The Fastest '32 Fords From The Early Days of Racing
From the February, 2009 issue of Rod & Custom
By Tony Thacker
This parade of stripped-down...
This parade of stripped-down roadsters must have been an exciting sight along Broadway in downtown Los Angeles in February 1934.
Henry Ford's first and last race took place on October 10, 1901, when he was 38, at the Grosse Point one-mile oval. Organized by the Detroit Driving Club, this 10-miler had only three entrants, one of whom dropped out even before the race began, thus leaving Ford to race favorite Alexander Winton. Ford was totally inexperienced at racing. Nevertheless, with friend and mechanic Ed "Spider" Huff crouched on the running board, he managed to win and not only took home a cut-glass punch bowl with matching cups, but also $1,000 in cash. To many, the money might have been incentive enough to make a career out of racing, but Ford's abrupt comment was resolute: "Once is enough."
Rather than do his own driving, Ford acquired the services of Barney Oldfield and put him behind the wheel of the infamous 999. This team went on to win numerous races all over America, but Henry's feet stayed firmly on the ground, except when taking rare demonstration rides. He did, however, take one more ride on the wild side in the winter of 1903. He was after the land speed record, and on January 12, he took the Arrow, 999's stable mate, to a frozen Lake St. Clair, near Detroit. With Huff once again on the running board, this time working the accelerator because the icy bumps were jarring Ford's foot from the pedal, they set a new record of 91.37 mph.
The very first '32 Ford raced...
The very first '32 Ford raced at Indy was entered by a local dealer as the C.O. Warnock Special in 1933.
When Barney Oldfield moved on, Ford engaged Frank Kulick to do his winning-and win he did, at the oval tracks, in hill climbs, and in road races. Unfortunately, in 1907, Kulick suffered an accident which left him limping for the rest of his life and left Ford with a bad taste in his mouth. Ford was aggravated by the rules, which were unfair toward his lightweight cars, and he didn't want to see friends killed, but by 1910, Kulick was back at the track winning races and setting new records. Ford was still unhappy about the situation and after one successful record attempt, he gave Frank $1,000 to quit. It didn't happen right away, but Henry Ford was out of racing by 1913.
His cars, however, were not. Until the Model T appeared, motor racing had been the pastime of gentlemen with enough money to race Millers and Duesenbergs, but Lizzie, with her good power-to-weight ratio and a host of aftermarket speed equipment available, made a racing driver out of every backyard mechanic who had a mind to be one. They raced their Ts, then they raced their As, and, when the V-8s appeared, they raced their V-8s. It didn't matter what they raced; it mattered only that they chose Ford, and in its turn, the V-8, which was eventually to make an even bigger name for itself on the racetracks than the Model T. Ultimately, it was all attributable to Henry-the V-8 engine was his idea and he was the one who decided to drop it into the Model B.The fact that people have been doing likewise ever since is indisputable.
This was the Doc Williams-driven...
This was the Doc Williams-driven car of 1933, revamped as the Detroit Gasket Special for 1934. Charles Crawford was the driver this time around, with Milton Totten once again on board as mechanic.
Sure, V-8 versions of the cabriolet and roadster would be the official cars at the 20th Indianapolis 500-mile race in 1932, and winner Fred Frame would make his lap of honor in the roadster, but the V-8 would never do well at the Brickyard.
Indianapolis, just like the rest of America, was affected by the Depression. In 1930, in an effort to reduce the cost of racing and eliminate the all-conquering "thoroughbred" Millers and Duesenbergs, the race organizers introduced what became known as the "Junk Formula." Structured for modified two-seater production cars with a minimum weight restriction, a maximum capacity engine displacement of 366 ci, and no supercharging, it failed miserably. Nevertheless, 1933 became the real racing debut for the Ford V-8 when local dealer C.O. Warnock entered a rather tacky special. It was little more than a stripped-down '32 V-8 with a stock chassis, knock-on wire wheels with Firestone Balloons, a racing body, and outside exhausts. Prepared by Robert M. Roof, designer of Laurel Equipment for Fords, it had an almost standard engine except for two stock Detroit Lubricator carburetors atop a homemade manifold. With Doc Williams driving and Milton Totten as mechanic, the car failed to qualify with a best run of 104.538 mph. It returned the following year disguised as the Detroit Gasket Special. Rebuilt with Bohnalite aluminum heads and a large single Stromberg carb, and Charlie Crawford behind the wheel, the car managed to run at 108.784 mph and qualified-the third slowest. Unfortunately for the sponsor, the engine blew a head gasket on lap 110 and the car was subsequently placed 16th.
