That's Jot (left) next to...
That's Jot (left) next to his friend the late "Big Bill" Edwards and his Cad-powered coupe at Bonneville behind Alex Xydias' So-Cal Special Streamliner in 1950. Jot was manning the Bell Auto Parts tent that year.
Innovation was happening in quick succession at the dry lakes after the war. There was Chet Herbert's roller cam, Stu Hilborn's fuel injection, and the Spalding Brother's (Bill and Tom) torsion bar suspended roadster, yet many a hardened hot rod jaw dropped when Jot Horne unbolted the towbar from his Model T at the June '48 SCTA meet at El Mirage.
The Ford and Merc Flathead V-8 was the SBC of its day, but Jot would have none of it when he shoehorned a 420-inch Duesenberg monster into his '27 Ford roadster. All the while working for the granddaddy of them all-the very first speed shop, dating back to 1923-Bell Auto Parts.
Finally, Jot is responsible for designing one of the most enduring wheels ever to pop a bead: the Cragar S/S. Since Bell Auto Parts has been gone some four decades, few of us have ever walked through the brick building's front door. Jot went through that door thousands of times because he worked at the legendary speed shop for over 30 years, "and I loved every minute of it," he says.
Jot Horne, "the 'E' is silent," Jot joked, was born in 1925, raised in Bell, California, and attended nearby Huntington Park High School. Jot, along with the usual academic classes, took shop classes making wood patterns for casting aluminum. That skill helped him later in the speed equipment business.
Before World War II, street racing was rampant in Southern California (sound familiar?); of course dragstrips wouldn't exist for another decade. Jot, without a legal place to go racing, went street racing. He won 18 races in a row. I bought my Model A coupe from a used car dealer for $75. It had a Cragar overhead valve conversion head on it. I found a roadster body, took the coupe body off, and put the roadster body on the A. That was common in those days because the bodies were easy to stumble on. I did it over a weekend. Later, I put a Ford V-8 Flathead in the roadster that we called an A/V-8.
Drag it Out
"I hung out at the Clock Drive In in Bell and I'd pick off guys to race or vice versa. I raced after dark mostly around the Bell/Maywood area and we used to go out to Turkey Valley (El Monte, where ranching was the core of its economy) to race on a real straight road. The place was packed with racers from all over. I got arrested when I couldn't stop while racing, hit a fence, and knocked it over. I just took off, ditched the car in an abandoned barn, and the cops found it and impounded my roadster."
That was Jot's wake-up call ending his racing on the street. There was an alternative, he learned. "I had a neighbor, who was older than me. He had a Winfield head on his Model A engine. He invited me to go with him to Muroc in 1939. Boy, I was hooked. What a beautiful place to race, but shortly after the Army took it over. I went to El Mirage a couple of times as a spectator before I went into the Navy, which I enlisted in when I was 17."
"When I got out of the Navy in 1946 I went to work for the Drake brothers. I knew Stanley Drake and his brother (John), who were Dale Drake's (Meyer-Drake) nephews. We did some finish work on the Drake two-cylinder Midget engines. I was never a qualified machinist but I did general machining for them. I didn't stay there too long. They were paying me 95 cents an hour. I passed Bell Auto Parts at 3633 East Gage Avenue in Bell hundreds of times when I was a kid and saw all that racing stuff in the window. I went over there one day and I told Roy Richter I wanted a job. Roy offered me $1.25 an hour. I took it. When I first started at Bell, I worked in shipping then they put me on the counter."
Bell Auto was already legendary in 1946 when Jot hired on. According to Jot, celebrities like Clark Gable would frequent Bell Auto to buy Cragar speed equipment back in the day.
"Juan Manuel Fangio (five-time Formula 1 world champion) from Argentina walked in alone around 1954 and bought a racing Ford Model B four-cylinder engine with a Hal dual-overhead cam head on it. I think he paid $500 for it. He must have heard it was there. He couldn't speak English. We boxed the engine up for him and he slipped us each $1 tip for cerveza," Jot laughed.
