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!

Bob Feeley

A few years ago I was looking at photos taken in the late 1930s of some young guys and their dolled-up cars. One of the neatest, a 1930 Ford roadster with sheet metal changes and a Riley head, belonged to Bob Feeley. It took me a month to realize that I went to school with a Bob Feeley, and that the guy in the photos must be his father.

The Bob Feeley I knew was somewhat unattractive, with a weasely look and bad skin and already a heavy smoker. He was also a funny kid and had a couple cute girl friends; one I found out years later, he had got pregnant and she had to leave school and return in her senior year. That was a major scandal in those days.

The reason for Bob's popularity had to do with his car, a clean green 1941 Chevrolet coupe with white sidewalls and duals. Most guys did not have a car in high school, and those who did had a lot of junk. Bob's '41 Chev stood out. Always spotless, it was a car that girls loved to ride in.

We graduated in 1953, and Bob soon had a gorgeous 1950 Ford convertible; it was leaded, lowered and painted a deep maroon. I hung out with him occasionally, and I remember one night when we were cruising around and he got a ticket for dual pipes. His parents' house was on a street adjoining a busy intersection, and I'd often go past it to beat the traffic. The Ford disappeared and a nifty 1954 Studebaker was in the driveway; I can't recall whether it had been altered, but it was always spotless.

Then Bob and lots or other guys disappeared. In 1963 I was in a Fred Meyer store shopping with my wife and there was Bob Feeley. He looked just the way he'd looked years earlier, we talked a while, then parted. I didn't see him again, nor did I think about him until I found the old photo of a neat Model A roadster. Thirty years had passed, but just for the heck or it I looked up his name in the phone book; there it was, with an address a block or two from where he had lived years before. A woman answered, and said that Bob Feeley had died of a heart attack a couple years earlier. Something wasn't right, and I asked how old he had been. Ninety-one, she said. I figured it out: she had been married to the guy in the old photo, and was the step-mother or the Bob Feeley I knew. I explained who I was, and asked about Bob junior.

Oh, she said, he committed suicide. He'd lost his job, he was about to lose his car and he shot himself. In 1973, she said.

I had thought I was on the track or some good information, but it all came to a dead end. What affected me most or all was the realization that I wanted to tell someone about Bob but there was no one to tell.

The photo shows Bob Feely Sr.'s 1930 Model A roadster. Both front and rear fenders have been reworked, as have the side panels. Streamlined headlights, cut-down spare tire, and fancy wheel trim. The Engine was a four port Riley.
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.
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A $25 Hot Rod

Sometimes even I forget how cheap a car could be in the good old bad days. In February, 1952 I bought a complete, running 1929 Ford roadster for only $25.00!

It was a straight and solid body mounted on a 1937 Willys chassis and powered by a Jeep engine. It was someone's idea of neat transportation and it had a radio, heater, top and reworked fenders. It even had those things that some of us never got put back on a car, such as the emergency brake, horn, license plate, light and windshield wipers.

As soon as I could, I took all those things off. I also got rid of the grille, hood and headlights. I was determined to make the car into a stripped-down California hot rod such as the examples I'd seen in magazines. I had no money to do anything to the car, but it cost nothing to remove parts. Mostly I drove it. The car lacked license plates and insurance, but cops were seen infrequently, which was one reason that time was called the good old bad days. After school I drove it all around the neighborhood and beyond, keeping mostly to the side streets, taking corners at speed. I would have continued in that way except that one of those infrequently seen cops came around the corner and gave me a ticket. He also said he never wanted to see that car again. (See Fifties Flashback for a fuller version of this story.)
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.
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A smooth car from the cover of the April, 1952 issue of Hot Rod Magazine.

Today everyone from TV anchor people to college professors use the word "cool" to describe a person, place or thing. It springs easily to the lips, and of course part of the reason it's used is because it reflects well on the user, indicating that he or she is cool. It's an example of a word that is overused, until it has no effect.

