WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN’ NATIONALS

Classics and customs flaunt fins and flames at Santa Maria Fairpark for 40th annual WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN’ NATIONALS, one of the premier California carguy shows.

WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN' NATIONALSDespite a 2021 Covid-19 rescheduling of its popular Cruisin’ Nationals from May to October – and then a pending storm moving in on the Santa Maria Fairpark location – the resilient folks at West Coast Kustoms still managed to rev-up West Coast car enthusiasts and host their 40th Annual show with a flamboyant flash of fins, flames and customizing finesse. Car Guy Chronicle’s photojournalist Jim Palam caught the action.

The WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN’ NATIONALS is a three-day event that kicked-off on Friday night, October 22nd with a Show Car Cruise along Broadway in Santa Maria. Despite a sprinkle of rain and more of the parade taking place in the early darkness of Fall, some 300 cars participated and wowed the fans and families who lined the sidewalks along the route.

WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN' NATIONALS

While the number of car entries fell short from the 800 range from previous years, approximately 600 classics and customs filled the Fairpark’s outdoor and indoor display areas. In addition to the head-turning cars, there were vendors, a model car show, a Pin-Striping Party hosted by PPG, an automotive parts swap meet and live music by the Belmont Kings both Saturday and Sunday.

WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN' NATIONALS

A portion of the proceeds from the event support Alzheimer’s research and the Wounded Warrior Project. West Coast Kustom’s Penny Pichette let us know that the 2022 show will kick into gear as it traditionally has, over the Memorial Day Weekend. Mark your calendars!

WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN' NATIONALS

As I crisscrossed my way through the showgrounds, I met a number of Car Culture celebrities including legendary 94-year-old customizer and fabricator Gene Winfield, still manipulating metal and spraying paint in his Mojave Rod & Custom shop, and American Graffiti movie star, Candy Clark who graciously posed for a photo. As some movie-buffs will remember, Candy was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress award for her performance in this iconic 1973 American classic.

I apologize to Car Guy Chronicles fans for presenting this 2021 report in 2022, but as they say “Life Happens”– and as my mom use to say – you have to “Go with the flow.” So “streaming” here and now are some of the cars that grabbed my attention at the Fairpark – like Voodoo Larry’s audacious ’54 Kaiser Manhattan Voodoo Sahara. 

Words & Photos © Jim Palamhttps://www.jimpalamphotos.com/

For more information about the sponsors of the WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN’ NATIONALS, please visit https://www.westcoastkustoms.com/

Velocity: Invitational Motorsports Festival

There are times when even a serious car guy needs a little nudge to get up early and head out in the dark to cover a motorsports event. So, we’re happy to report that our Jim Palam saw the light, set his alarm and got the story for us! Here’s his coverage of the Velocity: Invitational Motorsports Festival, where legendary cars, drivers and fans soaked up the sun and racing fuel at Laguna Seca!

Velocity: Invitational Motorsports Festival

Velocity is a vector quantity that refers to “the rate at which an object changes its position.” Turns out, that’s a good thing because it was “Velocity” that made me change my mind at the last minute and agree to go cover Saturday events at the Velocity: Invitational Motorsports Festival at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Even though I was looking forward to doing nothing that weekend, there I was at 5:30 AM riding shotgun in my neighbor John Adams’ ’16 Shelby GT350 Mustang heading north, in the dark, in the fog.

John races vintage sports cars in VARA events, so the road trip conversation was rapid, illuminating, and pretty much all about fast cars. Before I knew it, we were already in the paddock and talking to John’s friend Bob Kullas who was racing his Chevron B-16 later in the day. Bob’s Chevron, right, last of the 23-built, weighs about 1,300 pounds and gets 260 horsepower from its Cosworth 2 L YBM motor.

It was now 9:00 AM, the weather couldn’t have been any nicer and the entirety of the raceway was beginning to fire-up. Attendance was strong but not as packed as the bigger Laguna Seca events, so there was easier access to festival offerings like wine tastings, supercar demonstration rides and panel discussions – but Bob & I were here for the cars – the fast cars. Since I was on-assignment and headed trackside, we went off on our own adventures for the day. We would re-connect later in the day with big grins on our faces and new stories to tell.

Kudos to the Velocity: Invitational Motorsports Festival event organizer Jeff O’Neill and his hard-working team for making this three-day motorsport festival a world-class event that would please both drivers and spectators. There were 9 race groups, a Ragtime Racers special exhibition group and a special night race pitting 20 spunky Minis up against six mighty Mustangs. If they launch this festival again in 2022 be sure to vector your velocity and set the direction to Laguna Seca.

One of Saturday’s highlights for me was spending some time with the Porsche 917 when the Canepa Team fired it up in the Porsche exhibition area. I then made it over to the Cooper Tire bridge and positioned myself trackside for this shot of Car # 2, lead photo, top, as it accelerated hard coming out of turn No. 4. So, does its powerful Flat-12 motor sing? Just think Metallica meets Pavarotti: it’s loud and delicious ear candy!

One of many spectacular cars I discovered at this awesome event was the Czinger 21C, arguably one of the most technologically-advanced Hypercars produced. Designed and built in Los Angeles by human and AI systems, its flat-plane crank V8 and e-motors deliver a peak output of 1,250 horsepower. To learn more, go to https://www.czinger.com

“At this time there is nothing in the world any quicker, any better handling, any more advanced technically, or any more fun to drive. It is, to me, the perfect race car,” said Mark Donohue, discussing the integrated perfection of the Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder in 1973. The car was so powerful and dominant that it forced officials to change the rules for the Can-Am Series back in the 1970s. Here’s the blue and yellow legend charging through Turn 4 during one of the many Velocity exhibition races.

