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Old 09-21-2012, 01:44 AM   #1
OldDad
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Default 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

Was going through a box of old papers this morning, and ran across this letter from my father (OldDad) to my uncle Dick that was written in 1952. In it, he refers to the new "hard-tops" that had just started running, and building an engine to compete with at the track. Dick lived up in Eureka, CA in those days; not a particular hot bed of hot rodding at that time!

The old man was a machinist, first at Blair's Speed Shop, and later at Tim's Precision Engines in Pasadena. These were a couple of leading-edge shops here on the west coast back in the late '40's and early '50's. At Tim's, they built the original 265 (bored to 283) Chevy engine for Duffy Livingstone's Eliminator, among other things.

Anyway, if anyone is familiar with the circle track racing of those days, and can shed some light on just what these "hard-tops" were, I'd certainly like to know more about it, as I wasn't born until eight years later! Also, he refers to fixing a blown-off bell housing for $35.00, and if that were possible, I have one hell of a block from those days I'd love to fix! I'd even pay $40.00! I'll post that in a separate thread. Hope you find this stuff as interesting as I did:



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Old 09-21-2012, 05:55 AM   #2
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

Nice letter .
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Old 09-21-2012, 06:11 AM   #3
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

That is a nice letter.

A 3/8 x 3/8 (killer) flathead for $300.00. Oh Man! Now where did I put that time machine.
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Old 09-21-2012, 08:43 AM   #4
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That was a neat story. Those guys must have had a great weekend-he wanted to trade in the empties to buy a new car! That's a bunch of empties.
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Old 09-21-2012, 08:52 AM   #5
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

HR magazine ran a feature story on those cars back in the fifties and how to build them. I doub't that big engine would have stood up long on a circle track as short stroke has more rpm, long stroke has more torque. I believe the Blair shop turned out some famous track cars back then.
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Old 09-21-2012, 09:13 AM   #6
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

What a neat memento from dad. A fine reminder of a more "relaxed" time when it took awhile for correspondence as opposed to texting/twitter.

Reading the engine specs was a kick too, I've got a 3/8 Potvin in the '30 roadster, love it.

As to the hardtop reference, you might have seen the old pictures of the CRA (California Roadster Association) events in So. Cal., cars that inspire the track roadster styling that some rodders emulate. Hardtops became the shorthand name to differentiate the roofed cars that competed on the dirt tracks under different sanctioning/rules.
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Old 09-21-2012, 10:09 AM   #7
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

here are some pictures of hardtops at vallejo calif during the 60s and after they went to 305 cu max OHV motors. were flatheads in the 50s. i spent alot of saturday nights there. pitted for bob newkirk & kieth hanson and spent many weekday evenings fixing what they broke on saturday nights. lots of fun and memories.... don

http://vallejospeedwayhardtops.homestead.com/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=git3uhP4MEk
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Old 09-21-2012, 10:13 AM   #8
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

Excellent letter and reflection of Hartop racing in America. I raced at Motor City Speedway in Detroit in 1953, good times! (I was 17)
As for the $300.00 I'll try to put that in perspective, the starting pay for a factory worker was $1.65 an hour, some people were raising family's on that. $1.65 X 40 hours=$66.00 a week! Mark

Last edited by Mark Slight; 09-21-2012 at 06:38 PM.
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Old 09-21-2012, 01:12 PM   #9
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

"Anyway, if anyone is familiar with the circle track racing of those days, and can shed some light on just what these "hard-tops" were, I'd certainly like to know more about it, as I wasn't born until eight years later! Also, he refers to fixing a blown-off bell housing for $35.00, and if that were possible, I have one hell of a block from those days I'd love to fix! I'd even pay $40.00!"

Here's short video of exactly what it was and still is in some areas.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55JFLUZ6OpE
All the cars in the video are flathead Ford powered.

