-Type to compete at LeMans ) and with 5 of the best racing drivers our country had to offer at the time. Namely, John Fitch, Bill Kimberly, Fred Windridge, Dick Thompson- the flying dentist, and Bob Grossman.
Early on in the race the Corvettes would astonish the international crowd by setting a blistering pace and showing themselves to be among the fastest cars in the race by blazing down the famed Mulsanne straight at speeds in excess of 150mph. Of course weather, slower traffic, and various failures would begin to take their toll on the team of Corvettes. Before long 2 of the 3 were out of the race and the lone #3 Fitch/Grossman car was all that was left for the Cunningham team to hang their hopes on. Unfortunately, after having set such a high standard throughout the entire race of laying down consistently fast laps without any incidents, the #3 car began to overheat as the result of a blown head gasket. Because of the LeMans rules that existed at the time, cars were only allowed a stop into the pits for fuel or coolant every 24 laps. This was certainly not going to help the cause of the Cunningham team's overheating Corvette. So, with a little on the spot emergency ingenuity, it was decided that the #3 car would come into the pits on every lap and the team would pack the Corvette's engine compartment with ice and then send it back out and on its way. This continued on for the last few hours of the race as Briggs and the rest of the team scrounged the area for ice wherever they could find it.
Incredibly, and as a great testament to the speed and driving skill of Bob Grossman, the team Cunningham #3 Corvette finished the 1960 24 hours of LeMans as the winner of the GT class and a very respectable 8th position overall. A Corvette would not finish this well again at LeMans until exactly 40 years later!
Oh, and the average speed of the #3 Fitch/Grossman 1960 Corvette for the 24 hours???... 97 mph!... and that's including all of the pit stops for ice.
( The photos above are of course the Cunningham Corvettes, followed by two photos of Bruce Meyer's beautifully restored Cunningham #2 LeMans Corvette. One shows it on display in the Petersen Museum, the other of him taking it up the hill at a recent Goodwood Festival of Speed. )
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
In an ongoing effort to bring you as much coverage as possible from the 60th running of the Grand National Roadster show, I've decided to focus on one more car that was in attendance before I leave the subject. But first, a little background on this car's original owner and builder Larry Shinoda.
Larry's name should be a familiar one to any motorsports or hot rod enthusiast. Having worked in the design departments of both GM and Ford, and Packard for a short time, Shinoda was responsible for the design of some of the most ground breaking and memorable cars that either of these manufacturers produced. He worked alongside Zora Duntov on the Corvette project and is said to have been instrumental in the design of not only the original '63 Stingray but also to have single handedly penned the Mako-shark, or 3rd generation, '68-'82 body style. After leaving GM for Ford in the late '60s, Shinoda would immediately shake things up over there by designing the '69 and '70 Boss 302 Mustangs. I guess you could say he left his mark on American car culture.
Born in Los Angeles in 1930, Larry was dropped into the world at the prefect time for a kid who would develop a love for the automobile. As we all know, the weather and culture in southern California made the ultimate breeding ground for new automotive ideas and gave these young inventors a natural proving grounds with the dry lakes. But life would not be without its complications for the young Shinoda. As the war was coming on in the early 1940s, the Shinoda family soon found themselves transfered to an internment camp hundreds of miles from their home in Los Angeles. Along with thousands of other Japanese American families that were placed in these camps to wait out the war, the Shinodas lost most of their property and financial security. Fortunately for young Larry his friends were wise enough to beat the authorities to the Shinoda garage and made off with his hot rod roadster that had been under construction. They stored the roadster at different car club members houses for safe keeping until the war was over. Not a proud moment for our country but at least the young hot rodders were thinking straight.
As soon as peace time was on it was back to hot rodding for Larry. He quickly finished the roadster he had started building and immediately became a fixture at every dry lakes meet from that point on. Shinoda was known for being very competitive, innovative, and fearless. As soon as the idea of drag racing came about, Shinoda was there too. Having gone through a series of cars, Shinoda now found himself building the ultimate drag coupe, complete with a radically set back full race flat head. This of course is the car in these photos.
