A Breed of Parts

I first spotted “ ‘Ol Yeller II” in Viva Las Vegas. The “Special” stood out among a field of Corvettes, Jags and Cobras because it was something I couldn’t identify. What I didn’t discover until fifty years later, was that the same guy that built the car had choreographed all the racing scenes in the movie. His name was Max Balchowsky.

Balchowsky was born in Fairmont, Virginia in 1924 but migrated west to join his brother in business after WW II. In a garage in southern California he spotted his future wife “Ina” and together they established Hollywood Motors. By the early fifties the hot rod movement was reaching a full boil. Concurrently, the well-heeled were purchasing exotic foreign jobs and knowledgeable technicians were in demand. The Balchowsky’s shop became the veritable “Garage to the Stars” and soon was overflowing with Ferraris and Maserati’s. Road racing too was gaining in popularity and seemed like the next logical step for a serious enthusiast.

When Margaret Pritchard was killed racing a Special at Torrey Pines, the owner became disenchanted and sold his wreck to the Balchowskys. It was an ungainly brute based on a ’32 roadster and powered by a Buick Nailhead mill. The couple hammered out the body panels, gave it a piss-coat of lemon yellow paint and went racing. In comparison to the curvaceous exotics they were competing against, the Special was “a dog”. The Balchowskys couldn’t deny this so they decided to embrace it. Walt Disney Studios had a recent hit with their movie starring a yellow Labrador called “ ‘Ol Yeller” so they adopted that moniker.

“ ‘Ol Yeller I” had never been and never would be a great racecar but with it, the Balchowskys learned to race. Max learned chassis set ups and became a very capable driver. A genuine romance developed between he and the high revving, high torque, 401 cubic inch Buick engine. After several years of flogging around their rebuilt car, the Balchowskys were convinced that they could build something better.

This time they would start from scratch. Utilizing what they’d learned working on other people’s racers, they laid out the chassis using chalk marks on the garage floor. The car would utilize a lightweight tube frame. Parts and pieces came from this and that: a Studebaker rear-end, a Jaguar transmission, the upper A- arms were off an XK120, the lower were Pontiac. Cast off whitewall tires would be used not only for economy but because they were of a softer compound. For power there was never a question- their beloved Nailhead. By now it had been race tested for over five years. Other than some heating issues, it had been rock solid. The entire build took seven weeks and “ ‘Ol Yeller II” was ready for the 1959 season.

From the get-go, the new car was a front runner. Able to run with the best, the Balchowsky’s wondered if a professional pilot could put their creation in victory lane. They solicited the top road racers on the circuit: Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, Bob Bondurant, Billy Krause…evidently even Grand Prix ace Stirling Moss took a test drive in the car (on the street) that ended in his arrest! And the combination proved successful- in ’59 and 1960 many wins were achieved. But there was a new beast on the horizon- the mid-engined sports racer and ultimately it would prove superior to the front engine design.

The Balchowskys produced several more “ ‘Ol Yellers” but none exceeded the success of their original build. A longtime friend of the family, Ernie Nagamatsu owns the fully restored racer today and travels around globe showing the car and competing in vintage events. “ ‘Ol Yeller II” even appeared in the Pebble Beach Concours as the photos on the cover of last months’ Roddin’& Racin’ NW attest.

BIG MIKE

Word came to Erik that the station had shut down. With funding gone, and a new tri-city station, the need for a small town fire department became obsolete. Erik read in detail about the memoriam and that the bell was saved and had been placed in the public park, but everything else had been auctioned off or had been sold for scrap. Scrap. He knew in his heart that Big Mike was going to meet his doom and this explained why he was headed west on highway 30 at breakneck speed.

May 1950

On the outskirts of Rainier, there was an old homestead and had long been abandoned. It became the perfect place for kids to hang out and explore. Parents and local authorities always frowned upon this and every parent always sounded warning as their child left to go out with friends, “And stay away from the old Johnson place!” Well, that fateful night a carelessly tossed cigarette landed on a pile of rags that had been slowly rotting in a corner of the old barn. Whumph—the old pile of cotton instantly ignited and the flames spread across the bone dry walls. It would not of have been so bad, but the loft had five teens sitting in the hay gazing out at the stars and having a good time with each other’s company. Mr. Anders, a neighbor to the old Johnson place saw the flickering and soft orange glow as the flames spread hungrily.  “Maw, git on the horn, the johnson place is on far!”

