This was going to be a relatively simple update to three previous stories. Then I got one big surprise. And from there things started to multiply and intertwine in further surprising ways. Read on and see.
Let’s start with the simplest one. Keith Burgan of Brownburg, IN, was the first of several readers who wrote to say that George Montgomery’s first Gasser, the Pastoral Blue ’34 coupe with the big Cad engine was now on display (and is property of) the Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Fl.
Keith knew that Ed Becker of Lafayette, IN, had been able to talk George out of the car for $3500 cash around 1973, drove it to his heated garage, and stored it there, untouched, for 31 years. Keith contacted Don Garlits, and let him know the car was there. But somebody else sent me an article from Hemmings Muscle Machines Magazine, Nov. 2011, which has further info, and quotes Garlits:
“Ed had only driven the car once, to his shop, and parked it because it dropped a valve during the ride–he must have over-revved the engine! The coupe was then stored in his heated garage for more than 30 years. I tried to buy it, but Ed refused to sell, saying he was too attached to the car.”
Garlits kept calling for ten years, and Becker finally relented in 2004. Don said he rebuilt the brakes, got the engine running properly (apparently it wasn’t damaged) and added the correct wheels and tires. As you can see, it still has the Paxton blower with a side scoop in the hood, and Garlits says it runs strong and sounds very healthy. The upholstery and everything else on the car is still original and in excellent condition. The only thing he had to redo was the paint on the front fenders and hood because of track-use wear and chips. Unfortunately they didn’t quite match it to the slightly faded older paint. But it has now been in the Garlits museum some 15 years, and I highly recommend you go see it–and all the other great stuff there.
Next up, my good buddy Dave Williams, whose time-warp track-nose T I showed in Tale of a T in the June 15 column. In that story I mentioned the funky Cragar T coupe he built in high school, as well as later renditions of the roadster, lamenting that I couldn’t find photos I thought I had. Well, I still can’t find the photos, so I copied them out of one of his Low Buck Tools catalogs. The photos aren’t great, but I think the images are.
This is the only photo of the coupe that exists. Obviously built for the drags, and probably seen here at the San Gabriel track, it had a single seat, roll cage, Model A frame, and a Model B 4-banger with a Cragar OHV head, 2 Strombergs, and very straight pipes. It also has Betz louvers, large and small, not to mention a Betz cast aluminum wind-up key on the front. He said it turned 92 mph in the quarter very consistently, and he even drove it a few blocks from his house to Anaheim High–once. This would have been about 1960, and I love this kind of car!
Now here’s the first surprise. If you have my Von Dutch book, you know it starts with a long, amazing, nearly incredulous story told by Dave about the day Stan Betz took him down to Dutch’s shop somewhere near Venice Beach to get his full-fendered, bright orange, Cragar-powered Model A coupe pinstriped. This was a street coupe and, very unfortunately, no photos of it exist. I called Dave yesterday just to make sure. Then I asked if the Cragar in the A was the same one that was in this T. He had to think about it for a minute, then said, “Yes, it was.” So I asked whatever became of the A, and he immediately replied, “It became the T roadster.” Further, “I took the body off and stood it on its nose against the wall behind my parents’ house, along with the fenders (all Von Dutch striped, of course), and installed the T roadster body, along with a Corvette 265 Chevy.” I had no idea the A coupe became the T roadster. He said, “Some guy from Ohio or somewhere eventually bought the A body and took it back there.”
So this is what the T looked like a couple years later after Dave swapped the track nose for a T grille, added a 3-71 blower to the Chevy, and painted it (I think) metallic red. It’s also the day Dave and his new wife Sue–both still smiling–returned from their honeymoon trip from Anaheim all the way to Reno and back. The next photo is at least a couple years later, because Sue is holding one of their two kids, Tracy or Rob.You can see the chassis has been lengthened (Dave said he built a whole new frame), it has a set of chrome Chrysler wire wheels(Dave: “Those were expensive!”), and I think the color was metallic blue. When I met Dave in his red barn shop in ’74, the yellow track nose was hanging high on a wall and the 3-71 blown Chevy sat in a corner. The T was “Just gone.”
But this led to a much bigger surprise. Which then multiplied.
It starts with a short email from Bruce “Doc” Glen, who now lives in Grants Pass, OR. The first thing he said was that he was a friend of Dave Williams, from several years back when he lived in the same Placentia/Fullerton area of SoCal as Dave at that time. That’s why he wrote. Then he said, “I’m the guy who won the giveaway roadster at the 2nd L.A. Roadsters Show in ’61.” Whoa! What??
