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Hot Rods Do you ever wonder how our forefathers did it?

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by mikec4193, Dec 1, 2022.

  1. I am waist deep into a Jalopy build that will hopefully look like the stuff that was running around the oval tracks in the Northeastern part of the USA in the early to mid 1960s.....(only street legal)
    As I toil away it seems like everything is custom cut...chop...hack...tac...cut...chop...hack....tac...etc etc etc...

    I have been working away on this since April of 2022...starting my 7th month working on it...and guys back in the day built one new every winter and went out and destroyed it the next summer racing season...

    I have the upmost respect for those the heck did they live life and still find time to build a new race car every winter?...not a lot of store bought stuff back then either...

    You went to a junk yard and got a frame and then got a body and got some pipe or tubing if you had a lot of money and started doing your thing...6 months later you rolled a shiny old coupe or coach out and went racing...
    Picture of a rather bent up coach driven by Andy Romano back in the day...
  2. I look around here and stress about getting work done, and wonder how I used to be so productive by myself. Then I remember that I used to stay in the garage until 3am every night, and buddy's would come hang out and help me. Now I don't have the energy to stay up that late every night, and all of the car buddy's just faded away. So things take longer these days :(
  3. 51504bat
    Joined: May 22, 2010
    Posts: 3,902


    You best be catching up on your rest cause it sounds like you won't be getting much come next October when all the hoodlums descend on your place for the first annual Lloyd bash!:cool:
  4. I work October 1st, then I'm off until the 10th so that I can get it all ready!

  5. Tim
    Joined: Mar 2, 2001
    Posts: 14,716

    from KCMO

    Between what a lot of us start with being trash compared to what they started with, and the personal standards that I've developed over time I know it takes me a lot longer. But it also doesn’t break down every two weeks.

    The getting older note and family responsibilities also strike a cord as Loyd mentioned. I think we forget a lot of these guys were 18-22 and did put the cars away when the family came into the picture.

    that being said I do miss that 4 am burning the candles at both ends energy and progress of decades ago
    belair, AHotRod, Baumi and 7 others like this.
  6. 327Eric
    Joined: May 9, 2008
    Posts: 1,859

    from Diablo Ca.

    I know how my forefathers did it. By today's standards it's not very Hamb Friendly.
    Okie Pete, ccain, AHotRod and 4 others like this.
  7. 73RR
    Joined: Jan 29, 2007
    Posts: 6,815


    Like many other 'older' Hambers, I was there in the 60's and looking back I wonder how we ever survived with the junk we glued together. Safety concerns were not #1 on the list.......:confused:
  8. Bob Lowry
    Joined: Jan 19, 2020
    Posts: 1,168

    Bob Lowry

    Yep, for me hot rodding was done in my single carport. No such thing as a garage. And yep, not a big deal
    to stay up until 4am or all night to finish something. Once, I was 18 and living on my own, no place to
    work on my car, so I replaced the third member in the parking lot of a 24hr grocery store. Once family
    came along I had to put things on hold for about 15yrs, but eventually got back to hot rodding. It never
    goes away.
  9. yup, those guys built em, raced em, wrecked em, rebuilt em, or built another car,..good ol days, that's how I got infatuated with old cars watching these things go around in circles.
    Driver50x, Okie Pete, WilliD and 2 others like this.
  10. I recently disassembled a car I put together when I was in high school…I remember it being of much higher quality than it actually was.
  11. Rickybop
    Joined: May 23, 2008
    Posts: 8,527

    from Michigan

    Now I understand your question. I was going to echo
    @327Eric and say we KNOW how they did it.

    You mean, how did they
    MANAGE to do it. With all the obstacles they had to overcome. Little money, little time, few tools, etc. But obviously loads of willingness. And energy.