The call came in and Erik and his men got suited up and rushed to Big Mike the station’s 1947 Ford Fire Engine. Hal dropped into the driver’s seat, hit the starter button and quick as a whip, the flathead V8 fired off. Sirens and lights combined to awaken the sleepy town.  The 5 minute ride felt like a lifetime. The young Fire Chief road in the passenger’s seat took a glance at his men in the back of the engine. He nodded and gave them a look of confidence. But, inside Erik’s guts were boiling. His hands were dripping with sweat. Under his watch he held the lives of his men and those they were racing into the unknown to save. Even before they had arrived, they could see the overcast cast sky reflecting the glow of the deadly flames that waited. Big Mike rounded one last corner and before the fire men, the valley was alight and they could see the kids in the open door of the loft holding each other and awash in fear. With the howl of Big Mike’s siren the kids began to jump in glee. They would be saved!

Hal brought Big Mike to a halt and like a fine tuned Timex the men exited and began to perform their duties. Erik shouted orders, the hose was unreeled from the back and he realized that his team had but a splinter of time to save those kids. Erik shouted to his men to grab the safety net and prepare to save the five in the loft. They looked at him in astonishment as Erik wrestled the hose from back of Big Mike hit the nozzle and with a mask on his face walked into the flames.  One by one the kids leapt the 20 feet and landed to safety. Erik extinguished flames to give the barn just a few minutes more. Then it happened. A beam slammed down close enough that Erik stepped back in surprise and dropped the hose. Entangled around his ankle he tried to wrench free but in the process his mask was pulled free and the room a bright glow began to dim as the smoke filled air filled his lungs.

The Firemen had just saved the last of the teens when they saw that within the barn their chief had not returned. Then it happened. Those who were there to this day still wonder if it was a miracle, cause and effect or just plain luck. There was an audible —snap!— and the kids and fire fighters watched as the engine began to roll backward. “Hal!” shouted one of the fire fighters. Didja set the brake?!” Hal watched and nodded. His mouth was agape as he along with everyone there watched. The flames hungrily engulfed the loft and a shower of sparks and embers rose into the night. Big Mike continued to roll backwards and from the opening of the barn entangled in the fire hose emerged Erik, their chief.
The big Ford backed into a post and the large brass bell rocked back and was struck.

—Clang!—

Everyone turned to see that the Fire Engine had backed into a long cut down stump and pulled from the flames was their chief. The loud sudden clasp of Big Mike’s bell shook Erik awake. He opened his eyes. The star riddled sky bore down on him and the sound of cheers did as well. He slowly sat up and watched as the Johnson barn collapsed in a shower of embers. Erik looked down and saw his legs entangled in the hose. Behind him was Big Mike. As Erik drew in more breaths of fresh air it all became clear. His men were safe. The kids were safe. He had survived, because for some strange coincidence, his legs were entangled in the fire hose and the park brake cable snapped in Big Mike, causing the engine to roll backwards.  Two out of three made sense. Erik stood up, bent down and untangled the hose from his feet. He then turned and looked at the engine. The emergency lights were still alight. The V8 hummed. But, there was something that Erik felt. Big Mike was a part of the team. Nearly 3 tons of machinery, but.

As the years rolled by and Erik continued to be the Fire Chief, many engines came and went.  Yet, Big Mike always was there. Parades or as an engine used for training purposes, the old ’47 was a staple at the station. When Erik retired in 2000 he requested that Big Mike be taken care of. That was 18 years ago.