One of the big draws to the Velocity Invitational was the promise of special exhibitions from famous race teams, like McLaren Racing and its Formula 1 racecars. I made the mistake of stopping by their tidy and well-appointed garage to grab this shot of the ear-splitting McLaren MP4/13. This is the car that Mika Häkkinen, The Flying Finn, piloted to win the Australian Grand Prix in 1998. My mistake was not wearing ear plugs!

Another legendary McLaren on display and on the track at the was the Lewis Hamilton driven, slope-nosed McLaren MP4-27. I caught it roaring out of Turn 3 on Saturday morning. MP4-27 was also driven by Jenson Button and made its racing debut at the 2012 Australian Grand Prix.

Velocity: Invitational Motorsports FestivalI had just positioned myself behind the Start/Finish line K-rail at Laguna Seca when I caught a flash of red coming up behind me on pit row. It’s not often you see a Concours quality Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta on the race course – particularly one without a racing number. If you crash your 250 GT, you’ll be looking at $9M and up to replace it – if you’re lucky enough to find one. Part of the beauty of the Invitational was the inclusion of historically significant race cars and priceless collector cars like this perfect 250 GT.

Not to be outdone by McLaren, Porsche also made a big splash with a large and impressive presentation of some of its iconic racecars – including the L&M ‘72 Porsche 917/10-003, driven by George Follmer to win the 1972 Can-Am championship. In this twin-turbo 12 cylinder Can-Am screamer, George won at Road Atlanta, Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca. One of the goals of this car was to promote Porsche Audi dealerships in North America.

This beautiful ’57 Porsche 356A raced Southern California & Arizona SCCA E/Production in the late-1960s and through the 1980s. It also competed in the Benson Arizona Hill Climb and numerous rallies. The car was restored for vintage racing by Mike McNally in 2003 and later sold to Paul Frame in 2008 who continues to crank the car’s 1,620-cc, 4-cylinder motor to high revs in Western States vintage racing events.

Velocity: Invitational Motorsports FestivalIf you just looked at the curved nose, or should we say “beak” of this iconic Indy car you might be able to guess that it’s a vintage Eagle. Indy fans would recognize that this is Dan Gurney’s famous 1966 Indianapolis Eagle. This was his first Eagle (chassis #20), originally fitted with a 255-inch Ford V8 and was an AAR (All American Racers) entry at the 1966 Indy 500.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about 190 mph Superbikes on America’s greatest racing courses? If you’re thinking tall and thin Supermodels holding big umbrellas you’d be partially right! MotoAmerica brought their leggy showmanship plus eight of their top riders to the Velocity Invitational to put on exhibitions of racing skills and paddock area panache. Its racers blasted the 2.238-mile Laguna Seca course on powerful Superbikes and high-performance V-Twin Baggers.

Four-time AMA Superbike Champion Josh Hayes is on the outside on P1 as he leads MotoAmerica teammates Bobby Fong on P2 and David Anthony on P3 in a knee-scraping charge coming out of Turn 10 during Saturday’s exhibition race.

This extremely rare ‘51 Lancia B20-GT Competition ‘low-roof’ racecar was driven by Felice Bonetto in the 1951 and 1952 La Carrera Panamericana, which had the unfortunate distinction as the most dangerous and deadly race in the world. I’m guessing the hub caps would have been removed from Car No. 91 for racing, but they added just the right touch of sparkle as it motored politely through the paddock area Saturday morning.

This McLaren Senna GTR in custom Gulf livery was just one of the audacious cars one could discover at Velocity. Its Neon Orange wheels are reminiscent of the McLaren Special Operations team’s Super Series 675LT livery. Early Velocity Invitational marketing efforts hinted at lots of flamboyance from event partner McLaren – including their historic McLaren F1 race cars and a chance for some lucky fans to strap in and experience the ‘98 MP4/98T two-seat Formula 1 demonstration car for a thrilling ride around the circuit.

The Shelby Daytona Coupe was the brainchild of designer Peter Brock and only six were ever built. It’s not only their rarity but their place in American racing history that makes the chance of owning one slim to none – unless you’re the son of Walmart founder, Sam Walton. This is Rob Walton’s ‘65 Shelby Daytona Coupe, the same $15-million racecar he crashed in 2012. Deep pockets and a love of racing has kept this Weber-carbed, 289-powered icon on the track and in the public eye for years.

I captured this resting shot of a genuine, factory-built 914/6 GT early Saturday morning before the paddock area began to buzz with activity. One of only 16 customer cars for 1970, this racing legend was sold new to French-Canadian automotive journalist and racing driver, Jacques Duval. It was first raced at the 24 Hours of Daytona by Duval and co-drivers Bob Bailey and George Nicholas. In 2020 this racing “Teener” sold for $1M at the Gooding Auction and it’s still being raced.