Cool probably dates from the late 1950s, from the Beatnik era, when it did gain currency. But early in the decade it was not used as I recall. I remember people saying "smooth" something that would later be called cool. Hot rods and custom cars were smooth, and they were: no excess trim, no spot lights, louvers or flames to interrupt the car's lines. My friend, Norm Cahill, always described a good-looking car as smooth. He also used it to describe articles of clothing or a certain guy. It also described Norm, who always wore a white T-shirt, white pegged cords and either Armishaw saddles or highly-polished smooth-toed cordovans. “He's a smooth cat,” Norm would say, or about a moment of time, "smooth."
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.
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Hanna's Ford Roadster

Until I came across this photo, I'd completely forgotten about this roadster; even now I remember it only dimly. It’s a 1930-31 Ford roadster, a model seldom rodded, with a ‘32 grill, which fit easily. The absence of a headlight bar is unusual, as are the whitewall tires, which were expensive. The engine is a Flathead V-8, and I assume it's big because the car is running in B class. The photo was taken at the Scappoose drag strip in 1952 or, more likely, 1953. The car did not set any records so far as I can remember. It was not in any of the early car shows. It was never in a magazine. Any yet, with its metallic blue paint job, it could have been shown.

The guy behind the wheel is Danny Hanna, who was in the Road Angels, the club to which I belonged. He may have owned the car. A few years later Hanna opened a car wash in Portland. He soon had several. Then he began manufacturing all the parts needed to set up a car wash, and he opened car washes under his own name or for other people all over the world. By the 1980s Hanna Car Wash Company owned three Lear jets. By the 1990s things happened and the company went under.
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.

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Al Drake's A-V8

In February 21, 1951 I bought my first car, a '29 Ford roadster with a '36 Ford V-8 engine and transmission. I had had my eye on the car for weeks; it was parked on the sidewalk across the street from the Oregon Theater, where I worked. Before work I'd often walk over and look at the car, and while there was much I didn't know about cars I could recognize a few things. It was full-fendered, with wells in the front fenders for spare tires. It had a 1939 Ford dash, genuine red leather interior, with rolls and pleats on the seat, dual pipes and a chopped top. It had solid side panels (good) which had been opened up with three tapered, half-round pieces on each side (bad) to let the engine chrome heat out. The chrome grill seemed to be a combination of Chrysler and Packard pieces. Someone had added metal to the lower edges of the front and rear fenders, behind the tires, so that the fenders resembled 1933-34 Ford fenders. The title indicated that the car originated in California. Years later I realized that the work had been done circa 1935-36, which was when a guy would want his Model A fenders to look like later Ford fenders.

Of course I got rid of the front fenders, grill, hood and dashboard as soon as I could. I wanted to get rid of the General Jumbo wheels too (they're worth big bucks today). I would now have left the car the way it was, but I wanted my hot rod to look like the car I'd seen in magazines. I had ideas but my father had the knowledge and ability to carry out my ideas. I bought a perfect 1932 Ford grill and shell, and a used '32 radiator. My father took the dashboard from a 1940 Ford and fitted it to the Model A.

My father traded a bulldozer blade for a 1937 Ford coupe with a worn-out 1949 Ford engine. We completely rebuilt that engine: bored .040, new rod, main and cam bearings, reground valves with Johnson adjustable tappets, new 10" clutch and pressure plate, the works! I bought a new Edmunds dual intake manifold for $37.50, which was half the price of the complete car. Plating was cheap and I had quite a few things chromed, including the oil filter, generator, cut out, etc. The engine was red, with chrome acorn nuts, water hoses and air cleaners and it looked lovely and ran great
A local sheet metal shop made the pieces below the body (my father's idea) and a nice three-piece hood. We had the car running by mid-June, 1951 and painted it red in the driveway. It was nicely finished, with paint and upholstery, and was much nicer than many of the hot rods on the street. I'm still amazed that we got the car finished in five months. I don't know where we got the money: I earned 50 cents an hour at the theater, and my father took home only $50 a week from the service station.
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.

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Eddie Duhon’s ‘39 Ford

I saw Eddie Duhon’s 1939 Ford four door convertible at one of the first legal drag races in Eugene, Oregon in the summer of 1951. It had black paint, with areas of gray primer, and the top was loose and flapped in the wind. It probably did not have hub caps. The back bumper was missing, and the car had to be pushed in reverse. The grill was missing, as was the hood, and that big flathead was revealed to the world. It had Evans heads and triple manifold, even a magneto--serious stuff in the early 'Fifties. I was terribly excited to be at a real drag race, and much that happened is still vivid in my mind nearly 60 years later. I remember that the car was pushed backward by another car, and the engine caught, roared to life; smoke rose from the engine and Eddie Duhon, looking like a dashing film star with wavy hair and a thin black mustache, revved it, put it in gear and drove to the line. There was that flapping canvas top, engine noise, and as the flag was dropped there was the sound of spinning tires and smoke as the big car left the line and quickly covered the quarter. That year Duhon took first place in the sedan class.