Also running in the 1934 Indy...
Also running in the 1934 Indy 500 was this attractive Bohn Aluminum & Brass Company racer. Built upon '32 'rails by Don Sullivan, the car featured the new '34 grille.
Also running in the 1934 race was another V-8 special based on '32 'rails entered by the Bohn Aluminum & Brass Company. Built by Don Sullivan, the car had a '34 engine with Bohn aluminum racing heads, .030-oversize pistons with a compression ratio of 8.5:1, a racing camshaft, and a Bosch magneto. It also had a Sullivan-designed inlet manifold with two Stromberg 97s mounted sideways so they aligned with the centrifugal forces. It was a cheap but well-built car producing 140 hp at 4,400 rpm.
In the hands of driver Chet Miller and mechanic Eddie Tynan, the car qualified at 109.252 mph, but unfortunately sailed over the wall on the 11th lap after hitting a patch of oil spilled by Wilbur Shaw's car. Interestingly, the car had its front radius rods split and mounted to either chassis 'rail, a suspension modification favored later by hot rod builders.
In 1935, Warnock's car was back at the Brickyard. Renamed the Harry Henderson Special, and with a new 1934 grille shell and four Winfield carburetors, it was unfortunately written off before the start when driver Doc Williams took it over the inside wall on the south turn.
Here's Eddie and probably...
Here's Eddie and probably his son Bud Meyer aboard the Muller Bros. Deuce roadster at Mines Field in 1934. Four years later, inspired by Eddie Edmunds and Meyer's friend Ed Winfield, and with money from a Mrs.
The infamous Harry Miller also had a fleet of factory backed Ford V-8-engined racers in the 1935 event, but their miserable failure would keep Ford officially out of racing for the next 17 years.
In the lower echelons of oval-track racing (i.e. the dirt tracks), the 1932 Ford did not really make much of a showing. It was too heavy in comparison to the stripped-down track Ts that were winning, and the V-8 was grossly underdeveloped when compared to a hot four-pot. The '32 would have its day in the dirt, but not until after the war.
Practically every American town had its half-mile or mile oval, usually a converted horse track, but apart from Indianapolis, there were no major motor races in the United States until 1933. That year, on August 26, the American Automobile Association reinstated the Elgin Road Race for Stock Cars. At the time, the term Stock Car was loosely ascribed to stripped-down, fenderless, and almost screenless roadsters with strictly stock engines not exceeding 321 ci.
In 1928, the Glendale American...
In 1928, the Glendale American Legion Post took over the promotion of the Ascot Speedway dirt track, and in April 1934 hosted the American Targa Florio Hill Road Race, which included most of the 5/8-mile oval but went out into the hills behind the track for a total course length of 1 1/2 miles.
Indy winner Fred Frame collected the Weidenhoff Trophy as the first to finish the 203-mile race, with an average speed of 80.22 mph. Only eight of the 15 starters finished, but the first seven of those were Fords, several of them '32 models. Fred's car was a 1933 roadster with a very special V-8 engine supposedly supplied out of the backdoor of Dearborn. Yes, Ford was officially out of racing, but the publicity was definitely welcome, and Ford made the most of it.
The road races proved to be an ideal venue for the Ford V-8, it being light, fast, and above all else, cheap. Elgin, unfortunately, was deemed too dangerous and the event was never staged again. Other races would follow, and in the new year, attention was centered, as usual, on California.
Mines Field in Inglewood, California, was the scene of a 250-mile race, probably the first to be staged in an airport. Mines Field is now Los Angeles International Airport, but on February 24, 1934, more than 60,000 people turned out to watch "Stubby" Stubblefield take the Gilmore Trophy in his '33 roadster with an average speed of 62.37 mph. Other drivers in the 26-car field included Chet Gardner, Pete DePaolo, Lou Meyer, "Shorty" Cantlon, Rex Mays, Al Gordon, Bill Froelich, and "Wild Bill" Cummings. Swede Smith was one of several '32 drivers, but most of the other 22 Fords were Model 40 roadsters. Fords would take the first 10 places.
Here, on February 24, at the...
Here, on February 24, at the start of the 1934 Gilmore Gold Cup Race, Rex Mays (21) pulls away from Al Gordon (15) who, at the time, thought he was the winner.
