Radical Ray Erickson

Radical Ray Erickson

So, James Hair (BrerHair) contacted me a few weeks ago concerning Ray Erickson. Ray is a member of the H.A.M.B. and a long time hot rodder from Kansas City, but has been having some computer problems lately. Unsure how Ray would be with the exposure, James figured this was the perfect time to spotlight his hero. I didn’t want to get in the way… and I’m still on the island, so I figured I would let James right the story.


Buckle up and hold on folks… To ride along with the Ray Erickson story is to take a wild ride with one of the pioneers who bit off as big a hunk of car craziness as we have seen in a long time. Along the way, we’ll encounter classic early ‘50s hot rods, beautiful mid- ‘50s customs,  a stunning one-off home built 3-wheeler, a GNRS trophy-winning  one-off home built tractor, a customized ’54 Porsche, and much more.

Aside from those familiar with the ‘50s Kansas City hot rodding scene and a few savvy HAMBers, Ray’s extraordinary car building achievements have gone practically unnoticed. Ray was born in Salinas, Kansas in 1928, but moved to KC in 1940 where he still lives today. He was a founding member of the KCTA and served as President in 1955-56, and was a key player in hosting the ’56 NHRA Nats in KC.

Ray’s car club, the KCTA, lent its incorporated name to the new organization set up in 1955 to help organize the local hot rodders and help get the racing off the streets and onto the strip. Ray’s club then changed their name to the Cranktwisters.

Ray's car club gathers for a shot somewhere outside Kansas City.

But enough boring history, let’s get to the machines.

Let’s start with Ray’s first car, a ’35 Chevy coupe. It had split manifolds and Porter steelpack duals.
Ray traded the Chevy for a ’49 Ford coupe. He has only one pic of the Chevy, and none of the ’49. The paucity of photos for all of Ray’s cars is, in fact, a poignant reminder that, back in the day, a lot of folks were too busy doing what they did to think about taking pictures.

Ray:  It’s a miracle I have all this crap (photos, etc.) anyway after all these years.

Ray's first car... A '35 Chevy coupe.

Around 1952 Ray bought a ’34 Ford Cabriolet.

Ray:  I wanted to build a rod and I had a ’35 Chevy with split manifold and mild pipes in ’48, in ’47, anyway I went looking with another buddy on a busy street that had a lot of used car lots. Clear in the back was this beat up Cabriolet – the top was hanging down, no front fenders, didn’t run, etc… I bought it for $85, towed it out, put it in my folks’ back yard and it had a 21-studder. It would try to fire but wouldn’t. The crankshaft was broke in the middle, so I went to a junkyard and bought a ’46 Merc that ran for $35. Can you imagine that now? A business had a fire and I got a crank for ten dollars, all it needed was polishing, and a Harmon-Collins Super-T cam for $15.

It had the soft 4:11 ’34 rear end and ’40 Ford front brakes. The parking brake was all four wheels because I hooked  the master cylinder up to the original mechanical brake set-up – ’34 radiator, and the ’46 Merc flathead with four Stromberg 97’s.

I channeled the body. The guys call me Radical Ray because  I always was radical and I wanted the thing lower, so I channeled it myself. Same old crap.

When I drove it on the street, being a Cabriolet was handy because it had roll-up windows. That was my driver all the time. My wife drove the other car – the ’52 Ford that became “Whistle Bait.? We bought a house and went to get liability insurance and all the insurance companies said, “We do not sell insurance to hot rodders.? And you can’t own a home and not have insurance. So, I took it off the street. Ended up a buddy got the car and I kept the engine.

The car is still going. It’s restored, sort of, it’s un-channeled and a guy over in Independence, Missouri has it. His wife drives it. Got a 302 with a C4 in it, full fenders, etc… He’s been driving it, I don’t know – 30, 40 years.

That gal is really digging down isn't she?

Early flames ruled, didn't they?