Velocity: Invitational Motorsports FestivalIt has seating for three, electrochromatic glass that darkens at the touch of a button, a carbon fiber monocoque chassis, a 4.0-liter V8 Twin-Turbo with electric motor, and a claimed top-speed of 250.4 mph. It’s the drop-dead gorgeous McLaren Speedtail that was introduced in 2018 in a very limited edition of just over 100 cars. Ironically, it is not street legal in the United States due in part to its lack of side mirrors and no side-mounted airbags. And yet, 35% of the Speedtails built were sold to U.S. customers!

The “Ragtime Racers” are an exhibition group for pre-1920 race cars. They travel to various events across the U.S. and Canada. While they may not have been the fastest cars at the Velocity Invitational, they certainly were among the most popular. Fans in the paddock area applauded as the well-rehearsed, white-coverall-clad pit crews climbed in and around, over and under their behemoth speed machines prior-to and after races.

Velocity: Invitational Motorsports FestivalIt was approximately 1:30 PM on Saturday and I was tucked behind the K-Rails near Turn 4 waiting for the Porsche 914 Exhibition Laps when I heard what sounded like a whining lawn mower heading my way. That’s when I spotted them, go-kart size single-seaters that had been hand-made to look like 1920s and 1930s racecars. I was up-close and trackside for the Cyclekart Grand Prix! I couldn’t stop smiling as I grabbed some action shots and realized that while Velocity is the rate at which an object changes its position, that motion can sometimes be relaxed – and a whole bunch of fun!

Words & Photos © Jim Palam @ https://www.jimpalamphotos.com/

For more information about the Velocity: Invitational Motorsports Festival, please visit https://velocityinvitational.com/

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: CENTRAL COAST WHEELING WEEKEND

Who doesn’t love a special deal? Perhaps it’s CGC’s Jim Palam’s years in advertising that was behind his idea to give our readers two-reports-in-one, combining two of the Central Coast’s popular car shows – The Solvang Fall Classic & The Montecito Motor Classic – into one feature. It’s a great idea, so here’s CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: CENTRAL COAST WHEELING WEEKEND.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: CENTRAL COAST WHEELING WEEKENDCovid changed the 2020 Car Show scene significantly – pretty much eliminating many if not all of the popular gatherings not only in America, but around the world. It was a year to ponder our priorities and for many a time to get back in the garage and finish projects that were in the works or on-hold. What was a bummer in 2020 turned out to be something of a bonanza in 2021 with many of these unseen or improved projects making their way to re-launched car shows, races and auctions.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: CENTRAL COAST WHEELING WEEKEND started early on Saturday morning in the heart of Solvang, CA with The 2021 Solvang Fall Classic Car Show. By 9 AM there were over 200 pre-1990 classics, hot rods, sports cars, customs and motorcycles. The show was free to spectators and thousands of car enthusiasts, tourists and locals strolled through the show-car-lined streets of “The Danish Capital of America.” Proceeds from the show benefitted local charities including The Rona Barrett Foundation, The Vikings Kids Christmas and The Veggie Rescue Program. In years past this show was held during the summer and promoted as The Wheels & Windmills Car Show. As hoped for, there were many cars there I hadn’t seen before and the cooler October weather was perfect. My vote is to keep holding the show in the Fall.

I started the second day of my “Wheeling Weekend” zipping down Highway 101 along the Pacific Coast in my 914 to the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club for The 2021 Montecito Motor Classic. This was the second year the MMC was held at the Polo Club’s panoramic Carpinteria foothill’s location. This was also the 9th year that the Presenting Sponsor for the MMC was the Armand Hammer Foundation which meant that dedicated Car Guy Michael Armand Hammer would be involved, and that we’d see an exciting mix of exotics, hot rods, customs, classics, concept cars and even famous TV cars – like the first “car” I encountered – the George Barris built Munsters Koach, left. This hopped-up hearse was featured on the iconic 1960’s TV series, The Munsters.

One row over from the Munster Koach I spotted the Backdraft Racing Indigo Blue 427 Cobra, top, that had been wheeling down the 101 next to me on the way to the show. The affable owner is an aerospace executive whose passenger was a large Teddy Bear. Once on the show field he donned a Propeller Beanie Cap and shared his infectious effervescence with showgoers enjoying the perfect weather and exceptional cars on the expansive Polo Field.

There were also a number of side attractions at the MMC including the Avenue of Chalets vendor area and a tribute to show honoree and automotive designer, Mark Stehrenberger. Now I must apologize that I kept my camera focused mostly on the 200-plus cars on the show field and I missed the Fashion Hat Competition sponsored by Silverhorn Jewelers!

A trophy winner at The Solvang Fall Classic Car Show and a standout at any show it’s entered in was Keith & Lynne Raphael’s jaw-dropping ’61 MGA Roadster. This ‘lil beast sports a supercharged Chevy 350 tucked neatly into the radically-modified, all-steel MGA body that sits snugly on an altered ’78 Corvette chassis. This red racer is no Trailer Queen and gets driven often for joy-rides and to shows by Keith and Lynne.

