"Hot-Rods"

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60

Sir,

Your correspondent Mr PF Payne may know a great deal about “hot-rods” but he is not well informed concerning the Mexican Road Race of 1951. Both the Ferraris entered were Vignale-bodied 2.6-litre models, which makes their winning all the more remarkable when one examines the litreage and horse-power of the American competitors.

The contention that the much-modified brakes on Troy Ruttman’s Mercury were superior to the standard Italian brakes is purely hypothetical. I suggest that a far more likely reason for Ruttman’s lead in the mountains was the severe tyre trouble which plagued the Italian cars during the early stages of the race. I believe that Ascari had more than six blow-outs on the first leg and, as a result, tyres had to be nursed until the trouble could be overcome.

As for “less frontal area” accounting for the Ferraris’ speed on the straights I think one could add the fact of a five-speed gearbox and a slightly better power/weight ratio, amongst other things.

Lastly, I am sorry to find Mr Payne aligning himself with those who have spared no effort to minimise the performance of the Italian cars.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Adrian S Melville, New York.

Sir.

I have noticed the readers of your magazine seem to disbelieve the statements made by the Americans about their “hot-rods.” I would like to help clarify tbe “hot-rods'” performance. I have seen much more than 110 out of a side-valve Model-A Ford, running with an 11 to 1 compression ratio on a Winfield head, dual Winfield carburetters, Mallory ignition, high-lift Winfield camshaft, pressure fuel tank, no fan, water pump or generator hooked up and a very lightweight flywheel. Also every thing counter-balanced, and in a car that tipped the scales at about 1,400 pounds without driver. And these were slow compared to some of the Model As and Bs that used the overhead valve set-ups of Crager, Riley or McDowell overhead cams. A 1927 Chevrolet four-cylinder engine was the basis of a 1941 record holder at over 149 mph. The present “hot-rods” fit into three separate classes; Lakesters or cars designed for top speed straight runs; cars for “Drags,” designed for acceleration trials only (these would definitely beat a 4.1 Ferrari or a XK120C, as they sometimes have 260 bhp, weigh 1,100 lb and are geared for accelerating to about 117 mph in a quarter mile from a standing start); and the third type, the “street Roadster” or a “hot-rod” designed to be used around town and highway and to comply with all regulations covering ordinary autos. These have more docile modifications on their engines, weigh more and may even corner and ride better than the other two. Street Roadsters and coupes shouldn’t be classed as sports cars, as they won’t handle as well. Some of the “home-made” sports cars over here such as the Seifried Mercury Special and the Manning Mercury Special (the latter won the 1952 Palm Springs Road Race) show development from the “hot-rods.” Even some of the modified MGs recently seen racing over here are scaled down to 1,350 and 1,400 lb with completely new bodies, same applying to a few Jaguars running over here at about 1.950 to 2,100 lb. in all new bodies.

Our extremely fast “hot-rods” (a term seldom used by the owners of these cars) that turn 210 and 227 mph two-way runs are streamlined cars looking a little like John Cobb’s Railton Special, and about as practical for other than high-speed runs. The timed runs on various surfaces make a big difference too, the Great Salt Lake course being better than the Dry Lakes of California (hardened mud surface).

I pick up your magazine when ever I drive up to Los Angeles, 134 miles away in my 1948 Hudson sedan, about twice a month. Trip takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes to 3 hours depending on traffic. I get about 20 mpg on the road in over-drive and about 14 mpg in town.

The main difference between British and American cars is that yours are all different and interesting types, while ours are all the same and come in three sizes–medium, large and larger.

I am. Yours, etc,

Bruce Carnachan,  San Diego.

Sir,

We have followed with a great amount of interest the correspondence about the performance of “hot-rods.” It is amazing to us how people in your country, who are so handy in increasing the performance of the completely lethargic Ford Eights and Tens and building successful trials cars from the standard models, can be so sceptical about increasing the performance of a basic 205 cu in side-valve engine. Mr John A Hall in your most recent issue seems to have struck a new low in international motor sports relations. His alleged formula reminds me of the turtle-type of thinking so common to the uninformed who fix one point in their tninds and refuse to consider any other possibilities.

