Every hot rodder's dad should...
Every hot rodder's dad should own a gas station, and Dick's dad did. "He built it right next to our property," Dick laughs, "and I built my Model A there. Dad sold it before the war began." That's Dick (about 12) with his dog, Toppy.
Dick Megugorac, from Peoria, Arizona, and Bob Wenz, from Los Gatos, California, were inseparable in the early '40s. They hung out together at Santa Monica High School, they raced together on the street, and they raced as fast as their gas pedals would let them at the dry lakes. Bob was Dick's best man when he married his high school steady, Lois. The two were inseparable, that is, until life separated them.
Strangely, both had attended their friend, former Low Flyers member, Phil Remington's affair at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum for the unveiling of Dan Webb's recreation of Remington's Modified during the L.A. Roadsters Show in 2010, but because of the large number of attendees neither got close enough to recognize one another.
Dick wanted an OHV four-cylinder...
Dick wanted an OHV four-cylinder head on a '32 Ford B-block so bad that he traded his '29 Model A for this '30 Ford roadster with the Cragar. "I drove the Cragar at El Mirage, had trouble with the motor, got tired of pulling the motor, and finally put the Flathead V-8 in it."
Of all things, the writing of this story (with a bit of sleuthing thrown in) brought the two friends back together after over 30 years. (But that's another story.) It occurred to me it would be fitting to combine their stories for Rod & Custom.
It's almost as though the dry lakes were created for young hot rodders like Dick and Bob. Circle track racers Ed Winfield and Earl Mancell discovered Muroc, a hard dry lake bed located in the Antelope Valley, in the early '20s for testing, prompting Mancell to organize the first Land Speed meet at Muroc Dry Lake (Edwards Air Force Base) in 1927, which was the beginning of a new form of motorsports.
The Great Depression made car builders like Bob and Dick scratch for every penny, but that didn't diminish their ability or desire to bolt together their rides from homeless parts.
That single '39 Ford taillight...
That single '39 Ford taillight wasn't a ticket maker because early Ford standard models from 1933-40 only had one taillight. Dick would be in the hoosegow today because that plate was off his dad's pickup. Dick could never get the Modified registered and finally sold it.
The drivers/builders were mostly high schoolers from working-class families; the "gow jobs" they drove were lightning rods to the authorities, which made the lakes a haven away from the fuzz. It was flat, and it was free ... well almost. More importantly, those bygone days led to long-term friendships, businesses (Hilborn Fuel Injection and Iskenderian Cams are still going strong today), and yes, marriages.
Dick's father opened a Signal Oil gas station on his property, which every young hot rodder dreams of: Imagine walking from your house to the lube rack to work on your '29 Model A roadster even before you got a driver's license.
But hot rodding wasn't just a guy-thing-girls were hot rodders, too. After all, there was room for two in those "hot irons," which brings us to a high school girl who lived where the air was filled with the smell of the sea, Santa Monica, California.
"At 15 years old," Lois Megugorac begins, "my boyfriend had me in his parents' garage working on his hot rod. He had me putting the rings on the pistons, then putting them in the block and tapping them in with a wooden hammer handle." Lois is referring to her one and only, Dick Megugorac.
At 6 feet, 4 inches, Dick...
At 6 feet, 4 inches, Dick needed every inch his Modified could spare. Dick chopped the frame, moving the rear crossmember to shorten the wheelbase. His close friend (particularly when riding shotgun), Bob Wenz, would later become his best man. This photo captures the essence of hot rodding where it all began at the dry lakes of Southern California. Dick ran 99 mph in spite of his wind resistance at El Mirage. The silt and clay of El Mirage took its toil on the Modified's windshield. One advantage of being way-tall was Dick didn't need it. This is how November and 2,800-foot elevation looks at El Mirage-cold and windy. That's Dick's girlfriend, Lois (with the scarf), and Bob's girlfriend, Virginia.
Megugorac? Doesn't ring a bell? How 'bout "Magoo"? No, Dick isn't nearsighted, nor does he sound like Jim Backus. "Everyone kind of mumbled my last name," Dick says, "so Magoo came out of it."
Lois wasn't just a pretty grease maiden, she could sew as well-oil cloth, that is. Dick's '29 roadster was upholstered with blue oil cloth that Lois stitched for her steady.
Dick's ride, when he entered high school, was his Modified. "I didn't drive it every day because I was always screwing with it," Dick laughs. "I'd take the plate off my dad's pickup and slap it on. I could never get it registered. When my dad was doing construction, he didn't use the Pontiac so I would take that to school."
"I paid $5 for the body," Dick says. "There wasn't a lot of money in those days. It was ugly till I finally got some paint on it. Believe it or not, I had the fastest Flathead V-8 in Santa Monica and that's what got me in the Low Flyers."
