One of my great frustrations in life is due to the cover of the 1958 Hot Rod Annual published by Trend Books. The cover features a small shot of a gorgeous flathead powered front engined dragster. Inside, nothing. Not a single mention or photo. It’s haunted me for years.
Anyway… So we send Tim Sutton to Vern and Keith Tardel’s shop for some photography work. While there, he mentions that there is a bitchin’ dragster that is begging to be shot and featured. Not long after viewing the samples from the shoot, I realized that this is the very dragster that graces the cover of that damned Hot Rod Annual.
The dragster was originally built in the 1950’s by Otho Sichel, Ron Mallory, and Charles Resano of Santa Rosa, CA and featured a ’48 Merc flathead displacing 286-inches. Despite the obsolete motor, the boys still saw a lot of checkered flags throughout Northern California and even entered the racer into a car show or two.
By the 1960’s, the car had lost it’s competitive edge and the boys decided to fold to the overhead craze. A small block Chevy was installed, but success never really followed and the car was eventually retired. Somewhere down this road, Vern Tardel purchased the car – not to go racing, but simply because he always appreciated the craftsmanship as well as the racer’s history.
Vern’s pal, Ed Hegarty, was also an admirer. So much so, that he eventually traded Vern a ’32 roadster (the now famous hot rod that Vern drives just about everywhere) for the dragster. Ed held on to the car until his passing and now it is being looked after by his son – Mike Hegarty.
Mike’s plans are simple – he’s going to keep the car as it is and maybe even do some exhibition runs with it. There are no 6-figure over restorations in his plans and for that, I’m grateful. An old race car like this has so many stories in its patina. Erasing those would be distasteful.
Back to that 1958 Hot Rod Annual cover… The frustration of the unknown is now over. I’ve gotten my fill and have even sat in the car and made motor noises. But, as it turns out, I didn’t have to wait as long as I did. Unbeknownst to me, the feature of the Sichel, Mallory, Resano dragster actually made it to print in the 1959 Hot Rod Annual.
Originally published in The Jalopy Journal #3. Photography by Mr. Tim Sutton: