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History Mr. Gasket Company .. the beginning

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by loudbang, Feb 20, 2017.

?
  1. Yes

    57 vote(s)
    95.0%
  2. Hell no

    3 vote(s)
    5.0%
  1. loudbang
    Joined: Jul 23, 2013
    Posts: 29,826

    loudbang
    Member

    You ever look at any of the many successful well known "speed parts" companies and wonder I wish I could do that I wonder how those guys got started?

    Well here is the short version of how "Mr. Gasket" got it's start.

    Presenting the company and it's many successful Drag Racing cars!!

    Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with Mr. Gasket other than having bought some of their products.

    Joe Hrudka (left) turning the wrenches on the Hrudka Brothers’ ’33 Willys panel truck, C/Gas Supercharged, in 1966. The Willys used a blown, small-block Chevy with Hilborn injection and a manually-shifted, four-speed trans. (Todd Wingerter Photo)

    MrG1-595x595.jpg

    The Hrudka brothers, Joe and Tom, founders of Mr. Gasket Company, these guys were everyday drag racers and typical American teenagers from Cleveland, but their ingenuity and ability to foresee great potential in a racing business would one day propel them to astonishing career heights.

    The Hrudka brothers saw a need for an item failing on their own cars, in this case, stock replacement exhaust gaskets. The stock gaskets were difficult to install and prone to failure. After identifying the problem they created a remedy for it. Fellow racers tried their gaskets, then asked to purchase them for their own cars. Encouraged, they set up in a home garage, crudely yet effectively manufacturing these and then other specialty gaskets. The modest enterprise grew rapidly before becoming an iconic brand in the performance and racing industry. Joe and Tom Hrudka went from weekend drag racers in Ohio to Manhattan’s corporate boardrooms and then Wall Street.

    American business has many tales of unlikely heroes who became obsessed with a hobby, created a business to support the obsession and through sheer willpower, guided it from a dream into reality. So it was with Joe and Tom Hrudka.

    Joe and Tom Hrudka began serious drag racing with this ’55 Chevy. The ’55 won the 1962 NHRA Nationals D/Gas Class at Indy. Although the Moon fuel tank is located ahead of grille, full street equipment was rules required! Note long rear axle traction bars and whitewall slicks on Halibrand and American magnesium wheels.

    MrG3-595x259.jpg

    The Hrudka brothers’ early years were spent in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. Raised comfortably but not wealthy, their 1950’s circle of high school friends revolved around modifying and drag racing their cars. Rather than merely tinkering, they were actively and cleverly building and competing with them. Their fast-company moved them from early street racing to the drag strip on Ohio’s many area tracks. Thompson, Dragway 42, Quaker City, National Trail Raceway and others provided racing opportunities and stiff competition. Northern Ohio’s harsh winters and brief warm weather months encouraged not only weekend but weeknight racing. An ambitious racer could run 4-5 times per week during the brief but busy warm weather season.

    All sorts of drag race vehicles were on hand, but the greatest number of cars were those in the Gas Coupe and Sedan classes. The Hrudka’s began with a ’55 Chevy, but soon built a ’40 Willys coupe for C and D/Gas. They soon became part of an unofficial group of peers who became known in drag racing lore as “The Ohio Gassers”. These included Eddie Schartman, Ron Hassel, Sam Gellner, Gene Schwartz, Hill Brothers, Virgil Cates, David Meal, Mickey Hart, Dave Koffel, Arlen Vanke, Rodriguez Brothers and a long list of Gasser notables, all from Ohio.

    Fellow Clevelander Dave Meal built this ’40 Willys C/Gasser, shown here at Cecil County, Maryland. Four-speed trans and injected small-block Chevy supplied 8,000 rpm power. Early Mr. Gasket logo appears on front fender of stock steel Willys front-end. Hrudka brothers ran tracks across the Midwest and other areas. (Photo by Charles Milikin, Jr.)

    MrG2-595x446.jpg


    Dave Meal built this A/Gas, ’48 Thames panel truck “Pie Wagon” in 1965. They loaned it to fellow Clevelander Ron Hassel, who ran it in Florida with his engine and trans. SB Chevy and four-speed produced high nine second ET’s at 140 mph. Photo is from Palm Beach Intl. Raceway. Car was built very light, flimsy and flexy. (Photo by Jim Hill)

    MrG5-595x491.jpg


    Joe Hrudka married early, and it happened that his father-in-law was a partner in a Cleveland industrial company, Manufacturers Gasket. Joe and his racing pals were having gasket problems. After explaining his problem, Joe and his father in-law worked out a solution. Joe and Tom’s cars were powered by highly modified, small-block 283 Chevy V-8’s. A standard modification called for grinding the cast iron cylinder head intake and exhaust passages (called “porting” by hot rodders) to increase airflow and power. Porting was tedious, messy hard work but well worth the power improvements needed. Parts store replacement gaskets refused to stay in place during assembly. Worse, they restricted the effect of porting the intake and exhaust passages of the Chevy heads.

