Monday, April 29, 2013

Fred Coleman, Ralph Spencer and more...They Came, They Tried, and they lost to Jerry Richert's Flathead Ford.....

As summer quickly approaches, my mind always wanders back to the old Canadian Lakehead Exhibition Stock Car Racing days.  There are many memories of my teen years being spent there inhaling dirt and fumes that eventually lead to my own few years of racing and also to the many years I spent in my garage as a gearhead, and hot rod builder.
As my memory wanes in my older years, I rely on my good friend Dennis Winko for most of the data that surrounds the racing days at the old CLE track.  Without him, many of the blanks to be filled in would be empty, and the following information would not exist.  It is great to be able to put this to writing for all to see.
The first car shown below, driven by Fred Coleman originally started out as a pretty nice 1938 Chevrolet.  Now a '38 Chevy was not a small car.  It was a big heavy boat that if made into a Street Rod or Hot Rod today would drive and ride very nicely, with its heavy chassis and all round heavy ride....but Fred Coleman cut it down into what you see here to make a much sleeker and very fast little dirt track ride.
It first appeared here at the 1958 Dirt Track Championships in Fort William, Ontario and started the trend of the cut down cars to add more speed an agility.  The little #54 sported a '55 Corvette engine with 2-4bbl carburetors on what looks like a homemade plenum(literally a square box) intake manifold.  Dennis says that these were set up for high speed, not torque coming out of the corners, and with a light little car, would do so like a bullet.  Fred was from Winnipeg, and sponsored by Inman Motors there.  It was flat towed to Fort William the 440 miles to race (no trailer was used).  Fred did really well his first year here in 1958, but one must remember that the cars from Winnipeg and Toronto were all set up for pavement racing on smaller tracks (the Toronto Ex track was a tiny 1/3 mile asphalt oval) and not the rough dirt track that we had here.  You will also notice that the steering Pittman arm came out the passenger side of the vehicle which was a trend at the time as the right front wheel took a good portion of the cornering forces.  Fred basically appeared for 2 years, 1958 and '59 and never seen after that, however guys like Fred Coleman were pioneers of racing and experimented with many trends and ideas that made racing faster and safer for all involved.  Click on all pictures for enlargements!

 This little car was quite impressive looking considering all the other stock height and width dirt track racers of the time, but because they were built for asphalt racing, they had trouble with the rough dirt track at the CLE

'55 Corvette Engine with dual quad carburetors - check out the chrome headers.

Fred Coleman in action!

The next car featured below was also an import.  His name was Ralph Spencer and was one of the "Toronto Contingency" that also included Ted Hogan.  These guys had a ton of trouble with the Lakehead track as they were meant to be pavement cars.  The locals and the Americans that came up did much better at the CLE track due to the fact that they all raced on dirt to start with.  Spencer didn't place in the money either in 1958 and ended up wrecking his car.  Coleman above did much better than Spencer even though as mentioned, they were asphalt cars.  You can even see a slick for a rear tire on Spencer's car.  Our track was larger, rougher and had more obstacles to run into.

Before I show the Spencer car, here are a couple of photos with "Terrible" Ted Hogan from Toronto as well.
Just to the right of #54 Coleman you can see Ted Hogan's Fiat.  Ted was a huge contender from Toronto but unfortunately couldn't do anything here on the Lakehead's huge dirt track.

Ted passed away in 1960 after a terrible plane crash and explosion after a long
racing career in Southern Ontario....there is much more about Ted to read about
on the Internet.
Ralph Spencer Car #16
Ralph Spencer
Ralph's car was trailered from Toronto.

Albert Massaro with unknown TV announcer in the CKPR Studio on Hill Street with Spencer's car in the background (Note smooth racing slick on the rear) traction on wet clay and dirt!  Dig those crazy drape trousers and brush-cuts!

Smiling Albert Massaro shown in the photo above (Wow...look at all the people)!
Here is Spencer being interviewed for the up-coming 1958 Dirt Track Championships.....with his car also in the CKPR studio.
1958 Program Cover
1958 Program Roster

 In this 1958 Championship program you can see the above guys competing.  The written in names below were late comers for this season's noted was Jerry Richert (not Richards).  To the chagrin of the boys from Winnipeg and Toronto, Jerry in his little #99 blew their doors off with only a big smile and a FLATHEAD FORD engine!
Jerry continued to race in the Lakehead for years, because he knew how to race on dirt!

Jerry's Car with the Flathead.

Here's Jerry!

Jerry would continue to race into the 1959 year as can be seen in the following roster but would remove the flathead like everyone else was doing and added an Edsel overhead engine.
You can also note in the roster that only 3 flathead Fords were still running in 1959.

