The Jalopy Journal
Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by HEMI32, Feb 20, 2019.
Donald Richard Montgomery
May 14, 1930 - February 18, 2019
by Tony Thacker
Many know the name Don Montgomery from his series of well-illustrated books about the early days of hot rodding. Montgomery, however, has had a long and interesting hot rod career. By the age of 15, he was firmly committed and remembers he got his education hanging around speed shops learning from the technical discussions of his peers saying, "The final exam was the actual doing of the modifications to your own engine and car.”
As a member of the Velociteers, Don went to his first lakes meet in 1948. A year later he joined the Glendale Coupe and Roadster Club (GCRC) keeping company with legends such as Howard Johansen, Tom "Acmo" McLaughlin and Racer Brown. The club won many trophies and won the points championship in 1951. Don’s daily driver was a clean Olds 88 and there’s a nice shot of his wife Claire in his book Hot Rod Memories. She’s standing on the front bumper possibly watching Don set a record at Paradise Mesa at 100.33 in their Hudson on May 30, 1951. According to Don’s own caption, “The Olds 88 was our daily transportation and tow car. On several occasions both the Hudson and the Olds competed at a drag meet.”
The following year, Montgomery fielded his own racer, a ’37 Cord sedan that was unusual for the lakes. Not only was the car unusual but it too was unusual in that it had a Dodge front axle, Pontiac rear, a Buick straight eight and a Buick transmission.
Despite being a heavy car, the Cord performed well. At the Pomona drags Don hit a speed of 107.14 and at El Mirage during a Russetta meeting he ran 135.338 mph setting a B sedan record. He did so well that he came second in the Russetta Individual Points Championship for 1952.
For the 1953 season, Don 86’d the Buick and favor of a Jimmy six outfitted with a Howard 12-port aluminum head, a fabricated manifold with six Strombergs and a Scintilla mag donated by Ed Iskenderian. The cam was and F-6 from Howard and the pistons were either J.E. or F-6 Venolia. The exhaust was fabricated by Don hisself.
As drag racing grew more popular and began to eclipse lakes racing, Don embraced it with a passion and promoted what was possibly drag racing’s first individual class features show at Santa Ana—The Fuel Coupe . And why not, by 1957 he was running one of the fastest, full-fendered, stock Deuce-bodied A/Fuel Coupes in the country. Then, the NHRA banned fuel and Don’s Coupe was instantly obsolete. As he says in his book Supercharged Gas Coupes, “It could have been switched to gas, the Altered class in which it would have run was dominated by much smaller Fiats and Crosleys. So my SCoT blown ’51 Chrysler was removed and the ’32 Ford Coupe was sold (dumbest thing I ever did).”
Don’s next car was a ’41 Willys Coupe rescued from a junkyard in the San Fernando Valley for $40. Powered by a blown, 342 ci Hemi, the Willys was ready for the ’59 season with the chain-driven SCoT and a six-pack manifold made for Don by Phil Weiand. However, in 1960, NHRA introduced the Supercharged Gas Coupe class and Don ran in that for the next 12 years competing in B/GS, BB/G and BB/GS classes.
Don enjoyed eight good years amateur racing while he raised a family of three children but by 1968 the Willys was also became obsolete. In an effort to give the class a boost Don, with the help of the Pittman brothers, the Marrs boys, Dave Fentress, Jack Carlson and others the Southern California BB/G circuit was up and running. Soon, they were able to field eight cars often booked with AA/FA, AA/GS or injected Funny Cars. They usually raced at Lions, OCIR and Irwindale but according to Don they also got a few away meets, for example at Las Vegas, Sacramento and Holtville.
By 1970, the Willys had been painted black and lettered with the moniker “Rockerhead” given to him during his lakes racing days because he ran a Buick with rocker arms whereas most everybody else was running a flathead. Despite its 365 ci Hemi and a B&M Torqueflite, drag racing was changing, the economy was struggling and the racing all but dried up. According to Don, “ The BB/GS circuit was great. We had heads-up racing, won some money and even ran some round-robin races that everyone could run three races. There was a points competition with a banquet, trophies and awards at the end of the season. In addition the drag strips gave us professional status treatment.”
Meanwhile, Don, an engineering graduate of U.S.C., who was in the electronics manufacturing business, had started contributing to some of the magazines and in 1987 self published his first book Hot Rods in The Forties. This collection of photographs borrowed from a wide range of racers was an instant hit and Don soon followed up with other titles such as Hot Rods As They Were, Authentic Hot Rods, Hot Rod Memories and, of course, a book about his beloved Supercharged Gas Coupes, first published in 1993. His books and memories are on the shelf of any serious hot rod aficionado.
