In the eighth issue of Rod & Custom, December 1953, editor Spence Murray recounted the story of his road trip to the fifth celebration of SpeedWeek on the Bonneville salt flats. It wasn't a large convoy, just Lou Bingham in a '27 T roadster pickup with a '32 coupe on the towbar and Spence riding shotgun. It was an adventure to say the least.
We'd been eager to do a road trip of our own but, as you may know, we like to travel with an entourage, so editor Kevin Lee announced our plans and invited you to join us on the journey. Hollywood Hot Rods in Burbank was our rendezvous spot early Thursday morning. Troy opened up the shop to our curious eyes and provided coffee, OJ, and donuts. While we were in the area, we slipped next door to check out Bobby Green's and Lucky Burton's Old Crow Speed Shop. We could have spent a lot more time at these two shops, but we had some miles to cover so we hit the road.
One hundred miles later, we were in Bakersfield for a tour of the Kiwi Konnection shop. From there, it was a hot ride through in California's Central Valley to Fresno, but worth the trip if you're heading to John Lawson Motorsports. John and a few of his crew opened their doors and showed us around his incredible collection of early Fords. Each one is ready to go at a moment's notice depending on what mood John is in that day-and when you have one of every body-style '32 Ford there's sure to be one that suits his mood. Once we had our jaws back off the floor we headed on to Oakhurst for the evening and were greeted by the Coarsegold Cruisers club, which filled the motel lawn with some great-looking rods and customs.
Shoot-out at Mile Marker 100....
Shoot-out at Mile Marker 100. R&C Tech Editor Kev Elliott (seconds away from losing his cap) takes aim at yours truly (who'd already lost his), firing back from Alan Kahan's Model A.
Friday morning, we drove north into the heart of California gold country. We stopped in Columbia, which is a surviving 19th century gold rush town that is a landmark and historic park today. While part of our crowd explored this preserved old town, others used the break in travel to do some parking lot repairs on their cars.
One of the most enjoyable elements of these cruises is the hospitality we get from people we've never met before but who share our common interest in old cars. After Columbia we made our way to the Hogan Dam Lookout which overlooks New Hogan Lake. The Foothill Classics car club was waiting for us there with a bunch of their hot rods and a fantastic barbecue feast.
With our bellies full we headed to South Lake Tahoe for the night, hit the buffets, and tried to hold onto our money in the casinos. The next morning, we were greeted with fantastic weather and couldn't leave town without making a cruise around the lake, one of the most beautiful spots in California, and some good morning exercise for cooling systems and carburetors.
We could've spent a lot more...
We could've spent a lot more time at the Old Crow Speed Shop looking at Bobby Green's impressive collection, but we had other places to go and he had more work to do to get his belly tank ready for its record-breaking run at Bonneville. That's Bobby's Tub in the background and Lucky's pair of As in the foreground.
It was out of the mountains and into the heat as we hit Carson City, where we had a free lunch at Subway and then checked out the antique locomotives, both restored and unrestored, at the Nevada State Railroad Museum.
We had been running a little ahead of schedule so we made a last-minute stop in Fallon to visit one more extensive collection of American iron, hidden from the public. It was then a mad dash to Winnemucca to see our friends at the Flying A Garage who were waiting for us with barbecue tri-tip and a tour of the car collection.
As much as we hated to see our road trip come to an end, we arrived in Wendover, Utah, eager for the week ahead. The salt was 5 miles away.
1931 Ford Roadster Pickup
I'd never been to Bonneville and everything just seemed to work out this year. I was going to drive up by myself, when I heard about this trip. It turned out to be one of the best vacations I've ever had.
The distance and some traffic conditions made it difficult for everybody to remain in an intact group at times. That worked as a benefit, because people ended up pairing up with other cars to travel at comfortable speeds. To me, meeting other people is part of this whole thing, so I made a point of hanging out or having dinner with different people every day-and I made some lasting friendships.
I was also amazed at how many people I ran into who I already knew. I've known Jim Shelton for a long time. I had met Dennis with the '32 Tudor sedan at Del Mar, and talked to him again at the L.A. Roadster Show. Then he shows up on this trip. I was also surprised at how big some of the car clubs are up there in the Sierras.
I stayed on the salt until Wednesday, helping my friend Pete Aardema with his car until I had to get back. Even so, I came home a back way.
Santa Monica, California
1934 Plymouth Coupe
There are two great things about having a hot rod. One is the time in the garage working on it. The other is taking trips. I saw the magazine write-up, but didn't think I would get to go. Alan Kahan kept telling me about it, so I decided to do one or two nights. Once I got out there with this awesome group of people, there was no way I could turn around. I hadn't done any cruising through gold country and the mountain roads, so when we got to Tahoe, I said, "I can't go home now." I got to Winnemucca and couldn't turn around there. We visited places I never would've seen otherwise-like John Lawson's in Fresno and the Kiwi Konnection-and meeting the Foothill Classics club at Hogan Dam, and seeing that great collection in Fallon. Everybody greeted us with hospitality.
