WHY IS A BLACK CHERRY CAR CALLED THE “GREEN BEAN”?
An Historic Race Car Assumes a New Life
by Jerry Barnes
Well, it's a long story…..
For those who were just getting to be old enough to drive in the decade of the '50s, it was a magical time. World War II had been won. The economy of the United States was booming. The building of the Interstate Highway System was in full swing, and America was wild for wheels. Established families were trading in their prewar cars and getting new ones, and the trade-ins were subsequently sold as used cars to drivers who couldn't afford new iron.
The 1930s had turned out some really nice cars and the selection of pre-war vehicles was truly remarkable because up till World War II, the Big Three had been going head-to-head and fighting tooth and nail, putting out what was to become the basis of the Golden Age of hot-rodding. In the early '50s hot rodding had begun to really take off, and though the early cars of the genre were generally dominated by Ford with the 1920s Model-T’s, the 1930-31 Model-A’s, and 1932 Model-B’s, there were other brands that were suitable for the proverbial “souping up.”
Just prior to the start of the Great War, Ford came out with the 1939-40 Ford and it was like a new day dawning. The design was classic - so much so that the general styling theme got carried over to the Mercury and Lincoln. The two-door sedans were beautiful. The four-door sedans were likewise, but “more-doors” traditionally were and still are less desirable than two-door body styles. While the sedans were gorgeous, the coupes were exquisite and for the hot-rod-set, life was good and getting better by the day.
Thus it was that back in the summer of 1958, a trio of Dallas, Texans set out to build a competitive D/Gas drag race car. L.W. “Dubby” Erwin, who worked for C.J. Carson & Sons Garage in Dallas, owned the 1940 Mercury two-door sedan. His friend, Jimmy Boren, supplied the 265 cu. in. small-block Chevrolet engine. Boren’s cousin, Connell Miller – now the Editor-in-Chief of Nostalgia Drag World – eagerly joined the team as helper and “gofer” on the project.
The cam was a high-revving jewel with its Isky E-3 long-duration “Bonneville” grind, three Rochester 2GC carburetors, JE pistons, and Vertex magneto. California’s Ed Fletchall reworked the heads, with the exhaust exiting through Erwin-modified Hedman headers. A three-speed Lincoln Zephyr transmission sent the power back to a 5.86:1 Getz ring and pinion gear set and on out to a pair of Bruce re-cap slicks.
Since the Merc’s original color was green, it was then christened: “The Green Bean.” The car was completed the day before Erwin, Miller, and Boren headed north to race at the fourth National Hot Rod Association Nationals at the Oklahoma City Fairground Drag Strip on Labor Day Weekend, August 29 through September 1, 1958.
To give you some reference of the time: Sunday, the final day of the meet, was reserved for National Record runs, and out of twenty-five classes, new marks were set in eighteen, with Art Arfons setting a new A/Dragster top speed mark with his 1,710-cubic inch Allison V-12 powered "Green Monster II" at 156.24 mph. Earlier during qualifying runs (which did not count towards potential records), Arfons had carded a legitimate 161.67 mph, for which he was awarded the Maremont Performance Trophy.
Alas, the Green Bean didn't win that weekend. It was beaten by the car driven by Ronnie Helfenstine of Kennedale, Texas, but the next event would find the Green Bean competing at Caddo Mills, Texas. In the decade of the 1950s, Caddo Mills was recognized as being one of the first drag strips in the country outside of California. It was the first NHRA sanctioned drag strip in Texas and the second NHRA sanctioned drag strip in America. This legendary strip hosted Don Garlits' “Swamp Rats,” Bobby Langley's "Scorpions," the twin-engine terrors of both Eddie Hill and Jack Moss, Nationals-winning altereds like Buddy Anderson’s "Widdle White Wabbit" Fiat, Don Breithaupt's '32 Ford "DCB" coupe, Arizona's "Speed Sport Special" modified roadster, Carl Stone’s “Rolling Stone” roadster, August "Hands" Hartkopf, Dubby Erwin's “Green Bean”, and many others.
And so it was that in late 1958 at the North Texas Timing Association’s Texas State Championship, the 20-year-old Erwin and his Green Bean atoned for the National’s loss by not only winning the D/Gas trophy, but setting a new record in the process.
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