California has long been called the Birthplace of Hot Rodding…
In his Book, The American Hot Rod, Iconic California Hot Rodder Dean Batchelor illustrates that, while the ‘Classic Hot Rod’ may have been a ’32 Deuce Roadster with a Hot Flathead, the Real California Hot Rodders knew of, Appreciated & were Enthusiasts of all types of MotorSport – Sports Car Racing, Dry Lakes, Motorcycling, Drag Racing, and all that entails. Mind you, NASCAR had not even been founded on the beach at Daytona when Mr. Batchelor and many other California Hot Rodders were going about the Business of Speed ~ so here, an ongoing Gallery of Images of some of the most Badass Hot Rods and the Californians that Shape the Sport ~
Although there are so many California Men & Women that define the term ‘Hot Rodding’, there are a few that have excelled far beyond their original California HotRod Roots to become International Icons of MotorSport. Santa Monica, California Boy Phil Hill was the First (of only 2) Grand Prix Formula 1 World Champions for the United States ~ Considered by many to be the Pinnacle of MotorSport. Phil Hill accomplished this in 1961. Long Associated as a Driver for Ferrari the Iconic Italian Scuderia run by Notoriously European Elitist Enzo Ferrari. For Phil Hill to be recognized as one of the Drivers in an Era Completely Dominated by European Drivers & Teams, to win Grands Prix, much less the World Championship in that atmosphere is a True Testament to Phil Hill’s Driving Skill. In 1960 he won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, for Ferrari, The first Grand Prix win for an American driver in nearly forty years, since Jimmy Murphy won the 1921 French Grand Prix. His Primary Career Victories are Simply Astounding for any MotorSports Driver in any form of the Sport ~
- 24 Hours of Le Mans (3) : 1958, 1961, 1962 12 Hours of Sebring (3) : 1958, 1959, 1961 1000 km Buenos Aires (2) : 1958, 1960
- 1000 km Nürburgring (2) : 1962, 1966 F1 Italian Grand Prix (2) : 1960, 1961 F1 Belgian Grand Prix (1) : 1961
One of the Most Talented, Winningest & Versatile California HotRodders Ever ~ Dan Gurney.
As a driver, Gurney scored Practically Countless Victories in the sports car races at Daytona, Sebring, the Targa Florio, the 1000 km at the Nurburgring and Le Mans. He won four World Championship Grand Prix races, in France, Belgium and Mexico, three additional Formula 1 races, seven USAC/Indy Car road races and five NASCAR 500 Stock Car races. He was twice runner-up in the Indy 500. Gurney has the distinction of being the only U.S. citizen in the 100 year history of Formula 1 racing to win a World Championship Grand Prix in a car of his own construction.
Dan Gurney’s All American Racers is the only constructor in the U.S. that has designed and built a winning F1 grand prix car, The Gurney-Weslake Eagle. A variant of-winning Indianapolis 500 car and a winning sports car. The All American Racers’ factory team employed 66 drivers winning 78 victories, the “Indy 500,” 83 pole positions and eight Championships.
The HotRodder’s Hot Rodder ~
In the 1950’s & 60’s of California HotRodding, there really were no Corporate Sponsors or Big Paychecks. Guys like Mickey Thompson built what they had and ‘Run What They Brung’ to Pursue Speed, often with very little budget. Mickey Thompson built, ran and financed a Succession of Successful Hot Rods in Drag Racing, Off-Road and his Pursuit of the Land Speed Record at Bonneville.
He developed a brilliant career as both a driver and an Innovative Automotive Technician; later as a designer, manufacturer and seller of racing and performance equipment. In addition to being a Drag Racing Champion, Mickey Thompson set more speed and endurance records than any other man in automotive history. He is credited with designing and building the first slingshot dragster in 1954, moving the seat behind the rear axle to improve traction when the existing racing tires proved unsuitable. A change so momentous in the Sport, it would not happen again until Don Garlits introduced the Rear-engined Dragster in 1971. Thompson also was noted for being the first manager of Lions Drag Strip near Long Beach, California in 1955.
In his long career, Thompson raced everything from stock cars to off-road vehicles and engineered numerous competition engines. He went into the performance aftermarket business in the early 1960s and then, in 1963 he created “Mickey Thompson Performance Tires” that developed special tires for racing including for Indianapolis 500 competitors.