    Hrudka explained the problem to his father-in-law, and together they roughed-out exhaust gaskets that were thicker, cut larger and sealed leaks common with tubular steel exhaust headers. Rather than multiple pieces per exhaust side, they made the gasket one-piece, which allowed easier and faster installation. They next designed and made new, larger port intake gaskets that accommodated larger intake ports and their runners after porting. These size-adjusted gaskets were initially hand-cut from sheets of gasket material. Once the shapes were settled on they had simple steel-rule dies made, and used these dies to press-cut gaskets in a hand operated press. The homemade gaskets worked, and worked well. In between getting their cars ready to race, Joe and Tom spent a few hours each week cutting gaskets for themselves and their friends. Thus was born the foundation of the Mr. Gasket Company. Those original Part Number 150 Chevy exhaust and 150A intake gaskets for ported heads remain a backbone of the product line, even today.

    Word spread, and soon they were taking a stack of gaskets to the drag strips they ran at, selling these out of the trunk of his ’57 Chevy tow car! The cottage-industry gasket sales were brisk, allowing them to buy better, faster parts for their race car.

    (That is the answer right there HARD WORK and hustling your products.)


    C/Gas ’40 Willys was known to carry the front wheels through first two gears of its manual four-speed transmission. 11 second, 120 mph runs came from high-winding, small-CID, small-block Chevy with Hilborn fuel injection. Location is Dragway 42, West Salem, OH.

    MrG4-595x484.jpg


    More notably, their gasket sales were growing with each drag strip outing. The popularity of these basic products forced the Hrudka’s to keep a family member on hand at the track, to sell gaskets while they were making runs. More steel-rules dies were made and they were soon cutting racing gaskets for other popular engine makes. A brand name for the simple product line was needed, and in 1964, the name “Mr. Gasket Company” was adopted. Its logo featured a cartoonish little man shaped like, of course, a Chevy gasket. Soon many of Ohio’s drag and even some circle track racers were buying racing intake and exhaust gaskets from the Hrudka Brothers and sporting Mr. Gasket decals.

    Both Joe and Tom Hrudka continued to build and race Gassers while they were simultaneously growing the home-based company and its products. Initially targeting hard-core racers, the business and its machinery quickly outgrew its home garage, so they rented a small building for manufacturing, packaging and shipping. Weekend racing allowed them to discover and create products that made it easier to build and maintain race cars. Most were items created after they discovered that hand-building a single item was time consuming and frustrating. Many of Mr. Gasket’s new products came from suggestions accepted from other racers.

    One of the most famous Hrudka Bros., car was this ’33 Willys panel truck. With a blown, small-CID Chevy, a blower, and four-speed, the bright red CC/Gasser was a crowd favorite. Photo is from the pits at the 1966 NHRA Nationals, Clermont, Indiana.

    MrG6-595x350.jpg

    ’33 Willys panel leaves the Dragway 42 starting line being corrected-left! Unpredictable handling prevented this car from reaching its full potential. The car still managed mid-10’s at 135 mph as a CC/Gas Supercharged racer.

    MrG7-595x434.jpg

    In one short year Mr. Gasket was on its way and by 1965 they reached gross sales of $500K. To expand brand and product awareness Mr. Gasket became an NHRA contingency sponsor, offering cash rewards for winning at NHRA races, using Mr. Gasket products and displaying the approved decals. They also began advertising in national magazines, creating a coast-to-coast market base for Mr. Gasket brand products. The company incorporated as Mr. Gasket Company in 1967, wisely adopting the recognized and marketable Mr. Gasket brand. The new firm sought established multi-step distribution, eagerly signing speed equipment warehouse distributors nationwide.

    Once housed in the trunk of Joe Hrudka’s ’57 Bel-Air, the business had gross sales of over a $1 million dollars in ’67. By 1969, Mr. Gasket had grown to $3 million in sales. This explosive growth paralleled the phenomenon of the “car culture” of the 60’s and that of the performance industry. Hot rods and drag racing hit mainstream America like a hurricane as did sales of Mr. Gasket’s products.

    By the late 60’s Performance Warehouse Distributors nationwide were carrying heavy inventories of Mr. Gasket products, and the company’s products earned a solid status as a cornerstone line for any performance WD. Speed equipment retailers all had their requisite “Mr. Gasket Wall” stocked with hundreds of shrink-packed products hanging from pegboard hooks.