Present Day

Erik made his journey in record time. Even as he pulled up to his old home town he was taken back at the growth that had swept through. Old buildings that were landmarks had been absolved into metro friendly condos and all of that made Rainier such a quaint old town had become gentrified. Sterile. A tattered sign pointed where the final sale of the Fire Station was to be. As before, a faded memories journey of desperation, Erik wound the roads racing to save a memory from his past. A final curve and he dropped onto a plain where a makeshift scrapper had set up a car crusher. Idling was a Cat and resting on the forks was Big Mike. Years had not been kind to the old engine. The once proud grille had tears. His glass was shattered and tires were all flat. The bright red paint had faded into a chalky resemblance of the splendor of what was once there. The lift driver began to inch forward with the cast off memory resting on the forks. Erik slid the rental to a halt. He opened the door and walked out. Mike was dressed in his dress uniform with his Fire Chief badge shining brightly upon his chest. He walked with purpose to the forklift driver and in one swift movement pulled a photo from his pocket.

Creased. Aged. Stained from the years, there it was. A photograph of the once proud and strong, a life saver Big Mike and Erik beside the old ’47. The forklift driver paused and keyed his mic.

Life is a miracle.

Be it a flower or some inanimate object that saves a life.
Sometimes belief is all you need.

Erik purchased Big Mike. The ’47 Ford is now in his humble garage of old cars and this day serves his tenure in parades or car shows.
Erik still sits in Big Mike and wonders. What if?

MetalWorks attends SEMA 2018

Keeping up with what is happening within the automotive industry and the latest products being offered is a must, so MetalWorks makes it a priority to attend the SEMA show annually—and the cars aren’t bad either. Come take a quick peek at some of the builds that grabbed our attention while attending the 2018 event in Las Vegas.

BLACK, WHITE & Chic all Over

Racing fashion is having a moment. What does that mean? Motorsports is many things but rarely is it considered… fashionable. We are not talking about what Jimmie Johnson is wearing on a red carpet or the fit of Courtney Force’s driving suit—we are talking about visual themes in racing transcending popular culture. Again, what does that mean?

Let’s first start with checkerboard; this is a clear motorsports visual cue. To us, the race fans, it is a checkered flag. The race is now complete and the starter is signifying that message to the competitors. Throw it back to the 50s and 60s checkerboard started to seep into the world outside of a racetrack, diners for example. Marketed to anyone that didn’t have a family yet, diners were meant to be a hot hangout and social gathering place. What is present outside? Cars. At that time, young people put a great deal of love and attention into their rides, thus popularizing a culture around said automobiles. Car design, interior design, the invention of the color TV, all played a factor in what American pop culture looked like.

Meanwhile across the pond, another visual trend was moving and shaking. Mod—or ‘Modernists’ were born in England in 1958 and were inspired heavily by music. Thick colors, heavy geometric graphic patterns and a reinvigoration of plaid were en vogue. Checkerboard happened to fit that style.

Perhaps the most popular American brand to incorporate checkerboard in the later half of the century is Vans Shoes. Starting in 1966, the first Van Doren Rubber Company store opened and by the early 1970s, the slick checkered pattern became heavily integrated. Rumor has it that the Vans designers were inspired by reoccurring doodles that teenage customers would draw around the white soles and thus a brand was born. Vogue Magazine attributes Sean Penn’s character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) to be a catalyst in the brand’s popularity and the style continues today. Though Vans wasn’t tipping their hat to motorsports by incorporating checkerboard, they have evolved their company into sponsoring various versions of extreme sports including motocross.

In 2017, top fashion designers Louis Vuitton and Givenchy debuted collections featuring the checkered theme. Rihanna later created a line for Fenty X Puma specifically inspired by motorcross—right down to giant (magenta) sand dunes and dirt bikes. As recently as spring of 2018, Tommy Hilfiger and Lewis Hamilton collaborated on a capsule collection inspired by the now five-time World Champion. As a full- time Formula 1 driver, it helps that Hamilton already has the physique and international notoriety to be one of Hilfiger’s models. Later last year the Hilfiger brand took it a step further and put out a full ready-to-wear line splashed in checkerboard and inspired by the a European racing paddock.

This integration of motorsports—even in an abstract way—helps all of racing on a recognition level. Checkerboard has always been a symbol of energy, youth and even rebellion- all that represents racing as well. That attitude is being brought back to the mainstream at a global level right now. We know that racing is cool, but this might be a roundabout way for others to realize that fact.

