Hotrod Heartland, U.S.A.
Growing up in Bellflower, CA in the 1950's and 1960's was the best of times...and for a kid in that era, having a car, or at least access to one was everything. I remember as a young boy building model cars and customizing them with candy apple paionts and flames or scallops. My friends and I would buy the latest car magazines and dream of the day when we could rive our own "bitchin" rides. Weekends were spent watching the parade of customs cruising the local hangouts or going by Larry Watson's paint and body shop to check out the latest cutting edge creations.
I didn't know it at the time, but I grew up right smack in the middle of the whole custom car scene. Within a small radius of Bellflower, many soon to be famous people were already honing their crafts. Names like George Barris, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Hershel "Junior" Conway, Von Dutch, Gaylord, Eddie Martinez, Larry Watson, just to name a few. Many of these people had already established quite a reputation and were winning top awards at the Oakland Roadster Show.
Friday and Saturday nights were spent cruising Bellflower Boulevard, stopping in at the A & W (rootbeer) to see who was there, or just to be seen. Later, up Lakewood Boulevard to Firestone in Downey to cruise Harvey's Broiler. Harvey's, as it was simply known, was definitely the place to be. It didn't matter what your car was, if it wasn't customized, you simply wouldn't be caught dead driving your ride through Harvey's.
High School Graduation
After graduating from Bellflower High in 1966, I attended Long Beach City College. Many of you will remember the "Draft," so getting a 2-S deferment for attending college meant not going to Vietnam right away. However, I also needed to work, too. So, right after I turned 18, I landed a job with North American aviation in Downey, CA. I was pretty good with my hands so I was hired to work as a toolmaker on swing shift.
North American in Downey during those years was an exciting place to work. The space race to the moon was on and America was excited about it. We had an actual Apollo Command Module right in our tooling department on display. Being the prime contractor for the Apollo Program, the tooling department built specialized tools, jigs and fixtures to support the Command Modules and the second stage of the Apollo North American built at its facility in Seal Beach.
By 1967, having a custom car was on the back burner. I attended college during the day and worked evenings until well after midnight. Sleep became a rare commodity. I was making great money for a teenager so I bought a new 1967 cherry red Karmann Ghia...and I loved that car. I pulled the engine within the first month and installed a 3/4 race cam with aftermarket exhaust. Then I added chrome reverse rims and a top-of-the-line eight-track tape player. Volkswagens were very popular with the kids, but few people knew what a Karmann Ghia was. People would ask what make of care it was at stoplights and comment on the looks of my little sports car. I was styling...or so I thought.
During 1968, I was finishing my sophomore year in college and working 60 hours a week including mandatory overtime. Having free time or a social life was almost a joke. Then, the aerospace crunch hit. North American had just merged with Rockwell and defense work went almost to zip. I literally went from working 60 hours a week to being laid-off within a period of about 3 weeks. In the tooling department alone, the first round of lay-offs took out anyone with less than 28 years seniority. nd, it wasn't just limited to my company. The whole industry got hit, and hard! We heard that Seattle, WA, was very dependent on Boeing Aircraft and a large percentage of Seattle was unemployed. So, being left unemployed and unable to support myself and continue college, I joined the Navy in late 1968, just before Uncle Same came a calling.
Navy life was certainly different. I received training as an Aviation Electrician and was soon assigned to my first permanent duty station in Panama City, FL. Attached to a helicopter squadron at the mine defense laboratory, we tested minesweeping gear the government designed at the base. I soon learned you could receive flight pay for flying as an air crewman, so I received training in search and rescue and became a part of the flight crew. We flew Sikorsky H-3's, the same type of helicopters used for the Apollo Spacecraft pickups.
Florida was very different from California, especially living in a small southern town. However, I quickly learned Panama City Beach was well known as a popular spring break and summer vacation destination with the kids. Hoards of college students would cruise the "Miracle Strip;" an area running for miles along sugar white pristine beaches lined with motels, nightclubs, drive-through liquor stores, amusement arcades and gift shops.