    I know what you mean. I look at some of the sheds that guys worked in decades ago and yet managed to turned out some badass hot rods.
    And I didn't want to work in the garage this winter until we got a brand new insulated garage door and electric opener. LOL
    And a bigger compressor.
    And more lights.
    A bigger bench.
    Maybe a TV.
    Thinking about a couch...
  12. Flathead Dave
    Joined: Mar 21, 2014
    Posts: 3,832

    Flathead Dave
    from So. Cal.

    I didn't have four fathers. I guess I was lucky.:p

  13. A big reason is in your opener you could go to junkyards find parts build what you needed. It has never been cheap but was at least in line with what a working person could afford.

    The racers had respect for each other too, they knew what it took to build a car and keep a car on the track, so for the most part they didn't just ram, jam, beat, bang, crash someone Dale Earnhart style for a spot because if you did you would find yourself stuffed in the wall!

    Life was easier, people worked in the same town they lived in, I and many of the people I work with have to dive 25 to 30 miles one way.
    Personally, I drive 45-minutes one way, that's seven and a half hours of driving a week, seven and half hours a week would a long way on my project.

    It didn't take two incomes in a household just to survive!

    Personally, I think they were fussier with the car overall engine, chassis, handling then most people are now. Today most are only concerned with what's skin deep.

    Steve Danish Blue Flame 6 racer and a class act he and his crew wore uniforms in the 50s!-
    1953 NY State NASCAR Sportsman champ 235 powered. He was among the first to use a trailer which was such a novelty he was asked to unload on the front straight in front of the grandstands at Langhorn PA.


    Jim Reed of Peekskill at Rhinebeck, N.Y. in the early 1950's. The car is channeled over the frame.

    Billy Blum in the late 50' and early 60's

    Nolan Swift's 10 Pins Super Mod built in 1960 for car Oswego Speedway

    Note full tube chassis just like the Indy cars of the day and 4 torsion bar suspension.

    Charlie Jarzombek's Bug with the engine set back to improve handling
  14. gene-koning
    Joined: Oct 28, 2016
    Posts: 3,204


    I lived if for 20 years as a car owner.

    The goal was always make it to the track on race day, hopefully with the car ready to run, so you weren't still working on it when it was time to roll onto the track. A major crash, made the week very short! I remember building a "new" car in a week after a bad crash (lots more then one time). Imagine the short cuts on that! Lots of long hours, friends showing up to help, even fellow racers show up, my wife brought supper out to the garage all week, and the kids both stopped in the garage to say good night every night before they went to bed. I remember painting my sponsor's name on the car before we loaded it up to head for the track. The start up to load the car was the 1st time the motor started in the new car but we got it done, actually ran pretty well to! The standard race week was start right after I got off work, take an hour to have supper with the family, and be in the house by the time the kids were heading to bed. Crash or major repairs were exceptions and really didn't happen often. Also, work on the race car started Monday after I got off work, usually by the end of the week, the car was ready to go. We raced Sunday nights, so most of the weekend was family time. If you think racing is just the guy, you are way wrong. Racing is a family thing, if everyone in the family is not involved, or it simply doesn't work.

    A smart racer takes care of the family requirements before spending a dime on the race car, but my wife did without a lot of new stuff so we could make it to the track the next week. We had a "house fund" and a "race car fund" My 40 hour a week job funded the house fund, any income past that was race car fund. My wife worked as well, sometimes she even added to the race car fund. Sometimes the prize money from a night of racing took my wife and kids out for pizza or something else for a night. The race car fund also acted as an emergency fund, if something was needed for, or at home, the money was pulled from the race car fund, then returned as soon as possible.

    I had very good sponsors that covered most of the expected week to week expenses. The "new car" every year was a planned expense. It was the crashes that upset the apple cart, but at the same time, selling parts you no longer needed helped fund the operation. Having a very good relationship with a local junk yard was invaluable, as was having an "account" and a good relationship with someone at an auto parts store. I was fortunate, most of the stuff we used in our class at the track was mostly junk yard parts. My relationship with the one junk yard was so good, the guy had a back up car set aside for me, and he also had a good motor we ran set aside as well. If we crashed on Sunday evening, on Monday, while I was at work, he would have his guy's pull the parts (or strip the car) we were going to need, all I had to do after work was stop by and pick them up. If I had the cash, I'd pay him, if I was short, he would "catch up with me later." I always paid that guy asap. Most of the time, prize money won went back into the race car fund. Having that money there was a life saver after a crash.

