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Customizing in the 1920s

Customizing in the 1920s was mostly done for wealthy movie stars and executives that commissioned body builders such as Murphy, Bohmann & Schwartz and Don Lee Special Division to create designs suitable for the big chassis of Rolls Royce, Pierce Arrow and Duesenberg. On the other end of the scale was Southern California youngsters wanting to dress up their Fords, Dodges, Maxwells and Buicks in an effort to make them look higher priced. Out of their period came the chopped windshield, French top, smaller wheels and many chrome plated goodies.[1]

Dry Lakes Racing

When lakes racing became popular in the 1920s, the Model T was the preferred car because of its low cost and available speed equipment. Roadsters were favred amongst the racers, but touring cars were also raced.[2] Fast for a family sedan in the 1920s driving on a good highway was 50 mph. A Model T, running well, might hit 60 mph, hence the expression "going like sixty". Cars were boxy, and hot rodders realized that a car could go faster if it was made lighter and more streamlined. Removing the fenders, windshield and huge top from a touring car and roadster made the car more nimble and cut down the wind resistance.[3]

In 1923, George Wight opened an auto parts yard on Gage Avenue in Bell, California. The shop was a combination of salvage yard and machine shop, and it catered to the race crowd in the early days of dry lakes racing. George began removing speed equipment from the junkers he bought. George sold the speed equipment separately under what eventually became Bell Auto Parts.[4] Bell Auto Parts is one of the first, if not the first, speed shop in the United States. It didn't take long before Bell Auto Parts became the center of racing and rodding activities for the greater Los Angeles area.[3]

Muroc Dry lake was the site of American Automobile Asscociation sanctioned speed events in the 1920s, and In May 1923, Joe Nikrent set a record of 108.24 miles per hour in a stripped down Buick. One year later, In 1924, Tommy Milton ran 151.26 mph in a Miller powered race car. Three years later, in the spring of 1927, Frank Lockhart ran 171 miles per hour in the measured mile in a 91 ci supercharged Miller.[2] His two way average, under poor driving conditions, was 164 mph. At that time the world speed record was 174 mph, achieved by a British car with a 1,360 ci engine.[3]

October 9, 1927, the Southern California Champion Sweepstakes were held on Muroc dry lake. Earl Mansell of Pasadena, California organized the event. The entry blank listed five events, and the cost of entry was $3 per event. The first class, and event was for Ford roadsters. It was open for any Ford roadster, and the owner could run with or without fenders or windshield. Entries in the Ford roadster event required a hood and turtle deck. The second event was for Ford coupes. Cars for this event were required to have fenders, hood, windshield, and doors. Ford touring cars were scheduled for the third event, fenders and windshield were optional. The fourth event was called the Special Flathead Race, and was open to any body style and type of car as long as it had a flathead engine. Any winner of the three previous events would have their entry fees refunded for the Flathead race. The final race was the Championship Sweepstakes. The Championship Sweepstakes was open for any roadster, coupe, or touring car, and the competitors could run without windshield or fenders.[2]


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