Tim Nesmith had the farthest to drive of all six competitors. Tim saw the invitation in the April '03 ROD & CUSTOM--it requested owners to submit a photo of their vehicle for possible participation in R&C's annual check 'em out, ride 'em hard, beat 'em up, have a ball shoot-out--so he sent in a photo of his homebuilt, small-block-powered, indigo blue '41 Chevy coupe. When Tim was informed that R&C readers had voted his Chevy as one of the six final participants in our crazy performance showdown, he started prepping for the 2,000-mile trip from Hartselle, Alabama, to Burbank, California (starting point of the third annual ROD & CUSTOM Asphalt Ego-Rama).
The excitement started to fade in the middle of the night near the Oklahoma/Arkansas border, as Tim and passenger Jeff Parker pushed the coupe, out of gas, down the highway toward the nearest town. A handful of Southern Samaritans helped him get gassed up and back on the road. Things were looking up again.
The cars and drivers that would duke it out in this competition congregated in the hotel parking lot in Burbank on day one of the week-long road trip. Norm and Terry Cowdrey (later to be joined by their son Dan) with their dark blue '56 Nomad, Larry and Gloria Metz in the orange '32 cabriolet, and Don Dillard and "Rotten" Rodney Bauman with Don's suede brown '30 A coupe were all Southern California folks and didn't have far to travel. Rex and Deby Marshall drove their red metalflake '55 Chevy from Salt Lake City, and Fred and Shirley Douglas brought their black '48 Olds convertible from eastern Kansas, accompanied by bodyman Roger Ward. And you've already met Tim and Jeff.
We kicked off the week with a visit to Barris Kustom in North Hollywood. George and striper Tom "Itchy" Otis treated us to a guided tour of the shop. The shop is like the Smithsonian of famous Hollywood rides. Grand National Roadster Show trophies clutter the shelves, and photos of the hundreds of stars who have been customers cover the walls. Barris seemed to enjoy checking out the Ego-Rama rides as much as we enjoyed soaking up the historic hot rods on display at his shop.
At the Tuesday morning drivers' meeting, we explained the Ego-Rama agenda. In addition to cruising across the Southwest, visiting points of interest, we would be conducting a competition in nine categories: Acceleration (10 percent), Braking (10 percent), Cornering (10 percent), Gas Mileage (5 percent), People's Choice (15 percent), Engineering (15 percent), Ride & Drive (15 percent), Budget (10 percent), and Style Points (10 percent). The first four categories would be determined by objective testing. The People's Choice category would be based on spectator voting at the Goodguys Southwestern Nats at the end of the week. In the Engineering category, the R&C judging staff (Jim Rizzo, Dan Kahn, Damon Lee, and I) would evaluate craftsmanship, imagination, and technical excellence. R&D was based on overall ride quality and practicality of each vehicle. Budget (anti-big bucks) awarded lower-dollar buildups, and Style Points awarded the sportsmanship of the participants.
A short freeway ride took us into Los Angeles. Destination: the Petersen Automotive Museum, where museum curator and car builder Pete Eastwood took us down into the basement. This huge area, closed to the general public, is where the museum stores recent acquisitions, vehicles rotating into or out of the galleries upstairs, and Robert Petersen's private collection of rods and exotic cars.
We got to Hot Rods & Custom Stuff in Escondido late for dinner. Shop owners Randy and Peaches Clark and the staff showed us their facility, including their impressive new body shop. Dalton's Roadhouse Catering put on a feast that couldn't be beat. In addition to our gang, the Clarks invited a number of customers and their rides, including the M-80 Chevy, R&C cover car and the '01 Ridler Award winner.
We got a late start on Wednesday, after waiting for the word on Don's condition. This was our longest drive day, approximately 400 miles to Scottsdale, Arizona. With not much on the schedule except to enjoy the scenery, R&C staffers got to do Ride & Drive and Engineering evaluations.