This man is not only on the step-up to his “La Bestioni No. 8 ~ Beast of Turin” but on a mission to wow and entertain as many people as he, and his oversize creations, can. Some of you may recognize Gary Wales from his many appearances on Jay Leno’s Garage. Gary’s “Beasts” (he has built 8 so far) are tributes to the original Beast of Turin, a 1911 Fiat S76 that was powered by a massive 28-liter inline-4 engine. To create his “Beasts” he starts with pre-1930s American La France fire trucks and from there let’s his creativity flow. Many of the mechanical chores – such as rebuilding the 14-liter Simplex motor – are handled by his ace mechanic, Andres Aranda. It was one of the most popular exhibits of CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: CENTRAL COAST WHEELING WEEKEND.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: CENTRAL COAST WHEELING WEEKENDIn conspicuous contrast to Gary’s “Beast” is Don Nichos’ ‘56 Messerschmitt KR200 Kabineroller (Cabin Scooter) which buzzed into the Solvang show with a BMW Isetta in hot pursuit. This head-turning 3-wheel microcar was designed by Fritz Fend for German aircraft manufacturer Messerschmitt. While spotting one of these on the road is about as rare as spotting Warren Buffet at the 7-11, they actually manufactured approximately 40,000 of them between 1955 and 1964. Capable of reaching a top speed of 56 mph, the 507-pound KR200 is powered by a 191 cc Fichtel & Sachs 2-stroke engine. If you close your eyes as one passes by you might think you’re hearing a classic Vespa scooter!

It was the very first car I spotted at The Solvang Fall Classic Car Show and I knew immediately that it was special. While over 21 million Volkswagen Beetles were manufactured between 1938 and 2003, this little, unpretentious Pastel Green Bug was one of the last split-window Zwitter Beetles manufactured in 1952. And here it sat, like an obedient and patient Dachshund, perhaps waiting for its owner to come out of one of the Danish pastries shops on Copenhagen Drive. This iconic, concours condition ’52 VW is proudly owned by Randy Maskell of Burbank who purchased it over 35 years ago. Everything works in this all-original survivor including the dash clock that you wind-up by reaching into the right-side glove compartment, and the delicate, flip-out style semaphore turn signals. Open the front trunk and you’ll find all the original tools.

What a difference a day makes! In striking contrast to Saturday’s Solvang show’s humble ’52 Zwitter Bug was this brutish Baja Bug on display at Sunday’s Montecito Motor Classic. Sitting mean and nasty on meaty BFGoodrich Baja T/As, this desert destroyer is powered by a high-revving, deep-breathing 700 horsepower LS7 Chevy. Configuration and Fabrication of the car’s complex suspension and chassis was handled by Bradley Nipper. The Bug’s concept was by Stephan Sutton and the assembly by EWR Racing. Oh, by the way, the car is air-conditioned!

Hi-yo, Silver! OK, I know this ’59 Corvette is painted Roman Red, but that’s Dawn Moore holding a photo of her father, Clayton Moore. If you’re a Boomer like me you probably watched Clayton on TV in his role as The Lone Ranger. He bought this Vette new in 1959 and it’s been in the Moore family ever since. Dawn is the latest family caretaker; she brought this classic up from Beverly Hills to proudly show it at The Montecito Motor Classic.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: CENTRAL COAST WHEELING WEEKENDThere are some bad ideas that are fabulous – like John Lynch’s awesome ’51 Kaiser Henry J Gasser! So, the story goes that when John told his buddies that he was going to stuff a blown 392-inch Chrysler Hemi into his diminutive Henry J, they all agreed – that was a really bad idea. When John completed the build – which included details like the Ford 9-inch rear, ladder-bar suspension and Turbo 400 transmission, his friends were speechless. This glowing example of a classic 1960s period Gasser is finished in John’s home-brewed “Evil Orange” paint, with its name Bad Idea boldly displayed on both doors!

Speaking of big motors in small cars – Jeff Jones of RatRod Jeff Fabrications brought customer Roger Regen’s wild & wicked ’29 Model A Tudor Ratrod to the manicured Polo field to tear up not divots, but perceptions of what a show-worthy automotive head-turner could be. Jeff’s intricate tube chassis connects all the rod’s components, serving as a sturdy base for the massive 540-inch, 850 horsepower Mooneyham-blown Hemi, Turbo 350 trans, and also a roll cage in the smashed, 32-inch to the roofline Tudor body. This attention getter drew in many admirers including this lovely lady from Ojai and her taller-than-the-car Great Dane. That’s Jeff enjoying the canine and lovely chapeaued company.

I met British motorcycle and car restoration expert Phil Honer years ago while I still owned my ’74 Triumph TR6. I never knew he owned this stunning Jaguar E-Type Coupe and was excited to see him and his meticulously-restored Opalescent Blue ’67 XKE on Copenhagen Drive for The 2021 Solvang Fall Classic Car Show. I grabbed this photo early on Saturday morning as the first arrivals were positioning their show cars in their assigned display areas. A native of Birmingham, England, Phil boosted his E-Type’s performance with high-lift cams, an aluminum flywheel, improved brakes and an improved cooling system.

Green: The color of money and envy! If you’re planning on putting a plug-in e-hybrid 918 Porsche Spyder in your garage, get ready for a considerable investment of time and money as they are near impossible to find. Touted as one of Porsche’s most advanced models when introduced in 2013, this hybrid features a 608 horsepower 4.6-Liter gas powered engine, paired with a 129 horsepower front electric motor and a 156 horsepower rear electric motor, fueled by a 6.8-kWh lithium-ion battery. Doing the power-curve math reveals a jaw-dropping 0 to 60 sprint in 2.5 seconds! Priced around $845,000 for a base model in 2013 you can expect asking prices from $1.3 million and way-way up today.