“Whistle Bait? was Ray’s ’52 Ford coupe custom…

Ray:  I chopped it while she (his wife Joan) was gone to the coast – California with her folks. And I chopped it like you saw me in the one photo there leading… There was no body putty back then. Leading the door posts, the B-pillar in the back yard, in my neighbor’s yard, in the dark – that’s how we did it back then.

Slopping around lead... In the dark!

Here’s a photo of Ray painting it before he chopped it. That’s Ray’s ’34 across the street to the left.

Yea, yea, that compressor… cord run from the upstairs bathroom window, where we rented, and went out to the street. It’s a diaphragm compressor and in the picture it’s sitting on the street in the front of the car. I hadn’t chopped it yet, that was ’54. Couldn’t paint it in the back yard because that was dirt. You painted it on the street and when the cars went by you just stopped and waited until they went past.

If “Whistle Bait” was around now, it would get all the accolades that so many custom cars from back in the day are getting today.

Ray:  Well . . . and Jim Greene’s son (Justin, grim on the HAMB) wrote on Wild Child’s that what intrigued him was these guys laid the windshield back. There is no “these guys.? I’m the only one I know that did it.

Ray created a visor effect by laying the windshield back so that the roof actually overhangs the top of the windshield.

Ray:  It was very simple, too, because I went to glass shops knowing that you could cut curved safety glass. I knew that!  It’s done all the time, but not here. I went to glass shops and got in arguments “Well, goddamn it buddy, you can’t cut that.? Well, I didn’t have the guts and really the budget to buy another windshield, so I just cut the whole frame out and laid it back.

Probably Ray’s finest achievement was the radically customized ’48 Merc he named “LaHoya.” This is the car that would have made Ray famous had it not been for him abandoning the project in order to keep his marriage and family intact.

Ray:  I had this ’48 Merc coupe that I chopped, channeled, and sectioned. I took pictures to work to show the guys (I worked at Hallmark Cards as an engraver.) Well, one of the guys asked if he could cut up a picture of the side view. I said yes, so he shortened the length of the car, making it a GT-type custom rod. I liked it so much that I went home and cut off the chopped roof, then shortened the frame and body, moving the rear fenders next to the door jamb (18 inches, as a matter of fact.)  I named it “LaHoya”. IT WAS SO LOW ,THE TOP OF THE WINDOWS WERE AT MY WAIST LINE!

I threw away the old roof and used my ‘50 Merc roof on it, that is what gave it GT styling.  I had completely welded the whole thing and had it basically finished out, but I was so concerned about losing my wife and children since I had been consumed with car shit for so long that I decided to stop. So, I yanked out my fullhouse flathead and trans and traded the body and frame to Gilbert Strange.  I traded for a complete naugahyde interior, carpet, headliner, the works, for my ‘52 Desoto Hardtop (Hemi powered.) He took the car to Thompson/Hall Bodyshop and had them finish it out and paint it orange. He named it “El Toro”.

That is how it was featured  in CAR CRAFT magazine. Gilbert never told anyone that I had built it. In fact, Ray Farhner and Doug Thompson came over to look at it before I had contacted Gilbert Strange. At that time, Doug still worked for Farhner. He wanted Ray Farhner to buy it. He started his own shop later on. Anyway, CAR CRAFT got so many complaint letters that they printed one of them (from Al Lawson, whose ‘53 Stude I had chopped), and an apology, for giving incorrect information. However, hardly anyone probably ever saw the retraction they printed 3 months later.

And there you have it – That was my chance at my 15 seconds of fame, at least I kind of feel that way considering that they stated on the cover: “One of the most fantastic early model full customs ever to be built.?

Story written by James Hair.


Of course, the Ray Erickson story doesn’t end here. In the coming weeks, we’ll pull out some of this other creations from the archives and highlight things like the indy car inspired tractor and his glorious ’54 356 Outlaw.

Special thanks to James Hair for writing the above. I appreciate it as I’m sure a ton of others do.


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