When dry lakes racing was still in its infancy during the '30s and '40s, most lakes racers didn't concern themselves with chrome parts (though some cars had some) or nice paintjobs (there were only a few with great paint schemes). Call them purpose-built, or an example of form following function, but race cars generally don't have to be pretty, they just have to go fast.
A '64 Chevrolet 194-inch inline-six...
A '64 Chevrolet 194-inch inline-six occupies the engine compartment, backed to a 4L60E transmission that came from Gearstar. Rather than a standard dual-97 carb setup, Kirk Jones went with triple side-draft Weber 45 DCOE carbs to feed the engine, which is equipped with a Clifford intake manifold dialed in by Pierce Manifolds. Other goodies include a PerTronix Flame Thrower ignition, a Griffin radiator, and an UltraMini East Coast Auto Electric alternator. An Offenhauser valve cover tops the motor, and exhaust exits through a single header fabbed by Seret Customs.
You can find examples of those incredible race cars built 60 and 70 years ago in several fine books written by Don Montgomery, as well as Robert Genat's The Birth of Hot Rodding, and you can literally spend hours absorbing the design and feel of those cars, which is exactly what happened with Kirk Jones.
Kirk, known to most as the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Goodguys Goodtimes Gazette (the monthly publication for members of the Goodguys Association), has been around hot rodding all his life. At 41, he's not only built 30 or so cars in his time (with one, a blue panel 'n' lace '60 Starliner, that was featured on the cover of Rodder's Journal), but in 1997 he, with Jay Ward, started Billetproof, the car show devoted to pre-'65 traditional rods and customs (the popular events are now held in four states).
It would be safe to say Kirk lives and breathes hot rods and, because his day job allows him to be immersed in what he loves, certain opportunities (such as locating a special car) crop up from time to time, akin to how a telephone company lineman knows where all the cool cars are located because he can see into everyone's backyard. STREET RODDER asked Kirk how his current ride came about, and the following is what he told us: "My modified yearnings started with another project. And, like many hot rod projects, it stalled as I became somewhat disinterested and distracted. It's not that I didn't like the direction it was going or what I'd accomplished so far, I just had so many other things taking priority that it lost its 'spark'. I'd see it sitting there in my garage and think about how much I had left to do. Most of the big stuff was pretty much done, but when I would stand there in front of it, ready to make some progress, I would convince myself that the amount of little stuff was just too large a hill to start climbing on that particular day and then get distracted by something else.
Express Auto Upholstery (Vallejo,...
Express Auto Upholstery (Vallejo, CA) stitched up the bucket seat for the car, and also created the nifty door pockets for the sides as well as the tie-down straps for the external gas tank.
"Enter Matt Seret from Seret Speed & Custom in Vallejo, California. We are both avid fans of hot rodding's history, especially early dry lakes and Bonneville racing (i.e. 'real' hot rods). We often talk about the garage-grown craftsmanship in the old photos we crowd around in books like The Birth of Hot Rodding-endlessly pointing to various details on each car and appreciating the grassroots ingenuity oozing from all of them.
"Some were works of art with obvious thought given to proportion and flow of design, while others were just down-right ugly train wrecks that were only rough skins over the roaring guts barely hidden beneath. Either way, they were primarily an example of the form-following-function concept, fueled by raw creativity and educated guesswork. You could say these guys were pushing the envelope, but there was no envelope at the time. If anything, they were creating the envelope, then bursting through it every step of the way.
"Seret, like many rodders, has far more ideas than he can ever execute. One of those ideas-a '27 Nash two-door sedan-caught my eye sometime ago collecting dust in the corner of his shop. David Perry (hot rod photographer extraordinaire) was going to use Seret's character-filled shop as a backdrop for shooting some girls and hot rods, and Seret got a wild hair a few days before and decided to cut the hulking two-door sedan down to a single-seater, offering it up as a possible prop. The funky little body didn't make it in any of the photos and was subsequently relegated to the dusty corner I mentioned earlier.
The steering wheel came from...
