That's Dan Gurney driving Frank Arciero's 4.9L V-12 Ferrari behind Duffy at the Examiner G
Duffy Livingstone will always be remembered as the father of the Go Kart. This story, however, is about Duffy the hot rodder, a card carrying member of the NHRA Charter Club (#156) and the Pasadena Roadster Club.
For some hot rodders it wasn't all dragstrips, dry lakes, and the Salt-a few ventured into road racing: "Land Speed Racing kinda scared me," says Duff. "I liked sporty car racing instead."
Duffy made such an impact in the Fifties road racing his Ford Model T, you only had to mention his name in those circles and some cultured noses went in the air. Duffy blew their doors off on a shoestring in his '25 roadster that caused those noses to get bent out of shape.
In 1926, when Duffy was 1 year old, he moved from Springfield, Illinois to Pasadena, California. When I asked Duffy if he grew up in Pasadena he laughed. "No, I lived in Pasadena; I never grew up."
Duffy's first car was a "bone-stock Model T 4-door sedan. I paid $12 for it from an old lady from Pasadena. Actually I had $8 in it and my buddy Dick Van De Veere (whom I've known since 2nd grade) had $4. It had been on blocks for years. The motor was frozen up when we got it, so we towed it and slammed it into gear, which broke the motor loose. It ran fine from then on."
After the T was sold, Duff didn't own another car until World War II ended. Duffy walked or rode his bike to school since he only lived three blocks away. "I kinda liked my bike and was riding it when the War started. I went in March of '42."
Having survived flying missions over the South Pacific, Duffy was discharged in '46 and returned to Pasadena. No more walking for Duffy-he wanted a hot rod. The one he purchased, you might say, led him into the muffler business.
"A guy named Dave "Mitch" Mitchell had a Deuce roadster for sale and I bought it from him. He owned Mitchell's Roadster Shop in Pasadena, by the Rose Bowl, and after I bought the roadster I went to work for him and learned how to weld there. We were replacing a lot of four-bangers with Ford Flathead V-8s in roadsters. Dave later changed the business to Mitchell Mufflers."
"I built Mitchell's first glasspack muffler," stated Duffy. "Originally, mufflers were packed with steel and eventually the material deteriorated. Some liked the rapping sound, but the noise grated on most people after awhile. When Mitchell started making mufflers he bought the casings and cores and the endcaps from Porter Muffler in LA, and we'd put the glass in the mufflers. The first glasspack mufflers didn't work out. The resin melted. We used the same fiberglass like you put on the hood of a car. The stuff would blow out the back of the muffler and if you were following too close behind, you'd start to itch," laughed Duffy.
"In '48, we started using what they called roving fiberglass [a high-strength, coarsely-woven fabric used in all phases of fiberglass molding] which was the remains of a continuous strand of fiberglass. We'd wrap that around the core."
"We made $66 off our first customer. A dual exhaust job was $49.50. That included splitting the manifold on a Chevy-6. We were only there a year because they sold the building. We then moved to Monrovia to what used to be a gas station and changed the name to GP Muffler. We were making glasspack mufflers. We'd write on a bill of sale GP for glasspacks or SP for steelpacks."
"Jay Chamberlain (who later became a Formula One competitor) used to hang out at our muffler shop and had a T that he got from Emil Diedt and he wanted to unload it. I got the T and approached a guy named Paul Parker who had a Merc engine. I did the work on the car, Parker supplied the engine. Diedt built the nose out of steel (hammered it and the hood)."
It was just a frame, a nose and the body. We started working on it. Paul's motor was a 3/8x3/8 Merc with a Potvin Eliminator cam (bored and stroked an additional 1/8-inch for more cubic inches) that we put in the roadster. It was a horrible-looking thing when we first built it. The first paint job was pink. I mixed some red primer and gray primer and it came out pink. I named the T the Eliminator after the Potvin cam."
Flights Cancelled Today
Santa Barbara and Palm Springs, California, were sleepy little towns in the Fifties; consequently their airports were sparsely used. So on certain weekends their vast expanse of concrete was the perfect place to hold amateur road racing events. The California Sports Car Club put on sports car races there, throwing in a few hay bales to outline the course and some snow fencing to keep the spectators reasonably safe.
"I borrowed Don Blair's trailer in '52 or '53 and towed the T to Palm Springs to the airport course. I was lucky the damn thing even started. I entered a bunch of races before I got the T to handle."
Such a Deal
"Paul got married and that took him out of the picture, plus I blew his Flathead Merc. So I got a '55 Chevy V-8 engine from a Chevy dealer. In those days Chevy dealers made it so the warranty engines they removed were made useless. They would crank the pistons down and break the skirt off of each one, then take a hammer and hit the front of the crank where the pulley goes on to put a flat spot on the corner, and they poked a hole in the side of the block. They'd sell them for $25."
