Drive that Kustom

As seen in CKD#57-by Ron Springer

Anyone who knows me knows that there are certain things I believe in and certain things I don’t…and if I believe in something or someone I stand by it or them to the end…if I don’t, the same applies, only in reverse. (I’m not a grudge holder though…just believe in learning from experience.) When it comes to building a car and then draggin’ it around the country on a trailer; well, that’s the sort of thing I just don’t believe in doing.

Now, I can understand the desire to pull your car to a show if you’re going to be competing for the top prize at the G.N.R.S. Although, when I view the cars vying for America’s Most Beautiful Roadster the first thing that goes through my mind is, “Man, I’d like to take that baby out and see what she’d do.” I can understand trailering a car when the weather is so bad that driving to the show would mean arriving with a car that would take days to prepare for the event. But even that premise can be challenged. Last year Bo Huff took the Rockabilly Hound Dog to Darryl Starbird’s show in Tulsa. It was the dead of winter and snow was flying all the way from Carbon, Utah to Oklahoma. Bo couldn’t get an enclosed trailer so they hauled the Hound Dog on an open trailer all the way there. When they arrived in Tulsa, the Rockabilly Hound Dog was coated with road grime and the salt spray was half an inch thick on the front fenders and radiator. And you know how many magazines that car has been in.

I can understand folks who trailer their cars to events thousands of miles away, as long as they drive them when they arrive. For me, however, that thousand mile drive would be the reason for going to the show in the first place. I can even wrap my mind around folks who trailer their cars because (for health reasons) they are unable to endure the epic of driving a vintage car cross country. But other than that, it just doesn’t make sense to me to put something on a trailer that was meant from Detroit conception to be D-R-I-V-E-N.

The experience of driving your car is the penultimate motivation and reward for the thousands of hours and stacks of cash you’ve invested in building it. Not to mention a badge of honor. Sure, it’s fun to park your car at a show and watch people slobber all over themselves in admiration and envy. But getting into the driver’s seat and piloting your ride down the road is in my book, the ONLY reason for doing what we do

Give me a deserted back-road somewhere in rural America with a full tank of gas, air in my tires and no place to be for six or eight hours and I’ll be in Hog Heaven with a full bucket of slop. (Arkansas Euphemism)

I climb in the seat and take in the aroma; I can usually tell you which car I am sitting in blindfolded with the motor off. But when I turn the key and bring the engine to life the adventure begins to unfold. Whether it’s a 440 shakin’ the rafters, a Flathead burblin’, or a 235 a-hummin’ the sounds are like the sweetest overture I’ve ever taken in. Sometimes I just close my eyes and listen to the idle note. Then I put her in gear and let her loose. No plan… No left or right out of the drive… Just go. As I start down the road I take in all of the squeaks and rattles, all of the groans and mutters. I roll down the window summer and winter so I can feel the rush of air as we wind-up to speed. I gaze out over hoods long and lean to the asphalt beyond, over open engines with air cleaners whistling or chrome hood ornaments gleaming in the sun and I settle in. Now the scenery begins to rush past and time begins to move more slowly. A little vibration here and there, the smell of oil and gas and spent exhaust all blending together with the country air. I revel in the exhaust note. Before long, I feel one with the car and a peace comes over me. Whatever troubles, cares or worries I had when I slipped into the driver’s seat are gone. I scarcely notice other cars and people save for the ones I occasionally have to avoid. The sites, the smells, the sounds, the sensations…This is Heaven. And it always ends before I am ready.

Maybe it’s not like that for some people. And if not, I think they are missing the whole reason for doing what we do. Even if the drive doesn’t come off without a hitch, it’s still worth doing. I remember a story about Bob Hirohata driving his Merc. to a show in the rain with ankle-deep water in the floorboard because (at that time) the windows didn’t seal properly. And if memory serves, the story was fondly recalled; even though he had to take off his shoes and put them on top of the back seat to keep them dry.

So your car isn’t 100% roadworthy…just make sure you take along the number of a buddy who is willing to rescue you when you leave the barn. If you’re afraid of chipping that high-dollar paint, drive a little slower. If you’re worried about getting dings in the parking lot, walk a little farther. There just isn’t any good excuse for not driving your car.

I say, if you’ve got a Kustom Car or a Hot Rod…drive it! Drive it to the grocery store. Drive it to the kids soccer match. Drive it to work. Drive it in the spring, summer, fall and winter. Drive it all alone on a deserted back-road now and then…but most of all…drive it to the show!

et ita abscedit  Ron

Everest without Oxygen

As seen in CKD Magazine – by Ron Springer

From time to time I have been accused of being somewhat opinionated. I think I know a whole bunch more than I actually know, or so my brethren tell me. They are a group of folks whose opinion I value and a touchstone for me when I occasionally stumble across something I really have no idea about. This realization brings me to the subject of this month’s ramblings.