Enter the Hot Mustang
In the latter part of 1969, I happened by a used car lot and saw a 1966 Ford Mustang Fastback. This machine looked hot! It had just been freshly repainted yellow with two black racing stripes running down the center of the car. On the hood was a 427 Corvette hood scoop to finish off its look. The car had a 195 Ford rear-end with 411 gears, a Hurst shifter with 4-speed, Cobra kid, Jardine headers, glass packs, and numerous engine modifications. The mustand had clocked as 12.20 in the quarter mile...plenty fast in those days. Naturally, I had to have it so I bought it the next day.
Racing and cruising with the Mustang was a lot of fun during the next couple of years. Many of the new hot muscle cars would want to street race and within a few months I got the reputation of having the fastest care in town. Young boys on bicycles would say in their cute southern accents, "Hey mister, that sure is a boss looking car." Of course I would grin from ear to ear.
You always know when you're having too much fun because something happens. My next set of orders took me to San Diego to join a Helcopter Combat Support Squadron for deployment to Vietnam aboard the USS Constellation. So, the Mustang had to be sold because I already had the Karmann Ghia stored on blocks back in California and I was on my way to Southeast Asia.
After returning from Vietnam in the summer of 1972, I received an early out from the Navy to return to college. During this same time, I got married to my first wife, an English Professor I had met while stationed in Florida. We settled in Long Beach and I returned to college, finishing my degree in Business Administration from Cal State Fullerton in January 1975. The next month I was hired by Fluor Corporation, working in Financial Systems and a variety of other positions for the next decade.
While my career was advancing quite nicely, my marriage was not. By the end of the 70's, we called it quits and I was single once again. The Karmann Ghia was gone (the ex-wife wrecked it) and I was ready for something a little more exciting. Muscle cars were out because of the high gas prices and sports cars were in.
In 1979, Mazda introduced the RX-7 and the public went crazy. Dealers had long waiting lists and were getting as much as a 25 percent premium over sticker. A girl I was dating at the time had just bought one and it was really fun to drive. So, I had to have one too. I bought a slightly used one from my boss who had modified the car's rear appearance and had a new, more plush interior installed. I drove the RX-7 for the next 5 years until I bought my next new car.
As a decade drew to a close, I was enjoying the single life and working my way up the career ladder. Fluor Corporation had moved to Irvine into that futuristic set of buildings just off the 405 freeway at Jamboree. I moved from Long Beach to Irving, buying my first home. Life was good!
My wife, Debbie, and I actually met at work. Deb, as I like to call her, had just graduated from UCI and was looking to start a career. Her parents' neighbor at the time happened to be my boss. He knew I had a hiring requisition out and asked me if I would be interested in talking with Debbie. I said sure, interviewed her and Deb came to work for me in Corporate Finance.
Debbie and I both had separate lives and dating an employee who worked for you was strictly taboo. 5 years passed by and both of us had moved on in our careers. I was working for a different division of Fluor by now and also unattached as far as a relationship was concerned. Debbie had recently ended a long-term relationship herself so our timing was right. We started talking at a company finance party about horse racing and ended up making a date to go and watch the horses race at Del Mar. Things moved quickly from there and within a year we were engaed to be married.
I had been thinking about changing jobs and also buying a new car. So, we sold Debbie's Toyota Celica and she started driving the Mazda RX-7. I bought a new Nissan 300ZX Turbo in 1985 (no, I hadn't gotten the sport car bug out of my system yet!) I also changed careers and jobs about this same time, going to work for Paine Webber as a stockbroker back in Long Beach.
Fast Forward into the 1990's
Over the next several years quite a bit happened. Debbie and I got married. I changed jobs again, first doing stock promotion, then computer database consulting with my own practice. Our son Mathew was born and we moved to our present home in Aliso Viejo in 1990.
All thoughts of hot rodding were kept on the back burner as we did what most people do, focusing on wealth building and raising a family. However, turning 40 does something to you. At around age 45, a neighbor of mine, Ed Woolsey (now deceased) purchased a T-Bucket. Wow is all I could say. I'd see Ed driving around in that T-Bucket and it gave me the bug. Now, I didn't really know Ed because he lived at the opposite end of the street from me. So, I walked down to his house one evening and introduced myself. Turned out, Ed had grown up in Lakewood, a town bordering Bellflower to the south side.
