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
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
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
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. Ikept 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
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.
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,
and pushrods along with the exhaust manifold were lost. After
removing the Whippet valves and springs, I used the stock Whippet
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
another "Aristocratic Whippet" out there somewhere.
Then, there's Belchfire.
The Poor Man's
In the mid sixties, I decided I
wanted to try to find a 1911 Mercer Type 35R Raceabout. I finally
one but, at the time, the $10,000 price tag for a nearly complete and
restorable example was beyond my finances. In retrospect, I
found the money somehow because today that same car would be worth a
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
really clapped-out and non-running 1917 American LaFrance ladder truck
It was exactly what I
wanted. All of the fire equipment was gone and I didn't feel bad
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
then cut 10' 6" out of the middle of the frame, leaving just enough
for a 6" long driveshaft. I made a new firewall and had a
tank made to be the main gas tank. The original tank was mounted
the hand made bucket seats and the main tank. I made a trunk to
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)
was definitely too slow for the 1,500 RPM maximum of the engine so I
drive sprockets and had them turned to accept new 41 tooth
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
bolts had fallen out and the pin had grooved the cylinder wall.
bearings were also cracked. I sent off the rods for rebabitting
cylinder pair went to the shop to be sleeved. Everything else
so when the parts came back, I put it back together. I made up a
4" exhaust header with cutout and muffler and after repairing the
GR-4 magneto, fixing the clutch and doing some other work, I put in a
(it had electric start) and fired it up. Powerful! That was
could say for the sound of 570 cubic inches coming out of that 4 inch
Since it had never been licensed,
I had it registered as a LaFrance Model 2014 Raceabout (2014 was the
I took it to it's first show of
many in 1968. On the road, it would turn about 1,300 RPM at 70
turned a lot of heads. Ond did have to be careful, though.
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
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
mounted under the frame, driven off the driveshaft. The Eisemann
finally got sickly so I replaced it with a Farmall F-10 mag modified
ignition. I also got tired of the smell of breather smoke when
down the highway at 70 MPH, so I tore the engine back down and had a
aluminum pistons and wrist pins made by Jahns. The new pistons
grooved for modern rings and the breather smoke was a thing of the
While I was about it, I had new mains cast and a friend and I spent an
(but tiring) day putting the crankshaft in and out while scraping the
Well, ol' Belchfire and I ran
around together 'til I got married then Elaine and I continued doing
fun trips for a number of years but, as usually happens, we drove
and less until, finally, all I did was to start it occasionally.
late nineties, a guy decided he wanted it more than I did so he parted
cash and got a nice little 4-cylinder sports car. I hope
happy in it's new home!
Wanna hear what it sounds like -
Just click here but beware - the file is over 400kB!
These videos were made by WAVE-TV
Louisville, KY in the 1970's
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 driverin 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
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
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.
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"
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.
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.
Perkins Diesel Powered 1950 Chevrolet
Photos Taken August 1995.
Perkins 4.154 Diesel engine in the Nerdmobile
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.
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
chassis is mechanically in very good condition and needs nothing.
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.
long, old friend!
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