The Great Depression altered countless lives and maybe some for the better. Bob Bondurant was born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1933. Bob’s father owned a car dealership that sold fast cars in nearby Chicago; very fast cars—Cords to be exact.

The Depression caused Mr. Bondurant (and Cord) to fall victim to hard times when he lost his business, telling the family, we’re going to move as far west as we can. They moved to Westwood Village, near Beverly Hills, when Bob was 3 years old. Bob’s father bounced back, becoming a surgical instrument sale representative once in California.

Certainly Bob’s life was altered for the better as he was a bona fide Californian now going to Union High School in Westwood. More importantly, he was in hot rod country that flourished 365 days a year rather than the “Windy City” area whose average temp was 49 degrees F.

“I was always into cars and motorcycles. My dad took me to Gilmore Stadium when I was 7 to watch the races and that got me interested in racing. I delivered the Hollywood newspaper on my Schwinn bicycle,” Bob begins. “I did a jump on my bike and the springer fork came off and I went end-over-end, put the fork back together, and rode home. I talked my mom into letting me get a Whizzer motor bike. I paid for it with my paper route money. The Whizzer got me into two wheels and from there I got a 125cc James two-stroke motorcycle. It was really cool because I could do wheelies with it. There was a Harley motorcycle shop near where I lived and they wanted to ride my James motorcycle and do wheelies with it. I said, ‘OK if you let me ride your Harley’, there was a vacant lot and we made an oval out of it which had some jumps. That’s how I learned to ride motorcycles,” Bob laughs.

“A buddy’s mother would go to the movies every Thursday night. She had a Chrysler. He called me asking, ‘Do you know how to drive?’ Oh sure! I was riding motorcycles but I hadn’t driven a car yet. I learned to drive in my buddy’s mom’s Chrysler,” Bob chuckles.

“I talked my mom into letting me get a ’32 Chevy roadster when I was in junior high; at 14 you could get a Junior Operating License. She said, ‘You can’t do that.’ I told her it didn’t work. A buddy had a car so we towed it with a rope around a corner to my house and the rear wheels came off. The only thing wrong with it was the head and manifold were off. I had it running in two days. Me and my buddies drove all over in that thing. I bought it for $40.”

Rods and a Custom

Bob acquired the ultimate for any hot rodder, a severely chopped ’34 Ford three-window coupe: “I found a chopped-and-channeled ’34 coupe on a used car lot and I went drag racing with it at Santa Ana. It was boring because you’d run down the dragstrip—that part was great, but then it took a half-hour before you got to do it again.”

Bob later had a ’40 Ford he drag raced at Santa Ana, but Bob, ever the hot rodder, was ready to slow down the pace a bit with one cool street cruiser, a tail-draggin’ ’41 Ford custom. “It had Edelbrock heads and intake manifold, plus a light flywheel; it was a sleeper.

“We moved near Pasadena to La Cañada by the Angeles Crest Highway. We used to go to my aunt’s house for Christmas dinner and my cousin had a big four-door Jag Mark VII. I took his Jag up the mountain road—it handled really well, much better than my Ford. He talked me into going to a sports car race at the Santa Barbara airport course. I’d never been to one before and I really liked watching them race.

“My mom and dad had divorced, then mom died when I was 16. I moved to Bishop, California, where I was living with my Aunt Ella.