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!

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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