Fashion is also considered fleeting and notoriously styles change with a shift of gears. So relish it race fans, right now you are black, white and chic all over.

Road Trip to Yellowstone

Just about everyone that reads Roddin’ and Racin’ NW has a vintage car, hot rod, muscle car, race car or is interested in them.

Compare that to a daily driver, work truck, grocery getter that needs more attention than a hot rod. Play attention to your daily driver. Nothing worse than to have your wife broken down along I-5 with a van full of kids.

Basic maintenance on your daily driver is very important. My wife and I were planning a trip to Yellowstone and we did not want to have any foreseeable problems, so I took our Escape to the shop for an oil change and to check everything out. When I was younger I use to do all that myself. Now I have a good reliable shop do all my maintenance. I had them look over the Escape before our trip to change the oil and filter, check the brakes and rotate the tires-normal maintenance stuff for peace of mind on a 2000 mile trip so as to, hopefully, have no problems.

We made it to the park with no problems. On the first day in Yellowstone, driving along, we had an elk jump right out in front of us. I hit the brakes hard and stopped in plenty of time. I thought, “Glad I had the brakes checked”. Meanwhile, the elk trotted down the middle of the road without a care in the world. Of course, they own the roads there.

You can tell where the animals are, by all the cars parked along the road. Several cars had slowed down and a buffalo was right beside the road, with a Forest Service vehicle right next to it. I could just hear the ranger now, “I pulled you over for obstructing traffic”.

What looked like an Audi car club was taking a tour through the park, with several A8’s and other high-end Audis. It was cool.
Driving along a beautiful creek with cliffs on the other side we came across a bunch of cars and everyone was looking up the cliff. We pulled over to see what they were looking at. I thought it was a National Geographic photo shoot there were so many cameras on tripods and giant telephoto lenses. I thought maybe a bear or a bighorn sheep. I asked one of the photographers what were they shooting? She told me it was a juvenile Osprey. An Osprey? I can see bald eagles and ospreys all throughout the Willamette valley on any given day. One photographer said it was a slow photo day.

Stopping several times for photos, the shoulders on the road were loose gravel. I had no problems getting back on the road–good tires. Glad I had them checked.

We saw all the geysers and mud pots, waterfalls, hot springs, various animals (no bears) and everything was beautiful . Even through the mist and rain that we had once in a while, we had great views with new the wiper blades I had installed before we left. Glad I had those checked and replaced!

Heading home, we were going through Montana . I am sure you know the speed limit in some places is 80 mph. Again, glad I had my oil changed and tires checked for peace of mind.

We got home safely with no problems or worries.

So, work all you want on your toys, but to keep peace of mind in the family, keep your daily driver in good, reliable condition. It makes for wonderful road trips.

DUIA: What does the future hold?

By the time you guys read this, you should have one foot solidly planted into 2019. What are your resolutions? Do you want to build up your Rods further or do you want to kick ass on the track like I want to?

What do I mean by DUIA? I will delve into that while reminding you that the opinions in this column are of this writer only. For the past couple of years now I have been trying to keep you GearHeads up-to-date on this regime change in the car world. All I can do is touch the surface as there is far too much information to relay.

Consider the racing cars… They are coming up on us all – and fast! So this electrified Volkswagen goes to Pikes Peak and wins its class hands down. It makes the run up the mountain in under 8 seconds. This just happens to be the all-time record for any kind of vehicle ever attempting this. Guys, this really is the canary in the coal mine for all of us internal combustion aficionados!
Next thing coming down the pipeline is crate motors. I will say that it is looking to me like we will soon see over-the-counter crate motors that are plug-and-play. You will be able to bolt  electric motors into your muscle car and everything will fit! It’s a brave New world folks and it’s coming at warp speed, like it or not.

Of course, news of the MuskFather is never-ending. Elon Musk has been keeping very busy working at his factory, defending himself against financial claims, building rocket ships and he just unveiled a tunnel he built underneath LA that can zip people back and forth at warp speed. I mean – if you have ever driven in LA…?

