I was supposed to write one of these last week. But I couldn’t. L.A. was on fire. People were marching in the streets. They still are. I should be with them. But I am of a very vulnerable age group. And Covid numbers are rising again in L.A., partly because of all the people in the streets. So Anna and I have been adhering to the stay-at-home rule, both for our own health and that of others. But we are doing what we can to fight these two seemingly incurable pandemics. Both must be significantly quelled, as quickly and as permanently as possible.
In light of all this, my little internet column and Instagram posts seem inconsequential by contrast. A rather trivial pursuit. When it was the Covid lockdown we were dealing with, I presented somewhat frivolous topics as an entertaining diversion and a bit of comic relief from cabin fever. But racism, brutality, hatred, or intolerance of any kind are not natural disasters. I do not want to present any sort of diversion from working toward significant and lasting reduction of these sordid human conditions.
However, just yesterday one of my good friends said, “But we need art.” Yes. Art, and music, and history, and sub-cultures, and even pastimes that do not divert or detract from larger or more immediate issues, but rather add some needed enrichment to our lives.
So, I promised myself I would not add to the roar of voices you hear from every medium right now. That’s not what this column is for or about. I’m certainly not going to call what I do here “Art.” But I have always considered hot rodding a positive and rich piece of American culture, and my place is to present, preserve, and possibly explain this culture. To share it. So I have been convinced to continue this column. Don’t let it distract or detract from larger issues. Let it hopefully enrich your life in its own small way.
DAVE WILLIAMS’ TRACK T
I was also planning to reveal all the facts and history I recently discovered about Sailor Bob Smith’s wonderful little blue T, including his own story, its previous history, and the ugly, incredible tale of what became of it. But that’s somewhat convoluted and will have to wait until next time. I promise.
Instead, let’s relish the short and fun story behind that bright yellow track nose you saw hanging in my garage in the last column. Obviously it was originally attached to the equally yellow, short-coupled, throw-back track T you see above in a photo taken by Eric Rickman in the parking lot behind Petersen Publishing Co. at 5959 Hollywood Blvd. in 1963. Like most anything connected with my long-time good friend Dave Williams, there’s a fun story attached to it.
Stan Betz’ Speed and Color shop, in a small brick building in a downtown Anaheim, CA, that no longer exists, was pretty much the nexus of hot rodding in that part of Orange County in the ’50s and ’60s. Stanley’s primary talent, of course, was mixing and matching paint colors for hot rodders, customizers, and all the body shops within delivery range. The “Speed” part of the business consisted primarily in punching louvers in at least two sizes with a couple of foot-operated presses. He also carried hubcaps and other chrome accessories, sometimes with louvers punched in them as well.
Stan was Dick Kraft’s uncle (or vice-versa, I can never remember; they were both the same age), and Krafty knew everybody and was always building something with friends like Art Ingels or Marvin Webb. Betz was good friends with Von Dutch. Chuck Potvin’s cam/blower shop was just down the main street. Even Dave’s Dad’s sporting goods store was around the corner. And his house was a couple blocks away, across the park.
So little Davey Williams kind of grew up hanging around Betz’ shop. At age 10, since Stanley only had one leg, Dave’s job was to jump on the louver press foot pedal when Stan got the hood lined up. These are true stories. I don’t doubt Dave.
So let’s get right to the story of the day Dave decided to get his T roadster in Hot Rod magazine. This wasn’t the first rod Dave had built, by any means. As soon as I can find it, I’ll show you a picture of the tall-top, Cragar-powered, straight-pipe T drag coupe he drove to high school one day. And one of the best stories in my Von Dutch book is Dave relating the day Betz took him to Dutch’s to get his orange Model A coupe pinstriped.
I never bothered to ask Dave where and how he built this short-wheelbase, dirt-track-tired (and inspired) yellow T roadster just a couple years out of high school, but with its bent-spoke Kelsey wires, filled-and-drilled radius rods, and especially the upswept chromed side pipes (made from Model A driveshaft tubes), it is definitely built in the Dick Kraft style. It was his only transportation at the time. And as the name colorfully painted on the sides (by Eldon “Snappy” Snapp) indicates, its–and Dave’s–daily job was delivering Betz paint to shops all over town.
