If you are truly interested in the birth and evolution of hot rodding, the speed equipment industry and drag racing in America, Bob McClurg’s FIVE-STAR: THE AMERICAN SPEED SHOP is THE book to read!


If there’s anyone who should be teaching Hot Rodding 101 at your local community college, it’s Bob McClurg! He’s an accomplished photographer, scribe, author and a true student of the evolution of hot rodding and drag racing – from four-cylinder and Flathead and OHV V8 revolutions, through modern times. At the heart of these iconic times is the speed shop, where dreams were and, in some cases, still are turned into reality.

Decades before the Donut Derelicts launched the Cars & Coffee (and donuts) culture phenomenon in Huntington Beach, CA in 1985, speed shops were where carguys went on Saturday mornings to bench race, hang out and even buy stuff for their rides before heading to tracks. Parking lots at speed shows, however small, were transformed into revolving mini car shows. There was always something to see and talk about. McClurg captures those moments in his terrific tome: FIVE-STAR: THE AMERICAN SPEED SHOP.

To set the tone of when racing started in America, closely followed by the history of speed shop growth and speed equipment manufacturing, McClurg quotes Henry Ford, who certainly was not the only one to say, “Auto racing began five minutes after the second car was built,” in Chapter 1, BIRTH OF A SEEDLING INDUSTRY. Ford’s Model T, followed by the modernized A, started a racing revolution that actually continues more than a century later – stronger than ever – in Pre-War Historic racing both here and abroad. Henry Ford successfully raced a car of his own design before there was a Ford Motor Company.

FIVE-STAR: THE AMERICAN SPEED SHOPClaus Mueller’s Model A Speedster, competes in historic racing events in Europe.

Most enthusiasts of a certain age, credit the start of hot rodding to the Ford Flathead V8, an engine that broke cover in 1932 when four and six-cylinder engines were popular power choices for enthusiasts. By the time first Flathead surfaced in the ’32 Ford, thousands of speed and performance garages dotted the map from coast to coast. They specialized in coaxing more power from popular four-cylinder Fords. New-car dealers got into the action as well. They converted used Model Ts and later Model As into sporty cars, hot rods and racecars using Mercury and Langdon Speedster bodies, Ruckstell two-speed rear ends, Franklin steering, Buffalo 20-inch wire wheels and modified engines.

Riley four-port Model A four-cylinder engine with dual Stromberg 81 carbs.

McClurg devotes a good amount of space to how enthusiasts coaxed more horsepower out of the popular four-cylinder Fords of the pre-Flathead era,1920s and 1930s. Ford enthusiasts could choose from overhead valve (OHV), or single overhead cam (SOHC) or dual overhead cam (DOHC) conversion heads made by Clemons, Cragar, Frontenac, Gemsa, Hal, Hunt, Rajo, Riley, Roof, Winfield and others. The Frontenac or “Fronty” DOHC 16-valve conversion, manufactured by Arthur and Louis Chevrolet (yes, that Chevrolet) was extremely popular with racers and hot rodders searching for maximum performance. It was not unusual for highly modified Fronty Fords to produce more than 125 horsepower and redline at over 5,000 rpm. There was also a rare “Peugeot-Type” OHV 16-valve head conversion kit for Model T Fours, manufactured by The Laurel Motors Corporation in Anderson, IL.

In the 1920s in California, the Model T Ford gave birth to the exclusively American hot rod movement. When Ford introduced its new and improved 40-horsepower Model A in 1928, it took over. Highly modified Ford Fours delivered V8 performance, powering roadsters, coupes and belly tankers (Lakesters/Streamliners). They could be found on weekends at both the dry lakes in the Mojave high desert (El Mirage, Muroc and Rosamond) and the wood-board and dirt race tracks in California. Racing on the dry lakes was sanctioned by the Russetta Timing Association (RTA) and Southern California Timing Association (SCTA). When the 65-horsepower Flathead V8 Ford debuted in 1932, it assured Ford’s domination of the hot rod field until the advent of OHV V8s in 1949.

FIVE-STAR: THE AMERICAN SPEED SHOPBobby Meeks, left, and Fran Hernandez, with three-carb Flathead on dyno at Vic Edelbrock’s shop, 1950s.

Ford’s Flathead V8 revolutionized the hobby, fed explosive speed shop growth, and gave birth to speed equipment manufacturers that would completely change the go-fast culture. Many of those names (brands) are still with us today and can see them on traditional “old-school” hot rod, and Specials competing in Historic Pre-War class road racing.