Thompson founded SCORE International in 1973, a sanctioning body to oversee off-road racing across North America. He and his wife Trudy formed the “Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group” (MTEG) which ran an indoor motocross and off-road vehicle racing show and competition that brought the sport from the back-country terrain to stadiums in the heavily populated metropolitan areas.
The Fastest Man Alive…
The Spirit of America
Incredibly Driven California Hot Rodder Craig Breedlove was Driven to Pursue his Quest as Fastest Man Alive in 1962. In Pursuit of the Land Speed Record ~ Breedlove set out to Build and Field the Fastest Car on Wheels, The Spirit of America. Breedlove was and Is to This Day so Incredibly Driven to Build the Ultimate Bad California Hot Rod, he built it in his garage, simultaneously putting on suit & tie while pursuing Big Financing to Keep his Project Alive and meeting with Suits from Goodyear and Shell Oil. In a Succession of Cars, Breedlove Won & Lost & Won Again his Quest for Fastest Man on Wheels –
The Spirit of America was the first of the modern jet-propelled record breaking cars, built with a narrow stream-lined fuselage, three wheel chassis, and most significantly turbojet engine. Like most of the other competing vehicles the engine was ex-military, the first Spirit had a General Electric J47 engine from an F-86 Sabre and was tested at Bonneville Salt Flats in 1962, where difficult handling resulted in failure. Before trying again a new stabilizer was added and a steerable front wheel.
Breedlove set his first record on September 5, 1963 at Bonneville, the first man to set an average speed of over 400 mph during a land speed record.
With 5,000 pounds of thrust, The Spirit wasn’t just pretty, it was fast. On Oct. 5, 1963, clocking a two-way average of just over 407 mph, Breedlove brought the land speed record back to the United States for the first time in 32 years. He broke records with Spirit of America until October 1964, when, at more than 500 mph, his chute snapped off. The car overshot the track, smashed through some telephone poles, skipped across a saltwater pond and sank like a stone. Breedlove walked away wet, but unscathed, and with a record — 526.28 mph. He’s the only driver to nearly drown while setting a land speed record.
A new Spirit was built over 1964-65 to attempt to beat Arfons, dubbed Spirit of America – Sonic I a four-wheel design with a much higher rated GE J79 engine originally from an F-4 Phantom, the same type as that used by Arfons’ Green Monster. Competing for the LSR over several years with Arfons ended with Breedlove setting the record at 600.601 mph (966.574 km/h) on November 15, 1965, a record that stood until 1970. The Sonic I is currently on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum, California.
After a lengthy break from world records Breedlove began work on a new Spirit in 1992, eventually named the Spirit of America Formula Shell LSRV. The vehicle is 44 ft 10 in long, 8 ft 4 in wide, and 5 ft 10 in high (13.67 m by 2.54 m by 1.78 m) and weighs 9,000 lb (4 t), construction is on a steel tube frame with an aluminium skin body. The engine is the same as in the second Spirit, a GE J79, but it is modified to burn unleaded gasoline and generates a maximum thrust of 22,650 lbf (100.8 kN).
The first run of the vehicle in October 28, 1996 in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada ended in a crash at around 675 mph (1,000 km/h). Returning in 1997 the vehicle badly damaged the engine on an early run and when the British ThrustSSC managed over 750 mph (1200 km/h) the re-engined Spirit could do no better than 676 mph (1088 km/h). Breedlove believes the vehicle is capable of exceeding 800 mph (1,200 km/h).
Breedlove sold the Spirit of America Formula Shell LSRV to Steve Fossett, holder of many sailing, ballooning and other aviation records, and the car was undergoing rebuilding in hopes of some preliminary shakedown runs in late September 2007 at Bonneville. However, Steve Fossett went missing in early September 2007 while scouting for alternative land speed record venues in Nevada, and his body then later recovered.
To Be Continued…
In the early 1950’s, Compton was a Respectable, Sleepy Suburb of L.A. I know, my Aunt Ruth & Uncle Bill lived there in a little white house with roses & a Bird Bath in the backyard.