Then there is the upstart named Rivian who is coming out with EV pickup trucks. Oh yes and remember the GM plants that could be closing down? Well, I said there were some labor issues and this and that and the other. Now we have the MuskFather making noises like he might want to buy one of them! Alrighty then – let us see what the Big GM has to say about that!
And we have mentioned Waymo before. They have been logging a lot of miles in Chandler Arizona preparing to launch their driverless taxi service. however they have been receiving a lot of backlash from the populace it seems.

It seems the natives are not so happy with the many things that have been happening with these AVs. There are the crashes, the burnings, the death and destruction of people, animals and property coming from these cars running into other cars, bicycles, pedestrians, trees, bushes and a long list of other.

If you are to ask the corporate wonks they will simply answer that it is just so much collateral damage like the bycatch from the factory trawler who throws back the wrong species, some of them dying. These are necessary casualties in order to develop the technology.

Well, the regular folks don’t appear to agree with this and they have responded with attacks and burnings, pulling guns, vandalizing, tomfoolery and more. AutoBlog reports on Douglas Rushkoff, who is an official in the middle of all that, down there.  He sez this, “… there is a growing sense that the giant corporations may not have our best interests at heart.” Listening to this kind of stuff, sometimes I will get all pragmatic. Then I come up with something like Driving Under the Influence of Autonomosity.

As these vehicles which are obviously impaired continue to wreak death and destruction across our highways, should they not be subject to the same penalties as our DUII laws? Is this not impaired driving? On behalf of all of the hapless drivers out there who went down the other road, wouldn’t it be fair for all those guilty of Impaired Autonomosity suffer the exact same consequences. Oh, and there is a long, long list of punishments. Lawd don’t make me go there! Mebbe another time.

So if we are to use Uncle Sam’s logic, we need to get out there and catch them before there is the slightest of chances that they will go out and cause harm. Punish the masses for the sins of the few? After all, if one life can be saved by wrecking the lives of thousands of drivers – its all good. Right? I mean this will allow Uncle Sam to continue his double taxation one driver at a time. Fill those coffers much fuller. Cuz, lawd knows, Guv’ment needs all the dollars they can get from us in these days and times …  Yup, there I go being pragmatic about things.

’nuff said,
Chuck Fasst   #GearHeadsWorld

Pebble Beach

Car people often have a bucket list of events that they want to attend. Events like Hot August Nights, Bonneville Speed Week, or the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise. My brother, Tom, and I have such a list. We have been to Hot August Nights in Reno and to the Salt Flats for Bonneville Speed Week several times. This year we decided to forgo a trip to the Salt Flats and go instead to Pebble Beach for the Concours d’ Elegance.

The Concours d’ Elegance is held on the famed Pebble Beach Golf Course on the final day Monterrey Motor Week. Motor Week consists of a number of events occurring throughout the week. We chose to attend a few select events and not try to do it all (I’m not sure you could do it all, even if you wanted).

We chose to go to the Tour d’ Elegance, the Concours d’ Lemons, Exotics on Cannery Row and of course the Councours d’ Elegance. We did not attend any of the new car displays, vintage car races at Laguna Seca nor any of the five or six car auctions with the likes of Mecum’s, Bonham’s and Russo and Steele. In fact I had received instructions from the home front not to attend any auctions, apparently fearing that I might make a purchase.

The Tour d’ Elegance consists of the majority of the vehicles that are going to be on display at the Concours being driven around a 34 mile course around the famous 17 mile loop, into Carmel by the Sea and then a short run down the coast and back to Pebble Beach. The route is published in advance, but being unfamiliar with the area, we had no idea where to find a good viewing spot. So we headed for the loop and began looking for a wide spot to set up some lawn chairs and watch the parade of vehicles. We happened upon a fairly large area with a number of cars parked and tables and chairs being set up along the road, looking very much like tailgating at a football game. We asked a woman if this was a good place to view the cars. She responded that she was a local and this is where she watched every year. Turned out to be an excellent spot. Over 160 of the 210 show cars came driving by. It is always fun to hear and see the cars in motion. Several of the vehicles were moving slowly enough that brief conversation could be held. We did have to decline one driver’s request for a beer. Seemed like a bad idea. The cars do stop about half way through the tour and park on Ocean Avenue in Carmel by the Sea. This is a chance for spectators to get an up close look at the cars for free.