My Clan and I have embarked upon a new adventure. We are trying to build and race a “Vintage Style” Super Stock Drag Car.

The car is a 1963 Dodge Polara 440. It was originally put together by a veteran Drag Racer as a toy to play with in his retirement years. It is equipped with a late 60’s 440 Wedge Motor, a beefed up 727 transmission with a B&M Ratchet Shifter and a 8.75” rear end. The chassis is tied-in and the body is rock solid. It rides on Police Rallys, the front two being 4.5” X 15” custom made by Wheel Vintiques and the back being original. We mounted Hurst Front Runners and Pie Crust Slicks on the rims for traction and looks. Then we added some Caltracs, a loop for the 5 point belts, and a Purple Hood with a hole cut for the Hilborn Style Scoop to stick through and trekked to the H.A.M.B. Drags.

At the races, the car ran well considering that this was our first outing and my first time at the wheel on a “Real” Drag strip…(for the record, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing – and – I admitted it.)

We ran 13.36 @ 100 M.P.H. our first run and my reaction time was respectable. But as the day wore on, we began to garner some unsolicited advice and critique of our car. Most of which was appreciated and well received, but it raised some questions and some concerns I just have to address. First of all; Why is it that most of the performance advice we received had to do with upgrades and modifications that would tarnish, if not outright kill our goal of fielding a “Nostalgia” car. Second; What exactly constitutes “Nostalgia?”

Now, here is where the opinion part of this thing kicks in.

I have come to the conclusion that few people remember what it was actually like to build a race car, or any car for that matter in the 1960’s. I’ll even go a bit further to say that includes pre-1960 as well. There are some notable exceptions here, and I will quickly give a nod to those reading this who actually built cars back then or are trying to put together something authentic. (Nod)

In 1963 the Ramchargers, a group of Chrysler Engineers, with no factory backing and very little money were able to build and race a Super Stock Car that ran 130 m.p.h. in the quarter mile. That mark is impressive even today. And here’s the kicker; They did it without fuel injection, N.O.S., four link suspension, wrinkle wall tires, aluminum wheels or any of the things we consider “standard fare” on the track today. Take away all of this modern tech. and what you are left with is creative engineering and hard work.

I am not interested in going as fast as is technologically possible. I am not interested in pushing the limits of the quarter-mile time-slip boundary. I find it far more interesting and infinitely more challenging to try to go as fast as possible within the limits of 1963 tech. (OK, before you go off on the Caltracs, I know they didn’t have those in 1963…the Super Stock Springs are on the way as we speak.) If we could somehow approach 130 m.p.h. in the quarter I would feel as though we had just summated Mt. Everest without oxygen. If we slapped all the 2011 goodies on the car and ran 130 m.p.h. I would feel only lighter in the wallet.

“Nostalgia” means doing it the way they did it back then, with the stuff they had back then and trying to achieve what they achieved…back then!

It means that you will have to make choices in the way you do things and limit those choices to better emulate and honor the builders, racers, owners and cars that actually roamed the streets and tracks of the period you are shooting for. That means “not doing” more things than you could. It is damn hard work, and requires a ton of research, networking and most of all…humility. You’ve gotta say, “I don’t know how they did it, but I’m gonna find out, and I’m gonna do it their way.”

It also means you are going to have to explain your car to almost everyone you meet in the “go as fast as you can” crowd (that’s the real racers), the “make everything shiny” crowd (the guys who powder-coat their chassis) and the “Mr. Fuelie contingent” whose mantra is (small block Chevy, small block Chevy, small block Chevy.)

If you happen to be a member of one of these contingents, let me just say that I love your cars, they’re just not “Nostalgia” cars.

I think it is admirable…no, downright Nobel to try to do a thing within limits. The results are always full of symmetry and purpose. So if you’re going to build a “Period Kustom” then don’t use Bondo, don’t powder coat, don’t use three stage paint, and don’t run a Small Block Chevy under the hood, unless that was available “back then.” If you’re building a “Traditional Rod” then make it as authentic as possible. Build it so that people approach you and say things like, “I haven’t seen it done that way since Heck was a pup.” If your goal is to run down the track in a haze of “Nostalgia” then forego the Wrinkle Walls, Line Locks and Drag Lites. Slam the door, push the brake pedal to the floor at the line and stand on it when the flag drops.

I guarantee; When you pick up your timing slip, you’ll be on the top of the mountain…or at least scaling it without oxygen…and your sense of purpose and accomplishment will far outweigh any trophy.

(Update) With the Super Stock Springs from Mancini Racing we Broke into the 12’s.

et ita abscedit Ron