I next saw the '39 a few months later, in March, 1952, when the Ramblers, Duhon's club, and the Road Angels, my club, put on a car show to promote the newly-formed Columbia Timing Association (CTA). Duhon amazed everyone when he drove in a totally rebuilt '39. In a few months he'd built a new engine, had Cliff White build a new padded top and a red and white rolled and pleated interior, painted the car black, did a lot of chrome plating, put on new bumpers and a Packard grill. It was no surprise when the car won the Sweepstakes trophy. What is surprising is that the car was never in another car show nor in a magazine.

In 1958 Duhon was driving to California and the '39 was involved in a serious accident; the entire front end was demolished and there was frame damage. For the next 35 years the car sat. Much of that time it was owned by Ray Foster, and we can thank him for saving the car. But the guy who really saved it was Sam Parker, who had known Duhon in the 1950s and had helped him put an Olds engine in the car in 1958. Sam had tried to buy the car for years, and, on the chance that he might someday get it, had bought things that would be needed to restore it, things like a Packard grill, a 1950 Ford Crestliner steering wheel, yards of old style canvas for the top, etc. Sam, and his son, Bryan, did a ground. up restoration, taking pains to make the car identical to the way it had appeared in 1952. When it was done, Eddie Duhon came to Oregon to look at the car he had not seen for nearly 40 years and he gave the job his approval.
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.
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Not a Rat Rod

In the fall of 1951 I had a wreck with my roadster, which resulted in a bent front axle, a ruined radius rod and broken header pipe. It could have been fixed in short order, but I towed the car to my father’s service station in Oswego (now called Lake Oswego) and dismantled it. I had big plans for the hot rod but I had little money. Then, in the spring of 1952, my father passed away. I had been walking and hitchhiking the 20 miles from my house to Oswego to work on the car but the work progressed slowly.

The first thing I did was to fire up the torch and channel the body. Then I bought a new dropped axle and installed it. I tried to make suitable radius rods but they were beyond my ability. Late in the summer of 1952 the station was sold and I had to get the roadster out of there. I towed it home, and then made arrangements to take it to a garage not far from my house. R&S Automotive was owned by a guy named Smith and Keith Randol, a race car builder who ten years later built the chassis for the "Orange Crate".

Randol built the radius rods, made a steering gear support, put in an electric fuel pump, built an exhaust system and wired the car. He also installed a Smith and Jones (Clay Smith) 272-2 full race camshaft and tuned the engine. It never ran better.

The photo was taken by my mother in the fall of 1952, a year after the accident. I must have been proud of my little roadster, or why else would I have asked her to take the photo? But look at it: in channeling the car I managed to burn the red paint off various parts of the body and rear fenders; that's bare metal showing! Regardless of how it looked, it never ran so well and I raced everybody. What did I have to lose?
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.

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Rod or Custom?

The line between hot rods and customs was often blurred in the 1950s. An example was this 1937 Ford coupe I bought on July 1, 1953 for only $45.00. It was a nice, tight original car that had been primered, with a chrome after-market grill, 6" shackles in the back and the sweetest-sounding dual pipes. I added the wheel covers, which did not match, and painted the tires white. Although there is a cowl antenna in the photo, the car did not have a radio. I can't recall that it even had a heater.

The engine was stock, but it must have been one of those exceptional engines that came off the line. It was 16 years old but tight as a drum. It would quickly wind up to 45 in low gear, chirp the tires when I shifted to second, and easily run up to 70 in second. It won some (illegal) drag races.

So, was it a hot rod? A custom? Or, like so many others on the road in those days, simply a dolled-up car.
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.

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Gettin’ Down

This week we're starting a new feature on the Flat Out Press website. We'll pick a car photo out our archives and write about it.