The Concours d’ Lemons is a satirical take on the Concours d’ Elegance. All of the vehicles entered in this event are of questionable quality at best. As opposed to some of finest vehicles in the world, these are some of the worst. The winners were the ugliest and the rustiest of the bunch in categories such as American Rust Belt, Soul Sucking Japanese, Swedish Meatball, etc. You get the idea. This year’s winner was a modified, extremely ugly 1977 AMC Gremlin. Great fun and good way to spend a sunny morning.

That afternoon, we headed down to Cannery Row to view the exotics. About 12 blocks for Cannery Row was closed off and filled with dozens upon dozens of late model exotic vehicles like Maeserati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mclaren and many others. Cannery Row certainly did not look the way John Steinbeck described it in his novel of the same name. Music was blaring, people were crowding the street to see millions of dollars worth of cars. A far cry from the poverty and desperation described by Steinbeck. After a couple of hours of looking, we decided it was time to go hit the In-N-Out Burger. While we were eating a group of 25 Mclarens arrived at the restaurant, quickly drawing a crowd. Rarely do you see one Mclaren in the circles I travel, let alone 25. It was a rare treat.

Finally it was time to attend the Concours d’ Elegance. We arrived early and followed the signs to the general admission spectator parking about five miles away from the golf course. We parked right along the shore line with seals and otters playing directly off shore and got a shuttle to the course. The shuttle were extremely well run and organized by the way.

Once we arrived it was a bit of a walk down to where the show is held on the 17th and 18 fairways of Pebble Beach Golf Course. You walk through new car display areas, most offering complimentary drinks and finger foods. When you arrive there is a sense of “Am I really here?” The scenery is beautiful, overlooking the bay, with yachts anchored just off shore. The weather was perfect, as were the cars. These are truly some of the finest cars in the world. New categories and eras are non display each year and a featured marque is selected annually. This year the featured car was the Tucker, the futuristic brainchild of Preston Tucker built in the late forties. Of the 51 Tuckers known to have been built, 12 were on display. Other show categories included Coach-built Citroens after 1945, American Sporting Cars of the 1920s, Motor Cars of India, Rear-engined Indianapolis Racers, Eisenhower Era Convertible, Oscas, Scarab Sports Cars, as well as a few others.

Being traditional hot rod/muscle car guys, this was a learning experience for us. We were unfamiliar with many of the cars. We found it to be quite interesting and spent some time studying our programs in order to understand what we were seeing. Needless to say, all of the cars were in spectacular condition. Also, many of the cars have a historic provenance. The Indy cars for example belonging to drivers like Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones and others. Two if the Eisenhower Era Convertibles have ties to United States Presidents. One was Eisenhower’s inauguration car. Another was the car carrying the secret service agents when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. This years best of show was a 1937 Fiat Touring Berlinetta.

Along with viewing the cars, the people watching is superb. When you buy your tickets to get in, you are provided with some helpful hints for what to wear at the show: resort casual, a nice finished look topped off a with perfect hat. We saw every kind of outfit you could imagine. Everything from bib overalls and a T-shirt to Armani suits. Women’s hats would rival anything you might see at the Kentucky Derby while many men were wearing pastel sport coats (pink, sky blue, lavender, etc.) and trousers of all colors including bright red, green and yellow. Some of the more interesting sport coats looked as though they had been tailored from old living room drapes. Very interesting. It is also a place to see car celebrities. We saw Donald Osgood from Jay Leno’s Garage, noted hot rod/rat rod builder Jimmy Shine and Wayne Carini from Chasing Classic Cars.

If you decide to go, get hotel reservations well in advance and expect to pay premium prices. Get your tickets early. They will go up in price as the event gets close. Be prepared to pay a healthy price for your tickets. We payed $325 for general admission. Some high end tickets that allow access to restricted areas of include parties hosted by various groups may cost over $2,500. Also, be prepared for crowds. Every event we attended, except the Tour, had crowds that numbered in the thousands. Tom and I have checked this one off our list. I think we will head back to the Salt Flats next year.