Monday, December 8, 2014



Even if you build a thousand cars, there will be one that becomes your signature and shadows you for life. This Olds-powered '27 Ford roadster is that car for Monty Wray. He's fine with that. Yes, he's a charter NHRA member, the  founding President of the Southern Oregon Timing Association, and a lifetime member of the local Road Knights club.(Image courtesy of Monty Wray)

Blessings continue to rain down on my life. I've long considered myself the luckiest guy in town, but I'm now starting to perceive that title as understatement. I may well be the luckiest guy in the whole county. Growing up in a hot rod town like Medford, Oregon was most definitely a gift. Bumper-to-bumper cruising seven nights a week was the norm here in the Sixties. Clean and mean was the standard to aspire to, and most every car in the valley lived up to it. Way before I started driving (at 12 years old - it was a great time to be a squirrely kid), I was pestering any "older guy" in the neighborhood careless enough to leave his garage door open. One neighbor - a 20-something guy named Bill Darland - mentored me in the ways of cleaning parts and handing him tools while he wrenched on his blown smallblock '33 Willys coupe street-racer special. The unbeatable Mike Gilhausen and other local heroes took pity on my insatiable lust for speed and showed me the ropes. I knew what was behind every garage door and backyard fence, and smugly considered myself the Mrs. Kravits of local hot rodding.

As the decades rolled by, each one revealed a bit more of just how wrong I was about knowing who was who and what was what. Well into my Fifties, I finally learned that I'd grown up only three doors down the street from dragster and landspeed legend Noel Black. That was humbling (more understatement). It was my current-day neighbor - fuel altered shoe Ronnie Mankins - who hipped me to Noel Black. And a decade after that embarrassing episode transpired, Ronnie stung me again. It was just last week. I was writing a piece on a local strip that had shut down before my time, and needed a credible witness - preferably someone who had actually raced there. Ronnie promptly connected me with 81 year old Monty Wray, who has lived right between the two of us for over 30 years. Monty not only raced at the track in question, he made it happen. Doh! Red faced again. But oh so grateful.

Ronnie and I hatched a plan over breakfast to get Monty talking, then hightailed it to his place to get the scoop. As it turned out, he needed no prompting. Monty and gracious wife Carol welcomed us into their home like family. The scrapbooks came out and away we went, into the past...

Ronnie (left) and Monty at the dining room table, exchanging hot rod history in frenetic machine-gun bursts of animated chatter. Monty was stoked that we "young guys" showed such passion for the events he lived so long ago. Ronnie and I were left slackjawed by Monty's stories, illustrated with boxes of excellent photos depicting an incredible scene I had been dumbly ignorant of for a big chunk of my life. A serious warm fuzzy on a dark and chilly winter morning.

More of the same the following morning, when Monty met us for breakfast at Mrs. Q's diner - my neighborhood favorite (owned and operated by car folk). But until this day, I didn't know who these regulars were, or what they were talking about at that corner table. Doh again! They're all hot rodders and racers from the Fifties. They were happy to answer my pesky questions as best they could remember the facts, which was pretty damn well.

After our third morning of decadent hot breakfast (I usually make do with a small bowl of Bachelor Chow), we hopped into Monty's Ford Flex ("It has some zip!") and picked up Wheelers club member Brian Watson, for a drive out to the strip in question. We shared parking space with the semi-truck on the very spot where the old timing tower once dominated the barren landscape.

The golden moment. Standing right where they had raced for six exciting years, Brian (left) and Monty point out hints of the original concrete track surface, now covered with Jackson County asphalt. They remained stoic on the outside, but were both noticeably moved. So many of their old hot rod pals are now gone or going. But not much has changed out here. (Scotty shots)

As always, the project I'm working on can't be revealed until published, but this photo from Ronnie's collection illustrates the action on the old road in 1955. Thanks to Ronnie, Monty, Brian, and the rest of last week's fellow breakfast diners, I now feel a palpable connection to the mysterious track that I grew up hearing about. I can almost say I was there. I just couldn't get there on my own. (Photo courtesy of Ronnie Mankins collection)



Dr. Lockjaw's Tetanus T, snuggled up to the old gray Stude. We've seen this scene a hundred times. But this time, the scene is Walt Skoczylas' Washington garage, instead of Doc's Custom Metal shop. What the?!