As early as the 1930s, Ford was capitalizing on what would become known in the 1960s as “Win On Sunday, Sell On Monday” marketing. A major win at the 1933 National Road Race in Elgin, IL established Ford as a feared competitor in road racing. Savvy dealers wasted no time bragging about Ford’s win in the Nationals in local advertising. This drove customer traffic and V-8 model sales. Almost instantly new V-8 Ford roadsters could be found, less mufflers and fenders, tearing up racetracks. The 1932 Swedish Winter Grand Prix was won by two mechanics driving a Ford V-8 Special. McClurg focuses on how Flatheads changed racing, from local drag strips and dry lakes to Indy (Miller-Ford Specials) and beyond our borders.

Legendary hot rodders and racers wasted little time developing speed equipment for the Flathead. The list included cam-grinder Ed Iskenderian, aluminum intake manifold and head pioneer Vic Edelbrock, Sr., Ansen’s Lou Senter, Bell Auto’s Roy Richter, above, So-Cal Speed Shop’s Alex Xydias, below, and speed merchants Barney Navarro and Meyer Kong, Eddie Meyer, Barney Navarro, Tommy Thickstun, among others. Racing venues increased thanks to George Wight and George Riley, Muroc Racing Association (MRA), Lou Baney, Russetta Timing Association (RTA), Bill Burke, Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), Art Benjamin, Valley Timing Association (VTA) and, of course, NHRA’s Wally Parks. In addition to popular bolt-on heads, intake manifolds, headers, etc. there were also ARDUN overhead-valve conversions pioneered by Zora Arkus-Duntov and his brother Yuri working out of a small shop, Ardun mechanical Corporation in Queens, NY.

After World War II, hot-rodding, racing and the speed equipment industry experienced incredible growth. As the dry lakes became less and less available for racing, the popularity of quarter-mile drags surged. It would not be until 1950 that the first organized track, Santa Ana Drag Strip, would open on a Southern California airfield. In 1951 Wally Parks, then Editor of HOT ROD and founder of the National Hot Rod Association, produced the first official NHRA race at the Los Angeles Fairgrounds in Pomona, California. The Flathead also distinguished itself in NASCAR competition. Jim Roper, driving a Lincoln, won the first NASCAR race on June 19, 1949 at Charlotte Speedway.


So-Cal Speed Shop of Arizona.

FIVE-STAR: THE AMERICAN SPEED SHOP also documents how OHV V8s changed the course of both street and track performance, 1960s and 1970s:  gas and fuel drag racing, the birth of funny cars, Detroit’s Super/Stocks and FX racers, and how the popular Mom & Pop speed shops had to keep up with changing times – big distributors selling retail and today’s online giants. High-profile racecars, drivers and speed shops that you might be familiar with – and many you may not – are covered in detail by McClurg, including rare vintage photography.

David Snyder painting showcases the unique Motion Performance/Baldwin Chevrolet partnership.

One of the phenomena of the mid-1960s through mid-1970s was the unique marriage between a full-service speed shop specializing in dyno-tuning – Joel Rosen’s Motion Performance and a small, neighborhood Chevrolet dealer, Dave Bean’s Baldwin Chevrolet in Baldwin, LI, NY – that generated head-turning and crazy-fast 1967-1974 Camaros, Novas, Chevelles, Corvettes, and even some Biscayne Street Racer Specials. The brand was Baldwin-Motion and you could order a brand-new Chevy powered by a 427-454 big-block engine that could be equipped with mild to wild speed equipment plus suspension and cosmetic options. Turn-key racecars were available as well. No brand in the history of the genre offered more performance and customization options, and for some models, a written performance guaranty!Legendary KO-MOTION L88 Corvette set AHRA record: “In Memory of Astoria Chas Snyder.”

McClurg devotes a lot of space to Motion Performance/Baldwin-Motion, its speed shop services, unique performance products and its record holding racecars that were sponsored by Hi-Performance CARS Magazine. Baldwin-Motion’s competition in the field of dealer-built modified Chevys included Yenko Chevrolet, Nickey Chevrolet, Dana Chevrolet and others are covered as well.

The history of the speed shop is the history of hot-rodding, dry lakes competition and drag racing in America and, nobody tells it better than Bob McClurg. I came of age in the hobby when the Flathead was still very much the choice of hot rodders, owned a customized ’40 Mercury convertible sedan powered by a dual carb, dual exhaust Flathead, and this book really talks to me! I’m proud to see my name listed on the book’s ACKNOWLEDGMENTS page. Best of all, it showcases incredible rare vintage and modern photos, generously contributed by Gregg Sharp, NHRA Motorsports Museum and private collections. It doesn’t get any better; I give it five stars!

