The Great Race of '68

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In the summer of 1968, bought a '56 Ford Ranch Wagon, Thunderbird 312, 3-speed on-the-column, with Overdrive.  I found it behind the gas station on 21st south and 21st East in Salt Lake City.  I pushed it home!

Over the next couple of weeks, and many trips to the junk yard, I got an intake manifold, 4-BBL Holley and a distributor from a '57 Ford 312. However, when I went to start it, it wouldn't start.  I ran the battery down.  Since I lived on the top of 2700 South, I decided to push start it.

I pushed it down 2700 and tried to compression start it dozens of times.  I pushed it around Mabey Drive and down Crystal Ave. I pushed it along 20th East to Stratford Ave and then down Stratford.  The damn thing wouldn't start. I pushed it into a Philips 66 gas stationed, exhausted.

This big old (probably 40) fat mechanic came out witha cigar hanging out of his mouth and said, "Won't start?"  I explained what I had done to the car.  He pulled the #1 plug and said, "Put your finger in the hole." I'm like WTF? There was no way I'd do that. But I did. Shaking like crazy the whole time. As he turned over the engine a bit it blew my finger out of the #1 plug hole.  He told me to remove the distributor cap. When I did he said, "You put the distributor in 180 out."  After correcting my mistake, it started right up. We set the timing and I was smiling like crazy as I drove away. 

For weeks I raced anyone who would race. This wagon with a Thunderbird 312 could beat most anyone. Except Mike Pennington in his '56 Chevy Bel Air Convertible. We must have raced a dozen times to a dead heat. We never gave up trying any time we saw each other.. . . . .

I was visiting a friend who lived on Crystal Ave and, from his living room window, saw a '56 Ford Convertible in the driveway next door. It had really cool looking red and white tuck and roll interior so I went down to look at it. The owner of the car came down and asked if I wanted to see the engine. I said, "Sure." I mean, what gear head ever turned down that offer.  When he opened the hood, there it was, a 406 cubic inch Ford with three two barrel carbs AND a 4-speed. The air filter was a big, polished aluminum, oval. WOW. So, I asked if he wanted to sell the car. He said, "Sure, $175." So, I scraped together $175 and bought the car.

Think about it, most kids would have loved a convert, but I wanted to build a sleeper. So, I used the shop where my girlfriend's dad worked to swap engines. I had to drive my wagon with no mufflers to Midas where I had them put on glass packs. Oh, yea, I put the 4 speed from the convert into the wagon too. The engine from the Ranch Wagon (a T-bird 312) went into the convert. I sold the convert for $175.   Now, it was race time.

For several weeks, I raced everything that came along. I always won too. It was fun. No one suspected that a wagon, which could smoke one tire for about a block, could beat their daddy's Mustang, Camaro, etc. But, I did. Then one day, Mike, in his Bel Air, pulled up next to me on 2700 South. I'm sure I had this, "Wanna race?" look on my face. Was he going to be surprised.

There we sat, West bound at the intersection of 2700 South and 13th East, gunning our engines, both of us grinning from ear to ear. Mike suggested we make a left and head down 13th East to where is goes into 11th East; less traffic. I was already in the left turn lane, Mike made an illegal left turn from the through lane and we both headed to the next light where 11th East starts.

With our engines pulling several thousand RPMs, we both side stepped the clutches when the light turn green. Smoke everywhere. One tire on each car spinning for all it was worth. As we accelerated, we were both neck and neck. "What the hell?" I thought. Why can't I pass him? First Gear, Second, Third, Fourth, side by side, doing well over 100 miles per hour down 11th East.

At 3300 South, neither of us giving in, we ran the red light. We didn't even look for cars. At 3900 South, we ran the red light, still side by side. Both with looks of disbelief in our eyes. At 4500 South, we slowed and stopped at the red light. I was still on the left. I leaned over, rolled the window down and yelled, "Whatcha got in there?" Mike yelled back, "Whatcha got in there?"

When the light changed, we raced through the intersection, pulled into the vacant lot, jumped out of our respective cars, ran over to other car and opened the hoods. Mike stood there looking at a 405 hp 406 with three dueces and there I stood, looking at a 375 hp, fuel injected 327. Mike had been busy that summer too.