But in 1963, this isn’t what any T roadster hot rods looked like. Track Ts had been replaced by sprint cars for more than a decade. And T-bucket street rods were, well, nothing like this. And there was nothing quite like this in Hot Rod magazine at the time. That’s what motivated Dave, one chilly December California morning, to announce, “Let’s go get this thing in Hot Rod magazine!” So he and buddy Tom Ulrich jumped in the roadster and headed toward Hollywood, some 50 miles away.
Of course that was not the recommended way to get your car in a magazine–to just drive up to the door and tell someone, “Hey, you should put this car in your magazine!” But that was the loose plan. Now you have to understand that these guys were 19 or 20 at the time, and Dave was the type (in those days) who needed a little “fortification” for such an adventure. So their first stop was the old San Antonio Winery, just off Main St. near downtown L.A., where they proceeded to do a bit of wine tasting. Actually, as Dave put it, “We got completely shitfaced.” Check the photos to see. Next, since there were some oil fields nearby at the time, they couldn’t resist driving the T out and spinning some donuts, especially on the slippery, oily surface. Then they proceeded to Hollywood Bl., found the 5959 building, drove around to the large parking lot in the back, went in through the back door, found someone from Hot Rod magazine, and made their announcement. Surprisingly, this sort of thing actually worked, on more than one occasion, in those days. In fact, quite a few feature cars have been photographed in that parking lot, next to that concrete brick wall. You might recognize it.
Whoever they talked to called Eric Rickman to go out and take a look at these kids’ car. Well, it just happens that this type of roadster brought back fond memories for Rick, because he got his start photographing these cars on dirt tracks in Oakland in the late ’40s. Trouble was, it was now splattered with oily dirt from their recent off-roading, so Rick pointed to a hose in the corner with a nozzle, and told them to clean the car up while he went to get his camera and big strobe since it was a gray winter day.
Apparently our still-inebriated boys weren’t doing a very good job and Rick, being a gruff type, told them so. “Then he got really mad when I squirted him with the hose,” Dave told me. “While he was holding his big camera and flash?” I asked. “Yeah. Why, would that hurt it?” he replied. So I think it’s quite amazing that (A) the car actually got clean, (B) Rick was able to shoot a full feature on it, using two rolls of 2-1/4 film, and (C) it even made it as a 2-page feature in the Roto Section of the Feb. ’64 issue of Hot Rod, titled “It Is Too A Street Roadster!” For everyone involved it was just slightly unbelievable–but true.
Some specs on the car: The frame and cross-springs are model A. The body was Cal-Automotive ‘glass, and the ‘glass nose was of unknown origin. The engine was a ’56 Chevy 265 with a Duntov cam, Spalding Du-Coil ignition, and of course hand-built headers and pipes. It had a Powerglide trans and an F-100 rear. While Hot Rod noted the car “is yet to get the upholstery treatment,” I think Dave considered the plywood floor and ‘glass buckets as “done.” Of course chrome was nearly non-existent, other than the pipes. But drilling holes was free, and Dave drilled everywhere, from the steering column and Bell wheel, to the Moon foot pedal, to the early dropped axle and backing plates, to the radius rods and their brackets. Large taillights showed through the holes in the turtle deck. And square roll bars weren’t relegated to the East Coast.
Seen here at a drive-in swap meet amid ’50s cars, this was Dave’s daily driver for a number of years. He and his wife Sue even drove it on their honeymoon to Yosemite and Reno, luggage strapped on the turtle deck. By then a T grille replaced the track nose, the car was painted metallic blue, and it had a 3-71 blower on the small Chevy. When I first met Dave in the early ’70s, the still-yellow nose was hanging high on the wall of his red barn shop, and the little blown Chevy was sitting in a corner. Whatever became of the rest of the car I have no idea, and I’ve never thought to ask. Long gone. Scattered pieces. More T Tales next time.