Although the last several years of this car's life are a little shady, its 1950s pedigree is not. Not only did Larry Shinoda build the car and develop it to become fiercely competitive, but upon getting the news of his first design job, he sold the car to none other than Don Montgomery. Montgomery owned and raced the car for several years with many different engines before selling it in the late 50s. At that point things get cloudy. But fortunately for hot rod history, it was recently identified, saved, and brought back to life by Dave Crouse and his talented crew at Custom Auto.
As you may have read in a much earlier post, I was lucky enough to spend a day with Dave last year, see his shop, and check out all of the current projects they had cooking. The Shinoda coupe was one of them. As you can see by the photos, they did a great job with the car. And to prove how dedicated Dave and his crew are to preserving hot rod history for generations to come, they had the car nearly done just a few weeks from the GNRS where it would be making its debut... and then suddenly, several period photos surfaced of the car's interior as it was when Shinoda finished it. This was a blessing and a curse, as they had finished the interior to the best of their abilities based on what little was left of it. What they were able to construct was very close to the way it was but it wasn't exact- and to Dave Crouse, it has to be exact. So, it all came out and the thrash to get the car done began and continued round the clock. As you can see they made it, and everyone who walked through building number one over the GNRS weekend was better for it.
It's always inspiring to see another historic hot rod saved and brought back to life so that we can all see how it truly was back in the day. Larry Shinoda built a very interesting and innovative hot rod, complete with a radical set-back and center steering, and showed the way early on that this way of thinking was going to be the standard for future drag cars and dragsters. In fact, isn't this car really just an early front engine rail with a body on it? From a chassis design and layout standpoint I'd say it is.
Of course, Larry Shinoda went on to prove that he could see farther down the road than most anyone else... so I'm sure he knew all of this long before it would occur to the rest of us.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Not every car has to be dripping with historical significance. Here are a couple of random roadsters that caught my eye. Nice '34 with early Hemi power. Super basic and timeless '29 A on a '32 with smoothies and lunch box latches.
Wondering what new books are out courtesy of author Don Montgomery???... well, why ask him in person?
The past winners and participants building again. The overhead banners assist you with your walk through time.
Dig that bitchin' Studey p-up! Is that a well dressed Y-block?
OK, now this is really what it's all about. So imagine you're walking the buildings at the GNRS and you make your way into the "Oakland's past winners" building, displaying a sampling of the winning cars from 1949 to present. Then, say you come to Blackie Gejeian's "Shish Kebab special" which was the Oakland winner in 1955... a completely restored car made up entirely of all its original bits. What if the car and its display leave you with some unanswered questions? Well, you're in luck because you are at the GNRS and chances are if you walk the buildings long enough you'll see the one and only Blackie Gejeian in the flesh and can walk right up to him and ask him yourself.
For the record, that's exactly what I did and boy was I not disappointed. I shot the above photo while my friends, author Robert Genat and former American Hot Rod foundation historian Henry Astor, and I stood and talked ( mostly listened ) with Blackie for at least a half an hour. Blackie thrilled us with stories of the old days by the dozens and, unfortunately, there isn't a single word from any of them that I can repeat here.
For the record, Blackie built his car in 1945-46 and it has never left his side.
A rare So-Cal shower making things a bit tough on the rat rodders who set up shop outside building number 9 ( the suede building ).
Top photo showing one of the more entertaining shift handles that I've seen in a long time... that's right folks, it's a real live working torch set at idle. I walked past this car several times over the weekend and every time I saw it, the torch was going. Crazy!
A few survivor hot rods on display in the "Suede" building.
A nicely patinated '40 Willys gasser complete with period small chevy sporting side by side dual quad set up.
Remarkable '29 A-V8 roadster that made its way through the years, trends, and fads, and somehow escaped unharmed and 'as built' circa 1949.
Back again with more from the '09 GNRS. Once again I feel like I can't really top the photos. Believe me there is much to report, but for now it just feels right to post these and sit back and study each one. Again, I hope you all enjoy!