Art & Lloyd Chrisman lived in Compton, too, and the Chrisman’s Garage turned out some of the Nastiest, most Innovative, Well-Designed -Built, Fast & Feared Hot Rods anywhere.
This is the Story of the Chrisman’s – California’s Baddest HotRodders.
In 1950 Art & Lloyd had been racing a modified ’32 Ford roadster on the dry lakes like Harper & El Mirage, north of L.A., near Palmdale in the Mojave. Then in 1953 they set their sights on the Salt Flats at Bonneville & built the nastiest Ford coupe they could conjure up. Based on a 1930 ‘A’ Coupe, Art & Lloyd built a very hi-tech for its day-tube frame, dropped in an injected, bored & stroked Flathead V8, running on a 50/50 Nitromethane & Pump Gas mix – behind the driver with a sectioned, lightened chop-top body channelled over the frame, and an ingenious streamlined nose made from 2 ’40 Ford hoods laid top-to-bottom, the Chrisman’s built what could be considered the world’s first Fuel ‘Funny Car’. A design concept basically shared by all Fuel dragsters & Funny Cars racing today, over 50 years later. but no one knew that…yet.
In 1954 the Chrismans returned to Bonneville, with a new Ford V8 in the Coupe, and used its previous engine for the Roadster, now fielding 2 cars on the Salt, and sponsoring a third. It would be 15 years before other Race Teams would have the organization, skill and funding to field 2 and 3-car teams. Today it takes millions of company sponsorship dollars to do so. Sporting a new Super-Flathead V-8, with Ardun ‘Hemi’ heads, the predecessor to all current drag-racing engines, The Baddest Motor Scooter of its Day. With about 285-300 hp available, the Chrisman Coupe was approaching 200 mph on the salt.
In 1955 The Chrisman Boys returned again, this time with a blown Chrysler Hemi, capable of pushing the Coupe well over 200 mph. The Chrismans withdrew from competition after a friend was killed that day in another car. Shortly thereafter the Chrisman Coupe was sold, never to be raced (by Art & Lloyd) again. In 2008, the restored version of this car was sold at auction for over $500,000.00 and is displayed at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, not far from where it was built in the Chrisman’s Garage in Compton, not 5 miles away, 50-plus years before.
Keeping it All in the Family, along came nephew Jack Chrisman, following in his Father’s and Uncle’s footsteps…in the late 50’s, Jack built early innovative race cars for the dragstrip like the ‘SideWinder’ – one of the first with a rear-engine (and sideways-mounted, for balance), preceding the current practice not widely used until 15 years after this car was first built & ran, in 1959. About 5 years later, having earned a reputation as some of the Baddest HotRodders Anywhere, and now getting some albeit, Undercover Financing from the Ford Motor Company, Jack Chrisman stuffed a leftover 427 Big-block Ford engine into a brand-new ’64 Mercury Comet. My Mom drove the innocuous economy car street version. Jack Chrisman unleashed his Monster Comet on the Drag Strip and sanctioning body NHRA didn’t even know what to call it or how to classify it, the Ultimate Sleeper – The World’s First ‘Funny Car’. Chrisman created a spectacular Mind-Blowing Crowd – Pleaser – a California Hot Rod Revolution that would set Drag Racing on its ear, and Detroit scrambling to create cars to emulate that Evil ‘MuscleCar’ Style….The Chrisman Comet Super Cyclone. A Small, Safe-looking Family Car with a 750-horsepower Monster Motor . I saw it when I was 8 years old and, having seen a lot of Hot Rods already at that age, the sight of what looked like Mom’s Car laying down 500 feet of Nitro-burning tire smoke at 160 mph changed my life forever. The Baddest Hot Rod I ever saw.
Art, Lloyd & Jack Chrisman had and would go on to build several other Winning, Feared, and ultimately Legendary Hot Rods and Race Cars over 30 years, some of which now reside in Museums. Not all are shown here – But to me, because of their innovations – and adoption of into a sport known for design, technical innovation and by nature, always moving forward – These famous Chrisman Dragsters are the most noteworthy.
The Compton, California Chrisman Boys, did first and best, initially without major financial sponsorship what would Evolve into the Multi-Million Dollar Industry that has become Today’s Spectacular Spectator Sport -Nitro-Burning Top Fuel & Funny Car Drag Racing- California Style.