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Racing Through the Ages

Evolution of the All-American Midget Race Car

Jim McGowan - February 23, 2012 10:00 AM

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Ed Justice, Jr., caretaker of this collection, standing with the Kurtis-Allen #23 Midget.

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The grille shell is beautifully designed and the color combination is striking. Notice the Firestone skinny balloon tires without any tread. The hood is retained with leather straps. The chrome cylinder with black handle next to the cockpit is for pumping up pressure in the fuel tank.

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Dual side draft two-barrel carburetors feed the four-cylinder 1928 Chevy engine. The throttle cable opens both carburetors simultaneously and the oil pressure sensor is situated in the Smith Special rotary valve head. This engine ran a forged alloy steel crankshaft and cast pistons.

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There is no speedometer in these race cars. The driver usually monitored only rpm, oil pressure and water temperature. Notice an ignition switch on the lower right.

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The use of chrome is abundant on this racecar. The bodywork is flawless, and notice the two chassis adjusters under the front grille. There were no shock absorbers on these early Sprint cars.

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This photo was taken in San Bernardino, California, in July of 1998 when Buzz Lowe was again racing his #93 after 40-plus years. He was a mere 81 at the time.

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This car is all-original, and in the same paint scheme as it appeared in 1947. It’s a perfect example of the technological improvements of the period. The original documentation hangs above the car.

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The Ford V-8/60 flathead is fitted with an Edelbrock intake with dual two-barrel carbs. The main fuel line enters a filter and then on to the carbs. This is a very traditional racing flathead configuration.

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The “in/out” one-speed box still wears a well-worn original Ford V8 shift knob. The Evans Denver steering gear tube is padded and the fuel line is running inside the cockpit. Notice the cracked original leather seat upholstery.

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This car features a torsion bar suspension, hydraulic brakes and lever action shock absorbers. The wheels are original to the vehicle, as are all the visible chrome parts.

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Don Edmunds, 1957 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, built this black and red #4 Midget. The #6 car on the right is a Kurtis built, Offy-powered offset driver, and one of only six built.

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The Chevy II Special is powered by a 153-inch, inline overhead valve Chevy II four-cylinder engine, affectionately known as the “Iron Duke”. This configuration allowed for a smaller, more aerodynamic body design, without sacrificing horsepower.

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A full floor keeps dirt out of the cockpit. The steering box and in-out one speed transmission are reminiscent of cars from four decades earlier.

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A four-wheel independent suspension, larger front and rear tires, shocks and hydraulic brakes greatly improved the handling and racing performance of this Edmunds #4.

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Ever since a horse was attached to a wheeled vehicle, and there were a pair of wheeled vehicles, man has competed in speed contests. From Roman times until today, nothing has changed except the vehicles and power source. Race vehicles have evolved on land and water.

Race cars have taken many sizes and shapes since the invention of the internal combustion engine. Unfortunately, they have been overlooked by many auto enthusiasts, but they are true engineering marvels in their own right. Purpose-built racecars evolved from smoking, unsafe, totally non-aerodynamic hulks in the ’teens, to sleek, fast and somewhat safer vehicles. Oval track Midget and Sprint racecars are the predecessors of today’s NASCAR “stock cars”!

Following WWII, engineering advances due to wartime innovations greatly improved the design and horsepower of many kinds of race cars. Experimentation in aerodynamics, engine and chassis components has continued with Indianapolis and NASCAR race cars exceeding 200-plus mph, and quarter mile drag cars reaching in excess of 300 mph with 8,000-plus horsepower. All of these incredible accomplishments had humble beginnings over eight decades ago.

Exquisite American craftsmanship and engineering prowess produced racing works of art to equal the European masters. It takes a certain vision to fully appreciate and collect these icons of early American oval track racing, and the three Justice Brothers had that vision. In the mid-’30s they built their first Midget from mail order plans supplied by Floyd Clymer, and much to the sheriff’s chagrin, raced it around the streets of Paola, Kansas.

The Justice Brothers Museum of Speed and Private Collection contains over 200 race, or race related, vehicles on display. We decided to select one example from the ’30s, ’40s and ’60s, and briefly examine the changes in styling and technology. Each vehicle has a unique history and story, which will appeal to any true performance auto enthusiast.

The museum is located right on Route 66 in Duarte, California, and is open to the public weekdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

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