Fred Phillip Larsen,Jr. (02.23.1922 - 03.24.2003) of La Mirada, California was a pioneer hot rodder, dry lakes racer and drag racer. He is a lifetime member of the 300-MPH chapter of the Bonneville 200-MPH Club, and the holder of multiple World Land Speed Records for streamlined vehicles set at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
- 1 Born in Illinois, Moved to California
- 2 Muroc and First Car
- 3 2nd Car
- 4 Graduated High School
- 5 Machine Shop
- 6 3rd Car
- 7 4th Car
- 8 Culver City Screwdrivers
- 9 Don Cummins
- 10 5th Car
- 11 "I Tore my Face and Head All to Hell!"
- 12 Don Cummins' Pick Up
- 13 7th Car
- 14 Retired from the United States Navy
- 15 Moon Equipment Company
- 16 Mickey Thompson
- 17 Shelby's Cobra
- 18 8th Car - The Larsen & Cummins Streamliner
- 19 National Hot Rod Association Lifetime Achievement Award
- 20 Retired
- 21 Passed Away
- 22 Fred Larsen's Cars
- 23 References
Born in Illinois, Moved to California
Muroc and First Car
In 1936 Fred attended his first dry lakes meet, as a spectator at the Muroc dry lakes. In 1938 he built his first hot rod, a 1925 Ford Model T roadster. Fred's Model T featured a modified roadster body. The engine had a "Ricardo" flat head and a Winfield updraft carburetor. Power was transferred through a Chevrolet transmission. Fred owned the Model T for about a year.
Fred's second car was a 1928 Chevrolet roadster. He built the car himself, and it was powered by a 1928 Chevrolet four-cylinder engine. The engine ran an Oldsmobile head, high compression pistons, a Ford T camshaft, and a Winfield carburetor. The Chevrolet roadster body was replaced with a lighter 1927 Ford Model T body. This roadster turned 85 M.P.H. at the dry lakes in 1940. Fred owned this roadster for about 18 months.
Graduated High School
Fred's last car before the war was a 1929 Ford Model A roadster. The roadster ran a four-cylinder Model A engine with a 4 inch bore, a Winfield cam and head, and two Winfield carburetors. The block was also ported and polished. The roadster ran 112 M.P.H. at the dry lakes in 1941.
In 1942 Fred joined the Navy. While in the Navy in 1948, he built a 1929 Ford roadster with a special frame that used the center of a 1932 Ford frame and kickups from a 1925 Chevrolet. The roadster was one of the first cars to use a belly pan and hydraulic brakes. Fred drove the roadster from California to Connecticut and then all over the eastern seaboard. He drove it back to California where he turned it into a lakes and drag-race car. In 1950 he was able to compete in racing again.
After returning to Culver City, Larsen joined the Culver City Screwdrivers car club. As one of the clubs in the Rusetta Timing Association, it was responsible for setting up the racecourse on the lakebed. Fred and the other Screwdrivers would arrive at El Mirage at 7:30 a.m. to mark the course.
In the 1950s Fred's interest in drag racing evolved, and he bought Ak Miller's rear-engine roadster, "Miller's Missile," in 1955. The roadster featured a tube frame and a 1927 Ford Model T body. Fred installed a fuel injected 1952 Chrysler 331 cu. in. engine in it, and ran it at the lakes as well as local strips.
"I Tore my Face and Head All to Hell!"
In 1957, Fred flipped the roadster at Bonneville. "I tore my face and head all to hell,'' Fred told Dick Martin. "The mag broke off, hit me on the back of the head, and took my helmet off. I went sideways and over backward 180 feet when I hit the first time. The car was going backward upside-down, and I slid on my head on the salt. I had 180 stitches on my head and face."
Don Cummins' Pick Up
After the crash, in 1958, Fred helped Don Cummins build a 1929 Ford Model A pick up truck. He installed the engine from the damaged roadster and ran it on gasoline. Fred set gas roadster record at the dry lakes of 170 M.P.H. He also set 1/2 mile drag record of 150 M.P.H. with the roadster.
In 1962 Fred retired from the United States Navy, after distinguished service in WWII, the Korean War, and the initial stages of the Vietnam War. Serving aboard the USS Jacob Jones, DE 130 he participated in the massive antisubmarine warfare campaign in advance of the allied invasion of Normandy and later served in the USS Tortuga, LSD 26. In 1963 L.A. Times summed up his success: "The most consistent winner at the annual Bonneville speed trials for the past five years has been a retired Navy chief petty officer from La Mirada, Fred Larsen."
