Market Finds: You Can Help This Vintage Dirt Track Hot Rod Race Again

You Can Help This Vintage Dirt Track Hot Rod Race Again

By Andrew Golseth
August 1, 2016

Photography courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

In recent years, we’ve seen restorations, especially of the restomod ilk, elevate the definition of a “perfect build.” Outlaws from Emory with flawless metalwork and carbon fiber-bodied, reimagined 911s from Singer have set new standards for building classics—and in many ways, far better than the original manufacturers were capable of. Yet, there’s something intriguing about old iron that’s rough around the edges. For instance, tell me you don’t want to flog the wheels off this 1922 Ford Model T/A Dirt Track Roadster.

At first glance, you might think this prewar coupe fell victim to some modern hot-rodder’s torch and welder—but that’s not the case. Turns out that after the Second World War, many adrenaline junky servicemen got their fix through customizing automobiles for addictive, fuel-burning madness. A sort of hybrid hot-rod off-breed of dilapidated dirt racers, like the car you see here, became popular along the West Coast.

Pre-War cars were inexpensive platforms for these young and audacious garage monkeys-turned weekend racers. But, these cars often required expensive and/or hard to source parts, which forced many of these hot-blooded wheelman to improvise by taking a more hands-on approach. One such do-it-yourselfer named Tommy Garland of Buellton, California, assembled the machine you see offered here.

Starting with a 1922 Model T, Tommy sectioned and narrowed the body and fused a 1914 Model T turtle deck at the rear and slapped a ’32 Chrysler grille up front—notice the fabricated rebar bumper. With a roll hoop welded in place, a metal bucket seat sourced from some unknown military bomber was made into the driver’s throne.

Think that’s crude? How about the rusty metal steering wheel made from a saw-blade! The “Jimmy” straight-six engine received a new pressurized fuel system, a custom intake manifold, and a twin side-exit exhaust. Fellow racer Sig Erson fab’d-up a fatter-cam and retrofitted a Cadillac 12-cylinder distributor to handle the higher revs.

The build was completed in 1948 and went on to race for many years at events held at Bakersfield, Porterville, Thunderbowl (How cool is that name for a venue? -Ed.), and more. By the 1950s, the retired dirt racer went into storage for three-plus-decades. A fellow Buellton racer who had grown up admiring Garland’s dirt slingin’ T acquired the car and proudly displayed it in a local museum.

Oftentimes, racecars of the highest caliber and expense get recycled, if they manage to survive their short racing career—but small band homebuilt racers rarely escape deterioration, the lucky ones get restored, while few cars like this manage to maintain their heritage.

Aesthetically preserved in its original livery, this “Track T Special” is in dire need of a mechanical restoration as it’s noted as last running in 2008. Sotheby’s encouragingly lists the car as “suitable for static museum display,” but don’t you think it deserves to chuck some dust again?

– Original “California Track T Special” build from 1948
– Unique small piece of American racing history

270 cu. in. GMC L-head inline six-cylinder engine with three-carburetor intake and custom dual racing exhaust, three-speed Chevrolet manual transmission running second and third gears, solid front axle with transverse leaf spring suspension, live rear axle with transverse leaf spring suspension, and rear-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 100 in.

Vehicle information
Chassis no.: 27020845

Auction house: RM Sotheby’s
Estimate: $60,000 – $80,000
Price realized: Auction on August 19

Join the Conversation
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Petrolicious Newsletter