FIVE-STAR: THE AMERICAN SPEED SHOP is available @ american speed shop birth and evolution of hot rodding&qid=1619811270&s=books&sprefix=The American Speed Shop,stripbooks,1455&sr=1-1



Ronnie Staples’ flamed classic ’32 Ford has gone through a number of engine-transmission combos over the years, but it’s all sorted out now and ready for serious cruising thanks to a modern five-speed.

DUECE COUPE: OLD SCHOOL; NEW SCHOOL!DUECE COUPE: OLD SCHOOL; NEW SCHOOL!Ronnie Staples is a serious carguy with a very large garage filled with Pro Touring customs and hot rods that he drives as well as shows. His collecting mantra is simple: NO TRAILER QUEENS! Some are designed and engineered to “bring back the good old days”, while others feature state-of-the-art billet fabrication. All, except those still under construction, are plated, insured and road-ready.

One of his favorite hot rods is this flamed, chopped ’32 Ford five-window coupe powered by a stroked and supercharged Flathead. Its top was chopped three inches and the roof section filled. Originally built in the late-1990s by Ohio-based hot-rodder, Greg Steiner and it was powered by a 302-inch Ford with three two-barrel carbs backed up by a C4 automatic. One of Ronnie Staples’s friends purchased it at the Goodguys event in Charlotte, NC in 1998. He swapped the 302 Ford for a vintage Joe Smith Automotive Flathead with a ¾-race Potvin camshaft and a new B&M blower topped with three Holley 94 two-barrels on an adapter. Unfortunately, he retained the C4 automatic.

In 2002 Staples saw that the coupe was for sale and road tested it. “No power to say the least,” said Staples. “Two of the carbs were blocked off, so the blower was pushing air through two butterflies, less an one-inch-diameter each. He saw the potential and made the buy. And, he has never looked back!

DUECE COUPE: OLD SCHOOL; NEW SCHOOL!DUECE COUPE: OLD SCHOOL; NEW SCHOOL!One of the first decisions Staples made after purchasing it was to sort out the powertrain by modifying and machining the engine and mating it to a modern five-speed. Rod and custom craftsman Mike Griffin, at his shop in Sarasota, FL, executed the Chevy S10 five-speed transmission conversion, fabricated new engine mounts and worked on a number of detail body and paint modifications. While out of the car, Griffin epoxy and K36 primed, then painted the Flathead block and finned aluminum heads Torch Red.

NO TRAILER QUEENS!What appears to be STAPLES finned aluminum heads on the vintage late-1940s Flathead are actually from Offenhauser. The Offy logo was milled off and replaced with composite letters that Staples had found on eBay! Engine displacement is 255 cubic inches thanks to a four-inch-stroke Mercury crank. Bore diameter is stock 3 3/16-inch. A pair of leaned-out Stromberg Super 97 carbs from Speedway Motors tops off the billet Roots positive-displacement supercharger, custom built for Staples by an old high school buddy in Virginia, Donnie “Duck” Townsen. “Duck is an artist with his CNC machinery and can make almost anything, including cutting my name into the lower sides of the custom blower housing,” said Staples.

The unique twin-V-belt blower is over-driven 100-percent (3-inch blower pulley, 6-inch crank pulley) and makes 6 ½-pounds boost. Staples estimates a 50 horsepower increase over stock. With a 3.55 Posi rear, cruising at 75 mph in 5th gear, the stroked Flathead is running at just 2,300 rpm. Acceleration is outstanding thanks to a very low First gear.

DUECE COUPE: OLD SCHOOL; NEW SCHOOL!DUECE COUPE: OLD SCHOOL; NEW SCHOOL!Since there’s not a lot of room in a chopped ’32 Ford coupe, the rear package shelf was removed and the seats relocated rearward. Tracks were removed from the seats and seats were bolted directly to the floor. JR’s Upholstery, Venice, FL, is responsible for the custom “very” red interior. The ’31 Cadillac dash bezel was salvaged from junkyard back when Greg Steiner was building the hot rod.

Sammy Long, with some help from Ronnie Staples, redid the chassis and suspension for increased suspension travel, improved ride and handling. The frame was C-notched to bring the car down approximately one-inch and the old crossmember was cut out and replaced with a tubular mounting for adjustable coil-over shocks. Dropped I-beam front axle, finned brakes, chrome tube shocks, and filled grille shell look as good today as they did in the 1950s!

DUECE COUPE: OLD SCHOOL; NEW SCHOOL!Ronnie Staples is a member of the Sarasota Café Racers and these photos were taken at the group’s carguy events and lunches. For more information about the Sarasota Café Racers and its satellites here and abroad, please visit

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