I only did a tiny rant last time. I held most of it in, so to speak. My plan was to let ‘er rip this week. But you know what? We’ve had enough negativity this past year, and I don’t really want to add to that. My beef, as reflected in the title, is that the Antique Nationals–i.e., nostalgia–aint’ what it used to be. If it weren’t so personally painful, it’d actually be funny. They, and similar current nostalgia drag events, won’t let my historic vintage dragster run down the track because it’s too vintage, too antique! How ironic. If it were obviously unsafe like the dragsters I showed last time, I’d understand. But it’s not. Neither was Chrisman’s Hustler I. But once I calmed down, I realized that the two tracks that most rudely ejected and banned me, Famoso and “Fontana,” are both sponsored by AAA, an insurance company. So more rules, more cost, more hassle, far fewer participants.
This year would have been the 50th Annual Antique Nationals, of course cancelled by Covid. I have to admit I didn’t miss it, and haven’t been the last couple of years. But this used to be one of those once-a-year car events nobody missed, especially if you were into hot rod history–like the L.A. Roadster Show, Old Timers’ Night in Boston, Vintage Night at Ascot, or the first Hot Rod Reunions at Bakersfield and Bowling Green. My memory seems to differ a bit from the official website, but the Antique Nats has definitely outlived four tracks here in SoCal. It started as the Bonnie & Clyde–or “999”–Drags at Lions. Then a small club (about 20 members) dedicated to Model T, A, B, and C Ford engines, Four-Ever-Four, founded the Antique Nationals at Irwindale (I think), in 1970. This was open to ’34 and earlier vehicles only. But soon they included pre-’49 models as long as they ran ’48 and earlier-style engines. This included any Ford flathead V8s, and Chevy/GMC sixes through ’62, so my old ’48 Chevy bomb qualified, and I raced it every year, starting in Irwindale ’til it closed in ’77, then to Orange County (OCIR) ’til it closed in ’83, then to Palmdale until it closed in ’07, thence to “Auto Club Raceway” in Fontana. I am very proud to say I won my class (Inliners) four times, with a special trophy shelf for my four engraved mugs. But perhaps even more prestigious are the special T-shirts with “WINNER” and the year in big letters under the usual logo. You can’t get one unless you win. I’m saving the three I have left because I wore one completely out.
So, to the point of this column: as I was searching my files for dangerous dragsters last time, in a binder of color slides marked “Nostalgia Drags” I came across this hoard of photos identified as “Antique Nationals ’04.” The first thing that got my attention was the number of photos (106 in all), but more striking was the number of cars that were in them. This wasn’t the heyday of the Antique Nats, by any means. The biggest and best meets were at Irwindale and OCIR in the ’70s and ’80s. But I had forgotten that Palmdale, even as recently as ’04, could draw this kind of crowd. All the cars you see in the photo above are lined up in the several staging lanes, waiting to race. I can’t tell you much about the car in the foreground, but it has a new, handmade 2-seat body on an Indy-style chassis, with Buffalo wire wheels, a Whippet grille, and some sort of 4-banger running two updraft carbs. But look at all those other cars, all of which appear to be pre-’49s.
You have to understand Palmdale was the drag strip of last resort in SoCal. It was in the desert. It was very hot, and there was no shade anywhere. The one plus was that the staging lanes and most of the pits were paved, but the rest was surrounded by sand, which constantly blew across the track. It was also a full 1/4-mile. But it was built in the ’50s and still looked that way. But worst of all it was at 3000 ft. elevation, which added more than half a second to your E.T.–if you retuned your car accordingly. But it wasn’t an NHRA track. Tech was minimal, and so was the entry fee. Vintage was fine. Everybody participated and had fun. And nobody ever got hurt, as far as I know.
Roadsters required a helmet. That was about it. If you wanted to run a stripped-down, stone-stock, rusty Model A, fine. Fun was more important than fast. But look at the variety just in this one line.
What is this thing? Couldn’t rightly tell you. It has a flathead V8, what appears to be a handmade body, a rollbar, and a 3-spring chassis I can’t identify. But it looks fun and plenty safe. Plus–again–dig all the rods in the background.