    From a small start with gaskets to this all over the country.

    MrG14-595x398.jpg


    Seeking additional capital for expansion, Joe Hrudka assembled an Initial Public Offering of stock shares in late 1969. One-third of the company was sold as IPO shares, generating funds for further expansion. The IPO and its success also attracted the interest of W.R. Grace Company. Grace was a New York based, $200 million dollar, international conglomerate. Once a global shipping line and agricultural products company, Grace had become an aggressive purchaser of firms that looked financially attractive even though they were unrelated to its core business. After negotiations, Grace bought out the remaining Hrudka shares for a reported $17 million, and the Hrudka’s remained with lucrative short-term consulting contracts.

    Joe Hrudka soon became frustrated with big-time corporate America. In 1976 he left the company, remaining inactive until 1981, when his non-compete contract expired. Joe Hrudka had always loved Tri-Five Chevys, and during his “off years” built a show-quality collection of 55-56-57’s. He also dabbled in various non-automotive related activities, but always maintained an interest in and an eye towards one day returning to the performance and racing aftermarket business.

    Without guidance and market knowledge Mr. Gasket struggled. When W.R. Grace moved to divest, Hrudka along and a few former employee investors bought back Mr. Gasket for $4 million dollars. The purchase price was a fraction of what Hrudka accepted when he sold his remaining shares a few years prior!

    Back in charge, Hrudka and a core group of personnel revived Mr. Gasket’s brand as a “must have”. Next, they acquired complimentary brands and moved to the suburb of Brooklyn, Ohio, bringing most divisions under a single roof.

    So there it is caught up from the beginning until the end of HAMB friendly years. There is a little bit more on the later years here if you are interested.

    http://eastcoastdragtimeshalloffame.com/mr-gasket-from-the-trunk-of-a-57-chevy-to-wall-street/
     
    47ragtop, 302GMC, gas pumper and 9 others like this.
  2. loudbang
    Joined: Jul 23, 2013
    Posts: 29,826

    loudbang
    Member

    I must say I used their header gaskets on several FE Ford powered cars because they WORKED and you NEVER EVER want to change header gaskets on a Ford FE in a small body car like my OT mustang and torino cobrajet if it can be avoided AT ANY COST.
     
  3. As I grow older, some of my memories are not as vivid.
    If I recall correctly, back in the early '60's, before Mr Gasket existed, Joe lived on a street between East 185 st. and East 200 st., at the border of Cleveland, OH and suburb, Euclid, OH.
    Name of street was Shawnee or Pawnee ...... or one of the 6 or 7 Indian named streets in between those mentioned.
    I think Joe had a '56 Chevy that got an I Beam transplanted into it.
    Either the welding or the engineering wasn't up to snuff ..... the I Beam had an immediate set back, as the initial road test was to take place.
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2017
    loudbang likes this.
  4. jcmarz
    Joined: Jan 10, 2010
    Posts: 4,636

    jcmarz
    Member
    from Chino, Ca

    Cool read! I remember the advertisements with Joe standing in front, looking like John Travolta, ala Saturday Night Fever.
     
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  5. loudbang
    Joined: Jul 23, 2013
    Posts: 29,826

    loudbang
    Member


    LOL you are right I remember that now. Amazing how you can date photos just by the style of haircuts and clothes in them.
     
    jcmarz likes this.
  6. I will follow this post and maybe add a little info as it progresses..Having been associated with Joe from those early years.even sat at his table for a meal prepared by his wife in his home..
     
  7. Does any one know who was Joes Right hand man in those days???Hint..He was famous for his AA fueler...from Calif...OK is was Dennis Holding of the Weekly,Rivero,Fox & Holding...The Frantic Four. Dennis was very helpful in MrGaskets formative years..
     
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  8. Jimbo17
    Joined: Aug 19, 2008
    Posts: 3,718

    Jimbo17
    Member

    Great Story about the brothers and their company before W.R. Grace bought it and ran it into the ground before they bought their company back for pennies on the dollar and then rebuilt it.

    Jimbo
     
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  9. 48stude
    Joined: Jul 31, 2004
    Posts: 1,093

    48stude
    Member

    Great read. Bill
     
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  10. Engine man
    Joined: Jan 30, 2011
    Posts: 3,476

    Engine man
    Member
    from Wisconsin

    Isn't it comical how corporations buy up successful companies then completely abandon the principles that made them successful? It happens over and over again.
     
