Dry-lake racing before and immediately after World War II was likely the purest form of automotive motorsports. The comparatively loose rules fostered a sort of run-what-you-brung movement; if someone wanted to prove their ideas, the unsupervised lakebeds northeast of Los Angeles were the greatest places to do it.
The Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) established four distinct classes upon its creation in November 1937: cars with very large-displacement or supercharged engines ran in the unlimited class; ones with purpose-built aerodynamic bodies ran as streamliners; stripped-down topless production cars ran as roadsters; and cars with highly modified roadster bodies fell into modified, a class that sort of bridged the roadsters and streamliners.
Numerous streamliners and modifieds made history in the few years before and after the war, but two in particular stand out. One is Stu Hilborn's streamliner. Black, sleek, and devoid of any creature comforts, it served as a test bed for one of the first automotive applications of fuel injection, arguably one of the greatest innovations the automotive industry has yet seen.
Danny Sakai's history isn't as familiar as Stu's but it doesn't mean his legacy is any less important. One of the most promising racers before the war, Danny set numerous fast times at various meets and as a result earned his club, Walkers, considerable points. In fact, if there's any reason Danny's name isn't familiar, it's because of his tragic death at the beginning of his potentially illustrious career.
These two cars stand out for a few more reasons beyond Stu and Danny's station in history. First, they're both Jim Lattin's cars. Second and what may seem unlikely to make such cars noteworthy, they're both recreations. Rumor has it that the originals both exist but a very extensive, decades-long search has only led to dead ends. Finally, though, it's impossible to judge the absolutely most-handsome race car, they're two of the better-built, better-looking cars of their time.
Stu Hilborn's Streamliner Recreation
As is the case with most noteworthy historical race cars, Stu Hilborn's famous race car didn't start life as Stu's. Until he bought it on Dec. 7, 1941, Stu's car was Bill Warth's. In fact it was Warth's second car.
What Warth did was apply his ideas proven on the first car to his next. Rather than spanning a pair of '24 Chevrolet framerails with crossmembers, he welded a '37 Ford front axle and Model A rear axle directly to it. He committed the earlier car's shape to metal and achieved a 132-mph run with a Chevy engine topped with a three-port Olds head before selling it to Stu. Only instead of giving Stu the car's engine, Warth offered the following caution: a V-8 wouldn't fit in the narrow frame.
Stu wasn't a name yet but he was far from inexperienced. The father of his pal, Eddie Miller Jr., was the senior Miller of Duesenberg fame. Guided by the senior Miller and helped by the junior, Stu wedged a V-8 between those unforgiving 'rails and clicked off a 134-mph run before the government canceled all official race meets.
The war may have suspended Stu's activities but during his stint as a gunnery instructor he developed the ideas that Miller Sr. planted, among them solutions to the fuel-distribution problems that plagued flatheads. His reentry into racing after the war gave him more food for thought: though Stu's engine benefited from the improved fuel distribution that Miller Sr.'s unique four-carburetor manifold provided, the zinc-bodied carburetors bolted to it tended to dissolve and plug up in the presence of methanol.
With the understanding that fuel injection would solve the problems in one swoop, Stu set to work; however, with few tools, much less the applied knowledge of how to make a fuel-injection system work, he admitted progress didn't come easy. Ironically, some of the greatest resistance he faced was from the people who stood to benefit most from his labor, the hot rodders of the day.