After serving an apprenticeship with L.F.Dove’s in Croydon. I emigrated in 1965 to work for Carroll Shelby, who was developing the 427 Cobra, Mustang GT350 and GT40 at the time. I initially worked on the GT350 production line, then onto the Cobra’s. I built 13 or 14 427 Cobra’s before I left. I went to Lions Drag Strip, which was local to Shelby’s facility at LA.airport I was really impressed by the cars I saw there, particularly the Stone Woods & Cook Willys, Pure Hell, and most of all Flaming Frank Pedregon. All the cars smoked their tyres right through to the finish, but after he launched the smoke turned into flames, which made no difference to his performance but once seen never forgotten. It was there I saw an Austin A40 Tudor gasser, more of that later.
The people I hung out with raced at the drags and on the street, a close friend Ted Banks had a Plymouth Belvedere which had a 427 wedge head with a cross tunnel ram, it had a C&O Hydro trans and the cars complete front end was all aluminium (even the chrome bumper). If Ted hit the gas when we were cruising anyone in the back would be flung into the rear window with the acceleration. And stood a real chance of being knocked out.
I remember there was another guy called Mazzola (I think) who had a 57 Chevy called “the Black Widow” which he used to race at the drags and sometimes if the money or pink slip was right he’d race on the street.
I returned to the UK due to family reasons. I ran at the first event at Santa Pod in April 1966 in a supercharged Ford Cortina. At this stage I was working for Alan Allard in Putney on rally preparation and fitting Shorrock superchargers to customer’s cars. My Cortina was a really quick road car, but the supercharger put it up into a class which made it uncompetitive. I recall that one mod I was particularly proud of was that I had managed to rebuild the dash to take the Lotus Cortina one.
I was looking to open my own car business in Wimbledon. However when I saw my solicitor he said he was winding up a Lucas wholesaling business in Bromley, which I ended up buying and working in for some considerable time. Coincidentally, this was just around the corner from Fibreglass Repairs.
Some years later I decided I would build a street/strip Austin. The donor car was an almost new, totally wrecked Pontiac Firebird 400 convertible that Ronnie Picardo had told me about. I bought the 1948 Austin A40 2 door, from a scrap yard near Crawley. On stripping it down I found that there was so much rust it looked like I had a major problem. I had made the fibre glass lift off front end but the body really was too much for me. So after talking to Roy and Bob Phelps they constructed the fibreglass body for it.
I had Chas Beattie Projects construct the front suspension as I wanted it to drive well around corners; he also strengthened the chassis to take the Firebird motor, Trans, rear end and disc brakes. I ran out of time to finish the project off as I had started a new business supplying AA members with Car Touring Kits, these were for hire for overseas touring holidays and were a box of crucial spares that would help repair most common breakdowns.
When I decided to sell the car it was driveable and didn’t need a huge amount of work to finish it off. I sold it to Cliff Jones who completed it “Devon Cream” it won many awards and was even featured in the Daily Telegraph supplement. Cliff went to live in the States and sold the car.
Whilst having a clear out recently I found the chassis plate for it and thought I would see if I could trace what happened to the car. After a bit of detective work and some help from the NSRA I discovered that Cliff had sold it to Len Beech and Len still owned it after over 30 years!
Last year I went to see Len and reunite the chassis plate with my old car. Len told me about all the trips his family had done in the car and all the shows he had been in. He also said that after all these years it was due for a refurb. When I saw it, it was looking a lot like when I sold it. It was stripped out inside and the body was primed ready to paint. Len had chopped the top and put louvres in the bonnet, apart from that it looked the same. Len showed me a few of the many trophies the car had won over the years and I was pleased to see that the car was still in good hands and there is still plenty of life in it yet!!
Back To Racing.
I happened to be living in West Wickham near to Tony Dickson and he got me interested in the “New Pro Stock “class. I now had a little more time to get back into racing and Ray Edmondson, my long-time friend was keen to be involved. Peter Billington made contact with Don Garlits, who sourced the car.
We bought ‘Eazy Ridin’ a 1970 ½ Camaro, it was in original NHRA-legal form (I believe it was Super Stock) but later we up rated it with a roller cam and Crower fuel injection. We also changed the 4speed gearbox to a B&M clutch turbo Trans from Tony. The engine noise it produced was absolutely evil!
It was heavy on parts and we broke almost everything in it (not all at once!) We ran it in 1973 and early 1974 to a best of 10.6. However, the advent of the Boston and Brooklyn Heavy Cars with their state-of-the-art specs and Lenco transmission made all the other cars in the class uncompetitive and we wanted to be competitive so we decided to quit and I sold it.
I sold Eazy Ridin’ to a racer called Mustapha Errol. He still owes me some of the money for it! When I sold him the car he part exchanged an earlier model Camaro SS less motor and Trans and I then sold that on and it became ‘Black Magic’. I remember Errol wanted a 4 speed so I sold the Turbo Trans to the Stones who put it in the ‘Tender Trap’ Escort that DLT drove. I don’t know what became of Errol or the car.