Every car in this year's event was roadworthy and comfortable. We had anticipated that Rex and Deby's Gasser-style '55--with its go-straight suspension, tube axle, and Mickey Thompson slicks--would have a little trouble in the wet and windy mountain roads, but the car never fell behind. Another surprise about the '55 was its pure '60s styling, from the metalflake red paint and fenderwell headers to the JC Whitney headrests. This car was originally built in 1966 as some kid's high school project. Rex remembers seeing it around before it went into storage for several decades. It took a little coaxing to get the owner to sell it and only a moderate amount of work to the body, suspension, interior, and drivetrain to refresh it to its mid-'60s appearance. One more surprise: the '55 turned out be the most fuel-efficient car in the pack, which we chalk up to the Richmond six-speed gearbox.
The other Shoebox Chevy in the bunch, Norm Cowdrey's small-block-powered '56, was hands-down the best entrant in the Ride & Drive category--no surprise at all. Once a rusted hulk, the Nomad now rides like a late-model luxury car with a splash of sports car. It ought to. Norm has been building and racing sports cars his whole life and applied his experience to the Nomad. It rides on a chassis built by Paul Newman at Car Creations and modified with '96 Corvette idependent suspension at both ends. On the inside, it's first-class seating with leather-bound Lexus seats and every amenity.
Fred Douglas' big '48 Olds was our favorite in the Engineering category (as well as People's Choice winner at the Goodguys show). Fred, who performed much of the buildup in his basement shop with help from Larry Love and others, says he wanted to keep the car smooth and simple, without skimping on comfort or power in any area. He ordered the 502 Ram Jet the day he heard about production. Fred also designed the interior, built by Richardson Custom Interiors. Roger Ward shot the black basecoat and clear.
Our Acceleration testing took place Thursday at Speedworld Motorplex in Wittman, Arizona. We expected the big '55 to trounce the rest of the field, and with consistent e.t.'s in the mid-12s, it was a full second quicker than the second-quickest car, the '41 Chevy. Tim's Chevy made straight and consistent passes, with a best time of 13.68 thanks in part to an owner-built tube frame with Speedway NASCAR front antisway bars. The coupe was an eight-year project for Tim. He said it was a rough non-running car when he first trailered it home, but his daughter Britney, 7 years old back then, repeated her dad's words, "It's not much, but it has potential."
After everybody made several passes, we set up the radar gun for the 60-0-mph Braking competition. Much of our performance testing was handled by Andrew Schear, from our sister publication, Super Chevy. Larry Metz took the first pass, getting a little sideways when he hit the binders. At 2,700 pounds, Metz' flathead-powered Deuce is the lightest car in the bunch and is equipped with front Wilwood discs and rear 10-inch Bendix drums, stopping the cabrio at 138 feet. The next-lightest car, Norm Cowdrey's Nomad, has 1,000 pounds on the '32 but is equipped with 13-inch rotors in front and 12s in the rear; the wagon came to an effortless stop in only 129 feet.
The '55, with a rearend full of broken spider gear teeth, was unable to participate in brake testing (Rex didn't anticipate anything higher than fifth place in this category anyway). With the Gasser on our trailer, we headed back into Phoenix to Industrial Chassis, where the car stayed until the next morning when the munched rearend gears could be replaced.
On Friday, while Rex fixed his Chevy, the rest of us got coffee, donuts, and a shop tour at Hot Rods by Dean, followed by a visit to the Rod Factory. After lunch we visited to the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving at Firebird Raceway. We enjoyed the tour of the school but will probably remember the laps around the road course a lot longer. Staff drivers gave each Ego-Rama participant and R&C staffer a ride around the road course in race-prepped Corvette C5s. At 100 mph, those guys were probably sandbagging but still managed to squeeze the last bit of ego out of any of us who thought we were hotshot drivers. Ego-Rama participants then had a chance to take their own cars out on the course for a few laps.