Don “Rockerhead” Montgomery – Rat’s Rodfather
by Gray Baskerville ... for HOT ROD Magazine circa 1999
Don Montgomery Led The Return
For the past 10 years, street rodding has gone through a number of styles-high tech, dare to be different, phantoms, retro, and now… rats. Rat rods are patterned after hot rods pieced together by owners/builders prior to or just after World War II. These home brews were crude, dangerous, and less than welcome on SoCal’s wide, straight streets. But they were fun, fast (for the time), and very frugal.
Hot rods soon became a national passion, and the original, owner-assembled gow jobs became more sophisticated. The by-product of this craftiness spawned the aftermarket and the creation of an ancillary group of professional street-rod builders. Rodders no longer had to prowl boneyards for parts or farmers’ fields for abandoned bodies and rusty frames. They could just as easily pick up the telephone and dial a rod.
Remember the “For every action there is an equal but opposite reaction” theory? Well, as Sir Isaac Newton predicted, these reactions are pieced-together roadsters and “clonish” customs based on cars conceived more than 40 years ago.
In reality, very few originals have survived. Those that have are seldom seen, rarely driven museum pieces or have been upgraded with newer and more dependable assemblies. Though veteran rodders are prime sources of information, those active at the beginning are becoming fewer in number. The only other true and accurate source of hot rodding’s past are rod-related magazines, such as Hot Rod, and their photo archives. Unfortunately, many collections have been looted or lost, damaged or destroyed. Now add to this fact age-related ignorance coupled with a reluctance to live in the past, and you’ve got the sorry ingredients of a historical black hole.
Ten years ago, Don Montgomery-no relation to “Ohio” George Montgomery-blew his cool. The veteran SoCal rodder and racer didn’t cotton to the way rodding was being portrayed in the buff books. Instead of throwing a hissy fit, the guy who grew up in the ’40s fought back.
What really got my attention,” recalled Montgomery, “was how inaccurate those few historical articles were. Either the writers were not doing their homework or they were misinformed. I decided to set the record straight and began writing magazine articles to accurately portray hot rodding’s humble past.” The success of these articles caused Montgomery to publish a series of hardbound books filled with candid photographs from his friends’ albums. Moreover, these books began to serve as visual guides for a whole new generation of hot rodders.
Who is Don Montgomery, aka “Rockerhead?” What are his credentials? Why should we trust his words? He’s a mechanical engineer by training, a former owner of an electrical firm by profession, and now a 68-year-old publisher selling his books from home.
By the time Montgomery was 15, living in La Cañada, California, and attending John Muir High School in Pasadena, California, he had already acquired a Model A Ford. His dad, thinking that his son was going to hop it up, made him an offer: “Sell the A, and I’ll give you my ’41 four-door Hudson.” Montgomery accepted, then hopped up the Hudson and dragged it off to the streets and to El Mirage Dry Lake. One evening, the straight-eight blew up on the way to Carpenter’s Drive-In (Arcadia, California). “No sweat,” said Montgomery. “I had a lot of friends running straight-eight Buicks, so I switched to a 320-incher, and by the end of ’48, I was running 129 at El Mirage.” After his pal Tom “Acmo” McLaughlin sold him his ’37 Cord, Montgomery raised the record to 137.
By 1953, drag racing had supplanted lakes competition, so Montgomery made the move and acquired automotive designer Larry Shinoda’s three-window Deuce. In went the Jimmy. The A/fuel coupe and sedan records began to fall. It was, in Montgomery’s words, “The best car I ever had.” When the NHRA instituted its infamous fuel ban, Montgomery sold the blown/Hemi-powered coupe and got himself a ’41 Willys. The Willys inherited the Hemi, a B/GS class designation, and the “Rockerhead” name-bestowed on Montgomery for his involvement with overhead-valve engines-on its dark blue doors. There all three remained until 1972. Then Montgomery hung it up.
His insightful recollections provided the verbal foundations for his books. But the A-Z contributors-Atol, Batchelor, Calori, Eastwood, Fukataki, Glaze, Hedrich, Jackson, Lambert, Marquez, Newett, Orka-mura, Parti, Riley, Sparks, Timmerman, Van Maanen, Waldrep, Xydias, and Zabel to name just a few-are who added the photographic energy that ensured the second coming of the real hot rod.
