Jamie and I spent some quality time on the drag race circuit together, racing each other and sometimes just running the Tetanus T. Rod & Custom Magazine's Tim Bernsau shot a feature on the Tetanus at Famoso Raceway one day and we connected, too. Tim became my writing mentor and that's how I stumbled into the magazine biz. A few years ago, I wrote this feature on Jamie and his car for another magazine. They passed on it, as did some other titles I showed it to. I had some great photos then, that have somehow vanished. But with these hasty snapshots, I'd like to finally expose the story to the light of day here. It's the least I can do for a family that has put up with me for so long.
The Ballad of Dr. Lockjaw and the Tetanus II Text and Photos by Scotty Gosson
It's the song of idyllic summer afternoons. Distant dog barks echo on the breeze. Tiny birds chirp out jazz from a pepper tree. And eleven year old Jamie Ford jams along, while strolling through his Monrovia, California neighborhood. He spies an open garage door and wanders over for a peek inside. Jamie’s life will never be the same. Impressionable eyes adjust to the garage light and an early, short wheelbase, full bodied dragster is revealed. The owner/builder (“A local character") is taking care of some routine maintenance chores on the little digger and is relaxed enough to answer every question Jamie can conjure up. By dusk, young Jamie’s in the driver’s seat, getting a feel for life behind the wheel of the quickest race cars on planet Earth. It would prove to be young Mr. Ford’s first shaky step into the world of scorched rubber and oil. He was in for a long walk.
By the time Jamie entered high school, the Ford family garage had become a regular stop for hot rods on their way to all of the famous southern California cruising spots. Besides being a social arena, the little garage in the alley behind his house would lend major improvements to several hot roadsters and hardtops, as Jamie began honing his mechanical and fabrication skills.
After high school, Jamie enrolled at Pasadena City College, studying mechanical engineering. Even before the dragster encounter, he'd seen cars as art, so there was also a stint at Chouinard Art Institute to study design. It was all knowledge that would serve him well. The art world itself was very seductive and upon graduating from the Institute, Jamie found himself working at the Getty Art Museum, where he and wife Linda would literally live for the next twenty years. Cruising and drag racing were always a part of their lives during the Getty years, but upon retirement, they decided to move to southern Oregon’s Applegate area to live the hot rod life full time. And to start a family.
Jamie built a 32'X60' shop ("Custom Metal", where he performs - duh - custom metal work) and eventually even got around to building a house for Linda, son Story and daughter Shea. He stocked the shop with equipment, building what tools he couldn't afford to buy. Then Jamie Ford proceeded to build all the things that had been rattling around in his head over the last couple of decades. His clientele was mostly high end street rodders and Jamie delivered the goods. But there was a backlash developing in Jamie’s conciousness and he began to long for the brutal, purposeful drag cars that influenced him so much in his youth - cars with character to match the snappy nicknames and bigger-than-life personalities of their drivers.
In an Auto Trader magazine, Jamie spotted a crusty '26 T coupe "street racer special" for sale in the Roseburg area. The hook was the ten inches missing from the top. The idea was obviously to throw together the lightest body and chassis possible, in the shortest possible time, for the least possible bucks. The owner had succeeded on all counts and the little T did very well against the toughest street cars the Willamette Valley could throw at it. Yeah, it was rough, but ready. And when the owner fired it up, Jamie knew his fun meter was about to get pegged.
The mild (10:1) 350/350 combo in the car worked good enough with the 5.13 geared 9" rear (complete with welded spider gears) to run easy low 11s at the track. The hard part was getting through tech: When the tech inspectors first saw the rusty coupe, they laughed and declared Jamie liable for any Tetanus shots required. From that day on, it would be known as "The Tetanus T" and Jamie Ford took on the moniker of "Dr. Lockjaw". He had a blast racing the T that year, while simultaneously envisioning a more refined Tetanus for the future: A dedicated race car that embodied his own vision of an altered coupe. That winter, the shop door went down on a project that would take Jamie exactly where he'd been wanting to go: faster.
Jamie had been jonesing for a real race car since that childhood day in the dragster seat and made up for the lost time with a vengeance. The Tetanus II began as a pile of mild steel tubing - rectangular 2"X3" for the rails and round 1 5/8" for most everything else. He sourced the healthiest skin from a large stash of T body parts and pieced together a nice coupe, which he proceeded to chop nine inches (giving him another precious inch of headroom and visibility over the old Tetanus). Whatever panels he couldn't find in cherry steel, he fabbed from aluminum and filled with louvers. Jamie commissioned John Keller Machine in Medford to screw together a gnarly gas fueled roller cammed 12.5:1 383 small block, backed by the old TH350, now stuffed with a trans brake and a SpecRite (4,000 RPM stall) converter. A set of 4.86s were loaded into a new 9" and hey, welcome to the low tens!
Jamie says the biggest improvement over the old car is probably the suspension. Much better geometry was incorporated into the same buggy spring style front suspension as before and Jamie whipped up a signature center pivot friction shock arrangement for it, as well. The old truck coil springs on the back of the original Tetanus held the car up off the ground, but that was about it. The adjustable ladder bar and coilover set-up on the new car is a major leap forward. In fact, the Tetanus II now leaps off the line like a frog leaving a hot rock, much to the delight of everyone lucky enough to see this hairy snotflinger in action. It might not know its way to the winners circle (yet), but the crowd of well-wishers in the pits and in the grandstands counts for something: In its first five years on the west coast nostalgia drag circuit, the T2 provided Jamie and his fans with plenty of entertainment (running a best of 10.06 at 135mph) and inspired countless other decrepit relics to join in the fun. It doesn't get much better than that. Or does it?
In 2005, the Tetanus II debuted an updated look, with a Hilborn injector matching the zoomies, tube for tube. There was a load of alky in the tank and early-lift nines on the scoreboard - a touchy issue, since the rollcage tubing isn't thick enough to pass tech for a nine second car. What now? Dr. Lockjaw and the Tetanus II will still run a few events, lifting extra early to make nice with track officials, while keeping the grin on the Good Doctors face. Meanwhile, back at the shop, a new chrome moly chassis is going together under a '29 tudor body ("Tetanus III"?), which will house the T2 drivetrain. And will the Tetanus II then be put out to pasture? Kind of. Plans are to drop in a milder small block and run the car strictly for yuks, maybe even putting it on the street, just like the original Tetanus T. And who knows - maybe someday it'll inspire some kid to get his hands dirty and - well, you know how this song goes...