Upon taking ownership of the T, Walt realized some interior redecorating was in order, so he stripped off the tin and relocated the seat and pedals. One change often demands another: "I couldn't figure a clean way to keep the ladder bars from coming up into the interior, so I'm converting the rear suspension to a 4-link." 

A stalwart 6-cylinder racer, Walt also changed the motor mounts to this quick-change arrangement, allowing for easy swappage between V-8 and inliner power, "Depending on my mood." 

Speaking of quick-changes, Walt had grown tired of tripping over this Winters Champ unit, so decided to put it in the T, to keep it from getting underfoot. 

Mrs. Walt strikes a pose with the Tetanus II T, almost exactly duplicating what I saw when I first stepped foot in Custom Metal, 18 years ago. The T was just a bare frame that day, but it shared shop space with cars identical to these until it rolled out under its own power. Coincidence? I think not. This stuff still amazes, but no longer surprises me. (Photos courtesy of Walt Skoczylas)


These dramatic Before-and-After shots of Motormouth Ray's GTO project tell a tale of intense dedication and focus. There may have been some bloody knuckles and precious dollars involved, as well. Now a bona fide driver, the Goat reminded Ray last week that the fun never ends: "On a danger drive to get the exhaust system hung, I heard a hellacious squeaking and thought it was an axle bearing, but they're brand new..."

"... I cut to the chase and ripped the brake assembly apart to find one of the screw-in Moroso wheel studs had broken the weld I put on it and walked toward the wheel cylinder, milling out a perfect arc." At left, an unmolested GM wheel cylinder. On the right, a GM wheel cylinder, as customized by Moroso. In foreground is what appears to be an ink pen. Ink pens inadvertently placed in the brake assembly is the number one cause of galled wheel cylinders. You can blame wheel stud manufacurers all day, but 97% of the time, such failures can be traced to human error.

SGE forensics expert Floyd Lippencotte Jr. enlarged Ray's image to reveal a wear pattern concentric to Ray's signature Pantel 2G model pen (a fine point instrument, popular at American junior colleges). Lippencotte points out the damage in this case was actually done by the pen's pocket clip, made from U.S. medical grade stainless steel. Still desperately clinging to denial, Ray declares, "If this happens again, I'm looking into new axles that use pressed-in studs." Ray's parting words: "The exhaust came out okay. More fun will be reported as it occurs." (Photos courtesy of Motormouth Ray)


The Strode brothers, Marty and Tom, continue the Coolest Bike contest they initiated in 1952. You have to admire their tenacity. Tom scored a mighty blow this spring with completion of his "Shetland" full custom, but Marty (above) is charging back with his muscular "Stallion" performance machine. He's installing his custom made header here.

The latest from Marty: "Brother Tom came up with the rear sprocket and hand brake, and together we figured out how to mount them. I got tired of looking at the fuel tank sitting on the bench and finally got the front mount installed. Next up will be modifying the frame for chain clearance and setting up the torque converter. I'm figuring on a test ride soon." (Photos courtesy of Marty Strode)


Every time I research online, I run into cool surprises. Last week it was renowned tech scribe Chuck Vranas' '34 5-window. Built in '41 around a '40 drivetrain, Chuck says it works fine as is, but he may consider a slight lowering of the front.

Interior shows some odd wear on the dash, but is otherwise exceptionally clean, all things considered. Why doesn't anyone run plaid seat covers anymore?

Norwell was here. At the other end of the rear bumper rides a license plate bearing the mark of the demon rodder: Plate number 666. (Photos courtesy of Chuck Vranas)


Yet another online find was the action at Cal Automotive Creations, spotted on artist/fabricator Bob Thrash's Facebook page. This raised my heart rate to dangerous levels.

