18 October 2013

Drag Racing History - A Tale Of Two Anglias

Q. How come the good ol' sit up & beg British Ford Pop became a force to be reckoned with on the U.S. racetracks in the 50's & 60's?

A. Because in the spring of 1948, Ford began to import the Anglia, Prefect and Thames vans (1/4-ton and 1/2-ton versions) to the U.S. and Canada under the banner "North American Sales and Service" or N.A.S.S. They were sold at selected Ford dealers across North America right alongside the regular US-made cars and trucks. These vehicles were modified slightly for the North American market, including of course making them LHD, fitting sealed beam headlights, installing side lights on the front wings, fitting the larger 1172cc engine, and changing the front grille on the 1948 model Anglia and Thames to a 3-hole design - a one year only change.

What appeared to be a bright new segment for foreign Fords in the North American auto market, turned out to be less than expected. On April 9,1948 Ford of Britain exported the first of what was hoped to be thousands more cars and trucks. Its initial projections for the first year of sales were for selling over 12,000 cars and trucks in the US & Canada; actual sales however, were just over 3500 in 1948. In early '49, the suggested retail price was dropped almost 20% in an attempt to move stock. Even when Ford dealers across the country priced new Anglias at a rock bottom price of only $947.22, and a new Thames panel at $812.75, sales were anything but brisk. The reality was the American auto market was quickly changing and while at first there was a huge demand for any type of new car and truck, by the late forties, the domestic manufacturers had released their first post-war designs. The buying public wanted more of everything - chrome, bigger interiors, comfort, and big V8 power, none of which were present in the British Fords. These pint-sized cars came equipped with mechanical brakes, beam axles, wishbones, wooden floors and a thermosyphon cooling system, all circa 1930's!
So, for the next ten years, the Anglia, Prefect and Thames were also-rans in the automotive market. During this period, you could pick one up for a song, often less than $100. Wrecking yards from Los Angeles to New York would pile these forgotten cars up and crush them by the dozens because nobody wanted them. During the five year period that the most popular body style of Anglias were sold, 1948-1953, only about 25,000 cars and trucks were sold in all of North America. Today, only 2400 are known to exist in any shape or form.

So, what does this have to do with drag racing?

Well, If it wasn't for hot rodders in the mid-sixties modifying them and creating some level of interest, many feel that very few modern day examples would still exist. In 1961, NHRA's rules set the minimum wheelbase for a "gasser" at 94 inches. The rules also stated that the body must be of American manufacture. Both of these rules combined blew any chance of a foreign car from entering the gas classes. In 1963, NHRA allowed foreign cars to compete in the gas classes even though they were under the 94 inch wheelbase minimum. The kicker was, they could only run a small block engine and no blowers were allowed. This opened the door for the 90 inch Anglia and Thames to join the gasser ranks. The demand for these less than desirable foreign cars was finally on the upswing. For the next four years, the number of Anglia gassers gradually increased although the supercharged divisions were dominated by the Willys and Austins - both of which had a longer wheelbase. Only a few racers took a close enough look at the four-door Prefect and realised that its 94 inch wheelbase would be legal for this class. One such car was the "Hurst's Gasser Passer," (another future feature) built and driven by "Ohio" George Montgomery. The car was successfully campaigned prior to his moving to a '33 Willys powered by a 427 SOHC Ford engine, which of course eventually lead to the Mr. Gasket Mustang...

NHRA stood fast on the minimum wheelbase restrictions until 1968, but over at AHRA-sanctioned strips, no such rules existed. This opened the door for local west coast tracks like Lions and Irwindale to schedule AA/GS meets on a regular schedule. These match races packed the stands, paid well and soon many of the former injected small block-powered cars, switched over to superchargers and did remarkably well.
Now, in 1965, two of the most famous Anglia gassers ever built switched from the small block Chevy to the all-new 396/427 engine. The Shores & Hess Anglia, driven by Skip Hess was one of the first racers to obtain the new big block Chevy. With the addition of a 6-71 blower, the car entered the AA/GS ranks but only under the AHRA banner. Quickly thereafter, Ed and Ray Kohler of King Kong Anglia fame made the move to a then-huge 454ci Chevy. With both cars now competing in the AA/GS ranks, the match race madness was in full swing.