    The quality of most of the work on the dirt track car only had to make it through the night, or possible 2 nights, if you ran more then at one track. If you didn't break or wreck something else, you had the whole week to improve the quality, if indeed it needed to be improved! The hard truth was, most of the time, the guys at the front were trying new things every week, to keep up, the car was in a constant state of change, week to week. That temporary "fix" you made last week might all be changed next week.

    When you built a new car for the next season, you didn't build it with the thought that it wasn't going to change, you built it with the best stuff from last season and hoped you could still hang with the boys that 1st night. Change was an expected thing. You never even thought the car you started the season with was going to be exactly the same car at the end of the season.

    It only had to be "pretty" from 50' away. it could look pretty rough up close. After you finished the race in the top 5, or with the lead pack, no one that came and looked at the car in the pits cared how pretty it was. The truth was, half the people that came into the pits after the races were over, came to look at the wrecked cars. The next week, they might stop by to see how it was repaired! Up close battle scars were a sign of being part of the action.

    My normal work week was 53 hours (9 hrs. a day and 8 on Sat). (60 hrs. after I started at the factory) After work, I either worked on the race car, or I worked on someone else's car to fund the race car (3-4 hours/day, Mon-Thru, Fri & Sat were by necessity only). Normally I was in the house and done for the evening by 9 or 10 pm. After the kids came along, I tried hard to be done by their bed time.

    All for a faded glory in our memory. Only the track Champions have recorded history, and usually only those in the top class, and then its only the driver's name that gets remembered. Those of us that ran in the lower classes, or those that built the cars those Champions drove are soon forgotten.

    I was a car owner for 20 years in the hobby class at our local track. It took a few years to figure it out, but then for 15 years in a row, my car put a first year new driver in to the top 10 in point standings out of a 30-40 car field. many of those guys went on to race on their own. 4 of those guys got their 1st wins in my car. The memories are all I have left, except a few pictures of the old cars, all of which are off topic for this board.
  15. partsdawg
    Joined: Feb 12, 2006
    Posts: 3,301

    from Minnesota

    There was no social media. There was no internet.
    Go to on the car.
    Fewer distractions.
  16. If you wanted it bad enough. you just found a way to do it. 27 hour days, 9 day weeks were my norm. Zero home and social life. When I shirt-tailed the WoO in their Midwest tour one season, I slept in the truck, and ate at every greasy spoon that had a 'special'. Pit help was handled by 'free' local labor (it was free if I got all my tools back... LOL) and cast offs from the big name/money boys. I didn't push or abuse my equipment to the limit either. Knew going in I wasn't doing it for money or glory. I was doing it for fun. Sometimes I made the 'show', sometimes I didn't, but I didn't let it bother me cuz there was always that next race. If I had a 'way back' machine would I do it again? Hell yes. Would I do it differently? Maybe a bit. One thing I do know for sure is I would have used a Suburban instead of a pick-up for the tow rig.
    Driver50x, Okie Pete, AHotRod and 2 others like this.
  17. Mr48chev
    Joined: Dec 28, 2007
    Posts: 32,120


    I knew a lot of dirt track guys in Central Texas in the early 70's and many of them had no life beyond their job, their car and the dirt track on Friday night. They were pretty much the reason I got out of racing entirely because I never wanted to see my kid have to eat beans and weanies out of a can because I had spent the grocery money on race car parts. I loved racing, really loved drag racing but seeing what those guys wives and kids went though so the car could make it to the track wasn't for me.
    The build quality or lack of it would make some rat rod guys cringe now though. There were some pretty shaky rigs running then.
    Driver50x, Okie Pete, X38 and 5 others like this.
  18. You didn't sit on the HAMB and wonder which Member # you were...................................
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2022
  19. oldiron 440
    Joined: Dec 12, 2018
    Posts: 3,091