Andrew got busy setting up the cones and radar gun for skidpad testing. This is a new test for Ego-Rama and consists of making clockwise and counterclockwise passes around a 200-foot-diameter circle of cones. Two of the cars we expected to shine in this area, the Olds and the Nomad, didn't compete--Fred was attending to personal business and Norm was out of commission with a failed ignition module. That's how Rex and Deby's lumbering '55 scored third place points in this category. Tim's coupe, which had done well at the dragstrip, wowed us with some impressive handling, too. In the end, though, this was Larry Metz' time to shine. Larry was able to run that '32 around those cones like a tether car.
We'd never seen a body quite like Larry's 'glass '32 cabrio. It's a New Zealand-built "California Cabrio" imported by Limeworks. Larry dropped it over a TCI chassis. He relocated the crossmembers, added a new K-member, and pie-cut the frame to raise the rear, giving the car a more aggressive rake. Larry's been building flatheads since he was a teenager. This one is fed by a homemade manifold, four-barrel, and modified Eaton blower. His wife Gloria and sons Randy and Mike also worked on the Deuce, which has been on the road for about 4 years. The cabrio excelled in the areas of Gas Mileage and Braking and finished first in the Cornering category.
Goodguys saved us a primo spot at the Southwest Nats in Scottsdale on Saturday. People's Choice was calculated by spectator voting, and the response to the Ego-Rama cars was so good we ran out of ballots and had to go make more. Norm's '56 was absent for the first few hours as the ignition chip was replaced but still chalked up a lot of votes. The crowd favorite, however, was Fred's big black Olds 98.
That evening, we headed back to Industrial Chassis, where owner Steve Szymanski hosted an open house, with a buffet provided by his girlfriend, Celeste. ROD & CUSTOM expresses a big thanks to this shop for the food, fun, and mechanical help.
Saturday night, the R&C staff calculated all the numbers and percentages from the judging categories. As usually happens, the winner was a car that didn't dominate in one particular category but performed consistently well in every area. At Sunday morning's awards breakfast we presented the R&C Asphalt Ego-Rama King of the Road award to Tim Nesmith's '41 Chevy.
After a week on the road, we'd covered approximately 800 miles, had a bunch of fun, and made new friends. Tim Nesmith went back to Alabama with the King of the Road plaque. Every other participant went home with memories of a great road trip. We came back to work with this story and car features on all participant cars, which we'll be publishing in upcoming issues. We're already making plans for Asphalt Ego-Rama IV with a whole team of new participants. Maybe you.
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Before serving us dinner,...
Before serving us dinner, Randy Clark gave us a tour of his shop, Hot Rods & Custom Stuff in Escondido, CA. The expansive body shop is brand new.
Andrew Schear, on loan from...
Andrew Schear, on loan from Super Chevy magazine, flew to Phoenix to help with the Acceleration, Braking, and Cornering tests. This is how they do it at high-performance magazines. The Ego-Rama flagman was disappointed, but we were impressed. Thanks, Andrew.
At the Bondurant School, Ego-Rama...
At the Bondurant School, Ego-Rama participants got to go for a spin in souped-up C5 Corvettes. If the cars were pre-'64s, they'd be eligible to compete in the Asphalt Ego-Rama. Since they're not, we can only speculate as to how they'd do in our competition.
In addition to providing the...
In addition to providing the support truck and trailer, R&C Tech Editor Dan Kahn brought his Real Hot Rods Model A modified roadster along for Ego-Rama. He had a ball on the strip, and got cold and wet driving through the mountains in the rain.
Ego-Rama III participants...
Ego-Rama III participants pose with most of the co-pilots. Front row: Rex Marshall, Jeff Parker, and Dan Cowdrey. Back row: Roger Ward, Fred and Shirley Douglas, Deby Marshall, Tim Nesmith, Norm Cowdrey, and Larry Metz.