• Perks Of The Job

    This collection of photos was taken by Randy Hernandez, son of the great Fran Hernandez. Randy kindly sent them to me some months ago to share.

    Francisco ‘Fran’ Hernandez was a Southern California hot rodder who made his name on the dry lakes in the 1940s. Having served in the Navy during WWII, he teamed up with fellow Navy veteran Fred Offenhauser following the War to establish Offenhauser Sales Corporation. After a few years he sold his share of the business to Offenhauser, and went to work for Vic Edelbrock.

    On April 10, 1949, the Santa Barbara Acceleration Association arranged a legal drag racing event at the Goleta airstrip. Up to that time, drag racing was a highly illegal pass-time, with races taking place on public roads, and hot rodders widely viewed as little short of outlaw gang members. The very first race that took place at that event was a grudge match between Tom Cobbs in a supercharged flathead V8 powered Model A coupe, against Fran Hernandez in a 296 cu.in Mercury flathead powered ’32 Ford. Hernandez won comfortably. This is widely considered to be the very first organized legal drag race.

    During the 1950s, Hernandez continued to build very fast Ford powered machinery, though was spending less time behind the wheel. He went on to join Bill Stroppe’s racing team, who was a consultant for Autolite’s racing program. When Ford purchased Autolite in 1961, Stroppe elected to go it alone, while Hernandez remained with the company, becoming the Director for the Autolite Racing Division.

    From there, he became head for Lincoln-Mercury’s racing division, establishing a full-bore drag racing program that thrust the company to the very top levels of the sport, building a number record breaking A/FX Comets driven by the likes of Don Nicholson and Ronnie Sox. It was through these programs he built relationships with Dearborn Steel Tubing and Logghe Stamping Company, the latter of which created the first flip-top Mercury Funnycars in 1966.

    Hernandez then went on to head Lincoln-Mercury’s entry into the SCCA Trans-Am series for 1967, contracting Dearborn Steel Tubing the construct the Mercury Cougars that would be run by the extremely competent Bud Moore’s racing team. With a fleet of top level drivers including Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Peter Revson, David Pearson, and Ed Leslie, the red and silver Bud Moore machines became the pace-setters in the series, and only narrowly missed out on winning the championship. Ford’s head office decided they didn’t want to see the Cougars competing against the Mustangs, so sent Bud Moore to work with Bill France to establish the NASCAR Grand Touring series for 1968.

    Meanwhile, Hernandez went on to become the Manager for Ford’s racing programs, spending much of his time at the Kar-Kraft facility where the early 1969 Mustang Trans-Am cars were constructed, and where the BOSS 429 Mustangs were also modified, among other projects.

    One of the perks of the job was that Hernandez had ready access to a bevy of high-end Ford road cars, and would regularly come home with interesting offerings. On this particular day in July 1967, Fran brought home a road going Ford GT40. Such was its impact on the quiet suburban street where the Hernandez family resided, that a bunch of the neighbourhood kids all turned up to have a look, and have their photos taken with the car.

    These photos were snapped by Fran’s son Randy. In the first of them Fran is pictured, wearing the thick-rimmed glasses, as is Randy’s mother with the blond hair, and his younger brother, wearing the green Giants t-shirt. The rest are local neighbourhood kids, while the guy standing behind the car is one of the neighbours.

    Randy, who was about 17 at the time, recalls “I took these in July 1967 when Dad brought the car home. The neighborhood kids showed up like ants at a picnic. The cars in front of our house were Comets. The light blue one was mine, the convertible was my Mother's and the dark blue one was my Dad's daily driver when he wasn't in a Company car. He brought home cars that probably shouldn't have been street legal, e.g: 427s, 427 SOHC, Cougars and Mustangs with full race T/A engines, 1966 Indy Pace Car. I drove them all except for the GT-40, however I did get quite the ride. First time I ever saw speedometer go past 150 MPH”. Must have been a fun time!

    My thanks again to Randy Hernandez for sharing these amazing images.

    The rest of this article can be viewed here >>

    This article was originally published in forum thread: Article: Perks Of The Job started by Steve Holmes View original post