There’s nothing like a classic Tri-Five Chevy to bring us back down to earth and to Solvang, after our lofty visit with the 918 Spyder. GM produced over 1.5 million Chevys in 1957 and the odds of finding one at your local car show are very high. I was surprised to learn that even with these impressive sales numbers it was in 1957 that Ford outsold Chevy for the first time since 1935. Chevrolet recovered quickly and Ford spent the 1960s unsuccessfully trying to make a comeback!

Introduced back in 1946, Dodge’s Power Wagon was essentially a civilian version of the Dodge WC Series 4×4 military truck. Many were put to hard work as utility vehicles on farms and work sites and if serious mechanical problems were encountered far too many were left to slowly rust right where they quit running. Over the last 10 years Power Wagon aficionados have resurrected and restored the ones they could find and specialized restoration facilities, like Legacy Classic Trucks, have created growing businesses building Power Wagon conversions that feature high-performance drivetrains and custom interiors. This big orange wagon on the Polo Field was a favorite of the many kids who attended the show with their families.

Another early arrival in Solvang was this 5th generation Plum Crazy ’73 Dodge Dart 340 Sport. Its Chrysler small-block V-8 produced approximately 240 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. With a curb weight of just over 3,200 pounds these cars offered above-average performance. Plum Crazy paint wasn’t actually offered in 1973, but this Dart looked ready to command the intersection outside the Solvang Shoe Store!

Although both the 2021 Solvang Fall Classic and the Montecito Motor Classic’s advertised motorcycles in the mix of show vehicles over my Wheeling Weekend adventure, I only saw two motorcycles on the Polo Field and less than a dozen on the grass at Solvang Park. Even though there was a nicely restored Brough Superior at the MMC, the bike that caught my eye and camera lens was Ron Curtis’ quintessential 1960’s chopper, a beautifully scalloped ’64 BSA. It of course had radically extended forks, “ape hanger” handlebars and a tall “sissy-bar” seat. What it didn’t have was a hardtail frame, the builder opting to retain its original coil spring set.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: CENTRAL COAST WHEELING WEEKENDOne of the fun things about these local shows is you will often discover interesting vehicles parked within the vicinity of the show. One such giddy discovery was this authentic Japanese firetruck. To navigate the narrow and twisting streets in Japan smaller vehicles are often chosen as utility and emergency vehicles – such as Bear Erickson and Adriana Ortiz’s red-and-ready Nissan Safari firetruck. I happen to know Bear and Adriana and they have always walked to the beat of their own drummer. Instead of an engagement ring Adriana asked if Bear would get her the firetruck – for no other reason than it would put a smile on her face!

Words & Photos © Jim Palamhttps://www.jimpalamphotos.com/

For more information, please visit the CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: CENTRAL COAST WHEELING WEEKEND show websites: https://wheelsnwindmills.com/ https://montecitomotorclassic.com/

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’21 RPM NATIONALS: FLATHEAD DRAGS, SHOW & SWAP MEET

We asked Car Guy Chronicles’ Jim Palam to travel back to the Halcyon Days of Flathead hot rods and drag racing. He didn’t need a time machine – just a tank of gas, an alarm clock set for 4 am, and directions to Santa Margarita Ranch in Central California for the ’21 RPM NATIONALS: FLATHEAD DRAGS, SHOW & SWAP MEET.

’21 RPM NATIONALS: FLATHEAD DRAGS, SHOW & SWAP MEET

I started sticking my head into dimly lit garages and greasy engine compartments when I was 14 years old. My older brother Tommy – AKA Tommy Tuner – who at 16 was already building a reputation in blue collar Queens, NY as a talented engine tuner. Factory Musclecars had yet to launch big and if you wanted a good Bench Racing story, you relied on engine swaps, bargain-priced or home-made speed equipment, and guys like Tommy to help you collect “Win” stickers and bragging rights! It was Tommy’s involvement with early-1960s drag racing that got me hopped-up on the sights, sounds and thrills of hot rodding. Needless to say, I was excited about covering the ’21 RPM NATIONALS: FLATHEAD DRAGS, SHOW & SWAP MEET for CGC.

As planned, I arrived early Saturday morning at the entry gate to Santa Margarita Ranch, drove across its cow barrier rails and then a rickety wood plank bridge before traveling about a mile up the dirt road that led to the South end of the ranch’s private airstrip. As a red sun rose in the East, racers, hot rod clubs and swap meet vendors were setting up their pit areas at the North end of the strip. Spectators parked their vehicles West of the airstrip on the shoulders of an access road. Non-participating Hot Rods, Rat Rods, Customs and vendors lined the East side of the airstrip. A K-Rail protected the spectator’s area and ran about 3/4 the length of the 1/8-mile section of the airstrip where the rubber would be laid-down.

The races were broken into 6 classes:  4 Cylinder Flathead Street cars, V8 Flathead Street cars, 4 Cylinder power-boosted Street cars (OHV conversion and/or blower), V8 power-boosted Street cars, and two Full-Race classes – Flathead Fours and V8s. Anything goes in the Full-Race – OHV conversions, blowers and even Nitro. Street cars had to or could be registered for the street; removal of windshield, headlights and fenders was just fine. Non-Street, Full-Race classes included dragsters, sprint cars and Dry Lakes belly-tankers, though these classes had limited participation.