Less than a month later, the action moved over to the Ascot Legion Speedway at Valley and Soto streets in Los Angeles, where, on March 21, there was a 150-mile event called the American Targa Florio, staged partly on Ascot's half-mile oval and partly in the surrounding hills. Lou Meyer won the event, but the promoters lost out when many of the spectators sneaked through the hills to watch. With no control of the paying public, the promoters and, reluctantly, the racers went back to more orthodox oval racing. Apart from a few minor races, Stock Car racing as it was in 1934 was finished.
The '32 Ford would make few appearances in the serious side of American motor racing in the years to follow, as it was no match for the purpose-built European road racers. But its engines, both the four-cylinder and the V-8, would find themselves swapped into all sorts of sports car bodies, where they did very well.
The California Kids
At about the same time that those good ol' Midwestern farm boys and backyard mechanics were beginning to realize just what Ford had in his V-8 engine, there was another group of Ford fans going off in an entirely different direction. Instead of racing 'round and 'round in circles, the California kids were speeding in straight lines across the dried-up lakebeds of the Mojave Desert.
Swede Smith drove another...
Swede Smith drove another Deuce (20) in the Gilmore Gold Cup Race, this one promoted by the Harry Nelson dealership in Monrovia, CA.
The lakes had been used for record runs since the beginning of the 20th century and their use by the AAA in the '20s and '30s brought worldwide attention. But the attention was on the big boys, not on the hot rodders who ran hopped-up Ts and As.
There was already plenty of speed equipment available for Ford's four-pot, but the lakes proved to be a breeding ground for a new generation of innovative engine tuners-racers who ran their engines near the melting point and coined the term "hot rod." As soon as the more streamlined '32 models appeared, they were adopted as the racer's favorite, especially the "air-flow" grille shell, which was tacked on to the front of Ts and As alike.
The V-8 was, at first, rejected as being possibly unreliable, and certainly less powerful than a good racing four. Speeds of up to 120 mph were possible with parts such as Riley four-port heads or Winfield's red or yellow heads. Nevertheless, as Ford improved the design of the V-8 to increase its output, and speed equipment manufacturers began to make parts for it, so the racers came to love it.
They still do, but it would be 1937 before Richie Richard's stripped-down '32 V-8 roadster topped 100 mph. With milled heads, a Betry intake manifold, and no fenders, the car ran 104.04 mph. Karl Orr, the owner of an early speed shop and the first guy to exceed 120 mph in a Deuce, would continue to increase the speed until the time the war broke out. Supposedly, Orr used a thick-wall Canadian block and Indian motorcycle pistons. It eventually ran 125.82 mph, and Veda, Karl's wife, was one of the fastest women at the lakes. However, in the years leading up to World War II, the bangers were never far behind.
Activity at Muroc ceased in 1940 when the government-owned land was taken over by the Army. America was not yet in the war, and, consequently, the racers merely moved to one of the other dry lakes-El Mirage, Harper, or Rosamond. For the U.S., the war was but a year away, and all racing at the lakes stopped in 1942, but the rodders would be back. When they returned, the V-8 began to grow in popularity. Most engine tuners building V-8s sought out the forged-steel crankshaft, which they believed was stronger than the later cast cranks. Ironically, these cranks were used for only one year: 1932.
Creighton Hunter took this...
Creighton Hunter took this photo of Doug Hartelt, a member of the Lancers club, in 1941. According to Don Montgomery, Chuck Potvin coerced his friend Hartelt into racing and he regularly turned over 100 mph in lakes meets.
Located in Culver City, Karl...
Located in Culver City, Karl Orr's Speed Shop was possibly the third speed shop to open in the Los Angeles region and became a mecca for racers during the war years.
Here's Veda Orr, known as...
Here's Veda Orr, known as the "First Woman of Lakes Racing" and the only female member of the SCTA at the time, behind the wheel of her and hubby Karl's Deuce roadster.
By 1946, the Orrs' roadster...
By 1946, the Orrs' roadster was given this two-tone scalloped paint job and the number 27 when the couple decided to go oval-track racing.
Karl and Veda Orr used their...
Karl and Veda Orr used their Deuce roadster to tow Karl's modified. Karl won the SCTA Championship in 1942 and held it through '46. It ran a best of 126.65 mph in 1946 with a 1940 Merc engine, Bertrand cam, and filled heads.
Number 7, the Porter Muffler...
Number 7, the Porter Muffler roadster, streaks across the dry lakebed on its way to another 100-mph run.