Bad Hair Day
As you can see by the photos, Dick being 6 feet, 4 inches, always had a bad hair day driving his Modified, but bad hair for his sister, Annie-no way. Besides being Dick's race car, the Modified moonlighted as the family (get-me-to-work-on-time) commuter.
Dick needed goggles (sunscreen...
Dick needed goggles (sunscreen hadn't hit the shelves yet) at El Mirage with its searing heat and wind. That ominous dust devil, forming on a hot, flat surface, heading Dick's way, was/is all part of coping with the changing conditions of the dry lake bed.
Newly hired by an insurance company, appearance was everything; Annie was worried about her first impression with her bosses. Prim and proper was the dress code. "I was very vain about my hair at that time," Annie, of West Hills, California, says. "I was just out of high school and was hired by an insurance company on Wilshire and 7th in Santa Monica. Dick would drive me to work in his Modified and my shoulder length hair was blown all over the place ... we didn't have hair spray in those days. I told him to quit speeding and slow down.
"Every other weekend, it seems, he was going to El Mirage and the next weekend his car would be scattered all over the backyard. All his buddies, like Bob, were there working on it."
Dick maintained his father's...
Dick maintained his father's Pontiac and in return he could use it get to school when his Modified was scattered in his backyard. One time he stuffed 16 guys and girls in the '37 to cart them home from (Norwegian Figure Skating Champion) Sonja Henie's Skating Rink. "I only did that once," Dick says.
Dick says, "Bob Wenz was a Low Flyers guy and we went to the lakes together. We went to high school together and Bob was the best man in my wedding. Bob was running his '27 roadster at the lakes; I was the pit crew, I'd help him push the car and that stuff.
"I was a Santa Monica High School kid and the Low Flyers Racing Club was in town and I used to hang out with them. I got invited to go to a meeting and became a member."
Dick was raised on 24th and Broadway in Santa Monica. On a recent visit to his old neighborhood he saw a house that looked exactly like the house he grew up in ... that's because it was the house he grew up in! (The Signal Gasoline gas station Dick's dad ran next to the house is gone.) "The lady who lives in our house was 94 years old and hadn't changed a thing."
The talent in the Low Flyers...
The talent in the Low Flyers was extraordinary. Bob and Dick paid club dues along with some of the best wrenches in all of hot rodding/motorsports when they became members: Old-guys-22 or 23 at the time-like Phil Remington (who still works at Dan Gurney's All American Racers in Santa Ana, CA, and became one of the early developers of the Ford GT 40 program), and Jack Engle (Engle Racing Cams), Stu Hilborn (developed the first constant flow-direct fuel injection system for racing engines).
Not only was the Low Flyers Car Club in Santa Monica, Karl and Veda Orr's Speed Shop (both were racers) was located there as well, where guys could ogle the latest speed equipment and pick up on the latest speed secrets. Veda also published the California Timing News before Hot Rod magazine hit the stands.
Being a member of the Low Flyers, Dick was more of an observer of the experienced racers like Stu Hilborn and Phil Remington than an equal: "When it was my turn to run my Modified at El Mirage, I didn't know what to do. Take your car and go. I put my $3 helmet on, a seat belt ... period, that was it. You took your windshield off, your fenders off (if you had them), and ran the car. That was in the '40s. I ran 117 ... that was bitchin'. It wasn't good enough to get me up with the heavyweights, but I was thrilled.
"Stu Hilborn and Phil Remington were the big boys at the lakes," Dick says. "When Hilborn had his car at El Mirage (Hilborn's Class B Streamliner was the first to record 150 mph at the lakes), I'd just stand there and watch him work on it."
What was the appeal of enduring...
What was the appeal of enduring the extreme heat, and the cold, of El Mirage? That timing tag that Dick (and virtually every hot rodder who competed) has kept as a prized possession since he received it in 1948.
The Piccadilly is mentioned time and again as the number one gathering place for street racers. Was it the great burgers or the fast cars that drew hot rodders to the Piccadilly? "I was a BAD street racer," Dick says, who would frequent the Piccadilly Drive-In with Lois.
Street racers like George Barris, Dick Kraft, Indy 500 racer Jack McGrath, and Manual Ayulo were regulars at the Piccadilly. Hot rodders came from miles around where choosing off one another to a street race was where it was at.
"It was on Sepulveda in Culver City and we used to go there on Saturday nights. It was always crowded with kids and young adults. There was always someone who thought he had the faster car than the next guy," Lois continues.
"One by one, the fast cars would leave and everyone would pick up on the fact that a drag race was in the making. Everyone would jump in their cars and follow them to Washington Boulevard or Venice Boulevard and stand by the sidelines to watch." (Probably more rubber was laid on that exit driveway than the start line at Santa Ana Drag Strip.)