Duffy filed the front of the crank, bought some Jan's pistons and welded up the hole in the side of the block. Tim's Precision Engines balanced and bored the 265 to 283 cubic inches. Duff scrounged some Chevy truck heads for $30 and Tim put bigger valves in them. He threw in a Shaffer aluminum flywheel, a three carburetor manifold for Carter carbs which Duffy modified to hold 97s, and he had a screaming V-8.
That's Duffy (front and center) at the Pasadena Rose Bowl in 1938. Gordon Babb (R) owned A
This beautiful 9-inch wooden model was built by Duffy in 1938. The hood was aluminum and t
"I bought the `32 in 1945 for $400 from Dave Mitchell," says Duffy. "It had a Ford Flathea
Duffy stuffed a 346 cubic inch `37 Cad engine and transmission in his Deuce. It had two bi
"I channeled it... Z'ed the frame," commented Duffy on his `32 with the Packard taillights
Before the Chevy was dropped in, the Eliminator ran a Flathead: "I was running out of fuel
"All the foreign cars had all those fancy names: Testarossa, Scuderia Ferrari (Ferrari Stable) and so on. So I added Tihsepa to the Eliminator name when I dropped in the Chevy. I never told them what it stood for. It blew me away; it took them about three months to figure it out. I hear through the grapevine they were going over the entry blanks when they got to Tihsepa and the guy figured out what it meant by spelling it backwards. I had to remove the Tihsepa part. Now there's a Tihsepa kart club."
Everybody was running torsion bars at Indy so Duffy got a set and mounted them on the rear when he put the Chevy in it. "I didn't know what I was doing," says Duff. "I went to Pomona and it ran beautifully down the straight (the Pomona Drag Strip part of the road course) but I had to tippy-toe through the corners. It wasn't cornering very good.
"When I got it home, I was trying to figure out what was wrong with it. I put a jack under one framerail. I could only raise it an inch and a half and it would pick up the inside wheel off the ground. So I ended up putting a '40 Ford spring in the back and I moved the spring back a foot behind the axle to clear the quick-change rearend. It was the best thing I ever did to the car. I put four Ford Houdaille shocks on the back end. At the time they were adjustable. With that I could jack up the framerail 6 inches and it wouldn't lift the wheel off the ground. After that it cornered like it was on 'rails."
Pomona's Big One
Back in the Fifties and Sixties, the big attraction at Pomona (besides the drags) was the Pomona Sports Car Races held on the same fairgrounds. The track was two miles long with 7 turns. The dragstrip was the back straight and at the south end of the strip was a left-hand turn. Turn 2 was another left-hander immediately after going under the bridge (leading into the Fairgrounds off McKinley Avenue) and so on until going into Turn 7 at the north end of the dragstrip to complete one lap.
It was a big deal-a very big deal-when the Los Angeles Herald Examiner newspaper held a truly international event on the fairgrounds on March 8, 1959. Celebrated Formula One drivers from Europe came to compete in the FIA and (USAC) United States Auto Club Championship.
European aces like English 24 Hour Le Mans winner Roy Salvadori, Formula One competitor Maurice Trintignant from France, and Count Wolfgang von Tripps from Germany added to the international breadth of the field. "I remember Trintignant showed up at Pomona with a police escort with sirens and lights on," says Duffy.
Local drivers who would become international driving stars were also in the race, such as Dan Gurney piloting Frank Arciero's 4.9L Ferrari, Ken Miles in a Porsche Spyder, Jim Hall driving a Lister Corvette and Carroll Shelby driving a 5.7L Maserati.
USAC heavyweights Jerry Unser in Mickey Thompson's Kurtis-Pontiac, Jim Rathmann wheeling a Ferrari, Tony Bettenhausen in a Ferrari Monza, and Lloyd Ruby represented the boys from the Indy 500 league. Fellow hot rodder turned road racer Max Balchowsky drove his Ol' Yeller to round out the field.
"I entered the Examiner Grand Prix because I knew I wouldn't make the race. They had the top cars from all over the U.S. plus they had Formula One drivers from Europe competing. I thought I can go out there race day, Saturday, and get 25 gallons of free fuel, a case of oil and a quart of brake fluid. Take a couple of laps, go home, drain the fuel, set the oil on the shelf, go back Sunday and get another 25 gallons of fuel, the oil, and the brake fluid."