Monday, January 26, 2009
Had to give you one more shot of the Pierson and So-Cal coupes.
Lastly, here's what it's all about... old friends catching up. Hot rod pioneer Tommy Sparks catching up with old friend and hot rod/custom car legend Dean Jeffries.
( Look for the new Tom Cotter book on Dean Jeffries that is hitting the stands now. Also, be sure to check out the extensive feature on Tom Sparks in the next issue of The Rodder's Journal ).
Man oh man have I fallen hard for these old front engined rails in recent years. The hot rod equivalent of sky diving! Oh to go back in time and make just one pass in one of these.
I like the shot of what TV Tommy Ivo saw. Nice race bucket by the late great Tony Nancy of course.
Some vintage rails, including the "Dragmasters"
A stunning pair of Deuce coupes courtesy of Roy Brizio ( check out the Brizio post from several weeks back for a look at the build on the 3-window ).
Last but far from least... when in your life did you ever think you'd see these two cars parked next to each other? Thanks to Tony Thacker and the rest of the folks at the Wally Parks NHRA museum for making this happen. ( The Pierson Bros. and So-Cal "Double Threat" '34 coupes )
Well folks, I'm back. Back home and just starting the process of... processing everything I just experienced over the past several days in So-Cal. There is so much to report that its a bit overwhelming and I think I'm going to kick the week off by skipping a bunch of text and just throwing up some photos. I hope you enjoy. Believe me there's more to come.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
One thing I've found to be fairly consistent in the motorsports world is that special cars seem to have special stories. This makes sense to me for a few reasons; special cars are usually designed and constructed by pretty exceptional people... exceptional people usually have exceptional or interesting stories... and it seems that these folks take their stories or back grounds and use them as inspiration for doing things in a special or exceptional way. And by all accounts, our man Bill Niekamp definitely falls into this category.
By the time the late 1940s had rolled around, Bill Niekamp had long since settled down into adult life, working as a full time auto painter and body man ( or "panel beater" as they called it then ). The days of his youth were behind him and the responsibilities of keeping a small business running were his focus. But just as the war years were starting to fade and Bill was settling into his life, something started to nag at him. Something that only a man with such exceptional standards would take notice of and begin to ponder.
You see, Bill was then living in Long Beach California and had a front row seat for the show being put on by the So-Cal youth; the immediate-post-war hot rod explosion. Hot rod roadsters were everywhere and with every passing week there were more. Cars were being bought, stripped of their fenders, hopped up, and turned into respectable hot rods in no more than a weekend by enthusiastic kids who had loads of energy, time, and drive. They quickly became the standard mode of transportation for young So-Cal kids who wanted some inexpensive fun and to be part of this new scene.
Being a car guy, Bill Niekamp was both entertained and intrigued by what these kids were up to. But being a seasoned craftsman with years of experience making cars shiny and beautiful, with an emphasis on attention to detail and high quality execution, he was more intrigued by how these cars 'could' be built than how they were generally turned out. So, at the ripe old age of 44 ( an unheard of age for a hot rodder back then... maybe the equivalent of a 44 year old skateboarder today ), Bill Niekamp set out to show these kids how it's done.
Now, this is not to say that a finely turned out hot rod had yet to be built before Bill Niekamp came along. The Doane Spencer and Bob McGee cars had been built in '47 and '48, but they were the exceptions. In fact, many younger guys built nice appearing, safe, and competitive cars in the day, but at 19 or 21 you can be expected to have only so much experience and funding. The spirit of hot rodding was indeed fully established by this time; the idea of using a lot of ingenuity and determination to transform discarded jalopies into high performance machines. Only now, Bill Niekamp was going to take that spirit and ad to it the patience and skill that only come with wisdom, and the adult paycheck that would be needed to fund this dream.
