California gleamin'

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Back in the 1930s a new motor sport phenomenon called dry lakes racing took off in southern California. Fuelled by an increasing number of young drivers with a need for speed, it involved cars racing against the clock on vast lake beds – and quickly resulted in owners stripping off superfluous bits such as fenders, lights and mirrors in pursuit of every last ounce of speed.

Inevitably there were plenty of accidents with these pioneer hot rods in what was then a largely unmarshalled sport but, after activities were interrupted by WWII, racing returned with a bang under the auspices of organisations such as the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), which was established in 1937.

Among the keener early competitors were a pair called Chuck Spurgin and Bob Giovanine, who following the war returned to the lakes with the uncompromising, torpedo-like contraption pictured here – the Spurgin-Giovanine Roadster.

Based on Spurgin’s 1925 Chevrolet, it was powered by a four-cylinder engine tuned by Giovanine to produce a figure approaching 150 horsepower, and proved its mettle at its first SCTA outing in October 1947, with a best run of 118.89mph. It ended the season 15th in the SCTA championship.

After a winter of fettling, the car returned with lighter, more streamlined bodywork, a more efficient Ford front axle and a full belly-pan – and instantly set a Class A record with a two-way time of 113.95mph, a speed that Spurgin and Giovanine gradually improved throughout the summer to close the racing year with a speed of 123.655mph.

By then, the Spurgin-Giovanine Roadster had placed first at every meeting of the season to accrue a perfect 1800-point score and romp away with the 1948 SCTA Class A Championship. Its record would not be broken for the next two years.

Unsurprisingly, the car subsequently graced the cover of Hot Rod magazine as ‘rod of the month’ and formed part of an SCTA exhibition in Los Angeles.

Spurgin and Giovanine raced again the following year with less success, before selling the car in 1954 to aerospace engineer Carl Borgh, who took it to 149mph at Bonneville Salt Flats with a GMC engine. It was then sold to another enthusiast, Robert Cano (who campaigned it as the Cano Snoot in the late 1950s), but disappeared for more than 40 years before being discovered abandoned behind a garage in Apple Valley.

Remarkably, the car had retained its original frame, body and other key features, enabling it to be restored to its original Spurgin-Giovanine specification in a project completed a decade ago – since when it has appeared at Pebble Beach and been inducted into the Dry Lakes Racing Hall of Fame.

Now set to change hands again at Gooding and Co’s 2019 opener, it is tipped to fetch $250,000-350,000 – which seems reasonable for such a piece of hot rod history.


Three auction lots worth watching

H&H

February 2 Live online auction
Cheshire-based H&H will break new ground this year with its maiden live online auction. Among the first vehicles offered will be this 1985 Chrysler LeBaron Town and Country that originally belonged to the late Frank Sinatra. He is said to have been chauffeured around Las Vegas in it for the last decade of his life. Estimate: £25,000-plus

RM Sotherby’s

January 17 Phoenix, Arizona, USA
The Lexus LFA attained modern classic status almost as soon as it entered production at the end of 2010, as a 500-unit limited edition priced at £250,000 and hand-built to order. The rarest cars are the 50 built to Nürburgring Package spec, with improved aerodynamics and a 562bhp version of the 4.8-litre V10. Estimate: $850,000-1,100,000

H&H

March 2 Solihull, UK
Those of a certain age might recall this 1973 Triumph Tiger – or its TGK 621M number plate. The bike appeared in a period driving test booklet to illustrate various manoeuvres, but was only ever photographed from behind. In 1978, it was sold to a traffic cop who subsequently moved it on to its owner of the past 36 years. Estimate: £4500-5500