HOT RODS INVITED TO PEBBLE BEACH?? . . .THAT WOULD BE THE SAME DAY I’D BE FLYING TO THE MOON . . .
Through the summer and fall of 1995 and 1996, I heard bits of rumor that the highly vaunted Pebble Beach Concours d’elegance might, just maybe, consider the admission of a few historic hot rods to their hallowed show field.
At that time Loren Tryon and Jules Heumann jointly chaired the event. Tryon was the tougher of the two. He intensely disliked any and all hot rods. But Bruce Meyer and Ken Gross bore down hard on the pair.
Tryon had vocally for years shot the idea down. Heumann was beginning to understand the significant role the “American Hot Rod” played in the grand tapestry of automotive history.
The driving force that kicked the ball through the uprights was Bruce Meyer. Bruce’s tagline is “Never Lift” and in fact he and Ken Gross never lifted and indeed a very few, very select historic hot rods would be invited to Pebble Beach for the concours in the year of our Lord, 1997.
I met with Bruce Meyer and Winston Goodfellow behind a Barrett Jackson trailer in 1996. We discussed it and how it should be handled from the hot rodders standpoint.
My only, but very strong feeling was that if the opportunity was given, all of the chosen hot rods had to have been restored to the era and the provenance had to be bulletproof.
Frankly at that initial meeting I wasn’t crazy about the whole idea. If it was going to be done, the cars had to be period correct. And hot rodding had never really been about “period correct.” More, it thrived on innovation. Pushing on. There was nothing older than yesterday’s modified rod.
I was certainly no big deal, but I owned a dead correct verified 1932 Ford Dry Lakes roadster that had raced on the dry lakes, with Ray brown both owning and driving the racer. Ray collected 27 Timing Tags and drove the car to work at Eddie Meyer’s Speed Shop!
I and the Lowrey’s had been through 3 years of fine tuning the restoration to a point where every last little aspect of the dry lakes runner was correct.
We hit some walls along the way. With the AACA, we were at a point where we had garnered First Junior in our last two outings.
I was really upset and began thinking the AACA really was saying: “Keep this damn hot rod at home . . .”
The Chief Judge had easily seen my frustration. He came over to me and quietly pointed to our headlights: “Kirk, I know you have your albums with you. Show me a photo, any photo, of this car running on the dry lakes with those headlights on the car.
He smiled, and looked back over his shoulder as he went off to oversee the next bit of judging.
Clearly a case on our part of failing to see the trees for the forest.
We scrambled and removed the damn headlights! The amazing thing was that neither of the Lowery’s, nor I, had ever picked up on the glaring error.
In spite of the stumbles along the way, the Ray Brown roadster at the 1994 Annual Winter meeting in Philadelphia was, along with Chuck Davis and his 16 cylinder Indianapolis Miller, presented with The Past President’s award for the best restoration of a competition car!
Pretty good apples for a group of Hot Rodders!
AND THEN ONE DAY . . .
An invitation to the vaunted lawns of Pebble came! Quite fancy it was and filled with a good many do’s and don’ts. The event was in August so I set about making the necessary arrangements.
I definitely did not want to tackle the event alone. I invited Harold Brewer to join me. Harold was a good friend and he had joined me in several other ventures. H was in! I was pleased, as there was always a good time to be had with Brewer on board.
Intercity Lines would transport the 99c Ray Brown hot rod roadster and, yes, Ray would be sure to be there.
Harold got to the Pebble Beach staging area before me, and located the truck and the hot rod. The late Gordon Apker spotted Harold as a rookie and befriended him. Gordon had been to “Pebble” time and again and had won prizes there over a span of many years..
Gordon told Harold the trophies didn’t matter. He said when your wheels touch the ground here at Pebble you’ve already won!
I arrived and we let the car down onto the field. It looked absolutely stunning. Jamie Hole, back in Philadelphia had really detailed the car to the nines. We just put it back away safely for the night.
And then . . .
After the tailgate had closed, that GM Sherwood Green finish flashed again across my vision. That color selection was chosen by Ray Brown in 1946.
Ray’s color choice epitomized American hot rodding. Ray didn’t care that almost every hot rod in America was either black or red! He’d take that Sherwood Green, thank you!