First off, Bill started with a 1927 Essex frame, as it had a distinct and radical kick-up in the back, and added model A crossmembers. For the body, Bill took the best parts and sections from 4 '29 model a bodies. He did all of this cutting and sectioning using a hand saw because he felt the warping that would result from using a torch would make it that much more difficult to get the body panels straight on the car. Being a paint and body man he had to have an arrow straight body when done. One of the more distinct and innovative things that he built into the car was the use of hand formed aluminum body panels which made up the floorboards, the hood, a full underbody bellypan, and that signature track nose. Though Niekamp was an expert body man, the talents needed for the aluminum work were very special, so he brought in the great fabricator "Whitey" Clayton to do the panel forming. While there, Whitey also made up the grill insert as well.
For power, a trusty 239ci '42 Merc flat-head was built and installed using Evans heads, a Weiand dual intake, Kurten ignition, and a Winfield cam and was connected to a '39 trans with 3.54 gears out back. Other than the aluminum work, the entire car was built by Niekamp in his one car garage behind his home in Long Beach. A stickler for detail and organization in every way, Niekamp kept track of his time and expenses to the penny. All told, the build took 13 months from start to finish and cost Niekamp $1,888.52. The car was rolled out in late '49 and within weeks was loaded on a trailer and towed up to Oakland for its show debut at the 1st GNRS. Well, we know how that turned out for Bill Niekamp.
After cleaning up at its first show outing, the roadster was then put into typical double duty by Niekamp, becoming a regular-use street roadster and occasional dry lakes competitor. Niekamp joined the Road Runners and became, along with his stunning GNRS winning blue track roadster, a fixture at the local dry lakes meets. And in keeping with his "I'll show these kids" spirit, Niekamp ran the car through for a time at El Mirage in 1952. Proving once and for all that this show piece was not just a pretty face, the little blue roadster astonished onlookers by running an impressive 142 mph. A very fast speed for a flat-head powered car at that time.
What a lot of people don't know about the roadster, is what happened to it between the time it was owned by Niekamp, and when Jim Jacobs purchased and restored the car in 1971. Interestingly, after turning down many offers to sell, Niekamp decided to raffle the car off to raise money for a friend who was injured at Bonneville. Rumor has it that only $700 was raised. The car went on to receive a red paint job and a Chevy V8 by its next owner and was known to show up as a competitor at the Santa Ana drags. In 1957, a 3rd owner began an engine swap to a nail-head Buick V8 and never finished the project. The car stayed in this 3rd owner's garage until Jacobs came along nearly 15 years later.
Fortunately for all of us, this wonderful piece of early hot rod history was saved and is still with us today. Again, if you're ever out in the LA area, you can see the Bill Niekamp roadster in person at the Petersen Automotive Museum where it is prominently displayed with several other historically significant hot rods in the Bruce Meyer gallery.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Well, it is hot rod week around here for me. All hot rods all the time. The upcoming 60th GNRS is responsible for this of course, and I'm hoping it'll be OK with everybody out there. We'll get back to changing it up next week... maybe, but for now, this is where my head will be.
In thinking about the upcoming 60th running of the GNRS and being taken by the idea of this rather serious birthday that it will be celebrating, I'm thinking back to what it must have been like at the beginning- about the organizers and the moxy these folks had for thinking this would fly, but mostly about the cars. To go back in time and be able to walk that building and see what they really looked like, that would be a treat.
Fortunately in the last several years historically significant hot rods have been turning up and receiving top level restorations much to my delight. I've strongly felt for some time that these cars are as important to the history of the American automobile as any Duesenberg or Ferrari and should be found and accurately restored to save this great bit of the past while we still can.
Lucky for all of us, Jim "Jake" Jacobs ( of Pete and Jake ), realized this very early on. In fact, all the way back in 1971, "Jake" found out that the original Niekamp roadster was still around, was mostly intact, and was for sale. He not only was familiar with the car, but actually cared about its future- knowing full well that this was a legitimate piece of hot rod history. Take into account that during the early '70s, hot rodding had turned towards early glass body kit cars with fully independent suspensions, and were usually over-dressed with Model T-era brass components. No one was interested in old hot rods ( which accounts for Jacobs being able to buy it for a mere $1,800 back then ) with straight axles, and the flat-head was probably at its lowest point of all time on the popularity scale. All of these facts make it that much more impressive that a guy as young as Jacobs was at the time would see the importance of this car.
