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When there were far fewer people around, far fewer laws and regulations, when the legal speed limit was 75 mph, when gas was cheap, when driving was a pleasure, if you owned a hot machine you could point the grill down an empty road and go!

History


When I began reading Hot Rod Magazine in 1950 I wanted to know more about the history of the cars. Those pieces consisted of photos, captions and maybe a couple paragraphs of text. The magazine treated every car as if it were new, and while most were; now and then a rod would appear that seemed to have a history. Almost from the beginning I became obsessed with knowing whatever could be known about a rod or custom. To do any kind of research takes time, which is why even today one reads vague histories. A writer or editor declares that a particular car dates from, say the ‘Fifties, but offers not a shred of documentation.

Sometimes we can’t know. This 1946 Ford coupe was customized shortly after it came from the factory. It has had extensive bodywork, the side and fender trim has been blanked out, it’s been nosed and decked, the taillights have been removed, the holes filled and the lens and bezel mounted low on the trunk lid. The front end has been modified to accommodate the 1946 Chevrolet grill; this was a favorite grill swap just after the war. The car has a beautiful paint job, probably light blue or green, with white sidewalls and stock hubcaps.

It’s an outstanding car, and appeared at a time when such cars were still rare. Anyone who saw it should remember it. The car ran a Road Angels plaque, a club that started in 1950. I joined the Road Angels in July, 1951. I never saw this car. I have shown this photo to most of the older guys in the club and no one remember the car. I showed it to Bill Cahill; the photo was taken in his parents’ driveway – his dad owned the sedan delivery at right – and he could not identify the car.
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.

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Ray Van Dorn’s Dragster


Drag racing got started in Oregon in Eugene in 1949 and at the Scappoose strip in 1952; the cars ranged from hot coupes and roadsters to late model stockers. There were no dragsters until 1953, when several guys showed up with stripped-down cars with big engines built solely for covering the quarter-mile as quickly as possible.

Ray Van Dorn of Portland had been racing his 1950 Ford coupe with a 276 flathead. He decided he wanted to go faster and knew he could get the fastest speed out of a car like the one the Bean Bandits were running in So-Cal. Don “Duck” Collins was a race car builder in Portland and he built a chassis using Shelby tubing, Ford front and rear end, center steering and the engine moved back several inches. Van Dorn put his 276 Merc in the dragster and race the car at the Scappoose quarter-mile drags and the Madras half-mile runs; he said it went straight as an arrow.

In 1954 Van Dorn had Bill Peterson build a light, streamlined body for the car. Peterson adapted the front part of a surplus drop tank for the nose. The dragster was painted orange with white trim; it was the first dragster to have a sponsor. It ran 128 mph at Scappoose and 138 mph at Madras. In 1955 Van Dorn borrowed Don Ellis’ supercharged Studebaker V-8 engine. When the Drag Safari came to Oregon Van Dorn won his class, turning 127 mph on gas.
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.
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