Some Of
The Cars I've Owned
Before I was old enough to legally drive a car on the highway, I had a Whizzer motorbike I paid $15 for.  I fixed-on and rode that bike from about 1953 until I turned 16 in 1957.  The same as my friends, I rode that bike unlicensed on back roads and never got caught.  I think Mom & Dad knew what I was doing but just looked the other way.  I did get some generic advice to stay off the highway and look carefully before crossing the road to a friend's house.  There were trails all over that we'd made so I could ride to most of my friend's houses without going on the "road".  I'm sure that if the local sheriff caught me he's have called my folks.  In that case it would have been over, the bike history and I would have been back to pedal power.

The Whizzer was followed by the remains of a Model A Ford (chassis and engine only) that was given to me.  With my limited means I soon learned that, even with buying junkyard parts, I'd never hear it run so I sold it for $10 to another guy who was going to build a hot rod.

My next car was a complete and running '39 Plymouth 2-door sedan.  I paid the grand total of $22 for the car.  As soon as the car arrived in the yard, Dad, in his infinite wisdom, ordered me to remove the driveshaft which he locked-up.  The Whizzer was sort of okay but driving a CAR without a license at 14 didn't cut it with him.  A year later, I sold the Plymouth for $25, making a huge profit in the deal.
I started driving (with a license) in 1957 when I was sixteen.  As soon as school was out, I found a 1930 Model A Ford coupe in a junkyard for $25.  It was all there except for a big crack in the block where it had frozen.  I had a friend (not the one with the first chassis) who was building a hot rod out of a '29A and had the engine sitting out in his driveway.  We made a deal and I had the engine for 150 comic books.  A little wrenching and I had my chariot on the road.

My first REAL car.
There was a lot that wasn't right about the car.  It had been run hard and not very well taken care of.  When I got it, it had a set of nice 6.50 X 16 whitewalls mounted on  Ford V8 wire wheels.  They looked nice but were dry and wore thin pretty fast.  A neighbor gave me  the remains of a '28 A pickup truck and, since it had good tires on it, I swapped the 4.50 X 21 wheels and tires for the 16's.  It didn't look so sporty but the tires were in better shape.  I kept this car until 1959 and sold it for $100 along with the remains of the '28 pickup.

About that time, I was given a freebie 1923 Model T Ford that the owner was sure was simply scrap.  I always like a challenge like an engine that I had to use a crowbar to get the valves out of along with other interesting things. 

My pristine '23 T
I only put a few bucks into it and, a week before I was to report for my military service, I went to an antique car club picnic and raffled it off for $23.  Now, that's big time AND the car's still around and running just like it was in 1960!

In 1958, I bought a 1928 Whippet that I'd helped the owner to get running.  Until that time, I'd never heard of a Whippet.  This car, built by Willys Overland to compete with Ford's Model A, was technically better in some ways than the Model A.  It had a small 4-cylinder flathead engine that was continued until after WWII and closely resembled the Jeep engine of a decade later.  It had a three speed transmission and four wheel brakes.  The engine had a silent timing chain and full-pressure oiling.  The main thing retro to the Model A was the wood spoked wheels.

The Whippet would have been a real rare car if someone hadn't cut the back end off of the touring car body and removed the doors.  I tried to find the removed body parts but they were long gone.  The car had been used as a farm truck and was really worn.  I used to carry a couple of quarts of 40W oil around and for every dollars worth of gas (about 4 gallons!!!), I'd have to add a quart of oil. No one complained about getting mosquito bit when riding with me.

A skinny 17 year old me workin' on the Whippet.
In the summer of 1959, an older friend told me he thought he had something he thought would fit on the Whippet engine.  Somehow, he got ahold of an overhead valve conversion kit for the later 1930's Willys engine The kit was called the Alexander Aristocrat.  The only mention I ever found was a press clipping that said that in 1928, a car I remember was called the Whippet Special and supposedly had an overhead valve converted engine set a world speed record for small 4-cylinder cars.  It was like the Frontennac and Hal setups for the Model T and Model A.Fords.  He said that, if it would fit, I could have it on a permanent loan.  All he wanted was the chance to get it back if I decided to get rid of it.  I removed the flathead and laid a head gasket for the Alexander head on the block and it fit!