Once more....Many thanks to Dennis Winko for his knowledge and input on a constant basis to Hot Rods and is much appreciated.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ed Stroszyn - (West) Fort William's Custom King - by DENNIS WINKO

As far as we were concerned, Ed Stroszyn was the custom king of Fort William and Port Arthur and matched up in our minds to that of Big Daddy Roth and George Barris. 
My good friend Dennis Winko wrote this article about Ed, and it is my privilege to print it here on Hot Rods and Jalopies. Dave.
"The Chrome Coffin"
Ed Stroszyn – by Dennis Winko
     Most of my life was spent growing up in Fort William.  I attended McKellar Park School which was right across street from the local chroming shop.  It is here as a young impressionable boy of 14 that I first knew of the name Eddy Stroszyn.  Ed hailed from Westfort(West Fort William), arguably the epicenter of hot rodding and custom cars in our locale.  Ed happened to be employed at the time by Tom Dow a local car enthusiast and dirt track racer in his own right who also was the proprietor of the said chroming shop.  This fit very well into the realm of Ed’s hobby. Needless to say, most of Ed’s cars had copious amounts of chrome everywhere.  Ed used to park his latest creations in front of the shop.  This stimulated much interest and crowds of kids like me would end up looking at his car.   After school I would always make a bee line across the street to see up close these neat customs.  I was in awe at some of the creations Ed had built.  They were to me and many others, magazine quality cars.

     One of his finest customs was called the chrome coffin.  A 55 Mercury morphed into several different custom versions throughout its 14 year life span.  Ed won many trophies with this car and of course everything on the car was chromed including the potent 312 cu in Mercury engine sporting 6 carburetors.  Alas the last version of the car would be the wildest, but unfortunately it would never be finished.  Due to family problems Ed ended up parting out the components of the car including the complete chrome front end as well as the interior.  Ed then pulled out the chrome 312 engine, installed it in an old Ford half ton and with all his belongings moved to Victoria British Columbia in the summer of 1969.  This was very unfortunate for the custom enthusiast here in the Lakehead cities of Fort William and Port Arthur.
"The Chrome Coffin" 3/4 rear view

Doing the interior.
Finished interior
Much more story below, however be sure to click on all the photos for enlargements.

The Chrome Coffin's Chrome Engine.

A different colour and 8 tail-pipes, one for each cylinder.
     Another custom car Ed built was dubbed the “Red Baron”.  When you look at the little roadster it’s hard to believe it started out as a 1947 Mercury 4 door sedan.  In this age of mig welders and access to a plethora of aftermarket tools; one has an appreciation for what Ed accomplished with a small smith torch and a hell of a lot talent. Ed still does work in Victoria and is sought after in the custom world for his expertise in restoring trim on high end cars. Ed is one of the true craftsman and customizers in this sport.

The Red Baron
Rear View
Front View

"Chrome Coffin"
     The car won numerous trophies and awards at car shows throughout Canada and the US. It was well known and Ed and the car appeared on a local TV special.
     It was Ed’s everyday driver both winter and summer.
     The glass bowls in the carburetors cracked in winter and when the last nut was loosened off, the plexi-glass hood blew off trailed by 5 foot long flames.  Luckily it was extinguished with snow.  
    Over its lifespan the 312 ran 3 carburetors, 6 carburetors and a Paxton blower as well.
     Ed was challenged by a local hot rodder at a car show that his engine could not rev and survive beyond 8000 rpm. After the smoke cleared in the building much to the organizers chagrin, the challenger was proved wrong.  
     The windshield washer was used as a pump for dispensing rye whiskey through a nozzle in the dash.  While travelling to distant car shows one needs some refreshments!
     The all chrome front suspension is presently under a 56 Ford Victoria owned and driven in Thunder Bay to this day.
     In the car’s final version it was miniaturized, shortened, narrowed, chopped and sectioned.  It was to sport a large rear wing and would have been about the size of a Mustang.  It was never completed and most of the car except for a few parts was scrapped.

"Red Baron"

     It was a very unique sports rod built from a 47 Mercury sedan with coil spring suspension throughout.

Hard to believe The Red Baron started out as this.


     It was originally powered by a chrome flathead which was later switched to a 312.
     The car was sold to one of Ed’s younger helpers almost immediately after it was finished.  It had terrible bump steer which was later remedied.
     The car was sold to finance a college education and literally disappeared.
     The carburetors and intake manifold from the engine were the only things found locally from the original Red Baron.  The final history and whereabouts of the car is unknown to this day. 

Post Script by Dave: 
If anyone has any knowledge of the whereabouts of this car (The Red Baron)…please email this blog site or make a comment below. 
One interesting story to add, is when the "Chrome Coffin" had the 8 pipes out the rear (as shown in one of the photos above) and late one Sunday night after a typical spring car show at the Fort William Gardens....Ed was cruising Victoria Ave after the show, and while revving up the car, literally blew out the door glass of Mahon Electric, a local furniture store of the day, setting off alarms, but Ed was long gone before any of the local constabulary had arrived.
Finally, a huge thank you to Dennis for the great write-up of our old friend Ed Stroszyn who is still working away in my birth place city, Victoria, British Columbia....and a huge thank you also to Ed for the knowledge, the art, the talent and the Man. 
NOTE: It was extremely sad to hear that today April 10, 2014, Ed passed away in his present home town of Victoria, British Columbia.  We will miss you Ed, and thank you for the unforgettable memories of your time here in Fort William, Ontario Canada.....Dave