The steering wheel came from a '37 Chevrolet, while the gauge (which was originally a 3,000-rpm tach for marine applications) was reworked to read to 6,000 rpm when it was converted to electronic innards. Kirk learned how to acid-etch brass, and designed and made his own gauge insert. (The mini inserts to each side of the gauge are for the ignition and headlight switches).
He also collects vintage "lucky...
He also collects vintage "lucky tokens"-the kind from a world's fair-and used one to top the shift knob, which he whittled up on his home lathe.
Aftermarket header tape wraps...
Aftermarket header tape wraps the single side exhaust tube that runs down the left side of the vehicle in an effort to keep the arm burning to a minimum.
Parts for the E&J-type headlight...
Parts for the E&J-type headlight came from multiple sources, with Kirk making up his own LaVey-Crowley badge for them.
"Time passed and the lonely body sat. Each time I visited Seret's shop I'd mention that he should build something out of it. It looked cool just sitting there. Usually, during that same type of conversation, he would prod me to finish my DeSoto modified. This happened many times until Seret replied to my prodding with, 'Why don't you build the Nash?' I paused, but then kind of brushed it off.
"Sometime later the subject came up yet again. We discussed it further and volleyed the idea of combining the two stalled projects into one lakes/road race-inspired, single-seat hot rod. Design elements would be an aluminum nose and hood, one-off frame, full belly pan, spoke wheels, inline six, banjo rearend ... you get the idea.
"I was still a little skeptical (mostly of the idea of a single-seater) until Seret worked up a quick sketch of our combined ideas. I was now convinced. It gave me the spark I needed-the same one I got from looking at all those old pictures. The decision was made to gut my DeSoto and essentially start over. The build was on!
"We worked as a team three nights a week plus Saturdays for a little over a year. I took on the heavier-handed stuff like the chassis and suspension, while Seret's skills as an accomplished metal shaper shone through on the difficult compound-curve aluminum body panels formed from scratch. Add to that the one-off grille, a full belly pan, and 200-plus louvers and you can begin to really see what Seret is capable of. A check of Seret's website (www.seretcustoms.com) reveals he is not afraid of tackling any type of project, from hand-hammered aluminum hood blisters to reworking a vintage mid-engine crackerbox race boat.
"Being at swap meets nearly every weekend of the year, I kept finding parts I thought would be right for the car. Some of these parts leaned toward the unusual, such as the '51 Stewart-Warner marine gauge, which started out as a mechanical 3,000-rpm tach. It was reworked to be electronic and read up to 6,000 rpm. Other odd parts include the Bakelite rotary switches, the unknown sprint car steering box, and LaVey-Crowley headlights.
"Pre-existing parts filled the bill for some of our needs, but more often than not we had to create what we needed, and that can be seen from pretty much every angle on the car. From the one-off full-length exhaust to the fuel tank mounts and the unique etched brass dash inserts, if the question is, 'What on the car is scratch-built?' the answer is 'most of it'."
The modified made its debut at the L.A. Roadster Show in 2010, though not in the manner Kirk was hoping for. Having been invited to park in a special area, Kirk and car arrived a little late to the festivities only to have the thermostat stick shut while he was driving through the show's entrance, which caused the water to overheat and blow a hose, which blew coolant out the louvers, covering Kirk in the process.
It was an easy fix, and he's been able to enjoy his ride since, and has attended a few Goodguys shows as a participant (he even picked up a STREET RODDER Top 100 award at the Goodguys Pleasanton show last August). He plans for this summer to include a 2,500-mile trip that will take him through Washington State to two Goodguys show, the HotRod-A-Rama, to Bonneville, and back to the Goodguys West Coast Nationals in Pleasanton. Taken in a one-man modified, that should be quite a trip!
Armstrong lever-action shocks...
Armstrong lever-action shocks came on a variety of '50s-era European sports cars such as the MG.
A brass butterfly wing gas...
A brass butterfly wing gas cap came with the aftermarket tank from The Hot Rod Company, but Kirk semi-polished it to give it a vintage look.
The sight gauge on the fuel...
The sight gauge on the fuel tank is a military surplus item-one of many cool parts Kirk has collected over the years.