Paul Chamberlain is the former L.A. Roadsters member who owned the little, black, flathead-powered ’29 before it was auctioned off. And as I have mentioned a few times, he lives just a few houses up the street from me. I’ve known him more than 30 years now. And I’ve known of that roadster much longer. That’s why I was surprised to find photos of it in my archive, racing at the Pomona drags in the early ’50s. See, as well-known as that unique roadster was during Paul’s few years of cruising with the Roadsters (including a Hot Rod magazine feature), he never knew who built it, nor where it went after the auction.
So I did a column on Sept. 17, ’19 titled Mystery Model A 1953. Check it out. But we still didn’t know the owner/builder. That information was subsequently supplied by Tom Branch, who identified “Topper,” and I told that story in Jan. 21, ’20 in Demystifying the Model A. But still no clues–nor sightings–of the roadster after the giveaway. All Paul knew was that he got $1500 for it, the club lost money on the auction, and Paul heard rumors that the car got totaled by an L.A. city bus.
Of course I wrote Doc back immediately asking (1) “Do you have any photos?” and (2) “What became of it?” Here’s the short story.
Doc was 17 and just graduated from Fullerton High. One of his buddies had a nice ’29 roadster pickup with an Olds engine that he wanted to enter in the Roadster Show, so four friends piled in and drove to the Hollywood Bowl. The two guys in front got tickets with their show entry, but Doc and the other guy in the bed had to buy tickets at something like $2 each. That was the only ticket he had, and it had the winning number.
As you can see, he did have a few photos, taken when he first got the car. But he didn’t have it long.
Doc already had a ’29 A pickup in the garage that he was just starting to build. He said insurance on the nice new roadster was too high, and he needed money to complete the pickup the way he wanted. So within six months he sold the roadster for $1500 to a “car buddy” from Fullerton High named Tom Cline.
Carbon Canyon Road is a winding 2-lane that runs for several miles through the hills between Fullerton and Chino. About a month after buying the car, Cline and his car club were heading east in Carbon Canyon on a poker run. By coincidence, another club was heading west, and nobody was driving slowly. Doc’s initial version was that Cline hit an oncoming car head-on, totalling the roadster. My response was, “If he hit anything head-on in that roadster enough to total it, he’d be dead.” Doc said he didn’t see it, but he understood the cars hit left front wheels, enough to wipe out the front end and left frame, doing enough damage to declare the car a total. Cline stored the remains in a friend’s barn, then took a one-way trip to Vietnam. After a year the friend sold the well-damaged roadster to “some Asian guy from downtown L.A,” and it’s never been seen or heard of since.
But don’t think that’s the end of the story. Of course not.
Let’s continue with Doc Glen’s ’29 pickup. He not only used the proceeds from the roadster, but also considerable skills, to finish it himself in his garage, to the point that it was featured on two pages in the June ’65 issue of Rod & Custom.
It was titled “One Man Show,” because he did everything on it himself, including the lemon yellow and black lacquer, not to mention the 327 and 4-speed. He admitted to me that his mother sewed the tuck-and-roll inside. Plus he said he initially had it on a rake. But by this time it had the new hot rod look with nosebleed stance, 5-spoke mags, skinny Blue Streaks in front and wide tires sticking out the back. You’ll see more of this in a minute. But it took awhile for me to realize what a radical shift rodding had taken between ’61 when he had sold a flathead-powered, ’50s-built, dropped axle fenderless roadster, and built this, dual-quad Vette engine, 4-speed and all. You have to remember that there were no retro-rods then. When styles changed, as they did radically in ’62-’63, you either updated your car or it was outdated. That black roadster was outdated, which is one more reason it wasn’t rebuilt, or seen again.
But there’s more, as the title promised.
It turns out Doc and Dave Williams not only knew each other, but they had a mutual Fullerton hot rod friend, Bud Lakeman. Bud currently operates a large fabrication and rod-building shop in Fullerton where he not only crafts AMBR-contending cars, but also outfits John Force’s team cross-country trucks. But if you look back through my past columns to one titled Feature Story you will see a couple photos of a candy apple red, highly chromed and polished T Bucket built and owned by Bud Lakeman that was featured in the March ’60 issue of Hot Rod magazine. “I painted the candy apple on that car,” says Doc, “Right in Bud’s garage. It was my first paint job.” Then Doc said, “Yeah, and both of our cars were in the movie “Village of the Giants.” Egads. This could be a whole story in itself.
Here’s a photo Doc sent me, taken on the back lot of what was then the Columbia studios in Burbank. With the owners standing in front, the cars are Bud Lakeman’s candy red T (now with 4-71 blower), Chris Knudson’s ’31 Vicky, Doc’s A pickup, and Jack Robert’s 5-window Deuce. And these are only half of the hot rods seen in the movie, albeit very briefly.
