There's a story that arises from that one that underscores Navarro's willingness to try different things. "Well a 180-degree crank turns a V-8 into two four-cylinder engines," Scott explained. "Wally Parks comes to him and says, 'Hey, look, let's see if you can't run this car on four cylinders.'" Park's idea, of course, was for Navarro to set a record in at least one class, "And O/Streamliner didn't have one yet," Scott explained. Ultimately Navarro gutted the engine of half its pistons, used four cut-down rods to take up the space on the journals, dolled up the body with cardboard "fairings", and with generous push starts got the car to nearly 80 mph two times, thereby setting the record at 78.67 mph.
To Scott Perrott's knowledge, the car's history, at least in Navarro's control, was short. "The car only lasted 'til 1953," he surmised. Modifications made to the car after Navarro sold it and prior to when Scott found it indicated that it continued to evolve (it had evidence of a Cadillac engine), but it's a history that's pretty much lost to the ages. In fact, the car came fairly close to ceasing to exist as a historical race car.
"I get Hemmings air-mailed to me and there's this car," Scott explained. "I was going to build a street roadster out of it and I was looking for a track roadster body. It was complete less the nose and the hood and the running gear." Though Scott said the prior owner did know what the car was by way of Don Montgomery's books, history didn't necessarily have the cache in the pre-eBay '90s as it does now. "I bought it for $1,500," Scott admitted, or bragged, depending on your perspective.
"When I got the car home I was able to wet sand part of the body to come up with the [Navarro] decal just like in the photographs," he continued. "I knew him through the speed equipment but I didn't really know what he'd done." As he learned the car and its former owner's history, however, he said he knew exactly what he needed to do.
Scott, with the extensive labor and creative skill of Eric Sanders in Eugene, Oregon, began to restore the car as it appeared during its days with Navarro. "All the aluminum was nice. The belly pan and side panels, for example, we hardly even straightened them," he said.
Anything made of steel, however, didn't fare so well. "The body itself had about 2 inches of rust all the way around," he said. "I've got a picture of the way it looked when we first got it. They always look solid when you buy 'em, but once you start tearing stuff apart you realize how thin things are. They used conduit for the body structure, and that was paper thin. So we had to replace a couple of chunks of that too."
Things got even more perilous the deeper he got into the project. "The guy who I bought it from had actually contacted him, but [Navarro] didn't want to buy it," Scott said. "When I talked to [Navarro], he asked, 'What are you going to do with it?' He was real skeptical. I said I was going to just put it back to the way it was. He said, 'Ya know, this is a very complicated car.' Well I didn't believe it. I mean how complicated can a Flathead car be?"
Nature has a knack of answering such rhetorical questions. Besides the blower, one of the centerpieces of the car is the manifold that adapts the carburetors to it. It's about 1 1/4-inch thick and Navarro milled a series of galleys in it and used it as a fuel log. The design takes advantage of the temperature drop incurred by the air as it undergoes pressure differential inside the carburetor venturi: as that air whooshes through that manifold it absorbs the heat from the fuel inside it, which results in a denser fuel charge for the carburetors and theoretically more power. The worst part about the adapter, though, is that he didn't have it.
"The adapter is a really complicated thing," Scott admitted. "The hard thing was fitting all those carburetors over the opening in the blower. The holes don't go straight down; they go at an angle. There's also a slot cut in it so you can get to the bolts to tighten everything down. I mean it was just a lot of work for a very simple thing that turned out not to be." But by the benevolence of Scott's friend, Bob Coutts, it and the other difficult-to-make parts found new life. "He's just one of these guys who's been racing his whole life and working out of a little one-man machine shop. He and I are longtime friends and he can make anything I want. And he makes me do all the things that he doesn't want to do."
The engine is a story unto itself. Scott said the fella who owns the 176-inch engine that was in the car won't part with it, so he's committed to build another from scratch. "Moldex built me the crank, Cunningham built me rods, Arias built me pistons. I don't even have that stuff in the car yet," he lamented. "I have the intention and all the pieces to build the engine but I haven't gotten around to it."
Scott had the critical pieces to the car but lacked two that identified it as Navarro's testbed: the nose and hood. Making matters more difficult, the ones for the car were built by one of the masters of his time: Art Ingels.
Known more widely as the father of the go-kart, Ingels was the panel beater at Kurtis Kraft. In the 20 or so years it existed, it's said that Kurtis Kraft built more than 1,000 Midgets, half of them turnkey. It also built 120 Indianapolis racers, including five that won the big show. Suffice to say, considering his capacity, his noses are legendary. And considering how few he made for roadsters, they're rare. And considering how many of those got stuffed into walls and the backs of other cars, it's a wonder any survived.
"I get a phone call from this guy who says there's some off-the-wall hot rod magazine that says there's a swap meet in Denver, with one of these Ingels noses in it," Scott said. "Of course this was like six months prior, but luckily it had this guy's name in the article." Through a series of connections that went through Neal East and the club who hosted the swap meet, Scott found the last piece to his very complicated puzzle. "I paid more for that nose than I paid for the rest of the car!" he said incredulously but laughing just the same.
It was a worthwhile endeavor, Scott mused. Since finishing the car he took it to one of the Muroc reunions. "I knew Navarro was there but I didn't know where he was," Scott said. "We just pulled the tailgate and rolled the car out. All of a sudden I hear this guy yell, 'There's my car!' He had a deep voice, and you could hear him clear across the other cars," Scott reflected. "We fired it up and he says, 'Look at that! That still works just the way it's supposed to!'" referring to the carburetor adapter/fuel condenser. "Man that was the hardest thing I had to machine in my whole life! You're trying to fit all these carburetors on the blower and all we had were pictures to go from. The blower drive was the same way. We were just doing what the pictures said. That's the fun of this!"
In hindsight, Barney Navarro had a somewhat complicated relationship with going fast. For the most part, going fast consistently enough to win points championships seems secondary to Navarro. It's pretty obvious by the information he presented as technical editor for various magazines like HOP-UP and Popular Hot Rodding (he was the first tech editor at both titles) and by his contributions to uncountable others that he was more than qualified and detail oriented enough to make a car go reliably fast enough. And by his clockwork-reliable appearances at both the lakes and the tracks-oftentimes in the same weekend-he was clearly able to commit himself to something.
What seems imperative to Navarro was innovation. He was a facilitator of sorts; rather than go marginally faster than everybody else by using variations on the same parts and ideas, he often used entirely different ones and went way faster ... at least enough times to get everybody's attention. "I mean they went fast, but because they were constantly pushing the envelope they always blew up," Scott noted. "So their ability to get lots of points just went out the window.
"But you really have to understand that he always wanted to try something different, and that was partially his downfall. He was constantly experimenting to make something work better, and it didn't always work." So in that sense one could say that Navarro opened the door to new ideas, and once racers caught on there was Navarro with a new manifold, head, piston, or blower kit in hand ready to make a deal.
And if anyone dared question his products, he need only to crack the hood of his Maroon roadster. And can't you just imagine him pointing under it and saying something like, "The scientific principle of this is..." and following it with a long dissertation?