Well, he did, and with great passion and drive. In fact, Jacobs was so inspired that he took it home, thrashed on it nearly round the clock, and had it back on the road in 2 weeks. Once completed, and wearing a new coat of paint ( this time in regal red ), the car would shock the hot rodding world once again by appearing on the cover of the February 1971 issue of Rod and Custom magazine with the headline reading "America's most beautiful roadster returns from 1950!" The cover photo was even done in a "retro" style, much like the late '40s-early-'50s covers, depicting a young Jacobs and his father having just lowered the fresh flat-head into the car using an old A-frame style hoist in the family driveway. I guess you could say Rod and Custom beat the retro mags of today to the punch by about 38 years! Inside, readers would find a story titled "Old roadsters never die" covering the return of the old Niekamp car.
Jacobs would go on to own the car for the next 30 years before it would be purchased by the late Bob Petersen for display in his Petersen automotive museum, which is where you can see the car to this day.
Without question, the saving of the original Niekamp roadster by Jacobs jump started the trend of finding and restoring these glorious old cars. Though it would be some time before this movement would kick into high gear, "Jake" had such high visibility in the hot rod world ( remember, he not only started the hot rod aftermarket parts company Pete and Jake, but was a writer for magazines like Rod and Custom ) that, I believe, he at least made people aware enough not to completely discard these old cars or modify them into oblivion. The Niekamp roadster was a bit of a signature for Jake as well, as he would routinely drive it cross country throughout the 1970s to events like the Street Rod Nationals.
I guess you could say that this car was a trend setter in two separate categories; It set the bar for detail, design, and craftsmanship for the indoor car show scene, and it inspired a generation of hot rodders to be the first to look back at the accomplishments of our sports' pioneers.
( Tomorrow we'll look into the story of the building of the car, Bill Niekamp himself, and this roadster's wild journey through many owners as it made its way to Jim Jacobs )
Monday, January 19, 2009
That's right folks, it's that time of the year again. Time for the biggest names and biggest talents in the world of hot rod car building to gather and show off their latest creations... the 60th annual Grand National Roadster show.
60 years! Take just a moment to process that and really try and get a feel for just how long ago that was. The very idea of organized hot rodding was just in its infancy, and yet somehow a few young guys with nicely finished roadsters up in the Oakland, California area were brave enough to dive in and put on one of the first indoor hot rod shows in history. The very first, of course, being the 1st annual Hot Rod Expo at the LA Armory in January of 1948. I guess the Bay area guys figured that if the So-Cal guys could do it, they could do it too. What I feel is worth noting though, is that, conceptually, these were surprisingly different shows.
The LA show was put on by the trusty SCTA and, although many very nicely turned out and finished roadsters would be displayed, a good portion of the cars were dry lakes racers and dual-purpose race/street roadsters from various So-Cal roadster clubs. On the other hand, Oakland was specifically geared towards the detail oriented craftsman who was as concerned with his cars appearance as he was with its performance. I think it can be safely said that the concept of the indoor car show, at least in the style of Carl Casper or the World of Wheels, was born with Oakland. The style of show that Oakland established would go on to be the template for most all indoor shows.
Although the LA armory show did not go on to be a staple of annual So-Cal happenings, it certainly is famous for a few things. Most important on the list would be the launching of Hot Rod magazine by a young Robert "Pete" Petersen. In working with Wally Parks to help promote the show, Petersen saw an opportunity to launch his magazine at the same time, with the idea to have one promote the other. A thinking man from the start.