  11. X2 Good read as always.
     
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  12. denis4x4
    Joined: Apr 23, 2005
    Posts: 3,510

    denis4x4
    ALLIANCE MEMBER
    from Colorado

    One of the first stories I wrote for HOT ROD INDUSTRY NEWS was about the manufacturer's reps in the speed equipment business, Herb Goldstein (Mr. Phone), Norm Wishoff and Dennis Holding. Dennis deserves a lot of the credit for the success of Mr. Gasket in the early years. Thought of Joe the other day when there was a blurb in the WSJ that Frank Sinatra's Palm Springs home was on the market. That was party central when Joe owned it.
     
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  13.  
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  14. El Caballo
    Joined: Mar 3, 2001
    Posts: 5,894

    El Caballo
    Member

    It is an inspirational story to say the least.
     
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  15. Kan Kustom
    Joined: Jul 20, 2009
    Posts: 2,574

    Kan Kustom
    Member

    I love this stuff .
     
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  16. bubba55
    Joined: Feb 27, 2011
    Posts: 320

    bubba55
    Member

    Great reading material - wished I could take it to the john with me to read again and again - thanks for the post !
     
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  17. jimdillon
    Joined: Dec 6, 2005
    Posts: 2,927

    jimdillon
    Member

    Good job Loudbang. I always was a fan.
     
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  18. I seem to recall that there was a TV show years ago about the 55-56-57 collection. Insane!
    Low mileage, fuelie and hi-po cars, but if I recall correctly, there was a 57 HT with something like 40(!) miles on it. The story was the wife didn't like it, turned it back in for a Pontiac. Had the original tissues in the under dash dispenser. Pallet racks of NOS fenders, doors, trim, engines, and parts.
     
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  19. Interesting read and cool pictures.

    Joe Hrudka gave Pete and Bill Hill a '33 Willys body in exchange for running their logo. Imagine that, a free Willys body...you don't hear of that much.
    [​IMG]
     
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  20. loudbang
    Joined: Jul 23, 2013
    Posts: 29,826

    loudbang
    Member


    Sir that is the best complement a guy could make LOL
     
  21. elgringo71
    Joined: Oct 2, 2010
    Posts: 2,948

    elgringo71
    Member

    This was an excellent read and they have a very interesting history from selling parts at the drags out of the trunk of a 57 Chevy and the growth, sale, buy back and ups and downs of the company to what they are today.

    Thanks for posting the story
     
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  22. falcongeorge
    Joined: Aug 26, 2010
    Posts: 18,341

    falcongeorge
    Member
    from BC

    Used lots of it, and in the late seventies/early eighties, sold a fair bit too.
     
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  23. steinauge
    Joined: Feb 28, 2014
    Posts: 1,507

    steinauge
    Member
    from 1960

    Great read.Thank you!
     
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  24. Speedwrench
    Joined: Nov 21, 2009
    Posts: 1,032

    Speedwrench
    Member

    In the early seventies I was working in a circle track speedshop across the street from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and we sold a fair amount of Mr. Gasket products. A gasket doesn't know whether it's going straight or around corners.

    One item we had a success with was the spun aluminum velocity stack for Holley four barrel carbs. Turbochargers were just making their presence felt at the speedway and it turned out the the velocity stack was the perfect size for the air inlet on the turbo of choice at the time. We sold several to the lower buck teams because they didn't have to have some high buck tin bender hammer one out by hand. We didn't sell a large number of them from a volume perspective. But considering the size of the market, we were doing a land office business with them.
     
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  25. loudbang
    Joined: Jul 23, 2013
    Posts: 29,826

    loudbang
    Member

    Poll is interesting a bunch of yes and only 2 no. The reason I added the poll was I thought I remembered some "controversy" about the later years with quality falling off or something like that. Looks like it must not have been too bad if nobody has a problem they want to share. :)
     
  26. chevy57dude
    Joined: Dec 10, 2007
    Posts: 5,622

    chevy57dude
    Member

    Loudbang - Thanks for posting up! Mr Gasket parts have been a staple for me since the early '80s when I started driving. Super Chevy ran the spread on Joe's '57s. They were better than new. Couldn't find a pic, so here's another Willys shot.
    [​IMG]
     
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  27. southcross2631
    Joined: Jan 20, 2013
    Posts: 3,822

    southcross2631
    Member

    I had a guy that drove my dirt late model .His dad told me about Joe and selling gaskets out of the trunk of his 57. He went to high school with him .
    His stories all line up with this article so I guess they were true.
     
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  28. thanks for another good read loudbang
     
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  29. good post and nice read....still luck into something of theirs at the old auto shops.....picked up a sifter rebuild kit the other day....
     
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  30. s55mercury66
    Joined: Jul 6, 2009
    Posts: 3,980

    s55mercury66
    Member
    from SW Wyoming

    I would like to mention the late Bill Lippay, who restored those '55-'57 Chevys in Joe's collection.
     
    loudbang likes this.

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