Santa Margarita Ranch, is a 17,735-acre Mexican “land grant” in the Santa Lucia Mountains, in Central California’s San Luis Obispo County. Local folklore maintains that Frank and Jesse James passed through the ranch in 1874. The red, “Fire Sun” that rose over the ranch and the Flatheads on race day was a result of smoke from the many wildfires that have been burning in California.

Here’s what can happen when you decide to hop-up your Model B Ford four-banger. Back in 2020, Firefighter Cody Clem decided to do a Covid Hot Rod project. He started with a ’28 Model A and then installed a race-ready Model B motor from Max Herman at H&H Flatheads. Two Stromberg 97 carbs sit atop a Dan Price Cragar four-port cylinder head. Cody grabbed a win on Saturday before an electrical issue stymied follow-up runs.

The RPM Nationals is a flag-started event and, in many cases, a Pall family affair. Jason Pall directed all the activity at the staging area and starting line. His daughter Riley served as Flag Girl and his wife Rochelle was one of the higher-profile racers who was focused and flawless when blasting her ’31 F/S #81 roadster down the 1/8th mile track.

’21 RPM NATIONALS: FLATHEAD DRAGS, SHOW & SWAP MEETWhile some of the old Flathead V8s and Four Bangers at The RPM Nationals had race numbers applied using chalk or shoe polish, a number of them were professionally rendered in paint – like Vic Jr’s beautiful No. 88 Red’s Headers ’30 Ford Sports Coupe. (Racing Lore: If your race number looks fast, you will go faster!)

Another hop-up from Vic Jr was his No. 76 tire-smokin’ ’31 Ford Roadster shown here coming hot off the line. While burn-outs put smiles on the faces of the spectators, it’s a frown-inducer for the racer as they will inevitably burn-off MPH and add time to the clock – not that there was a clock! There were two checkered flag men positioned at the 1/8th-mile mark – one to indicate a win in the left, K-Rail Lane; the other for a win in the right, Tower-side Lane.

The view from behind Greg Lazzerini’s hand-built No. 18 V/S Class ’32 racer shows the relative short distance to the finish line – and Greg’s love of low and louvered race cars. Here Greg grabs a quick look at the competition before launching down the airstrip. EMTs and fire fighters were on-hand and safety rules were enforced.

If you’re thinking this sweet machine has the profile of a Lakes racer, you’d be right. With fully-adjustable front and rear suspensions and tube chassis, Greg Lazzerini’s hand-built ’32 roadster has spent time as a road racer, a Flathead drag car, and has also seasoned its provenance with time on the Dry Lakes. The car was a strong competitor throughout race day.

Whether you call it a Souped-up Jalopy, a Hot Iron, a Gow Job, a Hot Rod or a Hop Up, the Garcia No. 35 Special out of Visalia, CA is certainly “Up” and riding high. If you like your drag racing in Nitro-fueled four-second bursts, you might find events like the ’21 RPM NATIONALS: FLATHEAD DRAGS, SHOW & SWAP MEET a bit tame. But the racers take things seriously and they have a ball honoring the roots of American drag racing history.

’21 RPM NATIONALS: FLATHEAD DRAGS, SHOW & SWAP MEETRacer Jesse Nickell motors back from his V/S Class run along the dirt return road in his primer black and lime green ’27 T Roadster. Somewhere along the way it looks like he picked up a thin-as-a-rail passenger. Not sure if that’s legal. At very least, that little skull should be wearing a helmet!

Three of the famous Will Baldwin Specials made a special appearance at the RPM Nationals. This is Baldwin’s second build in the series – the Baldwin Mercury Special – which has a steel and aluminum body wrapped over a shortened ‘46 Mercury frame. It was built to race in SCCA’s modified classes and competed on the short tracks of America from 1949 to 1959. Almost completely destroyed while racing in 1960 it was resurrected in 1990 and underwent a complete restoration in 2006. Note the reversed headlights for RPM race day!

The ‘Pomp’ of this Flathead Drags ‘Circumstance’ has as much to do about style and attitude as it does with vintage race machines and performance. The only background I could dig up on roadster No. “6” (then add “1”) – The Slippery Eel – is that his name might be “Adrion,” and that he always races in his terrycloth sweater with matching terrycloth covered helmet. I do know that he ran well and looked speedy doing it.

’21 RPM NATIONALS: FLATHEAD DRAGS, SHOW & SWAP MEETOne of the more photogenic and competitive Flathead Roadsters at the meet was Timmy McMaster’s sharp-looking burgundy V8- powered ’27 T Roadster. I grabbed this shot early in the day when I spotted it parked in front of the Baron Racing Equipment tent. We’ve also used a shot of No. 416 blasting off the starting line as this report’s masthead photo.

We had a saying back in my early street racing days: “Run What You Brung!” To us, it didn’t matter if your car wasn’t in-style, wasn’t perfect. What mattered is that you participated and had fun. The RPM Nationals is a bit like that, the difference being that you had to meet race class specs and follow safety regulations – like roll bars for “fast” open cars and helmets, pants and closed shoes for the drivers. Looks like we’re good to go here!

Now that the racers and spectators are gone and the hot rod dust has settled at Santa Margarita Ranch, I find myself looking forward to other vintage racing events. I’ve been encouraged to attend other West Coast events like The Antique Nationals in Irwindale and The Eagle Field Fresno Dragways Reunion. Be sure to check for vintage Hot Rod racing events in your neck of the woods. It’s Old-Timey good fun for the whole family!