In your previous month’s issue, this particular discussion reached a point of vulgarity that would never have been tolerated in the American press. I refer to the gentleman’s statement, “What makes the grass grow green, Daddy ?”

I assume this weak argument revolves about the performance of a side-valve Ford. Mr Ernest McAfee, one of Southern California’s outstanding sports-car constructors and tuners, came to sports cars via the “hot-rods.” In the early ‘forties, Mr McAfee constructed a side-valve, four-cylinder Ford in a streamlined chassis which reached a speed in excess of 135 mph, average for a two-way run of the course. The writer also owned a fully-fendered, completely road-equipped 1929 Ford roadster with a side-valve engine that consistently clocked in excess of 90 mph, and yet was used daily as a “go-to-work” car. The modifications performed on this engine were as follows :—a Winfield “Red head” of approximately 9 to 1 compression (after it had been milled) was fitted, the bore was increased to 4 in, 13/4-in exhaust valves installed, heavy valve springs, adjustable tappets and a reground camshaft installed. Ports were enlarged to approximately 17/8 in, and two 13/4-in downdraught Winfield carburetters fitted. The flywheel was lightened and the engine completely balanced. Alloy pistons had also been fitted. I believe this argument sums up to this, that this equipment not being available for sale or seldom seen on your side of the Atlantic,

It is rather difficult to understand performances obtained from these engines when modified. Since the war this type of engine has quite naturally taken a back seat, being replaced by the various modifications on the more reliable and far faster Ford V8 and Mercury engines.

This discussion has reached the point of being ridiculous and it is quite disappointing to find motor-sport enthusiasts who cannot or will not be more open-minded or objective in their thinking. Unqualified criticism from 6.000 miles away is seldom warranted and to all purposes invalid.

I am, Yours, etc.,

Dick van Osten, Los Angeles.

[This correspondence seems to be getting out of hand and is therefore closed. At first, we in Europe were sceptical of the speeds attained by “hot-rods,” but we now accept that these are properly timed and achieved by highly-tuned, streamlined projectiles intended for one brief orgy of extreme high-speed. We would like the sceptics who still exist to be confounded for ever by the timing of the faster “hot-rods” on an European course under FCI rules. The present argument centres around Mr PF Payne’s claim of over 102 mph, and 10-60 in 10 secs, from his sports car (not “hot-rod”) with “absolutely standard” Ford V8 engine and his claim (March, 1952) that “about 110 mph” is possible from a Model A or B Ford—note that Dick van Osten claims only 90 plus from his road-equipped roadster In his reply. Mr Payne sportingly accepts the humorous criticism by Mr PB which Mr van Osten thinks is so vulgar, but we notice he reduces his claims for “souped” Model-As to nearer 100 mph, offset by Mr. Carnachan’s claim of much more than 110 mph. The true answer is that conditions in Europe and the States differ enormously. In Europe we concentrate on cars able to race in hard-fought, long-duration sports-car races, blending reliability and controllability with sheer speed. In the States there is growing interest in such sports-car racing but, in addition, they have developed engine-tuning or hotting to a pitch we have never known outside specialised manufactures’ test plants or experimental establishments and then only in individual instances. The widespread American enthusiasm for such “souping” naturally commercialised, results in very fast roadsters, and “hot-rods” that to European minds are out of this world, produced in not inconsiderable numbers. But Europe seems to lead—I write this before Le Mans—in road-worthy, not too slow sports cars. So can we all rest in peace, or better, juggle the pieces in healthy International competition in the sports-car racing field, reserving a fair proportion of incredulous admiration for the essentially American “hot-rods” in their differing degrees, rather as Americans look incredulously at our Mr Sherlock Holmes, with no ability, or even desire, to copy or import ?—Ed]