In life, there are roots, and hot rodding has roots of its own. Dean Batchelor, in his book, The All American Hot Rod, says, "First, there was George Wight, then Lee Chapel, then Karl Orr, and then everyone got into the act." In 1923, George Wight established an auto wrecking yard, at 3633 East Gage Ave. in the city of Bell near southeast Los Angeles, called Bell Auto Parts. George died in 1943, and his widow kept the doors open throughout the war. Next up was Roy Richter and his involvement with Bell Auto Parts. Roy took over, and his accomplishments and those of Bell Auto Parts are legendary.
We spoke with Don Small, owner of the Bell Auto Parts (http://bellautoparts.com) trademark and an early racing history aficionado who has his hands on a piece of history-even if it is a recreation to something that never was but could have been.
Shown here is the Bell Auto Parts '33 Ford roadster, sans fenders, representing the type of car that was built to race in the '34 Mines Field Gilmore Gold Cup road race, sponsored by Gilmore Oil. The series began in 1933, where they raced in Elgin, Illinois, and Mines Field (LAX), Legion Ascot (Alhambra), and Oakland in 1934. According to history, none of the original roadsters exist today. Interestingly, most of the cars were supplied by local Ford dealers and were then resold as "low mileage demos" after the races. After qualifying, the 28 stockers were taken to hangers and the complete drivetrain-engine, transmission, and rearend-was disassembled for inspection by the AAA, the sanctioning body. These cars were totally stock, but the headlights, windshields, bumpers, and fenders could be removed. Of the 28 entries, three were '32 Fords, five were '33 Fords, and 13 were '34 Fords.
Those of you old enough, or well-versed in your early hot rod history, should remember the Gilmore Gold Cup race. The event was covered in the Mar. and Apr. '51 issues of Hot Rod (note: seventeen years after the event occurred!). The now-famous photo of the roadsters parading down Broadway to publicize the event appeared on the Mar. '51 Hot Rod cover.
According to Don, "There was no number 11 in the race and no Bell Auto Parts entry. This is simply what might have been, and it is a tribute to Roy Richter and Bell Auto Parts." We agree.
Unlike many of the cars that appear on the pages of Street Rodder, there generally is a list with a lot of modifications, but that isn't the case here. The cars had to be stock to compete, but in keeping with the hot rod flavor of today's climate and coverage on the pages of SRM, we just couldn't resist bringing you this roadster. While immensely stock, there are still enough mods to make it a modern-day hot rod, and we might add a significant piece of our historic past.
Remember, it's a race car, hence the suicide-door safety latch.
Don told us how the roadster came about, and, true to hot rodding lore, this story is as good as any. He had a '33 five-window coupe and sold the body and fenders to a friend in need. In turn, he took the chassis and to it he fit a Wescott's Auto Restyling (Boring, Oregon) fiberglass '33 Ford roadster body.
The chassis is an original '33 Ford, including the front and rear suspension, Houdaille shocks, and mechanical brakes-remember, Ford didn't go hydraulic until 1939. The wires are 17-inch Ford wrapped with 6.50 vintage knobbies. The motor, while a vintage 24-stud Flathead, is a 221-inch '41 Ford with a Stromberg 94. In the day, it would have been outfitted with a 21-stud Flathead and a Detroit Lubricator one-barrel carb. The engine does feature Red's headers with 12-inch glasspack mufflers. The tranny is a 26-tooth Zephyr assembly by Jim Gordon of Antique Ford Parts in Rosemead, California.
The stock-appearing interior is a leather LeBaron Bonney kit positioned by Don Small.
The Wescott's 'glass body is outfitted with a shortened windshield, leather safety straps for the hood, a safety pin to prevent the "suicide" doors from popping open during competition, and the piece de resistance-a glovebox door safety pin. You gotta love this part!
According to Don, the most difficult part of the project was getting the graphics just right. No decals here, all the graphic components were brushed on by Lil' Louie, out of San Bernardino, California. The bodywork was handled by Cal Tanaka, of Cal's Vintage Hammer and Kolor in Covina, California, while Brett Klaeser in Pasadena, California, sprayed the Sikkens Black single-stage paint over the skin. The plating was applied by Angel's Metal Polishing in Sun Valley, California.
The interior is stock, including the woodgrained dash, while Don redid the stock seating with a LeBaron Bonney leather kit. The carpeting is rubber mats.
We agree that while this car may not have existed in the day, it is truly representative of history, and our hats are off to Don for making a piece of history where none existed.
Editor's Note: If you want to know more about the influence Roy Richter and Bell Auto Parts had on the beginnings of hot rodding, and racing in general, there is a great book (wish I had a copy) written by Art Bagnall and Roy Richter called Striving for Excellence. It is out of print, so grab it if you find a copy. There is another book that chronicles many of the important individuals who made SoCal the hub of racing in the early days, also touching on Los Angeles' impact on racing, and it's called City of Speed: Los Angeles and the Rise of American Racing, by Joe Scalzo. To purchase a copy, call Motorbooks at (800) 826-6600, or visit www.mbipublishing.com.