Words & Photos © by Jim Palam, https://www.jimpalamphotos.com/

For more information about the ’21 RPM NATIONALS: FLATHEAD DRAGS, SHOW & SWAP MEET , please visit https://www.rpmnationals.com/

EDITOR’S NOTE: I encouraged Jim to cover the RPM Nationals because my introduction to hot rodding and drag racing – in the 1950s – was a rare ’40 Merc convertible sedan, shaved and decked, painted dark Cadillac Blue, and powered by a dual carb, dual exhaust Flathead. Replacing that car was a ’47 MG-TC with a pro-built Ford V8-60 Flathead! Those cars, and my membership in the Draggin Wheels Hot Rod Club, Yonkers, NY kicked off my career as an editor of enthusiast magazines – from CUSTOM RODDER and Hi-Performance CARS to VETTE. Reading Jim’s piece and soaking in his stunning photos brought back priceless memories, and reminded me just how much I miss my old ’40 Merc. Thanks, Jim!

VENTURA NATIONALS: RODS, CUSTOMS, BIKES & GUITARS!

While he wasn’t ready to spike-up his hair and tattoo a car club logo on his chest, Car Guy Chronicle‘s contributor, Jim Palam, was more than willing to motor South on Highway 101 and immerse himself in the cuffed-denim and octane-fueled culture of the 18th annual VENTURA NATIONALS: RODS, CUSTOMS, BIKES & GUITARS!

VENTURA NATIONALS: RODS, CUSTOMS, BIKES & GUITARS!

There are lots of things that go together well – like bows & arrows, macaroni & cheese, Batman & Robin. But for those of us with octane in our veins, the rhythm of our lives purrs along best when there’s a stick shift in our hand and a wailing car song in our ears. From Jackie Brenston’s Rocket 88 and Chuck Berry’s Maybelline, to Golden Earring’s Radar Love and Deep Purple’s Highway Star, thumpin’ music and high octane has long been a potent elixir helping to fuel the fun and adventure factors in our Car Guys’ lives. So, it was with a tingling in my spine and Ramblin’ Man on my radio that I headed to the Ventura Fairgrounds for the VENTURA NATIONALS: RODS, CUSTOMS, BIKES & GUITARS!

 This was the 18th annual gathering for this popular Central Coast car event at the spacious Ventura Fairgrounds. Acres of oceanside parkland and thousands of square feet of indoor meeting space got covered and filled with almost 1,000 hot rods, customs and vintage motorcycles. There were also pedal cars, vendor booths and an outdoor stage for high-energy music acts that fired up the fairgrounds, including the Delta Bombers, The 40 Acre Mule and Jackie Mendez. If the music wasn’t blasting from the live stage, it was booming from premium car audio systems that seemed to be a requisite component of the flaked and slammed Lowriders and Customs on display.

 As I worked my way around the Fairgrounds I was struck by the dichotomy between the perception and reality of this denim-clad, Mid-Century influenced car culture. Tough LA street guys talked to me about their mission to pull kids out of gangs by providing projects for them in fabrication and speed shops. A heavily tattooed member of Satan’s Escorts dug into his cooler to give me a free bottle of designer water. Ruby-lipped moms and bandana-wrapped dads pushed their happy toddlers around the Fairgrounds in custom pedal cars. While there was rockin’ music and high-octane in the air there was something else, something special, much more present: there was lots of love – for the custom machines, the exciting music and of course for family and friends. Kudos go out to the hard-working staff of this event, especially to show producers, Aaron & Holly Stein

Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908. With its simple design, interchangeable parts and affordability it not only became the best-selling car in the world, it became the choice for many hot-rodding transformations in the 1940s and 1950s. With the prosperity and Jet Age stylings of the 1950s and 1960s the “T” lost some of its allure, but you’ll still find excellent examples like this supercharged T-Bucket, top photo, at car shows and rod runs around the world.

Stacey Gann has a precious heart. Her full-custom ‘29 Model A Preciosa Corazon is another fabulous Kreation from K-Daddyz Kustomz of Bakersfield. Triple ascending and truncated velocity stacks give the motor from Mark’s Automotive a pipe organ profile. The club’s name, Loco Banditos, is scripted below an array of floating chrome buttons on the rod’s grille.

While there were over 22,000 El Caminos produced in 1959, it’s still pretty rare to spot one these days. It wasn’t the shimmering chrome or drool-inducing Candy Gold paint that alerted me to Gustavo Palacios’ long and low ’59 Chevrolet El Camino – it was the ear-drum-cracking, sonic thumping from its explosive audio system that stunned me and many of the other 7,000 attendees at the show. (Note to self: Add ear plugs to gear bag for next show).

VENTURA NATIONALS: RODS, CUSTOMS, BIKES & GUITARS!FINK: An unpleasant or contemptible person; avoid at all costs. FINK ROD: A bad-ass bright metalflake green, supercharged ’34 Ford 5-Window Coupe; get behind the wheel if it’s the last thing you do. This Kustom Kulture Advisory brought to you by Fink Rod owner, Lillard Hill of Bakersfield.

FINK ROD Specs: Wicked from every angle, this homage to Hot Wheels and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth gets its bang from a supercharged Chrysler 392 Hemi. Power is delivered to a 4.56:1 Halibrand quick-change rear end via a Turbo Hydramatic 400 trans with a Gear Vendors overdrive. Fink Rod bites at defenseless roads with its massive 31×16.5 Hoosier tires!

