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Thread: 1950s Road Racing Hot Rods

  1. #1

    1950s Road Racing Hot Rods

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    Just as motor racing in the US in the early 1900s played a significant role in the early growth of hot rodding, so hot rodding played an important role in the rapid emergence of road racing, following the war.

    Interest in the late ‘40s gathered momentum, and into the ‘50s, road racing boomed, with redundant converted air-strips providing ideal venues, until permanent road racing facilities began springing up throughout the country. Sports car racing was massively popular, but, initially, competitors were limited to European machinery as there were no domestic manufacturers building road racing sports cars. There was plenty to choose from, but many American racers either lacked the budget to purchase the European machinery, or preferred the option of building something themselves, from what was available locally.

    Pre-war production chassis’ provided the basis from which many early amateur sports racers were built, until eventually competitors began creating their chassis’ from scratch. Alternatively, a raft of cottage industry chassis builders arrived on the market by the mid-50s, offering affordable kit cars which would accept any number of engine options. But it was the rapidly growing hot rod speed equipment market that provided the momentum to propel these machines much more competitively than their humble price tags would suggest.

    Interest in Fords exciting new flathead V8 engine took some time to gain the attention of the hot rod industry on its release in 1932, as there was already a booming aftermarket industry catering to the hugely popular flathead Ford 4-banger motor, but post-war saw several speed equipment companies come to the market providing an extensive range of aftermarket products that boosted the power of the charismatic little V8 motor, including finned alloy heads, multi-carb inlet manifolds, performance cams and free-flowing exhaust headers. Many house-hold names within the modern automotive aftermarket industry have their roots deeply imbedded in the formative years of hot rodding, either building or selling speed equipment parts for both the 4-banger and V8 Ford engines, including Offenhauser, Edelbrock, Isky, Weiand, Bell, and Cragar. And it was due to the huge range of affordable products on the market that allowed for the growth of locally built American road racing sports cars.

    By the early ‘50s, General-Motors and Chrysler were building more powerful alternatives to the now-ageing Ford flathead, including the Chrysler Hemi, Oldsmobile Rocket, Buick Nailhead, and Cadillac V8 engines, and the popularity these units found with hot rodders and drag racers alike, also brought about a raft of aftermarket speed equipment that gave them an instant boost in power. Most of these units produced as much as 200hp in standard form, and offered plenty of scope for improvement. Another alternative was the straight six cylinder GMC unit, which offered barnstorming power with light weight.

    In 1955, General-Motors released what would go on to become one of the most successful engines ever, the small block Chevrolet, and speed equipment companies were quick to offer up a vast range of products to boost the power of these units. Companies such as Devin, Kurtis, Kellison, and Bocar were producing affordable chassis’ for amateur racers, as did British company Lister. On top of that were the numerous one-offs, the ‘Specials’, some of which were built using parts sourced from junkyards, others built to much larger budgets.

    By the early 1960s, sports racing had advanced, and become far more professional, and the old front engine machinery was making way for the new, more advanced, mid-engined cars, which would go on to eventually form the basis for the massively successful Canadian-American Challenge Cup, beginning in 1966.

    But although seemingly a world away from the simplicity of the ‘50s specials, the ground shaking Can-Am sports cars were direct descendants of machines like Duffy Livingstons Ford Flathead V8 powered Eliminator, John Plaisteds Cadillac powered Cheetah, Chuck Tatums ‘Jimmy-6’ powered Tatum GMC Special, Jack Hagemans Chysler Hemi powered Barneson/Hageman/Naruo Chrysler Special, Dick Troutmans Mercury Flathead V8 powered Troutman/Barnes Special, the Ak Miller/Doug Harrison Oldsmobile Rocket powered Caballo De Hierro, Ak Millers Chrysler Hemi powered Caballo II which made the cover of the April 1957 issue of Hot Rod magazine, Max Balchowskys Buick Nailhead powered line of scrapyard sourced Ol’ Yallers, the Larson/Grierson/Staver Chevy powered Echidna’s, Bill Sadlers self named Sadler Chevy, Scott Becketts Buick Nailhead powered Lo-Test Special, Mickey Thompsons Devin Cadillac, Stan Burnetts Burnett Chevy, Joe Huffakers Huffaker Chevy, and the hugely ambitious Chrysler Hemi machines of Briggs Cunningham, and Lance Reventlows Chevy powered Scarabs.

  2. #2
    Good thread to start Steve. I guess the Allard J2X were probably the closest seen here to those listed.
    I have the Scarab and Kurtis books; what magnificant cars!

  3. #3
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    I guess in '50s NZ if you were going to build a car with a front-mounted V8 engine it would be a single-seater - and there are countless examples of those.
    The only front-engined Corvette-powered sportscars I can think of in period were transplants - Johnny Riley's Monza Ferrari, Rod Coppins's Tec-Mec (Ferrari body on Maserati chassis) and the HWM.
    Though, as discussed elsewhere on this forum, there were a number of Corvette-engined pre-war coupés...

  4. #4
    Sports car racing in the US was hugely popular in the 50s, and using various hot rod speed parts was pretty common. In NZ there were several single seater road racers incorporating hot rod speed equipment as you've pointed out David, which are equally as fascinating.