Dick joined the Army at the tail end of the war after graduating from high school, spending 18 months in Japan during the Allied Occupation as a mechanic's instructor.
That spiffy Edelbrock intake...
That spiffy Edelbrock intake was called a "sling shot", for obvious reasons, with Stromberg 97s atop. Dick bought it from Karl Orr, whose speed shop was in Santa Monica, CA.
Returning home he and Lois got married in 1948, which was also the last year Dick went to El Mirage. The roadster had to go when Dick quit racing and it was traded in for a green '36 Ford coupe.
Dick drove a truck for his dad for awhile, then a delivery truck for a liquor distributing company for a number of years, then purchased and drove a GMC 10-wheel dump truck in the construction industry for a number of years; he even started a pool cleaning service.
Far removed from racing, supporting his family, Dick and his two sons got hooked on slot cars. Just like the lakes, going faster than the next guy was back in Dick's blood. He began building slot cars and found that the tires available didn't stick in the tight turns.
That's Bob with his two-port...
That's Bob with his two-port Riley overhead valve conversion in front of Santa Monica Trade School in 1946. "I took auto mechanics and welding," Bob says. We're certain Bob probably could have taught the instructors a thing or two.
Lois' brother, Al, worked for a rubber company and the two came up with their version of an Indy tire. They formed Riggen Slot Cars and while they sold the company in the early '70s, their cars, bodies, and chassis are still in demand on eBay today. (A Riggen VW Bug Slot Car had a "buy it now" price of $100.)
Dick and Lois began building rods together again and named their business Magoo's Street Rods in 1968. Lois still stitched the interiors (less the oil cloth part), until she couldn't keep up with the demand while still doing the books.
Dick's street rod building accomplishments have been nationally acclaimed and covered in countless feature articles in this and other publications, but few were aware of his hot rodding endeavors. They sold the business in 1990 and retired to Arizona.
Dick's current car is a '67 Chevy Impala with all the whips, whistles, and balloons. "I call it my rental car," Dick laughs.
Bob's A-V8 in front of his...
Bob's A-V8 in front of his house in Santa Monica in 1946: The number on the car let everyone know this was not the A-bone to choose off in a street race. "The cops really didn't bother us much in those days unless they caught us street racing, and usually they'd just chew us out and send us home."
Bob lived across from Phil Hill, the only American-born driver to become World Champion driving for Ferrari in 1961. Well-that was down the road a bit because they were still going to high school at the time.
"I hung out with Phil [Hill]; we went to Santa Monica High School. We both had Model T Fords, worked on them, and he went to the dry lakes a few times. He had an MG that he ended up racing at Carroll Speedway (oval track), of all things.
"My first hot rod was a '29 Model A roadster. It had a Miller-Schofield Flathead. I built the engine in high school. The instructor supplied the cam for it. When I got out of the Navy in 1946, I went to trade school in Santa Monica. I took auto shop and welding.
"The rear-engine roadster that I built had a driveshaft about 10 inches long, ran it with no transmission-just the clutch-and bolted the engine directly to the rearend. I ran a Cadillac core radiator because Flatheads were hard to cool.
World War II ended in June...
World War II ended in June 1945. One of the first things hop-ups longed for, after returning home, was dusting off the hot rod and pushing it to the start line of El Mirage dry lake. The first meet was held April 1946 and Bob was there. The smile on his face is obvious because he blew past 100 mph big-time to 106.72. "To break 100 mph in those day was a big deal," Bob laughs.
"The first time I ran the car was in 1946 and broke 100 mph. That was a real engineering feat," Bob laughs. "It was hard to do, really.
"Guys in the Low Flyers helped me an awful lot. Everyone used to help each other, and if you needed something everyone would pitch in. Stu would mix special fuel for us to use at the dry lakes ... it was his secret weapon. He would never tell us what was in it though," Bob laughs. "Jack Engle would do all the cams for the guys. It was the best club I've ever been in. I worked for Engle for a short time ... I was more of a gofer," he adds.
"I took the engine out of the rear-engine roadster and put it in a buddy's circle track roadster, and ran with guys like Jack McGrath and Troy Ruttmann at Gardena, Culver City, and Huntington Beach in the early California Roadster Association in 1948.
"I had no other transportation other than the rear-engine roadster, so I sold it for a '27 Ford pickup with a Flathead V-8 to drive on the street. The last time I ran at El Mirage was in 1949 or 1950," Bob says.
Bob began working in a machine shop, and then a sheetmetal shop. With construction booming in California after the war, Bob acquired his own 10-wheel dump truck in 1953. He worked the truck mostly in the L.A. area.
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.