As far as the bell housing goes, it is very likely it can be repaired.
I have done quite a few of those in the "olde dayz".
Most any cast iron welding repair shop can fix it.
You are not going to get it done for $40 bucks though....lol

Last edited by Pete; 09-21-2012 at 01:56 PM.
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Old 09-21-2012, 02:05 PM   #10
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

Thanks for posting that letter. I smiled the whole time I read it!
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Old 09-21-2012, 03:12 PM   #11
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This picture is of My Mom in the early 50's racing in the Powder Puff Derby,an event for the Ladies Between the Heat Races and Main Event for the Guys,picture was taken @ Belmont,California Raceway
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Old 09-21-2012, 03:47 PM   #12
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

Nice, I will bet the corrosponadance from the initial letter to the return was nearly 2 weeks. Thats a long time to wait in todays world. Rod
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Old 09-21-2012, 07:14 PM   #13
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

Thanks for all the nice comments, guys! Thought it over later, and kind of figured he was just talking about coupes versus roadsters with the "hard-top" thing. But I didn't know the time frame for the switch from roadsters to coupes on the circle tracks. I guess that happened when the supply of roadsters started to dry up.

Thanks for all the photos and video -- always think I was born too late when I see this stuff!

Blair had quite a few successful circle track roadsters back then, one in particular that my dad used to talk about a lot was the "pickle wagon" as they called it. They later sold it to Andy Granatelli, and he told a rather unflattering story about Granatelli wanting to race for pinks against one of his cars. Won't go into details, but the race never happened, and it wasn't Blair's idea to call it off!

And yes, that $300 sounds good today, but it sure didn't in 1952! I know this deal never happened, as my uncle never would have had that kind of money to blow back then.

Quote:
I doub't that big engine would have stood up long on a circle track as short stroke has more rpm, long stroke has more torque.
Yeah, just what I thought when I read that! I think he figured that one out a little later on.

Anyway, I'm glad to see you guys enjoyed this! And now I want to see about getting that bell housing fixed . . . hmm . . .10x the price, 20x the price???
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Old 09-21-2012, 07:44 PM   #14
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

Quote:"I doub't that big engine would have stood up long on a circle track as short stroke has more rpm, long stroke has more torque."


Old wives tale...We turned 315 ci flatheads 6500 twice a lap and 10 race programs before freshening up. (and still do) That's a 1/2 inch stroke.My last flathead was 323 ci and is still turning 6500 in a vintage sprint car.That's a 7/16 stroke.
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Old 09-22-2012, 12:02 AM   #15
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

Thanks for the memories.
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Old 09-22-2012, 12:12 AM   #16
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

That letter is definitely a piece of history. There are folks around doing their best to preserve it. Check out the Fantasy Speedway in Maine. www.fantasyspeedway.me
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Old 09-22-2012, 01:38 AM   #17
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

in the 50s Less Speed shop was the place to go
he was only a few miles from me
and the shop was part of his house
ive kept this business card since the late 50s
maybe your dad bought stuff from him
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Old 09-22-2012, 01:47 AM   #18
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

Old wives tale...We turned 315 ci flatheads 6500 twice a lap and 10 race programs before freshening up. (and still do) That's a 1/2 inch stroke.My last flathead was 323 ci and is still turning 6500 in a vintage sprint car.That's a 7/16 stroke

Glad to hear that, Pete. You would certainly know better than I!

That video you posted is quite amazing to me, as I had no idea this kind of stuff was still going on. Too bad the old man is gone now, because it would have astounded him more to know that all this is going on these days.He missed it by only a few years.
Had to share this letter the minute I saw it, because so much of this first hand experience is going away from us now. Thanks for sharing yours with us, Pete.

And that picture of your mom at Belmont is a real kick, Dave!

That Lee's Speed Shop card is another great piece of history. Wish I had a similar card from Blair's or Tim's from those days. Amazing you still have it!
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Old 09-22-2012, 01:53 AM   #19
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A little history on that video.
Bill Blair is driving the #2 car that the camera is in.
His Dad won the first NASCAR Daytona beach race in 1952.
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Old 09-22-2012, 02:42 AM   #20
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Default Re: 60 Year Old Flathead Hot Rodding Letter

here are some pictures of hardtops at vallejo calif during the 60s and after they went to 305 cu max OHV motors. were flatheads in the 50s. i spent alot of saturday nights there. pitted for bob newkirk & kieth hanson and spent many weekday evenings fixing what they broke on saturday nights. lots of fun and memories.... don

Dammit Don, my other uncle Ray ran the paint shop at Mare Island, and lived in Napa until his death at 99 a couple years ago, so we could have taken some of that in when we were visiting back in the 60's and early '70's! The old man was holding out out on me! He pitted for Duffy with the Eliminator back in the '50's, but by the '60's-70's he was an engineer (sans diploma) at JPL, working on the Viking lander that landed on Mars in '76, so I guess all that had fallen off his radar by then. Dammit!!
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