After decades of sitting, some alterations, and restoration work, the XR-6 is still surpri
When I got out of the air force as a jet jock, Wally Parks asked me to join the staff of Hot Rod magazine. I had been involved with the NHRA from the beginning, so he knew all of my weaknesses. This was in 1957, and the Petersen Publishing offices were at 5959 Hollywood Blvd., in their second ever building (which was an old market with upstairs mezzanine offices). The entire staff at that time was Parks as editor, Bob Greene as managing editor, Ray Brock the technical guru, Eric Rickman the cameraman, and three secretaries. Twice a day, or on any pretext, most of us would convene in Greene's glass fronted office to ogle the girls on Hollywood Blvd. and talk magazine business. It was during one of these meetings that the conversation turned to traditional rodding. Since I had a strong background in this area, I normally handled all the magazine material that related to what would eventually become "street rods."
The XR-6 on the Aug. '63 cover of Hot Rod. Although well-known for winning the AMBR award,
In 196l, the talk went something like, "You know, all the really neat stuff coming out of Detroit is only going to get better. The old-style hot rods are fast disappearing because you can go to a local dealer and drop a small down for a brand-new car that will kick the butt of any of the old hot rods..." This theory was ever so true, and would get even stronger, as history has proven. "You're right," I countered, "but they just don't have the character of a roadster or coupe. That's why Dick Scritchfield started the L.A. Roadsters car club. Even so, I think it is possible to take an old body style, combine the basic line with some styling updates, and add a few modern power/suspension things to have a very contemporary looking and handling machine." Whereupon Bob Greene said it would make an interesting Hot Rod article. This is when I started noodling the idea.
I already owned an engine/transmission combination that I thought was both unusual and powerful enough for a good street driven rod. It was in the form of an aluminum truck block limited production Dodge Slant 6 with an automatic trans (it was out of a factory test car that I had bought from Chrysler). It had run hard in the station wagon, with a long ram induction and split exhaust, officially listed as a Hyper-Pak option. But, in those days it was common for the factories to push the envelope with their "magazine test" prepared cars; this engine/trans/rearend combination was a dynamite package that was far better than what I wanted in my family wagon. The West Coast PR rep for Chrysler had the original power package put back in the wagon, and gave me the other stuff.
Pictured left to right are George Barris, XR-6 designer Steve Swaja, and Hot Rod staffer T
With nothing more than a hacksaw, gas welder, and small Lincoln arc welder in my home garage, I made up a 2x4 mild steel frame in a simple ladder design. To the front I grafted a twin trailing torsion bar suspension from a Volkswagen; simple but rugged, as proven by the dune buggy gang of the time. A Triumph sports car donated disc brakes for the VW spindles. My factory "stocker" had used a special rearend, which turned out to be just the right flange-to-flange measurement for my roadster. I made up a set of twin trailing links for the Dodge housing, and included a Panhard bar. For springing, I opted for something almost unknown at the time...coilover shocks. I had seen them a year earlier on Indy cars from Europe, and during a visit to Monroe shocks in Illinois I asked if they could make such a suspension member. Sure they could, only we'd just have to trial and error the coil springs. We got them right the first time out.
During this time, I had been using a lot of drawings from artist Steve Swaja, a student at the time at the nearby Art Center. One day I asked if he could design a roadster project for me, using a combination '23/'27 Model T body and a race car nose. This was the drawing that we used as the project was introduced in Hot Rod. Curt Hamilton and Bud Lang had recently begun producing the first fiberglass replicas of the Model T bodies, mostly for drag cars. Their company was called Cal Automotive. Curt made me up a '27 cowl mated to an upswept '23 rear portion, and I was busy mounting this body when I got a call from former Petersen employee Dick Day, who had just moved over to a major model car company in Detroit. Seems they were looking to make up a new 2-in-1 model kit (a stocker and a hot rod based on the same body), and what I was doing looked good. But, would I consider redesigning the body to something really way out? They would pay to have the body built. In fact, they would foot the entire bill for something that would make a huge statement. The unspoken fact was that they would get a free ride on all the magazine publicity.
The centerspread in Hot Rod that month featured an innovative photo of the time by Eric Ri
I then decided to switch the design midstream. What I was doing originally was a step advanced from the ordinary rod of the time. But there were some great design ideas coming from other builders, such as Ed Roth. With Swaja given carte blanche on a body design, I was making a cosmic leap forward. A designer would work up what the car would look like, and then a professional builder would turn it into reality. The concept hot rod had arrived.
I called Hagemann in Northern California to see if he could form the body in aluminum.
"Sure," he replied "cost you about two grand." Wow, power enough and very lightweight. Great road car. Day said not so, because the model company had a contract with George Barris, and I'd need to have him do the car. "But," I moaned, "George does everything with lead. The car will weigh a ton plus!" Anyway, the car ended up at George's shop in North Hollywood, with much of the work being done by Dick Dean. Later Dick told me, "I know George promised we wouldn't use lead in the car. So, we would do all the work at night so you wouldn't catch us. We really loaded it up with lead filler, and kept it in primer every day so you wouldn't notice." Later on, when we were doing a photo shoot of the car and frame behind the PPC offices, it took seven guys to remove the body. I knew then just how much lead had been used. Actually, it worked out okay with the extra weight making the coilovers operate much better.
