Nearly 60 years ago, our soon-to-be-sister publication Hop Up magazine declared NorCal’ian Al Dal Porto’s handsome racer the “World’s Most Beautiful ‘Lakes’ Roadster” on its July ’52 cover. Inside, the cover roadster was given appropriate accolades to back up that mighty statement—among them, credit given to metal artisan Jack Hagemann for the roadster’s beautiful, hand-crafted front section and intricate frame and to John Errecalde for the stroked, 296ci Flathead, not to mention an accompanying cutaway drawing by Jim Richards. In all, the feature was very complementary and fairly in-depth for the space allotted. For a car of this caliber, further print coverage would undoubtedly follow … or would it?
Unfortunately, if you were to research the Dal Porto Lakester, other than a few tidbits in early R&Cs, the July ’52 Hop Up is about all you’d turn up. For a car credited as such, that doesn’t seem right, now does it? Well, there’s a perfectly good explanation for that.
You see, 1952 was a busy year for Dal Porto and his hybrid ’27 T lakester. It all started out with a class win at the Grand National Roadster Show, thanks to its extremely good looks. Then it went on to prove it was just as much “go” as it was “show” by setting class records at the dry lakes (driven by Ray Righetti with the SCTA Sidewinders) and on the quarter-mile at Kingdon Drag Strip. And that’s where the action pretty much comes to a screeching halt—more like a thundering crash, literally.
Before the year came to an end, the life of Dal Porto’s lakester did just that—came to an end. While once again competing at the lakes, the ’27 was severely wrecked and subsequently relegated to storage with Errecalde, where its remnants would stay for the next two decades. Errecalde would eventually pass the pile of parts along to friend Carl Schmid, but unfortunately, storage is where they’d remain once again for the better part of yet another 20 years.
Finally, in the early ’90s, Don Orosco acquired the incomplete, tattered Dal Porto roadster. Now, one would think that it would be at this point that things would make a turn for the better—with the ’27 in the hands of the very same man responsible for bringing back to life such historic hot rods as the Dick Flint roadster—but that’s not the case. For whatever reasons, Orosco felt someone else should do the resurrection, and that someone else would turn out to be an old road racing buddy of his, Kerry Horan.
To say Kerry was faced with a difficult restoration project would be a huge understatement. Considering what he physically had to work with—or rather, didn’t have—Kerry was looking at quite a bit of recreating as well. What remained of the cowl-back ’27 T looked more like a crumpled milk carton than an old Ford roadster, such a twisted mess that even the savviest of rat rodders would walk right past it at a swap meet. But none of this, not even the lacking of the original engine, transmission, and one of the three belly pans, deterred Kerry from the pursuit of bringing the “World’s Most Beautiful ‘Lakes’ Roadster” back to its former glory (he was so determined, he went so far as to scour Schmid’s 10-acre yard a decade after he’d bought the car in hopes of finding some of the missing parts, which he did!).
Add yet another decade to the picture and, yes, a brand-new life has been bestowed upon the beloved beauty, just as Dal Porto, Hagemann, and Errecalde had done over a half century ago. And whether coincidence or irony, the venue Kerry chose to debut the ’27: the Grand National Roadster Show (where it was fittingly given the Bruce Meyer Hot Rod Preservation Award). This time around, however, the key roles in the car’s restoration would be played by different—but equally as talented—players.
The “new” drivetrain starts with a ’48 Flathead, built as close to original specs as possible by Art Chrisman. Oddly enough, while the Hop Up feature states the 59A was equipped with Edelbrock heads and a Weiand 4x2 intake, from the one detail shot of the engine it appears the heads are Weiands and the intake a triple deuce. Be that as it may (or may not), Chrisman topped the Tony Baron–machined Merc block with a set of polished Navarro heads. And once again, a Weiand intake was used, however, this time recreation more closely mimicked the old printed lore—four Stromberg 81s rather than a trio of 97s. The motor also features Arias pistons, an Isky 404 Jr. cam, Vertex mag (redone by Joe Hunt), and Belond chromed headers.
For the transmission, Kerry enlisted Brian Higgins of S&K Speed on the East Coast to prepare a ’39 Toploader with Zephyr gears and the same truck flywheel/clutch setup found in the original car. A ’34 torque tube connects the old Halibrand quick-change to the gearbox, while a forward-mounted ’40 Ford spring and tube shocks hang the rearend from the chassis. Supporting those same ’rails up front are an undropped but drilled, transverse-sprung ’34 I-beam bouncing off inboard-mounted Houdaille shocks while being located by tubular radius rods. Steering is still controlled by a modified Franklin box—with the draglink hidden discretely beneath the shapely nose piece. Rolling stock is similar 7.50-16 Firestone Indy tires front and rear, mounted on chromed ’40 Ford steelies re-hooped by Stockton Wheel.
As mentioned, the 1952 crash caused quite a bit of damage to the car, namely to the ’27 T rear section, as you can see by the shot of Kerry standing with the crumpled mess (as well as the framework for the nose, the condition of which indicating that the front half of the car fared much better). That said, the main restoration would be no easy task, a job Kerry relied on Springfield, Ohio’s Classic Craft Motorsports to handle appropriately. It helped greatly that they had decent reference material: outtakes and some of the actual photographs used in the Hop Up article that Don Orosco had previously acquired from the late Dean Batchelor—who, coincidentally was the editor at the time the original feature was published, and though no byline was listed, is said to have written the feature in the first place. From the “slip-on” hand-shaped nose (with its aluminum Sprint car–style grille piece) to the intricate, three-piece full-length belly pan—all gloriously covered in glass-like black paint—Hagemann’s original work of art was indeed brought back to life. But it doesn’t stop at the exterior body panels, not by a long shot.
Kerry admits it took just as much in-depth research and photo-referencing to re-emulate the roadster’s interior—right down to the original “C-O-Two” fire extinguisher and correct-era military aircraft seatbelts. While the confines may be a bit spiffier now, the cockpit’s early traits are all present, including the Sun tach/Stewart-Warner gauges, fuel pressure pump, and ’40 Ford steering with a Little Bo Peep style shifter swooping gracefully below.
Given its lack of historical reference—and, for the most part, significance—it’s a wonder the Dal Porto Lakester still exists. But exist it does, and thanks to Kerry Horan, it does so in all its former glory … and then some.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Menlo Park, California
1927 Model T Lakester