Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The King's "Ford Special" Local Star from the 1920's.....

When Merv Dove, Barry Kettering, The Massaro brothers and Louis Tocheri were mere babies, car racing in Fort William was in its infancy too, and much had already been written and said about the famous King's "Ford Special" driven by Frank Colosimo.
Recent accolades go to Al and Sandra Cronk for completing the incredible restoration of the same one and only racing machine from the 1920's. They had spent almost half their lives accumulating the components and completing the restoration work, and the finished example stands as a tribute to them.

Photo titles - Here is the poster and a subsequent week write-up in the newspaper in 1924. Note the use of the words "Jupiter Pluvius" meaning a downpour!!
.....As age creeps up on all of us, it is difficult to reminisce about the 1920's unless you are 80 plus years old, but research, photos and memories help us bring up shades of the past that began an incredible era. The following is an excerpt from an article written for the Daily Times Journal during the late 1950's by Barry Craig titled "When Frank Colisimo was Tops" and "Car Racing in the 1920's. This was written during the era I call "Hot Rods and Jalopies":

.....The most interesting racing car that made its debut back in the 1920's was called King's "Ford Special". It was a silver-smooth speedster which tore up the track at speeds up to 101 miles per hour over a route where holes had to be filled with clay and cinders through the courtesy of the Fort William Street Railway. King's car was built by Art and Arnold King, and driven by Frank Colosimo, high flying speed demon who was practically unbeatable for seven years between 1925 and 1932.

Believers in doing things the correct way, Art King, 28 years old and brother Arnold, 16 years old laboriously built their pride and joy in the family chicken house at 64 Algonquin Street in Port Arthur. One wall had to be removed to get the car out. It was completed in 1924 following almost two years of dedicated stubbornness and $2,200. cold hard cash.

This first photo shows the car in action at the CLE as a clip from a film, and the second here is part of the mock-up during re-construction!
.....It was difficult getting sponsors, just like today, so the brothers formed the Twin City Motor Contest Association and rented the fairgrounds. In the day 3 to 4 thousand fans would cheer them on. Art's driving career began May 24, 1924 at Murillo and ended 20 minutes later. Regular races were run at Murillo when the Fort William track was in poor condition. At 80 miles per hour the back axle sheered a key and the car flipped three times and ended up on the stone wall that surrounded the track. Art drove his 1922 Chevrolet home with one arm and decided his brush with death was enough. If he hit the stone wall, things could have been more disastrous. Art, however would rebuild the car to be complete for the first race in 1925 at the fairgrounds track and the power plant could rev at 4200 RPM.
He had no driver so he called on Frank Colosimo. He compared Frank later on as having the personality of Louis Tocheri and the stature of Albert Massaro. Frank driving his former car the "Green Spear" had been "out of the money" in previous years. Fortunately for Art, Frank had become "King" of the local speed artists as well as the most controversial figure in the racing circles.
Frank would come to the track with a spotless starched white shirt that was black as coal by the end of the second race. He would also tempt fans to wager against him by flashing $10. bills in front of the grandstand.
There were 4000 fans at that Labour Day meet who witnessed a stirring race between Frank Colisimo and Ernie Boffa, cunning driver of the famed "Dreadnought". Frank and Ernie were avid competitors each fighting for top laurels and this day they had bet $200. on the outcome. Frank was leading by a healthy margin when his car nose-dived on the second turn and he become the first driver to fly 25 feet in the air and live to tell the story. Suffering from four broken ribs, he was taken to hospital, patched up, and came back to the meet to watch the rest of the afternoons proceedings. In the 1950's Art had related "Those were the days".

Here is Al and Sandra's 25 or so year labour of love as it was shown in the Duke Hunt Museum here at the Lakehead during this summer!
.....Those definitely were the days, and today I had the pleasure of meeting Al and Sandra Cronk. Russ Wanzuk had helped Al bring and set up the King's "Ford Special" from the newly done Duke Hunt Museum(formerly the Paipoonge Museum) to its winter home at the Thunder Bay Airport to be on display for all to see in its incredible restored splendour. By talking to Al, one could write at least a 500 page book on the restoration itself. Be sure to check it out at the airport the next time you are in Thunder Bay.

Thanks again to Al and Sandra for a job well done!!

Here is the Motor Meter on the King's Special...note it says "Fort William, Port Arthur, and Grain Port Motors Ltd". Grain Port Motors was on the corner of Leith Street and May Street, north/east corner in the 1920's. The story board displayed with the car is next and explains even more about the car. Finally, a photo of Al and Sandra, a wonderful couple, next to their own King's "Ford Special" taken today just after setting the car up at the Thunder Bay Airport.

Be sure to click on the photos(some twice) to enlarge them...

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