In 1989, Montgomery published his first book, Hot Rods in the Forties. Its acceptance soon led to subsequent titles: Hot Rods As They Were, Hot Rod Memories, and Authentic Hot Rods. However, the editorial format remains the same: a formula that mixes street and lakes activities, early powerplants and speed equipment, garage gatherings augmented by some track roadster action, along with early drag-racing coverage. Montgomery’s memories set the scene-drive-in parties, reliability runs, club chingoes, clandestine street racing, competing at the lakes, and, finally, his involvement with fuel and gas drag coupes. However, it was the vintage ’30s and post-war photographs seen here, featuring some of SoCal’s finest (and fastest) rods and customs, that got the rat rodder’s attention and gave them their visual clues. By re-creating hot rodding’s past, Montgomery has ensured its future.
Don @Rockerhead Montgomery's excellent books:
RIP Don. This is sad news.
Very sad news. That whole generation is rapidly slipping away.
I never met the guy but have many of his books - he sure did his bit for preserving the history of hot rodding. I know my buddy Bob Anderson (also recently deceased) thought very highly of him, so he musta' been a great guy!
RIP Mr. Montgomery.
A sad day indeed...Condolences to the Montgomery Family and Friends on the passing of Don...His contributions solidify the reason this Hotrod/Custom/Race era he documented is considered the most pivotal in History...Rest in Peace Hamber @Rockerhead
Thank you for sharing this loss with the legacy of this icon of the movement @HEMI32
Don @Rockerhead Montgomery's '41 Hudson 4-door Sedan:
images from the American Hot Rod Foundation
... and his '37 Cord Sedan:
images from the American Hot Rod Foundation
The American Hot Rod Foundation's interview with Don @Rockerhead Montgomery:
What a Icon. RIP.
Thoughts and prayers going out to his family & friends, sad loss for the hobby. Bob
I met him in 99 at the merc /deuce reunion , we chatted awhile , class act.....I ordered all his hotrod books a bit later and they are some of my most valued possessions RIP Don
I was very fortunate to get to know Don and Claire when they visited Prescott with Mark Morton and a bunch of hot rodders for a weekend in 2011. I drove them over to Camp Verde for a tour of Bob Everet's collection and spent the day with them. I always looked forward to seeing them at the GNRS and Havasu Deuce Day, when the drove their blue Deuce 3W over from Fallbrook. They kept me updated with the challenges they were facing with their health so I was worried when I didn't see Don at the GNRS this year. My sincere condolences go out to Claire and the family of this wonderful man who documented the history of hot rodding and led us back to traditional hot rods. Rest in peace and Godspeed Don.
RIP Don. Feeling like we lost one of the greatest hot rodders in America. My condolences to his family and friends. I met him several times during trips to California events. Bought every one of his books. I wonder if the traditional car movement and possibly the hamb would not exist in it's form apart from his historical research and books and inspiration. Godspeed Don.
The above link has information on his fuel coupe and lots of posts by Don.
Photo from Greg Sharp collection; original photo from Drag News photo feature in '56
Don when Larry Shinoda owned the car. Soon Don bought it as a roller from Larry.
Sad sad day.
R.I.P. Don, and thankyou for all you did for hot rodders all over the world.
Sad news, RIP Don aka @Rockerhead I will miss your posts
Rest in Peace.
God Speed ,Don R.I.P.
He was truly one of the originals. God speed sir
We will truly miss Don at our Havasu Deuce Days this year. Condolences to the family and R.I.P. Don
sincere sympathy goes out to his Family, friends & fans
RIP, condolences to his family. We loose another good guy.
Another great man that I would have given nearly anything to meet. RIP Don.
Click HERE for @Ryan's tribute to Don @Rockerhead Montgomery.
Here's a few photos of Don (& Claire) Montgomery in his "@Rockerhead" Willys Street Rod:
images by Sherm @fuely32 Porter
I sent Don a PM on 12-27 asking if he was going to GNRS, in hopes of meeting him in person. He replied that he was having a knee replaced, and wouldn't be able to make it. Don, you will be missed, not only for your knowledge, but for your humor as well, R.I.P. Mr. Montgomery.
I met Don while we were very slowly getting into the Great Western Exhibit Center(?) for the LA Roadster Show decades ago. On the hot summer day, I'd driven my roadster into L.A. from San Bernardino and the long, slow line was barely moving. The stock Model A radiator with no fan was no match for my hopped-up injected Chevy. It blew the top hose off, and to my dismay, spewed anti-freeze all over the car in front of me. Don came out of the Auburn and was most concerned about how we could get my car inside and repaired for my drive home. (I was most concerned about how much damage I did to the Auburn.) I've run into Don here and there for years and he always remembered me and asked about what was new in the roadster. A great and generous guy – he'll be missed.
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