Almost ready to run!
When my friend got it used, he said that the Alexander Aristocrat setup originally had everything you needed to convert the engine including, of course, the head, rockers, pushrods, tappets, a high lift cam, aluminum intake manifold with Winfield carburetor, exhaust manifold and a mechanical tachometer along with a nice finned rocker cover and finned aluminum cover for the original ports.  By the time I got the kit, the carb, tach, cam, tappets and pushrods along with the exhaust manifold were lost.  After removing the Whippet valves and springs, I used the stock Whippet chilled iron tappets and made socket-type tappet bolts which I made by drill-pointing some machine bolts that replaced the valve adjusters.  (I saved all the original parts in case I wanted to convert it back).

A trip to the junkyard got me eight Chevy Stovebolt pushrods.  I ground off the lower ends and rounded them to fit into the drill-pointed tappet bolts.  The length worked out just right.  After finding out that a glass-bowl OHV Ford Six carb fit perfectly and putting it all together, figuring out some throttle linkage and an exhaust system, it made that little car into a real bomb.  I was really surprised at how much more power it made, oil smoke, low compression and all.

I drove the Whippet through the summer and then, with college looming, I got a 1954 Ford to commute to school in.

The '54 Ford which I drove for almost 175,000 miles and 15 years.
I put the Whippet into dry storage where it sat while I spent part of a year at the University of Louisville. 

Resting comfortably on blocks.
Needless to say, College and I didn't get along.  While I was figuring out what I was going to do with my life, I took the Whippet out and ran it some during the summer of 1960 but with the draft looming, I went ahead and joined the Air Force so the Whippet sat in the shed for another four years.  The '54 Ford saw me through the Service and into my career in Broadcast Engineering and other things.

After returning from a 4-year stint with Uncle Sam and was making decent money at the TV station, I decided to pull the engine and transmission from the Whippet for rebuilding.  Whippet pistons weren't available and I think Ifound that Jeep pistons wouldn't fit either. Back then, a lot of auto parts shops were happy to look up substitute parts in interchange books.  If they couldn't find an interchange, if you'd provide the bore, wrist pin diameter and compression distance, they'd find pistons that met that spec.  The engine required a re-bore and, I think Plymouth pistons were found that would fit fine.  Although the engine was really full of sludge, all the bearings were perfect so all I had to do was to hang the pistons and put it back together.

The transmission needed a mainshaft bushing, probably because it had been run in the lower gears a lot on the farm.  I found a blacksmith who could rebuild the wheels using some 50 year old white Oak.  A new set of Sears-Roebuck 4.50 X 19 tires and I was back on the road.

I drove the Whippet during summers for a few years until I decided to build a monster sports car.  I found a 1917 American LaFrance chassis so I swapped the Alexander parts for the flathead parts and swapped the car for the truck.

In the meantime, the friend who had given me the Alexander Aristocrat kit had died and I rewally didn't want to sell the kit because of our agreement so I boxed up the parts and put them away.

About 20 years later, I ran into my friend's son who had kept his Dad's Model T's.  He was real little at the time but remembered the Whippet when I'd go over to see his Dad.  He asked what happened to the Whippet and I told him I'd sold it.  Apparently he didn't know about  the "permanent loan" and said that he'd have liked to build another car like he remembered the Whippet.  The rest of the story is that I returned the kit to my friend via his son and I think that there's another "Aristocratic Whippet" out there somewhere.

Then, there's Belchfire. 

Belchfire IV

The Poor Man's Mercer

In the mid sixties, I decided I wanted to try to find a 1911 Mercer Type 35R Raceabout.  I finally did find one but, at the time, the $10,000 price tag for a nearly complete and very restorable example was beyond my finances.  In retrospect, I should have found the money somehow because today that same car would be worth a LOT more than it was then.

Anyway, I decided that I had to have an open, bucket seat car with a BIG 4-banger in it.  I lucked into a really clapped-out and non-running 1917 American LaFrance ladder truck that I could afford.

It was exactly what I wanted.  All of the fire equipment was gone and I didn't feel bad about doing a little metal work on it.

Originally, it was about 37 feet long.  I cut 3' 6" from the frame behind the rear spring hangers and then cut 10' 6" out of the middle of the frame, leaving just enough space for a 6" long driveshaft.  I made a new firewall and had a cylindrical tank made to be the main gas tank.  The original tank was mounted between the hand made bucket seats and the main tank.  I made a trunk to go behind the main tank and a spare tire mount at the end.