Sherwood Green was a bit of a fright even for GM. It was only available as a secondary color in a two tone combination.
But it was smack on for a sixteen year old’s ’32 who worked for Eddie Meyer’s Speed Shop in Hollywood!
It seemed like we had just put the car in the truck for the night when we returned at 5:30 AM the following morning! It was chilly as anything and we were nearly engulfed in fog.
Where are we supposed to go? Other cars were seen moving in the fog, so we were about to join them when Ray Brown showed up.
The fog was moving off and legendary hot rodder Pete Eastwood appeared and gave us directions to the show field.
Ray, Harold and I were squeezed in the roadster.
(. . . Let me to take this opportunity to thank our friend George Koehn who took virtually all of the early morning and judging photographs that you see below. . .)
JEEZ, ARE WE KICKED OUT OF HERE AT 6AM????
The fog thickened as we drove down closer to the Pacific, adjacent to the show field. We stopped to collect our credentials, etc. At that point we were fully enshrouded in the fog again.
My nerves were strung to the nines, when a crystal clear voice said:
“Is one of you Kirk White?!!
Terrific! Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide . . .
“Yes Sir, I’m Kirk White”
And, with that, out of the dense cloud walked a gentleman with an extended hand.
Jules Heumann, legendary co chairman of the Concours, smiled and said:
“Welcome to Pebble Beach, Kirk. This is long overdue.”
What a fabulous welcome. I’ve never forgotten that wonderful moment.
As if on cue, the fog dissipated and brilliant sunshine took over.
We followed a golf cart to our appointed spot which seemed kind of way down the show field, like maybe the “far back nine”, but then there was “Blackie” Gejeian and a few more hot rods. I was pleased that we were going to be in Blackie’s cheerful company for the day!
Blackie was one of the true pioneers and legends of hot rodding in America and to top it off he was delightful to be around. Both Ray and I were immediately collared for separate TV interviews.
More hot rods came and we settled in for the day. Someone stopped by and said they had questioned Jules Heumann as to why he had placed the hot rods at the far end of the show field.
Jules fired back: “I put the hot rods there for the same reason a grocer puts the milk in the back of the store!”
It wasn’t too long before a young man came around and gave each exhibitor a buzzer telling him that if it went off in your pocket, it meant you were scheduled to receive some type of award. Ray asked me what the buzzer was for and I told him.
I then came up with an idea . . .
I further informed him that if, in fact, it went off in my pocket, he, Ray, was going to get under the car to the point where he’d be able to uncap the exhaust “lakes plugs.” In so doing the exhaust would be wide open. If nothing else, they would know we’d been there. Ray enthusiastically took on the responsibility.
Toward mid-day the judges appeared and the intense scrutiny commenced. Ken Gross was the lead and the balance of the judging team was top tier.
But, Ray was nervous. Alex Xydias was probably Ray’s closest friend, but for years they had duked it out on the salt and the dry lakes. Ray muttered his concern at having the 99 car judged by his old pal Alex. I told him to get over that nonsense. Simply wouldn’t happen! Ever!
But as the one photo shows, I too, became concerned over something I’d overheard! And it may have been that I had just spotted Bruce Meyer’s arrival on the field with the genuine Doane Spencer roadster. The car had just come out of Pete Chapouris So-Cal shop and looked like a black diamond.
Soon the judges wandered off to investigate the authenticity of another one of the hot rods.
Then two unrelated things happened quickly.
All day the crowd was more than cordial, many asking questions and a great many photos were taken. But then a tall wildly over refreshed middle aged scarecrow of a woman came wobbling by on six inch heels, drink in hand. Right in front of our car she blurted out to no one in particular:
“These junkers don’t belong here at Pebble Beach!”
It was the only negative comment I heard the entire day. Most of the crowd was wonderfully engaging and a pleasure to talk with.
Around three PM the buzzer went off in my pocket which signaled we had at the very least placed in the top three. The pictures clearly show Ray Brown well under the car removing the two lakes plugs, one on each side!
And so, in fact we had been selected for one of the three prizes. Don Orosco in the Tony LaMasa ’32 Ford roadster, us in the Ray Brown ’32 and Bruce Meyer in the Doane Spencer ’32 roadster.