But don’t think this thing was just a jalopy derby, by any means. This sprinter with a Milller-style nose and Franklin front axle was a handmade thing of beauty. I don’t know what sort of 4-banger it had, and I probably know the owner. But I wasn’t taking notes–just pictures. The rare Woodlights would indicate it might have been licensed for street, too. Plus, besides cars–look at all the people back there.
Kay Sissell restored two of his ’60s record-setting GMC six-cylinder T’s just for this type of events. One was a 12-port, but this is the stock-head, running Weber carbs. Painted candy tangerine, both were beautiful, and fast.
A mid-13 E.T. sounds slow today, but it’s actually pretty quick for a street rod, especially at Palmdale. These two are dialed about the same, but the coupe runs a 4-carb Chrysler Hemi, while the roadster has a pretty hot Ford straight six. Check the yellow windows in the chopped coupe.
This car appears to be a candy purple, mildly channeled Model A with a Deuce shell, running a highly polished Riley 4-Port F-head on a B or C Ford block, with a pair of 97s, all reflected in the chrome firewall. Nice piece.
Sure the Bean Bandits were there, in their yellow shirts, showing off their yellow dragster that not only won the first NHRA drags at Pomona in 1953, but also graced the Feb. ’53 Hot Rod cover. Knowing these guys and their parts stashes, at least some of this had to be the original car. I don’t remember it running that day, but it certainly could have.
Vintage motorcycles used to be a staple at the Antique Nats (just as they were at the original Santa Ana drags), such as this candy apple red panhead Harley with a chrome springer front and a hardtail, bobber rear. Another staple was a gaggle of Whizzer bikes, some of which were surprisingly hopped up. You’ll note a ’50 Ford in the background. By this time they were allowing pre-’55 vehicles; not sure what the engine cut-off was.
In The Rodder’s Journal No. 26 in ’04 they only gave one page to this event, with seven photos. In the short copy I said, “…I’m happy to announce, both with the proliferation of repro speed parts for these old engines and the swelling ranks of new, younger rodders who are into this old stuff, the Antique Nationals are alive and well once again.” Under this particular photo, as a caption I wrote: “Some competitors go for that early Santa Ana look, where edgy was in. In this day of ever-increasingly stringent NHRA specs at most tracks, it’s refreshingly laid-back at the Antique Nats. It’s pretty much run-whatcha-brung, as long as it’s not downright dangerous. And cars like this just don’t go fast enough to get in much trouble anyway.”
If you asked what this was, I’d say “A self-portrait.” Otherwise, I don’t know. It’s a two-place roadster of some sort. The tilt-up T wheel says it’s pretty old. But the number of mirrors point to road racing. It’s got plenty of early S-W gauges, plenty of nice workmanship, and was running quarter miles at the Antique Nats. Actually, I think it’s the dash of the bare-metal car seen in the first photo.
Although it’s still run by the small Four-Ever-Four club, you always saw all sorts of flathead V8s running there. This mild, but very nicely detailed 2-carb 8BA was racing in an equally nice hiboy ’27 T street roadster.
And you’ll see early Ford V8s from mild to about as wild as you can get. You can buy repro Ardun Hemis today, but in ’04 you had to scrounge the real, rare thing. Then plop a Jimmy blower on it with Hilborn injectors, put it in a front-engine rail, and pray that those three main bearings can carry the load. This Dragmaster-style digger was carrying the front wheels on every run.
Talk about carrying the wheels, Bill Lazarus’ beautiful “Antique Doll” was at every Antique Nats I can remember. With a Hilborn-injected flatty in a historic Scotty Fenn TE 440 chassis, it was adept at performing impressive wheelstands off the line. Despite the extra rollbar he added to cover his helmet, and a parachute, at the more recent event where I got ejected after one pass, the tech guys decided this well-built, well-equipped piece of history wasn’t safe enough to run, and sent him home.
The 4-Ever-4 club was founded on old inline engines. Porsche and VWs ran flat fours. But have you ever seen a Square Four? Yep, that’s what this is. The British Arial Motorcycle Co. made them from ’31 through ’59, but they’re plenty rare. The only place I’ve seen them is at the Antique Nats. They sound pretty good, too.
