The late Harry Morrow, founder...
The late Harry Morrow, founder of the historic Autobooks in Burbank, got Bob interested in building and racing 500cc Formula III cars and began racing them as well. That's Bob at Santa Barbara Airport road course in 1952: You can't take the hot rod out of a hot rodder. Bob built the first 500cc (chain driven) Formula III car in the U.S., his "Ariel Special," using a Fiat Topolino chassis and the engine out of his Ariel Red Hunter motorcycle. "I made a piston for it that was 15 to1 compression, we ran straight methanol with a little castor oil." Bob's engine produced 40 horses (stock was 17).
Bob bought a truck and a stake bed trailer and began hauling lumber from the San Jose area to L.A. and literally lived in his truck for several years. Spending most of his time in the Northern and Central part of the state, Bob met and married Ruby in Santa Maria in 1957 and then moved to San Jose. When the lumber industry slowed, Bob hauled for the cannery industry and finally Bigge crane and Rigging Company where he worked for 18 years before retiring.
Sporty Car Racing
Like so many hot rodders, Bob enjoyed the dry lakes and the side-by-side racing of the oval tracks, but safety was an issue. Going to the "sporty car" races, as Duffy Livingston liked to call them, with Phil Hill, got Bob's interest.
Dr. Ferdinand Porsche had...
Dr. Ferdinand Porsche had nothing on hot rodders like Bob Wenz when it came to Yankee engineering. Except for the fact Bob seems to be hugging the dash, it's hard to tell that's a rear-engine roadster built in Bob's backyard speeding down the dry lake of El Mirage in 1947. (The first 356 Porsches didn't begin production until 1948.) Maybe the good doctor paid a visit to Santa Monica.
He went from 229 ci in his eight-cylinder Flathead Ford to 30 ci on his single-cylinder Ariel engine that came out of Bob's motorcycle. Bob built the first Formula III car in the country at the time. Driver skill had to make up for the lack of ponies.
"We ran the Formula cars at Carroll Speedway a few times. They had a lot of people in the stands to watch the races. I remember Cooper ran a factory Formula III car with us.
"Phil Hill worked on the pit crew of a Midget that ran Gilmore and he actually drove a race in a Midget and it scared the hell out of him, so he got out," Bob chuckles.
You might think Bob was behind the wheel constantly, driving the truck on weekdays and race cars on weekends-and he was. Bob was a regular competitor until he retired from road racing in 1975.
Following in the trucking...
Following in the trucking industry like his friend Dick, Bob purchased this Ford Flathead V-8-powered 10-wheel chain-driven dump truck in 1953. Bob subsequently moved to the Northern and Central part of California, eventually losing contact with Dick. Bob drove the truck until he retired.
Bob's wife, Ruby, died several years ago and he has occupied his time (two-and-a-half years) restoring a '49 Ariel motorcycle from a basket case. He's also gone back to his roots building a '29 Ford Model A roadster pickup, but he's taking his time: "Originally I dug the thing out of an orchard. It was completely apart when I found it in 1971 ... I'm still working on it."
Both retired and in their eighties, these two men had one hell of a work ethic. They didn't hope a job would happen-they made the job happen, leading busy productive lives since losing contact with one another.
Reflecting on those formative hot rodding years must give Bob and Dick a sense of pride to have been a part of it. It's an honor to have written their combined stories.
(Dick and Bob have talked by phone a few times since they got in contact with one another. They live 700 miles apart. Hopefully they'll meet face to face soon.)
Bob's stunning '27 T roadster...
Bob's stunning '27 T roadster posted a 128.02 mph at El Mirage in 1948. The '32 Ford Flathead V-8 was his workhorse, having seen duty in Bob's rear-engined roadster and a friend's circle track roadster. "I built the `27 originally to go circle track racing, but I ran it at the dry lakes instead."
Lois in her V-6 Buick-powered...
Lois in her V-6 Buick-powered '27 Touring, "Annabelle", she owned for 22 years with her guy. Dick reinvented himself as "Magoo" and becoming nationally known for building quality street rods that were drivers.
Check out the lightening holes....
Check out the lightening holes. Bob's racer weighed 550 pounds soaking wet, making the power-to-weight ratio quite respectable. "I went through a ton of drill bits," Bob laughs.
Bob, seated in the beautifully...
Bob, seated in the beautifully restored Formula III car he once owned and raced, receiving the '09 Harry Morrow Award Wheel for his pioneering contributions to the sport.
The difference between racing...
The difference between racing an open-wheel Model A rear-engine (Ford-powered) roadster at El Mirage in 1947 and an open-wheel rear-engine Ford powered Formula Car at Laguna Seca in 1970 for Bob was (besides night and day) the span of 17 years.