The Hot Heads Roadster
Remember that little diddy that David Giller wrote for us a few weeks back? Well, he’s back for more… And this time it’s a little story about the Hot Heads roadster that I think y’all are gonna love. Check it out:
In the late 1950s the fraternal Moose Lodges of Southern California decided to sponsor some Car Clubs for youth or maybe semi-wayward youth. Kind of a benevolent franchise thing as there were apparently several of these “Hot Heads” clubs in the L.A. area. The local Moose Lodge in rural Simi Valley liked this idea even as we had no wayward youth, just some high school kids eager to play with cars. Added some older Car Guy advisors and decided to build a Club project car.
There was a donated Model A Ford frame with a partly mounted front body section from a 1924 Studebaker Touring car plus some chassis running gear. Engine loaned by local serious Hot Rodder Ed Houghton. Ed built his own fast street Hot Rods and was welcomed every year at Bonneville to crew on various Streamliners and record breaking cars. Ed had recently acquired a 1932 Three Window coupe, full competition car, no street equipment, fenderless with a “full race” built flathead. Think this was a 3/8″ x 3/8” motor as that was the preferred setup then. Possibly this was a Bonnevile runner as I had not seen it at any local drag strips. Ed loaned this engine and donated other key pieces to the project and planned the design and mechanical details.
Car went together mostly at Fred Johnson’s Body Shop with the young kids helping with nearly everything. Fred did the body and chassis metal and paint work. Built a little pickup bed to fit. Wilson Stansberry, our Village Blacksmith, made the roll bar and glued the big pieces together with his torch and a massive Lincoln arc welder. Naugahyde bucket seat upholstery, cockpit and bed cover, all in black. Street Roadster. Labor, material, parts and time all donated with enthusiasm by everybody.
The Studebaker body was heavy but long so the driver and more weight was just in front of the rear axle. Ed Houghton set up the trans with Zephyr gears and a 4:44 rear end with welded spiders (locked). Small and narrow slicks. Yeah, whitewalls, this was 1961. Ed figured all the ratios and tire size to start in second gear, one shift about halfway down and go. Worked very well. Really quick off the line, one fast/easy shift, peak revs before the finish. Idea was the other Street Roadsters would likely have big and wider slicks, Have to use first gear to get everything moving and then two gears/shifts and wide torque curves.
So the car was built just for the first NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, January 1961. There was a special class for Flathead Street Roadsters that year as most “Street Roadsters” by then used big OHV engines and even blowers. Didn’t even have time to really test the car except for a couple of runs on a local street. They showed up at Pomona for Tech Inspection, a bunch of High School kids and three older guys and were told they could not enter as the car had to have a hood. Somehow missed that in the fine print, apparently. So they got a sheet of aluminum, bent it over their knees, trimmed it and fastened with some screws as a top panel hood. Did not look very finished and the rest of the car was not fancy but well made and they passed Tech Inspection. Were allowed to compete.
Came eliminations and the little car kept winning. Other entrants included a Street Roadster from the midwest that had won many events there and was invited by the NHRA. Somehow it did not make it to the Trophy Run. The little Hot Heads California Roadster did and driven by Doug Henry, was first to the finish line and won the class and Winternationals Trophy.
Everybody was excited and happy, especially the young guys who participated in the build and were the race crew. The local newspaper wrote an article with the photo shown below. Couple of weeks later we all took the car to the San Fernando Drags on a Sunday where the kids who knew how to drive could take a (careful) run in the car. My kid brother, Steve, was in the club and just fifteen but he kinda, sorta knew how to drive as our Dad had given him a 1930 Ford Model AA Flatbed truck to learn on. We lived on a property with ranch roads so got to drive early. Steve asked if he could drive the Roadster. OK, but I cautioned my little brother to just to be careful, take it easy and have fun. Of course he did….smoked the slicks off the line, clean shift midway at full throttle and through the lights in the mid 90s.
The little car looked a bit plain with the Studebaker body and longish nose with the radiator out front. So we decided to fancy it up. Shortened the grille (chromed) and shell and mounted the radiator back over the front crossmember as God and Henry intended, Had a race car body man form a full aluminum hood with polished louvers and attached to the grill shell so the whole assembly tilted forward like real race car. Cut some neat slots in the tailgate panel to let air out, hopefully. Ed Houghton’s day job was a machinist at Rocketdyne, where they built and tested the Rocket Engines for the Space Program. He brought in a beautiful machined stainless steel rear bumper bar with brackets to attach. Tubular with machined ends that came off and just the right diameter so you could secretly load several of the lead window sash weights from old houses for some extra weight on the rear wheels. Thanks to the United States Government for the anonymous donation. Finished the car off with a dark red lacquer and a trim strip with a narrow band of gold leaf, like a fire truck. Looked way better. Did not go any faster.
Only ran the car a few times after. By then it was summer and took it to the Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach California. Saturday Night drags with bright lights, tire smoke, noise and nitro fragrance everywhere. Just ran the car for time but the most memorable part: Mickey Thompson operated the Lions Drag Strip besides all the other 25 hour a day things he did. He had just broken his back and nearly drowned from a high speed boat flip on Lake Mead trying to set a new World Water Speed Record. Yet there he was, in his wheel chair, rolling himself around the starting line and directing the whole show.
Then the kids and all of us went off to other things in life but better for our experience. And the little Hot Heads roadster was sold, less the borrowed engine. Ed Houghton kept his loaned engine, later built a Flathead Dragster and won that class at the 1970 NHRA Winternationals with the same engine that won for the Hot Heads club in 1961.