ın 1962 Fred went to work as a machinist for Moon Equipment Company. "Dean Moon was a very hard person to work for," Fred told Dick Martin, "but it was 10 minutes from home, I had free run of a machine shop, and he needed me to go to Bonneville."
Fred built the prototype for Carroll Shelby's Cobra at Moon's shop. "Dean put me on lend-lease to Carroll Shelby, who leased part of the building from Moon. In 1962 we picked up an AC Cobra chassis and body. Ford sent the first motor, a 221. Mel Chastain and I put in the motor, transmission, and driveline, and I built those outside headers. Carroll kept dragging header guys in to look at my configuration. They said, 'You can't beat it.' When Shelby moved to Venice, Californi, he asked me to go with him. I said no," Fred told Hot Rod Magazine.
8th Car - The Larsen & Cummins Streamliner
Fred teamed up with Don Cummins to build his first from-the-ground-up race car, using the classic slingshot, front-engine design. Lynn Yakel designed the body, applying principles of aerodynamic airplane design. Don and Fred built the chassis and the motors. The genius of the chassis design was that it could have been run on the salt without the body. Everything was tucked inside. Two engines were built for the roadster, one for the D class, and one for the E class. The engine size could not be any larger than 183 ci to compete in D class, and 120 ci for the E class. A 1959 Chevrolet 265 block with a 5/8-inch destroked crank was used to create the 183 ci V-8. It ran heads from a 283-inch Chevy and 4-71 GMC Blower. The estimated horsepower was 450. For the second motor Fred wanted 120 inches. "After building the 180, I knew I couldn’t get a Chevy that small and still get valves in it, so I built a 240 and left half the pistons out. I staggered them; every other one in the firing order was left out—two center pistons on one side and two outer pistons on the other. The Potvin blower hung right on the front of the crank. That gave me my 120 inches," Fred told Dick Martin.
Don and Fred took the Streamliner to Bonneville in 1966. It ran a two-way average of 255 mph. One of the international records Fred and Don were aiming for was the 248-mph Class D record set by Rudolph Caracciola in a supercharged Mercedes Grand Prix car in 1939. They set eight F.I.A. records in 1967 with a best of 275 mph, shattering Caracciola’s 28-year-old mark. The Larsen & Cummins Streamliner became the world’s fastest 3L car holding the one-mile F.I.A. record of 310.26 mph.
Fred campaigned the car himself for a couple pf years. Shige Suganuma, who was selling Moon's Speed Equipment in Japan approached Fred about sponsoring the streamliner. Later on, Shige bought the entire company, and he asked Fred to come back to work for him.
National Hot Rod Association Lifetime Achievement Award
Fred raced the lakes for over 60 years, and he broke land speed records every decade from 1959 to 2000. In 1997 Fred and Don received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Hot Rod Association at the 1997 California Hot Rod Reunion.
Fred Larsen's Cars
Fred Larsen's 1925 Ford Model T Roadster
Ak Miller's 1927 Ford Model T Roadster - Miller's Missile
Fred Larsen's 1927 Ford Model T Roadster
Fred Larsen's 1928 Chevrolet Roadster
Fred Larsen's 1929 Ford Model A Roadster
Fred Larsen's Second 1929 Ford Model A Roadster
Fred Larsen's Third 1927 Ford Model T Roadster
The Larsen & Cummins Streamliner
Did you enjoy this article?
Kustomrama is an encyclopedia dedicated to preserve, share and protect traditional hot rod and custom car history from all over the world.
- Help us keep Kustomrama and history alive. For as little as 1 USD a month you can become a monthly supporter. Click here to learn more.
- Subscribe to our free newsletter and receive regular updates and stories from Kustomrama.
- Do you know someone who would enjoy this article? Click here to forward it.
Can you help us make this article better?
Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have additional information or photos to share about Fred Larsen.
This article was made possible by:
SunTec Auto Glass - Auto Glass Services on Vintage and Classic Cars
Finding a replacement windshield, back or side glass can be a difficult task when restoring your vintage or custom classic car. It doesn't have to be though now with auto glass specialist companies like www.suntecautoglass.com. They can source OEM or OEM-equivalent glass for older makes/models; which will ensure a proper fit every time. Check them out for more details!
Do you want to see your company here? Click here for more info about how you can advertise your business on Kustomrama.