"We sold a lot of Ford Flathead V-8 parts after the war, Edelbrock being number one because of Vic's success at the lakes and in Midgets using his heads and intake manifolds. Guys using Edelbrock were going faster. We sold a lot of Isky cams, Harman and Collins cams, and Winfield cams ... pretty much those three, and a lot of Spalding ignitions."
Jot's assignment behind the counter was made to order for this experienced hot rod builder. "I built up the counter business. We had a counter loaded with used speed equipment, some on consignment. Cragar heads, racing engines, superchargers, even nose pieces off of Midgets for sale.
Jot (behind the candy machine...
Jot (behind the candy machine in 1955) knew that racers and rodders frequented Bell Auto Parts for a different version of candy-speed equipment. The hanging Bell helmets, called the 500, were being manufactured in a garage behind the parts store in 1954. They multiplied by the tens of thousands in the coming years. Eventually all USAC drivers at Indy, Ontario Motor Speedway, and Pocono would strap one on.
Wild isn't it? Jot had an...
Wild isn't it? Jot had an affinity for T roadsters and teamed up with fellow Bell Auto Parts buddy Norm Taylor to build another '27 T, the "Airoadster", in 1950. Half buried under the cowl is a single-overhead cam 441-inch aircraft six-cylinder Ranger engine mounted upside down. The engine was inverted in the P.T. 19 Trainer (crank on top, cylinders on the bottom), which allowed the prop to be higher on the tarmac.
Forget the radiator, it was...
Forget the radiator, it was air cooled. Jot knew that military aircraft engines were high tech (this one had roller rockers) and cheap after World War II. Jot paid a C-Note for the 7.2L and they threw in the whole plane. With the crank mounted 6-71 GMC blower, room for the driver was almost an afterthought.
The limited-edition Kookie...
The limited-edition Kookie Kar from the Danbury Mint has brought new attention to Jot's intake manifold that Norm Grabowski plopped on his'52 Cad. Jot made less than a hundred intake manifolds divided between the Cad, Chrysler Hemi, Ford Y-Block, and Olds overheads. "I originally made the manifolds for superchargers and converted some intakes to run four Stromberg 48 carburetors over the siamese ports of the Cad and Olds engines."
There was the Moon pedal and...
There was the Moon pedal and the Horne pedal. If manufactured today the cool Horne masher would still be in high demand.
Hidden under the louvered...
Hidden under the louvered '27 T hood (aerodynamics overruled showing the glitzy motor) was a stunning four valves per cylinder Model J Duesenberg. The twin-cam straight-8 engine produced 335 lb-ft of torque at just 500 rpm. Painted red and blue with its eight chrome stacks and handmade radiator shell from a Bell Auto Parts customer, Jot's creation was an ear-popper. He competed in the '49 1st Bonneville Nationals setting a record of 127.565 for the "D" Roadster class with the Doozy bolted to '32 'rails. "It was something ... the racket that it put out," Jot laughed.
What a Doozy
"It was a little slow business-wise...
"It was a little slow business-wise one day in 1964 when I started drawing a five-spoke wheel. Boy that looked pretty good, so I took the drawing to Roy. I told him we should go with this because Mickey Thompson was selling 200 of his Radar wheels a day." Cragar, known to the hard-core hop ups, would soon be known around the world because of the Cragar S/S thanks to Jot.
Jot would spectate no more and became a member of the SCTA racing club the Gear Grinders where they met once a month in a saloon in Bell.
"I saved up quite a bit of money during the war, being overseas and all. I bought a channeled '32 roadster that had a Ford Flathead V-8. I drove it to work. I replaced the Flathead with a Model J Duesenberg engine. I saw an ad in the paper. A Mr. Barbie owned a Coca-Cola distributorship for Southern California. He had a speed boat with two Duesenberg straight-eight, dual-overhead cam engines with four valves per cylinder in it. I bought the one engine for $450 and I could have had the second one for $400. At that time I didn't realize the gold mine that I might have had later. We put four Stromberg 48 carburetors on it, an aircraft magneto, and exhaust stacks instead of the manifold. The machinists at Bell built me a special quick-change rearend so I could change the gears quickly. We boxed a '32 Ford frame and put a Deuce roadster body on it."
