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My Hot Rod

June 2024
1min read

My first attempt at building a 1932 Ford five- window coupe failed because of a lack of funds and my parents’ not-so-unreasonable demand that I give up my teenage distraction with fast cars and seek a college education. But my fascination with the unruly all-American beasts called hot rods never flagged and, in fact, returned full force in 1996, when I purchased a unique example called the Eliminator. Built in 1950 in a Sherman Oaks garage by a hot rodder named Jay Chamberlain, the car was intended for competition in the California Racing Association, a madcap dirt-track circuit that produced a number of Indianapolis stars, including Troy Ruttman, Jim and Dick Rathman, and Jack McGrath. But Chamberlain lost interest in the project, ultimately to become a fine sports-car racer and the importer of Lotus Cars in Southern California. He sold the car to Frank (“Duffy”) Livingstone, the operator of Duff and Roy’s Muffler shop in Pasadena, who converted the 1924 Model T roadster with its Essex frame rails into a road-racing machine. In 1956 Livingstone exchanged the original Ford flathead engine for a newer, more powerful Chevrolet small-block V-8 and began to win races. Then, bitten by a new kind of automotive bug, he parked the Eliminator and started the Go-Kart Company and became one of the pioneers in a sport that was to spread from its Southern California roots around the world. By 1961 the Eliminator was forgotten, and like so many old race cars, its exodus from shop to shop, from owner to owner, is lost to history. What is known is that it appeared in a yard in Tucson, Arizona, and was then transferred to a shed in Orange County, California, where I bought it sight unseen. The car was amazingly original, its paintwork, numbers, and even its 1950s decals in place. Pete Chapouris’s So-Cal Speed Shop staff, led by the expert craftsman Pete Eastwood, totally refurbished the Eliminator’s chassis, while leaving its dented and scruffy bodywork untouched. The restored car made its debut at the prestigious Monterey Historic Races held at Laguna Seca Raceway (a few miles from Pebble Beach, where the Chapouris-restored, Bruce Meyer-owned, ex-Doane Spencer hot rod was winning at the Concours d’Elegance). With the driver Bert Skidmore of Sparks, Nevada, at the wheel, the Eliminator started at the back of the pack and in a ten-lap race passed twelve cars—including four Ferraris and two exotic D-type Jaguar sports racers—to finish eighth. Its performance won it the Chopard Chronograph award for the best showing in the race. The old car, a rare and classic example of a road-racing hot rod, has subsequently won recognition in other Concours and vintage road races and remains the cherished centerpiece of my small car collection. Now if I could only find that ’32 five-window coupe I started in 1951 …

—B.Y.

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