I ran into some nice people out on the salt flats, too. Chris King from Montana had a '34 Dodge pickup pushing a '31 Dodge roadster-so me having a Plymouth, it's like we were in the same club, and I had a great time in their pit area. I got to watch a few cars make a run, and headed home on Monday.
Lake Havasu City, Arizona
1932 Ford Tudor Sedan
I had heard from several people who had been on road trips that it was the most fun in the world, so I decided that when the opportunity came along I would jump at it. It's the farthest I've driven in the Tudor. I made a test run to the L.A. Roadster Show in June to see if there were any problems I needed to know about-all part of getting ready for the road trip to Bonneville.
We had a good size group, but it was not so big that we couldn't go into a restaurant together. You start to realize that it's more about the people than the cars sometimes. There are people I met during the week who I'll be friends with from now on.
It was refreshing that the activities weren't the same every day. We went to a train museum and a gold mining town, as well as the rod shops and car collections. Winnemucca was great. I even enjoyed the times we just stopped at the lookout points.
We stayed out on the salt for five days, all day every day, and left Friday morning. I thought it was a wonderful trip, and I'm proud of my car for not letting me down.
Marina Del Rey, California
1929 Ford Roadster
In 1953, my family took a major road trip, and coming back through Elko, Nevada, we stopped at the Stockmen's Hotel to look at this big stuffed polar bear in the casino. On this trip, we were heading through Elko, so I said, "Guys, we've got to stop and see this bear." And we found it-still there and identical to the way I remembered it. The only one excited or impressed was me, but to me it was recapturing something special from 55 years ago.
The roadster has been on several long trips. I prefer traveling with a group because it's good to have someone else around if the car breaks down-and because I like the companionship. What made this trip the most fun was traveling with my family-my son and grandson, and my grandson's other grandfather. We had a great time.
The stops were magnificent. Seeing the Kiwi Konnection and Squeak Bell's shop in Bakersfield, and John Lawson's collection in Fresno was amazing. The trip was filled with generous people-Tom Christian in Carson City, who fed us at the Subway sandwich shop in Carson City, and the members of the Foothill Classics car club in Lake Hogan, who also fed us, brought out their cars, and even gave us goody bags.
Interviewed by Dad-Aaron Kahan
Dad - You've driven in my old cars since you were a baby. What was different about riding in Grandpa Alan's '29 roadster without a roof?
Benjamin- I like how it was open and that you can see all around you.
D. - What did you think of Bonneville?
B. - It was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was hot and bright and I just had to touch it. I couldn't stop myself, I just had to taste it, so I picked up a chunk of salt and put it to my tongue. It was the saltiest thing I have ever tasted! I immediately spit it out and tried to wash the horrible taste out of my mouth with water.
D. - What was your favorite part of the trip?
B. - Going into the water at Lake Tahoe, panning for gold, and riding on the top of a stagecoach next to the driver in Columbia. Walking around the pits and watching the racing at Bonneville. Eating my Subway salami sandwich on the salt.
D. - What was your favorite thing you got to do that you hadn't done before?
B. - Swimming in Lake Tahoe and riding Tyrell's mini bike. After that I was obsessed with riding that mini bike!
D. - You kept mileage each day. What was your total?
B. - 1,835 miles.
D. - Would you do it again?
B. - Absolutely yes!
If you're unfamiliar with the small desert town of Winnemucca, you will soon find yourself having the urge to take a road trip along Interstate 80 which runs through Northern Nevada. Whether you're driving from California or Utah, your target destination will be the Flying A Garage, which sits next to the site of the soon-to-be-constructed America's Car Collection museum. This'll be home to the world's most impressive collection of mainly '50s-through-'70s-era hot rods, customs, drag cars, muscle cars, and related memorabilia. I've been watching from the sidelines and hearing through the grapevine what Ralph Whitworth has been collecting over the last few years. It's been pretty interesting and exciting to see all these cars end up with one owner. At first I found it a bit strange and kind of a bummer that all these cars were going to be kept in a location that seemed like the middle of nowhere. But on second thought I think it's just plain amazing that Whitworth cares enough to collect, preserve, and display all this for us to study first hand.
I first became familiar with Whitworth when I attended RM Auctions' The Originators auction back in 2006. I was fortunate to be an insider at this event and wished one person or organization would buy the entire collection and donate it to a museum. One of the most anticipated moments of this auction (which was most of The Brucker Collection) was when Von Dutch's Paint Box sold for over $300,000. When the gavel came down I wondered who it was who was so determined to take the paint box home. Later that day I had a brief introduction to Whitworth, who is on a mission to collect the best of the best in historic hot rods and customs. He also had plans to take on the huge task and responsibility of opening a museum in Winnemucca, Nevada. My first thoughts were why Winnemucca and where's Winnemucca? It turns out that's where he grew up with his buddy Dave Bengochea, and these gearheads' plan is to give something back to their old stomping ground and in effect put their small town on the big-time map.