Impressed by everything seen on the Cal Automotive Creations site, I was slobberknocked by the '34 Chevy salt car they're building. This early mock-up photo shows the extent of hammer forming they're willing to do. Wooden bucks provide a rough idea of where they're headed. 

A relatively recent update on the salt coupe reveals the Chevy identity still intact, despite such radicalizations as wheel pants and ground effects. Color me blown! I'll get details for a mini-feature ASAP. Stay tuned. (Photos courtesy of Cal Automotive Creations)


Local yokel Twisty Ron Austin always has something interesting going on in his shop. Last week it was a replacement of the toasted wheelie bars on Stanford Racing's heavy hitting dragster. Before...

... and After. Twisty's parts are always lighter, stronger and prettier than those they replace. Zoom in for details.

The Twister also whipped up this rearend housing last week for a funny car he's building in the shop: "These are completely fixture-built here, and as you can see, they get the full treatment inside, as well. This one will get mounting plates and anti-rotation brackets next. Once the decision is made on what body will be used, and the wheel size, the back brace and housing ends can be added." Besides wizardly fab skills, Twisty Ron is also a Championship winning racer, who knows what works on the track, and why. Contact Ron Austin Fabrication in Medford, Oregon. (Photos courtesy of Ron Austin Fabrication)


At the opposite end of the fabrication skill spectrum, the SGE Model A continues to stagger forward. Remember these '40 Chevy truck shocks? They're now mounted to all four corners, but lack attachment points to the wishbones. We fixed that last Sunday, at Doc Lock's Custom Metal emporium. Almost.

For some reason, the original 1940 rubber bushings for the shock mounts showed wear. I had planned to replace the bushings with Oilite versions, but our new studded rod ends allow for solid mounting, so Doc cranked up the lathe and turned down a stick of steel round bar to fit the shock mount holes...

... drilled a 3/8" hole through them...

... sliced 'em like bologna...

... and provided us with solid steel bushings, just like back in our race days. We located them properly, tacked 'em in place...

... then Doc TIG'd like the wind! 

The bushings are so stylish with their new windblown look.  

A length of All-thread serves as a temporary link, until we hit on the perfect location for the lower rear mounts.

To mock-up the front links, we brought in esteemed hand model Floyd Lippencotte Jr. to hold the links at various positions while we figured the optimal mounting tabs. They'll have to wait until next week, as once again, we ran out of time. Worth it to tease Floyd about his manicure though. Note tuxedo sleeve.  Very professional.

Bonus: Doc's neighbor picked up this school bus seat for use in his phantom '32 Victoria phaeton, then changed his mind and donated it to the SGE project! A hasty measurement showed the frame to be a perfect fit. The seat came with the stamped aluminum "Superior Coach" backing plate, and a reinforcement panel. The art deco corner panel deems this an aisle seat. I'll have to make cushions, but already have upholstery, from yet another old '32 hot rod - Bob Furry's "Street Lethal" 9 second street roadster. (Scotty shots)



This looks suspiciously like a Before shot of the squirrel Motormouth Ray found under the rear of his GTO last week, while repairing damage done to his brakes by an errant ballpoint pen. (Photo courtesy of Motormouth Ray)

A rare Rex Wrench adjustable socket set. These sets came in hand crafted wooden boxes from Boston. Squirrel capacity: One very flat squirrel (such as the one found under the rear of Motormouth Ray's GTO last week, while repairing damage done to his brakes by an errant ballpoint pen). (Photographer unknown)


I love my job, Part II. On Fridays, I make a little side money by delivering magazines to area businesses. This is one of the warehouses where I pick up magazines. Old cars just seem to follow me around. I'm not complaining. But I do wish I knew how these guys made enough money in the magazine biz to afford all of these cars. (Scotty cell phone shot)


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