Diana Branch was just starting on her wicked chopped ’32 sedan back in ’04, but you’ll note how far she’s jumped her competition on this run. Her daughter Dalia (who sells lemonade from her stand at Bonneville) wasn’t even born at this point. But she’s a fierce competitor who’s driven just about everything, a rod-builder, a good mother (and wife), and even a great rod run organizer. I’d call her the Veda Orr of the new millenium.
Two cool shorts sittin’ side-by-side…. Check the Z-ed frame on the Y-Block-powered one in front. Not to mention the bullet holes in the ventilated door. The bright green engine is about the only S.B. Chev I saw there. But one thing you’d never see at the Antique Nats–at least in its halcyon days–is a Mouse Motor cowering under some fake Olds, Buick, or Hemi valve covers.
Speaking of valve covers…. Harry Miller designed and built some of Indy-racing’s most beautiful, most intricate, and most successful race cars, as well as–with Leo Goosen–its most iconic engines. Trouble was, he wasn’t as good at selling as he was at designing. So I figure it was brief business partner Schofield who put all the advertising on the valve cover of the Miller-Schofield OHV head for Model A & B Fords. Unfortunately that didn’t work, either, so they sold it to Bell Auto Parts, where it became much more successful as the Cragar head.
Just to prove to your wife, mother, or neighbors that all the “junk” scattered in your backyard, behind the garage, or wherever, isn’t really junk, but rather treasured early Ford parts, several cars like this have been bolted together in a matter of days to compete at an Antique Nationals. It may look ratty, but there are some nice pieces there, pretty neatly assembled. And I’m sure it was plenty of fun bombing down the track, listening to those banger straight pipes.
Going from one extreme to another–more or less–here’s another lakes modified inspired single seater finished in gleaming black lacquer, with a Whippet grille and headlights, much like the narrowed ’27 T roadster behind him. Remember, this was 16 years ago. I can’t help but wonder, where have all these cool cars gone?
Okay, how many can guess what this is? If you say it looks like half a Pontiac V8, you’re absolutely right. It was a typical Detroit decision when Pontiac entered the new compact car wars of the early ’60s–“We need a little 4-cylinder. Hey, let’s cut our V8 in half!” Of course it took all the V8 speed parts, like the Hilborn injectors seen here on a small, light, rear-engine dragster. Mickey Thompson put a small GMC blower on one to set drag and B-ville records, then even cut one in half again to make a screaming 2-cylinder.
I just like this photo. A well-tatted lady in a checkerboard shirt pulling a gate-job off the line in her tri-power Y-block-powered, bright yellow, half-finished chopped and channeled ’34 sedan. And looking calm and collected while doing it.
Ed Winfield was best known for his racing carbs and cams, but did you know he made High-compression heads for Model A’s and B’s? His ‘Red Head,” with the highest compression, was the most popular. But since this one is polished aluminum, it might be a repop. It’s beautiful workmanship, and it’s in one of the two black modifieds I’ve already shown.
Now this is exactly what the Four-Ever-Four guys had in mind. I think the Backyard Bones team in the foreground has a Cragar head on their twin-carb banger, while the Mancillas Bros. run a turbo and 4-barrel on theirs. The Mancillas family were founding members of the 4-Ever club, and their front-engine dragster running two Model A engines in line is one of the legends of this meet.
Yes, take a second look at this photo. That’s the intent. Don’t miss the little mascot on top. Hey, there are no heros at these types of events. It all done for fun.
And while guys like Gommi personify the best of old school rodding–which is what Antique and Vintage meets are all about–it is truly heartening to see young guys like these building their own versions of vintage rods and customs (with still readily available low-buck pieces) and obviously having plenty of fun doing it. Further, if today’s dwindling NHRA/lawyer/insurance controlled tracks won’t let these kinds of cars run anymore, it’s just as heartening to see alternative tracks currently proliferating across the country, whether it’s on remaining vintage strips, abandoned airbases, beaches, landing strips on private property, or even blocked-off city streets that have been holding some well-organized and well-attended meets for these vintage or antique machines. I just bought a new trailer, and as soon as we beat this crappy Covid, I’m ready to roll. See you out there.