The differential ratio was 2.4:1 and the original chain drive ratio was about 2:1 (21 teeth to 41 teeth) which was definitely too slow for the 1,500 RPM maximum of the engine so I removed the drive sprockets and had them turned to accept new 41 tooth sprockets.  New drive chains were installed.

Although I got the engine to run, it had a knock and, when I tore it down, I found that one of the wrist pin lock bolts had fallen out and the pin had grooved the cylinder wall.  The rod bearings were also cracked.  I sent off the rods for rebabitting and the cylinder pair went to the shop to be sleeved.  Everything else looked okay so when the parts came back, I put it back together.  I made up a dandy 4" exhaust header with cutout and muffler and after repairing the Eisemann GR-4 magneto, fixing the clutch and doing some other work, I put in a battery (it had electric start) and fired it up.  Powerful!  That was all I could say for the sound of 570 cubic inches coming out of that 4 inch stack!

Since it had never been licensed, I had it registered as a LaFrance Model 2014 Raceabout (2014 was the serial number).

I took it to it's first show of many in 1968.  On the road, it would turn about 1,300 RPM at 70 MPH and turned a lot of heads.  Ond did have to be careful, though.  It only had two wheel brakes.  "Think ahead!" was the rule.  At times, we'd have to drive at night and I always enjoyed the flaming exhaust.  I added an explosion whistle and you could hear me coming for a mile!  

Over the years, I replaced the original fenders and made the aluminum clam shell fenders.  The "Belchfire IV" script was cut out of 1/8" brass sheet.  The original Westinghouse generator was trashed so a generator from a '35 Ford was mounted under the frame, driven off the driveshaft.  The Eisemann mag finally got sickly so I replaced it with a Farmall F-10 mag modified for battery ignition.  I also got tired of the smell of breather smoke when tooling down the highway at 70 MPH, so I tore the engine back down and had a set of aluminum pistons and wrist pins made by Jahns.  The new pistons were grooved for modern rings and the breather smoke was a thing of the past.  While I was about it, I had new mains cast and a friend and I spent an enjoyable (but tiring) day putting the crankshaft in and out while scraping the bearings to fit.

Well, ol' Belchfire and I ran around together 'til I got married then Elaine and I continued doing shows and fun trips for a number of years  but, as usually happens, we drove it less and less until, finally, all I did was to start it occasionally.  In the late nineties, a guy decided he wanted it more than I did so he parted with some cash and got a nice little 4-cylinder sports car.  I hope Belchfire is happy in it's new home!

Wanna hear what it sounds like - Just click here but beware - the file is over 400kB!

Belchfire Sound, About 1970

(410 Kilobyte .WAV File)




These videos were made by WAVE-TV in Louisville, KY in the 1970's

Sorry the quality's not too good, but these were filmed on 16mm, then recorded off the air on an old 2" "Quad" VTR, then transferred to a VHS tape.  After all that, they were converted to movie files and uploaded to YouTube.

Around the time I was finishing Belchfire, I got the urge to own my "dream" car, a 1955 T-Bird.  WAY out of my price range in the past, I figured I could afford to buy and restore one to use as a daily driver in place of the '54. which, by that time, was getting a bit long in the tooth.  The Thunderbird was found in a used car lot and I paid the sucker price of $1,300 for it.  It looked presentable but rust was beginning to show and, although it only had about 75K on the clock, the engine was smoking out the breather and would need to be rebuilt.

What started out as a simple rebuild of the engine ended up being an engine job and a swap from the Fordomatic to a 3-speed stick with overdrive.  I got lucky on most of the parts and got the shifter, pedals and most of the linkage from Ford.  The tranny was a Warner T86 found in a junkyard.

Here's one of the oddities of that particular car.  Although it was shipped from Ford with a Fordomatic, the rear axle was a 4.11:1, not the 3.10:1 I think it was supposed to have with the automatic.  I'd wondered why it got off the line so fast and turned 3,000 RPM at 70 MPH until I did the numbers.  The 4.11 was what was supposed to go with the Overdrive so I was in business.  After getting it back on the road, I just had to get the minor dings knocked out, a paint and upholstery job.

Interestingly, when I joined the Classic Thunderbird Club, I had to give the serial number and a photo of my T-Bird.  After sending in my dues and the form, I got a reply in the mail saying that I was accepted but a personal note instructed me to check the serial number because they thought it was in error.  I checked and replied that it was, indeed the correct number (P5FH100401).  The club told me that I had no later than the 20th T-Bird ever built.  Who'da thunk it!  Had I known that, I would have kept the Fordomatic so it would remain  original.