It seemed to take forever to get up to the award area. Lots of start the “firecracker” V-8, move forward a bit. Shut it down so it won’t overheat. I was watching the pertinent gauges for any sign of trouble. Ray was in the car with me and after one shut down, the car would not start!
The starter spun and spun. Nothing. Ray leaned toward me and said “the steering column switch. . .” A hundred feet short of the podium, and I had succeeded in forgetting how to start my car! I was always forgetting that damn switch!
Finally we were up on the vaunted bit of ground where the prizes are presented.
Don Orosco was called forward first thus garnering the trophy for third in class.
From there on life slowed to a near standstill. Pete and Bruce in the Spencer roadster and Ray and I in the 99c.
We all exchanged thumbs up and big smiles. Almost certainly, it was one of the most insincere “best wishes” exchanges of all time. Each of us hoping the other two would go down in flames!
We garnered second and Bruce and the Spencer roadster took the Grand Prize.
Ray spotted Alex out on one of the balconies of the hotel and was certain that Alex had somehow gotten him again. I told Ray that was crazy. Bruce and Pete were an unbeatable combination. It turned out that we had been judged second by a single point!
And, you know what? It was a terrific day and a sensational experience.
I TOOK OFF FOR DOANE’S . . .
I decided to visit Doane in Cayucos. . . A good visit with Doane Spencer was worth the ride.
Over a long lunch Doane launched into one of his “this guy is just OK, and that guy can’t dial a cam in to save his life.” He had quite a list of mediocre mechanics!
After Doane had put bullets into a dozen guys, I stopped him and asked him point blank:
“Doane, Is there anyone you know who is as good a mechanic as you are??”
Instead of scoffing at the question, Doane settled into a bit of deep mind searching . . .
Finally he said that Phil Reilly was as good as he was!
THEN, SOME NOT SO GOOD NEWS . . .
Doane had developed some health issues. “I’m going to build just one more of my 5 liter racing engines” he said.
“It’s yours if you want it, Kirk.”
It would be $12,500 which was fairly steep, and Doane wanted the money in cash. A sane man might have shifted down a couple of gears before buying any racing engine with no car in sight to tie it to!
Still it was a heck of an opportunity to get the last 5 liter Ford engine built by Doane Spencer.
I “green lighted” the project and some months later I owned the final Spencer Ford racing engine. I paid Doane and he said he would store the engine until I needed it.
A VERY SLICK 1932 FORD ROADSTER . . .
Two years later, at a very early hour, I was trundling around in a golf cart way out in the back acres of the Barrett-Jackson auction when a Port-o-Let door popped open and Pete Chapouris emerged.
“Hey Kirk, when are we going to build a ’32 roadster for you?”
I immediately thought of my 5 liter engine that Doane Spencer had built for me. Doane had gotten the engine finished, but near the end of the build he was questioning how well he was taking care of the final details. His health was dropping away. He made arrangements for the legendary Ed Pink to go through the build and make sure that the engine was the way Doane intended.
“Maybe we ought to talk about that” . . . I said to Pete. And we did talk it out to the extent that a top shelf roadster emerged in our minds and then in drawings, meetings etc.
And so it began at So-Cal Speed Shop in Pomona with Ryan Reed as the chief on the project.
Doane had always wanted to build a road racing hot rod and run the Mille Miglia in Italy.
Well I was in no position to undertake a project of that magnitude. But I liked the idea of a ’32 Ford roadster with a very subtle, but unmistakable, European influence.
Thus began a long and wonderful friendship with Pete, Carol and Peter IV Chapouris, Ryan Reed and Jimmy Shine.
The ’32 was to be black with a dark green leather (think R Type Bentley Continental) including deep door pockets with Fastenal snaps.
Pete had asked Halibrand for a special set of “knock-off” kidney bean alloys, done as closely as possible to the ones made in the sixties. The hot rod was well underway when the project hit a solid stone wall.
Doane had passed . . .
You don’t want to know what we went through to land the engine at Ed Pink’s shop door.
Ed Pink is a no nonsense guy who has built devastatingly powerful and strong Ford racing engines and cars for a great many years.
