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!

Bill Cahill

Bill Cahill and Morgan-style 3-wheel car he built in 1990
Bill Cahill & a Morgan-style 3-wheel car he built in 1990

Sad to hear that my old buddy Bill Cahill passed away this week at 95.  Cahill was president of the Road Angels club when I joined in July 1951. At 26, he was the oldest member & a good leader for a bunch of guys who needed guidance.

I mention Cahill quite a bit in Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap and he bought a copy a month ago. One article in particular, "Bill Cahill and the Scoopen Skirt," highlights his penchant for generating lots of enterprising ideas.

I talked to him last week and he was just as sharp as ever. He sounded like a 60 year old (young, in other words!)

When he was in his eighties he drove a Russian Ural motorcycle (with sidecar) the full length of Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica.

He was a character and I'll miss talking with him.

Here's an excerpt from "Bill Cahill and the Scoopen Skirt." It talks about his idea for marketing a longer fender skirt for cars around 1954.

His method (for marketing the skirts) was simple: he wrote to advertisers in the custom car magazines who he thought would be interested. Only one replied: Bonzer Industries. Bill recently recalled: “If you look in the back of some of those old magazines you’ll see ads for Bonzer. It was a big deal place that did a lot of work with Continental kits.” After an exchange of letters, Bill got an airplane ticket from Bonzer and an invitation to show them the skirt. “I thought, my god, my fortune’s made!”

Because Bill was working two jobs he had to fly to Los Angeles on a Saturday. “I wrapped the skirt in butcher paper and lugged it on the plane — it was almost four feet long!” The plane landed and Bill took a cab to the offices of Bonzer Industries. “It was Saturday and the place was closed, so I sat there in the waiting room. I saw a guy on the phone, a silk suit wheeler-dealer type, who made me wait while he talked with several people on the phone. Finally he called me into his office and said let’s see what you’ve got, so I showed him the skirt. Oh boy, he was really excited about it. He said, we’re going to do some real business with this. 

The Brotherhood of Speed


The 60 year history of the Slo Pok club of Vancouver, WA. By Al Drake and Don Pennington, this is perhaps the only hot rod club that such a book could be written about. While other clubs have come and gone, the Slo Pok club has been in continuous existence from 1951 to date. 

The club has been involved with street rodding, drag racing, car shows, etc. Most of the 50-plus members own two or three interesting cars, and are always building more. 

In the 1950s and 1960s the club required members to compete at area drag strips. Several have competed at Bonneville salt flats. They have been meeting every Friday evening at an event called "The Alley," which actually began in an alley.

This is a BIG, and notable, book -- 426 pages! 

Paperback, perfect-bound. 100s of photographs, sketches, designs, artwork. A well-researched book that captures a piece of automotive history. $35.00 + shipping.

Order from Flat Out Press, 

Introduction to Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap

This is the introduction to Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap.  The book recaptures 40+ years of essays by Albert Drake that appeared in various automotive magazines. It includes many new and previously unpublished photographs and new material.

Introduction: Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap

I have devoted a large chunk of my life writing columns for automotive magazines. I first wrote a monthly column for Rod Action (later Street Rod Action) for 16 years. During those years I also wrote monthly columns for Rodder's Digest and Street Rodding Illustrated. When those magazines folded I began writing a monthly column for Goodguys Gazette, and that has been going on for 20 years. That means I've been writing the columns for 36 years! That's a lot of columns! I like to think that I've made it into an art form. 

When I started writing the columns I had no intention of continuing them for so long a time. In 1982, to get through a brutal Michigan winter, I wrote a book titled Street Was Fun in ‘51, the first book on historical hot rodding. It was a look back at the good old bad days when I was an active hot rodder. In the course of writing the book it occurred to me that I could take some small part of the larger picture--the nature of dual pipes, or echo cans versus pencil tip tail pipe extensions, or that I might focus on a certain car, or club, or event that I remembered--isolate it and develop it. The first column I wrote was, I believe, about wheel coverings. Then I wrote two more. I had a piece of fiction in Rod Action, the only fiction the magazine ever published, so I wrote to the editor, Brian Brennan, and asked if he'd be interested in seeing those columns. I still have his reply, where he circled a few words of my letter in red ink and wrote "Great Idea!" I was on my way. I called the series "Fifties Flashback," because I wanted to focus on that decade. 

I have to say that I felt a great deal of satisfaction in seeing my work in a popular magazine, usually with a photograph or two, sometimes with a touch of color. When I walked into a 7-11 with a friend I'd go to the magazine stand and pull out the current issue of Rod Action; there on the glossy pages was my work under my by-line. I had been published in numerous respected literary magazines, but those had a limited circulation and were primarily read by academics. Usually those magazines paid little or nothing. In Rod Action my work reached a mass market and I got paid. Most of all, I was writing about a subject that I loved.

