After our observations on American “hot-rods” had appeared in Motor Sport last December an American reader called at our offices and demanded to know who had written the article. He explained that “hot-rod” contests are beam-timed by skilled timekeepers and therefore we should not scoff at, or doubt, the speeds attained. “After all,” he said, “we cannot beat your 500-c.c. Gardner Special’s speeds with engines of eight times the size, but that doesn’t make us label them as impossible.” There is plainly no answer to this argument and certainly I would like to see the better “hot-rods” timed for International Class records by the A.A.A.
So, in returning to the subject of American “hot-rods,” I do not propose to again question the accuracy of the speeds achieved, but to place before you some facts about a meeting at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, held last summer by the Southern California Timing Association, Inc., of Los Angeles. These details have come to me by the courtesy of H. W. Morgan of California, and I will confess that, bearing in mind the short duration of the tests, the specialised “hotting-up,” and the high axle-ratios and advanced streamlining employed, I am beginning to believe in “hot-rods”! I grant that they must horrify European engineers and that they serve no useful purpose, but sheer speed, even for a brief spell, is not to be entirely denied and it has to be conceded that if an English speed-trial could be run in two sections, the first a standing-start sprint and the next a flat-out run, the balance between the times taken for each section would be quite interesting, for the car suitable for the acceleration sprint would be quite the antithesis of that planned to do the highest possible speed.
With those observations we will pass to our facts. The event with which we are concerned occupied six days last August and cars were timed by J. O. Crocker, official timekeeper to the American Power Boat Association, using photo-electric cell apparatus.
Classes were recognised for sports-cars, foreign cars, race cars and competition coupés, sub-divided into roadster, lakester and streamliner categories. Roadsters had to have American roadster bodies of 1928 or later, standard in height, width and contour, mounted on top of the chassis frame and having a production-type radiator and shell not dimensionally smaller than that gracing a model A Ford. The minimum wheelbase allowed was 7 ft. 11 in. Trucks were allowed if the cargo bed was at least three feet long and tab standard in width and height, but tarpaulins were not permitted. Lakesters were much the same, but tarpaulins were allowed on tracks and bodies had otherwise to be either as for roadsters but dropped below the side-members or otherwise lowered and streamlined ahead of the fire wall, or else those from 1927 or earlier roadsters not so lowered—which sounds like a first-class scrutineers’ headache! Streamliners were allowed any type of “fire-proof” body except those of the other two classes or a stock body, coupé or sedan, but the minimum wheelbase was 7 ft. 1 in.
In open contests no further sub-divisions were made, but for S.C.T.A. competitions four engine-size divisions were recognised—up to 183 cu. in., 182-250 cu. in., 250-350 cu. in. and 350 cu. in. or above. However, a supercharger or a non-standard twin-o.h.c. head put you up one category and it was insisted upon that all engines were of American Automotive Production manufacture, of which at least 500 units had been made—this rule doubtless receiving the wholehearted blessing of the shops whose wares are “hot-rod” accoutrements.
The events run were one-way ¼-mile runs in each S.C.T.A. class and one-way open ¼-mile runs, with prizes for the fastest one-way and fastest two-way times, best looking car, best made car and the most original car. The course provided 2 3/8 miles for attaining speed and 2 3/8 miles for stopping.
Before the event we are discussing the class records were:—
Up to 183 roadsters: Chevrolet Four 123.655 m.p.h.
Up to 183 streamliners: Ford V8/60 138.74 m.p.h.
183-250 roadsters: Ford V8 129.53 m.p.h.
183-250 lakesters: Chevrolet Six 147.24 m.p.h.
183-250 streamliners: Chevrolet Six 153.545 m.p.h.
250-350 roadsters: Mercury 133.015 m.p.h.
250-350 lakesters: Mercury 149.625 m.p.h.
250-350 streamliners: Mercury 151.085 m.p.h.
Over 350 roadsters: Mercury 130.760 m.p.h.
The makes refer to the engines. Forty-seven entries came in, the proportion of engines used being: Mercury 25, Ford V8 13 (actually one car used two), Cadillac V16 two, Chevrolet Six two and Ford V8/60, 1932 four-cylinder Ford, 1913 four-cylinder Buick, 1922 Rajo-T and Duesenberg, one each.
What happened? Well, 56 cars in all were timed on one-way runs and the slowest, a 183-250. cu. in.-class roadster, clocked 89.37 m.p.h., the fastest, a 250-350 cu. in.-class streamliner, was timed at 187.89 m.p.h. Moreover, 40 cars exceeded 120 m.p.h., 29 exceeded 130 m.p.h., and 14 exceeded 140 m.p.h. Indeed, five bettered 150 m.p.h. I am now thinking hard of our Napier-Railton, Dixon Riley and similar cars, but I have promised to make no comment. So let its look at the two-way ¼-mile records They were:—
183-250 cu. in. roadsters: 132.075 m.p.h.
183-250 cu. in. lakesters: 134.730 m.p.h.
183-250 cu. in. streamliners: 117.915 m.p.h.
250-350 cu. in. roadsters: 129.690 m.p.h.
250-350 cu. in. lakesters: 151.900 m.p.h.
250-350 cu. in. streamliners: 189.745 m.p.h.
Over 350 cu. in. roadsters: 127.565 m.p.h.
Over 350 cu. in. streamliners: 140.950 m.p.h.
Over 350 cu. in. racing cars: 144.350 m.p.h.
Over 350 cu. in. sports cars: 142.515 m.p.h.
Over 350 cu. in. coupés: 92.87 m.p.h.
The best one-way run of these was at 193.54 m.p.h., while the Kurtis Kraft sports car did 143.08 m.p.h. It will be seen that three of the previous records were broken and many new ones established.
The 183-250 cu. in. streamliner which did not lose its record of over 153 m.p.h. has a frame of 3-in. steel tubing, a mid-located 248 cu. in. engine with 1942 Chevrolet block, G.M.C. rods, Wayne head, manifolds and pistons, Bill Spalding camshaft, Tom Spalding ignition, three or six carburetters to choice and six stub exhausts. Front wheels are late-type Ford commercial, the rear wheels special wide-base ones, all shod with 18-in. Firestone Indianapolis tyres. Another car in this class uses a 1942 Mercury engine set behind the driver and with Edelbrock heads, Harman-Collins camshaft and Potvin ignition, the car itself being formed from a 300-gallon P-38 auxiliary fuel tank (!) and pulling a 2.72 to 1 direct-drive, with a clutch to facilitate push-starting.
Now I don’t class these “hot-rods” as worthwhile motor cars and I don’t want to see “hot-rod” meetings replacing Prescott and Shelsley Walsh. But the facts are not without interest and there must be some tuning tips that British competitors call pick up from these special-builders in the States, where these time-trials have become a recognised national sport.—W. B.