Imagine taking a new car and dropping it right on the ground! That happened a lot circa 1955 to 1958, when a guy could get a couple coils cut out or his front springs for $15. After one guy did it others followed, and it was mass hysteria to see who could get his car the lowest.

A good example was Jack Curry's 1955 Pontiac hardtop. First he got the car to go, by boring the engine to 300 cubes, balancing it, installing J.E. pistons, an Iskendarian E4 cam and a Mallory ignition. Then he put on a four carb manifold and headers. Behind the engine was a ‘37 LaSalle transmission.

Then he decided to make the car into a custom. He wanted it low, so the front spindles were reversed and shorter ‘52 Pontiac coils were installed; this brought the front end down to within l ½” from the ground! To lower the back, the frame was C’d at the rear kickups, the spring eyes were reversed and 4” lowering blocks were used. The car has been neither chopped nor chanelled, but it is as low as cars that have been.

The two chrome strips on the hood were filled with fiberglass, the headlights Frenched, the side trim altered, the grill was reworked and ‘55 Chrysler taillights added. The interior was upholstered in pink and white vinyl and the car was painted a color called "Frosty Grape." Like so many customs of that period it soon disappeared.
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.

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The Age of Hot Rods

The Age of Hot Rods: Essays on Rods, Custom Cars and Their Drivers from the 1950s to Today  is a collection of essays that collect an automotive and cultural history that dates from the 1950s.

Discussing hot rods, custom cars, motorcycles, sports cars, and the people who built and owned them, these essays provide a record of the beginnings of modern automotive history. 

Other essays deal with the beginnings of drag racing and early car shows and automotive expos. The colorful writing illuminates the people, machines, movies and cultural events that shaped hot rod culture.

McFarland Press; ISBN: 978-0-7864-3404-6; Softbound 7"x10", 2008. About 90 photos with an index.

Or, order from Amazon

Northwest Oldtimers

Northwest Oldtimers is a very personal book remembering and honoring the rodders from Portland and around the Northwest. Photos and brief oral histories of some of the people involved in circle track racing in the northwest drivers, car owners, car builders, mechanics, enthusiasts. Motorcycle racers too.

Some, such as Bob Scovell, date back to the 1920s and 1930s, to Ascot and early California tracks. Some offer first-hand information about what it was like to race during the good old bad days of thin tires and little safety equipment! 

It includes interviews, newspaper clippings from the heydays of rodding, and an appendix of rodders who have passed on. Packed with photos and insight from Drake, Northwest Oldtimers memorializes the spirit of rodding.

158 pages, perfect-bound (August 2007)
Throttlers Press; ISBN: 0-936892-21-8; Dimensions :11" x 8.25". Signed copy...$24.00 postage paid

Portland Pictorial: The 1950s

Rods & Customs, Showcars & Dragsters and a bunch of reworked daily drivers, the kinds of cars you saw on the street in the 1950s, with skirts, duals, lake pipes, Hollywood hub caps, DeSoto bumpers, nosed and decked, frenched, long shackles, engine swaps and even a couple chopped tops. Remember how it was with an author who lived it. Why get your information second or third hand? Informed captions, written before everything about those halcyon days is forgotten!. View an excerpt from Portland Pictorial: The 1950s. 128 pages, perfect-bound (October 2006) Throttlers Press; ISBN: 0-936892-19-6; Dimensions :11" x 8.25". Signed copy...$24.00 postage paid.


Street Was Fun in '51

Mid-century: that period that we look back at and see as a peaceful, stable time. There was a sense of optimism in the air, a belief in the American Dream. People had money and were looking for something to spend it on. But for some there was a strong desire to rebel, to assert a personal identity in the grayness of the Eisenhower-Nixon years. No wonder the interest in hopped-up and customized cars began to accelerate. The roots of the Car Culture had barely hit the soil when an entire movement blossomed.

At mid-century, to own a good street roadster made sense. They were fun, swift, economical, handled well, and they were noticed! In those simpler days, when there were far fewer people around, far fewer laws and regulars, when the legal speed limit was 75 mpg, 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! To the beach, the mountains, or just to the Tik Tok, Jim Dandy’s Flanagan’s, to your favorite drive-in where you could make a cherry coke last all night while you listened to Patti Page and Perry Como and watched the parade of cars that, in memory, seems endless. 