Well, Ed invited me to join him the next Saturday morning at Ted's Restaurant at the corner of LaPaz and Aliso Creek Road. As I soon found out, every Saturday morning at around 7 AM a bunch of guys would get together with their cars to have breakfast and swap stories; they called themselves the Saddleback Knights. Joining the club was pretty easy, all you needed to do was buy a hat. So, I did and I was a Saddleback Knight.
The club was supposed to be loosely formed with no rules, no dues, not even a President. However, no structure sometimes leads to dissension, and no rules sometimes means no rules for only a few. So, a small group of us were told if we didn't like the "rules," we should form our own club.
Now, backing up a bit. While I was a member of the Saddleback Knights, a lot of cars were going to the Wienerschnitzel in Laguna Hills at LaPaz and Cabot Road on Thursday evenings. I started hanging around there, meeting other rodders and forming some opinions about the type of car I wanted to purchase. So, one day I found an ad for a 1931 Ford Tudor Sedan and went to look at it. Well, after about two months of going back and forth on price, I bought it. I was now officially a street rodder!
Being somewhat new to streetrodding, I guess I took a lot for granted. The sedan I purchased had more mechanical problems than I was led to believe. So, after about two months, I started by pulling the 350 Chevy motor for a complete overhaul and of course a few new goodies.
With the help of a friend who owned an automotive repair shop, we started with the heads. We added larger intake and exhaust valves, new seats, duel springs, guide plates, new push rods, and of course ported and polished the heads. The block was also sent out and checked. New rings were added along with a new set of main and rod bearings. A Comp cam was also installed for a little lope along with a gear drive. The motor was finished off with a new Edlebrock 600 CFM carb and an Offenhauser polished intake manifold. The headers were sent out for Jet Hot coating and new polished stainless fuel lines were added. To round things out, a new higher stall torque converter was added.
Later, I converted the brakes on the Jag XKE rear-end to Wilwoods and had Eddie Martinez install an all black leather custom interior. A complete new wiring harness was also added at the same time as the new interior was being installed.
Getting back to my affiliation with the Saddleback Knights, there was a small group of us who wanted a little more structure to a club and liked the idea of a few planned events. So, during a Memorial Day gathering in Paso Robles many of us attended, it was decided that a club of our own was the best way to go. The next week, about 9 or 10 of us met a Fuddruckers and elected a Board. I guess mainly because I was the one mostly trying to rally the troops, I was elected the club's first President. Others who were on the SOCRC's first board included Jim Beltinck as Treasurer and Gary Frasier (now with the Over the Hill Gang, San Diego) as Secretary. A few other original members include; Ed Woolsey, Frank Wilson, Mike Amador, and of course Don Hill. There were some other names as well.
I'd like to mention that Don Hill headed up the logo committee. Many of you may have wondered how a Mercury ended up in our club logo. Well, Don always swore it had nothing to do with him owning one, it was just the logo committee felt the Merc was the best representation of a custom car. Anyway, Don was of course persuasive and the membership approved the design.
There were many people who helped out in getting the club started in the early days, and I will always be indebted to all of them for their efforts. The South Orange County Rods and Custom s we enjoy today is the result of the combined efforts of many, many people. Some of those people are not with us today, like Ed Woolsey, Mike Amador and Don Hill. There are a few others, too. But I will never forget their friendship, nor will I ever fail to recognize their contributions. SOCRC was, and is to this day, always about the people...and of course the love of our hobby.
As many of you know, I am basically retired and trying to enjoy life. I spend my time mostly between trading stocks, family life and trips to our new second home in Lake Havasu, AZ. My 1933 Ford Sedan is a great source of pride. Ed May was kind enough to part with it when I purchased the sedan from him a couple of years ago. I am still finding things I'd like to do to it.
Recently, I rebult the Holley carburetor and changed a few things around for better performance. I also bumped the advance curve in the MSD distributor. I plan on re-wiring the entire car and it probably needs a new fuel pump too. Eventually, I want to have a new leather interior installed to finish things off.
Well, that's some of my story. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.