What can I say about this 1965 film? It’s one of the worst I’ve ever seen, kind of a cross between Beach Party and Attack of the Giant Woman. A group of wild, scantily clad, go-go dancing teens led by Beau Bridges and Joy Harmon (she of the infamous car-washing scene in “Cool Hand Luke”) eat some “goo” cooked up by young Ronnie Howard, grow to 30 feet tall, and decide to take over a small town.The clean-cut teens of the town, led by Tommy Kirk and “Cowboy” Johnny Crawford decide to fight back, and–besides “David” Tommy Kirk slinging stones at “Goliath” Beau Bridges–this is where the hot rods come in. In the photo at left that’s Cowboy Crawford twirling a lasso to “rope” giant Bridges after a girl on a Honda 50 spins around his feet with another rope, binding his ankles until he falls down. That’s about the time these other hot rods come screeching around the corner, led by Jack Smith’s very jacked-up, Pontiac-powered Model A coupe (for some reason missing its Moon tank–the mounts are there). That of course is Doc’s A pickup next to him. The part that is driving me crazy is that in my aging brain I can see this pretty outrageous A, with another similar rod, in a very similar setting, but with two young kids with skateboards standing on the sidewalk in front, pointing at them, either on a magazine cover, or a color spread inside.
But I’ve gone through countless copies of Rod & Custom, Popular Hot Rodding, etc., and can’t find it. Maybe one of you remember where it is.
In the third photo, you can see someone holding a rope out the window of the Deuce. But these small, blurry images are literally seen on screen for only a few seconds each. They don’t have anything to do in the plot. Besides Lakeman’s T and a comical cameo by Roth’s Surfite scooting by, the only other rod involved is a Hemi-powered T with a ‘glass ’27 roadster body that instantly tilts up and flies off when they tie a rope to the back, and around giant Beau’s ankle, and try to pull him down. That’s about it. The whole thing is defused when young Opie–er, “Genius”–devises a smokey pink antidote that shrinks the giant teens back to normal size as he rides around under them on his Stingray bike. Oh yes, and if you can find a copy of this nutty film, you will recognize the town square scenes as the same Universal set used in “Back to the Future.” My final question about all this was, “How did the movie people get hold of these hot rods for the film?” Lakeman told me he had his T roadster on display at Mickey Thompson’s Winternationals car show at the Great Western Exhibit Center, when someone from the film company asked if he’d like to have it in a movie. His answer was, “Well, OK, but can I bring some of my friends, too?” Apparently the more the better. All of these cars were owned by guys from Fullerton High School, past or present. Doc Glen said, “It took them all day to get those brief shots. But we brought our girlfriends and made a fun day of it. They didn’t pay us squat. But we all got lunch.” A typical Hollywood story I’ve heard many times.
Don’t go…there’s one more. And this one amazingly brings brings the story back around once more in “small world” fashion.
Not long after the movie, Doc sold his pickup in ’66 for $1800, and entered flight school in the Navy. He got his nickname after earning a degree as a Certified Dental Technician and opened his own dental ceramics lab in 1970. But he didn’t lose the hot rod itch, or talents. So, around 1980 he decided to build a new
version of his ’29 pickup. Again, it was yellow with black fenders, running a smallblock Chevy. But rather than nosebleed, he set this one on a rake, with an ’80 Vette IRS in the back. The first 350 was outfitted with a Rayjay turbo. But the current version runs a polished Tuned Port Injection, aluminum heads, a roller cam, and “Lots of polishing.” The reason for the door signage and the cage on the back is twofold. First, beginning in the ’90s, Doc’s wife got into dog breeding, which she pursued for many years.
Second, Dave Williams just happened to have a complete, cherry, stock ’29 phonebooth pickup sitting behind his large, western-style shop in Norco, CA.
And he and Sue had a pair of especially large Rottweillers who could be very friendly, but ominous to intruders, and definitely too big to carry comfortably in a new SUV. So Dave decided to build his ’29 into an old-time Dog Catcher truck, in pure Dave Williams style. Dave and Sue started by filling spray bottles with salt water and dousing the truck every day for a couple weeks until it had an excellent patina of rust. Then Dave built the extended roof and cab on the back, complete with heavy-gauge screening.
Leaving the Model A drivetrain stock, but in perfect operating condition (plus some lowering in the front), Dave then outfitted the truck with an amazing collection of artifacts ranging from Ford script ’20s padlocks to a Wells Fargo strongbox. He drove it to lunch, along with his pals, daily, and everybody in town saw it and loved it. As did Doc Glen.
See how this story comes around, interweaves, and also surprises? It’s probably mostly coincidence. But I hope you enjoyed it.