After that weekend I realized that unfortunately the Brucker collection of Kustom Kulture hadn't stayed intact, but that a large state-of-the-art museum will soon house a collection of our history like no one has done before. This summer I was able to visit their restoration facility, the Flying A Garage, which is completed and in full operation, as well as their storage facility for part of the collection. For this year's celebration of the 60th anniversary of Bonneville SpeedWeek, the Flying A Garage was turned into a temporary museum for their first special exhibit, Bonneville: The Pursuit of Speed.
The R&C road trip pack arrived in Winnemucca on Sunday, August 17, just in time to check out this exhibit and partake in an open house/impromptu car show and barbeque that was thrown by the museum with assistance from a local car club, the Fuelers, and the eight-person Flying A crew. I was starving but just couldn't concentrate on eating because I was overloaded with the juxtaposition of a sampling of the most historic speed machines displayed in the new 6,600-square-foot, climate-controlled, full-functioning restoration shop. The first thing that caught my eye was Tom Cobb's amazingly preserved and recently found '29 Ford roadster which was surrounded by a display of ultra-rare speed equipment. Out back behind the Flying A Garage the storage garages were open, exposing an unbelievable assortment of cars like Roth's Road Agent, Tony Nancy's roadster, and the Deora. If you know your hot rod history, a large portion is in the Whitworth collection.
Lucky for us, Ralph Whitworth's success as a business investor has allowed him to amass this mind-numbing collection which to date numbers somewhere between 200-300 vehicles and an enormous amount of speed equipment and related memorabilia. The Flying A Garage is managed by Dave Bengochea, who has a capable restoration staff that can handle anything from minor mechanical repairs to concourse-quality restoration on-site. Even though Winnemucca has been off the radar for most of us, I have a sneaky suspicion that is about to change.
The flying a garage
We were greeted in Oakhurst...
We were greeted in Oakhurst by the Coarsegold Cruisers hot rod club, which filled the motel lawn with some great-looking rods and customs. What a great way to end the day.
On Friday, the Foothill Classics...
On Friday, the Foothill Classics car club showed off their amazing hospitality by treating us to a picnic at the Hogan Dam Lookout, including barbecue, homemade cakes, and even goody bags with some T-shirts donated by Olympic Tune Street Rods Plus. They treated us like rock stars-or family members. The view of the lake was amazing, and the view of the parking lot full of hot rods wasn't too bad either. Thanks to all of you.
Not many people have had the...
Not many people have had the privilege of touring John Lawson's amazing private collection of cars, engines, motorcycles, and other machinery. We counted something like three dozen finished cars, all in immaculate condition and ready to hit the road when the urge hits.
The local lunchtime crowd...
The local lunchtime crowd is probably used to seeing hot rods in front of Tom Christian's Subway sandwich shop in Carson City. Tom generously treated our entire group to lunch. He and his friends drive some cool traditional-style rods, including five of our favorites, featured elsewhere in this magazine. They always make the trip to SpeedWeek and we were proud to have them rolling with us.
The party was already under...
The party was already under way when we got to Winnemucca. Ralph Whitworth's Flying A Garage is the home of the America's Car Collection Museum. The barbecue tri-tip, live music, and crowds of people were great but we were there to see Ralph's collection of famous race and show cars.
Who can sleep during SpeedWeek?...
Who can sleep during SpeedWeek? After-hours in Wendover, the action shifts from the salt flats to the asphalt outside of the Nugget Hotel.
Just like with old cars, sometimes...
Just like with old cars, sometimes the barn-fresh, unrestored ones can be more interesting than the restored ones. Getting a peek in the storage buildings of the Nevada State Railroad Museum provided plenty of jewels.
The official pace car of the...
The official pace car of the road trip was this '50 Ford, owned by George Poteet and generously loaned to R&C's Kevin Lee for the trip. The Ford must have been nervous about going onto the salt, and developed a clutch problem in Winnemucca the morning we were heading out. It couldn't have happened in a better spot, because we were able to leave it in Larry Tregellas' hands at the Flying A Garage where it was fixed in time for Kevin's trip to Pleasanton. They even loaned him their shop dualie to take to the salt. He asked for the Druid Princess but there wasn't enough room for the luggage.
An unexpected stop and a trip...
An unexpected stop and a trip down a private dirt driveway in Fallon, Nevada, took us to Fallon Engine Service, and the car and parts collection of Louis Cote. Louis let us tour several buildings full of mid-Thirties Fords and an astonishing assortment of parts. The sights outside could have kept us busy for a while as well.