The monthly column wasn't the only thing I wrote. I completed and published a major book on the Pontiac GTO, The Big ‘Little GTO’ Book, and compiled and published a book of oral histories about the GTO, Herding Goats. In 1982 I published a novel, Beyond the Pavement, a book I worked on for 20 years! It was chosen by the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission as one of 100 significant Oregon books. And in 1983 I published a fiction collection titled I Remember the Day James Dean Died. Later I published two books that complement each other, and were the result of years of research and travel: Flat Out, a history of California dry lakes speed trials, 1930-1950, and Hot Rodder! From Lakes to Street, the first comprehensive history of hot rodding from the 1920s to the 1980s. Along the way I also published short fiction, poetry, criticism and reviews. Of course all this writing was really a sideline, as my main work was teaching full time, at a major university where I was a full professor. Although writing about cars was not a literary field, I could justify my work because evaluations had shown that students wanted to make a living at writing, and non-fiction was the genre where that was most possible. 

My last columns for Rod Action appeared in the mid-1990s when the magazine folded up. I was owed $6,000; I went to a lawyer, hoping to get at least some of that money, but he dissuaded me, saying that even if I got a judgement I'd find it difficult, probably impossible, to collect. Later I went to a major rodding event put on by the Goodguys organization; Gary Meadors was head of the company, and it was a big deal, staging hot rod events all over the nation. It met Jon Gobetti, a guy I'd corresponded with when he had been editor of Rod Action. We hit it off, and a few days later he gave me a call and suggested that I write a monthly column for the Goodguys Gazette, which he edited. I thought it over, and said okay. By then I was retired, but I had a good deal of energy for writing and travel. Jon wanted me to continue with the title "Fifties Flashback," but I felt that I had pretty much mined the ore from that decade; I decided to call the series "Flashing Back," which allowed me to examine things that happened before and after the 1950s. 

For me, the column never gets old. I can be driving down the road, or weeding in the garden, or washing my car and I'll get an idea that can be developed in the column's 800 word limit. I'm sometimes surprised that I haven't run out of ideas. Every month I wait with anticipation to read the newest installment of what I've written. The Gazette is a handsome publication that has constantly gotten better over the years. It's over-size, substantial, colorful, loaded with interesting and useful articles and profiles of notable people and high-buck hot rods and muscle cars. I'm honored to publish in the Gazette, and readers seem to like my work. 

But I have to say that such approval is not one hundred per cent. Some people simply don't like cars, or those who write about them. When I was a tenured faculty at Michigan State University I was so proud of my columns that sometimes I'd Xerox a few copies and give them to my colleagues. Usually the person said nothing. Sometimes he'd imply that he disapproved of the subject matter, as if writing about hot cars was trivial. A more fitting subject would be the language of Chaucer, or lace-making in the 18th century, or the gender politics of modern fiction. Hot rods were certainly not suitable. One colleague summed up my writing by saying, "Oh, I ran the Model A around the pasture." The dean hated cars. My last department head, Dr. Paananen, didn't drive, and didn't even have a driver's license, which says a lot about his thoughts on cars. When I published the first GTO book I received a lot of publicity and was interviewed by both local and state newspapers; it was front-page stuff, because the Pontiac had been built in Michigan. Some of my colleagues didn't like -- were jealous of? -- the publicity. The department head, Dr. Baskett, asked to see a copy of the book. He returned it after a couple days, saying, "I used to own a Pontiac LeMans." No indication what he thought of the quality of the writing or the extensive research that had gone into the book. It could, in fact, be compared to a doctoral thesis. 

Fortunately, my work has met with the approval of car guys. I have also worked with about ten editors of the Goodguys Gazette who have approved of my work. During the past 20 years a number of other columnists for the Gazette have come and gone, while I have remained. Such longevity indicates that my column has had staying power in a tough magazine world. I don't get much feedback but occasionally I hear comments by readers who say nice things about a particular column or who say that my column is the first thing they read when an issue arrives. Such comments please me immensely, because the nature of writing is that one does it in solitude, and an author always wonders what others think. A reader named Harold sent me a note regarding a particular column, and I can quote it in full: "Al: Re: Synesthesia -- God can you write!" I'd like to think that comment applies to all my writing. 

Please visit the Flat Out Press catalog page to order Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap or other books by Albert Drake.

Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap

 AUTHENTIC: adjective. 1. trustworthy, reliable, 2. of undisputed origin: genuine. Webster's Dictionary

Drake remembers with clarity and detail the first legal drag races, early car shows in California and Oregon, speed trials at Bonneville and Madras, and the ingenuity of the men and women of the time who invented ways to modify the emerging rods and customs in ways to make life interesting.

This selection of essays celebrates the people who made hot rodding an American culture. Rediscover the fun of racing, hanging out, flirting and driving from the voice of someone who experienced the 1950s and has a passion for telling the story of old metal. His stories are authentic.

Albert Drake has been a practicing hot rodder since 1951, when he built a '29 A-V8 Ford roadster. Over 400 of his articles have appeared in a variety of magazines including Street Rodder, Street Rod Action, Rodder's Digest, Popular Cars, Hot Rod Mechanix, Street Rodding Illustrated and many more!

Read the introduction to the book here or read an excerpt from the chapter Remembering Roger Huntington.