The car was to debut at the Oakland Roadster Show, but when it appeared a couple weeks before the show was to open that Barris wouldn't make it, I called promoter Al Slonaker. (Editor's Note: Although referred to historically as the Oakland Roadster Show it's in reality the Grand National Roadster Show, housed at that time in Oakland, and now in San Mateo, home of the America's Most Beautiful Roadster trophy award. B.B.) "Sorry Al," I reported, "But the car just can't be ready. George can't make the fenders to Swaja's design, and the nosepiece is giving them fits. Don't count on me." The wail on the other end was pointed, "But you've gotta show up. You've already won the 9-foot America's Most Beautiful Roadster award!" I was stunned. How could that be? "There's nothing else coming that can touch the XR-6," he said. So much for stealth in judging.
...The cover line that month blurts out, "Phantom View." The picture was taken in the park
With just one hour to go on move-in night parts were still being bolted together. There was no display, and during the weeklong show I never once dusted the metalflake paint. I don't do shows well. The car won the AMBR, but I refused to haul that monstrous 9-foot trophy home. As it was, at the show I talked to Gene Winfield about re-doing the fenders, hood, and nosepiece in aluminum over at his shop in nearby Modesto. The model company said to make any changes I wanted, because that was the original agreement. They told me they had spent about ten grand with Barris, which would be in the ball park since he had the aluminum engine block and trans polished, heaps of chrome plating, and so on. Gene said he didn't know how to do aluminum, but he would learn. He spent three days with Hageman and became an expert in the soft metal. So, what you see in the model kit and the Hot Rod coverage is not what was at the Oakland Roadster Show, but close enough.
Gene Winfield of Winfield's Custom Shop in Modesto, CA, formed all of the aluminum body pa
I had been at Carroll Shelby's new factory by the L.A. airport earlier on, and had spied some sidedraft Weber carbs. They had been sent by mistake from England; the original order was for downdrafts for the new Shelby Mustangs and planned Cobras. He donated three of them to the project, and a buddy in Studio City built up tubing intake and exhaust. I had a very hard time coming up with some wheels, until someone mentioned that Hands Wheels in Alhambra was making some four-bolt pattern Porsche aluminum's--perfect for my use. Tony Nancy whipped up a quickie upholstery job a couple of days before Oakland, and then redid it much better a month later.
There isn't much aftermarket equipment on the XR-6, because nothing much existed in the early-'60s. As to that name, Bob Greene asked me how come I called it that. "Well, it is an experimental roadster, with six-cylinder power." At the time we didn't think much about the project, only that we wanted to get rodders excited about designing and building cars a bit more in the then-modern trend. It is often said now that this car was the first of the hot rodding concept machines we see so commonly today. I guess that's true. The car went on to win a lot of awards, and it is now something of a collector's item in the model car world. Whatever, I sold the car to Joe Kizis (with trailer) for $3,600! Yes, it was a virtual steal. Joe used it as the feature of his Hartford (Connecticut) Autorama for a couple years. I lost track of it for a longtime then I got a call from a fellow working at Juliano's Interior Products in Vernon, Connecticut. Turned out he had seen the car in an alley garage. Shortly thereafter, I met the owner, who was competing in the Great American Race. I was doing PR out of Dallas for that race, and it seems the XR-6 owner liked to restore circle track cars. For some reason, he knew of the car, and had bought it from a museum that Kizis had sold the car to many years past. He said he would get it out on rare occasions just to keep it limbered up.
The XR-6 only shows about 300 miles on the odometer, but I drove it for a couple of hundred before hooking up the speedo. Doesn't matter, it's a good handling and spirited ride. It's really a good leader in design, but construction was not anywhere near what is being built today. But, you gotta start somewhere, and it really did serve to shape the future of hot rodding.(Editor's Note: STREET RODDER would like to thank Bob Juliano of Juliano's Interior Products for arranging with the Barlow family, the current owners of the XR-6, to have Ed Kania photograph one of our hobby's true trendsetters and a most beautiful roadster! B.B.)
An early stage photo of construction shows XR-6 with wire mock-up at Barris' shop. Wire mo
The rubber on the XR-6 comes by way of Firestone Super Sports mounted to aluminum Porsche
The "gently" massaged aluminum-block Chrysler Slant 6 was fed with sidedraft Weber carbs t
Hot rodding legends such as Barris, Gene Winfield, and Swaja had an instrumental hand in t
Tony Nancy received the nod for the Naugahyde interior while the gauges are Stewart-Warner
In the "It's a Small World" category we found this photo in the same issue as the XR-6--it