Later, Jot removed the Deuce body and replaced it with a '27 T roadster body in 1948. "I put a T body on the '32 frame because it was easier to run a belly pan and it was slipperier, which I know was because I went from 130 mph to 143 at El Mirage just by changing bodies," Jot stressed.
"Working at Bell we heard that SCTA was planning a meet at a place called Bonneville. Being a member of the Gear Grinders I decided I was going to go. I flat-towed the T with a towbar, which is how I got it to the lakes. It was quite a ways and we spent the night in Tonopah, Nevada. When we drove out to the Salt Flats it was so flat, white, and so clean, we'd never seen anything like it."
Jot competed in the '49 1st Bonneville National, which had the crowd using ear plugs because the Duesenberg was deafening. Jot set a record of 127.565 for the "D" Roadster class. "It was something ...the racket that it put out," laughed Jot.
"The car was capable of higher speeds but I didn't have the opportunity to do it. The engine came into the cowl quite a bit and it was about 800 pounds, which made it good and stable because of the weight."
After the war, military aircrafts by the thousands were headed for the scrap heap, almost for the taking. Jot and Bell Auto Parts buddy Norm Taylor got wind of a P.T. 19 Trainer in 1951 at Hawthorne Airport for cheap. The Ranger engine was what they were interested in. "We heard some guys had been using the Ranger in Sprint Cars. We bought the whole plane for $100. We took the wings off and loaded the thing in Norm's pickup with the back of it sticking out and got it home.
The '27 T body they used was brand new. "A kid came in from Chicago, with an old panel truck, who had a '27 T body for sale. He said, 'you know anybody who wants to buy a brand-new body?' It was in a Ford dealer's store room. 'You think $30 is OK? We thought he'd want $100," laughed Jot, who snapped it up.
Horne Equipment Company
Jot left Bell Auto to start his own business to try his skillful hands at manufacturing intake manifolds initially in 1955. Jot was able to rent an empty building within 100 feet of Bell Auto Parts. Another rental building next to Jot's seemed to do most of its work at night. It turned out the tenants were counterfeiters.
The speed equipment Jot produced is highly sought after today, not just because of the limited quantity but the results they produced. The Horne intakes were getting the racers attention because they were making horsepower, which made the competition take notice. Jot heard that legendary speed equipment manufacturer Phil Weiand, who also produced blower kits, remark that Horne was a thorn in his side. "Phil had a dyno and he ran one of my intakes and it ran better than his," remarked Jot. "I made wood patterns for castings in high school, which helped me when I decided to start my own business-Horne Equipment Company."
Jot's father, a journeyman wood pattern maker (similar to a die maker) made the complex patterns required for the Horne intake manifolds. Jot made less than a hundred manifolds before returning to Bell. If you come across one, put it on your snap-it-up-right-now list.
With the aid of his father's expertise, Jot made blower manifolds, snouts, back plates, and top plates for the Cad, Ford Y-Block, Hemi, and Olds engines. He also made naturally aspirated manifolds for the Olds and Cad engines.
But that was only a few of the items that Horne produced during his one-year business venture. "I made about a hundred throttle pedals similar to the Moon pedal, a carburetor adapter to put a four-throat carb on a two-throat carburetor intake, and some beautiful stuff for the MG engine.
"Roy Richter owned an MG dealership in Bell so I made the valve covers and side plates for the MG. Almost everything I made when I had my own company I sold to Bell Auto Parts. I sold the Horne Equipment Company to Roy for $6,500 and returned to work for him after being gone about a year." (Roy was only interested in the blower manifolds, Chrysler being his main focus.)