My "Dream Car"
I quickly found that the 55 T-Birds were nicer to look at than drive.  Although they performed nicely, the suspension was soft for what was supposed to be a "sports car".  Also, I found out why they put the little front quarter panel vents on the '56 and '57 models.  In the summer, that sucker would truly cook your feet.  I drove it for a couple of years before only driving it on weekends.  It just seemed to attract parking lot damage.  Finally, it just sat on blocks in the garage.  A friend who collected later model Fords and had a private museum talked me out of it sometime in the late 1980's.

After selling the '54 Ford, I had a VW beetle for about a year then, because the beetle was getting sorry, I accepted a freebie.  a "Cherry" 1953 Ford.  AND yes, I am a sucker for a free car.

My 1953 Ford Freebie in 1968.
Interestingly, I got the car because the owner said that the clutch was shot and the rear end was going out.  I managed to get it home without destroying the rear end.  it would accelerate fine but when you let off the gas it would try to lock-up.  Between the clutch not wanting to go and the rear end not wanting to stop, it was a fun ride.  When I had to slow down, I had to ride the brakes and keep a little power on.  To help manage damage, I'd pull over so one wheel was in the gravel shoulder when I shifted gears or stopped.

After getting home with it, I considered just limping it to the local junkyard but decided to jack it up, crawl under and see if I could figure out what was the matter.  The rear end problem ended up being the pinion nut had worked loose.  A squash of the nut in a vise and some real muscle screwing it back and the rear end was quiet as a mouse and never gave any more trouble.  The clutch turned out to be simply a matter of idiot wrenching having screwed-up the linkage and adjustments.  Although the flathead V8 burned oil, it ran smoothlly.  I did a quickie ring and rod bearing job and drove that car for over 10,000 miles before selling it for $97.50* and buy my first new car, a '69 VW Fastback.

*: After I'd agreed to sell it to the kid for $100 but before the transfer, someone broke off the radio antenna so I gave him credit for one of those add-on antennas.

The VW Fastback saw me through another 150,000 miles and then the late 1970's fuel crisis got dropped on us.  Thus, the '50 Chevy Diesel.
The  Perkins Diesel Powered 1950 Chevrolet

The “Nerdmobile”


Photos Taken August 1995.

Turbocharged Perkins 4.154 Diesel engine in the Nerdmobile

 The Car:

  • 1950 Chevrolet “Fastback”.
  • The engine is a Perkins 4.154 Diesel.  Turbocharged.
  • 12 Volt electrics throughout.
  • Custom designed transmission adapter.
  • Perkins flywheel trimmed and drilled for ’50 Chevrolet pressure plate.
  • ’50 Chevrolet pilot bearing, throwout bearing and throwout bearing arm used.
  • ’55 Chevrolet Overdrive transmission.  Column shifter retained.
  • ’55 Chevrolet rear axle.  3.54 ratio.
  • Front brakes are 1951 Lockheed-type (upgraded from the original Bendix brakes)
  • Rear brakes are ’55 Chevrolet.
  • Custom made drive shaft.
  • Fuel mileage at 55 MPH = 40+.  Fuel mileage at 65-70 MPH = 35+
  • Brakes last over 100K miles, tires last over 60K miles.
  • Original front end is in good condition and the car handles well.
  • Total mileage on car = 300K+.  Total mileage on Perkins engine = 200K.
  • Electric windshield wipers.
  • Stewart Warner Oil Pressure, Oil Temperature and Water Temperature gauges. 
  • Turbo boost gauge.
  • Tachometer.
  • AM-FM Radio.

Since I built the car in 1978, it has been driven virtually every day and has been all over the lower 48 and western Canada.  It is reliable and comfortable to drive. 

Although it needs a lot of bodywork because of rust, the chassis is mechanically in very good condition and needs nothing.  The car starts easily in 40+ degree weather and, using the Perkins cold-start option, it will start down to about 20 degrees.  Using the block heater and the Perkins "ThermoStart", it can usually be started down to zero degrees.

Alas, on the 6th of April, 2004, the old Chevy went home with it's new owner.  It's been a good run - over 27 years and over 200,000 miles.  

So long, old friend!

Now, we are driving around in our motorhome and VW Jetta TDI Diesel and love it.  A Model T touring car would be nice but we don't think that's gonna happen.