Street was fun in '51!

 Read a Sample passage Soft bound, 6"x 9", 88 pages, 42 rare photographs Signed copy...$6.95

Flat Out

In the late 1920s hot rodders began to gravitate to the various dry lake beds near Los Angeles to engage in straightaway time trials. By the late 1930s the sport had become formalized and was booming. It’s a purely American activity, and one that continues to this day. 

Flat Out: California Dry Lake Trials 1930-1950 is the  definitive history of the sport during the Golden Age of dry lake competition. It covers the beginnings, Muroc Racing Association, SCTA, the "bootleg races" during WWII and the postwar period. 300 photos of almost every notable dry lake car.

When Drake started this book, almost nothing was written about dry lake competition during the years 1930-1948 (when Hot Rod Magazine began). This book contains information that would otherwise be lost.

The book has 300 photographs, showing almost every notable dry lakes car, and many "typical" cars.  It captures the spirit of the times--what it must've been like to have been a rodder during those two decades.

Chapters on: Hollywood Folks, Wrecks, Behemoths, Streamlining, Timing, Organizational Activities, Souping the Four Barrel, the V-8 and more.

Read a Sample passage.

Soft bound, 206 pages, 300 black and white photographs. Signed copy...$19.95 (Out of Print!)

Hot Rodder! From Lakes to Street

The first history of hot rodding, from the 1920s to the 1990s, as told in the participants’ own words. A 17-year project, this book includes chapters on the early years, California dry lake time trials, circle track roadsters, Bonneville, custom cars and street rodding. 

The 23 oral histories here include the well-known and less well-known, among them Karl and Veda Orr, Burke LeSage, William Kenz, Joe Bailon, Bob Kaiser, Dee Wescott, Big Bill Edwards, Dick Ford, Jack Henry and more. Writers interviewed include Henry Gregor Felsen, Roger Huntington and Peter Sukalac. 

The text is substantial; the book aims at people who love to read, especially about hot rod history. It contains information and anecdote that cannot be found elsewhere and, since many of the participants have passed away, would otherwise be lost. The book has 200 photographs, most of them rare. There are photos of cars that have never been written about, such as the Weinberg roadster, perhaps the most exotic hot rod ever built; the Houle-Henry roadster, Dick Ford's 129 A-V8, built in 1945; etc.

Soft bound, 8 1/2" x 11", 176 pages, 200 photographs. Signed copy...$16.95

Fifties Flashback

A car buff offers nostalgic memories of the way things were in the '50s. Cars with flames, drive-in movies, service stations, car clubs, and drag races all get their time in the spotlight in this collection of images from period photographs, catalogs, magazines, comics, and books. 

This book is a collection of ‘Fifties Flashbacks, the column Albert Drake has been writing for over two decades. With an abundance of material to choose from, he carefully selected these columns to give a sense of what the decade was all about. The pieces are told from a personal point of view - Drake was both participant and observer.

Although written over a period of years, these selected columns have an organic unity. There's also new material approximately one-fourth of the work in this book has not been previously published.

  • Hot Rods
  • Customs
  • Motorcycles
  • Car Clubs
  • Duals Hubcaps
  • Drive-Ins & Drive-In Theaters
  • Top Rod / Shot Rods
  • Blue Dots
  • Rock N Roll
  • Bonneville
  • Oakland Roadster Show & other car shows
  • What We Read: Magazines Books, Felsen Hot Rod &c
  • Cars We Drove
  • Clothes We Wore
  • Movies We Saw
A Cultural History of the Decade!

Read a Sample passage from Fifties Flashback .

Paperback - 268 pages (January 1999) Fisher Books; ISBN: 1555611613 ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.76 x 10.87 x 8.54 Signed copy...$19.95

Herding Goats: An oral history of the Pontiac GTO

Read a Sample passage. Soft bound, 8 1/2" x 11", 138 pages, 90 photographs Signed copy...$14.50

A 1950s Rod & Custom Builder's Dream Book

Jammed with reprints of ads from 1948-1959, showing the many goodies and services that were available to hot rodders and custom car builders. Read a Sample passage from A 1950s Rod & Custom Builder's Dream Book . Soft bound, 8 1/2" x 11", 100 pages, hundreds of illustrations Signed copy...$9.95