509 pages, 268 b/w photos, 8 x 10 x 1.2 inches, paperback (September, 2020)

Stone Press; ISBN: 978-0936892504. Signed copy...$29.00  Order from Flat Out Press, 

or order from Amazon.

Remembering Roger Huntington

Roger Huntington
In 1980 I had a contract to write The Big ‘Little GTO’ Book and although teaching more classes than usual, I spent a great deal of time doing research on the project. Wanted to talk with people who were involved with the Pontiac GTO. Roger Huntington’s name was on the short list because he had road tested the GTO for various magazines and had worked with Jim Wangers, the master promoter, in promoting the GTO.

I’m not certain when I realized that Huntington lived in Lansing, Michigan, but I must have known that for several years before I tried to contact him. I find it strange that I didn’t call him or run into him at a car event, since I worked at Michigan State University at the time, but I was terribly busy with my teaching and academic activities, plus my family, and although I remained interested in cars, that interest took a back seat to other things.

I found Huntington’s house, a tall two-story older house with a full front porch high above ground level. I later realized that his was the house in which he had grown up and had lived in all his life. I climbed the steps, knocked on the door, and then turned the knob and let myself in. It took a minute before I realized why Huntington had not opened the door himself. He sat at a large table in the dining room and before him was an old Remington typewriter, the kind where the keys have a four-inch throw. It wasn’t until I crossed the front room and approached him that I realized that he was sitting in a wheelchair. He greeted me but kept his hands at his sides. I was nervous and more than slightly confused. I had been reading his work for over 30 years and there had never been a hint of his handicap. He went to the Indy 500 every year, roaming the pits and talking with the drivers and mechanics; he had road tested every kind of muscle car, slamming shifts as that neck-popping acceleration sent a heavy car through the quarter mile at over 100 mph. And yet the person I saw before me seemed frail, the skin on his balding head nearly translucent, and as he rubbed the stubble of gray-white hair over his ear with one hand I saw that the fingers were turned inward like a claw. How, I wondered, did he type?

Perhaps my confusion showed, because for the first half hour he was guarded and distant. Trying to ingratiate myself, I mentioned how much I had enjoyed his work over the years and that I still had a copy of the Ford V-8 speed manual that I had bought 30 years earlier. He did not seem impressed or at any rate he did not discuss it further. No doubt he had talked that book out of his system; it was old work and he had gone beyond that flathead stuff. That was what I inferred. A writer, Huntington, wanted to get down to business. He wondered whether I had a contract and who would publish the book. Had I ever seen an HOV engine? Who else had I spoken to about the GTO? Had I talked with Jim Wangers or DeLorean? I said that I talked with George DeLorean, not John, who was so busy with his failing car business and illegal drug deals that I was reluctant to bother him.

I realized that Huntington was testing me, trying to learn what qualified me to write a book about the Pontiac GTO, which was of course, a reasonable question. Perhaps I gave the correct answers or perhaps he was warming to the subject because he began to speak more freely and even gave a hint of a smile when I mentioned something that Wangers had told me. I don’t remember whether I asked if he minded if I use the tape recorder or if I simply turned it on and nudged it closer to him across the table that separated us. I pulled out my list and asked the first question on it hoping to get through all the questions before he dismissed me.

Eventually the GTO book got published and it was a success; it was in print for 18 years and sold 70,000 copies, fantastic figures for an automotive book. I called and spoke with Huntington two or three times, just writers chatting.

Then I got the idea that I wanted to interview him. Would he agree, I wondered. I had talked with numerous car guys on tape but I had never actually interviewed anyone. I guess I wanted to interview Huntington because he was such a public name but most of his readers had no idea that he was working from a wheelchair. Huntington seemed to feel it was time to reveal his handicap too. He spoke freely, revealing that he had been injured in a diving accident when he was 15 years old and had suffered a spinal injury that crippled him for life. He noted that in the 1940s there was no help for handicapped people, and he was schooled at home. On his own he studied engineering and technical subjects.

By 1944, when he was 18, he began writing airplane articles and had some success. But by 1948 the bottom fell out of that market and he began writing automotive articles for Speed Age. As new rod and custom magazines appeared he found new markets, and by 1952 he was earning enough to support himself. As more hot rods appeared in Michigan, Huntington began road testing them – on public highways. He became a member of the Pan Draggers of Lansing. Roy Peterson remembers that the club would put Huntington and his wheelchair in the back of a big touring car and they’d cruise Michigan State College ogling women!

A question I had for Huntington went back to an article he’d written for Rod & Custom in 1952, where he claimed that the top speed in the quarter mile would be 166 mph – at that time cars were going 140 mph. He admitted that he had been wrong! But he pointed out that “we knew nothing of rubber science in those days.” The interview was published right away in Street Rodder and was reprinted in my book, Hot Rodder!. Huntington was happy with the interview.
Huntington died a few years later, on August 24, 1989; he was 63 years old.

The full essay of "Remembering Roger Huntington" was originally published the column Flashing Back in Goodguys Gazette, 2014.  An expanded version is available in Albert Drake's latest book "Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap," September, 2020.