In 1948 Bill Waddill helped form a local hot rod club partially named for Genesee County where it was based. The balance of the name may have been influenced by an existing organization, the Gear Grinders of Bell, California, a member club in the Southern California Timing Association.
Flint is located in Genesee County. The club became known as the Gear Grinders and was associated more with the city of Flint, as the town's name was readily recognized.
During the '50's and into the '60's the Gear Grinders were very active. They rated right up with the top clubs in Michigan. Members who had begun as youths rebuilding battered old wrecks matured into skilled mechanics and automotive craftsmen, able to produce award-winning creations worthy of public admiration.
Initially twenty-three joined....
Initially twenty-three joined. Bill was elected the organization's first president. Dues were one dollar per month. When this photo was taken, the club had added a new members.
Over the years Bill Waddill continued to actively participate in dry lake and drag competitions, first with a hot Crosley and later with a high-powered Henry J. His achievements are well documented in magazines such as Hot Rod, Hop Up, Car Craft, and National Dragster. He became well known in state and national racing circles.
While the West Coast was undoubtedly the Mecca of hot rodding in the Forties and Fifties, individuals throughout America were emulating western automotive innovations. Magazines like Hot Rod focused on the coastal scene and publicized the latest trends. In such periodicals Midwesterners like Bill were reading carefully, absorbing the knowledge, and honing skills necessary to go head to head with the Californians.
Both locally and nationally Bill was a hot rodding pioneer. As such he influenced young hot rodders who came to him for parts and looked to him for advice. His knowledge and notable performance achievements were admired. After a lifetime of continued willingness to help others, and unending support of the hobby, Bill's efforts were formally recognized. In 1991 he was posthumously inducted into the Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1948 Bill Waddill opened The Speed Shop in this garage at 3318 Fenton Road in Flint, Michigan. At that time sources for hop-up items like dual and triple carb manifolds, high-compression finned heads, and custom ground cams were scarce outside the major cities.
The shop would become a popular location as interest in drag racing and improved performance made its way eastward during the 1950's and 1960's.
Meanwhile, business was brisk and demanded more room. Larger quarters were found. Bill advertised in major hobby publications and thereby found customers locally, and nationally as well. His reputation spread.
In this photo Bill appears quite proud of his Deuce roadster. And, well he should be. The 59A block had been bored and stroked. Edelbrock heads pumped up the compression and an Edelbrock triple carb setup supplied the thirsty motor. A custom ground cam rounded out the goody list for the modified Flathead. In 1951 he drove the little beauty to Bonneville, ran 130 m.p.h. in the Modified Roadster class, and then drove it all the way back. Later a Nailhead Buick fueled by four carburetors was installed. Originally black, the color changed to maroon soon after the engine swap.
Today we recognize what has become a "classic" roadster appearance. Bill's car certainly has it! As you see, the '32 had many upgrades. However, only those with an experienced eye will notice the placement of the fender wells over the rear tires. When the car was channeled, this modification was done in order to retain more stock-appearing bodylines. The alteration is so subtle that it is easily overlooked.
Appearing at the first Detroit Autorama and other regional shows, the meticulously built beauty won numerous trophies for its outstanding craftsmanship. Taken at a Detroit show in 1952, this photo highlights front end details. Note the custom headlight support bar. The aluminum plaque displays G.G.G., initials for the Genesee Gear Grinders. The sign resting on the windshield frame proclaims Bill's 1951 Bonneville speed accomplishment of 130.813 miles per hour. The car was later sold and rumor has it that it's in Ohio today where it was raised to original height, had the fender wells repositioned, and fenders installed.
Bill was a hands-on mechanic as the coveralls reveal. The lack of a windshield may put this picture in 1951, prior to his Bonneville run. Also, in 1951 Michigan license plates had a black background with white letters and numbers. Short nerf bars served in lieu of a bumper and as push bars when a shove was needed. Taillights are '39 Ford, commonly used on early hot rods. Check out the tread on that right rear tire. Is it an early racing slick or one designed for the salt? G.G.G. plaque announced his club affiliation. Was it on the rear for the benefit of those who lost races to him?
Hanging around with other members often provided a worthwhile opportunity to talk car talk. Outside of a formal meeting this gave them a chance to exchange ideas about their cars, club practices, and upcoming events. One wonders how often a drag race was negotiated. Clubs discouraged this type of racing on the street, but it most likely still went on somewhere in the Flint area.
There were plenty of hot rods in attendance for the Gear Grinder meetings held at the shop: (l to r) Bill Waddill, unknown, Doc Gage, Ron Lancto, Bill Nelson, Harry Boyd, and Bill McKie.
The Gear Grinders were contemporaries of the Huron Valley Road Runners. They were invited to participate in the early Ecorse Road competitions during 1953. In 1954 when regional drag racing moved to Amrhein Road in Livonia, near Detroit, they participated often. Popularity of the site influenced the NHRA Safety Safari to make the location stop number 8 on their tour that year. In all likelihood the boys from Flint were in the crowd during the NHRA visit. Later, in 1956, they were part of the Michigan Hot Rod Association when it built a drag strip in New Baltimore, north of Detroit. In '59 Detroit Dragway opened. The club soon joined the competition there.
Members regularly showed their uniquely styled automobiles at Detroit and Flint autoramas. Ron Lancto's Deuce and Doc Gage's smooth-nosed coupe represented the Gear Grinders well in 1952.
If you enjoyed this story (and I'm sure you did) you can order the book, Car Club Memories - Personal Stories from Three Dynamic Decades of Cruisin', Competition, and Cool Cars. Fred Thomas spent years collecting the stories and photos and has assembled some of the best into this book available online at barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, and authorhouse.com. Local bookstores can search by title, author, ISBN: 978-1-4343-6251-3 (sc), or LCCN 2007908240. The $15.95 book has 116 pages and165 vintage black and white photos to add to your reading enjoyment.
Additional information about Bill Waddill can be found in these sources:
Hot Rods, Trend Book No. 102 by editors of Hot Rod, pp 54-55
Hot Rod, October 1950, p 34
Motorsport, April 1951, p 12
Hop Up, November 1951
4th Annual Bonneville National Speed Trials Souvenir Program, Aug. 25-31, 1952, p 13
Hot Rod, November 1952, p 14
Autosport Review, December 1952, p 17
Hot Rod, April 1953, pp 58-61
Hot Rod, December 1953, p 23
Car Craft, July 1954, p 9
6th Annual Bonneville Souvenir Program, August 30-September 3, 1954, p 2
Hot Rod, November 1954, p 27
4th Annual National Championship Drag Races, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Official Program, August 29-September 1, 1958
Hot Rod, May 1960, pp 82-83