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    Quote Originally Posted by David McKinney View Post
    I guess in '50s NZ if you were going to build a car with a front-mounted V8 engine it would be a single-seater - and there are countless examples of those.
    The only front-engined Corvette-powered sportscars I can think of in period were transplants - Johnny Riley's Monza Ferrari, Rod Coppins's Tec-Mec (Ferrari body on Maserati chassis) and the HWM.
    Though, as discussed elsewhere on this forum, there were a number of Corvette-engined pre-war coupés...
    .....Arther Kennard's Healey/Corvette,turquise blue and black!!! (From Timaru/Dunedin???)...........driven with a certain amount of flare!...regards thunder427/MJ

  6. #6
    The Edelbrock Special

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  7. #7
    Semi-Pro Racer pallmall's Avatar
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    I think we need a new thread for NZ (and Australian) road racing specials. It is a fascinating subject in its own right. And with David McKinney on board we should get some good history.

  8. #8
    Semi-Pro Racer pallmall's Avatar
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    Some USA specials, 2 lots of photos taken at Goodwood in 1996.
    Scarab Sports.







    Cunningham.





  9. #9
    Semi-Pro Racer pallmall's Avatar
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    Old Yeller has been at both Hampton Down festivals. A true Hot Rod Special.









  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by thunder427 View Post
    .....Arther Kennard's Healey/Corvette,turquise blue and black!!! (From Timaru/Dunedin???)...........driven with a certain amount of flare!...regards thunder427/MJ
    I think he was from Christchurch, and the car was all-black to start with (in the 1957/58 season). Apparently the engine was a genuine Corvette - in contrast to some later Chev V8s that were called Corvettes. I think, for example, Dixon's first V8 coupé had an uprated Bel Air engine. The Healey-Corvette also had disc brakes

    It made something of a comeback in 1966 with Graham Smith at the wheel, as snapped at Ruapuna, where his battles with Brent Hawes in the Tojeiro-Jag are still remembered
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by David McKinney View Post
    I think he was from Christchurch, and the car was all-black to start with (in the 1957/58 season). Apparently the engine was a genuine Corvette - in contrast to some later Chev V8s that were called Corvettes. I think, for example, Dixon's first V8 coupé had an uprated Bel Air engine. The Healey-Corvette also had disc brakes

    It made something of a comeback in 1966 with Graham Smith at the wheel, as snapped at Ruapuna, where his battles with Brent Hawes in the Tojeiro-Jag are still remembered
    David,I believe you are 'correct' with Arther Kennard being Christchurch based,I think he was involved with 'Used' Cars or a Garage, it may have been later that the 'Healey' moved down south of Christchurch........also,Alistair Ansell said to say a 'BIG' Hello!!!!!! next time you were on the Forum...he's back working on the 'Gold Coast'/Brisbane,I'm trying to get him to subscibe to this 'Great' Forum..would be fun!!..........regards thunder427/MJ
    Last edited by thunder427; 06-12-2011 at 01:15 PM.

  12. #12
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    Yes, the Healey-Corvette went from Kennard to Sid and Ed Candy of Timaru, who were - um - not as fast as Kennard had been

    Not sure where Graham Smith was from - he did a lot of South Canty events as well as around Christchurch

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by pallmall View Post
    I think we need a new thread for NZ (and Australian) road racing specials. It is a fascinating subject in its own right. And with David McKinney on board we should get some good history.
    Good idea Gavin, please go ahead with it.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by thunder427 View Post
    David,I believe you are 'correct' with Arther Kennard being Christchurch based,I think he was involved with 'Used' Cars or a Garage, it may have been later that the 'Healey' moved down south of Christchurch........also,Alistair Ansell said to say a 'BIG' Hello!!!!!! next time you were on the Forum...he's back working on the 'Gold Coast'/Brisbane,I'm trying to get him to subscibe to this 'Great' Forum..would be fun!!..........regards thunder427/MJ
    Is Arthur Kennard any relation to Rob Kennard, the long-time hot rodder and late 70s/early 80s sedan racer?

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by pallmall View Post
    Old Yeller has been at both Hampton Down festivals. A true Hot Rod Special.








    I was so pleased the first time I saw Ol' Yaller II up close. It would have been so easy for this car to have been restored to perfection, with the panels all smoothed out, with 10/10 paint, but that would have just been wrong. It was a rough old car when Balchowsky drove it, and today its a warts and all race car that proudly displays both its true heritage, plus its racing history.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Holmes View Post
    Is Arthur Kennard any relation to Rob Kennard, the long-time hot rodder and late 70s/early 80s sedan racer?
    I don't know
    But I believe Gary Kennard, a Ruapuna regular with a 1500 A30 in the late '60s, was Arthur's son. Timing is almost right for Rob to have been the next generation

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Holmes View Post
    The Edelbrock Special

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    Took this photo at Chris Amon meeting Hampton Downs 2011.Cool car doin cool car stuff.Name:  phpG5bFAWPM.jpg
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  18. #18
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    Baldwin Mercury Special

    Built in 1949 by Willis Baldwin of California, It competed from 1949 to 1959 and was cover car of Road & Track in May 1950. Built on a 1946 Ford chassis and used "Hopped up" Ford Flathead running gear.
    Restored in 1990 by Irv Dickson for the late owner Jim Herlinger who bought this car out to NZ to race back in 2000, 06 and '07, Jim had the Baldwin restored by Auto Restorations in Christchurch while it was here in '06.
    I was lucky enough to be asked by Jim to drive it for the 2007 Monterey Historics. Neat old car that was a blast to drive. it is now owned by Rob Manson also of California who also owns the Manning Ford V8 Special. Which is the car with the yellow nose in pit lane.
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  19. #19
    Journeyman Racer Chris Read's Avatar
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    I am going to start a thread on The NZGP Specials Team of which I am a member.
    Here is a taste of the profiles we are producing as handouts. Chris Read - Arrowtown.
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  20. #20
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    AK MILLER'S CABALLO DE HIERRO
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