April 25, 1948
We typically don’t run articles on the weekend, but this is a bit of a special occasion. See, it’s the 62nd anniversary of the Khougaz Roadster’s 123 mph run at El Mirage. A few of us got to spend some time with the Khougaz recently and I thought it would be appropriate to run an update of sorts on one of the most beautiful ’32 roadsters ever built. If you aren’t familiar with the history of the car, you can catch up here.
In any regard, this is an article that I would have loved to write, but somehow it seemed more appropriate to hand the pen over to my pal Bob Bleed. There aren’t many folks as passionate about the history of hot rodding as Mr. Bleed. However, more notably a song writer than an editorial writer, that passions bleeds (hahaha) through his words in a way that is hard to explain.
Enough of my words. Here are some of Bob’s:
Several years ago I read an article In Hop Up refering to older Hot Rod guys as “gray beards.” I don’t even remember what the context was, but that term always stuck with me. It seemed to me the “gray beards” were the wise men, and we were the “punks.” They knew the way and we were getting lost trying to find it.
Some of these “gray beards” like to tell their storys – share their knowledge. Others don’t. They want you to earn it and even when you do, they won’t tell you the whole story. They always leave out something for you to figure out on your own. To me, those are the best ones.
I think that’s why I like looking at old Hot Rods so much… They always tell the truth. They tell the stories of the gray beards when they were punks like us. Some old Hot Rods are crude examples of the past. They represent the archaic tools and ideas of the period they were built. These cars were built with heart, some for the purpose of going fast, and some just to be cool. It is easy to make sense of these cars; easy to relate to the struggles and limitations they show. They were built by young guys learning as they go – just like us.
A select few early Hot Rods tell a different story. A story that is harder to relate to for the average guy. These cars had purpose and elegance that is rarely matched even today. They represent pure genius. Built with grace and style that went beyond all the limitions of the period. In fact, they showed no limitations. The Jim Khougaz Roadster is a perfect example of one of these Hot Rods.
Sixty two years ago today Jim Kougaz went 123.28 MPH at El Mirage. Crazy huh?
The car is now a piece of history, an icon, some might say it is the greatest roadster ever built… but on that day, it was just a Hot Rod, driven by the “punk” who built it.
I recently got the opportunity to spend some time with it – stare at it, sit in it, DRIVE it. I still can’t even believe it. The car is amazing at EVERY level. The stance, the color, the sound, the history, the belly pan… everything. It’s perfect.
I stared at it for hours, taking in every detail. The way it’s channeled and the cowl meets the frame, the spring in front-front end that makes it so low, the missing louver, the dash and guages, the perfectly chopped windshield, the exhuast, the hood props, the engine, and that bellypan. Wow, that bellypan!
It’s an honor just to look at it, but I got to sit in it. It’s small – you get in one position and you have to kind of rap your leg around the steering wheel just right, but once you are in, it feels great! The whole time thoughts of Jim Khougaz were in my head. It’s kind of like walking in a strangers perfectly worn in boots. The way you sit in that car forces you to have a certain perspective. It’s crazy to think of what it was like to race it.
It was at the shop for a few days and we would move it in and out and putt it around the parking lot. I was too scared to take it on the street and it was enough of a treat just to hear the engine and drive it in and out of the shop. We would all crowd around it and just watch as a few of the guys took it for a lap. It probably has the best sounding flathead I have ever heard.
Ryan and John called one morning and asked if I would drive the car out to Ryan’s office so we could take some video of it. I promptly said NO WAY, it is a big responsibility to drive this car and for Texans being so proud, they sure have crappy roads. That bellypan is LOW, but I thought about it and figured I’d ask the owner if he would mind. So I called the “punk” who owns it now.
“Of course you should take it, I thought you would have been driving it everywhere by now!”
So it was ON.
I started it up and tore out of the parking lot, the column shift works perfectly. It stops and steers great. Overall it has a weight about it – it feels right. You know some hot rods feel kind of light and skip around and others lay in the road. This roadster hugs the pavement. I couldn’t believe it, I was driving the Khougaz Roadster!
I swerved though traffic and pulled into a gas station to top it off. I was freaking out. After topping it off, I pulled out on the road and nervously felt on top of the world. I was trying to take a picture of myself driving it and noticed I was coming up to a traffic jam. Uh Oh! The temp was creeping up pretty fast and I had remembered reading that the bellypan made it run hot. It was stop and go for a few minutes and all of a sudden it started to load up… I had to balance my foot between the brake and the gas pedal to keep it running. There was nowhere for me to stop and I knew the only way for it to cool down and smooth out was to DRIVE.
The traffic cleared and I got on it. All of a sudden I wasn’t nervous any more, I was just trying to keep it running so I didn’t get stranded. It was just a Hot Rod and it needed me to keep it running. My plan was to try to limp it to the Classic Jaguar place that Silva works at so it would be safe. As I drove the temp went down and it started to run really well. It seemed happy so instead of stopping, I hammered on it.
I was all alone on a country road, driving the Khougaz Roadster, doing at least 75 MPH. The best times I have had driving my Hot rod were times I was by myself. This was no different. It was pretty amazing.
I finally got to Ryan’s office and those guys were waiting to got to lunch. We drove to a little diner and at one point Ryan just shook his head laughing and said “Dude, the Khougaz Roadster is sitting outside!” We all just sat there and laughed. What a crazy day.
After lunch we took some pictures and shot some video and it was time to head back. John was following me back to the shop and all of a sudden there were a few rain drops. Then it started POURING! I was driving the Khougaz Roadster, it was pouring rain, I couldn’t see, I was soaked, I had nowhere to stop, and it was AWESOME!
The rain didn’t last too long and I made it back to the shop with no trouble. The car got pretty dirty. It was wild to see it with mud on the windshield… OOOOPS. Cleaning it off was a good way to say goodbye. I bonded with that car.
The next morning it got picked up and taken home. I have to say thanks to the owner, sometimes these cars end up with people who don’t get it. That is not the case at all. This Hot Rod is in great hands! Thanks Man!
You know, every morning I look in the mirror and notice my beard turning gray. It bums me out because I still have so much to learn, but maybe someday I’ll tell some punk about the day I drove the Khougaz Roadster… and leave out the part where I did donuts in it. SHHH!
- Bob Bleed
Like Bob mentioned, we couldn’t properly exercise the Khougaz without taking a few photos and a video or two. We aren’t professionals and frankly, we probably got more enjoyment out of taking these photos and the video than you are going to get out of consuming them. Tough snookers homeboy. Enjoy them anyway: