At the beginning of organised drag racing in the early '50s, serious racers tried every engine and chassis combination they could to help their hook up, run straight, and finish fast. But when the first "rail jobs" hit the strips, front-engine cars dominated. Rear-engine dragsters like Ollie Morris' Smokin' White Owl were rare. That figured, as Americans were not a rear-engine culture. Preston Tucker's revolutionary Car of Tomorrow had flopped, Volkswagen imports were just beginning, the Corvair was still years away, and circle track racers, with a handful of experimental exceptions at Indy, were all front-engine cars.None of this concerned Reid Pate, his brother Don, or their friend, Bill Crissman, from Compton, California. The trio reasoned that if more weight could be concentrated on a car's rear wheels, they'd get plenty of traction. So they decided to build a rear engined Modified roadster. Each man chipped in $20 and the homebuilt project was underway. In Reid's mind the impetus for the car was the question, "What would it feel like to go 120 mph?" He'd thought of doing this at the lakes, and then decided to see if he could accomplish or even exceed this goal in the quarter-mile.
After a brief start with a '29 Model A roadster, Reid located a tatty but cheap '27 T body and smoothed it off. A custom nose, a cover for the carburettors, and a full bellypan were formed from aluminium. cockpit covers were hammered out of 20 gauge steel. A removable panel permitted easy quick-change access. And a custom rear deck, punched with 84 louvres in four rows, relieved trapped air. Taking advantage of inexpensive war surplus material still available at the time, Reid fabricated a sturdy frame made of tubular steel pieces that had formerly served as wing struts from a Navy PBY flying boat.
A 59A flathead V8 was bored and stroked to 303ci, ported and relieved, then fitted with lightweight magnesium pistons and conrods. A nodular iron crank was supplied by the team's sponsor, Harold Thomas of Bell Engine Crankshaft in Compton (not to be confused with Roy Richter's Bell ). Edelbrock high- compression heads were reworked to optimise combustion. A quartet of Stromberg 97s on an Edelbrock manifold fed custom 1.75-inch intake valves and enlarged ports. The cam was an Isky 404 Eliminator, the era's hottest, full-race flathead cam, and the engine drank methanol fuel fired by a Harman & Collins magneto. In the pre-Chevy V8 days, this proven combination developed north of 250 hp and an estimated 300+ lbft of . The Pate Brothers mounted it in a pivoting subframe that under power acted as a lever to plant the tyres. Flex pipes and bellcranks let the engine subframe move up and down, planting the fierce flattie's power squarely on the asphalt. Twin water tanks handle cooling; the centre tank is for the methanol.
Don Pate, the surviving brother (Reid passed away in 2006), tells me they arrived late at Bonneville, on the last day of qualifying. "It was a dismal trip," he recalls. "We'd geared the car to go 200 mph, but we were running too lean, and the engine blew on Reid's first run. He coasted through the traps at 135 mph. We had a spare engine, but there wasn't time to install it and make another run." A disappointed Reid Pate quipped, "We can go this fast on a dragstrip."
Roger, from Salina, Kansas, has an eclectic collection ranging from pristine Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts to the ex-Berardini Brothers' drag racing 404 '32 roadster and the restored '28 Model A/V-8 roadster originally built by Bud Neumeister, a '54 Hot Rod magazine cover car. Roger actively seeks out hot rods with interesting histories and he saw an op-portunity here, even though the time-ravaged Modified roadster would subsequently require a monumental effort to restore.
Roger plans to display the completed Bell Engine Crankshaft Special so today's hot rodders can appreciate its advanced engineering and construction. "In 1953 it was ahead of its time," he notes proudly, "and now it is timeless."
With thanks to all sources concerned for the info.