    oldiron 440

    I can agree with racing is a family thing, the van was always full of our kids there freinds sometimes my sister's and there guy's, it seemed to be full more time's than not.
    With four females in the house I used working on the car to free myself from all that estragon. :)
    Eventually my second oldest daughter got the racing bug and ran the Fairlane for about three years while she was in high school and college. The quickest she ran was 14.0s at 98 mph in drive, letting the car shift for itself. Not bad for a forty year old 289 and a 16 year old kid.
    Driver50x and AHotRod like this.
  20. The37Kid
    Joined: Apr 30, 2004
    Posts: 29,471


    Building the car over the winter was one thing, but rebuilding after being totaled in six days always impressed me.
    Driver50x likes this.
  21. jimpopper
    Joined: Feb 3, 2013
    Posts: 268


    It helps to have a race team that shows up a couple nights a week and get it done.
    Driver50x and AHotRod like this.
  22. Most of them used a torch. Some of them used an axe.
    Driver50x and AHotRod like this.
  23. 36cab
    Joined: Dec 2, 2008
    Posts: 835


    And if for some unknown reason they actually used a drill to make a hole instead of just blowing a hole with the torch, they definitely did not know the word chamfer.
  24. Budget36
    Joined: Nov 29, 2014
    Posts: 10,395


    You touched on the answer to your query;). I’d also guess/suspect a few other things as well. Maybe no children to raise, maybe the wife took care of them, etc.

    I gave up golf when my 2nd was born. Many still spent every free time they had on a course somewhere.
    AHotRod likes this.
  25. flatheadpete
    Joined: Oct 29, 2003
    Posts: 10,315

    from Burton, MI

    The past few years I've gotten into tool restoration...I do it all with hand tools. I built myself an old-timey wooden tool box using all hand tools, no metal fasteners (all hand shaped tapered wooden dowels). It took me a week. I could have slammed one together with power tools and screws in less than an hour (I've done a few). But, I wanted to show respect to days gone by.
    I do my cars the same way. Slow and steady. Make it right with the respect to past builders.
    Driver50x, Tman and AHotRod like this.
  26. I started out working with a driver/builder that had won many races and track championships. His cars were straight up out of the junkyards. I saw him do a Chevelle with things like 12" Buick front drums adapted to the spindles. I saw him graft Lincoln spindles and drums onto the Chevelle. Rears came from donor bread trucks with the full-floating axles. 8-lug rear and all, weld up the spiders... good to go. I saw him get hassled at one track for putting a leaf-spring suspension under a Chevelle.

    Our main tools were a torch, couple of grinders and the welder. They were throwing out a drill press at work and I got it for $1.. talk about a game changer. I'd save bench grinder wheels from work, perfect to fish-mouth roll cage bars. The fact that I worked in a machine shop helped a lot. I would bring in sections of roll cage tubing to prep for door bars.

    If we couldn't borrow a tubing bender, we would heat the tubing and bend it around a telephone pole in front of the house. It took 3 guys but it worked. We really bought few parts from vendors, although we had a good supplier close by. We even made our own hood pins and plates. Roll cage gussets were made from scrap that came off the shear at work.

    Any money we had, it went into the engines. Parts like that went from car to car. The real old timers who ran 3 nights a week were the masters at getting a new car going in a pinch. Their yards were junkyards in themselves. Carcasses of old coupes were saved for parts. Guys who were running for a championship had a "new" car roughed out just in case one got wrecked.

    There was one fast guy at Freeport, for whatever reason, he moved out to run at Riverhead. His car was deemed to not have enough body on it... come back next week with a full body if you want to run. So back he comes... he made the body panels out of a garbage-picked swimming pool wall, it was corregated complete with the wood grain pattern.
    AHotRod, mad mikey, RJP and 1 other person like this.
  27. twenty8
    Joined: Apr 8, 2021
    Posts: 1,463


    After reading your comment, and then reading the very next comment by @gene-koning (and comments by others), I think the others are giving a truer insight into these oval track cars and how they were campaigned week after week. The whole process of repair, upgrade and prepare had to be a race against time every week. Just the way it was....

