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Book Report: Don Montgomery

By Phil R. Elliott

(Originally printed in American Drag News)

You probably hated book reports back in school because you thought the book would be boring books about subjects which you cared zip. I rarely balked at book reports because I read anything and everything when I was younger anyway. There were times when I skimmed through one the night before an assignment was due, and quickly wrote a sketchy report, but not very often.

In this section, I'll focus on just those books I wish I'd had to report on back then. We all would have gotten better grades had we been able to read and write matter we enjoyed this much.


A few years back, an ex-racer by the name of Don Montgomery produced a couple books that opened all hot rodders' eyes. The first I saw was Hot Rods As They Were, which was fascinating to me. It showed mostly late '40s and '50s machines, all self-built and totally individualized by their owners, which often were dual-purpose for transportation and racing (on both street and strip). It even showed many vehicles as they evolved and changed, some that were springboards for later-famous racers.

In the same vein, another effort was Hot Rods In The Forties, and a third was titled Hot Rod Memories. All three books are well worth a look, and will give hours of entertainment, especially for those who remember how it was or want to know how it was.

Since his theme was basically how hot rods evolved, it was quite natural to take those dual-purpose cars to their next level, purpose-built drag race coupes and sedans. That he did with Supercharged Gas Coupes, Remembering the "Sixties." The research and photo gathering, like the first three in the series, had to be immense because not only is the book factual, it is jam-packed with black & white photos of most of the blown gassers, from the famed to the obscure. I found many cars that I had either only heard about or never heard about, something I thought difficult or impossible before I picked up Don's wonderful book.

Supercharged Gas Coupes, Remembering the "Sixties" fully tells the story of the early days when most of the gas classes were filled with mostly '30-'40 Fords, with first flatheads and then Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac power. In the late 1950s, there were a couple racers, seeking lighter-weight cars to race, who discovered and built '40 Willys. Those became fairly dominant due to their compact size and lighter construction, which caused a mad rush to switch. Then came the smaller '33 Willys and the Austin and Anglia movement as well.

Montgomery's research dug into the politics that dictated A/GS, B/GS and C/GS class rules and weight breaks which at times seemed to change with a whim. Original rules for altereds, gassers and other classes had the installation of a blower advancing an entry one class; i.e. adding a huffer to a car weighted for C/G would be upped to B/G. Domination by the blown cars forced addition of blower-only classes, and happiness again for owners of previously competitive unblown entries.

Those class rules changed greatly between 1962 and 1966, when NHRA changed all their class designations for supercharged entries to reflect continuity; all blown classes were to use a double letter so A/GS became AA/G, B/GS BB/G and so on. Interestingly, few racers cared and continued to carry the earlier designations.

Several tracks ran four or eight-car open shows weekly, and match racing, especially in the Midwest, became prevalent so rules were mostly forgotten except when Indy or Pomona rolled around and bragging rights became a top priority. That meant that although superchargers were disallowed in Anglias due to their 90-inch wheelbase, several were built and raced anyway. Still, the '33 and '40 Willys cars were the most popular.

Montgomery does a great job at covering the supercharged gassers year by year, listing entries with their owners, drivers and best times, as well as best performances and records. As stated before, politics, rules changes and evolution is all between the covers of this book.

A great deal of space is also devoted to what was called the "Cam Wars," a phenomenon that gave gassers their biggest push into the limelight. These were mostly made-up ads that poked fingers at other manufacturers to put up or shut up about performances claimed by their cam customers. It was mostly light-hearted, friendly fun, and got pretty crazy. A great deal of the hype was between west coast standouts "Big John" Mazmanian and Stone, Woods and Cook. The two battled back and forth in camshaft and transmission ads for two years, making advertising departments at drag weeklies like Drag News extremely happy.

And when wheelbases were a concern (NHRA had 92 inches as a minimum in supercharged gas classes -- Anglias are 90 inches), the fingers and the ads pointed at times turned in by "illegal" cars.

More cars toured east in '67 through '69, and SoCal strips like Orange County and Irwindale offered monthly features for A/GS and B/GS entries, which got wilder month by month. Montgomery raced a B/GS '41 Willys called "Rockerhead" during those last years.

It was a much simpler time, and Don Montgomery covers all the bases, even the funny car absorption and the evolution of gassers to late-model Mustangs and Camaros which helped pound the final nails into the blown gas coffin.

Today, remnants of the supercharged gassers run in AA/Altered at NHRA meets, but happily a huge resurgence of A/GS cars frequent nostalgia races in the west. To the novice fan, the cars look just like the eastern Pro Modifieds, only they don't run as quick or as fast. In reality, they are restricted by several rules, including blower size (6-71) and overdrive. Most produce more than a thousand horsepower less than the similar Pro Mods.

I highly recommend this book to every drag racer, past present and future. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Next month, Montgomery's Those Wild Fuel Altereds, Drag Racing In The "Sixties."

To order any of Don Montgomery's titles, send $35.95 plus $6.50 shipping and handling to:

Don Montgomery
636 Morro Hills Road
Fallbrook, CA 92028

Or order online at:

Drag Racing Gifts - Don Montgomery's Hot Rod Books!

Flyin' Phil Elliott


Thanks for checking out the PhilZone portion of Draglist.com. If you have accolades, complaints, comments, questions, or if you want to share a story, please feel free to post it on the PhilZone Message Board. Phil

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