Tech inspections were held in Hollywood the week before. Duffy ran his car through inspection primarily to get his pit pass. But Duff had an ulterior motive. He gave the pass to his friend who worked at a photo lab. "He cranked off a few for my buddies. I thought that my buddies and I could sit in the infield and watch the race...rub elbows with the big wheels," laughed Duffy.
"I went out and qualified 19th fastest and the Eliminator was in the field. I out-qualified Jim Hall (Lister Corvette), Wolfgang Von Tripps (the Ferrari Formula One ace was killed at Monza Italy in '61), and Maurice Trintignant."
That impressive qualifying run of Duffy's was only 6 mph slower than Dan Gurney and 5 mph off the winner Ken Miles in a Porsche Spyder.
"The car overheated during the race. I pulled into the pits half-way and I was in 8th place at the time. I wondered if I should go out again, but I put water in it, went out and finished the race. I got 11th overall and 6th in my class. I won six hundred bucks," laughed Duff.
After relocating shops a couple more times, Duffy finally retired and relocated to Grants Pass, Oregon, with his wife Dee, where he can fly model planes, tend to his garden on his 7 acres, and take care of abused dogs that have been rescued. He was invited to Australia over the winter to go kart racing. He crashed, but mended faster than most.
Duffy Livingstone's success as a road racer is an appropriate complement to his success in go kart racing and in putting a lot of people behind the (butterfly) wheel.
They were the Snake and the Mongoose of road racing, but ithere was not a lot of love lost between Duffy and Ferrari owner/racer John von Neumann. While running in the heat race at the Santa Barbara airport course, Duffy encountered the Ferrari driven by von Neumann: "Turn 1 was pretty hairy at the start of the race," recalled Duffy, "it skinnied down to two cars, and later on in the race you could just get one car through there. At the start of the race I was on the outside of a blown MG and I was watching the telephone pole, when out of the corner of my eye comes a silver Ferrari. He hit me right in front of the left rear tire at about a forty-five-degree angle. My tire hit the quarter panel of the Ferrari. I went up on my two front wheels as I was coming to the next sharp right hand corner, and as I cranked the steering, the rear end came down on top of his hood. The front of that Ferrari from the windshield forward was destroyed. My header pipe was dented on the left side and somehow it pushed the door kinda close to the steering wheel, but it didn't bother me. I continued on for another lap to feel the car out and it felt OK so I got on it and got a 5th in the race.
"After the race, I was in the pits and I got a big ol' hammer and I was pounding on the pushed-in door. On the Model T that door didn't open, but I cut it so that it did open. Two of von Neumann's pit men were standing about one row back, because there was a big crowd around the car. I turned to my brother and I said, 'Any a-hole can go out and buy a new Ferrari nowadays but these Model T doors are hard to come by. That got back to von Neumann. He never spoke to me much, and after that he never spoke to me at all!.
"At a later race, von Neumann had spun the Ferrari and was sitting in the middle of the corner when I came upon him. I aimed right at him," Duff remembers, "I could see the terror in his face. Of course I missed him."
Dan Gurney on Duff
Dan Gurney drove a kart for Duffy during the beginning of Nassau Speed Weeks in 1959, and it almost cost Gurney his professional driving career. Duffy built the first track for karts in the U.S. on the Go-Kart Manufacturing facility in Azusa, a challenging 3/10-mile road course. "And 10 feet," chuckled Duff.
"I knew Duffy," began Dan Gurney, "and I got wind that they were going to have a kart race in Nassau during Speed Weeks. I was scheduled (June '59) to be there anyway racing. The fact it was going to be the biggest kart race ever with a $1,000 to win...yeah I wanted to be a part of it. It was a serious effort on my part. That's when I went to Duffy's kart track and worked with the stopwatch and got down to business with the same West Bend twin-engine kart I would be racing in Nassau. I was deadly serious about the whole thing. I started 28th and I worked my way up to 2nd place. I made a mistake, got a little too anxious to pass the guy that was leading and I lost it. I got out of the kart and a guy nailed me from behind. I did a summersault into the hay bales. I was afraid to look at my foot because I thought he took it off."
Gurney was scheduled to drive the Tipo 61 Birdcage Maserati at Nassau, but had to withdraw from the Governor's Trophy race because of his injury. Luckily for Dan he was in the process of leaving Ferrari and going to the BRM Formula One team, because his karting incident would not have sat well with Enzo.
Skip Hudson was driving a Monza Ferrari in the Examiner race and sent Duffy this photo sho
The "fire system" is hanging on the dash; fuel cells didn't exit yet, and there's no scatt
This story is not about Duff's karting days but this experimental kart was like squeezing
The good news: the was still ticking off the Ferrari and Maserati set on the race track wh