Shores & Hess AA/GS

Skip Hess was born in Chicago. His father passed away when he was 12 and he moved with his mother to San Diego, California. While attending high school in San Diego, Skip spent much of his free time at Burner's Auto Body. His first car was a '32 Ford with a 354ci Chrysler engine. Skip drove this car to school and would race it at Paradise Mesa drag strip.

Skip then attended college and studied mechanical engineering. He sold the '32 Ford and bought a new '62 Corvette. With some help from friends he built this car for CM/SP (a modified road car class I think, my knowledge of drag racing classes is improving all the time) with a 375ci small block Chevy with Hilborn injection. They called the car the Wildebeast and even at a heavy 3,500lbs, it set a national record. Skip met Jim Shores in 1964 and they got together to beat Johnny Loper's unblown A/G Anglia. In 1965, they pooled their funds and hired Don Long to build them their own Anglia to compete at national events. They ran match races at Lion's Drag Strip and Irwindale raceway.

As already stated, although the rules for NHRA remained the same as far as the Anglia (and similar) were concerned, NHRA was not the only game in town. The AHRA had made terrific inroads and, particularly in Southern California, AHRA had no problems with blower motors in the small cars. Shores & Hess put the first blown small-block Chevy in an Anglia, a Hilborn-injected 375ci small-block Chevy and a 4 speed transmission. Skip wanted to switch to a B&M Hydromatic due to the incompatibility of the 4 speed and the short wheelbase. Jim was strongly against this, so Shores & Hess broke up. Skip changed the tranny and he proceeded to set an A/G record of 137.40 mph at California's Half Moon Bay. Shores was there and this run changed his mind; It was Shores and Hess once again.

For a short period of time after they split, Jim Shores teamed up with the Kohlers, I think this deal lasted less than a month, but it would tie in with the fact that the Kohler Brothers putting in the same engine/gearbox combo. But, upping the ante a few weeks later when Chevrolet released the 396ci Big Block in 1965, the Kohlers then dropped in a blown 396ci big block and were followed a week or two later by Shores & Hess doing the same. They renamed their car Skipper's Critter but changed back to Shores and Hess again. They moved up to the A/Gas Supercharged class after setting some new records and began running against Stone, Woods & Cook and Big John Mazmanian. These cars were tremendously popular in Southern California, and the handwriting was on the wall for the NHRA 'anti-Anglia' rules. (I will be doing a post on NHRA/AHRA rules over the years in due course).

Just as an aside, Skip Hess is generally given credit for coining the term “Rat Motor” for the big-block Chevy when he had Jack Burr add that lettering to the scoop on the Anglia when the big motor was put in the car.

After some time the team again dissolved to pursue their own interests, Skip's being in the direction of work and family. In 1968 Jim Shores sold the car to the Pittman Bros and the top at some point was chopped. What happened to the car after that is a little bit of a mystery, as it doesn't to appear to have resurfaced, if it exists at all.

So then Skip built a new car. With the help of Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen and the Ford company, he was given access to everything Ford made and a fibreglass Mustang body. This became the Revell Kit Mustang, a subject for another day.

As an aside, in 1973 with the help of drag racing partner Bill Miller, Skip Hess stated his own business, Mongoose Bicycles (That's right - one of the BMXs I owned a a kid was named after a drag racer; whouda thunk it?). The two were part sponsors of McEwens' Funny Cars for about 10 years. The company grew and Skip sold it "when the time was right" in 1985; he remained the president until the acquisition was complete in 1988. Now semi-retired, Skip has many ties to the bicycle business, although he admits that he still has the desire to get behind a supercharged engine again. His friends, Jerry and Gary Mallicoat have a new car and don't want to drive it themselves. Skip says, "I've thrown my hat in the ring. The car would race about 10 times a year around the West Coast, which would really work for me."
Here's hoping Skip gets that chance.

