Looking at the stripped block, Timmy said, “Tell me again why you want a flathead?”
“Ever since my Uncle Sy took me for a ride in his, then new, forty-nine, I’ve wanted one just like it. Uncle Sy not only had a cool ragtop, but he also raced a quarter midget with a V8 60 flathead on dirt and board tracks.”
“Hey, I didn’t know that. How come I never met this cat?
“Cause, he’s dead. He ran at tracks all over the country and finally, one Friday night at the Cincinnati Race Bowl, a high-banked quarter mile track, the ol’ number three spun out and he was creamed by another car. This was about four years ago.”
“What happened to the cars?”
The sixty powered midget was totaled and my aunt sold the forty-nine.”
With the heads off, Timmy and Chris inspected the cylinders and valves only to discover deep scores in the walls. “Ah man,” Chris moaned, “We’re gonna have to pull the engine and have the block bored. I ought to find that salesman and pound his face – matronly lady and always serviced . . . I’ll bet the oil wasn’t changed until they put it on the lot.”
“Well, the good news is you’ll have more cubes,” Timmy chipped in trying to make the best of the situation.
For the rest of the summer, between working for the box factory that put him on full time until school started in the fall, and chasing after Kathleen, he found some time to work on his rod.
If it was anything he learned that summer, it was he didn’t want to work in a factory. The box plant produced corrugated containers – the corrugated board being formed with steam to cook the starch that was used as a glue to cement the medium, the fluted part, to the front and back liners. On days when the outside temperature rose into the nineties, and even with all the factory windows open, it could get hotter than the headers on an alcohol fueled dragster.
Waiting for the block to be bored sixty thousands over at the C&J Machine Shop, Chris socked away his pay check to cover the expense of new pistons, rings, bearings and speed equipment. So as not to look completely stock, he installed a set of lowering blocks and used fender skirts. The skirts were Bayview Blue, but Chris sanded off the paint and Timmy spray painted them Miami Cream to match the body color.
As soon as he got the engine block out of hock, he immediately set to work modifying it. Using a power drill and grinding wheels, he carefully ported and polished the intake ports. Next he relieved the block by grinding away excess metal between the valve opening and the cylinder. It was slow going, usually one cylinder or port per day. But when he finished, the finishes were smooth as Kathleen’s . . . well as smooth as he could imagine. The machine shop had also ground and reseated the valves which rode on adjustable lifters that followed the lobes of a full race Clay-Smith cam.
Timmy stopped by when his work schedule allowed – work for pay at Buop’s and work on his rapidly progressing custom. He had leaded in the door handles and installed a solenoid to open the doors via a push-button switch hidden under the front wheel well. The body was still spotted primer awaiting his next chore – chopping the top.
Chris did manage a few dates with Kathleen when his father allowed him to borrow the family stagecoach, a 1955 Chevy Nomad. It was powered by the new V8 with Power Pack, but that was coupled to a Powerglide tranny and thus very slow off the line. Once he brought Kathleen over to show her the forty-nine, but she couldn’t believe he – or anyone – could put it back together again.
Camshaft lifts the lifters
Fly-wheel spins the clutch disk
Ring gear twists the axle
Throttle up and take the risk
On a Saturday night, late in August, both boys reinstalled the short block which also included a lightened flywheel and truck clutch he bought at the junk yard. By the next Sunday, with Timmy in his chopped custom ’51 as the possible tow vehicle, they headed for the strip. The first run, he fishtailed off the line, had to back off, but turned a respectable 89.6. During the second run of the preliminary drags, the axle broke and Timmy had to tow him home.
The following Sunday, it was back to the strip with a junk yard axle, only this time the universal joints came apart on the first run. The word in the pits was Chris might have more power than the car can handle. Chris really wanted a trophy and the third time must be the charm. On the successive Sunday, he qualified, dusted off another flathead and then during the trophy run the drive shaft snapped. And so the drag season ended.
Though the hopped-up engine wasn’t made for back and forth to school trips, it was fun and all the kids recognized the sound of Chris’ dual piped, Smitty’s mufflers. Chris knew he couldn’t keep the forty-nine when he headed off to college, so he planned to trade for a ’53 Ford sedan - a stocker. He realized he could afford to buy a new ’56, but he wanted to own the last of the flatheads.
Summer 1956 promised to be the time for graduation, stacks of trophies and fun. The reality was his mother took sick and Chris had to put in a lot of overtime plus take care of his younger brother and sisters. Spare time was spent with Kathleen, mostly helping her help her invalid grandparents – and maybe a movie or two – especially Giant, which they saw twice.
September: end of summer, end of teen hot rodding, end of romance? Chris had one last chance to garner a trophy. He checked everything twice, wiped down the oxidized and faded Miami Cream paint with motor oil to make it shine and used his bicycle pump to add extra air to the front tires . . . and with Kathleen snuggled beside him to do the shifting, off they went to the strip.
D-Gas that day contained a few hot machines, but Chris was convinced if he could keep from breaking anything, he could win. He got through the preliminaries with ease and then came up against a fifty-five Chevy with a set of quads. In first gear he spun the tires a little too much and the Chevy moved out. But second gear, with the Clay-Smith cam allowing the over-sized pistons to suck huge amounts of air through the polished and enlarged ports from the six-duces, the forty-nine pulled even at the half way point. A slam shift into third brought a chirp of rubber and the Chevy was a distant second at the end of the quarter mile. Chris had his trophy.
At the strip that glorious day
his D-Gas coupe turned in eighty-nine, nine.
But elation was nothing compared
to seeing her in the spectator line.
Carrying the wood and metal prize from the announcer’s stand back to the pits, Timmy caught up with him, put his arm over his buddy’s shoulder and grinned, “I guess you really do know Jack . . . he drives a forty-nine with a full race flathead.”