But back to the GNRS. For anyone who is even casually interested in hot rods, beautiful cars in general, or just an admirer of great craftsmanship, the Grand National Roadster show is a must see. At least once, every gear-head should experience it. The best cars, built by our greatest builders, from both today and yesterday, all on display. Walking the different buildings that make up each year's GNRS display, you can literally go through time as you walk past every era in rod building. There are always plenty of past "America's most beautiful roadster" winners on display showing the build techniques, tastes, and fads from days gone by. Of course there are also the "theme'd" buildings housing just traditional hot rods, race cars, or customs.
For me though, the highlight is always getting to rub elbows with the greats from our hobby. Fortunately for me I'll be attending the show with my buddy Tom Sparks who happens to fall easily into that category. So I'll, once again, get to meet and talk with a lot of my heros who I'd probably otherwise never have the pleasure to chat up. I promise, it is no secret to me that I'm not worthy, and without my friendship with Tom, none of this "extra" stuff would happen. So, as always, thanks for letting me swim in your wake Tommy!
But you know, at the same time, that's a lot of the magic of the GNRS. It is such a must do on the calendar for anyone involved in the hot rod industry past and present, that everyone makes it. If you walked the complete show on Saturday, it would be easier to compile a list of the legends that you didn't see walking around than the ones you did. As you can see by one of today's photos, I had a surprise meeting with a real hero of mine last year at the GNRS. Now, I do realize that John Milner is a fictional character, but if I had to pinpoint one single moment in time when I knew, without a doubt, that I was 'in for life' with this hot rod business, it would be the first time I saw American Graffiti. Everything about the film made me want to build, drive, and race a hot rod of some kind someday. I knew I'd never be as cool as John Milner, and I knew I'd probably never have the "bitchin'est car in the valley", but Lucas gave us the directions and the inspiration and presented it by way of the best looking, best sounding, best everything, car film ever made.
One of my favorite things about how this picture came to be was that I actually met the yellow deuce coupe first. I was in the main building on Thursday night before day one of the show when most people were loading in and setting up their displays. As I was walking down an isle, looking at the cars being parked and displayed on either side of me, I heard a nice sounding oldschool small block chevy behind me. Little did I know that the car was being brought into the building down this isle and was basically following me. I was so caught up in looking around and taking it all in that I didn't realize I was kind of in this cars way and was suddenly met with an engine rev right behind me. I jumped a bit and spun around only to find that I was looking the American Graffiti coupe square in the grill shell! Pretty shocking moment on a lot of levels. I stepped aside and let the driver rumble the coupe on past as I stood in awe, feeling like I was seeing a ghost.
A few minutes later I walked over to get a closer look at the old girl. It certainly hadn't changed since the making of the film, thankfully, ( well, other than some round air cleaners over the 97s ) and I had the pleasure of meeting its owner, Rick Figari, talking about his history with the car, and getting a much closer look at it than I could have ever dreamed. He could see my enthusiasm for the car and told me that I should come back tomorrow and meet Paul Le Mat ( John Milner! ). John Milner! I couldn't believe my ears. I told him he could count on it.
For the record, Milner/Le Mat, couldn't have been a nicer guy. Acted like he had all the time in the world even though other folks were trying to talk with him. Rick Fugari remembered me and was nice enough to suggest that we get a photo by the coupe... way above and beyond the call of duty. I had seen this car in person, once, when I was 7 years old on display at Universal studios, but I never thought I'd see it again... let alone meet its proper driver and one of the hot rod heros from my childhood. But that is the magic of the GNRS.
I'm beyond happy to say that it has worked out again for me this year and I'll be able to attend the show. I'll be traveling out there with my good friend Mark Lambert, and my pal Tom Sparks will once again show us around in style. I'll have much to say about this 60th showing of the GNRS I'm sure, and will look forward to sharing it all with you next week. I'll do my best to report from the road as I'm out there this week and through the show weekend. So once again, stay 'tuned'!
Friday, January 16, 2009
Dig that 1970s speed equipment on that big block Chevy. Mickey Thompson valve covers, Accel hot box coil, tiny 70s air cleaner, and that super throw-back aftermarket aluminum intake with the angled carb positioning. Groovy!