Kohler Brothers King Kong AA/GS

The Kohler Brothers' King Kong AA/Gas Supercharged Anglia sedan, which has been called one of the most recognised supercharged cars of the late 1960s. The brothers' controversial decision to enter their Anglia Gasser into AHRA AA/Altered paid off, for as well as the rivalry with the Shore & Hess Anglia, Ed Kohler drove the car to a Super Eliminator win at the 1967 Winter Nationals in class and Super Eliminator, where Ed upset defending champ Hugh Tucker’s '28 Chevy AA/SR with a final-round 9.42/145.63.

In 1968, Chuck and Joe Pacini bought the car from the Kohler Brothers and turn it into the successful Pacini Brothers "Showdown" gasser. Using various blown and unblown engine combinations, they ran it successfully between NHRA/AHRA events, until the NHRA finally beat all the gassers by eliminating the class.

Unlike a lot of cars in this series so far, which get to a point in the early seventies after they're rendered obsolete, then disappear without trace for 20-odd years, this ones got a timeline that would make Ancestry.co.uk proud. let's all take a deep breath and read the next passage carefully...
In 1976, the Pacini Brothers sell the car to Paul Thompson in Rochester, New York, who subsequently converted it into a street rod. In '77 he swaps the car with Chris O'Connor in Pomona, California for another, ready built street rod. In 1979, O'Connor sells the Anglia to Carlos and Mary Cedeno, who brought it back to Pomona from New York to fully restore it to it's 1960s glory.
This is how Carlos received the car back in 1979:

The convoluted history of this car doesn't stop there; in 1984, Carlos swaps with another car to Jack Leonard, but then in 1987 Carlos gets the car back from Jack with another swap!
When Carlos bought the car, he'd relied on just a few suggestions about its heritage. At first, it didn't really matter, but then with a little detective work, the pieces began to fall into place. Eventually, after sanding through faded black exterior layers of green were discovered from its time as Showdown, then layers of tangerine. Experts such as original chassis builder George Britting, transmission builder Art Carr, supercharged gasser racer Jim Oddy and Ed Kohler himself helped diagnose and document the vehicle.

The Cedenos wanted to race the historic car but quickly found that current safety specs wouldn't allow it. So, the reclamation and restoration became a compromise - a lot of history mixed in with an upgraded rollcage and other items. And, when the car was completed, they raced it, just like the Kohlers first had, with an injected small block Chevy. But when an invitation came to join other gassers at an hstoric show, a blown big block was assembled and installed.

In 2002, Ed Kohler teamed up with King Kong once again:

Although he is no longer behind the wheel doing burn-outs and wheelies, Ed Kohler has re-joined his old friend on the road. The duo were seen at the National Hot Rod Reunion in Columbus, somewhat incognito - since at the time King Kong had his colours but was lacking his gorilla graphics.

Ed Kohler with Jim Shores, two old rivals on the track:

Two Anglias, seemingly joined at the hip. Together they helped blaze a trail for their kind in drag racing.

When NHRA finally let the 90-inch wheelbase cars compete with all of the goodies, the number of Anglias and Thames went nuts. Some of the famous cars than ran at many of the nationals included the BB/GAS Anglia of Bob Panella driven by Ken Dondero, the BB/GAS Blairs' Speed Shop Anglia driven by Phil Lukens, the BB/GAS Prefect of Steve Woods, Steve Korney's AA/GAS Goldfinger, Johnny Loper's A/GAS "Little Hoss," the A/GAS Anglia of Lutz 'N Lundberg, Stickel and Riffle's B/GASSer, the Kroona/Skarda/Sandberg's AA/GAS, and more.

With thanks to all sources concerned for the info. Dedicated to Ed Kohler.

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