'66 'Black Shadow,' home-built street rod
The year was 1965. I was an "overaged" teenager. I loved cars and I loved working with machines and tools. Like any teenager I wanted to go fast. A couple of kids had souped-up Fords or Chevys and one actually had his own Corvette. The father of a friend of mine owned a welding shop and he taught me how to weld and operate lathes and shop machines. Then all it took was dozens of Hot Rod magazines, a sister whose boyfriend had access to his father's salvage yard and another friend whose mother had just totaled her 327 Chevy.
I acquired the engine and its manual transmission for next to nothing. A few trips to the salvage yard added the steering and front suspension from a 1946 Ford, the radiator from an old Nash and the rear axle from a 1954 Oldsmobile. The rear suspension was a coil spring design that I dreamed up myself. Then I copied the frame from photos I'd seen of California hot rods and, in the back of our house, I went to work.
I found the seats and gas tank in a JC Whitney catalog. Surplus aircraft seat belts came from Bill Jackson's when it was on Fourth Street S. The rear tires came from the pits at Sebring, and the wheels I split in a huge lathe before welding in 4 inches by 1/8 inch flat stock that I rolled into the correct radius. Finally, my best friend donated a tri-power manifold and three Rochester 97s. When I first tested the thing, two problems were immediately apparent. My homemade rear suspension didn't hold up to the torque that the 327-cubic-inch Chevy put on it. I had to go back to the salvage yard and get the trailing arms from the old Oldsmobile. Secondly, with no radiator fan, the engine quickly overheated. The solution was to add a second, much larger, radiator behind the seats. The two radiators were connected by 1 1/4-inch steel tubing and the hot water circulated between them by convection.
After it was all done, it got a lot of attention … mostly while sitting in local drive-ins like Triplett's and the Barrel on 16th Street. Needless to say, I crept around town as St. Pete's finest were always the first to notice when I pulled out onto the street.
I finally sold Black Shadow to a kid who took it to Jacksonville. In all, I built four of these, each a little different, but this was my favorite.
Then, from cars and machines I eventually moved on to the U.S. Navy, where I was introduced to airplanes. I retired a few years ago after nearly 40 years of flying, first in the Navy and then for a major airline. And I like to think it all started when I was an overaged kid who just liked things that were fun to drive and went fast.