You knew you made it if that...
You knew you made it if that guy with the big smile and cowboy hat gave you a trophy. JC "Aggie" Agajanian was one of the greatest race car owners/motorsports promoters of all time, and the Sacramento AutoRama hired him to present trophies to winners like Rico at the '51 event.
People seem to forget about Seconds even if they're winners in their own right. For example, chances are you wouldn't have to look far if you wanted to know who won America's Most Beautiful Roadster (née World's) at the inaugural Grand National Roadster Show. It seems everybody knows that Bill Niekamp won the first spot on the big trophy in 1950.
But you'd have to ask quite a few more people if you wanted to know who won that title the following year. And if you got an answer at all it would probably come from a guy with wispy white hair and yellowing glasses. Even then he'd probably squint into the distance and bring his hand up to bob his index finger as if he were parting cards in an internal Rolodex. And if his cards were still stacked right, he'd say Rico Squaglia won that year with a Matador Red 1923 Ford Model T roadster.
Coming in First the second year running was hardly reason to forget that car though. For starters, it was a Model T, the first of what became the most winning model in the award's history (20 were Ts, or more than double the number of Model A winners-especially impressive since the last T to win did so 19 years ago). What's more, Rico's car sported a nose and bellypan crafted by one of the panel beaters of his time, if not all time. Another of its contributions is a dubious one, but many say Rico's car is the reason that all America's Most Beautiful Roadster entries must actually move under their own power.
But probably what's most critical to this story is that Rico's car still exists in almost entirely its original form. In fact, according to its present steward, all of its owners lived within about a 15-mile radius from where the car was built. "How I acquired the car just about goes back to the original owner," Carter Fisher recalled. "A friend of mine's dad built the car."
Rico was no stranger to T...
Rico was no stranger to T roadsters. To raise the funds to build his show winner, he sold this '23-25 model, a dirt track racer he campaigned from after the war until 1948. Though no records exist, the relative complexity of the one-piece hood and blister suggest Harry Westergard's involvement.
Rico's story fits squarely with the American dream. He was born in 1910 to immigrant parents. They lived in San Francisco, but like so many newly minted Italian-Americans in the very early '20s, they moved inland to Walnut Grove, part of an agricultural basin made fertile by the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. "My father came up here to work on a farm, which he hated," Rick Squaglia says. "He did that for two years before he said the hell with it." He sought work at a local garage (possibly Jack Veterens') and worked his way up to a Ford dealership, but more on that later.
Lucky for Rico, the Sacramento Delta was good for more than just farming; the rivers that constituted the basin spawned cracker box and runabout racing, and the rich land among them made excellent track material. "He got into boat racing in the late '30s, then ended up in track car racing after the war," Rick Squaglia says. "My father's car had a Flathead, I think it was a 3/8 by 3/8, and I think he was running alcohol. I remember it went like hell. He sold it in, oh, I think 1948 or so.
"Anyway, then he got out of track racing and got into building this car [the red roadster] in '49," he says. "He decided to build this car with a guy named Harry Westergard."
The cycle fenders meant more...
The cycle fenders meant more work but the full wheel covers possibly hint at Rico's rush to get his car ready for the 1951 Grand National Roadster Show. Note the presence of Kinmont disc brakes-rare stuff even then.
For those among us who don't know Westergard's legacy, he was responsible for restyling ordinary cars into extraordinary works of art, including Mel Falconer's '39 Ford convertible and Harold Ohanesian's '40 Mercury convertible sedan. Among his many accomplishments, Westergard, Norm Milne, and fellow custom car builder Dick Bertolucci founded the Thunderbolts car club in 1945 as a means to give street racers more legitimate venues.
"They both worked in the same shop right in Walnut Grove," Rick Squaglia says. "Westergard was a bodyman and my father was the shop foreman in this small Ford dealership run by Frank Judy at the time. Westergard came out of Sacramento but he drove all the way down here to work.