Book Report: Don Montgomery
By Phil R. Elliott
(Originally printed in American Drag
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
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
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
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
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
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"
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:
636 Morro Hills Road
Fallbrook, CA 92028
Or order online at:
Drag Racing Gifts - Don Montgomery's Hot Rod Books!
Flyin' Phil Elliott
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