Sema Show & Tell: My Five Favorites

The first car I ever owned was a ’61 Beetle.

I’ve owned three more in my lifetime as well as couple VW powered race cars. I’d never owned a VW bus but I always liked the way they looked…then I had to drive one for work. If I was going to describe any vehicle I’ve driven as a “death trap”, it would be that bus. For one thing, you sat with your face dangerously close to the windshield. For another, it was grossly underpowered for the amount of weight it was trying to push. There wasn’t a gear in the gearbox low enough for driving uphill. And it was noisy.

This bus however, is really fun. The builder took the design elements I always liked and exaggerated them. It’s like a cartoon drawing brought to life. If I had to drive it for work, I might not like it either. As a creative piece of automotive art though, it rocks. This (nearly) scratch-built bus was manufactured in Utah by Ron Berry Creations.

Supercharged-VW-Bus

Looking like an extra from the Speed Racer movie, this DeTomaso P70 Barchetta was actually built to compete in the Can-Am series. In 1965 Carroll Shelby ordered a half dozen of the Ford powered sports racers from Italian coachbuilder Alejandro DeTomaso. Unfortunately by the time the prototype was complete, changes to the engine rules had made it obsolete. Shelby canceled his order and DeTomaso was livid. He responded by creating the Mangusta (Mongoose) to sick on Shelby’s Cobras, a prophecy that went unfulfilled. DeTomaso’s Pantera introduced in’71 did however enjoy moderate success with over 7,000 units sold in its twenty year production run.

The Barchetta represent classic European mid-sixties styling and it is a wonder that it survived it’s tumultuous past. It was raced only once then used as a show vehicle briefly before being rolled into the corner of a warehouse in Modena where it languished for decades.

DeTomaso-Barchetta

I’m a sucker for any race car I was lucky enough to watch compete when I was a kid. Ronnie Kaplan’s 1969 AMC Javelin fit the bill at SEMA this year. The factory supported Javelin team had raised many an eyebrow in the Trans-Am’s maiden season. They hadn’t won any races but had placed second six times, briefly led Ford in the point standings and finished every lap of every race they participated in. For ’69 Kaplan ramped up his engine program and the AMC’s took on a musclebound appearance. Over the winter the Javelins had grown massive fender flares and a huge hump in the hood. Unfortunately with their tweaking, the team had sacrificed reliability and now they couldn’t finish races. (I think we witnessed this car’s best performance which was a seventh at Laguna Seca.) Still, I was a huge fan. The red, white and blue livery made it look like a frozen confection and it seemed particularly threatening as it barreled around the course. The fact that Indy car regular Jerry Grant was behind the wheel, wasn’t lost on me either. I certainly knew that name from the Memorial Day broadcasts.

What I didn’t know was that Roger Penske was probably already in negotiations with the folks at AMC. For 1970 the cars were painted red, white and Sunoco Blue and the incomparable Mark Donohue was lead driver. Under Penske’s management the Javelins became winners but they lost me as a fan. Seeing Kaplan’s/Grant car was like a three dimensional snap shot for me. I got misty.

Kaplin-1969-Javelin

I have to credit my new car buddy Jim Estes for my next selection which was the 1963 Corvette split window. Estes had just finished reading a feature about it in the current issue of Hot Rod and apparently commit most of the article to memory. The race car was significant for several reasons; numero uno was it had featured the first appearance of Chevrolet’s 427 big block. Next was the list of automotive icons that had been involved in the project: Zora Arkus-Duntov (the father of the Corvette) had given it his blessing. Mickey Thompson had prepped it for racing and Smokey Yunick had built the engine.

You’d think a car with those credentials would be unbeatable from the get go but that turned out not to be the case. Stock car ace Junior Johnson was the assigned driver for the Corvette’s Daytona debut and stuck it on the pole. He wasn’t comfortable in the car however, stating that it was probably capable of qualifying twenty miles per hour faster with the proper set up. Johnson climbed out after morning practice and was replaced by road racer Bill Krause in the 250 mile contest. Krause braved rainy conditions to bring the evil handling machine home third. After Daytona Chevrolet withdrew their support, Yunick took back his engine and Thompson sold the car into private hands. The new owner installed a 327 small block and raced it out on the west coast. Eventually it was parked, went into storage for a few years, even lived outside for a while. Finally, it received some much needed TLC in preparation for the Monterey Historics. Once there, it was swarmed by Corvette enthusiasts which led to the rediscovery of the race car’s colorful origins.

Now it has been restored to its former glory with the inclusion of the Yunick big block. It isn’t flashy… it’s all business. It’s a thoroughbred. And when you think about the people that came together to build it… Man!

Thompson-Yunick-Stingray-Corvette

Making my fifth and final choice was difficult but as I scrolled through my photos, something became glaringly apparent. I take a picture of every late 40’s/early 50’s C.O.E. I see… and I don’t mean just at SEMA. I’ve taken a photo of every C.O.E. I’ve seen everywhere, for years. I have a collection of about twenty of them. I like them all dolled up and I like them rusted out. I like the Fords as well as the GMC’s and Chevies. I just like ‘em all- I think someday I’d like to own one.
Of the four trucks I took pictures of at SEMA, this was my favorite. It was constructed by Dan Hogan of Hogie Shine—a paint and body shop in Phoenix, Arizona. And of course it didn’t hurt to have a bad ass, Bonneville inspired, 1930 Model A riding piggy back. The cab of the truck is ’53 Ford C750 but it’s mounted on a Dodge chassis. Beneath that bulging bonnet was the biggest surprise of all- a Cummins twelve valve! The same engine that powers my dually.  Never a shortage of grunt with that Cummins.

If that ol’ VW bus is at one end of the power spectrum, my ’98 Dodge 3500 is at the other.

Ford-C.O.E.

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