Jot Doodles the Cragar Wheel
The renowned Cragar name, part of Bell Auto Parts, was located in the same brick building that founder George Wight built in 1928. Mr. Wight acquired the Cragar name, inventory, and patterns for the overhead valve conversion for the Model A engine in 1932 when the Cragar Corporation dissolved.
Cragar, while known to the hard-core hop ups, would soon be known around the world because of the Cragar wheel, thanks to Jot. "It was a little slow business-wise one day in 1964 when I started drawing a five-spoke wheel. Boy that looked pretty good, so I took the drawing to Roy. I said we should go with this because Mickey Thompson was selling 200 of his Radar wheels a day." (Prior to Jot sketching the Cragar S/S, an attempt at Bell Auto Parts to design and build a somewhat similar wheel was unsuccessful.)
"Weeks went on by and I kept needling Roy and said, 'how many times am I going to ask you about building the wheels before you fire me?' I had $4,500 to invest in the project, however Roy declined the offer and went on to build the first prototype."
The wheel business quickly expanded outgrowing the 2,500-square-foot Cragar side of Bell Auto, going down the street to a 6,500-square-foot building, eventually exploding the 4,000 wheels per day production into a 30,000-square-foot facility, plus the largest chrome plating facility on the West Coast, in just a few years. "They had back orders up the kazoo," Jot laughed.
If you're wondering if Jot got a piece of the action, he did, in a round-about way. "Roy gave me and Johnny Glew, who also worked for Roy, a third of Bell Auto Parts and Desert Dynamics that manufactured off-road equipment, which Johnny and I developed. Johnny had the design side with the off-road winch and other products and I took care of the cataloging. We manufactured winches for off-road vehicles, rollbars, push bars, and gas tanks. At the same time Bell Auto's business was slowing quite a bit, having to compete with the big speed equipment parts warehouses and Roy was consumed with the Cragar wheel and Bell helmet business."
Jot, Johnny Glew, and a fellow named Jay Bowman then sold what was left of Bell Auto Parts to Charlie Strader, Jot thought in 1979. Jot sold Desert Dynamics to Johnny Glew and Dave Bowman approximately a year later. Jot spent a brief period working for Dick Cepek (off-road) tires and wheels, then called it quits.
With his hot rod life behind him, Jot and his wife Imogene quietly retired to several acres at beautiful Oakhurst, California, in 1984, close to the south gate leading to Yosemite.
Every hot rodder went to Indy...
Every hot rodder went to Indy when it was truly the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. That's Jot in the suit jacket: "I went to Indy in '51 for three weeks with a car running a 12-port Wayne Horning Chevy six-cylinder engine owned by Bill Johnson. We almost qualified it but the Offys were just too fast." The car returned in '53 and still failed to qualify.
Bell Auto Parts became a regular...
Bell Auto Parts became a regular advertiser in the SCTA Racing News. The talented art editor who drew the covers and ads for SCTA was Eldon Snapp. In this December '39 program the SCTA had just completed their first year as an association.
Jot was responsible for the...
Jot was responsible for the layout of an extremely detailed Bell Auto Parts catalog that covered Ansen motor mounts to wing nuts packed into 129 pages. But the Cragar wheel, which Jot designed, was the big sales ticket.
Jot at the September 1948...
Jot at the September 1948 meet at El Mirage. Jot saved his money during the war and purchased this channeled '32 with a Ford Flathead V-8 shortly after he was discharged. "I drove it to work," says Jot, "until I saw an ad in the paper for a Duesenberg engine for sale. We ran the exhaust under the '32, then out the side when we switched the Deuce to a T body."
Early on, everyone who went...
Early on, everyone who went to Bonneville had their picture taken by this famous landmark, and so did Jot in 1950. Listed are previous record holders starting with Ab Jenkins in 1940 of 182.5 MPH.
The date on the back of this...
The date on the back of this photo is December 1951 with Jot waiting for his turn to run at El Mirage: "I ran 129 at El Mirage ... I think the record was 129. I wasn't able to make a return run, because of the wind, for a record."