    As Gene put it: "The quality of most of the work on the dirt track car only had to make it through the night, or possible 2 nights, if you ran more then at one track. If you didn't break or wreck something else, you had the whole week to improve the quality, if indeed it needed to be improved! The hard truth was, most of the time, the guys at the front were trying new things every week, to keep up, the car was in a constant state of change, week to week. That temporary "fix" you made last week might all be changed next week."

    Nothing wrong with that at all. It is the nature of the beast, but I do think that trying to portray it in any other light is not really painting a true picture. These cars are what they are, but were built with a totally different mindset and goal than a street driven rod. Apples and oranges....... ;)
    AHotRod and mad mikey like this.
  28. gene-koning
    Joined: Oct 28, 2016
    Posts: 3,204


    So, here is the reality, when you built the new car for the up coming season, you had 3 or 4 months to get it done. 3 or 4 months seemed like a lifetime compared to the week to week racing. You had time to make things right. Even when you expected to be changing everything, you really worked hard to make the car the best it could be at the beginning of the season, because it may actually last all season. You don't want to spend time during the season to fix something that should have been done right the first time. I put together some really nice cars for those first couple of weeks. If it actually worked well, often it would stay fairly nice through at least mid season, baring any crashes. I did have 2 or 3 cars that survived through the 2nd season. In our class, that was pretty rare.

    There was talk of a back up car. There was a couple of years I had a backup car! It was whatever was left over from the car of the season before, but usually it was pretty rough if it even still existed. Most of the needed stuff was already transplanted onto the "new" car. I don't ever remembering dragging an old one back out. I was a lucky guy, I had a ready source for a new body through the season if I needed it from my Junk Yard buddy. One season I built 4 cars and at the end of the season, I had a few useable parts left! I was happy to see that driver leave, but in all fairness, when he finished a night of racing, he was in the battle for the win. His motto was win or wreck. I couldn't afford to race like that and told him so. He ran a few seasons with his own car, then came back seeking advice. He became a pretty good racer after that.

    At our track, we had a few guys that passed through that had a spare chassis, and spare motors and stuff on their haulers. One guy change the motor in his car between the heat race and the feature (about a 1/2 hour!). He started the feature on the back row, and ended up 2nd by about a fender length. That was fun to watch! That was quite a deal for some hick dirt track in the middle of no where in the northern part of IL.

    Towards the end of my dirt track carrier, there were some late model guys running for Championships at two or three local tracks. All of those guys had complete back up cars. The guys that won three Championships in a tow at 3 different tracks the same seasons had two cars they ran. Each night they would bring one car home and load up the other. Then the "crew" would spend the day repairing anything that was needed so that car was ready to run the next night. I can't comprehend racing at that level, but you can bet there wasn't anything cobbled together on either of those cars.

    I suspect the level of race car quality was greatly dependent on the level of racing involved. The higher the level, the better the quality. The time frame of the build also has a big part in the quality of the car.

    Then the level of competition plays a role as well. If a car built like the 10 Pin car posted earlier arrives at your track, and you want to run with him, you have to step up your game. At the same time, if everyone is running rough junk, you could blow them away if you brought something really nice in, and they can't crash you out if they can't keep up or don't handle nearly as good as your car does.
  29. enjenjo
    Joined: Mar 2, 2001
    Posts: 2,593

    from swanton oh

    My grandson races the compact class at the local dirt track. With my help he built three new cars this season and ended it with none left. He didn't miss a night of racing. He can transplant a cage in one day
    Driver50x, Baumi and bobss396 like this.
  30. I have been around modern high end late models and mods a bit. One pal has an easy half million dollar operation. These days it's a whole nuther beast.
    6sally6 and twenty8 like this.

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