I went to meet with him well before the engine arrived. It was somewhat evident that he may be viewing me as what was known as a “checkbook hot rodder.”
Throughout the visit I gently put that notion to bed.
Meanwhile So-Cal rolled on. The very last set of true Halibrands was delivered for the car. Pete, Ryan and I must have had 200 meetings on setting the precise stance of the car.
And I wanted a du Vall style windshield but without, as Doane called them, the “elephant ears.” I liked the whole concept of that split windshield, but did not like the way it flared out at the top. Ryan Reed told me he had to make 47 cuts to get what we were after! Like maybe, Kirk you ought to get out of this shop!
To support the “European road racing flair” that was our theme, I ordered a pair of Lucas “Flamethrower lamps” to mount low in the front of the car.
Ed Pink told me it would be “a while” to get back with me on the engine, but it was getting on to three months before he rang me and in a clipped fashion said;
“Well you got yourself a true Doane Spencer engine. The compression ratio was a touch over 15 to 1 for which you can’t buy any fuel, and the cam developed insane power from the mid-seven thousands to eighty-eight hundred.” It was a stumbling mess below seven thousand RPM.
Ed said: “We’re still giving back to you a lit stick of dynamite with our 13 to 1 pistons and a cam that won’t make a fool out of you every time you pull away from a traffic light!”
“Send me a check for $14,000 and we’re all square” said Ed.
Great! Now I owned the most potent 5 liter Ford engine on earth, with $26,500 in it!!
And so, the car began to really come together. Late on the Friday afternoon before the opening of the LA Roadster Show, a knowledgeable friend told me he’d seen in the swap meet a Stewart Warner “center of the dash” mounted instrument cluster. He described it as a dash cluster with the finest instruments, mounted in a fashion generally found only in coach built automobiles. That instrument cluster would make life a lot different as a finishing touch in the roadster.
Unfortunately, all the vendors had closed for the day.
So, our group of four was at the opening gate of the LA Roadster swap meet at 7 AM!! I gave each a ridiculous sketch of what the instrument cluster should look like. My son Geoff found it within 20 minutes, and I was able to buy it for a princely sum! It was a remarkable instrument cluster and you were certainly not going to see another one any time soon!
Pete was pleased to get it and, no, he had not seen another one. He went on to say though, that if we used that treasure, we would have to drop the bottom of the dash a few inches to accommodate the height of the cluster.
That let the air out of our balloon, but it would still be worth it.
PLEASANTON, CALIFORNIA . . .
Speaking of money, I saw my friend Bruce Meyer at the hot rod get together in Pleasanton, California. He hopped in the roadster I was driving and we toured the show. Bruce also had another very significant hot rod being done at So-Cal.
“How about those bills each month from So-Cal?” Bruce said.
“I can’t bear to look at them anymore! I said. I don’t even open them! I just send $10,000 each time I see that So-Cal envelope.” . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
So as sensational as this hot rod building experience with SO CAL was, you’d think one such experience was enough. . .lesson learned. But as you know, my right brain led me through many more inexplicable adventures. . .However, those are stories for another time. . .treasures that are held in memory and always trigger even more.
I’ve got a million more of them. I bet you do too, so keep on “keeping on”. There’s always a new one around the next corner.
. . . And speaking of new ones, as of March 1, 2020, we have contracted with Glyn and Jean Morris of Dalton Watson Books working with David Williams to publish “Don’t Wash Mine” in its entirety. We will keep you up to date on this.
Kirk F. White and his mascot Leonard in his tent at Hershey. This beautiful, crazy, beloved man, father of five, author of DontWashMine.com, former owner and campaigner of the Penske/White Sunoco Ferrari 512M and the Cannonball Ferrari Daytona, hot rodder extraordinaire, passed away peacefully on March 20. His generous nature, his love of automobile lore and of all of those who shared it with him will be missed terribly. The memory of all those wonderful times will live on in his online blog and in the future book. You all made his life special, with the best memories, and we thank you for that.
One of Kirk’s cherished friends has written: “Kirk has always been my pole star in living a life based on the notion that it’s inevitable that we grow older, but that doesn’t mean that we have to grow up.” That perfectly describes our Kirk.
Our love: Marilyn, Mandy, Libby, Geoffey, Chris & Trip