Welcome to the Unfinished Line. Back in the day you rumbled through town in your primered hot rod not so much because you were going for a look, but rather that you spent your entire budget getting it running. These days, a primered, traditional or “patina” look is often the end goal – albeit most primers are now clear coated to seal and protect the finish. Edwin Hernandez’s ’38 Master Deluxe Business Coupe is a good example of one of the endless possibilities that can be achieved when going for a weathered, patina look.

VENTURA NATIONALS: RODS, CUSTOMS, BIKES & GUITARS!Simon Gluckman’s Best of Show Hot Rod ’32 Ford 5-Window Coupe gets the “Hot” part from a blown ’56 Olds motor. This London-to-LA transplant’s Bedlam Car Club is home to some of the purest looking and sweetest running 1940s and 1950s traditional hot rods in Southern California. Bedlam, which took its club name from an infamous psychiatric hospital near London, is a relatively new and small club. If you hear that Bedlam is coming soon to a show or event in your town relax, it’s a good thing!

Aaron Valencia made the right decision when he arrived at a fork in the road of his troubled life. He went into rehab, took guidance and support from people who cared, and when he got a modicum of success with his automotive repair and fabrication business, he quickly focused his time and energy on helping disadvantaged and at-risk kids. In 2014 he helped found the Lost Angels Children’s Project. He’s pictured here in a white tee with three young men – and a custom pickup – whose lives have been redirected to a positive future thanks to the Program and this dedicated Car Guy.

One of the ways the Lost Angels Children’s Project raises money is by restoring a classic car and raffling it at shows like the Ventura Nationals. When I asked Mike from Salinas who was polishing his gleaming ’51 Cadillac Coupe how a young guy like himself managed to afford such an outstanding custom he joyfully responded, “I won it!” It was from there that I was introduced to Aaron Valencia and learned about all the good things the Lost Angels Children Project does. Check it out @ https://www.lostangelscp.org/The ‘35 Ford 5-window Coupe, with its sleek lines and rum-runner stance, has long been a favorite of customizers. Joe from JV Garage in San Diego brought his dropped, chopped and skirted ’35 to the Ventura Nationals and it’s a real beauty. Fat Firestone whitewalls make a snappy style statement against the custom-mix Buckskin Tan paint.

805. It’s an iconic California number. You can be from the 805 if you live in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo or Ventura Counties. You can drink an 805, which is the immensely popular blonde ale from Firestone Walker Brewing Company. And if you’re motorcycle builder Caleb Owens, an 805 is perhaps the highest profile build to come out of your shop, Cro Customs. Built for the brewing company, the 805-badged chopper is an understated and tastefully transformed ’51 Panhead FL. And yes, it’s wheels are wrapped with Firestone tires.

A low center of gravity has distinct benefits – if you’re racing an F1 car, but if you’re Adam Hartley rolling your custom ’52 Chevy Pickup from Vegas to Ventura for the Nationals, a slammed to the ground stance at the show has nothing to do with racing geometry. It’s an attitude bred from anti-Anglo Lowrider culture that grew over the decades into a worldwide automotive aesthetic – as popular in Japan today as it is in Southern California. And you don’t need an X-framed Impala to go low. Today’s hydraulics technologies and suspension kits can slam or stance your pickup, your Prius or your Peterbilt. Just watch out for those speed bumps!

VANdalism? Here’s one for the It’s a Small World files. One of the first Customs I encountered when first entering the Ventura Fairgrounds early Saturday morning was this radically chopped and shortened ’71 Ford Econoline Van. My current mechanic who has helped me dial-in my 914 Porsche worked at Cory Motors in Santa Barbara for years and yes, this is a 40 year-old project by the original owner of the shop. The resurrected van is currently owned by Travis Walker.

Meet Maria – and her ’51 Chevy Deluxe Coupe. She and her husband have been transforming their Chevy slowly but surely, from a survivor to a showstopper. It’s perfectly fine that it’s in something of a Rat Rod stage right now because that’s a “look” too that fits Maria’s style. “I’m not worried about the details now. We got her driving well and we’re always cruising.”

Jim Ramierez from the Throttle Kings Car Club landed a main thoroughfare parking position for his wicked ’34 Buick hot rod. While the heavily-modified, unpainted body is a hammered-metal piece of art – thanks in part to the gang at (Jimmy) Shine Speedshop – I just couldn’t take my eyes off its high-rev Nailhead Buick engine. Introduced in 1953, it was Buick’s first V-8.

VENTURA NATIONALS: RODS, CUSTOMS, BIKES & GUITARS!OK, flashback to the beginning of this report where I was talking about all the love firing-up this Car Guy gathering. It must be the love of hot-rodding that motivated Ed here to get up at 2 AM and drive his matte-red, 425-inch Nailhead Buick-powered Coupe from Sacramento to Ventura to make a showing at the VENTURA NATIONALS: RODS, CUSTOMS, BIKES & GUITARS! That’s over 500 miles each way and, according to Ed, he would be driving back home the same day, but not before he grabbed a classic drive-thru burger. You gotta love it!

 Words & Photos ©Jim Palam, https://www.jimpalamphotos.com/

For more information about the Annual Ventura Nationals Hot Rod, Custom Car & Vintage Motorcycle Show, please visit  https://venturanationals.com/